His Holiness The Dalai Lama
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is recognised as the spiritual leader of Tibet. He was born on 6th of July 1935, to a farming family in a small hamlet located in Taktser, Amdo, northeastern Tibet. At the age of two the child, who was named Lhamo Dhondup, was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso.
The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are spiritual beings who vow to take rebirth in order to serve humanity.
For more information please visit HH Dalai Lama’s official website.
Lama Yeshe (1935 – 1984), Founder of FPMT
Lama Thubten Yeshe was born in Tibet in 1935 not far from Lhasa in the town of Tölung Dechen. Two hours away by horse was the Chi-me Lung Gompa, home for about 100 nuns of the Gelug tradition. It had been a few years since their learned abbess and guru had passed away when Nenung Pawo Rinpoche, a Kagyü lama widely famed for his psychic powers, came by their convent. They approached him and asked, “Where is our guru now?” He answered that in a nearby village there was a boy born at such and such a time, and if they investigated they would discover that he was their incarnated abbess. Following his advice they found the young Lama Yeshe to whom they brought many offerings and gave the name Thondrub Dorje.
Afterwards the nuns would often take the young boy back to their convent to attend the various ceremonies and other religious functions held there. During these visits—which would sometimes last for days at a time—he often stayed in their shrine room and attended services with them. The nuns would also frequently visit him at his parents’ home where he was taught the alphabet, grammar and reading by his uncle, Ngawang Norbu, a student geshe from Sera Monastery.
From a very early age he expressed the desire to lead a religious life. Whenever a monk would visit their home, he would beg to leave with him and join a monastery. Finally, when he was six years old, he received his parents’ permission to join Sera Je, a college at one of the three great Gelug monastic centers located in the vicinity of Lhasa. He was taken there by his uncle, who promised the young boy’s mother that he would take good care of him. The nuns offered him robes and the other necessities of life he required at Sera, while the uncle supervised him strictly and made him study very hard.
He stayed at Sera until he was twenty-five years old. There he received spiritual instruction based on the educational traditions brought from India to Tibet over a thousand years ago. From Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, the Junior Tutor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he received teachings on the Lam-rim graded course to enlightenment which outlines the entire sutra path to buddhahood. In addition he received many tantric initiations and discourses from both the Junior Tutor and the Senior Tutor, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, as well as from Drag-ri Dorje-chang Rinpoche, Song Rinpoche, Lhatzün Dorje-chang Rinpoche and many other great gurus and meditation masters.
Among the other teachers who guided his spiritual development were Geshe Thubten Wangchug Rinpoche, Geshe Lhundrub Sopa Rinpoche, Geshe Rabten and Geshe Ngawang Gedun. During all this training one of Lama Yeshe’s recurring prayers was to be able some day to bring the peaceful benefits of spiritual practice to those beings ignorant of the Dharma.
This phase of his education came to an end in 1959. As Lama Yeshe himself has said, “In that year the Chinese kindly told us that it was time to leave Tibet and meet the outside world.” Escaping through Bhutan, he eventually reached Northeast India where he met up with many other Tibetan refugees. At the Tibetan settlement camp of Buxaduar he continued his studies from where they had been interrupted.
One of Lama Yeshe’s gurus in both Tibet and Buxaduar was Geshe Rabten, a highly learned practitioner famous for his single-minded concentration and powers of logic. This compassionate guru had a disciple named Thubten Zopa Rinpoche and at Geshe Rabten’s suggestion, Zopa Rinpoche began to receive additional instruction from Lama Yeshe. Zopa Rinpoche was a young boy at the time and the servant caring for him wanted very much to entrust him permanently to Lama Yeshe. Upon consultation with Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, this arrangement was decided upon and so it came to be that Zopa Rinpoche became the disciple of Lama Yeshe.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Spiritual Director of FPMT
Rinpoche was born in Thami, Nepal, in 1946. At the age of three he was recognized as the reincarnation of Sherpa Nyingma yogi, Kunsang Yeshe, the Lawudo Lama. Rinpoche’s Thami home was not far from the Lawudo cave, in the Mount Everest region of Nepal, where his predecessor meditated for the last twenty years of his life. Rinpoche’s own description of his early years may be found in his book, The Door to Satisfaction (Wisdom Publications). At the age of ten, Rinpoche went to Tibet and studied and meditated at Domo Geshe Rinpoche’s monastery near Pagri, until the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959 forced him to forsake Tibet for the safety of Bhutan.
Rinpoche then went to the Tibetan refugee camp at Buxa Duar, West Bengal, India where he met Lama Yeshe, who became his closest teacher. The Lamas went to Nepal in 1967, and over the next few years built Kopan and Lawudo Monasteries. In 1971 Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave the first of his famous annual lam-rim retreat courses, which continue at Kopan Monastery to this day.
In 1974 the two Lama’s began travelling the world to teach and establish Dharma Centres. When Lama Yeshe passed away in 1984, Rinpoche took over as spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), which has continued to flourish under his peerless leadership. More details of Rinpoche’s life and work may be found by visiting the official FPMT website.