When Lama Yeshe and his old friend Jampa Trinley had been students together at Sera in Tibet, one of their dearest teachers had been Geshe Ngawang Gendun. He had died in Tibet before Jampa Trinley had departed Lhasa for Nepal. Before his death Geshe Gendun was recorded as having said, “There is no more reason for me to live. It is negative and immoral in Tibet now, so it’s time for me to go.” He lay down on his right side, his right hand supporting his head in the manner of the reclining Buddha, and simply left his body. Geshe Gendun also told Jampa Trinley how much he liked his student’s home and wanted to return to it. One night in Kathmandu Jampa Trinley’s wife dreamt she was holding a baby who was a lama. Shortly afterward she discovered she was pregnant. Lama Yeshe’s old friend Jampa Trinley often visited Kopan and stayed overnight—to enjoy a good laugh together and devise business plans—and on one such occasion he told Lama Yeshe about his wife’s dream and about her pregnancy. Lama Yeshe flew into action immediately, obviously with some inkling that this baby was the reincarnation of Geshe Ngawang Gendun.
Months later, after the child had been born, Marcel recalled, “Lama came back from Kathmandu one day and told me he had discovered the incarnation of his teacher. I asked him how he knew. He said that he had made a mandala offering to the young boy and immediately a strong clear vision of his former teacher had arisen in his mind.” That this child was indeed the reincarnation of Geshe Ngawang Gendun was later confirmed by Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche, who formally recognized the tulku. The child was named Kelsang Puntsog Rinpoche. Lama Yeshe was over the moon when he first brought the little boy to Kopan. “He is still my teacher, he is my teacher without words. He is my teacher forever! His face is exactly the same as it was last time. It’s incredible! He uses a very high communication, not at all like a baby. His mind is fantastic!” Lama Yeshe enthused.
In January 1975 Kelsang Puntsog Rinpoche was to be enthroned at Kopan, after which occasion he became known to all as Yangsi Rinpoche. By then he had already been living at Kopan for some time, sleeping in what was known as Lama Yeshe’s big room—a long upstairs room with beautiful Tibetan carpets located at the front of the gompa building and kept for formal receptions. Lama Yeshe spent most of his time in a tiny bedroom opposite Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s equally small one. In time, Yangsi Rinpoche came to share Lama Lhundrup’s little room with him.
Prior to the big day Lama Yeshe had everybody at Kopan cleaning the place and painting buildings with whitewash. He borrowed many Tibetan carpets, furniture, brocades and excellent thangkas so that Kopan looked prosperous and beautiful. Everybody at Sera had known Geshe Gendun, and Jampa Trinley’s family was well respected in Kathmandu.
Five hundred people, including one hundred Westerners, attended the elaborate enthronement ceremonies. As long horns on the Kopan gompa roof sounded out across the valley, in the first morning light one could make out the misty shapes of guests coming up the hill. Lama Zopa Rinpoche was required to wear gorgeous ceremonial brocades befitting his rank as a tulku, an honor he did not appear to enjoy one bit. Yangsi Rinpoche arrived, wearing a tall yellow pandit’s hat and dressed in fine robes. He sat on the highest throne in the gompa and behaved impeccably. Afterward, everyone lined up to offer khatas to him and receive his blessing.
It was Kopan’s first big celebratory puja. As an offering the little monks each received ten rupees plus a whole loaf of bread to themselves. In honor of the day Jampa Trinley donated several large and very beautiful statues to the Kopan gompa.
The group lam-rim retreat that had begun in December after the end of the seventh meditation course was still in progress. Lama Yeshe was very keen that his Tibetan visitors see Westerners doing meditation. At his request the retreaters did not interrupt their schedule and the group did all their usual meditation sessions right through the entire enthronement ceremony. Many curious Tibetans peeked into their tent to look at the very unusual spectacle of more than forty Westerners meditating under Marcel’s guidance.
From that day onward, Yangsi Rinpoche sat in pujas alongside the other three little rinpoches. He had a terrible habit of falling asleep. “Sometimes I’d wake up to find grains of offering rice stuck to my forehead from the table in front of me,” he said. When the boys fell asleep during puja, Lama sometimes took one of the large brass water bowls off the altar and placed it square on top of the offender’s head. That usually woke them up. However, he did not treat the little rinpoches in this manner. Their rank gave them certain privileges. As a result, some classmates revered them, whereas others were jealous of the leniency accorded them by Lama Yeshe. The respect with which Lama Yeshe treated Yangsi Rinpoche was a model to all of how one should treat a tulku. “Perhaps he’s trying to show us how to treat himself when he comes back,” mused the Injis. But no one wanted to talk about Lama Yeshe reincarnating—no one could consider the prospect of him dying.