Lama Yeshe loved listening to the radio and kept in touch with world events. The BBC World Service, Voice of America and Radio Australia all reached Nepal. Lama was also interested in contemporary issues such as feminism, a subject he raised with Sylvia Wetzel. “I told him,” said Sylvia, “he always gave me the feeling that although he was a monk in a patriarchal tradition, his attitude to women was not merely tolerant acceptance but real encouragement to be different, to be strong, emotional and confident. I also pointed out that while there are some truly wonderful Tibetan teachers, one could not help noticing that Tibetans clearly preferred having monks around them rather than women. My opinion was that there were really very few teachers in philosophy, psychology and religion, or in Buddhism, who were as open to women as he was.”
Lama was always open to honest enquiry and Sylvia took the opportunity to complain about all the traditional “fiddling about” with the dorje and bell during prayers. “I can’t relate to all this Indian stuff and I don’t want to do it. I just want to meditate on the sadhana,” she said. Lama Yeshe suggested she create a drawing of a dorje and bell, put it in front of her and occasionally look at it. “That’s good enough,” he told her – that kind and frequent response which students experienced as warm and total acceptance of their efforts.
One day a student asked about the meaning of the traditional seven water bowls—offerings to the buddhas that include water for drinking, water for washing the feet, flowers, incense, light, perfume and food. Music is the eighth offering, but as sound is not a tangible object it is not always represented by a water bowl. “Nothing special,” Lama replied. “When friends come to your house you open the door, ask if they would like to wash their hands, and then offer them a drink or some food. You put nice flowers in the dining room for them and even in the West you use incense and perfumes for the house. You have electricity, but you still light candles. You also play music. So these are the offerings. You already offer those things naturally. There’s no need to make a big deal out of it as some Eastern cultural thing.” The point is to offer these objects of the senses, rather than to take the pleasure of experiencing them only for oneself. In this way pleasure becomes liberating rather than simply increasing attachment and as a consequence, suffering.
One day Lama told Max Redlich (now Thubten Gelek) that he would one day be in Time magazine. “Oh, come on, Lama, why would they put you in Time?” said Max. “What?” said Lama. “You don’t believe?” As time would tell, Lama was not joking.1
Susanna Parodi had been living and working at Manjushri Institute under the care of Nicole Couture for quite awhile. She was doing much better, although she was still in fragile health. Now she wanted to return to Italy. On 15 January 1979 Lama wrote to Susanna Parodi in his peculiar idiom.
Dear Susanna my daughter,
We receive your letter. I am very happy you stay in Manjushri Institute up until now. We all happy here. As you wishes you can go with Nicole but the conditions are you cannot go to Milan or to Rome, you can only go to Lama Tzong Khapa Institute. Otherwise I will come and chase you.
Fine, as you wishes,
Tara Chittamani initiation, Kopan
Everyone knew Lama Yeshe was going to give a Tara Chittamani initiation. This was the highest yoga tantra practice of the deity Tara. He had never given his students this highest yoga tantra initiation before and several of them, whose visas were about to expire, hung around Kopan waiting for it. Then Lama announced they must wait another month. It seemed he wanted them to really value this experience, not just add it to their esoteric collection of initiations.
Lama often ruffled the feathers of some of the older students, accusing them of arrogance. For some, Buddhism had become just another arena of self-importance. Lama said such students were actually too lazy to confront their egotistic habits.
George Churinoff was unable to extend his stay. “Before leaving I went to Lama’s room, made three prostrations, offered a khata and asked if he had any advice for me. He looked hard at me and said, ‘Intellectual Mount Meru2 isn’t worth ka-ka!’ It was an important message for me—a Penn State and Massachusetts Institute of Technology astrophysics graduate. I had to learn that,” said George.
In December 1994, George Churinoff was Lama Osel’s tutor. “One day he was riding his tricycle around and he rode up to me. I bent down and asked him if he had something to tell me. He pulled my head down and whispered in my ear: "I don't know anything about kaka!" The hairs just stood up on my head.” I had never forgotten Lama Yeshe's words back in 1979, when he had looked at me so hard and said: "Intellectual Mount Meru isn't worth kaka!" I knew it was terribly important at the time, but not that it would come back like this,’ said George.
Finally, at the conclusion of the lam-rim retreat that had begun after the eleventh meditation course, Lama gave the longed-for initiation to fifty people. This was followed by a commentary on the Tara Chittamani meditative practice from 24 January to 4 February 1979. During the initiation Alnis Grants, a Latvian student residing in Germany and not normally given to vain imaginings, had an unusual experience. “At one stage Lama’s dorje was taken around and lightly pressed against our hearts. When it touched my chest it vibrated, a physical sensation I definitely never experienced again. Years later Lama Zopa told me that it was Lama’s blessing.”
Tantric practices are based on dissolving the concrete view of a self-existent I or ego, and replacing it with a visualization of oneself as a buddha—in this case, Tara. It is not our limited sense of “I” that becomes a buddha because that limited “I” has been dissolved through analysis in meditation.
Tantra holds that there are 72,000 psychic channels, or nadis, within the body, of which the main three are the right, the left and the central channel (also known as the shushumna). At various points along the central channel are energy centers known as chakras. These inner elements were introduced at length in the instructions on the vase meditation technique.3 We have all had experiences that indicate the presence of these chakras and the concentration of energy they contain. Examples include the “lump” in the throat, the uncomfortable sensation in the pit of our stomach we often feel when we are upset, the pulsations we feel in the lower chakra when sexually aroused. While these give us a rough sense of the existence of these centers of energy along our body’s central axis, it requires empowerment, training and extensive practice to be able to penetrate the central channel through these chakras and experience the transformative results.
From Lama Yeshe's teachings on Tara Chittamani:
According to tantric science, there are different explanations of how to enter into the sushumna, how to stay there and how to dissolve into it. When the energy enters and stays in the sushumna there is no movement of the breath because the energy is so gentle. We move and breathe so wildly now because we are not balanced; but the person whose energy has entered the sushumna is very subdued and their breath almost stops completely.
This is a difficult concept for the Western mind—if one is not breathing then one is dead. A Western doctor would probably debate with me. “What are you saying? Someone in whom there is no movement of energy is alive? That’s outrageous. You are stupid, a Himalayan dreamer, and we are the international rest of the world!” That’s a point of debate.
When I was still young, my uncle fell sick and it looked as if he had passed away; his breathing had stopped. Then a Dharma friend came to our house. He burned some tsampa and the smoke rose up and suddenly my uncle opened his eyes and started breathing again. That happens to many people. You think they are dead but suddenly energy comes back and they come to life again. Even in the West there are many stories like this. So sometimes it’s difficult to say who is dead and who isn’t.
Tibetan tantra has incredible technical meditations that bring about different experiences; you yourself can see how they function. The explanation of yoga tantra and Western science are coming together. Even Western doctors have discovered that there is a painkiller inside you, that you do not need injections. But they should also discover how to access the blissful energy as well. Our project here is to discover this blissful energy, which is already there, within us.4
Lama wasn’t fussed that people thought tantra might be some fantasy. “What you haven’t experienced is not reality for you. For example, someone who doesn’t know about the thirty-one flavors of ice cream5 in New York City doesn’t crave them because they are not his experience, even though they exist there. Come on! That’s clear, isn’t it? Whatever your mind holds on to is reality for you!”
Lama appointed Sylvia Wetzel as meditation leader for the Tara Chittamani commentary. “Together we discussed what meditations I should lead every day. He often asked me how I thought people were relating to the teachings,” Sylvia explained. “I had studied a little Tibetan in Dharamsala, so Lama got me involved in writing down the special lineage prayer in the Tara Chittamani sadhana. We sat there for hours, neither of us native English speakers, translating from Tibetan into English. Lama would ask me to tell him what associations particular words had, so I’d go through some for him. Sometimes he’d say, ‘No, no, that’s the wrong meaning. The word I need must have such and such associations.’ So I’d come up with another one. This was actually basic training for my later profession of translating Dharma books from English into German. Afterwards, Lama asked me to edit the Tara Chittamani commentary. I felt inadequate for the job but Lama told me, ‘It’s just words.’ That gave me confidence.”6
Many people were aware that Lama Yeshe had been a nun in his previous life and connected that with his special care for women. “When Lama was talking about Tara’s body during the Chittamani commentary, he was so feminine it was scary,” said Karuna Cayton. “He talked about Tara’s breasts and held his chest and it was just as if he had breasts himself. He was a great actor and mime but he also showed some feminine power beyond any vulnerable stereotypes.”
After the teachings Tom Szymansky led a Tara Chittamani retreat for a group of students, including the wild and delightful Stefano Piovella. Stefano loved roaring up and down the hill on his motorbike, much to the joy of the young monks who nicknamed him Rambo. Another student who did the retreat was fond of making prostrations at midnight, naked.
After another tough year at Manjushri Institute, Harvey Horrocks returned to Kopan for the Tara Chittamani initiation.
Harvey Horrocks: “There was so much happening at Manjushri I felt utterly exhausted. Lama called me in and wanted all the details: how much everything was costing, where we were getting the money from, how many people were paying their way and how many were subsidized. He went on and on until suddenly I cracked and began to cry. Tears streamed down my face and I didn’t even have a handkerchief, so I was wiping them away with my bare arm. It was as if Lama didn’t even notice. He just kept on and on wanting to know every last tiny thing. Meanwhile, I just cried and cried until I was wet all over.
“Finally, Lama reached out, took my hand in the most compassionate way and said, ‘You know you can’t support so many people. You haven’t got the financial structure right.’ He wanted to know if those we supported financially attended morning puja. He said that if they did not we should charge them. ‘They don’t get their pay unless they come. If you give them £1 every time, they will come to puja for sure!’
“Later Lama took up this matter directly with the Manjushri residents. Normally, daily teachings were held between 8:00 and 9:00 am in the mornings at the Priory, and we did morning puja before that. But everyone had their own specific prayers and practices to do as well, so the number of residents attending morning puja dropped steadily. Lama suggested imposing a fine, a not uncommon practice in the big monasteries. We did that for a while but everyone thought it just too outrageous so we dropped it.
“Next Lama began pointing out all my mistakes, while I kept on crying. He consoled me saying these were the tears of Chenrezig, and then proceeded to give instructions on how to improve the situation. There was so much water, but although Lama always had boxes of Kleenex around—he loved Kleenex—he never offered me any. He just kept on and on. After all that I was almost too scared to go near him again.
“I was still utterly exhausted and couldn’t bear the thought of going back to Manjushri. Just before Lama flew off to attend the Dalai Lama’s teachings at Bodhgaya, he invited me to have breakfast with him upstairs. We sat up on the gompa roof with this marvelous view and had the most delicious breakfast. Lama said that in one year’s time he wanted me to have a year’s break, but I didn’t believe it until it happened.”
Lama’s youngest IMI monk, Andrea Antonietti, had been a bit wild back in his native Italy. “Lama understood people like me very well,” said Andrea. “He knew about our LSD experiences and suggested we meditate outside sometimes. ‘Go outside! Look around!’ He said if we hung around indoors too much we might become withdrawn and lose our freshness. He also told us, ‘My monks and nuns in the twentieth century are already living like saints but sometimes they are so stupid. They kill a mosquito accidentally and then worry for a month. “Oh, Lama! I killed a mosquito and now I’m going to hell!” This is what they tell me. So impractical!’”
Lama Yeshe’s understanding of the practicalities of discipline included advice to lay students on how much wine they should drink. He said that if their parents offered them a glass of wine they should accept and drink it, but slowly, and not follow it with five more glasses. Lama also stated that if one did not lose control of the mind the vow against intoxicants was not broken.
Spending time at Kopan
Lama decided it was time Marcel Bertels moved their retail business from the Hotel Soaltee Oberoi to bustling Durbar Marg, one of the principal thoroughfares in Kathmandu and home to two of Kathmandu’s major tourist hotels—the Hotel Yak and Yeti and the Hotel Annapurna. “There weren’t many businesses there at that time,” said Marcel. “There was really only the safari business, Tiger Tops, plus one or two airline offices. But over the years that side of the street developed into the best shopping strip in Nepal. The site we got for our new shop, Mandala, was the best location of all. Antonio Pascual worked behind the counter with one of the Kopan boys, Thubten Jamyang, Thubten Monlam’s brother. Slowly the pricing of articles became more reasonable.”
In February Jampa Chökyi and a Swiss artist, Peter Iseli, held a month-long thangka painting course at Kopan for twenty people. Jampa Chökyi led meditations, encouraging people to focus on colors and the feelings they associated with them.
Lama had been busily promoting the boys’ colorful artworks for some time as a means of raising funds for their upkeep. “I can’t paint,” he told Jampa Chökyi. “You have to paint for me.”
“He came up with the ideas and I just followed his instructions,” said Jampa Chökyi. “He drew some perfectly formed [Tibetan] syllables for me but said he had no ability with his hands. When I taught painting to the boys the lamas checked every detail. Lama Yeshe got me to photograph their work and then put me in charge of selling the paintings, which I did. I kept the accounts too. Sometimes Lama asked me for some money, but I wouldn’t give him any. One day he caught hold of my hand and said, ‘Give me the money!’ ‘No, Lama,’ I told him, ‘I have to make proper accounts.’ He was laughing while trying to wrestle me for the rupees in my hand.”
Lama Yeshe had many large responsibilities and got money wherever he could. One handy source of ready funds was the money offerings Lama Zopa received from many of his students. He often got hold of Rinpoche’s jolla (the cloth shoulder bag) and took all the money he found there, especially after Rinpoche had been giving teachings or been out and about.
Rinpoche carried a small Tara statue with him wherever he went and always placed it on his altar in any hotel or place where he was staying. Lama Yeshe knew how unworldly Rinpoche really was and treated him accordingly—the business of the world really had nothing to do with Rinpoche at all. Rinpoche’s function was meditating, teaching and being in retreat. To someone who complained about Rinpoche’s slow manner of speaking and repetition during teachings, Lama replied that if they only knew how difficult it was for Rinpoche to hold himself on this human plane, they would not speak like that. Clearly, money did not mean a lot to Rinpoche. He never purchased anything for himself, never had projects to support and usually gave money away as soon as he received it or put it under the Tara statue in his room, where Lama often found it.
Lama looked after Rinpoche very well. He never let him sleep in a double bed in a hotel or a private home. Rinpoche always had a single bed because of what Lama called “vibations.”
Besides Thubten Wongmo’s son Wangchuk and Michael Lobsang Yeshe, there was another little Western boy who was living at Kopan at this time, five-year-old Sidharta. He was the son of Jasmin Ubinas and Antonio Pascual. This little family had lived at Kopan after Antonio had first come to Kopan for the seventh meditation course in 1974. At that time they’d lived in a small brick house on the south slope of Kopan hill where Antonio spent time painting a thangka of Green Tara. After returning to Spain for a year or two around 1977, Sidharta’s family returned to Nepal, this time residing in Kathmandu. The Mount Everest Centre monks had known Sidharta since he was a toddler – they had dragged him all over the hill in a little wheeled cart they had built themselves. Sidharta had recently taken rabjung vows and was now dressed in monks’ robes. It was all great fun for him, hiding behind Norbulingka to eat secret food stashes and best of all, making kites.
“Kites were forbidden,” Sidharta later recalled, “but in the early spring everyone in the valley flew kites and we just had to have them. So we made our own out of scrap paper and bamboo sticks. We didn’t have any glue, so we stuck them down with tree resin or our own snot!” As a young MEC monk, this Spanish boy spent hours in the gompa with the other monks, patiently memorizing texts by recitation. He came to speak Tibetan well enough to participate in debates.
One day when Lama was walking around the hill with Massimo and Sidharta, he suddenly said, “I think I should come back as a beautiful little Spanish boy like him, don’t you think?”
Once a year Lama Yeshe liked to take all the Mount Everest Centre boys and whoever else was around on a celebratory picnic. This year they went to the famous Hindu water gardens in the Kathmandu suburb of Balaju.
Among the Injis present at that picnic was a young Australian woman, Pam Philip. Lama took her hand and asked her what she had thought of the course. Pam replied that it had been great but didn’t know what she should do next. She said she wished she could just press a button and become instantly enlightened. “Yes,” said Lama, “but first you have to learn to live in the world.” He led her over to a pond and began feeding the fish, giving Pam some grains so she could feed them, too. “Lama started talking about the fish, how they are constantly hungry and can’t ever get enough to eat, like pretas,” said Pam. “As we stood there it suddenly occurred to me that just being able to do this was teaching me ‘how to live in the world.’”
"That same evening Karuna Cayton came into my room at Kopan to talk to my room-mate about helping with the Mount Everest Centre English program,” Pam continued. “I found myself offering to stay and help too, and knew the thought came because of helping Lama feed the fish. After that Lama always talked to me about really mundane things and I’d think, ‘He’s a buddha. Why does he talk to me about these things? I wanted him to talk to me at a higher level.’ After some time I realized that what he talked to me about wasn’t mundane at all.”
Francesca Piatti and her small daughter, Tsering, turned up at Kopan with Carol Corona. Francesca and Franco’s relationship had become strained and she wanted a break. After pouring her heart out to Lama Yeshe, sobbing with her head in his lap, Francesca agreed to return to Franco in Italy for one month and try for another child. Lama told her that if she did not become pregnant she could end the marriage. She was very nervous because Tsering had been disabled at birth and another baby had died. “Don’t you worry,” Lama told her, “I’ll take care of it.”
One month later she was pregnant. Lama Yeshe sent a telegram to Franco asking him to come to Nepal for a talk, which he did. Lama organized special pujas throughout the time of the pregnancy. After the new baby, named Losang, was born, Francesca always referred to him as “Lama’s son.” “If it had not been for Lama he would not have been born,” she said.
In the spring Lama Yeshe asked Adrian Feldmann to teach a month-long course at Kopan and then return to Tara House in Melbourne. “That teaching job was a huge assignment,” said Adrian. “Lama told me to visualize Manjushri sitting on top of my head and his words of wisdom issuing from my mouth. It really worked.”
But first Adrian went to Bodhgaya to do a Chenrezig fasting retreat (nyung-nä). He returned to Kopan with a severe case of hepatitis. From around 1976, Adrian had been living in a small hut at Kopan. This small hut, located between the kitchen and Norbulingka, the boys’ dormitory building, already had a long history. In 1972 it had started out as the Kopan library, holding books belonging to Zina, for the most part. It was Åge’s house, then Anila Ann’s house for a while. After that, between the third and fourth Kopan meditation courses, Nick Ribush and Yeshe Khadro moved the library and turned the hut into a clinic Nick ran, dispensing medicines he had solicited from friends in Australia. After being ordained in 1974, Nick made the hut his home, continuing to run the People’s Clinic and editing the teaching transcripts of the meditation courses, until he turned the hut over to Dr. Adrian around 1976.
After Adrian returned ill from Bodhgaya, Lama Yeshe walked into his room one day. “You eating?” Lama asked. “I told him I hadn’t eaten for about ten days,” said Adrian. “He said, ‘Come with me!’ I staggered up and followed him to his kitchen above the gompa, where he made sandwiches with goat’s meat and really thick slabs of butter. Then he made me eat them. I began to feel better immediately with no nausea from the fat or anything, although I stayed yellow [from jaundice] right through the course I taught.
“Lama encouraged me to work as a doctor at Kopan and asked me to set up a proper clinic for local Nepalis. A new clinic building was built by Gelek Gyatso Rinpoche on Kopan land at the bottom of the hill, staffed with Nepalis paid out of Kopan finances. The People’s Clinic still operates to this day,” said Adrian.
The People’s Clinic didn’t treat only people. Among the many dogs who lived on Kopan hill was Sasha, an especially unfriendly yellow female dog. Although she tended to leave the Kopan monks alone, she was vicious toward the local Nepalis. She was such a problem for Kopan that Lama Pasang had once put her in the Jeep and driven her all the way to Swayambhu, abandoning her by the side of the road. More than a week later, she showed up again at Kopan. As a result of her vicious temper she lost the use of her legs when one of the local Nepali people beat her one night and broke her spine. After that, she dragged herself around Kopan, her back legs bleeding and full of maggots.
Even after this injury, Sasha had a litter of puppies. This bad-tempered dog then became an object lesson for everyone on Kopan hill as her love and devotion to her puppies was notable. After delivering her litter, she also suffered a ghastly prolapsed uterus. She was a truly pitiful sight. Lama Zopa Rinpoche used Sasha as an example of the love of the mother in his discourses. He also said that she was purifying sexual misconduct she had created in a previous life while living as a monk. The Buddha himself said that the dogs hanging around monasteries were once monks who had broken their vows.
Later, out of compassion for Sasha’s plight, Dr. Adrian, together with Dr. Nick who administered the anesthetic, amputated her back legs so the infection there wouldn’t kill her. A makeshift contraption was devised to protect her hindquarters so the flesh wouldn’t be rubbed raw as she dragged herself around. Young Kopan monks could sometimes be seen helping this ugly yellow dog up the gompa stairs by lifting her hindquarters by the tail and running up the stairs next to her, dog and boy both grinning as they ran.
