The Qualities of Lama Yeshe and Recognition of Lama Ösel

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #392)

In this teaching Lama Zopa Rinpoche discusses the qualities of Lama Yeshe's holy body, speech and mind, the search for Lama's incarnation and the confirmation of Lama Ösel as the incarnation. This teaching was given at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, on March 1, 1987. Edited by Ven. Ailsa Cameron.

Read more about the recognition of Lama Ösel and see rare photos of young Ösel in the Epilogue of Big Love: The Life and Teachings of Lama Yeshe.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Ösel, 1991.

We do not have the karma to continuously see our incomparably kind virtuous teacher, Lama Yeshe, in the previous aspect we met and received teachings from. That karma has finished; we ran out of that merit. But again the holy mind, the dharmakaya, being bound by great compassion for us, the sentient beings, has reincarnated in a new form in order to guide us, the students, as well as other sentient beings. Before mentioning how the reincarnation of Lama was found, I thought to mention briefly the qualities of Lama in his previous life, for you to accumulate merit and develop your minds by generating the root of the path to enlightenment: guru devotion. And for myself, by speaking of the qualities, to also accumulate merit. So, we will accumulate merit together, the cause of temporary happiness as well as the ultimate happiness of enlightenment. And it creates the cause for all of us to achieve those qualities.

The qualities we have seen are according to the level of our mind, and there are even secret qualities we did not see, beyond the level of our mind.

The qualities of the holy body

Besides actually seeing the holy body of Lama Yeshe, people got warm feelings even by seeing his picture. Even people who had never met Lama, on seeing a picture of Lama in a group of many other monks or many other people, get a very warm feeling on seeing this particular face among so many others, thinking him to be very kind and very reliable. I have one mother—among my many mothers—in England. I think she is over eighty now. She never saw Lama, but she wrote me a letter after I had sent her some pictures of Lama with many other monks. I did not describe each person in the picture, but she particularly mentioned that she got a very warm feeling from one of the monks, Lama.

Even people who did not know anything about Lama Yeshe's life story—his background as a great scholar or his particular capabilities in so easily subduing the minds of various level of sentient beings—just by seeing him on the road, they felt he was a bodhisattva. I met Tibetans like this. They did not know anything about Lama but were so happy to meet him—they came to tell me this later. One Tibetan man who asked to see some lamas was told about me, but he did not know about Lama. This man, just by seeing Lama, got incredible faith that he was definitely a bodhisattva who had a very brave heart and was able to do difficult works for other sentient beings.

This is our common experience. Just seeing the holy body benefited other sentient beings. Even without being introduced, people naturally respected Lama due to the vibrations of his warm feeling. And, in the general view, you could see changes of aspect due to the development of the mind. For the past few years until recently, the aspect was very white and very radiant. This is an expression of tantric realizations. People may recognize the outside changes, which are due to the inner development of the mind, especially the second stage realizations of tantra.

Ten or twelve years ago, when Lama was in Kathmandu, the very first time the doctor said that Lama had a heart condition, the doctor said that Lama would live only one year. However, one reliable prediction from a deity was extremely good. Also, there was one Westerner—I think she might have been Catholic, just judging from the outside; but as to judging her mind, I cannot say—whose past and near future predictions had been true. She said that Lama would use his condition as a practice and, instead of death riding over Lama, Lama would ride over death. When Lama passed away, he would have control over his death.

The doctor in Los Angeles, where Lama passed away, seemed the most intelligent among the doctors that I have seen, and he also had good equipment. He found out that Lama had a vein down below his heart that other people do not have. The doctor had never seen this vein before in his life. He commented that it was probably because of this vein that Lama was able to live for so many years.

As mentioned in the Madhyamaka teachings, one bowl filled with water for human beings appears as water, for preta beings as pus or blood, and for worldly gods and those who are beyond samsara, buddhas, it appears as nectar. For those who have accumulated more merit, what is in the bowl appears as nectar. The conclusion is that there is a different appearance according to the level of karma that we have. How Lama appeared to individuals came from the individual mind. That karmic appearance came from our own mind, so is dependent on the level of our mind, on how pure or impure our mind is.

