Photos and letter emerge from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s ascetic retreat

The Tibetan Buddhist world was abuzz Friday with the sudden appearance on Facebook of images of a thin, bearded young lama in a remote Himalayan cave retreat, whose equally sudden disappearance two and a half years ago caused just as much of a stir.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche was a rapidly rising star on the Western Buddhist circuit. His two bestselling books — The Joy of Living and Joyful Wisdom — had garnered him a growing set of admirers and disciples. They seemed drawn to him as much by his fresh presentation of Buddhist meditation as by his unusually frank descriptions of his early struggles with a panic disorder and his open-minded appreciation for contemporary neuroscience and psychology.

But then a startling thing happened while Mingyur Rinpoche was staying in Bodh Gaya, the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment, in June 2011. For several days he had requested uninterrupted solitude, until one day his attendant entered his room only to find a long letter on the bed — explaining, in part, that “as demonstrated by the great yogi Milarepa, there is also a tradition of wandering from place to place, staying in remote caves and sacred sites with no plans or fixed agenda, just an unswerving commitment to the path of awakening. This is the type of retreat that I will be practicing over the coming years.”

Since that time, there has been no public knowledge about Mingyur Rinpoche’s whereabouts. While it’s true that this youngest son of one of the great Dzogchen masters of the past century, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, had all the right training and experience — including two previous three-year retreats in a group setting — it seems that for this period he truly embraced the life of the ascetic saints of the past, casting away all worldly attachments to focus singlemindedly on mental cultivation in solitude.

Along with the photos taken by another faithful attendant, Lama Tashi, in September of last year, Mingyur Rinpoche penned a letter on January 2 to his “dear mother, relatives, monastic community, students, and all those with whom I share a connection.” In it, he describes the hardships of the life he’s been leading but says, “While I have experienced both happiness and suffering, the most important thing is that a deep and heartfelt sense of certainty has arisen in the depths of my being, such that no matter what happens, I know that the true nature of these experiences, their very essence, is that of timeless awareness and vast compassion.”

Visit Mingyur Rinpoche’s Tergar International website here to see more photos and to read the completely translated letter, which contains a striking paragraph about the nature of pure awareness.

It’s said that now Mingyur Rinpoche is headed for the sacred area of Dolpo on the Tibet/Nepal border, and it is still uncertain when he will conclude his retreat.