Jacie Keeley: “I got hepatitis at the same time as Adrian Feldmann. I was sick for six months. Rinpoche said it was caused by spirits in the chimney and that they got there from used tissue being burned in the grate. He said these spirits had gone into me and must be removed, so he made an entire palace out of dough—dough king, queen, prince, princesses, ministers, courtiers – everybody. I stayed in his room the whole afternoon while he made them. I could hardly keep awake. He was meticulous and made these absolutely beautiful figures with total concentration. He told me it was important I think of them as the most beautiful objects in the whole world, because if the spirits think you are trying to trick them they get angry and do even more damage.
“The idea was to transfer the spirits from me into the figures with a puja, then put them somewhere very nice where they could all live in peace. Time didn’t matter for Rinpoche. It was like he had nothing more important to do in the whole world. I did start to get better afterwards, but it was a long road to recovery.”
When Jacie was better, Lama sent her to Delhi with Wongmo’s son, Daja, now a Kopan monk and called Thubten Wangchuk. “He was such a special child and Rinpoche often commented on his beautiful Tibetan, though his English sounded like grunting. It took him quite a while to catch up with his mother tongue after spending so long with Jampa Trinley’s family,” said Jacie.
During the springtime dry season there was always plenty of building work in progress. As the monastery’s operations manager, Lama Pasang was the foreman, but Lama Yeshe could often be seen at a building site. With one hand behind his back busily working his mala, he paced to and fro watching everything, often with a big straw gardening hat on his head, which was most unusual for a Tibetan monk.
The boys were in constant need of medical attention, living as they did in flea-infested quarters and sleeping on ragged bedding. Their conditions were better than if they had stayed living in the mountains, but compared with the Injis’ rooms and their superdown sleeping bags, it was shocking. As Pam Philip became more involved in teaching the boys, she and another student, New Zealander Maureen O’Malley, did their best to improve the conditions of the young monks.
Pam Philip: “We Inji travelers prided ourselves on dressing in tatty old clothes and doing without cosmetics. We congratulated ourselves on how clever we were, blending into a very poor country. One day Lama took Maureen and me to task about our appearance. ‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘don’t you like looking at beautiful things? Everybody does. But look at these monks with their dirty noses, dirty rags, dirty rooms. I don’t like my monks to look like that. You think the mind feels happy to see that?’ He went on to say it was important for us to look beautiful, too. ‘If you use make-up and clothes to attract attention for your own ego, that’s something else. But if you use them to look beautiful as an offering to others, that’s really great,’ he told us.”
Lama Yeshe wrote a letter officially appointing Jacie Keeley his secretary. She had changed her style a lot, but Lama wanted more. He told her to stop wearing Indian hippie jewelry and to dress up. Jacie went all the way with make-up, skirts and stockings, even a few diamonds—a look that had never been seen at Kopan before. Lama also told her to cut off the fading hunk of red Tibetan blessing threads around her neck. “Ugh, lice!” he commented.
Jacie did exactly as she was told and hung on Lama Yeshe’s every word. “He was the perfect mother and father to everybody,” she observed. “He said he felt his teachings were successful when the students loved their parents more and practiced their own religion. Students often wrote to Lama after they had returned to the West, telling him they had decided to practice their religion of origin. Lama always congratulated them and when replying would caution, ‘Do your own thing but don’t forget bodhichitta. Go wherever you want to go, do whatever you want to do, but always have bodhichitta in your heart.’ He was always saying that,” said Jacie.
One of her principal tasks was to help Lama Yeshe with his correspondence. It was not uncommon for him to get several hundred letters a week and everyone received replies in Jacie’s novice typing.
To a student in Santa Cruz, Lama wrote,
In Buddhism even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. Even worms are contributing for us to have pleasure. You should not worry about practicing Dharma. If you recognize everyday life is to bring happiness and serve others, that is Dharma. The important thing is to practice clarity, so you keep your mind focused on the blue HUM and receive blue radiating light within and outwardly. This gives more clarity and satisfaction by eliminating confused thought. You shouldn’t worry. Pills enclosed.
The pills to which Lama referred were either the tiny red mani pills made at His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple—over which 100 million OM MANI PADMÉ HUM mantras had been said—or they were blessed pills that Lama Yeshe had made himself. These exotic medicines always seemed to reach their destination, despite the strict customs laws of the various countries to which they were sent.
To a student who had joined a different religious group, he wrote,
My love has not changing whether you are Hare Krishna or whatever you call this Rajneesh or Christian. Buddhism has a liberated attitude to love all the human beings without regard to color, religion, philosophy and other things—as you know. Plus Buddhism loves all the animals. You have no spontaneously born wisdom as long as you have grasping attitude on the sensory objects, the sensory pleasures.
In the same spirit of appreciation for other religious traditions, Lama frequently reminded his students that Transcendental Meditation had broken the ground for the establishment of Buddhism in the West.
When Jacie first started doing the mail she had permission to deliver Lama Zopa’s letters to his room at any time, often very late at night. Jacie was one of those rare folk who are naturally able to manage on no more than three or four hours’ sleep.
Jacie Keeley: “Then one day out of the blue, Lama Yeshe decided that Lama Zopa should no longer receive any mail. It was difficult having to withhold it. Rinpoche received the most painful letters because he was the one who did the divinations (mos) for people who were dying or about to undergo an operation. The writers of those letters believed that he would receive them, but Lama Yeshe also didn’t read them. No one did. They just piled up higher and higher. So when I knew Lama was likely to be involved in something else I would try to sneak a few letters in to Rinpoche. But every time I’d find Lama standing at his door like a rock, legs braced and mala going—click click click. Lama told me Rinpoche had more important things to do than answer all these letters.
“Next, Lama announced that no females at all were to enter Rinpoche’s room, though I was still allowed to go in sometimes. From his side Rinpoche would have seen anybody at all, but there was something about the karmic imprints of his having been married in a previous life. Of course, Rinpoche was completely ascetic. Ants made little trails across his room and he’d stop everything to avoid hurting them. He also had mice living in his room and always gave them food.”
Max in Delhi
Lama Yeshe always visited Mummy Max when passing through Delhi on his way to Dharamsala. She felt exiled in the city. “I missed Kopan dreadfully,” Max reminisced, “but some of the Sangha used to come down and stay in our spare rooms, which was nice. In Nepal, I never had time to go to courses or teachings, but over those weekends when Lama was coming to Asan Tole or to the Rana house in Tintuli near Boudha,7 he gave me everything. I wasn’t interested in religion, I was a sexpot. First he had to turn me around from that—and he did. He planted something in me and was giving me teachings all the time, but I didn’t understand that back then.
“Business was gradually getting better. I remember the first time I went back to America for my first show. I went to this huge convention center, straight from the airport and didn’t even know how to price things, but everyone was helping me. From this tiny little stand at the show I sold everything I had and got back on the plane with all this money. I would never have had the courage to do that if I hadn’t gone back to the States first with Lama in 1974. I was flying, ten feet off the ground! I knew it was all due to Lama’s blessing. My first label was Samsara, then Yeshe and then Sister Max, which was the one that succeeded.”
When in January 1979 Jamie and Isabelle Johnston decided to move their fashion business out of India, Nick Ribush and Trisha Donnelly had to move out of their house in Old Delhi. Mummy Max offered them rooms in the old Tibet House at 16 Jorbagh, where she had also taken up residence toward the end of 1978, when Tibet House moved to its new location on Lodhi Road. Trisha, who had been making evening garments out of antique embroidered saris while working for Jamie and Isabelle, continued with this but now to raise funds for a center in Delhi.
Peter Kedge was in town buying a new Jeep for Tushita, under Lama’s instructions. Having raised some funds, he was able to purchase a brand new Mahindra Jeep for Tushita-Dharamsala. During this same visit, Peter and Nick visited Lama’s brother, Geshe Thinley, who was staying at Achela’s York Hotel. “There was a restaurant at the hotel and Achela’s husband, Mr. Wong, owned another restaurant, the Ginza. We ate a lot of meals there,” said Nick. “Lama told us he was always wanting to hang out with Geshe Thinley at the York, just to gossip, relax and be family, but he never had time.”
Ngawang Gelek Rimpoche, an old friend of both Lama and Mummy Max, had disrobed and married. His wife, Desi, a Tibetan aristocrat, was the director of Tibet House. When he first arrived in Delhi, Gelek Rimpoche began printing Tibetan texts. Lama Yeshe always bought as many of them as he could. He always got Max to pay and for once, never bargained down the price because he knew that if Gelek Rimpoche made money he could print more books. “Mummy Max never said anything at the time,” said Gelek Rimpoche, “but afterwards she always came back alone to see me and made a deal.”
When he disrobed, both Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche and Kyabjé Ling Rinpoche bluntly reminded him that even though he was not a monk he was still a rinpoche. “They told me I had to carry the banner for Buddhism anyway,” said Gelek Rimpoche. “When Lama Yeshe learned I was hanging about in Delhi and not teaching he told me, ‘What a waste! Why don’t you go and teach?’ I said, ‘No, I’m just a wild and crazy guy, not the kind of person who should teach Buddhism.’”
Tushita Retreat Centre
Lama Yeshe usually spent Losar at Kopan, but in 1979 he enjoyed the Losar holiday in Dharamsala. Elisabeth Drukier and the recently ordained Zia Bassam were sent ahead to clean his room at Tushita. Dirty rooms now made Lama sick very quickly. “Zia was a meticulous cleaner and we had to do it perfectly,” said Elisabeth. “Lama liked to have boxes of Kleenex everywhere and we learned to line wastebaskets with plastic bags. That was useful, as he was forever spitting. Every time he came back from the West his luggage was filled with boxes of Kleenex and plastic bags.”
“I used to try and tell Lama it wasn’t appropriate to spit into wastebaskets,” said Peter Kedge, “but even at the time I got the impression Lama had a reason for doing it, even if it annoyed people.”
Many of Lama Yeshe’s students and some Mount Everest Centre boys followed him to Dharamsala to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings and attend the big Losar puja. All the Sangha were given offerings of 100 rupees each, instead of the usual five or ten. The boys had never had so much money and were thrilled. But sure enough, as they piled into the new Jeep to go back up the steep road to Tushita, Lama calmly turned around from his front seat, held out his hand and said, “Okay, give me your money.”
Max Redlich also followed Lama to Tushita. “I always felt Lama would take care of me forever. He was performing a series of protector pujas at that time and every night I played the big drum for them. From where I sat I could peek through the lines and see Lama’s face. Every time he clashed the cymbals, I knew I had to bang the drum. These pujas went on for days. Sometimes Lama Zopa was there, sometimes he wasn’t. At the time I didn’t even know what kind of pujas they were. I’d go into daydreams with business plans for ‘when we get back to Tibet,’ which was a popular refrain. I was making all these plans in my head for hotels and making money to bring Dharma to the West. After one puja Gen Jampa Wangdu leaned over and rubbed his two fingers together in that universal money gesture, showing me he had read my mind exactly.
“One afternoon Lama told me I didn’t need to attend that day’s puja. I felt a little left out and went off to my room. Suddenly I knew something was going to happen. I could hear the puja starting up, the drums going, but I just sat there, completely tense. Suddenly, Maureen came running in and said, ‘Quick, someone’s trying to set fire to all the building materials for Lama’s new house!’ I raced off and caught a guy just about to set fire to a pile of woodshavings. I managed to talk him out of it. I’m sure Lama had foreseen this, which was why he didn’t want me to be in the puja.”
In May, when the teachings were over, Lama Zopa Rinpoche went off to Lawudo to lead a nyung-nä retreat, while Lama Yeshe stayed on at Tushita Retreat Centre. He loved being in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama and Trijang Rinpoche were just down the road and Ling Rinpoche just around the hill, and where he was under less pressure than at Kopan or in the Western centers. He had great respect for his teachers and once told Jon Landaw, “If ever you need help deciding whether to do something or not, just consult Trijang Rinpoche. You don’t even have to tell him your question. Just formulate it in your mind, ask for a response, and he will answer yes or no.”
One day, Lama took Piero Cerri with him to meet Trijang Rinpoche. The conversation was in Tibetan, but afterwards Lama told Piero, “Now you know who my boss is.” Every Tibetan monk had a “boss” and Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche was undoubtedly Lama Yeshe’s.
“Lama appeared to rely on logic rather than magic to predict a person’s future,” said Piero. “He’d say, ‘You are behaving like this, so you will end up becoming like this.’ It was a mixture of clairvoyance and common sense but very precise and sharp. Lama always knew exactly what I was up to.”
Max Redlich had no doubts on this score. “Sometimes Lama would walk around the garden. I found him so powerful I was too petrified to come out of my room in case I ran into him. Once when our paths crossed he just looked me slowly up and down, as he often did, and I knew he could see every atom of me.”
When Peter Kedge found some tapes of Trijang Rinpoche’s commentary on Heruka, Lama immediately went into retreat with them in his big room. He completed that retreat on 9 May 1979 and began making a batch of blessed pills. A student typed up a list of the astonishing ingredients in those pills: Lama Tsongkhapa’s hair and bone, Lama Tsongkhapa’s robe, Swiss cheese, mud, Heruka Yamantaka mandala sand from the Dalai Lama, Sera Hayagriva torma, Trijang Rinpoche’s dutsi (blessed nectar) pill, white raisins, mango, geranium, Dutsi Chömen from the Dalai Lama, whiskey, butter, saffron, honey, “Evening in Missaula” tea, peppermint, elder flowers and snakegrass were just a few. The finished pills were the size of a small blueberry.
On 26 March 1979 Lama had written to Massimo Corona to inform him that Geshe Yeshe Tobden was now ready to go to Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa.
“It was actually His Holiness the Dalai Lama who sent me to Italy, not Lama Yeshe,” said Geshe Yeshe Tobden. “Claudio Cipullo lived near me in Dharamsala while I was quite sick. He was moved by seeing I was a very serious monk and meditator, so he and Piero went to the Dalai Lama and asked him to send me to Italy. Claudio was the main one. I am a Sera Mé monk and knew Lama Yeshe from Buxa. He had repeatedly asked me to go to Italy, but I never agreed with him. Then His Holiness asked me to go and said it would be very beneficial. I stayed two years in Italy. Nothing shocked me about Westerners because I had already seen so many in Dharamsala.”
Everyone knew Lama Yeshe was visiting the meditators in their stone huts above Dharamsala in search of geshes to send to the West. Rumor had it he accused one of them of just sitting in the mountains thinking about his bank account, which was exactly what he was doing. His brother had just left him some money and he was sitting in his hut thinking about what to do with it.
Lama Yeshe’s half-brother, Geshe Tsering, had left Kopan and was now living at Tushita Retreat Centre. Students who wished to offer money to him were instructed by Lama to put it into his own account instead. Max Redlich thought this a little unfair, but Lama told him, “Dear, I look after them all from birth to the grave. Who takes care? I take care!”
Geshe Tsering: “The only thing Lama Yeshe ever sent me from the West was a book of postcard scenes. When Geshe Thinley and I were in Sera we didn’t have one paisa, so I wrote to Lama Yeshe about how when we came from Tibet we are five people with only seventy-five rupees between us, which I had shared around evenly. So Geshe Thinley and I wrote to him together saying, ‘If you want to help please do so right now, not after we are dead.’ After that he sent us 600 rupees, but said he had to keep money for his small disciples. I was always fighting with him over money. Eventually he gave me pocket money of 100 rupees a month, but he didn’t give anything to Thinley.”
However, Lama had set Geshe Tsering up for life at Tushita and he also had a job for Geshe Thinley at Chenrezig Institute in Queensland. When Geshe Thinley heard this he asked his brother for some clothes, as he owned almost nothing. But that was his style. Lama gave him a shirt, a zen (monks’ shawl) and a shemtab (monks’ skirt).
“Lama loved Geshe Thinley,” said Peter Kedge. “He spent time with him and really looked after him. One time I was at Tushita and Geshe Thinley was in the room. Suddenly Lama said to me, ‘Ask Geshe Thinley some Dharma questions.’ I don’t think I came up with anything too profound, but Lama was keen to show Geshe Thinley that his students were studying and had some Dharma understanding. I suppose that was also part of persuading him to go to Australia.”
Some Westerners were even more poverty-stricken than the Tibetans, and received a lot less sympathy. An American monk, Jampa Gendun, formerly Sanford Jaffe and known by most as Chaitanya, had worked on the first English translation of Lama Chöpa, The Guru Puja. Now he was penniless.
Jampa Gendun: “I was an IMI monk, though I had been ordained by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey. I was so broke I was about to go to Tehran to teach English because the money there was so good. When Gareth Sparham told Lama Yeshe about this plan he said, ‘No no no, he musn’t go. Tell him I’ll give him what he needs to stay.’
“My parents were dead and I had nobody to help me, so I accepted Lama’s offer to stay at the FPMT’s Inji Gompa. I ran up a bill of eighty rupees a month until the monk in charge threw me out, with a warning not to tell Lama Yeshe about it. It was terribly unfair.
“I spoke Tibetan and knew that many Tibetans were openly critical of Lama Yeshe, but not of Geshe Dhargyey, although both of them had been personally requested by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to teach Westerners. The Tibetans thought this was a total waste of time. Their resentment of Lama was based on jealousy, because he was successful.”
The English translation of The Guru Puja (Lama Chöpa), written by the First Panchen Lama, was published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in June 1979. Garrey Foulkes did the cover illustration and the translators included Alex Berzin and Judith Diane Short, Jampa Gendun’s girlfriend from their Rajneeshi days, known in those days as Priya. Over thirty years later this translation is still in use around the world.
The Delhi center
Nick was about to leave on another Kick the Habit tour and there was still no center in Delhi. Lama Yeshe was not impressed. One morning in May, Nick decided he wasn’t coming home that night until he found suitable premises. This resolve led to a lucky encounter with the owner of a luxurious house in the pleasant Shantiniketan enclave. Situated in a lovely residential area on a quiet avenue, the two-storey white house was roomy and comfortable. The upstairs rooms became dormitories and private bedrooms, the mezzanine bedroom became Dr. Nick’s office, while downstairs there was a small office and the large living room was transformed into a lovely gompa. Separate servants’ quarters in the back functioned as housing for the center’s staff members and the whole complex was set in a beautiful garden.
“The rent was a bit steep but Lama had told me not to be scared of money, so I wasn’t,” said Nick. “Peter Kedge lent me $10,000 out of the FPMT funds he was managing and Trisha Donnelly and Wendy Finster moved in. Sunita Kakaria also spent a lot of money fixing it up. When I returned from my tour the place was just beautiful. It even had a bodhi tree in the garden. The teaching program was up and running and Lama loved the place. ‘My center! I love my center!’ For me to hear Lama say anything like that was pretty rare.” Of all the FPMT centers, Tushita-Dharamsala and Tushita-Delhi were the only ones Lama Yeshe himself initiated.
Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre (TMMC) only managed to attract a very small number of Indian students, but served as a welcome haven for Western students passing through or staying in Delhi. Trisha Donnelly, who ran the place together with Nick, also provided a valuable service for geshes and translators commuting between various FPMT centers. She handled the endless arrangements relating to their travel papers.
Lama studies English in England
Lama Yeshe was preparing to go on tour and Piero decided that he rather than Peter Kedge should be Lama’s attendant this year. “I was in Kopan well before Nick and Peter arrived, and I was jealous,” said Piero, who could be very honest. “I did some heavy pujas then went to tell Lama I thought I could do a much better job than Peter. Lama just looked at me. He adored Peter, who was a handyman and could fix anything—the leaking roof, the Jeep. Lama really relied on him. I couldn’t do any of those things. Lama talked to Peter and said something like, ‘This guy wants to work for us, so let him work. But you control all the money.’ So Peter was pacified.”
While in Delhi Lama found time to send a note of congratulations together with dütsi and Heruka pills to Pam Percy and Roger Jackson on the occasion of their wedding in Madison, Wisconsin, before he and Piero flew to London.
Shan Tate, who would eventually become Geoff Jukes’s successor as director of the London center, met Lama for the first time when Ngawang Chötak asked her to take a thangka from Manjushri Institute to London and have Lama bless it. “He was staying in this medium-priced hotel in West London,” Shan explained. “I arrived at the cocktail hour and he was down in the not-too-plush reception area where people were standing around drinking. My boyfriend and new baby son were with me. Lama greeted me warmly. I explained about the thangka and he just sat down in an open space and started to do the blessing. Englishly, politely, people looked up from their gin and tonics. It just blew my mind that he could do this so comfortably.
Lama made a big fuss over us, sending his attendant to get his camera from his room to take photos of us together. Lama knew my baby was getting hungry and I was worried about feeding him there in public, though I didn’t say anything. ‘Come on now dear, feed your baby,’ he said.”