In regard to manifesting as needed to subdue different sentient beings, Lama was able to manifest out of control, out of his great compassion toward others, renouncing himself and cherishing others. Ordinary beings can change their aspect but, like me, they do such activities out of the self-cherishing thought. In Lama's case the changes or manifestations came out of renouncing himself and cherishing others.

The qualities of the holy speech

When Lama talked in public lectures, in the ordinary view, he did not speak on the subjects he knew, but mainly on what people needed. There would be all kinds of people in the group with so many different problems: educated people, no matter how high their degree, have their own problems; and young people have their own problems. There are various kinds of people with different classes of problems. When Lama talked, he gave whatever pieces of advice were needed, according to the different problems they had.

In the beginning, some people came just out of curiosity, to see a Tibetan lama. Some came to learn some solutions for their own problems, and to find peace of mind. One hour before, they had no faith, no wish to practice Buddha's teaching, and no interest in the importance of developing the mind in order to control the disturbing thoughts. After one hour of Lama’s talk, when each of these people returned home, each of them had received the right answer according to their own problems. Each person had got something by listening to Lama's holy speech during that one hour. Each person returned home with some satisfaction, some happiness. Within that one hour they generated the wish to meet and to study the teachings of the Buddha.

So I think this is the start for enlightenment, the start of refuge in the Dharma. Whenever someone wants to study and practice Dharma, I regard that as relying upon or taking refuge to Dharma. After that one hour, the person had reliance upon the teachings, wanting to study and to practice, so this is taking refuge to Dharma. That is the start for enlightenment, the achievement of the mental state which has ceased all the obscurations and is qualified in all the realizations.

You may not have seen the incredible benefit other sentient beings received by subduing their minds through the actions of the holy speech. In the ordinary view, even though you may not have seen Lama Yeshe as Buddha, definite faith would come that he was a very high, arya bodhisattva, particularly from the actions of the holy speech.

The qualities of the holy mind

The qualities of the holy mind are our common experience when we see Lama, especially for the older students. Like a balloon filled with air, the whole body of an ordinary person is filled with self-cherishing thought, anger, jealousy or the inner dissatisfied mind of attachment, but Lama is the opposite to this. His holy body is completely filled with great compassion and the precious bodhicitta, renouncing himself and cherishing only others. In spite of many people saying how serious his heart condition was, Lama was giving teachings while at the same time writing teachings and reading so many commentaries on root texts. He also gave advice to many students, close and distant, in many countries, day and night, while doing so many other activities. Every single activity he did was very effective, bringing great benefit.

Lama Yeshe was like a father. He especially guided the older students like a father, listening to all their problems and giving them advice, besides giving them teachings. Lama would mix with people, entertaining them in whichever way they liked, with whatever things made them happy, solving the tightness in their hearts. Enjoying sense objects, Lama would entertain them, but unstained by attachment or self-cherishing thought. He would mix with people, doing what they enjoyed, but at the same time, as a practitioner of sutra and tantra, for Lama all those enjoyments became only the cause of purification and accumulating extensive merit.

For an ordinary person doing it with an impure mind, out of self-cherishing thought, there could have been a different result. Entertaining people by going to the beach and eating with them was the same activity or enjoyment, but it could have a different result for an ordinary person. However, mixing with people like this and having all these enjoyments were not dangerous or harmful to Lama's mind. These [activities] did not degenerate his mind, but only caused his mind to develop.

Because of Lama's capability, he did not destroy himself with these things; they did not make him lose his life. This is a special thing that we, the older students, know. In other words, Lama showed the sign of being a yogi who has freedom and definite control over his mind. He brought himself down to the same level as other people and mixed with them but at the same time, these things were done only to benefit others, and became the cause for developing his own mind and realizations. This is like the commitment of tantric practice, the samaya, enjoying sense pleasures but using everything to develop the mind. This tantric realization was existing in Lama's holy mind. In other words, all these things became medicine instead of poison for his mind.

In Tibet, Lama took the Lama Chöpa commentary from his root guru, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's junior tutor. Lama, Geshe Lama Konchog and Gen Jampa Wangdu all took these teachings together. Lama said that he and Gen Jampa Wangdu did not waste their time but did the meditations every day. Whatever teaching was given in the afternoon, they meditated on that evening and the next morning. They did this every day. Lama said that he did not think impermanence and those other subjects were the essence of Dharma. But when the teachings reached the point of bodhicitta, renouncing oneself and cherishing others, Lama said: "This is the real Dharma. This is the essence of Dharma." Lama felt this very strongly at that time. He did not feel the other subjects were the heart of Dharma, but he felt very strongly about this subject. I think this means, in our ordinary view, that he had generated bodhicitta.

