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Dear Love Lawudo Friends,

Greetings on the holy day of Lhabab Düchen! Please enjoy this opportunity to re-connect with the highest and most remote retreat centre in the FPMT.

It's now been more than eighteen months since Lawudo has been able to welcome overseas visitors, so in this newsletter we invite you to travel back in time to 1990, with a video of Lama Zopa Rinpoche arriving for the Nyung Nä retreat in May, and an extraordinarily inspiring account of Ven Amy Miller’s first visit and water bowl retreat in September of that year.

If you’d like to taste some of these experiences for yourself, Ven Amy will be leading a pilgrimage to Lawudo in either Spring 2022 or 2023, depending on the pandemic. Further information will be available next month via her website

In addition, our Kathmandu correspondent Frances Howland has kindly provided an encouraging update on the Covid situation in the region. Let’s all make prayers that the precious Lawudo family continue to stay well and that at least some of us will be able to visit them before too long.

Update on the Pandemic

Frances Howland reports:
In the Kathmandu Valley, the number of daily Covid-19 infection cases have now dropped to less than a thousand, so the few services such as cinemas, spas and beauty parlours that had remained closed have finally been allowed to reopen. 

Nepal has also reopened its ‘visa on arrival’ service for people who have been double vaccinated at least 14 days before their arrival. People who are unvaccinated can still enter but need to get their visa from a local embassy and to quarantine in a hotel of their choice on arrival. The requirement of a PCR test and the completion of the relevant government documents prior to arrival remains the same for everyone. 

The Khumbu municipality says it has vaccinated almost 100% of the population. Hotels are now open and between five and seven flights are going into Lukla each day. These are mostly for Nepali visitors with only a few foreign trekkers because tourism as a whole has not picked up yet.  Upon arrival in Lukla, visitors need to purchase a Rs. 2000.00 Municipality Pass (which has replaced the previous TIMS Card) and to show a negative PCR and proof of vaccination.
Namche Bazaar is currently crowded with 400 people making a major Bollywood movie, which has been a boon for the local lodge owners. The Tengboche Monastery Mani Rimdu festival also took place on 21 and 22 October.  

Rare Archival Footage of Lawudo

The Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive has recently released some rare archival footage of Lama Zopa Rinpoche arriving at Lawudo in 1990 to lead a nyung nä retreat. The local nuns - including Rinpoche's mother - greet Rinpoche and lead him to the gompa where Rinpoche is offered a mandala and then gives a short introductory teaching on the importance of developing compassion through the method of nyung nä. It ends with scenes from the retreat and expansive views outside the gompa at dawn. You can watch the 32-minute video, filmed by Marie Adeline, by clicking on the image above.

Journey to Lawudo - The First Visit

by Ven. Amy Miller

September 4, 1990. My porters, Gunché and her 11-year old son, deliver me so caringly to the Lawudo gate after our two to three-day walk from Lukla. At an elevation of 14,000 feet, we are extremely winded as the three of us have been carrying various paraphernalia for people in this region. As I press my hand to the classic old gate, the word, “Lawudo,” unconsciously tumbles from my lips like a prayer, like confirmation of some new chapter in my life. The gate is locked. I gesture to my companions to wait there while I hurl myself over the stone wall skirting the Lawudo yard.

A few cows look up at me, their mouths on auto-chew while I make my way across some uneven stones past what looks like a large meditation hall (gompa) while a stout Sherpa nun comes to greet me.


Anila Ngawang Samten smiles and holds out her hands, which I grasp. Suddenly, I am home.
“Hello,” I offer.
“Hello. How long are you staying?” she asks, her look open, warm.
“2½ months, “ I answer.
She smiles. “Last night I dream Lama Zopa coming here,” she offers.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m not nearly the same.”

She laughs and adds, “No…message that you are coming. He sent me a message.”

We make our way down via the yard and down stone steps to the gate, which she unlocks to allow Gunché and her son to enter. We all go inside the kitchen building and into the dining room, where I greet Amala, the mother of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and of Anila. We both hold our hands up together in greeting. “Tashi Delek.”

I had first heard of Lawudo during a three-month group retreat at Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamsala, India earlier that year. Some old karmic seed piqued my interest and now here I was. Finally, at this remote destination, I hoped to engage in my first solitary retreat and attempt to complete a water bowl preliminary practice (ngöndro), offering some 100,000 or so water offerings.

In the kitchen we sit, Anila, Thubten Drolkar (a young cousin, who is now Thubten Sangmo and nearly a Geshe-ma at Kopan nunnery), Gunché, her son and me. Tsampa (roasted barley flour) is doled out in bowls with butter, sugar and Tibetan tea poured over the top. Rara (ramen) noodles are boiling on the fire in the low clay stove central to the intimate and dim kitchen. We eat silently at first, licking fingers, slurping sweet milk tea on the side. Anila is on the floor by the fire and adds a small stick here and there to keep it going. The place is smoky and dusty and far away from any comforts I have known, and somehow I feel more comfortable than ever.