The main purpose of Lama Yeshe’s trip to England was to study English. He and Piero rented a house near Norwich for a month, the address kept secret from the perpetually needy students. Besides the English tutor who stayed in a small hotel nearby, they had only two or three visitors.
Piero became Lama’s cook. “He knew exactly what he wanted to eat. I always watched how he cooked and when I cooked he told me what to do. One time I put too much oil in the dish; he ate one spoonful and just put it down. I felt so bad. I wanted my food to be the best for my guru. Another time we were going somewhere and he cooked the spaghetti in a really small pan of water. I told him, ‘No, you have to have a big pot of water for spaghetti,’ but he just waved me off – of course a small pot would work. These were all little attacks on my rigid state of mind. He was going to take me to America and told me I would see the freedom, openness and space there. He said, ‘You can do what you want in America.’ There is a basic energy of confrontation in me so Lama and I had many confrontations and discussions. We spent three whole days arguing about whether America was interesting or not.”
On 20 June 1979 Lama returned to London where he and Piero stayed with Joyce Petschek. Joyce recommended that Lama see a Dr. Scurr at the Ladbroke Private Diagnostic Clinic and Peter Kedge arranged a couple of appointments with him. Piero was in attendance, but Peter had come to see Lama in Norwich and was still around. After the examination, another lengthy report was made about “Mr. Yeshe,” noting “gross left ventricular hypertrophy,” systolic and diastolic murmurs, and “marked enlargement of the ventricular mass.” After further tests the conclusion was that Lama’s main pathology was severe aortic valve disease. Valve replacement surgery was advised for the near future.
The report concluded, “This reiterates instructions he has received elsewhere. If he delays until such time as he develops cardiac failure, the dangers of operative procedure are increased and satisfactory outcome less certain.”
One evening at Joyce’s beautiful Kensington house Lama floored his sophisticated Italian attendant with a blunt and embarrassing observation. Piero Cerri: “It was a very fashionable house and there were some super pretty girls and young boys there. I came into the room in my robes and in front of everybody Lama said my breath was bad. I just fell to pieces. Lama and Rinpoche were the only people I ever met who could knock me down.
“We would watch TV and talk. I didn’t like gardening. Lama always understood exactly what you liked and didn’t like. If gardening was your trip, then okay. If it wasn’t, he didn’t make you. Being with Lama all the time was an overpowering experience because you had to surrender to him completely.”
Once again Joyce was the perfect hostess. “Lama often stayed with me in London. I told him I didn’t think I was going to reach enlightenment in this lifetime because I really liked so many worldly things—like beautiful clothes, jewelry, travel and seduction. I also like to write creatively. ‘That’s good, dear. Now you have a chance,’ he told me. He was very clear that you can have it all, just as long as you don’t need it or want it, as long as you’re not attached.”
Lama found time to visit Kew Gardens with Geoff Jukes. “I’d always seen Lama as having incredible energy and humor,” said Geoff, “but as we wandered around the hot and humid palm houses I realized he was becoming very distressed. This was my first indication of what tremendous energy he put into just staying on this planet to help people.”
While in London, Lama Yeshe gave one public talk at Chelsea Town Hall and continued to attend special English classes, this time in Oxford Street.
One day a telegram arrived at Joyce’s house. At first Piero thought it was from some Dharma hippie. “It read something like, ‘Your compassion is beyond the limits of the mind. At this time I think I have to meditate, so I cannot come to teach on the courses in Europe. Anyway, Piero is with you and he can teach as well as I can.’” It was signed, “Zopa.”
Piero Cerri: “I couldn’t believe it really was from Rinpoche. I didn’t want to show it to Lama but later, when we were in the taxi going to Oxford Street, I read it to him. As I read it out the meaning became clear to me, because Lama was repeating the words and stopping all the time. Then I realized. ‘Rinpoche says he wants to meditate,’ said Lama. He didn’t budge an inch. He was unsurprised and totally cool, but it was a serious thing. We had courses booked at Manjushri Institute, at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, in Holland and in Spain. All the advertising had already gone around and the airline tickets were arranged. Rinpoche backing out was a major upset. Lama went to his class and sent me off to send a telegram. The tone was like, ‘Yes, I understand. But this time everything is ready and you have to come. So, please come.’ It was very well written and not heavy and I had to send it ‘most urgent’, which cost UK£40 back then.
“Later Lama said to me, ‘Lama Zopa is not playing games. In reality he is putting himself down as the lowest of the low.’ He told me once that whoever doubts Rinpoche doubts Buddha.”
The telegram was delivered to Kopan where Jacie Keeley received it. Peter Kedge was in India, having left instructions that if Lama Zopa didn’t return from Lawudo by a certain date, Jacie would have to go up and fetch him back.
Jacie Keeley: “That date came and went. I was facing a difficult situation, so I went to see Serkong Dorje Chang at Swayambhu. He made observations with the dice and said, ‘If you don’t get Lama Zopa now, you will never get Lama Zopa down.’ I borrowed money from Marcel and hired a helicopter.” The monsoon weather had already started and flights to and from the mountains would stop completely once the monsoon rains arrived in full force.
“The sky was terribly overcast,” Jacie continued, “until we swerved and the clouds opened like the Red Sea. We landed below Lawudo Gompa, because there was no place to land beside it. I ran up the path to the cave, still weak with hepatitis while the pilot was shouting from below, ‘Run faster, the clouds are coming!’ I got to the top and there was Rinpoche. He said, ‘Didn’t you get my letter? I’m not coming this year.’ I told him I didn’t know about the letter and he didn’t have to come if he didn’t want to, but then he said, ‘Let me make some observations.’
“The Sherpas packed Rinpoche’s things, grabbed some food and a thermos and raced down to the helicopter. By the time we got there they had a little folding table and a chair set up so Rinpoche could have a cup of tea. He had to sit down, drink the tea and get into the helicopter. There he sat, not looking at anybody. Rinpoche’s mother and sister were hanging off the helicopter, tears pouring down their cheeks. They only let go at the last moment.
“We got to Kathmandu safely and when we were in the taxi Rinpoche told me, ‘I have never prayed so hard in my life not to have to go to the West. But the whole time I was making these prayers I could feel there were stronger prayers being said and that mine wouldn’t work.’” Rinpoche said later that just before the helicopter arrived, which was at the end of his morning session, a vision of a row of Westerners appeared in front of him, chanting the first line of the dedication prayer, Ge wa di yi nyur du dag (“Due to the merits of these virtuous actions…”).8 He thought this meant his retreat was probably over. He also commented that Jacie had been very respectful in the way she presented the situation to him.
Jacie stayed on at Kopan with Karuna Cayton, Maureen O’Malley and the boys throughout the summer monsoon. Every day she trudged up the hill from Chötak’s house, through mud and leeches and pouring rain to endless meals of potatoes—boiled, fried or mashed. Monsoon food. She repainted the office, added bright cushions and taught the boys basic geography, so they could know where their lamas were in the world.
“Americans are so insulated. Even though I was a college graduate I told them Greece was an island. I showed them a picture of downtown Chicago in rush hour and asked them if they had ever seen anything like that before and they said, ‘Yeah, Asan Tole!’ In their minds flashy cars were the same as ox-carts, goats and box-wallahs,” said Jacie.
When Lama Yeshe met up with Rinpoche again in Europe he told him, “Even your breath in the West gives benefit.” This is similar to what people used to say to Lama Tsongkhapa.
Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa
In early July the lamas arrived at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa (ILTK), where Lama Zopa Rinpoche began teaching a course on the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, one of his favorite texts. Geshe Yeshe Tobden had arrived a month earlier, accompanied by Massimo’s brother, Luca Corona, who was a monk. He had been appointed Geshe Tobden’s translator. By this time many important teachers had taught at ILTK, including Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche, one of the Dalai Lama’s debate tutors, and Geshe Jampa Lodro, a highly learned geshe living in Switzerland.
The former owner and sitting tenants had finally vacated the premises and the center’s new meditation hall had been opened with a Guru Puja. One dormitory was ready and more than half the building had been rebuilt. Laboring together under the hot July sun, digging trenches and laying sewage pipes, the intrepid band of Italian students had become good friends.
“Most of us were hippies, but day after day we worked from dawn until midnight to get everything ready for the lamas’ visit,” said Fabrizio Pallotti. “We managed to finish the upper floor of the villetta, the lamas’ cottage, but the rooms below were still little more than caves.”
Damtsig Dorje initiation
Lama Yeshe conferred an empowerment into the highest yoga tantra practice of Damtsig Dorje (Skt. Samayavajra) to fifty-five people, followed by a commentary on the meditation practice. The special quality of Damtsig Dorje is to purify negative actions in relation to guru devotion.
Lama Yeshe wanted his students to acquire a realistic understanding of tantra, a word much misunderstood in Western society. He began slowly.
From Lama Yeshe’s teachings in Italy, July 1979:
For the next thirty minutes, you just check up what you feel. I want you to meditate on your own experience. I don’t want you to think about Buddhism, about lam-rim, tantra, yoga, lama or any idea. You just watch; check up whatever you experience. Maybe you have pain. We generally feel the energy of pain as sort of concrete, but if you check up it is also like space energy, like light. I want you to just comtemplate that experience, meditate on that. Or if you feel happy, check up in the same way. Just contemplate. Don’t think that pain is bad, pleasure is good. Don’t engage in such emotional reactions, good or bad. Just emphasize natural contemplation, concentration, without too much intellect. Even if there is depression, just look at that depression in the mind. I want you to contemplate that depression, which is in the mind, not in the physical. At a certain point, that pain becomes space; you become space. Pain becomes space; pleasure becomes space. You become space, like the sky. If you contemplate like that, without emotional involvement, eventually you can have this experience. And that is the time you should not be afraid. Just hold. You don’t worry; I don’t want you to worry. Just contemplate continuously without being afraid. And in that moment you experience losing your ego.
Every sense object that we experience always appears to us as a concrete entity. There is a kind of concreteness that appears from the object itself. Normally we say that whatever we perceive in the world is real. “Everything I see or hear or touch is true, true, true!” We never question this at all. But this is wrong. So now we are checking philosophically. You might think that checking philosophically is difficult…right view, wrong view. It’s not difficult; it’s simple. Whatever appears to your eye, to your ear, and so on…instead of accepting it, believing it, you are skeptical. You don’t accept at face value how things appear. Be a little suspicious, a little bit “I’m not sure.” To find the right view, you know, you don’t need to look at space, you don’t need to look at your lama’s face or at Buddha’s face. You need to look at the face of your normal way of looking at things, your normal view. When you observe your view, you see that the right view isn’t there. In other words, you find the wrong view in your normal way of looking at things.
Don’t think “Wrong view is in Italy but right view is in the Himalayan Mountains.” Don’t think, “Buddha, Buddha, Buddha. Buddha has right view so if I always look at Buddha then somehow I’ll discover right view.” Not like that. Right view is everywhere, anywhere! The beautiful face of shunyata (emptiness) is existent within all phenomena.
Of course we understand that this concrete appearance of ego cannot be extinguished immediately; it takes a long time to eliminate it completely. There are gross levels and subtle levels to be purified. What we can do right now is to loosen our tight conception a little bit, our uptight view, little by little. Even though the concrete appearance is still there, by understanding how it is wrong, then you loosen your tight conception that holds it to be true. “Of course it appears, but it’s not true. It doesn’t exist as it appears.”
So then you contemplate, What is my consciousness? Consciousness is not concrete. It is like a lake, having the ability to reflect. It is not form, not color, but it is always there. Even if you have a dull, dark experience, the consciousness perceiving that darkness still has the nature of clarity. I want you to contemplate that. When you observe your concrete experience, somehow it automatically disappears and the object is the clear consciousness again. When you observe that it disappears, you should think that this disappearing is more real. This gives an injection to the mind.
So what I’m saying is that the clear energy of consciousness is with you twenty-four hours a day. Even when you are angry, clarity is there. It is basic fundamental human nature—pure, beautiful. Our consciousness is like the ocean. In that space is the potential for ego—whether positive, negative, good, bad, or ugly. It has the ability to reflect any kind of thing you want to see.
Tantra shows that human beings have the capacity for limitless enjoyment and at the same time the ability to be free from the grasping mind. I want you to understand that Buddha’s teaching is not saying that human beings should not be happy or that they cannot have pleasure. The problem is that the unclear ego grasps at concrete entities, which are non-existent. If you didn’t have this grasping, then you could have as much enjoyment as possible, any kind of pleasure, any kind of bliss.9
Lama again stayed at Joyce Petschek’s Casalone up the hill from ILTK and Joyce drove him to the center every day. Zia was officially the lamas’ cook and housekeeper for the tour, but Francesca Piatti cooked for them in Italy, simply because Lama liked having her around. Petty jealousies surfaced among the other students and it was decreed someone else should have the privilege of preparing the lamas’ meals. Lama settled this particular brouhaha by simply refusing to have anyone but Francesca in the kitchen. “Lama told me that being with me was like being with his mother,” she said.
In Madison he had told Petey Shane the same thing. Sometimes it seemed Lama Yeshe preferred the company of some people to others, given this is the common interpretation of preferential treatment. Over time however, it became clear he had no favorites and kept by him those people who needed him the most—and they were not necessarily those the most determined to see him.
Lama was certainly a mother to Lama Zopa Rinpoche. One student visiting Casalone left in a sulk because Lama had not met her expectations. “I felt left out in the cold, insulted. I was looking for my shoes outside when I looked up through the window and saw Lama Zopa sitting at lunch. He had just lifted his spoon and I could tell that he simply couldn’t put it in his mouth. He just stared at it. Somehow I immediately knew Rinpoche was seeing all the beings in the universe who suffer from hunger and cold and that was why he was unable to eat. My sulky tantrum melted away. At that moment Lama Yeshe spoke to him in the tenderest voice, telling him again and again to please, please eat for his own benefit. It was in Tibetan, but I could understand enough. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude.”
In 1979 Franco and Francesca Piatti moved their jewelry business and silver workshop to ILTK. “We realized there would soon be quite a few permanent residents there and we were in a position to provide some of them with employment,” said Franco. “We renamed the business Shiné, which in Tibetan means ‘calm abiding.’ Lama said that was a good name.”
Lama Yeshe set about transforming his Italian hippie students into serious and responsible citizens. In Milan, Raffaello Longo was working for Massimo Corona’s fashion business, Karma. “I didn’t want to be there,” said Raffa, “but Lama told me it was good for me. He said, ‘I want you young people to learn some proper job so you have confidence in yourself and confidence to reach enlightenment. If you can’t do a simple job, then how are you going to become Buddha?’ I went back to Milan but every year I asked Lama when I could come back and live at the institute again.”
Marco Cipullo was an inveterate hippie. When Lama Yeshe spotted him working in the ILTK office he immediately told him to cut his long hair and wear a proper tie and jacket to work. “I cut my hair and changed my clothes the very next day,” said Marco, “but I was still suffering because I was from a rich family who had given me a proper fascist education. I was the only one there with a clean jacket and good clothes. I said to Lama, ‘The hippies are killing me because of the jacket!’ Lama told me, ‘If you want to communicate with hippies it’s not difficult, because you have the same culture. But with the straight people you have to try harder.’”
Before moving to Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, Piero Siriani had never lived anywhere but Rome. With no knowledge whatsoever of gardening, Piero began to tidy up the grounds. His original intention was simply to clear the construction debris, but he soon began thinking about flowers. Naturally, Lama Yeshe noticed this and the two went off to buy things and make plans. To Lama’s delight the center soon had fruit trees and a vegetable garden.
The trials of being a lama’s attendant
Piero Cerri soon discovered that being Lama Yeshe’s official tour attendant was no picnic. “It was the worst, especially when both lamas were together. You really don’t know what to do because there are all these people coming but Lama is telling me he and Rinpoche have no time for interviews. So everyone gets upset with me about it. When he did let Rinpoche see people, Lama specified exactly how long they could stay with him. I had to enforce those instructions, which was hard when the lamas were only visiting once a year for a short time. Lama never criticized the way I handled people, just my driving. He said I drove too fast.”
Peter Kedge and Nick Ribush knew the challenge of juggling Lama’s interviews only too well. “Lama always made it very clear to me that Rinpoche was to get just one hour a day to see students,” said Peter. “So one had to divide that hour by the number of people who wanted to see him. Lama Zopa was a little more cooperative than Lama about letting me tell people their time was up. With Lama, he’d see people for two or three hours then say to me, ‘Why do you let these people come so late! I’m tired!’ But when I went in to hurry things up he’d throw me out again. So it was difficult.”
Fabrizio Pallotti: “The first time I laid eyes on Lama Yeshe he was getting out of Joyce’s Volvo and looking around at everything with these cinemascope eyes. I felt I already knew him. On the first day of the Damtsig Dorje commentary Lama explained tantra by saying, ‘Even with a family you can practice this. You can have a family and become a buddha without abandoning anything.’ Right at that moment I was thinking about becoming a monk, although I had come to the institute with a girlfriend. Piero gave me an appointment and I asked Lama if I could be ordained. ‘Very good, dear. When you decide, that is the moment,’ he said. There was a bumpa vase of water on the table. He grabbed me, opened my shirt and poured all this water onto my heart while reciting mantra and blowing on my heart. Next thing I knew I was outside again. I thought, ‘Wow! Wow!’”
Fabrizio Pallotti was among those ordained by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 21 January 1982.
Fund-raising for Mount Everest Centre
After taking ordination from Zong Rinpoche in California the year before, Connie Miller had struggled for several months living on her own while attending graduate school. This proved difficult to mesh with her new status as an ordained nun so in early 1979, on Lama Yeshe’s advice, she left California for England and went to live with the community of monks and nuns at Manjushri Institute in Cumbria. She passed the next six months or so working for Publications for Wisdom Culture and taking as many Dharma teachings as were available. She especially enjoyed the Geshe Studies Program classes.
Connie still held the nominal title of “director” of Mount Everest Centre, so in the spring of 1979, she was asked to accompany the lamas’ summer European teaching tour in order to actively fund-raise. Connie spent the next several months preparing materials for this tour, printed brochures and an automated slide presentation with background music and a written script, all about the young monks of Mount Everest Centre and the unique education they received there.
Lama talks to the Sangha at ILTK
On 17 July 1979 Lama Yeshe held a meeting with the Sangha. He began by explaining three steps in learning the lam-rim: First the teacher gives the outline, then the students discuss it, and third, they apply it in daily life.
From Lama Yeshe’s talk to the IMI Sangha at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa in 1979:
I advise you people not to take high commitments. It is not necessary. Our Western culture civilization can be very difficult. Last year we were incredibly fortunate to invite Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, who is absolutely Buddha. It was incredible, so fortunate, and many people took initiations. But this year many are coming crying to me, saying, “Lama, I broke my vow!” I understand. I cry too. When I come to the centers, there are so many things to do that sometimes it overwhelms my time. But I cry differently. So it is important that we not take so many commitments to do heavy sadhanas. The first thing is to be practical, not just to make a Tibetan trip. Ritual is unimportant. Even though some lamas say that ritual is important…well, yes. It’s not necessary for you to be revolutionary, saying, “I prefer spaghetti life; I want Italian Dharma, not Tibetan Buddhism anymore!” The truth is, we are Italian sentient beings practicing to become enlightened. That’s all. You didn’t become Tibetan monks and nuns.
Once you have taken a certain initiation you should check up. You should ask the lama, “What does this mean? What is this initiation? What is its purpose?” If you receive that empowerment, then you should get the benefit of its purpose. So in order to get that benefit, you should make a retreat, shouldn’t you? Each time you receive an initiation, you should make a satisfactory retreat. Then it becomes warm inside. We should be practical and then we’ll be happy. This is how we take the peaceful comfortable path to enlightenment.10
Lama recommended the Sangha find a house of their own close to the center. Then the discussion moved on to the role of the gekö (disciplinarian). The Italians wanted an Italian gekö, but a vote was taken and it was agreed that American nun Thubten Chodron (Cherry Greene), who had gone there to be spiritual program coordinator in 1978, would keep the role for six months. Finally, with regard to wearing robes Lama told his monks and nuns to practice discretion and wear Western clothes when appropriate. “For example, one can dress in the common way to go and visit your family,” he told them. “Also, if you are looking for work you cannot go dressed as a monk. If someone has to visit a public office he can wear normal clothes and change after.” It was all wonderful common sense.
The Viviers course, France
Then it was off to France. Dominique Regibo, who had been at both Ibiza courses, was secretary to the as-yet unhoused Institut Vajra Yogini. She rented a place at Viviers, a small walled city on the Rhône River in southeastern France. The students who gathered for the lamas’ second French course were a much more diverse group than at Sainte Baume. Lama told the organizers to charge a decent fee as “Westerners value money more than anything.” He didn’t want people dropping out because the course was too cheap for them to care.
