Please enjoy these anecdotes, poems and letters sent in by our readers as they reminisce and share their experiences of Lama Yeshe.
- He Is My Best Friend, excerpted from a talk by Tenzin Ösel Hita
- A letter from Stephen Batchelor
- Lama Thubten Yeshe, Great Glorious Being, a poem by Jason Espada
- Enraptured, recollections by Sharon Gross
- Reflections, anecdotes by Hermes Brandt
- A letter from Allyn Roberts
- The One and Only Meeting with Lama Yeshe, by Dr. Renuka Singh
- What Are They Laughing At? by Tubten Pende
Lama Yeshe is remembered as a unique teacher who transformed the lives of his students and played an important role in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West. Lama Zopa Rinpoche has described Lama Yeshe as "a great, hidden yogi," who was not only a guru showing the path, but also like a father looking after his students, giving advice and happiness.
See also What People Are Saying About Big Love to read praise from readers who have been sending tributes, observations and thanks to the author, editors and others who have contributed to the production of Big Love.
He Is My Best Friend
Excerpted from a talk given by Tenzin Ösel Hita to the community at Institut Vajra Yogini, Marzens, France, on Losar, March 3, 2022. Watch the video and read along with the transcript below.
Thank you so much for inviting me. Thank you so much, Nicolas, for inviting me and all the people who work in Vajra Yogini. I feel very lucky. As we know today is Losar and it’s also the anniversary of Lama Yeshe’s passing away, so I think maybe thirty-eight years now, 1984. So, wow, a long time has passed, and we see the result of all the hard work that Lama Yeshe did, which is amazing because he accomplished everything he did, so since the moment he met Zina until he passed away, only fifteen years passed. So in fifteen years he was never stopping, working and offering—what he used to say, the most important thing was space, time and energy, right, that is what we have to offer.
Of course, Lama Yeshe in those fifteen years accomplished everything that is still alive today and you can read it in the book called Big Love. So it’s funny but it took longer to write the book than the actual fifteen years. If you want to really know about Lama Yeshe’s life and his hard work, then I would recommend you read that book. It’s very thick and intense, but it’s really amazing, amazing to see who Lama Yeshe was. I said who he was, but I also want to say who he is, because right now Lama Yeshe is still alive in many people.
It’s very funny but today I was here, so I am very happy to give a talk about Lama Yeshe. Of course, I don't have the privilege to have met him, but I can say that he is my best friend. And it’s so interesting, you know, to see these very interesting stories in life, because for example, for me, I am so grateful to Lama Yeshe, because I mean, it’s very fascinating. So when Lama Yeshe passed away and I was recognized as the reincarnation, a lot of the love that people had for Lama Yeshe then they gave to me, but I didn't do anything to deserve it.
So for me this is very fascinating, how those kinds of concepts can happen because really truly, the love for Lama Yeshe that the people have is unconditional. And many times I feel like I’m not the right person for this kind of amazing love, unconditional, but then, of course, I am inspired, because in the end, actually you can apply that to many different situations in life. Just like in Dharma they talk about all mother sentient beings, right? The objective of talking like that is so that we can apply the love we have for our mother to all sentient beings. So in the same way people loved Lama Yeshe or love Lama Yeshe unconditionally, for me it’s amazing because even today, thirty-eight years later, I’m still receiving this unconditional love. So really it’s true, when you share love, it multiplies.
So I wanted to touch that basis just to start with, because I am really grateful to Lama Yeshe and also, I am very inspired by Lama Yeshe. And if I can at least maybe do one percent of what he accomplished, then for me that would be more than enough in my lifetime. But of course, we have to understand I am not Lama Yeshe; different person. I think fantasy is good, but I mean of course we can have a stream of consciousness, but for me I cannot give any guarantee from my side. But His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, says, so I try to do my best.
Thank you so much for sending me a copy of the magnificent biography of Lama Yeshe. It is a wonderful accomplishment and a fitting tribute to Lama’s extraordinary life. It has been well worth waiting for. Adele Hulse has found a pitch-perfect voice and just the right pace in which to tell the story. As a writer, I was very impressed with how she had condensed such a huge amount of material into highly readable prose. The layout and design of the books are impeccable, and each photograph serves to illuminate the text rather than merely illustrate it. I couldn’t put it down, as the cliché goes, and finished reading it last night.