Gunché and her son need to depart, to head back home down the mountain. We unpack. There is a sizeable roll of plastic piping that I was told to bring up to access water from a spring a 20-minute walk away, a large framed mirror for the nuns in Thamo (a half hour walk below Lawudo), mail for Lawudo, requested food items from a list kept at Kopan, 100 aluminum water bowls, and other retreat materials. Soon Gunché and I touch foreheads (a Sherpa tradition instead of hugging) and clasp hands in parting. Her sweet son I hug, and they are off.

The next few days are a buzz of settling in, hanging out in the kitchen with Anila, Thubten Drolkar, and monk Tsultrim Norbu – the Lawudo Family - and being treated to every imaginable way to cook potatoes. I also so enjoy time in the dining room with Amala. Amala, quite old at the time, mostly stays in a far corner of the dining constantly turning a table-sized Mani wheel (a ritual item filled with sacred mantras or prayers). She has lost most of her teeth, yet Anila informs me that it’s possible to cut a new tooth for every million manis recited. Asking Amala to open her mouth, she shows me three new teeth.

The family is completely supportive of my retreat and helps me set up for doing extensive water bowl offerings. Anila suggested I stay in Lama Ösel’s house which is up above the main buildings and one of the nicest single cabins there. It has a small yard and separate outhouse. Norbu-la helps position planks of wood on a small wall in the yard. I cover the planks with plastic colored sheeting as you are supposed to make the offerings in a beautiful place. I don’t really have to worry about the beauty as the view out is of 20,000-foot Himalayan snow peaks and is some of the most pristine scenery I have ever seen. A few days later, we work to set up the plastic pipe I have brought. We run it from a spring a twenty-minute walk away near the small hermitage of Cherok. As it is just coming to the end of monsoon, this will be the most abundant time for water.

At Tushita, when Rinpoche first advised me to do the water bowl practice, he directed me to Harry Sutton for advice. Harry Sutton and Merry Colony were key in helping me get oriented for a trip to Lawudo as they had caves in Cherok and had spent long periods of time in retreat there. I was barely a Buddhist at the time. Harry smiled and said, “Rinpoche told you to do water bowls at Lawudo? There’s no water there!” Somehow I felt the practice had started at that moment and I knew it was not going to be easy.

The pipe is initially laid above ground. I had brought a plastic tap from Kathmandu for the end near the cabin. The beginning is mildly disastrous with the tap flying off and hitting me in the face several times because there is no way to regulate the water pressure. At times, there is no water. I hike out over the vast expanse of mountain and finally encounter the break where a grazing yak has stepped on it, and I reconnect it. Eventually we bury the pipe. I could not have done this without the help of Tsultrim Norbu.

I make arrangements with Anila regarding meal delivery (breakfast and lunch only) as I want to do this retreat with as little distraction as possible. She agrees and insists on sending an evening tea as well. She tries to persuade me to take dinner (as she does with every retreat I have done at Lawudo) and says I will be cold, etc., but I am insistent on taking precepts everyday so finally she relents.

In her unique way, Anila proceeds to support my retreat in ways I can only imagine while running the entire operation at Lawudo and caring for her elderly mother. There are other retreaters who come and go. I occasionally hear them and other visitors below in the yard. She tends to an array of cows and dzos in the Lawudo yard, their babies, and some nearby yak, whom she feeds and milks for milk, butter and yogurt. Her food is delicious and the potato pancakes bring tears to my eyes as I recall the ones that my grandmother made for me. Sometimes, when looking down from the yard, I see her tending the potatoes and root crops she is growing to feed us all. Once in a while she brings lunch to me herself, to get a look at how I am doing, but she never disturbs.

At times during the water offerings, the water is inconsistent, the yard floods and I remove my shoes so they won’t get ruined. I find myself ankle deep in freezing cold mountain water all day long. “Can’t stop, can’t stop, can’t stop” revolves in my head. I am manic about doing the bowls as Rinpoche told me to “try to finish” and then added “not sure you will finish, but try.”

I wake at 3:30am every morning to darkness and cold. I light the small kerosene lamp, throw some water over my face from a thermos and step outside with a cup of water to brush my teeth. Precepts and prostrations, and then I settle in to an extensive Lama Chöpa Jorchö session as taught at the recent group retreat at Tushita. I use a dog-eared typed and mimeographed commentary booklet made for the retreat, as there were minimal printed materials at the time. I have my own notes and make some outlines of the Lam Rim. About three hours later, as soon as the sun comes out, I am outside brushing ice off of the boards on the wall to begin the water offerings.