An earlier ten-day retreat in the Pyrenées, led by the French monk Daniel Milles, had produced a core group of French students who met weekly in Paris. With no building permit forthcoming for Denis Huet’s land, Elisabeth had gone looking for another place. Lama Yeshe told her that she had “fingers that could attract gold” and should look for a big place because Dharma will be “big in France.”
At the Viviers course Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught on emptiness while Lama Yeshe conferred a Vajrayogini empowerment and gave introductory teachings on that practice. It was here that Lama Yeshe finally met the French benefactor, Denis Huet. In 1975 Denis had enrolled in the eighth Kopan meditation course but left before its completion. He had found Lama Yeshe to be “too much the clown” for his taste. However, Denis was very impressed with the Dharma and his offer of a substantial piece of land was, under the circumstances, an even more remarkable gesture.
A busload of students from Spain arrived for the course, including Maria Torres and her second child, a daughter fathered by Paco. He had traveled by car with Yeshe, who was now one year old. “My car was older than the Pyrenées and broke down twice,” said Paco, “but I was so happy to be near the lamas again. Lama Yeshe looked very tired, completely worn out.” People tended not to notice Lama’s physical frailty because he could pump himself up so convincingly. “He’s a buddha,” said the students. “He doesn’t get tired!” But he did.
Each night, Elisabeth met with Lama to go over the plans for the next day. She also stood guard outside his door during his nap time after lunch to ensure he got two hours of uninterrupted privacy.
One Swiss newcomer, Jean-Pascal Moret, found the first five days of Lama Zopa’s teaching rather hard going. “It seemed to me that Lama Zopa was saying such self-evident things about death. I wanted to hear something exotic and new. I had paid the full amount in advance so I thought I should stay and get my money’s worth. We Swiss are like that about money! The other students were all telling me Lama Yeshe would be giving some tantric initiation, so I was looking forward to that.
“When Lama Yeshe arrived on the day before the initiation to explain it to us, I was standing around with the others. The moment I saw him I went hot and cold, started shaking and began to cry. I can’t remember one word of what he said. Afterwards I couldn’t eat for hours. The next day I went to the initiation as if to a marriage, even though I had no idea what this ‘Vajrayogini’ was and I hadn’t even taken refuge. But ever since that day Vajrayogini has been my main practice,” he said. Eventually Jean-Pascal also realized the profound and extraordinary nature of Lama Zopa’s teachings on death and impermanence.
Vajrayogini is a female enlightened being who is red in color. This highest yoga tantra empowerment, which Lama Yeshe also allowed Chantal Roussel’s young teenage daughter to take, was given by Lama Yeshe toward the end of July and followed by three days of commentary. Lama Zopa also conferred a Chenrezig empowerment. Two people took ordination, one of whom was Steve Carlier, a young man from England who would eventually spend many years together with Geshe Jampa Tegchok at Sera Monastery and become a notable translator and highly educated Dharma teacher in his own right.
Maria Torres had an interview with Lama before he left France. “I told him two children were enough and I was thinking of putting a contraceptive device inside,” she said. “He told me not to do it because these things cause cancer and are very bad. He also said, ‘Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because you will make a monastery with the children of Paco!’ Well, I didn’t know about that!” said Maria.
At the completion of the teachings in Viviers, Piero and a group of students accompanied the two lamas to Zurich, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama was visiting Switzerland at the beginning of his first trip to the West. Out of respect for the Swiss policy of neutrality with regard to China, his visit to the community of 1,300 Tibetans living in Rikon received no publicity. Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche also went to Rikon and assisted Geshe Rabten in a long-life puja for His Holiness, which was held at Frau Dora Kalff’s house. From Switzerland, the Dalai Lama departed for the rest of his tour, which concluded with a seven-week stay in the United States. While visiting New York City, His Holiness participated in an interfaith service in New York’s beautiful and imposing St. Patrick’s Cathedral at which 5,000 people were in attendance, a remarkable crowd in the West at that time.
Judy Weitzner: “The International Society for Tibetan Reality was the core group concerned with His Holiness’s Bay Area visit and worked on finding the venue and dealing with the logistics. The public talk was held in the Oakland Auditorium where coming events were advertised with huge signs reading ‘Wrestling, Roller Derby, Dalai Lama,’ reflecting how little known His Holiness was in the West. Once he started travelling momentum grew rapidly.
“More Tibetans started appearing in the Bay area it made sense to incorporate them and give them leadership roles. We invited everyone to a big meeting to organise this expanded group and the Tibetans chose the name Bay Area Friends of Tibet (BAFOT), with the same goals Lama had laid out. We sponsored an annual Tibet Day on March 10 with lectures, films, Tibetan opera, Himalayan handicrafts and momos.
“The International Lawyers for Tibet spun off from BAFOT as well as a Tibetan Association. Once all the Tibetans in the Bay Area could fit into my living room, now there are more than one thousand. Then Friends of Tibet groups began being formed all over the place. I was simply overwhelmed by the thought that Lama’s wishes were coming true, exactly as he had wanted”, said Judy.
The course at Der Kosmos, Amsterdam
From Zurich the lamas went to Amsterdam. For the previous two years Marcel Bertels had been teaching lam-rim courses there. These had all been organized by Paula de Wys (Paula Koolkin had married Matti de Wys some years earlier). When Paula was appointed secretary for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s inaugural trip to the United States, it meant finding someone else to take over organizing the lamas’ visit. Paula and Matti lived on a houseboat. One afternoon, just as she was thinking about them, Jan-Paul and Margot Kool drifted past her living room. Rushing outside, she yelled, “Lama Yeshe is coming! Call me!”
Immediately prior to the lamas’ arrival at the beginning of August, Marcel gave a preliminary course. Later, Margot described meeting Lama Yeshe in the foyer of the hotel where he was staying. “It was like stepping into a totally different energy field,” she said. At Der Kosmos, Amsterdam’s landmark New Age center, the lamas taught eighty students over a three-day period. During the teachings a stray cat turned up and sat on the throne with Lama, giving rise to excited speculation as to its previous life.
Marcel took the lamas to see his conservative and devoutly Catholic parents and they visited the local flower auctions together. Lama enjoyed himself enormously. “Have I got enough money to buy bulbs to take home?” he asked Marcel, who carried the cash.
“I had met him once before,” said Mrs. Bertels. “That time I had looked at him quite hard. He took our hands and looked hard at us, too. He didn’t say anything personal about Marcel, like how marvelous he was. Lama never wrote to us or gave us presents. My husband was a reserved man and not quickly personal with people. My problem was in thinking, ‘What does he think of me?’ so we didn’t become very intimate. But I thought he was wonderful.”
Another Dutch student, Hermes Brandt, wrote to his hard-working widowed mother saying she must meet Lama. “Hermes was not easily ecstatic,” said Mrs. Brandt, “so on my only day off, a Sunday, I brought some flowers and joined them on a canal boat ride. I couldn’t really understand him [Lama Yeshe], but he laughed in such a warm and friendly way. I thought he was terrific.” Another student, Corinne de Tersteger, who had met Lama briefly at Kopan, was also on that boat, taking photos and having fun.
Before she left for the United States Paula had time to talk with Lama Yeshe about the new Dutch center, Maitreya Instituut. “Lama told us to publish a magazine in Dutch, hold courses once a month and also organize parties and picnics,” said Paula. “Jan-Paul and Margot immediately started organizing weekend courses and the first edition of the magazine came out at the end of that year. We were not so good at the parties and picnics because people were always so busy.” Maitreya Instituut was developed as a non-profit trust. One of the first publications in Dutch was a translation of Lama Yeshe’s Silent Mind, Holy Mind.
The University of Utrecht
Louwrien Wijers, a well-known contemporary art and culture critic, was in the audience at a talk Lama Yeshe gave at the University of Utrecht. But the attitude of the students around Lama did not impress her at all.
“They were all running around very unprofessionally,” Louwrien Wijers recalled. “I cried in my heart because these things can have such a deep impact. But these hippies were ridiculous. I could see the energy they put into it, but I didn’t like the way this powerful person was being presented in such a religious way, as the exotic, esoteric Buddhist lama. I thought it was completely wrong. I had been to Buddhist cultural things before—you experience them, then forget them. I thought Lama Yeshe made a big mistake in choosing these energetic hippies before checking if they could do things well. He initiated so many wonderful things but he had too much going on around the world to ensure the right people were there to do the work. He himself was utterly ‘clean clear,’ as he often said, but I knew I couldn’t work with these crying, emotional people. I loathed that kind of scene.
“I saw that Lama Yeshe could fit right in with pop culture. That was the connection I wanted to make, but I wasn’t very successful. The group he was surrounded by wanted him in the Tibetan culture. Years later I heard a monk say, ‘I wish all these people would get off their nationalistic folkloric trips and see how much more actively we can work as monks and nuns for the betterment of the world without all that.’ Well, that was exactly my reaction in Utrecht.”
The first German course
Lama took a short break to recover his strength before the first course in Germany was due to begin. The course was held over the weekend of 11–12 August 1979, at the Centre for Initial Therapy in the Black Forest. The place was owned by Count Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, whose pioneering work introducing Buddhism to Germany parallels that of Christmas Humphreys in England. Lama Yeshe had been invited to teach by a German psychologist, Jena Bruer, who had attended several of his courses. “You couldn’t even say the word ‘rebirth’ then,” said Jena, “not without inviting ridicule. Count Dürckheim and his partner were Zen practitioners. They had a beautiful center where they practiced Jungian and transpersonal therapies.”
The lamas stayed twenty miles from the center and Piero drove them back and forth, while Lama warned him again and again about driving too fast. Students began arriving from all over Europe, including psychotherapist Radmila Moacanin. She was following the lamas’ European tour and had long wanted to visit Dürckheim’s center.
“Lama was totally relaxed and cheerful,” said Radmila. “People asked him all these extremely convoluted questions, but Lama answered them in such simple, easy, brief phrases that made so much sense.” Lama Yeshe disappointed some of the Dürckheim crowd—apparently he did not meet with their expectations. Nevertheless, they were all impressed with his meditation posture.
The course was translated by the two German monks from the lamas’ students, Dieter Kratzer and Helmut Hohm. Both were terribly inexperienced and had to discuss repeatedly how to best translate Lama Yeshe’s idiosyncratic English into German. Many years later, Dieter remarked, “Listening to Count Dürckheim was like a pleasure trip compared to Lama’s teachings. But after the Count’s talk I didn’t remember even one sentence, while Lama Yeshe’s words remained clearly in my mind, even until today.”
Monk Roger Wheeler was thinking about giving up his studies at Tharpa Choeling, Geshe Rabten’s monastery in Switzerland, when he heard Lama Yeshe was going to be teaching in Germany. “He was probably the last person I wanted to see right then, but I went to his discourse. He gave me a three-hour interview, despite all these other people waiting to see him. I told him I wanted to leave Tharpa Choeling. By very logical debate he showed me point by point how unreasonable I was being. I returned and stayed for another year,” said Roger.
Alnis Grants wanted to do a Vajrasattva retreat, but Lama Yeshe had other plans for him. He was sent off into the German countryside in search of a place to found a center, assured that Tibetan Buddhism would take root very well in Germany. In the meantime, a small group of students working with Jena Bruer started to meet together in Munich. Lama Yeshe called this group Vajrasattva Institut.
After the German course, the lamas departed for England. At Manjushri Institute, the lamas stayed in Monique’s cottage, named after Monique and Staffan Berghok, the couple who leased it for a tidy sum but rarely visited. The upstairs rooms were kept exclusively for the lamas’ use and the rest of the house leased to students. Manjushri was still an uncomfortable place to stay. Parts of the main building remained unsafe, the chemicals used to combat dry-rot stank terribly and everyone suffered from coughs and colds. Even Monique’s cottage had a dead crow stuck in the chimney.
A big change at Manjushri in 1979 had been the springtime arrival of Geshe Jampa Tegchok to teach the Geshe Studies Program. Geshe Tegchok entered Sera Jé at the age of eight. After escaping from Tibet to India he had been one of the principal teachers at Buxa Duar and then continued his own studies at Sanskrit University in Varanasi. Prior to accepting Lama Yeshe’s invitation, Geshe Tegchok had been lecturing at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath. He and Lama Yeshe knew each other well. Geshe Tegchok was considered by all who knew him to be an exceptional geshe. Geshe Sopa had tried to lure him to America and Geshe Rabten had wanted him to come to Switzerland.
“I did not have any feeling of rejection for teaching Westerners. I thought it would be very good if Buddhism was taught to the very bright, intelligent people of the West,” Geshe Tegchok explained. “Not only would it help them, but the Chinese had said religion was poison. If we could prove to Westerners that Buddhism has worth, that it is not poison, then that would indirectly counter the Chinese view.”
“While I was in Sarnath I had many discussions with Lama Yeshe about teaching Westerners,” Geshe Tegchok continued. “He said to me, ‘You know, you have to teach anyway and it’s better to teach those who don’t know any Dharma at all.’ He said that to me quite often, even before Geshe Thubten Loden went to Australia. He even mentioned several places I could go, but I was too busy in Sarnath at the time. We talked about what kind of teachers to bring to the West and thought it would be best not to send the highest geshes to teach beginners. We thought that when a firm base was established, then more qualified teachers could be invited. There was also a general concern among the monks in Tibetan monasteries that if many of the good teachers were invited to the West, there would not be so many left for them. Their studies could be harmed. Since the monasteries are the base from which teachers arise, it would not be good if too many left.”
The first Geshe Studies course was on lo-rig, the basic psychology of the mind and its various functions. After his arrival, Geshe Tegchok first taught the topic of drub-ta, or the study of different schools of philosophical tenets, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist. Nearly all the monks and nuns who were resident at Manjushri at the time as well as several lay students participated in the Geshe Studies classes and met several times each week for lively discussions on the teachings they had received.
The moment Lama Yeshe arrived in any center the atmosphere around him became deliciously charged. Lama Zopa Rinpoche remained the thin ethereal ascetic, whereas Lama Yeshe was earthy and warm, with his jokes about chocolate and “preaking out.” His wide smile touched everybody, his shining face was a continual blessing and his style of teaching Dharma was natural and uncomplicated. He told the students it was more meaningful to take refuge sincerely in the bathroom every morning than to sit down Tibetan style. He did not want them pretending to be Tibetans.
The Manjushri students had built a special high teaching throne for him. “Cut it down to here,” he said, pointing low. The whole thing had to be taken apart and remade.
Everybody wanted a private interview. One girl was upset after hearing a story that Lama had said he planned to die on the steps of Manjushri Institute. “Don’t worry,” he told her. “When I come back, you can be my mummy.” A year later she was pregnant. “Remember what you said about my baby, Lama?” she asked him. “Yes, dear,” he said. “I said that to open your mind to the possibility of having a baby.” He then did puja on her stomach, rang bells and added, “You’ll get along very well with this baby – he’s a friend of mine.”
“It took forever to get an interview with him,” said Sharon Gross, who had stopped at Manjushri on her way from California to Dharamsala to study Tibetan medicine with Dr. Lobsang Dolma. “Piero was limiting interviews to ten minutes, after which he’d barge into the room, pick you up and throw you out. Then Lama told me it was better for me to stay at Manjushri, study Tibetan language and work in publishing. Whaaaat? Staying in the north of England was definitely not what I had in mind. ‘Also, dear, the West is better for your health,’ he said. That was true. I never went back to the East again.”
Lama Zopa’s lam-rim course, attended by nearly 200 people, ran concurrently with Frau Kalff’s Jungian course at which there were thirty-five students in attendance. The lectures were scheduled so people could go to both. Frau Kalff set up a sand-play room and Lama Yeshe tried never to miss her lectures. He encouraged the students to think about Western psychology in Buddhist terms—and to think about Buddhism in psychological terms. A few individuals chose to specialize in the psychology lectures, but most preferred taking teachings from genuine Tibetan lamas.
Lama Yeshe was extremely interested in the modern psychological perspective. He respected Frau Kalff, whose lectures worldwide were attended by thousands of people. Lama’s broad-mindedness was also reflected in the range of books in the Manjushri Institute library, many of which had been donated by students. It was becoming a handsome and eclectic collection. Lama loved that kind of openness.
Openness was very much the theme of the talk he gave at a residents’ meeting. Manjushri Institute was to be a place for everybody, with room for families as well as Sangha. Lama praised the huge organic vegetable gardens. Craftspeople had set up all manner of workshops in the outbuildings.
Ronnie King still ran the Manjushri kitchens. Lama was about to give teachings on Tara Chittamani again and she wanted to attend. He told her, “Don’t do it. Better you are there in the kitchen, then I know everything is all right.” Ronnie had assembled a good team of cooks, which included Susanna Parodi. Susanna had decided not to return to Italy after all.
Susanna Parodi: “I was happy there, just cleaning and waiting for Lama to come. But after a while I worried I was ruining my hands. My stupid vanity! When Lama arrived he came into the kitchen, as he always did, then he grabbed my hands and looked at them closely. ‘Susanna, don’t worry. They are not ruined,’ he said, and hugged me really hard.
“One day someone delivered a wonderful chocolate cake for Lama. Piero and I decided to try just a little bit but oh, it was so good! So we tried a bit more. The next thing we knew we had eaten it all! Lama gave us some trouble over that!”
Lama also gave Piero some more trouble over his driving, finally declaring, “I will never ride with you any more!” Some years later Piero lost part of a leg in a car accident in India.
Under the direction of Ngawang Chötak, Publications for Wisdom Culture presented Lama Yeshe with a list of the teachings they wanted to publish. “You people, you make the books,” Lama told them, indicating he did not have to know every detail of their program. He told Robina, “I want my books in the supermarket!” He wanted them read by all kinds of people, not just the spiritually inclined. Harvey Horrocks had long discussions with Lama Yeshe over the intricacies of copyright as it applied to FPMT center geshes, translators and teachers.
Robina was having a hard time. “I was terribly unhappy with so much personal garbage in my head. I didn’t ask for an interview because I knew Lama could see what was happening for me. He saw my bad mind, saw me lose control. I shouted at people and abused them. And I was jealous of Chötak because he was the director [of Publications for Wisdom Culture].”
On holiday with Harvey
Harvey Horrocks needed a break, so Lama invited him on a three-day tour of Scotland. Harvey hired a car and they set off.
Harvey Horrocks: “We visited Samye Ling, the first Tibetan center in the United Kingdom, but Lama didn’t want to be announced. We wandered around, met one or two students and just drove on. Later, when we were driving across the Scottish moors with absolutely nothing around us, Lama suddenly said he wanted some goat’s cheese. I hadn’t seen any kind of sign advertising goat’s cheese, or anything else for that matter, but Lama insisted. We drove on and after a few miles came to a mud track. Lama said I should drive down there and sure enough, quite out of sight was a little farm and, would you believe?—they sold goat’s cheese.
“We toured around here and there and went window-shopping in Edinburgh. Knowing that I didn’t like shopping, Lama turned around in one shop and simply insisted I buy something. ‘Just buy!’ he ordered.”
Harvey continued. “Shopping was of no interest to me, but I had an absolutely fixed idea about where I wanted us to have dinner, which was at a good hotel in the Lake District where my parents had often gone. I became quite desperate to take Lama there but couldn’t seem to find the village. I was very frustrated, but he wasn’t attached at all. He kept making comments about my attachment to the idea. Finally, after getting lost a lot, we found the hotel and went inside, only to find they had just closed the kitchens and wouldn’t serve us. I was distraught because Lama had already said, ‘Well, if we can’t find it we can just go back to the Priory.’ But I wasn’t at all interested in going straight back to the Priory.
“Anyway, we set off in the direction of Ulverston. We were driving down this country lane when Lama suddenly said, ‘Stop! Back up. There is a bed and breakfast.’ I said I hadn’t seen anything but I backed up and there was this funny little sign, really low on the fence and half covered in grass. I said maybe it was a B and B once, but not any more. Lama insisted on checking. We got out and were greeted by these two elderly ladies who had cooked this incredibly nice English Sunday dinner for – well, for somebody. It was all ready and there was no one to eat it. It was as though it had been magically prepared for us. So we had this delightful meal and spent the night there. We got back to the Priory the next day.”
During long walks around the grounds Lama Yeshe talked with Harvey about his job. “Lama was trying to get me to understand the full responsibility of undertaking this incredible enterprise,” said Harvey. “He asked me how much I thought the place was worth. I said I didn’t know. “Of course you know! How about a million pounds?” As we talked he leaned on me so I was supporting his full weight on my shoulder. It was a physical teaching underscoring his teaching me how to develop as a director. The place was so busy and there was so much going on. Lama knew it was difficult for me to come to terms with the enormity of it.”