And renunciation of this life. When Lama was very young, after some time in the monastery, he went back home, where he saw so much hardship and suffering, and so many shortcomings in the family life at home. He saw the big difference between living in ordination and living a worldly life, doing only works for the self and only for this life. Lama saw the big difference between the shortcomings of the lay life and the incredible benefits of living in ordination. He got incredible renunciation by returning home, and had not the slightest interest in worldly life.

As to shunyata, Lama used to talk to Gen Jampa Wangdu, one of the oldest meditators in Dharamsala, who passed away about a year ago. Lama said: "I realized shunyata when I was debating Madhyamaka with the monks in Sera. A long time ago in Tibet, debating with the monks in the sandy courtyard, I realized shunyata." Lama mentioned this to the great meditator, Gen Jampa Wangdu, from whom I took the teachings on chu len, the "taking the essence" pill retreat. This practice helps ascetic Dharma practitioners to not have interferences in their meditation and to obtain the means of living. Gen Jampa Wangdu passed the lineage and the teachings of this practice to many of us older students, Sangha and lay.

Even from the time when Lama first came to Nepal, he was reading dzog rim or second stage texts. I have a very curious mind, so from time to time I would look at these texts. Even from that time, the text Lama normally had out on the table to read was the Chakrasamvara completion stage text. Then, all the time while traveling in the West, the texts Lama used to have on the table were mostly teachings on the clear light. In our ordinary view, this shows that Lama was experienced in these practices and had the attainments.

Also, Lama often said it was important to have foods such as curd and honey, as well as garlic and meat. Later I understood why Lama appeared to regard having these foods as important. I saw in a text that these foods are needed for the meditator who has realizations of the second stage because they develop the drops and elements in the body. I think in this way there is a stronger experience of the clear light and also a stronger condition for the illusory body. Only after I saw the text did I realize the particular reason that Lama regarded these things as important and told the cooks to get them. For that level of yogi, instead of becoming dangerous and causing degeneration of the mind, these become medicine and the cause for generating and completing the path.

When Lama requested His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche to teach the Six Yogas of Naropa, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche advised Lama that His Holiness the Dalai Lama had fresh experience of the Six Yogas. There is one book that contains the reports of many lamas and geshes, explaining their realizations or their difficulties in the practices. There you can find what His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche wrote about the Six Yogas of Naropa, and the experiences of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Anyway, Lama received these teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, alone, in His Holiness's private meditation room. In this meditation room there was nothing; it was a small, completely empty room. So Lama received the teachings on the Six Yogas of Naropa there, and at the same time he practiced in the Kashmir Hotel, down below in Dharamsala. In this rainy season, while taking teachings, Lama practiced and had many experiences. Lama also wrote teachings on the Six Yogas that were not completed. Maybe Lama Osel is going to complete the next part.

After Lama had been to Lama Tsong Khapa Institute, he came back carrying one Lama Tsongkhapa picture. I think before that he used to carry one Buddha picture; the frame is in Dharamsala. But at that time Lama had one Lama Tsongkhapa picture, and he said: "This time when I was at Lama Tsong Khapa Institute, I found incredibly deep faith in Lama Tsongkhapa through his teachings."

Lama wrote a whole list of about twenty questions, especially regarding the illusory body—very interesting questions and very useful for practitioners. He thought that His Holiness had too many activities to have the time to answer these things, so Lama wrote to His Holiness Serkong Rinpoche with these questions. But I think Rinpoche also did not have time, so later on the questions were returned. Lama wrote a poem praising Lama Tsongkhapa and sent it to His Holiness Serkong Rinpoche. This poem praised the clear explanations of Lama Tsongkhapa and how what he wrote had not been written by the previous great holy beings in Tibet.

