Lama Geshe Odiyaana Vajra Rinpoche, the Buddhist monk who was perhaps best known for blessing climbers seeking to scale the treacherous heights of Mount Everest, passed away on 13 February at his home in the Sherpa village of Pangboche in Nepal’s Khumbu Valley. He was 87 years old.
Lama Geshe was highly revered by the Sherpa, a Buddhist community from the Himalayas, who are famous for guiding climbers up Everest. Sherpa would refuse to go up the mountain without receiving his blessing first, making his home, which sits in the shadow of the great mountain close to Everest Base Camp, an essential stop on the climb.
“Sherpas believe that his prayers were extremely powerful in protecting them on Everest,” said Dawa Steven Sherpa, mountaineer, environmental activist, and CEO of Asian Trekking. “There will be a little bit of anxiety among the Sherpa going to the mountain this year because they will be missing a vital ingredient for safety.” (The Strait Times)
The international climbing community also remembers him fondly: “Lama Geshe was loved and revered by all the climbing community for the blessings he gave prior to a climb,” noted Melissa Arnot Reid, a six-time Everest summiter. “Anyone who sat with him will remember him most for his warm laugh and direct way of speaking (and the vigorous head bumps). He will be missed by many.” (Snews)
Lama Geshe was born in the Sherpa community, but left to study Buddhism in Tibet. After years of studying, he earned the highest academic achievement for monks, the Buddhist equivalent of a doctorate degree. During the Chinese occupation in the 1950s, he left Tibet and eventually returned to his village. He was married and had two children, a son and a daughter.
During climbing season, Lama Geshe used to bless hundreds of mountaineers by reciting a mantra to Miyolangsangma, the Buddhist deity who lives at the top of Mount Everest, known in Tibetan as Chomolungma (Goddess Mother of Mountains). The Sherpa believe that climbers seeking to summit Everest must appease the goddess first, before scaling the mountain, if they want to make the climb safely. Lama Geshe would give climbers a talisman containing part of the mantra, to be worn around the neck during the ascent, for their protection.
“I will deeply miss this man whom I’ve known since 1996,” wrote Alan Arnette, an Everest climber and Alzheimer’s advocate, in his blog. “Visiting his home and family has always been a highlight of the ascent. After my 2011 Everest summit, along with teammate Mirjam Riser, we visited Lama Geshe again. He was thrilled to see us because, as he told us through an interpreter, everyone sees him going in and no one stops to let him know what happened on the way out! He was thrilled we had reached the summit and were safe. I left his home that day full of energy and happiness.” (Alan Arnette)
The Himalayan Times reported that Lama Geshe’s body was kept at his residence, and the public could visit from 18–21 February for ceremonial offerings. On 22 February, his body was cremated in accordance with Vajrayana Buddhist rites.