Tara Chittamani at Manjushri Institute
Seated on a teaching throne at the end of the beautiful old chapel with its immensely high ceilings and stained glass windows, Geshe Tegchok gave his first talk at Manjushri Institute while wearing the oddest square-lensed blue spectacles. Later, Lama Zopa Rinpoche conferred a Chenrezig empowerment, followed by Lama Yeshe’s Tara Chittamani empowerment and six days of commentary by Lama. This was held in what had been the billiard room of the old Priory. Peter Kedge and Connie Miller taped everything. Of the 120 people attending that commentary, 105 stayed on for the retreat.
Lama Yeshe taught twice a day, and although the text lay open before him he did not teach directly from it. There are several different types of commentaries that can be given on a meditative practice. Traditionally, the first teaching explains the meaning of each verse, line and word. Only later will a teacher offer an experiential teaching on the practice. Contrary to tradition, Lama’s teachings were almost always experiential in nature.
Lama Yeshe’s descriptions of Tara were psychological and accessible, rather than textual. He presented Tara as a vehicle through which to discover one’s own intuitive knowledge and wisdom. “Men sometimes need contact with female energy, otherwise, they go crazy!” Lama explained. His language bridged the worlds between traditional orthodoxy and modern desire. Tantra became exciting and available as Lama Yeshe brought it to life.
Every day Jon Landaw led a review of the teachings. He had become an invaluable assistant, though Lama still teased him mercilessly, calling him, “My Jewish genius!”
From Lama Yeshe’s 1979 Tara Chittamani teachings:
Sometimes Dharma becomes a complete hassle. Let’s say you have promised to do this sadhana daily, you have commitment. But whenever you see Chittamani Tara you feel sick. “Oh, it’s already midnight!” And you are disaster. But if you can do it in two minutes, that’s okay. So instead of having guilt feelings, just go and do it. Sometimes Westerners take too many commitments and don’t know how to do them. In other words, they are lost again, lost in spiritual materialism. You don’t know what to do. Chenrezig and Tara and all these deities and you don’t know what on earth it means and you don’t understand anymore.
Instead of becoming helpful for you, Dharma becomes your enemy. Dharma becomes cause for neurosis and guilt. I think that is useless.
In each sadhana you’ll find a refuge prayer, maybe three times, five or six bodhicitta prayers, and some kind of Vajrasattva practice. One good bodhichitta meditation is enough. Put your emphasis on one thing and go quickly over the others. Do this rather than allowing your practice to become a disaster.
Atisha once said, “Tibetan people devote themselves to a hundred deities and don’t attain one, whereas Indian people devote themselves to one deity and attain a hundred.” I think Atisha is reasonable and correct. The Indian custom is much better than the Tibetan. That’s garbage. You do one thing perfectly and you attain everything.
Tara is a perfect example. If you practice every day and do retreat for months, years—maybe you do only Tara retreat for fifty years—then in fifty years, by attaining the realization of Tara, you can do anything. But right now, you are ambitious for other things because you don’t have anything. And the same thing happens with the Dharma. Let’s say that somebody is giving a really high teaching. “Wow! I want to take this one—this one is really powerful!” When you say this you are really on a power trip. You want power. If you are not realistic, then this practice is useless. I’m sorry; I have no room for this. Such a student will never have any satisfaction no matter how many teachings he receives, because he won’t have any practical sadhana within himself.11
* * *
An Open Day festival for the public was planned for 25 August 1979, the lamas’ last day at the Priory. The morning poured with rain, but suddenly the sky broke clear and bright. It became so warm that large black sun umbrellas were fetched for the lamas. Everyone showed up in fancy dress and for the entire wonderful afternoon guitars played and people sang and enjoyed themselves immensely. Everyone lined up for a blessing from the lamas, including local visitors, many of whom had no idea who the lamas were. Theatricals were staged by the Manjushri children. They surrounded Lama Yeshe wherever he went while he doled out sweets from a big bag all afternoon.
Among the English games and competitions staged in the vast terraced gardens was the bizarre Northern English rural sport of “welly wanging.” This consisted of hurling a large rubber Wellington boot as far as possible, from a standing position. Lama Yeshe and Geshe Tegchok both threw themselves into the spirit of the game. Geshe Tegchok flung the boot so hard he fell over backwards laughing.
During the festivities, Lama Yeshe and Geshe Tegchok also honored the students who had completed the first Geshe Studies Program classes and examinations. The exam results were announced and the students received congratulations and gifts from the lamas for their hard work in their studies. Lama Yeshe was very proud of his students, both Sangha and lay.
One student brought along a rich chocolate cake she had made for Lama. For her sake he ate a piece on the spot, which resulted in a choking attack. Geoff Jukes quickly escorted him to the main building where, out of sight of the crowd Lama Yeshe vomited. This was becoming an increasing feature of his illness. He retired to rest, but not for long.
Later that evening the students were still in the mood for a party. About sixty of them descended on one of the student’s apartments on the Priory estate with food, loud music, alcohol and all the popular accoutrements. Suddenly, there came a knock at the door. There was Piero bearing a huge bowl of spaghetti with sauce, a gift from Lama Yeshe. He knew his students loved to party.
“If you want to smoke and drink you don’t have to stay here, you know,” Lama once said in a teaching. “Some people were so shocked they went straight to the pub to recover!” said Shan Tate.
Andy Weber arrives at Manjushri
Andy Weber arrived at Manjushri in the summer of 1979 and set up his painting studio. “Lama Yeshe sent me there,” Andy recalled later. “When I arrived Geshe Tegchok was giving teachings on the twenty-one Taras. The first thing Rinpoche told me to paint was a thangka of the twenty-one Taras. It took me seven months. At the time I felt it gave some incredible protection to the place. Later, that painting was made into a poster which sold all over the world.
“Manjushri Institute was so cold! So very, very cold! There was a stove in the sitting room, which was the only warm place in the whole center. You could get hot tea in there all day. We huddled around that stove drinking tea and discussing Dharma and the meaning of life. Out in the corridors the wind howled and people ran from the sitting room to their own accommodation, or to the gompa.
“When we all gathered in the gompa for Guru Puja it was a real treat, because with everyone crowded together the room became warm. Also, they served excellent butter tea made with Earl Grey and we got sweets to eat. Everybody came to puja, including the young children. They would fall asleep on the cushions and then wake up when the tsog came around.12
“The winter of 1979–80 was a real hardship winter. We had teachings every morning from 9:30 to 10:30 am. That thawed us out a bit before a team of around fifteen of us went to work, injecting chemicals into the dry rot and replacing these huge old wooden beams. We installed steel ends to stop the floors from collapsing. We slaved every day and in the evenings we were all utterly exhausted. The big staircase that branched under the stained glass window was just fabulous. Someone told me that Lama Yeshe had once said, ‘These stairs will kill me one day.’ Manjushri Institute was the FPMT’s biggest center from the outside, but it was the toughest to live in.”
A quick rest in California
The day after the Manjushri Open Day the lamas left for London, spending a relaxing night at Joyce Petschek’s house before flying to San Francisco for a few days. Piero left the tour and went to Spain. No teaching duties were scheduled for the lamas while they were in California. They needed a rest. With Peter Kedge and Zia Bassam in attendance they arrived at Gabriel and Lois Audant’s house one day earlier than expected.
Lois Audant: “Peter telephoned us to ask if we could put them up, but somehow our wires got crossed. We cleaned the place night and day for three days. The night before we were expecting them, we came home from work to find them sitting at our kitchen table. ‘Welcome to my home,’ said Lama Yeshe. ‘Come and have some tea with me!’ We were a little embarrassed. Of course, we moved out immediately.”
“Without realizing it I had confused the time change and given Lois and Gabriel the wrong date,” Peter Kedge explained, “so there was no one to meet us at the airport in San Francisco. We took a taxi to their house, but no one was home. I called a cab and got a hotel room for Lama, who needed to rest after the twelve-hour flight. Then we went back to the house where I opened a screen window, climbed inside, opened the front door and let everyone in. We quickly made ourselves very much at home. While we were enjoying our tea Gabriel and Lois came home and found us there. Lama was not pleased with me over that. As the manager, it was my fault.”
On August 27, Lama Yeshe had a long meeting with the directors of Vajrapani. They were to sponsor a visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the University of California at Santa Cruz on October 2. Lama had this to say to the Vajrapani board of directors during that meeting:
I told you about a hundred times. The reason that Vajrapani is needed in the American world is because of the American Buddhadharma. Do you understand? In order for the American Buddhadharma to develop, we need to live the Dharma every day. I feel that if we really think about it, it will take many generations to develop the Dharma; but in order to do this, we have to start developing it right now, in a kind of community living situation. In that way, I think we can sink deep roots of the Buddhadharma into the American consciousness. This is how the Buddhadharma becomes American Buddhadharma. Otherwise, even if we put so much effort every year, we may see some benefit, but really, not really. I kind of feel it is not worthwhile because…as you can see we have been working here almost ten years. We do have some students. However, we have not really continued to develop the consciousness. This is what we need to do. We have to show the old students that it is their responsibility to put their experience into action and to share. We must demonstrate a clear destination in our small experience of the Buddhadharma, so that we can share that experience and lead others to enlightenment. This means that somehow we have to understand, and not just the words, you know? We have to put it all together in our own experience.
I think that with regard to Vajrapani’s success, we are not yet together. We are not moving in one direction. Our Vajrapani Institute energy movement is kind of split. So far we haven’t yet been able to put everybody’s energy in the right direction in order for each person to have a kind of clear destination.
About developing the community, you understand, I can’t exactly say. The community has its own kind of evolutionary existence. You can’t just make it this way or that. Today Lama Yeshe says, “Make community living!” and tomorrow, pam! (clap)? No. You understand? The community’s basic foundation has to be built up, you understand? But is there water? Fish will come. Won’t they? Where there is water, fish grow. Similarly, if we build the foundation, the object will exist; community will be there. You don’t need to think about how to make community. Is the ocean there? In the ocean fish are always coming, always coming. It is the same thing. If we make the fundamental ground of Vajrapani exist, then that will be the source of the community. And if we don’t make that fundamental existence, then it won’t happen. Without human understanding, without human conscious effort, there is no existence. Buddha says, you want liberation? If you act, you get. Isn’t it? It’s the same meaning.
We need to channel our practical energy. For example, historically, many of our students have taken responsibility, have given their energy, their life, everything. But our answer has been that all this energy has disappeared somewhere. Disappeared. This is wrong. In one way I feel the responsibility lies with the administrative people, with a lack of capability around how to use this energy. We cannot simply use students’ generosity, their money, like poof! Gone. Do you understand? We cannot throw it away. It is as if suddenly the energy is gone, like you’ve thrown it away. It is not fair, you know. The students give out of their own generosity, not in order for them to get pleasure. Out of their devotion to the Buddhadharma they just give. Isn’t it? So that is the purpose for which we must use what they have given, their energy, their money, their time. It needs skillful management.
Somehow we need a realistic way to administer. And we need everybody to understand what our aim is. If you do not understand what our aim is, what we are really trying to do, there is no point. Also, if we disagree with each other, there is no question. If some people disagree it doesn’t matter; they are not going to agree even if Buddha comes. Who cares? Who worries about two or three people disagreeing? That is their problem. But my understanding is that the essential meditators have to understand. We have to understand our essential aim. We have to be clean clear among ourselves, so that the majority of people will have confidence in what the essential administrator is doing. Then we can establish something important and we can make progress.13
Before flying to Sydney, Australia, on August 30, the lamas held an impromptu question-and-answer session for the twenty-five students who turned up at San Francisco airport to see them off.
From Sydney the party went directly to Chenrezig Institute, just in time for Lama Zopa’s lam-rim course for 120 people. No one could ever have guessed this would be the last time the two lamas would visit Chenrezig together. At the end of the month Frau Kalff was scheduled to teach a seminar called The Mind in Jungian and Buddhist Psychology. This was her only visit to Australia. Lama Yeshe encouraged Patrick Jansen, an Australian Jungian analyst, to give talks at Chenrezig and Tara House, using the sand-play method and dream analysis.
Chenrezig was booked out. Geshe Loden and Zasep Tulku, whose teaching contract was about to expire, had been living in what was called the Geshe House at the top of the hill. When Lama and Rinpoche arrived at Chenrezig Institute, they were housed in a second house, the Sangha House. A library and new dormitories had been built below the gompa and work on a communal laundry and a family center was underway. Yeshe Khadro was still Chenrezig’s director and American monk Scott Brusso was working as the spiritual program coordinator.
The Family Centre was Denise Fenner’s project. Denise, her monk husband, Peter, and Lindsay Pratt undertook most of the fund-raising and construction work. Those without children were not really interested. “Things were not good for children at Chenrezig,” said Denise. “The ‘serious meditators’ had no time for them, they were a nuisance.” But Lama was totally behind the idea. At a meeting on August 9 with Yeshe Khadro, Peter Kedge and Chenrezig’s parents, Lama shared some of his views about caring for and educating the children in FPMT center communities:
In our centers there are many children, but because parents are so busy the children don’t get much attention. Instead people tell them, “Don’t come near!” Sometimes the children don’t get fed on time, or to bed on time. So we need time for this, time for that. Any education system for children should create some kind of stability for them and bring harmony and balance. Also it shouldn’t be extremely external or extremely internal. We should develop a kind of education in which we put Buddhist philosophy into scientific language and in a simplified form. How the mind works, how karma works, and so on. In this way, we produce a different kind of human being.
In the West, there are so many books for children. But some of these books need some kind of transformation so that they communicate a better way of thinking. You can produce such books and stories yourselves. You know Dharma. The contents can be in more scientific language, rather than in too heavy a religious aspect. Sometimes a religious presentation can be heavy. Your stories should be light, gentle, and yet at the same time precise to convey clear thinking to the children.
You should have a place for the children that is beautiful, with nice grass and flowers, like a park. It is a bit dirty around here. The environment should be clean, not dusty, so the children will stay healthy. There is no need to buy more land; there is already much land here that isn’t being used.
After maybe twenty years our generation will disappear, so we need to be concerned for the next generation, the generation of our children. It is a big job. My black nun, Max, has written a paper on this, but now she is in America making business. So maybe you can start children’s education from here. It would be good if you insist that parents have to take responsibility, that they help with the school and with what is taught there. Obviously, they don’t have to teach, but the school should be a collaborative effort.14
While Rinpoche taught lam-rim, Lama attended to his correspondence with Peter Kedge. Lama Lhundrup and Lama Pasang had written to say there was a food shortage at Kopan. Lama wrote back:
Cultivate vegetables and salad so that we can make a profit during the meditation course. Sometimes even in Inji country also many people have no food. Sometimes Injis are more poor than Nepali people. At least Nepali people have a home that belongs to them. You should be aware. Also, don’t accept any new boys under eleven years old.
To Jampa Chökyi Lama wrote, “Bring me a warm zen (upper robe). My pure wool zen I gave to Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s mother.”
To Jacie Keeley at Kopan, he wrote, “Get 2' 6" high trestle tables to serve Inji food from—not like last year, so close to the ground.”
To a couple who had seen him off at San Francisco airport and were obviously having problems Lama wrote the following:
My suggestion is you can contemplate a beam of clean clear green light in your heart and recite mantra each day, as much as you can. That is the main solution for your daily frustration. If the frustration becomes too much gross levels emotional, just concentrate on the breathing. Be aware of the breathing movements and don’t think of anything. If the frustration is not emotionally involving, then go back to contemplating on the green beam of light. Don’t intellect what, how, why. Whatever appears, just contemplate. Keep on the memory—not trying to grasp at clarity or having expectation of good meditation. Just contemplate and let go. Then send the green light to all the environment of this earth; all the environment of husband and baby you transform into green light and send into my heart. Then take it back into your heart, with all universal energy. Feel the totality of it, and you should have divine pride, recognizing profound human dignity. And if there is anything I can do from time to time, please let me know.
To Ira Zunin, a young man from Berkeley who wanted to promote Tibetan medicine in America, he wrote:
Your programme seems good. We have many tapes of Tibetan medicine lectures at Kopan. Slowly, I would like to make a book on Tibetan medicine. I would like to use basic medical texts, embellish these with the commentaries we already have on tape, then publish this book with our publishing department in England. If you think you would be interested in this project, we can discuss at Kopan in November.
Lama always remembered his students who were in retreat and as before, had not forgotten this year’s fourteen Vajrasattva retreaters at Tushita Retreat Centre, twelve of whom had contracted hepatitis. They were living on a monsoon diet, which could be a real trial. “We had okra every second day and never saw the sun shine,” said one retreater. “A few of us had visa problems during the three-month retreat so we went to see Ling Rinpoche. He told us to get particular geshes in to do protector pujas. He also sent some of us to the visa office in Jammu. One guy was having problems with the local visa office. Chamdo Geshe, who was looking after us during the retreat, did a puja and sent him back there. The guy who was giving him a hard time was away that day and he got his visa. On the very worst day of all, Losang Nyima produced a gorgeous big chocolate cake—a gift from Lama Yeshe.”
Lama mashes Peter
Peter Kedge was not having a good time. “Lama was getting at me in Australia. As usual, I was very clean around him, like a surgeon. I washed my hands after I touched anything and prepared his food so cleanly. I just about sterilized the cutlery, but still he picked it up, spat on it as though it was dirty, rubbed it and put it back. I’d cook something so carefully and he’d say it was disgusting. And so it went.
“It wasn’t the first time Lama had played with me in this way,” Peter explained. “Once, when we were in a hotel in Delhi I was absolutely exhausted from Lama pulling my wires and just couldn’t take any more needling. I had made Lama’s bed so many times that day—in the morning and after his rest, once more when he’d pulled it apart again. This time, while I was making it up yet again, he came in and said, ‘One more thing…’ and I just left the bed half made, walked out and slammed the door, to my shame.
“Another time we were in London and Lama wanted to buy artificial flowers at Harrods, which has a wonderful selection. Silk flowers are everywhere now but they were quite special back then. Tibetans love them and Lama wanted to offer some to his gurus in India. So we were going through London and being English, I knew how to get to Harrods. But Lama insisted I stop people along the way and ask them directions. Of course this bugged me like anything, really offended me. He would say to me, ‘You don’t know. Ask this person.’
“On other occasions he’d be searching for an English word in a talk or at a meeting and he’d ask for suggestions. French and Spanish people would suggest words for him, but when I’d suggest a word he’d say, ‘Phoo! You don’t know English!’
“Once in a public talk Lama was talking about pollution from aircraft and used the example of a jet trail, saying it was pollution. But being a Rolls-Royce–trained aircraft engineer I said that water vapor is actually more evident than any exhaust from a gas turbine engine. Anyway, I was rubbished for that in front of 200 people. This constant abrasion of the ego became very tiresome, but of course it was also essential and part of the process for which one can only be utterly grateful.”
Peter continued. “Lama used to get terrible sneezing fits. Instead of sneezing into his elbow or hand, as I felt was the right thing to do, he sneezed quite openly. I frequently got drizzled on when sitting in front of him taking dictation or discussing something. I’m sure it was on purpose. It was quite painful not knowing whether to feel disgusted and to point out how gross this was, or to feel that it was really a huge blessing.
“Lama was extremely sensitive to dirt and uncleanliness. If a place was dirty he sneezed continuously and his eyes ran. He seemed to pick up on dirty vibrations and could get sick from a number of things— the food, the person or people preparing the food, a dirty cup, a bed or just the ‘vibation’ of a place. When we stopped at roadside chai shops in India and drank from cups that were not properly washed, that sort of dirt never bothered Lama. He would just take the cup or spoon or whatever and say OM AH HUM OM AH HUM OM AH HUM and sort of half spit half blow on the utensil or food. He said that purification always did the trick. One time I tried to do it on Lama’s behalf, to save him the trouble. I got howls of derision for the quality of my OM AH HUM and blowing.”
Dorian and Alison Ribush and their two small boys arrived from Melbourne for Lama Zopa’s teachings. The children didn’t want to be separated from their mother but didn’t appreciate sitting still through teachings day after day.
Alison Ribush: “I sat at the back of the gompa. After five minutes the kids were squirming or crying and I’d have to leave. One day, after just five minutes of Lama Zopa, I had to leave again. I rushed outside, sobbing with frustration. Holding the children I ran down the gompa stairs and there at the bottom was Lama Yeshe. I was sure he had not been there just seconds before. He just seemed to materialize.
“He threw his arms around me, laughed and said, ‘What’s the matter with you? Why are you crying?’ I told him how unfair I felt it all was, that I’d come this far and couldn’t even listen to the teachings. He said, ‘What’s he talking about up there? Lam-rim? You’ve heard it all before so why do you need to listen to it again? Look. You’ve got these children, bring them up properly. That’s your Dharma, that’s your teaching. What more do you want? You know what the teachings are about—just go away and practice.” Waves of relief flooded through me as it all made sense and I thought, ‘Yes, it’s okay to be a mother and not be holy and go to all the teachings. What is important is how you live your daily life.’”