I think Lama had exactly the same experiences of the illusory body as Lama Tsongkhapa explained in his teachings. When Lama was teaching the Six Yogas of Naropa at Lama Tsong Khapa Institute, he used to do Chakrasamvara self-initiation every morning. Then, Lama said, he could teach the Six Yogas of Naropa. During that time Lama was reading the part of the Guhyasamaja text on the five stages, the commentary which we received last year on the illusory body. This text was left in America but this time I brought it back. This text was carried to Lama Tsong Khapa Institute for Lama to read, and from that time Lama mainly read on this subject. I do not know when he started reading on this subject, but from that time he read mainly on this.

Then, one night in Dharamsala, when we talked about the powers of the subtle mind-wind and of what great yogis can do with the illusory body, for example, tantric wrathful actions such as separating the consciousness from the body, Lama said, "Even that I can do." Lama said that his subtle body, the illusory body, could go and do these activities.

Also, one morning a big fire started near Thubten Wangmo's house. Normally, the cooks would run down to stop the fire. At the time Lama was having breakfast. He did not stand up, he did not do anything, but was very relaxed. While the fire was burning, he sat in his chair, extremely relaxed, having breakfast. I think Lama's brother, Geshe Thinley, who passed away two or three days ago, was also there at that time. At that time Lama mentioned: "This doesn't matter. There won't be any danger from this fire." When one monastery in Tibet caught fire, Lama Tsongkhapa put out the fire with his subtle body-mind, without needing to use other things. I don't think Tibet had fire extinguishers, especially at that time. Maybe now they have them.

Then the fire stopped. The rest of us had been very worried, but Lama was quite relaxed. This shows that Lama had these powers and had attained the illusory body.

Another special quality was never showing other people that he was a great meditator, a great practitioner. On the outside, Lama appeared to other people to not be meditating, even to the people close to him. He never appeared to meditate, which means sitting straight with crossed legs. To other people Lama commonly appeared to be entertaining and enjoying life. But the way Lama enjoyed life is the best way of enjoying life. Ordinary people enjoy life just by making themselves comfortable and happy.

The reality of Lama's daily life is that his sleeping at night-time—or what appeared to us as sleeping—and lying down to rest in the daytime for an hour after lunch, which he called "going to have a nap," was actually a very skillful way of practicing Dharma. Because you do not show other people that you are meditating, there is no way for the eight worldly dharmas, seeking a good reputation, to arise. If other people see you meditating, the worldly thought seeking a good reputation may arise. It is the opposite to this if other people do not know you are meditating. All these—what was called taking a nap or resting, and sleeping at night-time—were actually meditation sessions.

One day, here at Kopan, the parents of the incarnation of one of Lama's teachers, who is here now from Sera, came to visit.1 In his past life this incarnation  was one very famous geshe, Geshe Ngawang Gendun, who was also Geshe Sopa Rinpoche's teacher, and of the most well-known living ex-abbot of Sera College, Geshe Tobgay. So, on the day that the parents of this incarnation came, Lama did not have his nap. Lama showed the aspect of being very sorry that he had missed his nap. I think there would be no need to feel so sorry if he was just missing one hour's nap. Sometimes Lama only had a half-hour rest. I think it was for the continuation of realizations of the path. In the ordinary view, you need to continue the experience every day. Even a few minutes to meditate and continue the experience are extremely precious. I think it was like this.

Then, in Dharamsala, when I had lung, or wind disease, Lama said, "If there is achievement of bliss and voidness, there is no place for wind disease. There is no place for tightness in the heart if you have bliss in your heart." I think Lama was talking about his own experiences.

For Lama, even with the many centers which had many problems, even hearing the many problems of the people, I think his bliss and voidness overwhelmed the problems.

There was no depression, and he was constantly very happy. Even if you have problems, if your mind is experiencing great bliss all the time, you have a very happy, very satisfied life, day and night. You have great confidence in your heart and, I think, a most interesting life. When we see the Panchen Lama and His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the great meditators, even though there are problems, there is no depression for them because of their great tantric realizations of bliss and voidness.

Also, when I was going to do retreat, Lama Yeshe advised me that there was no need to say the prayers of refuge and bodhicitta, but just to start straight with the actual body of the meditation. I think this was not advice for me as to how to do the practice but Lama was expressing his own experiences. Lama did not need to begin with the refuge and bodhicitta prayers because the attainment was already there. He had the realization, so he did not need to do the prayers but just begin the actual meditation in the sadhana.