I bring the small bowls outside and position them face down in two rows on the boards. I light a stick of incense and place each bowl over it reciting “Om Ah Hung” to bless them with the body, speech and mind of the Buddha. With a pitcher, I fill up the first bowl and then pour most of it into the next bowl and most of that one into the next and so on until each bowl is face up with a small amount of water inside. I then position the bowls the appropriate distance apart as was orally explained to me (as there were no practice booklets at that time.) I then fill the bowls near full while reciting a multiplying mantra I had scribbled down at Tushita during a crash tutorial from Merry. I cross the yard and sit down on a foam mat I have brought with me to recite the 7-Limbed Prayer. With the best visualization I can manage, I offer. After some time, I get up and empty the water from the bowls onto the trees below the wall and start the whole process again. I continue this process for roughly twelve hours a day over the course of seven weeks.
Sometimes the weather is pristine and clear, at other times rainy and dark. At the end of September, the three-day end-of-monsoon storm comes on with a verocity that stuns me, yet I forge on, gortex jacket snug around me, rain pounding. When the monsoon ends, the sun comes out and burns my face to a crisp regardless of any sunscreen I use. Fortunately, the mask that I wear over my mouth and nose to keep the process a bit cleaner serves for some sun protection.

As soon as it is too dark to see outside, I finish a last offering session for the day and bring the bowls in to dry in the cabin while I conclude the Lama Chöpa Jorchö practice and do more Lam Rim meditation. I nurse a last cup of hot sweet milk tea delivered by Thubten Drolkar and drop into bed around 9pm.


I lose balance and fall several times during the retreat, probably as an effect of the water. One evening I fall onto several bowls in the cabin, denting them severely. Another time, while I am offering outside, a wild wind blows up and most of the bowls blow off the wall. It takes a precarious hike onto the hillside below to gather them up.

After two weeks of serious endeavor, I give up. I’m done. It’s all too much. I’m standing in the yard, thoughts sifting through my mind. “What would my friends say? “I could be on a beach in Thailand now.” “What’s the point of all of this?!” Tears cloud my vision, but don’t drop. I feel defeated.

Then another energy feels to be present. I turn and there is Anila standing in a corner of the yard, her hand stretched out and holding an apple, her look riveting. They don’t have apples at Lawudo, although they do grow in the valley below. I tried some on the walk up from Lukla, when they were in season, and they were delicious and exactly like my favorites apples from home. I brought some up to the Lawudo Family, but they were gone before I started retreat.

Anila and I stand looking at each other. She says nothing, but knows everything. I feel a wave of inspiration. I walk over to her and put my palms together and bow my head in thanks to her. She makes all of the difference. Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Partner, Friend, Guru. She is all of them in one, one who manifests as a simple Sherpa nun. She gestures for me to take the apple, which I do. And on I go, with a renewed dedication.

Some three or four weeks later, when I complete 100,000 water bowl offerings, it snows. I am outside in the midst of a session and the bowls fill with the white powdery substance. It is magnificent and I am elated, as I love snow. The offerings are easier now and I have learned how to control the water so there is no longer any flooding or wet cold feet. It all runs smoothly and I complete this portion of the practice at nearly 140,000 water bowl offerings. That night I dream I am having a shower in a pristine crystal bathhouse draped in pearls and jewels. The water is magical and when I look down at my body, it is my eleven-year-old body, chaste and pure. Perhaps I have purified something.

The day after I complete the water bowl practice, the water stops. I had learned Tara Praises at Tushita earlier in the year and recited them every day with specific requests to allow the water to come for me to finish 100,000 bowls. It was the first experience I had in this life that Tara totally delivers.

I now take my meals in the kitchen and love hanging out there with Anila in between her numerous activities. I help with a few things. She is so happy about my water bowl practice and keeps telling everyone who visits, “She strong retreat. She finished bowls, then water finished!”
We talk late into the evening at times and she shares stories about her most difficult life: being poor in Thamé without a father, helping her mother, Rinpoche when He was young, life at Lawudo. Some stories are funny and she laughs from the center of her core, a contagious roar that fills the room with radiance. Other stories, profound in their sadness, catch both of us with tears pouring down our faces. I don’t know how I will ever leave her.
A week later I head down to Thamo and the nunnery to join two nyung nä purification retreats. Anila Ngawang Samten and I stand in the dining room before my departure. She brings out a long katag (Tibetan prayer scarf) to offer me in farewell. I break down sobbing as she places it around my neck. She takes my hands in her and presses her cheek to mine. “Take care,” she offers. I wish her long life in perfect health and for all to go well for Amala and everyone at Lawudo. I tell Anila I will return. I have to, as she has stolen my heart and keeps it securely beneath the folds of her robes.

When the Thamo retreats are over, I walk out of the Thamé Valley to return to Kathmandu and the rest of my life. I’ve been in the mountains for nearly three months. Something feels to have shifted for the better although I can’t really say. I just notice a faint mantra turning over and over in my mind, “Ngawang Samten, Ngawang Samten, what are you doing now?”

© Amy Miller 2021

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May Lawudo flourish and bring peace and happiness to the world.

With every good wish from the LoveLawudo team: Ven Katy, Ven Khadro, Alison, Capucine, Lhamo, Nico and Violette. An international group of volunteers established in 2017 to offer support to Lawudo Gompa.

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