Alison continued, “Lama had often been around when I was changing nappies and doing ordinary things with babies. He was incredibly maternal. Once when they were crying with a toothache he said, ‘Oh, a toothache! Yes, I remember!’ I was so grateful.”
Vajrayogini course, Chenrezig Institute
Two days after a festival day to celebrate the end of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s course, Lama Yeshe conferred a Vajrayogini empowerment on seventy people followed by two weeks of commentary on the meditation practice. The empowerment had a commitment to recite 500,000 mantras in a two-month retreat—quite demanding, but it is a short mantra. Nick Ribush, just back from a Kick the Habit tour in Europe, was delighted to be asked to lead the meditations during this course. It meant ready access to Lama.
Robina Courtin joined the tour in Australia and took over from Connie Miller as fund-raiser for Mount Everest Centre. She was thrilled to be there. “The moment I first heard the word ‘Vajrayogini’ I wanted to know more,” she said.
From Lama Yeshe’s Vajrayogini teachings:
Vajrayogini is from the maha-anuttara yoga category of tantra [highest yoga tantra], which has two divisions: father tantra and mother tantra. Vajrayogini is from among the mother tantra class. Mother tantra has the sensitive aspect of emphasizing great wisdom. In our astrological system daytime is associated with male energy and nighttime with female energy. Vajrayogini is the embodiment of female wisdom, and so to begin our practice of Vajrayogini at night emphasizes this female energy.
The whole subject of tantric yoga is included in two divisions—evolutionary yoga and completion yoga. We have a system: Before a commentary is given on how to practice tantric yoga, first a teaching is given on taking refuge, actualizing bodhicitta and the Vajrasattva practice, guru yoga and offering the mandala. Most of you have already learned these practices during the teachings on the lam-rim. For those who have not yet received the commentary on Vajrasattva and made that retreat, it would be good to do that in the future. We do have a system.
At this time we are practicing the evolutionary yoga method. The principal aspect of this is taking the three kayas [enlightened bodies] into the present path of enlightenment. I am sure you have heard about the three kayas: the dharmakaya, the sambhogakaya, and the nirmanakaya. The reason we do this is to purify ordinary death, intermediate state and rebirth, to make those vanish. This is the unique characteristic of tantric yoga.
Human beings have a gross level body and a subtle level body. We also have a gross mind and a subtle mind. Our gross consciousness is made up of our sense perceptions, but to understand our subtle consciousness is very difficult. There is a subtle, perpetually residing consciousness always existing within us from life to life, whether you are a buddha or a mosquito. That consciousness has a clean, clear character. When this consciousness is functioning you can always experience something similar to non-duality, or shunyata.
For example, when you meditate you almost stop breathing. As your breath becomes smoother you reach the point of being calm, clear and slowed down. In order to discover this subtlest consciousness we need deep penetrative concentration on the clarity of our own consciousness.
At the time of death the four elements [earth, water, fire, and air] are absorbed and we experience the clear light nature of the mind. It doesn’t matter whether you are a meditator or not, you have this experience. This is because our sense perceptions have ceased to function and so the gross level of consciousness has disappeared. We gradually reach a point where the last thing functioning is the energy in the central channel, or shushumna. At that time the subtlest consciousness is able to function and the result is the clear light experience. Every ordinary death has that experience. So why do we need to meditate? Because ordinarily we aren’t able to comprehend that experience, we have no awareness of it and so it comes as a shock. In meditation, however, we take that ordinary death experience into the present path, which is the dharmakaya experience. In meditation we train the mind to use that opportunity.15
Briefly, it is said that a buddha, or enlightened being, has two “bodies” or aspects: a form, or physical, aspect (in Sanskrit, rupakaya) and a truth, or consciousness, aspect (Skt. dharmakaya). The dharmakaya can be understood very simply as the pure mind of a buddha. However, only buddhas can communicate dharmakaya to dharmakaya, or mind to mind. So out of their great compassion, buddhas manifest themselves in more tangible physical forms, as the various rupakayas, in order to communicate with unenlightened beings, from us ordinary people all the way up to highly skilled bodhisattva meditators. There are two types of rupakaya: the enjoyment form aspect (Skt. sambhogakaya) and the transformation form aspect (Skt. nirmanakaya). The historic Buddha, Shakyamuni, is an example of the nirmanakaya. “The uncertainty about the nirmanakaya aspect is that at worldly levels we never know who is a nirmanakaya buddha and who is not,” Lama Yeshe pointed out with a sly smile. “Therefore, we should treat all beings as though they just might be buddhas.”
Lama told the students that while in retreat they should not meditate more than one hour at a time. “The reason is that when we meditate for one hour, we do a good job. And when we are tired we should stop. It is a completely personal individual experience, but we should not push. Lama Tsongkhapa says that when your meditation is going well, then you want to meditate more; so when you are having a good time, then you should stop. If the good time finishes before the end of your session, then the next time you won’t want to meditate. But if you have a powerful meditation, you’ll feel blissful as soon as you merely see your meditation place.”
Doc Wight was an old friend of Dorian Ribush. One day at lunch with Lama, Doc and Dorian told him that John Day, known to all as Daysie, the popular macrobiotic cook from the Diamond Valley, Dromana, and other courses, had been killed in a car accident. Doc wondered where Daysie was now. “Lama put his hand flat on the table, turned to me and demanded, ‘You want to know? You want me to check up?’ I said, ‘No, no!’ Doc recalled.
“I got invited to lunch because of the Ribushes,” Doc continued. “Lama Zopa sat so quietly in the corner, like he wasn’t even there. I wasn’t looking for religion but Nick Ribush had teased me mercilessly all his life and I’d seen how much he had changed. I thought, ‘If Dharma can touch his heart there must be something to it.’” Lama singled Doc out for extra attention several times during that course.
Zia Bassam hovered in the background, cleaning, cooking, and making sure Lama Zopa Rinpoche got some nourishment. Zia was a wonderful cook and carried jars of pure honey everywhere in an attempt to cut down on the prodigious amounts of sugar Rinpoche added to his tea. When Inta McKimm came to afternoon tea, Zia put honey in Lama’s cup, too. Claiming not to like sweet things, however, he handed his delicate Chinese porcelain cup to Inta. When she remarked on its beauty—embossed peonies on a yellow background—Lama told her he was not attached to things, but having spotted this item in a shop window in Hong Kong he just had to have it.
One evening Tom and Kathy Vichta brought their young daughter, Gudrun, to have dinner with Lama. He was in a boisterous and jovial mood and talking non-stop when suddenly the child piped up and said, “Lama, you shouldn’t talk with your mouth full!” Lama Yeshe broke the embarrased silence by heartily agreeing with her, though he would later tease her about the incident.
Lama had bought some silk fabric in Hong Kong and asked Kathy to make it into shirts and undershirts for him. “I told him I needed to take measurements,” she said, “but he said, ‘No, no, you can do it without.’ Later, when Lama tried them on I felt that he changed shape a bit because they fit him perfectly.”
Whenever Lama Yeshe visited his centers he would hold a special dinner for the committee members and hand out presents. “Sometimes he let me choose my own present,” said Yeshe Khadro. “Once I chose a jacket, another time a raincoat.” Lama wanted his Sangha to be normal and healthy. He encouraged the shy ones to stand up for themselves and to eat good food, instead of playing some ascetic game. “Better you stay comfortable. You can’t be [an ascetic like] Milarepa. If society offers you good cake, eat it instead of rejecting it.” He also warned against being overly sociable. “Sometimes Western monks and nuns get too close, too involved with people. Then the Dharma energy in the heart is diminished,” Lama observed.
Lama was keen to take every opportunity to improve his English, so when it was discovered that one new student was a teacher of English as a Second Language she was asked to help him.
“I nearly died when I heard that Lama was the student,” remembered Maria Nagy. “He had just given a talk to 200 people and had absolutely overwhelmed them. When he walked out of the gompa, there were tears streaming down every face I could see. Lama was so big, so impressive. It was with some trepidation that I later approached his house. He was outside watering the garden and welcomed me into his living room, where he made me sit in this beautiful chair some students had made especially for him. He said I was the teacher now and he was the pupil. During his teachings I had noted his particular problems with English so we worked on pronunciation and grammar. We ended up having more lessons at all hours—in the morning, late at night, whenever. If our lesson was in the morning then Lama insisted on cooking me lunch.
“All our sessions were such fun, with bursts of laughter throughout. He often slapped me on the back as we cackled together. Sometimes he asked about my family, but I was very conscious of the fact that many students would have liked to be in my position and tried not to abuse it by asking for personal advice. I actually did want to ask him something personal but never found the right time. At the end of Lama’s Vajrayogini course there was a fire puja. I watched his face through the flames. He looked so powerful until he caught me watching him. Immediately, he broke into his big smile.”
Another person who was reluctant to impose was Sally Barraud, who had taken down endless hours of teachings in shorthand in earlier Kopan courses. Lama Zopa Rinpoche sent her an apple, saying it was “the fruit of the Dharma.” One day Lama came by, took her arm and told her she was too thin. He made her sit beside him during a meal. Rinpoche asked if she had received the apple.
“I remember looking at Lama’s bare arm with its vaccination scars and trying to make this huge golden god into an ordinary human being,” said Sally. “My next contact with him was by post, when three of us wrote asking permission to start up a country center near Coromandel in New Zealand. Lama agreed and named it Mahamudra Centre for Wisdom Culture.”
In an interview with another girl who wanted to become a nun Lama told her, “You’re pregnant.” Soon after she found that she was.
The Chenrezig statue
A very large Chenrezig statue arrived and the resident monks were going to consecrate it, a complicated business taking weeks of preparation. Hundreds of thousands of mantras were carefully printed on strips of paper and rolled up tight. These, together with quantities of sandalwood and offerings of jewelry, gemstones and holy relics, were inserted into the hollow body with much ritual and prayers. It took Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Geshe Loden and Zasep Tulku almost an entire night to complete the task. During the process Lama Yeshe appeared in the gompa every two hours or so, striking a surreal note in a huge sunhat and dark glasses, despite the late hour.
“The atmosphere in the gompa that night was like a nightclub,” said Greg Leith, who was helping out. “Lama was very cool, sauntering about and swinging his mala. All these things people had donated, rings, jewelry and whatever, were laid out on a blanket. Another guy and I sat to one side holding the head of the statue while the body was being filled. Lama Yeshe suggested decorating the exterior with some jewelry. He placed a little blue cross against the statue’s forehead then the heart, trying different things. At one point he actually lay down and said, ‘Oh, I don’t know!’ and plonked his head in my lap—just after I had been holding the statue’s head. Later on Lama fixed the blue cross to the heart of the statue where it remains to this day.”
At Geshe Loden’s request, in order to make the teachings more available another small center, Bodhicitta Centre, had been established in Brisbane in 1977. It operated as an annex to Chenrezig Institute and Lama Yeshe gave one talk there before he left for Melbourne.
Geshe Loden and Zasep Tulku
Zasep Tulku: “We had a great time with the lamas during that visit. We had lots of discussions about the Western mind and how best to teach Dharma, which was quite new in Australia. Many people were doing ‘spiritual shopping.’ Some were getting quite carried away and extreme. Others were a little bit rigid, others uncertain and mixing all kinds of things together. It was interesting for us lamas to observe as we had come straight from India.
“Geshe Loden and I worked very hard at Chenrezig. We taught six days a week and took only one month’s holiday a year, sometimes only two weeks. I found the work difficult, as I was always translating and in those days my English was not so good. Every evening Geshe Loden and I sat down and read through the text for the next day. I had to write out all the vocabulary, mostly by myself.
“Lama Yeshe did not write us many letters during those years, but every now and then we’d get a postcard and nice cards at Christmas and Losar. Lama always thanked us for our work. Before Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa left we had a very nice going-away dinner together. They told us, ‘Now you have worked for three years and were very good and kind for Chenrezig Institute. If you ever feel you would like to stay here or teach again, you are always welcome.’”
Martin Willson, an English scholar and monk, was Geshe Loden’s star pupil at Chenrezig. “The whole basis of Geshe-la’s teaching program at Chenrezig came from Lama Yeshe,” Martin said. “He insisted we study the Indian root texts straight off, rather than studying the standard Sera Jé commentaries, which were a bit convoluted.
“Later I spent three years following the traditional Gelug training at Geshe Rabten’s monastery in Switzerland, studying deadly nineteenth-century commentaries on the Indian texts. That experience left me convinced that Lama Yeshe’s judgment was sound regarding how to organize the best teaching program for Western students.”
When the Chenrezig course was over, Yeshe Khadro accompanied the two lamas to Brisbane. “This was in the days before the highway was widened and straightened out,” said Yeshe Khadro. “Lama Yeshe insisted on driving, but I just couldn’t stand driving with him. After having been in three accidents, I had a thing about cars and Lama loved scaring me. I took a book with me on that trip, for distraction. On the way he asked about tidal waves in Sydney and Brisbane. ‘I’ll bet there will be tidal waves,’ he said.”
The lamas arrived in Melbourne on 2 October 1979 in time for Rinpoche’s public talk in the city that evening to over 300 people. Melbourne was always an important city for the lamas and this visit was well publicized. A new student, Ian Green, worked in advertising and had produced a large photo poster of the lamas, whom he had yet to meet. He had only attended one of Nick Ribush’s Kick the Habit courses. Ian’s family was not religious but on a recent trip to India he had visited the ruins of Nalanda Monastery at Sarnath as a tourist and been overwhelmed by a feeling of having come home.
With Peter Kedge and Zia Bassam still in attendance, the lamas spent that night at Bea Ribush’s home. Then they moved to a beautiful rambling old house situated in a huge garden in the Dandenong Ranges, a beautiful series of rolling hills and valleys set among forests and located about forty-five minutes east of Melbourne. On an earlier visit to Melbourne the lamas had met the owners, Maurice and Ester Liberman, in their city residence. “The lamas were interested in the pool table,” said Maurice, “so I showed them how to hold a cue and explained the rules. Straightaway the two of them played a precise and sophisticated game that just left me open-mouthed.”
Once again Max Feldmann was the lamas’ chauffeur. “Maggie and I picked Lama Yeshe up in the Dandenongs and drove him down to the Malvern Town Hall for a public talk. After telling us he felt sick, Lama didn’t utter one word the whole way. There were 500 people waiting to hear him, but the acoustics in the Town Hall were so bad he had to strain his voice to make himself heard. Then Lama insisted on blessing everyone who wanted to come up, pouring himself into each one. I was worried about him but when we drove him back into the hills he was really exuberant. I asked him how he did it. ‘I get good energy from the people!’ he told us.”
That’s when Ian Green met Lama Yeshe for the first time. “There was an enormous queue,” said Ian. “Lama took my hands and looked into my eyes and I knew I’d do anything for this man.”
The following day Lama Zopa Rinpoche left with Zia for the new country center at Noojee, established by Tara House’s resident nun Konchog Dönma (Bonnie Rothenberg). Located even further east from Melbourne than the Dandenongs in an area called Gippsland, Noojee is named with the aboriginal word for “contentment” or “place of rest.” In this very remote corner of the Victorian Alps, Rinpoche taught a ten-day lam-rim course to forty-five students.
Holiday in the hills
Meanwhile, Lama Yeshe and Peter Kedge settled into the Libermans’ country house for a rest. They were in need of a car so Bea Ribush telephoned her friend Myra Slade to ask if they could borrow her husband’s automobile. “He was on business in Iceland and I told Bea I didn’t like to offer his car, just like that,” said Myra, “but the moment I put the phone down my husband rang and said of course they could have the car.” Lama Yeshe gave Myra, who was blind, a small metal Buddha statue to hang off her mala, telling her just to feel it with her fingers.
Peter Kedge tried to ensure Lama Yeshe got as much privacy as possible, but he never refused to see his old students. Max Feldmann’s sister, Kate, with her son, Josh, was among those who visited him in the Dandenongs. Kate and Josh had both been at the Diamond Valley course in 1974. Now Josh was suffering.
“During my fifth year at primary school I began to experience strange voices inside my head,” Josh explained. “They seemed to replace normal sounds, such as wind in the trees or the noise of a person climbing a staircase. It was like a collision of thousands of human voices, which were aggressive and very frightening. It got so that every sound I heard was transformed into these voices, sometimes for hours on end and especially when I was trying to fall asleep at night. I felt so helpless and frightened and covered my ears with a pillow to block them out, but this only made them a little less loud. I often cried myself to sleep, but even my whimpering made them come.”
“My parents didn’t know where to take me for help,” Josh continued. “Then Lama Yeshe came to Melbourne. I felt apprehensive about visiting him but he greeted me with extreme kindness and warmth. His beaming smile made me feel completely relaxed. He made me sit beside him on cushions and asked me about the voices. Then he poured some special medicine into a bowl of hot water, placed a towel over both our heads and together we inhaled the vapors. It was just like inhaling eucalyptus and I felt wonderfully relaxed and protected by his presence. We did this for some time, then Lama gave me a big hug and told me I would never hear the voices again. I believed him and from that day on I never did.”
Adele Hulse: “Lama Yeshe wanted to go through the Chenrezig yoga method teachings that I had edited. ‘Tell Adele come here. Holiday,’ Lama instructed Bonnie (Konchog Dönma). At the time I was selling the few books on Tibetan Buddhism available in English all over Australia, as well as doing a roaring trade selling the garments Trisha Donnelly was making out of old saris in Delhi. I was also three months pregnant. I moved into Rinpoche’s room after vacuuming up the mounds of rice he regularly tossed in every direction as offerings. Every morning I rose early and helped Peter make breakfast for Lama—usually two fresh chapattis with mozzarella cheese melted between them. Then we did the chores together. After that I spent a couple of hours reading the Chenrezig yoga method manuscript with Lama, while he made tiny adjustments. The three of us ate lunch, after which Lama went to his room.
“When he came out of his room, refreshed and invigorated, Lama often produced his ‘little black book,’ an inventory of accounts and business, the sight of which was reputed to make even Marcel pale. I could see Peter steeling himself at those moments.”
Some years later Lama Zopa Rinpoche spoke of Lama’s little books in a teaching. “Lama’s book has very profound teachings and also the expenses written there—how much Lama gave to this person, that person, blah blah blah. Then another profound teaching, advice from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the notes Lama took during teachings along with the expenses. To me, books like that are so very interesting and inspiring.”
Adele Hulse: “Lama and I loved wandering around the Libermans’ big garden together, discussing the plants and occasionally lifting some bulb that appealed to him. I remember him pulling up some Ixeas to take to Kopan. Peter never accompanied us on these walks. ‘Peter doesn’t like gardens,’ Lama told me. ‘Peter likes engines.’ Another time we walked around the neighborhood, Lama scrambling up grassy inclines with great agility, me pregnant and going carefully. ‘I’m a Himalaya man,’ he crowed back at me. Sometimes Lama wanted either Peter or me to knock at the doors of different houses and enquire if they were for sale. At those times he always kept out of sight. It was like a game.
“Sometimes we went driving with Peter, stopping at plant nurseries. Sometimes Lama drove. I always sat in the back. When Lama spoke to me he would turn his head right around, hands still on the wheel. ‘Lama!’ Peter shouted. ‘I’ve told you—you cannot take your eyes off the road!’ Then Lama would turn right around again and giggle at me, teasing Peter. There was already a new scrape along the side of Myra’s husband’s car.
“It was heaven being with Lama. I felt completely relaxed and unself-conscious. One morning he approached me in the corridor with this intense look on his face and said, ‘Do you put oil on your skin? I do, I put coconut oil. Very smooth.’ It was that normal. Every day Lama would give me teaspoons of sweet dütsi from a little porcelain container on his altar, tipping it into my mouth like a mother bird. ‘Not for you, for baby.’
“One day he and Peter went off to a picnic at Dorian and Alison Ribush’s place. Peter told me later that Lama raced around, pouring his energy into everyone. He ate everything and was totally exuberant. But the moment they arrived home Peter rushed Lama over to the kitchen sink where he vomited. He was over it quickly and emerged grinning, ready to watch the news on TV while Peter explained it to him.
“I told Lama the word ‘wedding’ had absolutely no appeal to me and I knew my relationship with Ian, the father of my baby, was not likely to last. Nevertheless, I was very happy to have a child and asked if he would give us his blessing. ‘Okay, dear,’ said Lama. ‘We’ll pick an auspicious day. You tell him to come here and we’ll do it, no problem.’
