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Lama Yeshe Rinpoche stands at the helm of the secular Samye Foundation and is one of its directors. He is also the Abbot of Europe’s first Tibetan Buddhist monastery, Kagyu Samye Ling Based in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, the monastery was co-founded by his brother, and former Abbot, the late Akong Tulku Rinpoche.
It was 1959 when Lama Yeshe Rinpoche's life took a turn towards the West. He was just a teenager when he undertook the long and dangerous journey out of Chinese-ruled Tibet, seeking a new life. At this point he was not a monk, and lived and experienced life as an ordinary young man. It was ten years later that he headed towards Scotland, to offer service at Kagyu Samye Ling.
“At thirty-seven years old, Lama Yeshe left the trappings of materialism”
It was some years after this, “having tasted and become disillusioned with modern Western culture”, that Lama Yeshe Rinpoche decided to leave “the trappings of materialism” and dedicate himself to the spiritual life, according to his biography provided by Kagyu Samye Ling.
At thirty-seven years of age, in 1980, in Woodstock New York, Lama Yeshe Rinpoche took full ordination as a Buddhist monk within the Kagyu Lineage of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and entered solitary retreat. In 1991, he took responsibility for Samye Ling monastery, and became Abbot in 1995.
“Lama Yeshe’s dream for a long-term Buddhist retreat came true with Holy Isle”
Lama Yeshe Rinpoche’s passion was and is for spiritual retreats, and at the time of his ordination he had two heartfelt wishes: one to remain in retreat for twenty years, the other to establish a dedicated long-term Buddhist Retreat centre.
Having taken responsibility for Kagyu Samye Ling, he could not realize his first wish. However, he did spend a total of twelve years in retreat; and his second wish became a reality.
In 1992, the monastery acquired a beautiful island, appropriately named ‘Holy Isle’ off the Ayrshire coast, and there he established a long-term Buddhist retreat and Interfaith Centre for World Peace and Health.
A wildlife haven and home to rare breeds of Eriskay ponies, Soay sheep and Sanaan goats, the life lived on the island is a model of environmentally friendly living.
“[Lama Yeshe’s] energy and inspiration fuel the Trust’s far reaching activities…”
Lama Yeshe Rinpoche's work also stretches beyond Scotland, via the Rokpa Trust. a charity of which he is the chairman. The Rokpa Trust supports humanitarian works in Tibet and the UK, via its spiritual centres (Dzongs).
Kagyu Samye Dzongs are scattered worldwide and include one in Cardiff, the Kagyu Samye Dzong Cardiff, which is located alongside the Samye Foundation.
“[Lama Yeshe] is a living example of the joyful Bodhisattva in action.”
Now Lama Yeshe Rinpoche’s inspiring leadership is at the heart of all this work. The Samye Ling community says: “His energy and inspiration fuel the Trust’s far reaching activities… Indeed, he is a living example of the joyful Bodhisattva in action.”
Wherever in the world Lama Yeshe Rinpoche is invited to speak, he delivers a message of unconditional loving kindness, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness.
His more recent engagements have included:
- Inspirational talks at the Theosophical Society International Congress
- Participation in a seminar with the World Community for Christian Meditation with Fr Laurence Freeman
- Attendance at a Meeting and Celebration lunch in the House of Lords with H H the Dalai Lama in honour of his 80th birthday, and
- Participation in a gathering at the British Academy to discuss faith and the role of religion in society.