Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
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.
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.
Rinpoche’s other published teachings include Wisdom Energy (with Lama Yeshe), Transforming Problems into Happiness, Dear Lama Zopa and others available from Wisdom Publications, and many prayer and practice booklets available from the FPMT Foundation Store.
in Thami, then in Tibet, where he went when he was ten, and finally India, where he first met Lama Thubten Yeshe, with whom he would remain as heart disciple until Lama passed a way in 1984. Compiled and edited by Ven Ailsa Cameron.
I don't remember what my father looked like.
I think he died when my mother was carrying my brother, Sangye, and I was a baby. People say that he had a beard and didn't speak much; they describe him as a placid person who didn't get upset very easily.
My father was sick for some time before he died.
One day after coming back into the house from working in the field, my mother saw my father sitting quietly by the fireplace.
She called to him, "Father, do you want anything?" but he did not reply.
All I remember of my father are the clothes he left in the house.
As very small children, my sister, brother and I would all sleep together at night in our father's chuba, which was lined with animal fur. Sometimes we would say to each other, "This belonged to our father."
When my father was alive, our family was a little better off than other families.
We had many possessions, though according to Western standards of living we were probably only rich in garbage.
However, after my father died, because my mother was in debt, our possessions were taken away by force.
She had great difficulties, especially after I was born, when many of our animals—dris, goats and sheep—died.
Only my sister could help her.
When I was very small my best friend was a boy who could not speak.
Every day we would play together.
He and I liked to play games involving rituals.
Near our house was a large rock with mantras carved into it.
I would sit a little way up the rock and pretend that I was giving initiations, while the other boys had to try to take them.
I didn't know any prayers, so I would just make some kind of noise and pretend I was praying.
(Actually, think I am still playing like that now.)
We also pretended to do pujas.
Because there were some rumors going around about my past life and because I had a strong wish to become a monk, when I was three or four years old my mother sent me to one of my uncles, a monk in the local Thami monastery, to learn the alphabet.
I was carried there on someone's back.
I was very naughty at that time and only wanted to play, so I wouldn't stay in the monastery.
My uncle used to teach me the alphabet outside in the courtyard in the sun, and when he went inside to the kitchen to cook our food I ran away to my mother's house, which was very close to the monastery.
I was very small and alone. Like most mountain children, I didn't walk slowly, but like water falling I ran down to my mother's house, never stopping to rest along the way.
My mother would then scold me and send me back to the monastery.
I escaped to my home quite a number of times.
I was carried there on top of the luggage.
I had a sneaky mind, so because I wanted to go home I told my mother that she must write to say that I should come back home.
When he reached my mother's place, he could not find the letter.
He had carried it in his leather shoes, and he must have dropped it when he stopped along the way to shake the snow out of his shoes.
He carried me on his back and gave me food, which he had prepared before we left home.
As we walked he passed the cooked meat and other food back to me. Only once was there an avalanche, a small one.
The luggage was scattered all over the place and the people fell way down the slope, but they weren't worried.
They were singing songs when they came up to collect their things.
The huge rocks would come down wooroodoo! and the small rocks would drop tiiing!
There were a lot of different noises.
The Sherpas make about thirteen different foods from potatoes, which is their main food, and one of the things they make is very strong alcohol. In Solu Khumbu it is the custom that most of the people, including many of the monks, drink alcohol, though there are some who do not drink.
So everybody would drink some alcohol, then generate heat by rubbing their hands together.
They were then able to carry their huge loads across, usually two or three square butter tins, plus their food and blanket and things to sell.
Just hoping that it would be all right, they crossed, climbing up through the water and rocks to the top. We went back and forth several times, and somehow no rocks fell while we were crossing.
However, every time we were resting and drinking after reaching the top of the mountain on the other side, the rocks would come down woorooroo!
All the way across everybody recited whatever mantras they knew.
I don't remember what I did during that time, whether I recited any mantras or not, but I do remember that I was carried by my uncle.
I lived for seven years in Rolwaling.
On one side of the river was a monastery, with a gompa surrounded by other houses in which lived my uncle, then a fully ordained monk, and other married lamas, practitioners who did a lot of retreat but were not monks.
There was also a large stupa on some flat ground with a road running through the middle of it.
In the summertime and in the autumn, tourists would come to Rolwaling—not all the time, just sometimes.
You had to walk on that, and it wasn't very wide. One day I went to give some potatoes to the Westerners in their camp—I don't remember who they were.
I walked onto the bridge.
My head came up, then went down again.
I was carried along by the river, with my head coming up from time to time.
There was some flat ground, then a huge mountain with the monastery a little way up it.
I saw my teacher running down the mountain to the flat ground, holding up the simple cloth pants he was wearing.
I'm not sure, but I think he said, "I told you not to go!" I think the fact that I fell into the water and dropped everything, the container and the potatoes, must be a shortcoming of not listening to my teacher.
