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Many long-time students of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and also in Italy may remember Geshe Yeshe Tobden, who was a remarkable meditator and yogi and who died in July 1999. Geshe-la’s former attendant, Ven. Lobsang Dhonden, shared some of Geshe-la’s life story in Mandala June 2001:
“Geshe Yeshe Tobden had escaped from Tibet by himself in 1960-61 after years of terror and Communist occupation. He was already well known in his monastery in Tibet – Sera Me – because of his very strict and rigorous practice. He was like St. Francis; he lived according to a very strict discipline, in poverty, humility, and chastity. Thousands of monks knew him and called him a saint from that time. Even the Chinese respected him.
“ … His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent him to the university of Varanasi to teach Buddhist philosophy for three years. But Geshe-la was not happy there because his highest aspiration was to meditate in a small grotto on the mountain. At that time the conditions to be able to do it were truly difficult. All geshes could not go away to the mountains, and thus Geshe-la submitted to the wish of His Holiness and went to Varanasi.
“In Varanasi there were many other important geshes, among them Geshe Rabten who came to know of Geshe Tobden’s profound desire. One day, while in discussion with His Holiness, he had the chance to talk to him about it. His Holiness then saw Geshe Tobden personally, asking him if he still wanted to go to the mountain and what he would do there once by himself. And Geshe-la said that he would like so much to meditate on renunciation, bodhichitta and emptiness.
“His Holiness greatly appreciated Geshe-la’s genuine desire and proposed that he go to Dharamsala, saying that he would take care of Geshe-la’s material needs, would talk to the director of the university in Varanasi and ask for the collaboration of the Indian state so that Geshe-la would be released from his teaching duties before the end of his contract. Geshe-la was able to leave immediately.
“From that time on he would be considered as a member of the Dalai Lama’s own family; His Holiness would always have time to receive him, regardless of his duties. Geshe-la was so happy. The other professors asked him not to go and leave the nice house and a very good salary, one of the highest, higher than that of the minister of the provisional Tibetan government. He was living a good life in Varanasi, worked relatively little and wanted to leave all that! In the eyes of the other professors he seemed a little eccentric. …”
You can read Ven. Lobsang Dhonden’s complete article “The Exemplary Life and Death of Geshe Yeshe Tobden” from Mandala June 2001 in Mandala’s online archive.
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Mandala Publications is the official publication of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an international charitable organization founded by two Tibetan Buddhist masters, Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-1984) and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. FPMT is a vibrant international community, with a network of 160 affiliate centers, projects and services, and members in more than 30 countries.
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