I did not know Lama very well, and was not a student in a formal sense, but I always admired him. He was a true inspiration for me. He comes alive from this book in a way that both reconnects me with the man I knew and fleshes out so much about him that I did not know. The book provides a fully realized portrait of Lama Yeshe and a vivid account of the community and organizations he created during a mere two decades of fiery, relentless, compassionate activity. The account of his struggle with heart disease is both infuriating (Me: “for Chrissake, have the operation!”) and deeply moving (Lama Yeshe: “Look, I am giving my life to you.”). It is strange now to realize that he left us more than thirty-five years ago, but perhaps we need that distance in order to appreciate what he accomplished.
As someone who witnessed much of this story from the sidelines, in reading the book I found myself reconnecting with so many old friends who were involved in Lama’s work. During my time as a Gelug monk in Dharamsala with Geshe Dhargyey and in Switzerland with Gen Rabten, I felt that we were all engaged in the common project of learning, practicing, translating and teaching the dharma of Tsongkhapa and his followers. Yet on reading the biography, I could see more clearly the fault lines opening up between the Dalai Lama and the FPMT, on the one side, and Trijang Rinpoche, Geshe Rabten, Geshe Kelsang and what became the NKT, on the other. Although you discreetly avoid any mention of this crisis and its implications, I was acutely aware of the shadow of Dorje Shugden hovering over the pages of the biography.
by Jason Espada
Just as you have done,
May I fully realize the Mahayana Heart -
the love and compassion that cares for all beings
as a mother does her only child;
The Concentration and Wisdom that sees unerringly,
that cuts through all illusion,
and realizes Perfect Freedom;
the Great Confidence and Power to overcome all obstacles;
that Creative Ability to adapt to conditions;
and the Great Joy in the Dharma and in helping others;
Your Great Vision for the Mahayana Dharma;
Your Faith and Devotion;
Your ability to provide shelter and safety to others,
as well as your Courage, and Ferocity when needed;
Your Warmth and Gentleness,
the Great Peace and Well Being that you shared with all the world
as well as Your Intelligence,
Clarity, and Immaculate Purity;
Your Healing Energy,
and your ability to always uplift and to encourage others
Em Ah Ho!
May my actions always please You
And as much as I can, now and forever
may I fulfill your holy wishes
by Sharon Gross
Enraptured as I read through various parts of Big Love this morning, I am remembering more moments experienced with Lama. How deep this takes me back in to my love for the so precious connection and the wonderful ways Lama interacted with all he met.
When Louie and I first went to Nepal, it was because Louie wanted to climb mountains. I was the tag-along wife. As we traveled overland by train and bus through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, we would stop in various places and it was not unusual to meet travelers you had seen in other spots along the way. One such presence, Owen as I recall, was tall and had curly red hair, reminiscent a bit of Carrot Top in his exuberance. When we arrived in Nepal, we encountered him at Aunt Janes extolling the poster he had seen for a course with two Tibetan lamas: “Oh man, it will be so cool, a full moon, groovy lamas and it only cost $30 for a month.” His excitement passed on to us and our inquiries and eventual attendance at that, the fifth course.
Following the course, we had asked to meet with Lama, but somehow had been missed. Also, there was some meeting of a group, which we had not heard about. Through Anila Ann, we were able to come back up the hill and meet with Lama. When we entered his room it was very dark, we shared with him our story and he encouraged us to do Vajrasattva retreat, as one would be taking place soon, but with quite a stern attitude throughout the meeting. He told us to go to Anila Ann and discuss with her, then come back. We shared with her that we were out of money, had been gone a long time and while we wanted to do it, did not think that we could make it happen then. She was a compassionate listener, then said, “Well, just go back and tell him that.”
Returning to his room, it was light-filled, he was joyous and laughing as we entered and we just told him our conversation and had some tea. He seemed to know that we would not have been able to keep that commitment then, even as he told us to do it. Then he said, “You going to Bodhgaya, take teachings from His Holiness?” Louie said, “No, Lama, we are going trekking.” Lama again with the stern look said, “You going Bodhgaya, take initiation, circumambulate stupa three times, take you all the way to enlightenment.” Louie and I looked at each other and realized we had just been given an instruction, not asked a question, and we said, “Oh, yes Lama.” Then he said, “You can do Vajrasattva retreat later.” This was 1973.
While in the intervening years I had had many teachings, initiations, done several long retreats, etc., I had not completed the Vajrasattva retreat, and I needed to do that. Returning to Vajrapani around December 1983, I was able to secure the Zome kitchen [a small structure repurposed as a meditation space] to do the three months’ [retreat] and set to begin in January.