I stayed in Rolwaling seven years, memorizing prayers and reading texts, including all the many hundreds of volumes of the Buddha's teachings, the Kangyur, and the commentaries by the Indian pundits, the Tengyur.
Sometimes I went outside to go to the toilet and would spend a lot of time out there, just hanging around. I didn't return to the reading very quickly.
After seven years, when I was about ten, I went to Tibet with my two uncles.
The reason for our journey was to visit another of my uncles, who was living at Pagri, a major trading center.
I have an idea that the journey took us six months, walking every day.
Because I was quite small, I didn't have to carry anything; my uncles carried everything.
I spent seven days at Tashi Lhunpo, the Panchen Lama's monastery, but from the time we left Solu Khumbu, my heart was set on going to study at the greatest Nyingma monastery in Tibet, Mindroling, because all the Sherpa monasteries are Nyingma.
My plan was to go to this monastery and practice.
My two uncles were there with me, and one other Sherpa man.
I don't think I had any sleep that whole night!
I was wondering how I could escape from this because both my uncles agreed that I should stay there and become his disciple.
Fortunately, the next morning, my uncles finally agreed that I should go with them to Pagri.
I asked him, "Can you be like Marpa?" and he said, "Yes."
Because my uncles were away he talked to my uncle's wife, and she accepted his suggestion.
The next day she made a thermos of tea, filled a Bhutanese container made of woven bamboo with round breads (she made very good Tibetan bread, served with a lot of butter) and took me to the monastery where the manager lived, just a few minutes walk from where we were living.
I said that I wouldn't go back. My second uncle, the one with whom I spent seven years, was very kind—although at that time, I didn't know he was being kind. He beat me.
When I rejected the idea of going back, my other uncle—the one who lived in Tibet and was a businessman—brought out a whole set of new robes with brocade, which he had bought in Lhasa, horse decorations, everything!
He piled everything up and said: "If you go back to Solu Khumbu I will give you all these things; otherwise you won't get anything."
Because I rejected the idea of going back to Solu Khumbu, my manager went to check with one of the most powerful men in that area, a secretary to one very rich and famous family, great benefactors of Demo Geshe Rinpoche's monastery.
When my manager asked his point of view, the secretary said that I should be sent back to Solu Khumbu.
The local benefactors actually thought I had been locked inside a cowshed; the ladies who knew me would visit me and push sweets and other things for me to eat into the room through a small hole.
The district judge arrived and I was called in front of him, naked (I don't know why I was naked—I've forgotten that part of the story), and because the shrine room where I was kept was very dark and very, very cold, my whole body was shaking.
So I spent three years in Pagri, doing pujas in people's houses every day, and I took getsul ordination there in the monastery of Demo Geshe Rinpoche, who is regarded as an embodiment of Lama Tsong Khapa.
I wasn't a monk before that. I saw many monasteries, but somehow because of my karma, I became a monk only in that Gelug monasteryIn March 1959, the Chinese took over Tibet, but because that area is close to India, there was no immediate danger.
At the end of 1959, when the threat of torture was imminent, we decided to escape to India.
We had to cross only one mountain to reach Bhutan.
One night, because it was very wet and we could not see the road clearly, we had a little trouble, sinking into the mud and slipping over.
There were nomads at the border.
If they had seen us, it would have been difficult to escape because we had heard that some of them were spies, but even though their dogs were barking, the nomads did not come out of their tents.
Eventually we reached India.
All the four sects were put together in that one place.
I don't know why he stopped me from going to Darjeeling—it wasn't because he received a bribe.
She invited many of the incarnate lamas to a school she had started to teach them English.
I spent six months in Delhi, and it was at that time that I developed TB.
First I caught small pox and had to stay fifteen days in the small pox hospital, which was very far from the school.
When I came back, I got TB, and then went to the TB hospital.
I cried three days in that hospital. The reason I cried was that there was no opportunity to learn English.
When I went into hospital, I had to change into hospital clothes, pants and a shirt.
In the break-times, I would go outside, where I could see the passing traffic through the fence.
In the old men's ward I met one very nice Indian man, who agreed to teach me English.
I then returned to Buxa to continue to study.
I did a little debating, but more like playing.
Unfortunately I don't think I have created much karma to study whole texts.
In any case there was no opportunity to practice in Buxa, apart from using a few words if you met some Indian officials.
I memorized many, many words from different books, and all the Time magazines.
I would forget and then memorize them again, forget and memorize again, forget and memorize again, just as with the Tibetan texts.
I spent a lot of time doing this but it was useless; it wasn't the way to learn English.
I tried to meditate while sitting on my bed after the mosquito net had been put down.
I tried to meditate one-pointedly, but I fell down!
I don't know what happened; my whole body fell completely. It happened several times and eventually I gave up.
From this teacher I received the meditation and visualization on Ganden Lha Gyema, and on the kindness of mother sentient beings from the part of the Prajnaparamita scriptures dealing with that subject.