“The very next day he had a new idea. ‘Many people like to see Buddhist wedding. I think we’ll all go Noojee and do there. You ring your family, his family, friends – all come there and we’ll do Buddhist style. Late morning, then they have time to drive home.’ How could I refuse?” Of course when Lama said it, it was more like, “your pamily, his pamily, priends…”
Earlier that year, after purchasing forty-four cold and windswept acres at Noojee, a small picturesque town on the banks of the Latrobe River, Konchog Dönma had then lured a team of people up there to clear the land and build a shed. This shed was to be the gompa. Close by the property was an empty farmhouse and a local pub called The Burnt Dinosaur, named after the nearby skeleton of an enormous bushfire-charred tree fern that had been carved into the shape of a dinosaur. This was wild country. Noojee had originally been settled by prospectors. Konchog Dönma worked extremely hard alongside her team and had produced a beautiful brochure promising a rosy future for the Noojee center. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
While Rinpoche taught forty-five students the Fifty Verses of Guru Devotion in the unlined tin shed, fierce winds, stinging rain, biting cold and untimely snow made the place more than miserable. A Melbourne student, Judy Hilton, ran a camp kitchen with enormous ingenuity and stamina. After the course twenty-five students did a retreat in the appropriately named Icy Creek Hall.
The two lamas were reunited when Max Feldmann drove Lama Yeshe up to Noojee and delivered him to the rather dilapidated farmhouse the students had rented for them. They had scrubbed it from top to bottom and cleared mounds of rubbish from the garden. One student, Peter Dunn, an electrician by trade, did some necessary rewiring in the house but could not improve the television reception. “That’s easy,” said Lama Yeshe, bending down to press a button. A perfectly clear picture filled the screen. The electrician was amazed.
“The ‘wedding’ was on 15 October 1979, the day after Rinpoche’s course finished,” Adele recalled. “It was another icy, wind-blasted, rainy day with mushy snow on the ground. The students huddled in blankets under a leaden sky. Later I learned that Lama had told Peter and Zia early that morning, ‘The families are coming and they’ll want to take photos, so we do puja now.’ Lama set a small brazier alight on the farmhouse verandah, just out of the drizzle, and sent Bonnie down to The Burnt Dinosaur for some alcohol. Adrian Feldmann provided flour and salt. When everything was ready, the lamas did a special burning offering puja to clear the weather.
“Our families arrived and we all gathered inside the tin gompa, which someone had kindly decorated with fronds of bracken fern. The puja the lamas did was utterly incomprehensible to me. At one point Rinpoche washed a mirror with a peacock feather. Nothing was explained. I could hear my elegant sister muttering asides behind me. We didn’t have to sign anything, which was good. I didn’t want to sign anything. But Lama gave us each a ring, which I thought terribly funny. Peter told me later that Lama got them out of Rinpoche’s mandala offering set.16
“As we stepped out of the gompa Lama Yeshe grabbed my elbow and pointed to the sky. A circle had opened up in the grey wet felt, revealing a blazing blue island of sun. It was directly over the property and sharply edged by thick curtains of white fog. A rainbow hung over the farmhouse. ‘Look!’ said Lama. ‘I hope you appreciate this. I’ve been working on it all morning. You know, you can do this too.’ Then he poked Ian and repeated, ‘She can do this! You take flour, tea, salt, alcohol and you burn and offer!’”
“I was astounded,” Adele explained. “As for saying I could do it—well! But the bright clear sunlight falling from that hole in the sky lasted right up until the guests departed, after they had eaten a delicious lunch. There was even a wedding cake. Lama paid for everything.
“That night Ian and I were invited to dinner with the lamas at the farmhouse. Afterwards, as we idly watched a steeplechase event on TV, Lama Zopa fell to his knees as a horse crashed to the ground. Inches away from the screen he began saying mantras.”
Adele continued, “As usual, Lama Yeshe had his mala in his hand. He asked Ian if he would like a mala too and invited him into his room. Ian told me later, ‘I’m 6' 8" tall, and he’s tiny. His seat was quite some distance from the door and he was just half a second in front of me at the threshold. The next thing I know, I’m still at the door and he’s sitting on his cushion like he’s been there all day. But I hadn’t paused. So how did he get there?’
“Later that night I read the last chapter of the Chenrezig manuscript to Lama as he lay on the sofa, eyes closed. He was very tired. But whenever I cast a quick glance to see if he had fallen asleep, one eye immediately shot open, wickedly alert.”
The next day thirty people received Tara Chittamani initiation from Lama Yeshe, followed by four days of commentary. During this week the weather cleared wonderfully. A large bronze statue of Guru Shakyamuni, bought with profits from the Tara Health Food Shop, was brought to Noojee to be filled with all the ritual objects. It would be consecrated in Melbourne when the lamas returned.
Sometime earlier Lama had ordered five or six of these large bronze statues in Delhi and instructed they be sent to several centers. Peter Kedge recalls collecting them from the foundry. “We had to take them to the Delhi center in Indian Ambassador taxis in order to ship them around the world. It was quite amusing to see all these life-size buddhas sitting up in the back seats of those taxis.”
While at Noojee, Lama Yeshe told the students that Tara House needed much bigger and better premises. “Think big, think big!” he told them. “I want a wonderful house to put this statue in.”
Twenty-one students, a very auspicious number, stayed on for a Tara Chittamani retreat, led by Adrian Feldmann. He had just returned to Melbourne from a month at Lawudo.
On 19 October 1979 the lamas conferred gelong ordination on Neil Huston in a ceremony held in the old farmhouse. The first getsul ordination in Australia had taken place in July 1977, but this was the first time the full monks’ ordination ceremony had ever been held in the country. The two other officiating monks were Adrian Feldmann and Max Redlich. Usually ten monks are required for a full gelong ordination ceremony, but Lama Yeshe was quite happy to have just four, the number approved later by Zong Rinpoche. Over many years, Neil, now known as Thubten Dondrub, proved himself to be a very dedicated gelong.
Back to Melbourne
Back at Tara House in the Melbourne suburb of Kew, Lama Yeshe announced publicly that the Noojee center wasn’t at all suitable. He also said everyone should begin looking for new premises for Tara House. “The center belongs to the students. Everybody is welcome at any time to come here, meet Dharma friends, relax, meditate and enjoy different activities together. There should be daily meditation sessions in a beautiful hall and a room for people to meet and relax. If there is good harmony between people, that shows we are attaining something with our practice. Tara House is to serve the needs of the community—it is for all sentient beings,” Lama told them.
He appointed Max Redlich and Uldis Balodis as center directors. Adrian Feldmann and Liz Menzel, a nun, were to be the spiritual program directors. Bonnie was asked to find new premises into which Tara House could move.
On Sunday 21 October 1979, following all-night prostrations in the Realities Art Gallery, owned by Marianne Baillieu, a student, the lamas blessed the new Tara House statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. Crowds of recently arrived Vietnamese refugees attended the consecration ritual.
Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche left Australia the next day. But first, something interesting happened at Melbourne’s airport. Just as the lamas were about to depart, Lama Yeshe had Peter telephone his recent English teacher at her home.
Maria Nagy: “Lama told me he was just ready to fly out, but wanted to know if there was something I needed to ask him. He said he had told his attendants he wanted to call in on me but they had said there was no time. I was amazed. I did have this very personal question I hadn’t felt I should ask at Chenrezig, so I asked it right then. It made a great difference to my life to be able to talk with Lama Yeshe about that.”
With Peter and Zia the lamas flew to Indonesia where they were guests of an Indonesian student, Dharmawati Brechbuhl. Dharmawati was married to Max Brechbuhl, who was at that time a manager at the Hotel Intercontinental Bali Beach at Sanur. Max arranged for the lamas to stay at his hotel.
“Dharmawati took Lama shopping,” said Peter. “One of the things he really wanted to buy there was a huge gong for Kopan which, I recall, was sent on later. From Bali we went to Borobodur in central Java, which is one of the world’s greatest Buddhist shrines and dates from around A.D. 800. The day we were there it was blisteringly hot and humid, absolutely the worst conditions for Lama. But Lama insisted on circumambulating the shrine while making full-length prostrations all the way. Rinpoche joined him, but I couldn’t keep up at all and went off and found some shade.”
It had been arranged for Lama Yeshe to give a talk in a temple near Jogjakarta. Lama had heard of an ancient Maitreya statue in the region and was most insistent about finding it, asking the driver and other people along the way if they knew where it was. “We made a detour and found the statue,” said Peter Kedge. “Lama had us run around and buy candles then made prayers and prostrations to it before we continued on to the temple.” This was a lovely place and the finest vegetarian banquet, prepared in accordance with a long tradition, was offered. During the lecture Peter and Zia sat together on a bench. During the question-and-answer session following the talk, someone asked why the monk and nun were sitting on the same bench. In the Indonesian tradition this was not acceptable behavior. Lama gave a very nice explanation of the different traditions and no offence was taken.
“After that we were very careful to consider local etiquette,” said Peter. “Lama was concerned that he should not wear leather shoes in Indonesia so we found some other sandals for him.”
The lamas returned to Delhi via Singapore. Peter had the tour finances well under control, estimating that each person touring had cost US$17.20 a day in Europe and US$26.74 a day in Australia.
Mummy Max was continuing to do her fashion business in Delhi. As ever, she booked Lama into the best hotels in town and picked up all his bills.
She met Lama for dinner at the Hotel Oberoi, together with some other students. During the meal she said, “Lama, it’s so great! Women in the States can become carpenters and do anything now!” “Phoo!” Lama replied. “I think women are beautiful just the way they are, don’t you, dear?” he said turning to a very gentle girl at the table. Max knew it was a message for her not to get so excited by shallow views, now that she was back in the world. As always, there was nothing shy about Lama’s attitude to Max paying the bills, nor did Max ever expect recognition or special treatment because of it.
Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre, better known as Tushita–Delhi, had settled nicely into the glamorous new house in Shantiniketan. Situated not too far from Delhi’s international airport, the center became a safe and hospitable place where Inji travelers could stay, with comfortable sleeping dorms and clean and tasty food. Evenings often found quite a few Westerners, Buddhist and non, partaking of the dinnertime meal and enjoying lively conversation around the table on the center’s covered porch.
During this visit Lama Yeshe’s gave his first public talk at Tushita-Delhi called “Creating Space for Dharma.” Trisha Donnelly watched with interest as the audience of middle-aged, highly educated Indian men turned to each other, nodding their heads knowingly and saying, “He knows something, definitely!”17
Lama was always busy when in Delhi, calling in on Domo Geshe Rinpoche if he was in town and spending time with Gelek Rimpoche and Rongtha Rinpoche. “I often met Lama Yeshe in Delhi,” said Gelek Rimpoche. “He used to take me to lunch at one of those five-star hotels, which was a great treat.”
Sunita and Nick secured the loyal services of a Mr. C. S. Gill on their management team. Mr. Gill lived in the same neighborhood, just one street over from the center. His sister-in-law, Goodie, was married to “Biki” Oberoi, son of the rags-to-riches hotel millionaire, Rai Bahadur Oberoi. Goodie had been a long-time student of the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa. She had met Lama Zopa Rinpoche in the early 1970s and been a very close friend of Freda Bedi, whom Goodie always called Sister Palmo. When Freda Bedi’s health failed, she moved into the Hotel Oberoi in Delhi and died there in 1977, in Room 145, her usual room.
Goodie had first met Lama Yeshe at the Bhutanese Embassy in Delhi and they too became good friends. “He always called into the hotel with little gifts for me—Mickey Mouse pens, things like that, like I was a little kid,” said Goodie. “Sometimes he stayed at the hotel. Whenever I invited him to come and dine with me in my apartment or come to tea, he’d say, ‘I’ll come, but first let me have my bath. I do enjoy a bath here—it’s so nice and clean!’ He’d then turn up around 10:00 pm. I had quite a circle of friends from all over the world and he fit in with everyone.”
But now Goodie was critically ill with a virus she’d had for months. Mr. Gill asked Lama Yeshe if he would please go and see her.
“No one could understand why I wasn’t getting better,” related Goodie. “I was desperately weak and slept a lot. One time I woke and noticed the flower arrangements had been changed from red to white. It made me feel better just looking at them. When my brother-in-law came I thanked him for changing the flowers—all my family was away at the time and he was my chief carer. He told me Lama Yeshe had come to see me while I was asleep, sat beside me and done some puja. On leaving he had asked that all the flowers be changed to white and said he would return in the evening.
“When he came back, Lama told me I was never to have red flowers around me again, that they weren’t good for me. I should have only white ones. Much later I got a message from the Karmapa saying the same thing.” For Tibetans, red flowers signify death.
Tushita Retreat Centre
The lamas departed Delhi for a week in Dharamsala. Electric Roger, now known as Roger Kunsang, was invited to accompany the lamas when they delivered their report on the year’s tour to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. “Everything was in Tibetan,” recalled Roger. “We were asked to wait in a room with a long patio leading off it. Suddenly His Holiness appeared. The second Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa laid eyes on him they fell down into prostrations. His Holiness went to his room, sat down and told them to sit. So they dropped to the floor right where they were, on the doorstep. His Holiness chuckled and said, ‘Close, close, close!’ and they inched forward as he beckoned. I stayed right at the back. They spent an hour or so with him. There was a lot of discussion and some questions from His Holiness.”
Jimi Neal, the erstwhile Seattle bus-driver, was now living at Tushita. “Lama told me, ‘I’m happy you’re going to become a monk. You should serve sentient beings, not yourself. Now you should check by going through every samsaric pleasure and seeing if you want more of it.’ So that’s what I was doing. All sorts of amazing objects of desire were arising, ones I hadn’t thought of for years,” said Jimi. “When I got ordained Lama sent me to Lawudo for six months.”
Lama Yeshe made a point of sticking his nose into absolutely everything at Tushita, just as he did at Kopan. He could often be seen stomping around the kitchen and storerooms, poking into every corner with his ski pole.
Hepatitis still raged unabated in Nepal and India and a note outside the office stated that Kopan could not accept Western students who were ill. Thanks mainly to Jacie Keeley and Pam Philip, Lama came home that November to a much fresher, cleaner Kopan. Jacie had given each boy specific cleaning duties and a plastic bucket with his name on it. They had whitewashed the whole place, scrubbed the toilets and hung up air fresheners, something the boys had never seen or heard of. The glass shone and there was no rubbish lying around. Lama was just thrilled as he loved Kopan to be clean. Jacie even taught the boys to recite Lama’s long life prayer in English. In return, Rinpoche bestowed many small gifts on her, which she gave away. “I had seen the lamas give away all their presents, often to the next person who walked in. I thought that was so practical and nice,” said Jacie.
Lama always returned with plenty of duty-free French perfume to spray around his altar. “Inji incense,” he called it, adding it was much better than “Tibetan sawdust.”18 Lama also brought a large number of silver beet and other vegetable seeds with him from Australia, to plant at Kopan.
Kopan’s coffee shop now sold Swiss chocolate, Yeti peanut butter, Kathmandu cookies, local honey and extremely rich milk coffee. Lama understood the Western need for distractions and knew how to turn them into profit. He also wanted the students to be natural, to be themselves—not caught up in some Tibetan fantasy.
Kopan was still beset by administrative problems caused by the very strict visa requirements with which most students had to contend. Under these circumstances, Karuna Cayton’s academic visa was a boon.
Karuna and Pam had begun seeing each other. Lama called Karuna up to his room to discuss this. “Lama asked me how she made me feel, whether I loved her,” said Karuna. “‘Do you like her? She’s so nice!’ Then he started on marriage. I said, ‘Well, I don’t think so,’ but he totally ignored that. A few seconds later he asked me when I planned to marry her. ‘Anyway, I found Pam for you!’ Lama was always so in my face.”
Lama called Pam upstairs and told her to write to her parents, tell them she was going to marry Karuna and include a photograph of him. “Lama said that without commitment it would be much harder for our relationship to become the path it should be,” she said. “I did write to my parents but I forgot the photograph and they thought, ‘Karuna? Is he Tibetan? Nepali?’ Lama’s advice was always worth following exactly.”
The twelfth Kopan meditation course
Among the new students arriving at Kopan for the twelfth meditation course was one Australian lad. “We saw the poster in a restaurant in Kathmandu and came up. Lama Yeshe had just arrived at lunchtime and people were running and shoving to be near him. Suddenly I had this very strong arrogant feeling that I was never going to be part of that sort of thing. I took my plate of food and sat apart to eat it. Lama was in the thick of a crowd and on his way to his room when he turned, came straight over to me and said, ‘Please eat, dear. Please eat!’ I felt myself the focus of 200 Westerners, all listening to what I was thinking. The earth seemed to spin underneath me.”
During the November meditation course this year, Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings concentrated on bodhicitta rather than on the hell realms. John Schwartz, from California, and monk Thubten Pelgye led the meditation sessions. Ian Green came from Melbourne to attend his first Kopan course. He watched Lama wandering around the vegetable gardens in his oversized Chinese gardener’s sunhat and also noted the bad behavior of the boys during their English classes. “It seemed to bring out the worst in them, probably because the teacher was an Inji,” he said. “First someone would double over and roll on the floor in mock pain, crying for a pee-pee. And when they were given writing exercises, they would invariably call out, ‘Hello! Hello! No pencil!’ They were wild.”
Jeff Nye had come back to Kopan for more. “Lama told me his heart stopped every morning when he woke up. He said he had to restart it himself with breathing exercises and mantra. He told me to go to Manjushri Institute, but I didn’t. I was never terribly clear as to which lama was my guru. I did a Manjushri retreat that year with Lama’s own Manjushri statue. Afterwards I told him that I thought Lama Zopa was my guru. Was that a problem? ‘There will be time for that later, dear,’ he told me,” said Jeff.
One student felt guilty about all the dope he had smoked and decided to tell Lama all about it. He was certainly not the first to confess to this habit, but Lama’s response was unexpected. “I was sure he would be displeased. I said, ‘Lama, I have a big problem.’ ‘Oh yes, dear, what is your problem? I can help you.’ I said, ‘Lama, I like chillum, to smoke hashish, very much.’ ‘You like to smoke, so you smoke! Where is the problem? I can’t see any problem.’ It made me feel so happy and good, though I also knew he was liable to tell the next person they should never smoke again.”
Lama knew everyone’s secrets. A tremendous rainstorm washed out some of Kopan’s dormitories and a German girl ended up relocating herself in Steve’s tower, below the geshes’ room. “It was very nice,” she said. “I could hear the geshes’ prayers and their laughter and had wonderful dreams. Then one of the English-speaking boys, Thubten Sherab, came and told me a nun was going to have this room and I was to move out. I was so angry! Like, why did I have to drop everything for her? Just then there was a knock on the door. I pulled it open crossly and there was Lama Yeshe, smiling away and saying, ‘Very nice, dear. How are you? How is the East? Not too dirty?’ I told him I had to leave because they wanted to give my room to someone else. ‘No, no, you can stay here. Is there anything else I can do for you, dear?’ I had been about to leave Kopan, but after that I stayed on.”
Outside the office a young Swiss man told Lama he was going to have to go to prison when he got back to Switzerland, for refusing military service. “Lama looked up at the sky for a minute, like he was looking beyond universes, and said, ‘Not more than six months, dear.’ I was awaiting an eighteen-month sentence but I got only six months.”
“Little bit too much study?” So began Lama’s twelfth course. “The main thing is to have a good heart. Then when you go home in the evenings just sit back, have a blissful cup of coffee and relax!” He looked tired and puffy, but few noticed. He was so utterly enjoyable, even when he told them he was dying. “An English doctor at Shanti Bhawan Hospital19 said, ‘No solution. No survive.’ Six months later I went to the United States and a top doctor checked up. ‘You are going after three months if you don’t have an operation now.’ I said, ‘Excuse me, I’m not ready now.’ This was a top Western heart surgeon. Then again I went to see him, two times. But I’m still alive. ‘I don’t know,’ he tells me, ‘but still if you don’t operate after three months you die.’ This is true. I’m not making this up.
“Then after a few months I went to Australia, and I saw a top heart doctor there. He said, ‘If you want to stay alive, you have to operate now.’ I told him that I wasn’t ready for cutting. That doctor also said no remedy. ‘You be careful if you want to live,’ he said. He said I would die after three months.
“Yeshe Khadro was there. She told me I was very stubborn. She thought I was stupid. She loves me and she has responsibility for me and I don’t listen to the Western doctor. She told me that maybe the Western doctor knows these things better than I do. I tell her yes, that could be, but I’m not having operation. I think she was frustrated that I was not listening. She thinks I am a really skeptical ridiculous man, really a black brain.
“But my reasoning is they know what my heart condition is but they cannot make an exact limitation. This human vehicle is more complex than a jet machine or a rocket. How can one make such a decision? So therefore, I am always very skeptical with doctors.”
On the final day of the meditation course Lama Yeshe accepted a long life puja—cymbals clashing, horns blaring, the big round drum booming, damarus clattering and food offerings piled high. Everyone rejoiced in the existence of Lama Thubten Yeshe, gave thanks for his teachings and prayed for his long life.
After the long life puja, Lama “married” four couples. At first there were three couples to be married, but while they were all getting ready monk Pelgye bounded up to Australians Dave and Allys, who were attending their first course. “Hi, guys, I hear you’re getting married!” he exclaimed. “We looked at each other and said ‘No, not us,’” said Allys.