Lama used to say that if you are able to make any action you do—eating, drinking, whatever—Dharma, then your life becomes meaningful. I think this advice expresses Lama’s own capability and experience.

When Lama was in Dharamsala, he used to open many different books, wherever there was a seat, outside or inside. At each place, he would open various texts. While Lama was doing retreat, he was able to read so many books, opened at each different seat, inside and outside the retreat room. This seemed to me like the many other lamas who had achieved the illusory body; in the night-time they open the book, and the illusory body reads it. Like this, in such a short time, Lama was able to finish reading so many commentaries and Dharma texts.

In the past, Lama often used to tell me to eat food. He always said: “You think I’m eating food with attachment, or to become fat, but I’m eating this food to be healthy.” He often used to say this, but I think that his reason for eating food was not to benefit his body. My feeling is that this is not what ordinary people think of as benefiting the body. It is not the same. As I mentioned before, Lama’s attitude in eating food was to develop realizations. Not just to develop what ordinary people say is health—not this external physical health but the inner mental health. Through this real health the body also becomes healthy, and the indestructible vajra body is achieved.

Lama’s passing away

I think Lama intended to live in the meditation state for one year after passing away. After coming back from America, I saw Lama’s notebook here on the table. It contained written notes on Shantideva and some other lamas of the mahamudra lineage who had lived in the meditation state at the time of passing away and lived in that meditation state for twenty or more years. At that time, I found more definite understanding that Lama planned to keep his body for one year after passing away, for students to do one year of Vajrasattva retreat. However, on the advice of Lama’s guru, His Holiness Zong Rinpoche, Lama’s holy body was offered fire at Vajrapani Institute.

At O Sel Ling [the FPMT retreat center in Spain], they did one year of Vajrasattva retreat, day and night, very neatly. And at Kopan the boys did the retreat during the daytime and a few Westerners tried, with a lot of difficulties due to not having enough people, to carry on the retreat during the night-time. Some people who had never met Lama also participated in the retreat and enjoyed it. Also in New Zealand, they did not do it continuously but they did sessions. At many places, either individuals or groups at the centers, did as Lama had advised. Then, from time to time we did pujas as needed, to purify and accumulate merit to meet Lama’s incarnation.

Rinpoche's Dreams and Observations

After I came back from America, I did one retreat on this hill. During that time, every night for so many months, there were clouds of dreams, especially when I had to make decisions about the organization. When there was a wrong decision made, I used to dream that Lama was going away from me, and things like that. Then when something good was done, Lama would be coming to the airport and giving flowers or things like that. Also, by making requests to Lama’s relics, I received many answers and much advice through dreams. The answers were shown very clearly through the dreams.

I didn’t keep a diary but one night during that retreat I had a strong dream of what seemed to be a bamboo retreat house, with a bamboo bed and bamboo all around. I had the impression of John Jackson’s house at Vajrapani Institute, but the appearance was different; it was not an American house. Anyway, with his palms together, his whole holy body filled with unbearably strong compassion, Lama one-pointedly made two very powerful prayers only to benefit other sentient beings. These were not the usual fixed prayers that we recite, like Jang chub sem chog rinpoche, but they were incredibly effective.

Later, when I checked the month with the mother, Maria, in Spain, it was very near to the time that conception took place in the mother’s womb, though I didn’t keep the exact dates.

After the first retreat on the Chakrasamvara body mandala, I did a second retreat on the five deities of Chakrasamvara on this hill. After that I left for Dharamsala. One night there I had a dream of one Western child crawling on the on the carpet in my room—not in the deity’s room, but in the outside room. So, when I went to Spain and saw Lama Ösel, he came into the room crawling on the ground exactly like that, reminding me very strongly of the dream. Not only I, but many students also had dreams similar to this. When they saw Lama Ösel they could recognize him from their dreams.

There were also predictions from the deities about the land, O Sel Ling, the land of the clear light. And, from time to time, we did various pujas. I attended the first meeting of the board members, six or seven people, here at Kopan. The second meeting I attended, with most of the directors, was in Germany. Some of you who were there may remember that Maria, the mother, sat way down the back. Actually, I remember that at one point the meeting got very intense and the child cried; Maria had to leave because of the crying.

