Tolung Dechen, Tibet
|Died||March 3rd, 1984
Los Angeles, CA
|Based in||Kopan Monastery
Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition
Thubten Yeshe (1935–1984) was a Tibetan lama who, while exiled in Nepal, co-founded Kopan Monastery (1969) and the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (1975). He followed the Gelug tradition, and was considered unconventional in his teaching style.
Lama Yeshe was born near the Tibetan town of Tolung Dechen, but was sent to Sera Monastery in Lhasa at the age of six. He received full ordination at the age of 28 from Kyabje Ling Rinpoche. Jeffrey Paine reports that Lama Yeshe deliberately refused the geshe degree, despite having studied for it:
Many years later, when pressed why he had shunned this prestigious degree, he would laugh: "And be Geshe Yeshe?"
Sera Monastery did award him an honorary geshe degree in the early 80s. He also used to joke that he was a Tibetan hippie: "I dropped out!"
Teaching Western students
With the Chinese invasion in 1959 Lama Yeshe made his way to Bhutan and thence to the Tibetan refugee camp at Buxaduar, India. There his teacher Geshe Rabten entrusted to his care a younger monk, Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. The two would work together throughout Lama Yeshe's life.
In 1965 Lama Yeshe began teaching Western students, beginning with Zina Rachevsky, who sought him out at the Ghum Monastery in Darjeeling. The number of students continued to grow, eventually resulting in the founding of the several institutions mentioned above. At this time, the Tibetan religious community considered the teaching of Westerners to be undesirable. Paine reports criticism from other Tibetans calling Lama Yeshe a "paisa lama," i.e., one interested primarily in money.
In 1977 - 1978 Lama Yeshe taught at University of California Santa Cruz. There he taught one class, "Tibetan Buddhism", appropiately. During that time, he also attended courses at the University in Western Philosophy.
Lecture-based published books
A number of books have been compiled from Lama Yeshe's lectures. His books include Introduction to Tantra, Wisdom Energy, The Bliss of Inner Fire, Becoming Vajrasattva: The Tantric Path of Purification, When the Chocolate Runs Out, and Becoming the Compassion Buddha, all of which are available from Wisdom Publications. In 2016 the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive will be publishing an extensive biography of Lama Yeshe written by Adele Hulse. The LYWA also has many free books of Lama Yeshe's (and Lama Zopa Rinpoche's) teachings, which are also available as ebooks. The Archive also has several DVDs of Lama Yeshe's talks and teachings.
In 1974 Lama Yeshe entered into a celibate marriage with a now-deceased Australian disciple, apparently for the purpose of obtaining an Australian passport which, it was thought, might have allowed him to visit Tibet. His intended journey took place in 1982.
Death and Reincarnation
Lama Yeshe passed away twenty minutes before dawn on the first day of the Tibetan New Year (Losar) and was cremated at Vajrapani Institute in Boulder Creek, California, where there is a stupa honoring him.
In 1986 his reincarnation was identified in the person of a Spanish boy named Osel Hita Torres (b. 1985), who for some time was known as Tenzin Ösel Rinpoche. In theory this would have made Lama Yeshe the first in a line of tulkus. After spending his childhood and youth in Nepal receiving a traditional education for a Gelugpa tulku, Lama Osel subsequently chose to attend a western secondary boarding school in Canada and is currently attending university in Spain. He has expressed discomfort with others' expectations as to his role in life and is committed to spiritual discovery in a post-modern context, as are other young tulkus, in particular Osel Hita's close friend the 23rd Gomo Tulku.
- Paine, p. 55.
- Paine, p. 74
- Paul Croucher, A History of Buddhism in Australia, 1948-1988; New South Wales UP, 1989; p. 93.
- The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. A Joint Biography of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche 1935 to 1974.
- Paine, Jeffrey. Re-Enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West. Norton, 2004. Chapter two discusses the influence of Lama Yeshe and the FPMT.
- Willis, Jan. Dreaming Me. Lama Yeshe was her teacher. She talks a lot about him in this book.
- Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive
- Lama Yeshe's books at Wisdom Publications
- The Reluctant Lama - BBC Radio documentary about Osel Hita Torres, Yeshe's alleged reincarnation