Big Love: A Biography of Lama Yeshe
- Introduction to Lama Yeshe's Biography
- Foreword by Lama Zopa Rinpoche
- How to Support This Project
- 1971: The First Kopan Meditation Course
- 1972: Unsurpassed Dharma Land of Enlightenment
- 1973: First Steps, First Students
- 1979: 'Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend'
Introduction to Lama Yeshe's Biography
This is a long story. It begins with the Chinese invasion of Tibet, a crime which brought the ancient wisdom of the East to a generation of Westerners, of whom I was one. This is the story of a Buddhist monk who changed our lives forever. He taught us how to live, raise our children and die. He also taught us how to engage the unlimited potential of our minds in order to be of service to others.
In 1976 Lama Thubten Yeshe told me I was ‘a writer’, and that I should write for him. I always enjoyed reading and writing, but never had the confidence to consider myself ‘a writer’ until then. At Lama’s request I began editing one of his teachings and when that was finished wondered what to do next. The only thing on my mind was to work for Lama Yeshe.
In 1977 I began importing into Australia some of the few books available in English on Tibetan Buddhism, published mostly by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, and Lama Yeshe’s new imprint, Publications for Wisdom Culture.
While running a fashion import business, again for Lama Yeshe’s organization, The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, I made a connection with The Age, Melbourne’s broadsheet daily newspaper. I began writing occasional feature stories and in 1984 was offered a column. This was my chance to write ‘for Lama’ because you can say anything in a column. I began trickling Buddhist teachings through my work, which I wrote under a pseudonym. By 2008 the column had been running for twenty-five years.
In 1999 I began working for the Makor Jewish Community Library in Melbourne, assisting elderly people, mostly Holocaust survivors, to write their memoirs. Melbourne is remarkable for its large percentage of concentration camp survivors. Since then the Makor imprint has published seventy-five biographies and six anthologies. These two vehicles, The Age and Makor Library, provided the training for my great task of writing this biography of Lama Thubten Yeshe.
In 1992 Peter Kedge offered me the job of writing Lama’s biography and his financial backing to travel the world and interview hundreds of Lama’s colleagues and students. Initially, we thought it would take eighteen months, but that turned out to be eighteen years. Peter has been a constant backstop and support to me throughout this time. As a foundation member of the Board of FPMT Inc and many years as Lama Yeshe’s attendant, his insights are invaluable and his dedication extraordinary. This book would not exist without Peter and he shares copyright.
I am not a scholar, nor have I attended a vast number of teachings. I have simply tried to present as clearly as I can, and through the voices of those who were there, the story of this extraordinary man. This manuscript had been cut from a body of material three times this size. Obviously it was necessary to compress individual accounts. I am quite sure there are many important stories about Lama that have not been told. Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive would love to hear them. There is no doubt that I will have made many mistakes in this work. I urgently request those who can identify these to please direct corrections to the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.
The teachings of the Graduated Path to Enlightenment follow a logical sequence. In selecting tracts from Lama’s many teachings I read the transcripts several times, marking those passages which ‘jumped out at me.’ This is the basis on which extracts have been chosen. Moreover, some of these have been edited, some not. The careful reader will notice variations. There are glimpses of Lama’s unique idiom and pronunciation, but Lama Yeshe was always clear that he wanted editors to clean up his grammar and syntax.
The style of translating the Tibetan language into English has changed over the years. However, many key characters in the FPMT spell their names according to the outdated mode. For example: Thubten is now spelled Tubten, but I have retained the former spelling. Also, Thinley and Trinle are actually the same name, as are Zong and Song; Zopa and Sopa. For clarification, I have used both styles as they apply to individuals, such as Geshe Thinley and Jampa Trinle. The preferred modern spelling of Lama Je Tsongkhapa is just that, but the FPMT centre named in his honor remains Istituto Lama Tsongkhapa.
The students of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition are spread right across the world. In view of this, I have incorporated both metric and imperial measurements where geographically appropriate. I have also conceded to the American spelling style, but retained some words which are not part of the American idiom.
It is a record, to the best of my knowledge, of Lama Yeshe’s journey, where he went, what he did and said. Still, there is much about him I will never know; his conversations in Tibetan for instance, remain mostly private to his Western students and he did spend some time alone. Sadly, nearly all of his passports, traveling and personal papers were lost.
I gathered photographs wherever possible and in many cases do not know who the photographer was. Hopefully, some of these people will come forward and identify their work.
This book is not a nam thar, a particular Tibetan genre of spiritual biography, in that it does not record all of the teachings and initiations Lama Yeshe received and taught. Lama Yeshe is an appropriate subject for nam thar, but I could not write it. I would have to read write and speak Tibetan, which I don’t.
Lama Yeshe left instructions about the kind of biography he wanted written after his death:
‘My history, you should pool all information since Zina. All teachings, all ordinations, all refuge ceremonies. Where and how many people. All public lectures and question answer sessions, where and how many people. Also I want historical what happened each Centre.
‘First time hospital, Kopan, Shanti Bhawan, English Doctor there—Anila Ann knows. He said: "Even you have one million dollars you never fix up your body, you can't." Then in 1974 something with Nick in Madison. Geshe Sopa pushed for examination. All doctors freaked out. I want time, date, all history. I saw one famous Australian doctor, Yeshe Khadro knows. Then next year back in Madison he does not know why I am not dead.
‘What I did in Western world with Western people—all teachings, all business. Give Universal Education history, first with Max Mathews years ago, finally Connie Miller did.
‘Give history on all meditation courses, how many people, how did, where did, strict retreat etc. How many people have great experience.’
I spent eighteen years working on this book—I could have easily spent much longer. Nevertheless, it is a beginning. I believe there will be further biographies of Lama Thubten Yeshe because his place in the establishment of Tibetan Buddhism in the West is so important. As several of his peers have said, no other monk of the Gelug lineage, besides His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has done more to spread the profound teachings and practices of Tibetan Buddhism.