By the time I reached Spain, the name of the place was clear and, secondly, I had a few syllables of the name either of the parents or the child. Now, I think it was more the mother’s name, Maria. The night I arrived in Spain, I had a very strong and very significant dream, probably a sign from the deity. So, the next day, I checked with the cook, the nun Gloria. I asked her: “Is there any woman who has a name like this? Or a child?” She said: “Yes, I know one woman.” I asked: “Has she got a child?” Gloria said: “Yes.” So then I became quite interested!

Before meeting Maria, I did my own berserk checking. With the usual deity with which I do observations these days, it came out definite two or three times, one after another. After that, I didn’t have any doubts from my side; everything came together. Then I called the mother and asked her what dreams she had had and all those things. During the teaching—the course was held in the dome, where many courses have been done—the mother and father, Maria and Paco, used to bring the baby way down there. After I had done the checking, I used to look quite often at the child. In the break before the Chenrezig initiation, the child was crawling very curiously around the newspapers and tape recorders. He was very curious and showed a similar aspect and actions.

I asked Cherry to bring the child to me. As soon as we put the child on the throne, he picked up the bell and vajra and put them in his mouth. I had a very nice picture of him putting the vajra and bell in his mouth that very first time, as soon as he got on the throne, but now I have lost it. I thought that it was very auspicious. So at that time, generally, a lot of pujas were happening for Lama’s incarnation, announcing to the students that Lama’s incarnation was existing. We also did a lot of pujas in Spain, particularly for what appeared to be a lot of obstacles for that child. We did the long-life initiation of white Heruka three times, I think. When I was in Barcelona, the geshe and organization people didn’t get much sleep. I think they went to bed after three o’clock because the lecture was in the evening, then we did pujas at night for the child: pujas for betraying the death, Kalarupa pujas, and others. A lot of pujas were done.

I told the parents that this was a child who would benefit so many people and that his life is as important as the lives of a million people; that his life was extremely precious and they should take care of him. I also explained what the Western point of view of clean means and what the Tibetan Buddhist point of view of clean means. I explained how important it is to keep the child clean, and things like that. Then I came back here.

After I came back, I didn’t rush. I actually delayed very much and, for many months, didn’t do anything. When I was in Bodhgaya, I asked His Holiness the Dalai Lama to check. The first answer from His Holiness said that the observation checking the incarnation of Geshe Thubten Yeshe did not come out clearly at the moment, and we should wait for a while. And that it was very important that the disciples, without discouragement, should continue with their Dharma practice. This letter came from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on January 3rd, 1986.

Then in Dharamsala, I wrote a list of ten children—from Tibet, the East and the West—about whom people were talking, and with some other information. I asked His Holiness whether the incarnation was on this list of ten or not on the list. This means that His Holiness was not obliged to choose from these ten. The answer came that the result of having done examination was that the incarnation was definitely on the list. But for stability—which means to make sure for the minds of those people who have other conceptions and would find it difficult to have faith because he is a Western person—material examinations should be done, and then decide. This answer came in a letter from His Holiness, after His Holiness came from Bodhgaya, on April 8th, 1986.

For the examination, I called the mother to come, and to bring Lama. I met them in Delhi, and we went to see His Holiness who had just come from Mysore. In the room at the Ashoka Hotel, His Holiness said, in Tibetan, that this child came out extremely good as the incarnation of Lama Yeshe. And also, in English, His Holiness repeated two or three times to the mother, and I think Jacie, but I don’t remember who else was there, that it was very positive. Then His Holiness advised that the Manjushri mantra should be recited to Lama Ösel. His Holiness also said that gradually, when Lama Ösel started to speak, he would give more proof from his own side. Somebody who is not Lama Yeshe would have no way to show from his own side that he was Lama Yeshe! His Holiness would not say this about somebody who was not Lama, that he would prove he was Lama.

After that, we went to Dharamsala. I hesitated very much about whether to announce to the students there that this child was Lama’s incarnation, or just to keep quiet. I did so much checking when we stopped in the restaurants along the way. Then I decided that when I reached Dharamsala, anyway people would know that this was Lama’s incarnation from the way I took care of him. They would know even if I didn’t tell them. After we reached Dharamsala, because I thought it would be auspicious, we suddenly did a short enthronement. There were many students doing Heruka retreat. So we did Lama Tsong Khapa Guru Yoga prayer and the Sixteen Arhats prayer, offering Tibetan tea and special rice in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Lama Ösel liked the Tibetan tea very much.

