In Conversation with Tara Choying Lhamo—12 Years in Mountain Retreat

Tara Choying Lhamo, an Austrian Buddhist who has been living in retreat for more than 20 years—12 of which were spent in Milarepa’s caves in Lapchi, Nepal—is now sharing her experience and insights. Lhamo is now in New Zealand, following a 10-day tour of Australia. Last year, she was presenting in London. 

Lhamo is a student of Sonam Jorphel Rinpoche, His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche and Garchen Rinpoche—all masters of the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

Having grown up in a Christian family, she left her life, friends, and photography career to devote herself to meditation after hearing a Buddhist master explain:

For the benefit of all beings, we want to attain enlightenment.
— Buddhist Master

For the first eight years, she lived with her teacher, Sonam Jorphel Rinpoche, in a small community in Nepal (before Rinpoche started his monastery.) During that time, she received all the basic and profound instructions for practice and lived in retreat in various places close to the monastic community and her teacher. Then she entered retreat in the high mountain caves of Nepal.

These caves are so remote that it takes a six-day journey to reach civilization. She mentioned that retreats are not considered a selfish pursuit in the Buddhist tradition. Instead it is a pursuit of a deeply “spiritual practice to get deeper into your consciousness,” which is “beautiful.” (Otago Daily Times)

Spending all those years in retreat might seem like a terrifying prospect to some, however Lhamo explained that it was manageable by viewing her negative thoughts as something to contemplate and not as something bad, following the principles of mindfulness. During the retreat she was able to “slowly dismantle feelings of jealousy, ego-clinging, attachment, and pride as the ‘habitual patterns’ and pressure of life disappeared.” (Otago Daily Times)  

Charles Potter, director of The Contemplary (a, Australian not-for-profit offering instruction in meditation and contemplation and collaborating in research) has praised Lhamo:


It is rare to find someone who has left society for such an extended period to really explore contemplative practices that transform the mind. The return of a contemplative from the wilderness is an important opportunity to refresh our understanding about how to live, what is truly important, and how we might unlock the mind to enhance our society. 

Interview—Listen or Download

In April 2017, The Contemplary hosted Tara Choying Lhamo—follow the link and scroll down.)