Allys Andrews: “I turned to Dave and said, ‘You want to get married?’ He thought about it for ten minutes, which left twenty minutes to wash our hands and faces (a bad year for water—everyone was filthy). Dave wore a silk kurta [an Indian long-sleeved cotton shirt] and jeans. It was wonderful and people gave us presents.”
“Lama wanted us to sign a certificate,” Allys continued. “He pulled it out of his Tibetan jolla [cotton shoulder bag], which was like a showbag of fun—you never knew what he was going to produce out of there. It was on Mount Everest Centre letterhead with the stupa seal on the bottom and dated 9 December 1979. It said: ‘Today we vow to dedicate ourselves totally in body, speech and mind to each other. In this lifetime throughout all circumstances whether in wealth or poverty, health or sickness, happiness or despair, we will strive to serve each other perfectly. The goal of our perfection of our relationship with each other shall be to reach enlightenment and perfect our kindness and compassion to all sentient beings.’ We signed it David Andrews and Allys Dawe. Sprawled over the stupa seal was the loopy signature, ‘Lama Yeshe.’”
Allys and Dave eventually had three children and a very successful marriage, which could not be said of many of Lama’s weddings. “Once, when I didn’t have a girlfriend, I said to Lama that if ever I found someone I wanted to marry, I would not have him marry us,” Jon Landaw later recalled. “He asked me why not and I said, ‘Well, your marriages don’t last!’”
In mid-December, Lama Yeshe gave a Medicine Buddha initiation over two days during which he stressed the inner quality that is the essence of natural medicine.
From Lama Yeshe’s Medicine Buddha teachings, Kopan, December 1979:
Our love is weak. We know we have love, but our love is so limited. That is why we have to meditate on limitless love. The limitation of our love is the problem. Our jealousy comes from this limitation. ‘I love you.’ What does that mean? Does that mean I want you to be happy? No! That means I want to be happy. ‘I love you’ almost means taking advantage in some way. So that is not love; it is completely the opposite. But limitless love is the psychologically healthy way. With limitless love, no one can irritate you. It is amazing! And its function is to understand every person’s needs and to wish that they get the happiness they need. Everyone needs happiness, without exception. With limitless love we give our energy and time with a wish-fulfilling attitude, instead of feeling jealous when someone else receives something.
What is bodhicitta? Bodhicitta is a Sanskrit word. Citta means heart, the totally open heart. It is like the lotus, which first grows in the mud and then slowly, slowly opens up fully into a pristine lotus blossom. So this sense of totally open, or totally developed, can also be understood as omniscience, totally wisdom and compassion. And this is what we call “buddha.” “Buddha” means one who is totally open and totally developed, one in whom all limitations have been extinguished. This buddhahood state is also one of total healing. And bodhicitta is the attitude wishing to lead all beings to that total healing state.
And how did the Medicine Buddha become so special, having this energy to heal diseases and so on. The Medicine Buddha was once a sentient being, like us. He was not special. But at some time he woke up and saw all living beings, filled with diseases, misconceptions, karma, demons, and so on. On this earth how many sentient beings have sicknesses or disease? Now in our twentieth century cancer is everywhere; it is this century’s worst disease. Also, how many people’s minds are sick, occupied by spirits or demons? Then, of course, there is the demon of our egos that creates great suffering, shaking our minds.
Seeing all this, his bodhicitta attitude grew and became great healing for all these universal living beings. As a bodhisattva he prayed with great determination to be successful in helping sentient beings. He was very determined, which is why he became a great healer.
So what is Medicine Buddha? Medicine Buddha is this attitude, bodhicitta. He is the fully developed consciousness energy of wisdom-compassion, manifesting as blue radiating light.20
Many people stayed on at Kopan to do retreat or in hopes of getting an interview with Lama Yeshe. Some thoroughly enjoyed their retreats, whereas others had a miserable time. When they brought their problems to Lama Yeshe, he often turned them back on their own resources. “I trust your wisdom, dear, I trust your wisdom. Thank you, thank you.”
Over the years Lama Yeshe’s classmates had often asked him to return to Sera and teach the young monks there but he was staunchly committed to teaching Westerners. For a long time his classmates believed he was wasting his time, as they had considered it impossible to teach Dharma to Injis. By this time, however, this somewhat dismissive attitude toward Westerners had definitely begun to change.
Now, not only did the Tibetan community recognize Lama Yeshe as a well-known teacher of Westerners, they also believed him to be wealthy because of this. As a result, Lama received many requests for support from the Tibetan community, such as this letter from the Gelugpa Buddhist Cultural Society in Bylakuppe:
We would like to request you, while beseeching your understanding and not considering us greedy and presumptuous—we have bought quite a lot of land with a view to farming to support the study and practice of the two tantric and three practice monasteries. However this year wild pigs and elephants have destroyed our harvests which has resulted in losses…
And so on.
Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche always tried their utmost to support His Holiness the Dalai Lama in maintaining the monasteries and Tibetan communities, though the actual details of what happened in this particular circumstance have been lost.
The next chapter of Discriminating Between the Middle and the Extremes
Lama Yeshe’s third teaching on Maitreya’s text Discriminating Between the Middle and the Extremes (Tib. U ta nam che) began in the big tent. There was still no electricity in there, so people took notes by kerosene lamps. Jan Willis was present, as was Margaret Castles, an Australian who then moved down to Tushita-Delhi.
“Every night when Lama taught U ta nam che he had a different aspect,” Margaret recalled. “Some nights he was incredibly attractive and other nights he was very sick, puffy and uncomfortable. Some nights he was just blissful. At the beginning of the teaching we always said a Maitreya prayer and then chanted the mantra of the wisdom gone beyond—TA YA TAA GATÉ GATÉ PARA GATÉ PARASAMGATÉ BODHI SOHA—to a particularly slow and beautiful tune that gave us goosebumps. I loved Lama’s language. ‘Overestimated phenomena’ was his term for the apprehended objects of deluded materialistic views. A more common translation is ‘imaginary’ or ‘imputed’ phenomena. Emptiness was ‘total truth phenomena.’ His teachings were so experiential and his pronunciation difficult, but he made his language reach right across to us all, connecting our own range of languages.”
Jimi Neal was Lama’s assistant this year. “It was great. There were no Tibetan scholars around so I got to go up to his room every day. We went through each stanza and wrote them out in English. But it wasn’t easy. Lama would often scold me, saying, ‘We already did that verse!’”
The focus this time was on chapter three. As before, Lama followed the text closely, translating many individual Tibetan terms. The text begins with a summary outlining the three categories of things: “overestimated phenomena,” “causational phenomena,” and “total truth phenomena.”
These three are the root of the subject. All existence—whether samsara or nirvana—is contained in these three categories. In Buddhism every existence has its own unique significant characteristic. Maybe you people think that Buddhism is not concerned with external existence, but only with the mind. That is not true. Shunyata has many names, you know. Each different name gives a different comprehension of what shunyata is. Each term means essentially the same thing, but each one gives a different feeling. This term, total truth phenomenon, brings a certain kind of blessing, as it is saying that shunyata is the only truth and that overestimated phenomena and causational phenomena are false. They are all false appearance, producing delusion. They are like the banana tree, in that they do not have any solid essence.21 All the Prajnaparamita commentaries and texts explain reality in this way. And this is why Shantideva—you remember Shantideva, who wrote A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life?—wrote that every single tiny word of the Buddha’s teachings were for the purpose of helping sentient beings to gain direct wisdom of shunyata. Every single teaching. Also, in Chandrakirti’s Madhyamaka text, he states that when the Buddha taught relative truth, this was his method to lead sentient beings to absolute wisdom.22
The teaching was complex and filled with many new terms. It was a classic philosophical teaching illustrated by Lama’s many insights into the Western mind, together with his indomitable humor. There were frequent outbreaks of laughter. The students needed the jokes as it was a demanding teaching.
Thubten Chodron arrived from Italy and helped Jimi and Sylvia Wetzel with the translation. “We spent a lot of time going through the work with Lama,” recalled Chodron. “There were constant interruptions. People were always coming in to ask Lama this or that. I watched as he mirrored their personalities every time, showing them themselves. The new students always fell for his jokes and humor. They were utterly charmed and warmed by him, but the older students often didn’t laugh as hard. They had learned there was a deeper level beneath Lama’s jokes they needed to pay attention to.”
Ken Liberman, an academic, just loved the U ta nam che teachings. “My field of expertise is European epistemology, upon which existentialism as an ethical system is based. It looks at how reality is projected by our own concepts. Lama Yeshe’s teachings on the Chittamatrin Maitreya text U ta nam che was brilliant stuff. I was stunned by how similar it was to my own work. I told Lama and he asked me to teach him Western philosophy. So for six weeks I went up to his room every day after his nap with Edmund Husserl’s Introduction to Pure Phenomenology tucked under my arm. I’d raise a topic from Husserl and he’d get out a text and we’d discuss both interpretations. I read the whole book to Lama, who happily collected terminology to use in his teachings. Afterward I decided to learn the Tibetan language because they have been at the game hundreds of years longer than Westerners and obviously have more to say.”
Ken Liberman was also a yoga master. “When Lama put out a call among the Injis on the hill for a yoga teacher for the older boys, I offered,” he continued. “Lama was very happy. He selected twenty students for me and we started having classes. Then Lama Pasang absolutely hit the roof! I was a typically self-righteous indignant American and there was nothing I liked better than some unjustified authority figure. Lama Pasang and I had a vicious head-on confrontation. I told him he didn’t know what he was talking about. It was hard on Lama Yeshe because Lama Pasang was saying to him, ‘Are you going to take this Inji’s point of view over mine?’ He wanted the classes cancelled. He demanded that under no circumstances were the boys ever to be allowed to ‘play’ like that again. Lama Yeshe’s compromise was that we held our classes before dawn, before the boys’ regular prayers. This was in winter with frost on the ground. Cold is no good for exercise as you can hurt yourself. But there was no choice. Getting up early was nothing for the boys and they loved the yoga. We did about twenty asanas on the roof of the new dining room then went jogging half way to Boudhanath and back because it was so cold—and it was still dark, too. After about five weeks Lama asked for a public demonstration. Thubten Sherab, Losang Sherab, Thubten Gyephel, Zopa Rinpoche Small and Gelek Gyatso Rinpoche put on a wonderful display. Even Lama Pasang was impressed. We got him!” Ken grinned. Of course, as soon as Lama Yeshe left Kopan, Lama Pasang put an immediate end to all yoga classes.
That December, quite a few of the lamas’ most long-time students had returned to Kopan for the U ta nam che teachings and to attend the annual Council for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (CPMT) meeting that followed the teachings in January. They also got to enjoy the annual Christmas pageant put on by the Mount Everest Centre boys.
The Alpujarra Mountains, Spain
In the meantime, things were percolating in Spain. After teaching several painting courses during the periods between the lamas’ various European courses, Jampa Chökyi had stayed on in Spain and against her own personal wishes, been voted director of Centro Nagarjuna in Ibiza.
“Lama Yeshe and I fought a lot in those days,” said Jampa Chökyi, “due in part to my Spanish temperament. But we were also growing closer. It soon became clear that Ibiza was just too samsaric a place for a center, so I left and went to Granada to stay with my family. My father was a well-known cardiologist and a friend of his had a connection with the village of Bubion, up in the Alpujarra Mountains. I asked if there was any land for sale around there.”
“I went to the Sierra Nevada ski resort, on the other side of the mountain from Bubion, and did a ten day-retreat,” she continued. “The energy of that mountain felt so good, the air so clean I thought it would be a good location for a Dharma center. Much of the money Pepe had donated had been swallowed up just looking for a place, so now we really had to buy something. Together with Maria Ferre from Barcelona and José Juan Ortiz from Madrid, who had a large car, we went looking on the other side of the mountain from the Sierra Nevada resort, in the area known as the Alpujarras. We stayed one night in a small hotel close to Bubion and when I walked outside the next morning I found myself staring at this mountainside. Somehow I thought it would be a wonderful place. After looking at different properties all morning, we finally located the owner of that mountainside and discovered it was for sale, so we decided to take a look. But as we started driving up the hill there was a sudden hailstorm. We tried to close the car windows so rapidly we shattered the side window of the car. So we drove up the hill with the snow and hail blowing through the car. Maria Ferre was terrified and kept saying the place was too wild, but I thought it was Palden Lhamo23 welcoming us. To me it seemed very auspicious.
“The land was really cheap, but first of course I had to ask the lamas. Lama Yeshe’s reply was, ‘To do business with this land is very bad; to do a community center is okay; to make a retreat center is excellent.’ So we bought it with 500,000 pesetas down—exactly what Maria had remaining—and agreed to pay the rest in three years.”
Not everyone was as thrilled with the location as Jampa Chökyi was, but Paco Hita, Maria Torres and their two children decided to go down to the Alpujarras to see the place. “We started climbing up,” said Maria. “It was steep and we were jumping and slipping. Rivulets of water ran down the herb-covered mountain. The place had been abandoned for thirteen years. There was a ruined house consisting of one small stone room with no window or floor, but it was a start and there was water. François Camus offered to put up some money if Paco and I agreed to work on the place,” she said.
Water for Kopan
There were developments taking place at Kopan, too. An Indian couple, Prodipto and Joya Roy, were in Nepal working on development projects. They called in at Kopan to discuss some proposals for the Lawudo area. The first two people they met told them that Lama Yeshe was too busy to see them. “However, we knew Jan Willis and she gate-crashed the system for us,” said Prodipto. “We talked with Lama Yeshe for four hours and he had many practical suggestions. Karuna was asked to prepare an integrated project scheme including a Dharma school for Sherpas. Jacie Keeley and Jampa Trinley’s daughter, Tsen-la, both attended our workshop. This was the beginning of our long acquaintance with Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa.”
Practical people skills
The Mount Everest Centre daily schedule began when the boys were awakened at 6:00 am; they washed and dressed and then went to the gompa for puja. They had breakfast at 8:00 am and then cleaned the grounds until 10:00 am, shouting mantras all the time. This was followed by memorization until mid-day and a half-hour painting class until lunch. After lunch, they had Tibetan grammar classes and English classes. In the middle of the afternoon they had a tea break, after which there was Tibetan writing class, teachings on the various texts they were studying, and debating of those texts until dinner at 7:30 pm. After dinner the younger boys then debated in the gompa from 8:00 to 9:00 pm, when they would be sent to bed. The older boys often studied late into the night. In addition to their class studies, every boy, perhaps with the exception of the rinpoches, took their turn at working in the kitchen, helping with construction work around the monastery and working in the garden.
Pam Philip became one of the painting teachers and held an exhibition of the boys’ work, which was very bright and fresh. “Lots of people who had been at the November course came to the exhibition and bought paintings,” Pam recalled. “Lama was wandering about and came up close to me. Indicating a woman who had just been speaking to me, he said, ‘Let her have whatever she wants.’ Then he walked on. Well, this woman decided she didn’t want one of the boys’ paintings but instead wanted a very nice old thangka that belonged to the monastery instead. I told her it wasn’t one of the boys’ works. She offered to pay something for it. Remembering Lama’s words, I asked her how much and she said, ‘Three.’ I said, ‘300 rupees?’ ‘No, three rupees,’ she replied. I thought, ‘My God, what planet is she from?’ I said that I was sorry but this was a very old thangka and very valuable. Even 300 rupees would be ridiculous. Then she just started to freak out and cry and I realized I had blown it. She didn’t get the thangka, but I really felt I had not done what Lama had said to do. He had some insight into this woman and wanted to make her happy, and I hadn’t followed through. If it was some kind of test then I failed it.”
Pam continued, “I often watched how Lama dealt with people who were really difficult. Instead of rejecting them, Lama embraced them. On the other hand he often ridiculed those who you thought were so nice, embarrassing them in public. You were always wondering whether this was something to benefit that person or yourself.
“Lama often handed me a Time magazine and asked me questions about worldly affairs; I had absolutely no idea. Once he asked me to open this new suitcase he had, with a fancy latch. I couldn’t do it and he said, ‘Pam, I think you need to go back to the West for a while.’ I knew he wanted me to be of practical use in the world.”
Karuna had brought a copy of The Essene Gospel of Peace24 to Kopan with him. “They were beautifully written in verse and Lama loved them,” said Karuna. “When I read them to 200 students after the course, there was a stunned silence. Lama was sitting on the throne above me. He broke the silence by commenting, ‘Who said Jesus didn’t teach shunyata? This proves he did. Please put a copy of these in the library.’”
Elea Redel stayed on after the November course. “One night I felt I was just boiling over. I ran across Lama standing outside in his big fluffy monk’s cape and told him I was exploding. He slapped me on the shoulder with his mala and ordered, ‘You go to puja!’ It was about to start and I had planned to miss it, but I did feel better afterward. I was always escaping from things and running into Lama. When he asked me, ‘How are you?’ I muttered something about self-cherishing and he said, ‘Where is your self-cherishing mind?’ Just the way he said it made me realize I mustn’t exaggerate my ego.”
“I wanted to retreat but I had ‘love problems,’” Elea recalled. ‘So, why aren’t you with this man anymore?’ Lama asked. I muttered about suffering and attachment and he said, ‘Attachment? There is attachment all the time. In Tibet we say there are three ways to work with attachment: you can cut your hair and change your dress, you can get married, or you can live alone, not need anybody and find the energies within yourself.’ Later, Lama asked me to go and work in the Italian center, because I spoke English. I said wouldn’t it be better if I went to France because I am French? ‘We need people all over the world’, he told me.”
1 Lama Yeshe never appeared in Time magazine during his own lifetime. However, after the birth and recognition of his reincarnation, Osel Hita, Time did an extensive article on him in which Lama Yeshe was featured in detail. [Return to text]
2 Mount Meru is the mythical center of the universe in Tibetan Buddhist cosmology. [Return to text]
3 See chapter 12. [Return to text]
4 Excerpted and edited from archive #267. [Return to text]
5 This is a reference to an advertising slogan used by a well-known global chain of ice cream parlors—“Baskin-Robbins’ 31 flavors.” [Return to text]
6 Sylvia’s edit of Lama’s Tara Cittamani teachings was first published in 1980 by Aryatara Institut then reprinted by Wisdom Publications in its transcript series in 1984. [Return to text]
7 Asan Tole, the busiest market square in Kathmandu, where Max had rented lodgings around 1968, and Rana house, at Tintuli near Boudha, where Max had lived around 1970. Later she rented a place she called Sita House, which was where the Kopan Gestetner machine was housed for awhile. [Return to text]
8 This Tibetan phrase begins a common dedication prayer, which has been translated as: Due to the merits of these virtuous actions / May I quickly attain the state of a guru-buddha / And lead all living beings, without exception, / Into that enlightened state. [Return to text]
9 Excerpted and edited from archive #272. [Return to text]
10 Excerpted and edited from archive #243. [Return to text]
11 Excerpted and edited from archive #267. [Return to text]
12 Tsog is the Tibetan term for a specific type of highest yoga tantra offering ritual. This term is also loosely used, as it is here, for the food that is offered and distributed to the participants during such a ritual. [Return to text]
13 Excerpted and edited from archive #923. [Return to text]
14 Excerpted and edited from a written transcript of a meeting at Chenrezig Institute between Lama Yeshe and members of the Family Resident Association at Chenrezig. [Return to text]
15 Excerpted and edited from archive #365. [Return to text]
16 As a physical support for the meditative practice of generosity, a mandala offering set, consisting of a flat base, rings and a top piece, is used. Between sessions, the set is kept wrapped in a cloth along with rice or other grains, shells, semi-precious stones and small pieces of jewelry that the practitioner offers. When assembled, the offerings are ritually piled onto the base and inside the rings in handfuls, gradually forming a mountain-shaped pile of precious objects. The assembled structure symbolizes the entire universe and is repeatedly assembled and offered in meditation. [Return to text]
17 An edited version of this talk was published in Teachings at Tushita. [Return to text]
18 Tibetan incense is generally made of aromatic dried herbs and plants and other substances that are ground into a powder and pressed into sticks; it comes in a wide range of qualities. The lowest quality is often made of a certain amount of plain sawdust mixed with a minimum amount of aromatic substances—thus, Lama Yeshe’s comment. [Return to text]
19 Shanti Bhawan Hospital in Patan was the Christian missionary hospital in the Kathmandu Valley. [Return to text]
20 Excerpted and edited from archive #168. [Return to text]
21 The trunks of banana trees have no central core; they are quite empty in the middle. This is the reason that the Buddhist scriptures use the banana, or plantain, tree as an example here. [Return to text]
22 Excerpted and edited from archive #313. [Return to text]
23 The wrathful female protector deity of the Dalai Lamas and Tibet. [Return to text]
24 Translated by Edmond Bordeaux Szekely. The first of four volumes, this book and its companions are purported to be a translation of the original teachings of Jesus Christ not included in the Bible. [Return to text]