Actually it was amazing. I think the students who were there will remember that it was quite amazing. Lama Ösel was so small; he had just started to stand up and try to walk in the airport in Holland, on the way to India. However, even at that time, when students were offering mandalas, his responses were very different according to each student. He looked at the students very precisely and deeply, maybe looking more at the mind. He immediately gave proof to the students by playing the bell, holding the bell in his left hand and the vajra in his right hand. He played the bell again and again, and everyone had a great time.

After some time, we did the examination. Geshe Tsering, from the Tibetan side, Neil [Ven. Dondrub], the famous Max Redlich, and the child’s mother were there. We put Lama’s retreat rosary and many other rosaries on the table. From the very beginning, without any hesitation, Lama Ösel picked up Lama’s old bone mala, which did not look very interesting. He picked up that mala and held it above his head with both arms. He reminded me very clearly of a football match in the West or the end of a circus performance. This meant that he had succeeded, he had won. Also, from many different bells, I requested him to give me his past-life’s bell. After some time of asking things like this, he took my hand and put it on Lama’s bell. With the damaru, he threw away the other damarus but kept one damaru that Max offered to him that day to play with, and Lama’s retreat damaru. These two damarus he put in his mouth and left on the table.

Then there were the things that proved that he was Tibetan in his past life, such as liking so much thukpa, tsampa, Tibetan tea and tsog. And there were all the particular things that showed from his own side an aspect similar to Lama Yeshe. Lama Ösel liked gardening so much; he was always taking tools and going to the garden—the same garden where Lama used to work. And he was always going into the kitchen, doing the same things Lama used to do, opening the pots and checking. There were many of these particular characteristics which were similar to Lama’s and identified him as carrying Lama’s character.

Recognition of Lama Ösel as Lama's Incarnation

Then there is a long letter that explains. After I had received this letter, I received a phone call from the Private Office the next day that the first one is Lama’s incarnation. All the things that had happened were explained to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This other letter is the official letter that was given after the telephone call.

To Lama Thubten Zopa, Tushita, to the people as they asked: having received the letter to check at different times as it is in the list, it is the son living in a Dharma center in Western Spain that came out the good incarnation of Lama Yeshe. From the Dalai Lama, June 16 1986.

Lama’s root guru is His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, from whom Lama asked various advice for his practice. When Lama Ösel went to see His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche’s incarnation, as soon as he arrived he ran inside to where His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche used to give interviews and bless people. They had to catch Lama Ösel and bring him back because His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche’s incarnation was not ready to sit there. When they entered the room, Lama Ösel was incredibly happy and excited. His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche’s incarnation was also very happy, and they passed money back and forth between them for a long time. The servants told other students that Lama Yeshe’s incarnation had come, and that His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche’s incarnation was so happy to meet him. This is very clear proof that there was good samaya in the past life between Lama and his root guru, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche. I also heard that when Lama went to the stupa of His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, where the holy body was offered to the fire, before, he was showing the aspect of being tired, but when he reached there he circumambulated by himself and did prostrations.

One amazing thing is that when we went to Wisconsin, Lama Ösel liked Geshe Sopa, who is one of Lama Yeshe’s teachers, very much. I offered a long-life puja to Geshe Sopa Rinpoche, and during all that time Lama Ösel was with Geshe Sopa, playing, taking rice from the mandala and heaping it up there on the steps. That night Geshe-la offered a long khatag to Lama Ösel, because we had to leave early the next morning; Lama Ösel did like this, then fell down. I thought that maybe he had remembered Geshe-la’s kindness in his past life. Sometimes when you remember so much kindness, you can be overcome with devotion.

One day, after the stupa was finished and blessed, the Vajrapani people requested Geshe Sopa to stay one more day. I think they asked Geshe-la for an hour. That day I took a teaching on the lamrim, The Happy Path—I had missed a few pages at the beginning because I was late coming to Dharamsala from America when His Holiness was giving the nine lamrim commentaries. So, I completed the teaching there. That evening Lama Ösel, his father and mother, and I had dinner with Geshe-la. Suddenly, while we were eating, without anybody telling Lama Ösel to do so, he did about twelve prostrations, one straight after another, to Geshe Sopa Rinpoche, who, as his guru, is the right object of prostration. He was not just prostrating to the table, the cushions or the refrigerator, and he was not just imitating what somebody else was doing. Geshe Sopa liked Lama Ösel very much and held him in his lap. Early the next morning, when Geshe-la was leaving, we came down from Tom’s house, which Geshe-la enjoyed very much. Geshe-la said that this incarnation is very intelligent and incredibly compassionate, with a very good heart. Geshe-la was surprised and extremely pleased.

By living with Lama Ösel, I saw more and more amazing proofs. He hasn’t taken the aspect of speaking yet, but just with his physical actions, there are more and more amazing things. Many individual students, especially the older ones, have their own proofs that it is Lama Yeshe.

As I mentioned this morning, so many people have come to know about Lama Ösel as Lama’s incarnation, even though in the past life he was just a simple geshe and the Tibetans didn’t even recognize him as a high lama. I think this is an action motivated by the past life’s bodhicitta. It is making many people who are not aware of the phenomenon of mental continuity think about reincarnation —that there is a life before this one and another coming after it. And thinking about reincarnation is making them think about karma. The questions about karma and the answers are leading people to an understanding of and faith in karma. So, it is opening their Dharma wisdom eye and leading them to temporary and ultimate happiness. So many sentient beings have already been made to think and ask questions about their own lives. When people in the small village of Bubion heard about this, they were saying that if there is another life after this, this is not the way to live life. The way a person lives their life should be different if there is another life coming after this. In other words, generally speaking, they were being made more aware of fields of phenomena of which they were ignorant. Because of that ignorance they were continually creating the cause of suffering and were never getting scared of the sufferings of samsara and never getting the opportunity to achieve liberation.

All the students did much strong practice and retreat in groups at the centers, as Lama advised, sacrificing their own life to benefit other sentient beings as much as possible. I think that the power of all this merit and the unbearable compassion from Lama’s side for us sentient beings caused Lama to incarnate quickly. I think if we continue our practice, Lama’s incarnation will live long, without obstacles.

Even though Lama Ösel is just two years old, by being in his presence even non-religious people are changed; it gives those who are not Buddhist, who have no understanding of the important fields of karma and reincarnation, faith that they do exist. They feel this by seeing Lama Ösel.

In the future, when Lama Ösel starts to speak, because of the development of his mind from past lives, even a few Dharma words from him will be incredibly deep and effective. Even a few words will move and subdue the minds of other sentient beings.

So, my request is that you pray and continue to practice. In that way, the wishes for the happiness of so many sentient beings, including us, will be accomplished.

Also, here at Kopan, one year before Lama passed away, Lama told one American nun that he would be born in Spain and explained the characteristics of the mother, Maria. In Dharamsala, Lama used to ask us to guess where he would be born. I concentrated more on America, not on Spain. When we said things like that, Lama used to laugh. So, already when Lama was in Dharamsala, he had a definite plan for where he was going to reincarnate. His laughter showed that our guess wasn’t accurate. Also, in Spain, the last time he met the parents, Lama gave them a lot of advice and, looking at the mother, he then said, “We have much karmic contact,” and other things like that. Even in the past life there were many indications like this.

By choosing to reincarnate in the West, Lama is teaching us and other sentient beings Dharma in a new way. Lama is showing his own mind-power, and how we sentient beings can develop our mind through Dharma practice. In other words, Lama is showing the whole lamrim teaching, what we need to practice and what we can achieve.

What everybody prayed for has been realized. We dedicated the merit in the past and now we have achieved the result: we have been able to meet Lama’s incarnation. Enjoy this great opportunity. With great joy, thinking how fortunate we are, dedicate the merits for Lama Ösel’s long life and for him to take the aspect of all the qualities written here in the prayer.

[Recitation of long-life prayer for Lama Ösel]

Please dedicate that due to the merit we have accumulated, the ultimate good heart of bodhicitta is generated within our own mind and in the minds of all the sentient beings who don’t have bodhicitta. And may those who have already generated bodhicitta develop it.


1 The present incarnation of Geshe Ngawang Gendun is Yangsi Rinpoche. His parents are Jampa Trinley and Ngawang Namgyal. [Return to text]