With the help of several people I was able to set up and gather all that I needed and began on an auspicious day. I was grateful to be able to undertake this promise to do it at last. After some weeks in retreat, Shasta would come and in the afternoon break we would go for walks together, at which time I shared with her some of my experiences and she shared with me the situation with Lama. I was torn between staying in retreat and going to see and help with Lama but felt that I really needed to complete this retreat, so opted for that. I would see Chuck also when he came back from helping at Lama’s house, and he was fairly clear that it would not be long before Lama passed. I was not supposed to be out of my retreat until April, and continued in that situation, having dreams and visions of Lama, which I shared with Shasta on our walks.
When in the wee hours of March 3rd a knock on my door came from John McKay, and he told me that Lama had passed, I was so sad, in tears and continued on to finish that session. What was most astounding were the winds at that moment. They were the most unusual configuration of sound and movement, causing all the trees to join in the howling, as if a lamentation, bending vigorously. But it was not sad, just a presence. You could feel Lama’s energy. I don’t really know how to capture that, but all of us had the same experience, which we shared when meeting in the gompa to practice together.
This morning as I was enchanted and taken back in time with Lama through the reading of Big Love, as I finished my reading session a similar wind came up around my house, just for a few moments, allowing me to thank Lama once again for his great kindness to me and to us all, his fledgling Dharma students. We are so grateful, eternally grateful for our connection. Thank you, dear Dr. Nick, Peter and Adele for pursuing this to completion over so many years.
by Hermes Brandt
In March 1980, Lama Yeshe had given me the spiritual name Yeshe Özer (Radiant Light of Exalted Wisdom). I was very happy with that name. When I was ordained in Kopan, eleven months later, Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche was the abbot. It is the tradition that an abbot gives two names to a new monk, the first one always being the same as his own first ordination name. So I would normally be a Thubten Something.
Lama Yeshe was present during my ordination, as were Lama Lhundrub and a number of geshes (learned monks, not geishas). When the moment came that Rinpoche was about to give me the ordination name, I quickly asked if it could not be Yeshe Özer. And Lama, although knowing it was not possible, said to Rinpoche: "Maybe he can keep that name, Yeshe Özer.” But Rinpoche, like a judge banging his gavel when pronouncing a verdict, immediately said in a very firm tone, “Thubten Lodroe.” But that was so sweet of Lama.
I kept a diary between 1978 and 1981 written on loose pages, which I sent regularly to my mum. I just had a look at those pages to check some dates and read something I had completely forgotten. Early 1980 there was a kind of theater evening at Kopan Monastery. I was sitting behind Lama, who suddenly turned around, saying: “You make translation!” I had no idea what Lama was talking about but wrote it down in my diary. A few months later I spent two and half months with Geshe Wangchen in Happy Valley. This extremely kind teacher taught me Tibetan every day except Sunday. Later I studied Tibetan (and Buddhist philosophy) with Geshe Rabten in Switzerland. And then Lama’s prophesy came out. I have translated quite a few texts from the Tibetan into English, and nowadays into French too.
… My diary mentions Lama turning around toward me a first time and telling me: “Next time you make theater.” I took that to mean that Lama wanted me to be the organizer of the 1980 theater event. So I arranged for me to be the organizer. People could come to me with propositions, and each nationality was entitled to one act. There were about ten different acts. The location was the meditation tent that was used in the seventies [at Kopan Monastery, Nepal].
In the year between the two shows, I read a little book in the Kopan library with stories about Aku Tönpa (Uncle Teacher), who is said to be a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, using very unusual teaching methods. I had so much fun reading those stories, I felt I had to share them with others. And what better occasion than the yearly theater event? Since I was the organizer, I did not have to show a proposition to anyone, I just scheduled myself into the program and chose the story that had made me laugh the most. So when the evening came, Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche were there, as well as maybe 150 Westerners and dozens of monks.
When my turn came, I started reading the story. Aku Tönpa had disguised himself as a nun and managed to be admitted to a nunnery. He showed the abbess how to sow penises in a field in order to harvest lots of big penises. He also impregnated many of the nuns. Although concentrating on reading the story well, I noticed that nobody was laughing, even at some passages that I had found exhilarating. In fact, apart from my voice, there was total silence.
Then Lama asked me to stop. I looked up and saw that Rinpoche, who was sitting next to Lama, had completely lowered his head to his knees, hiding his face. Lama asked me to come to him and told me that, although in absolute reality there are no problems at all, in relative truth there can be things that can be disturbing to beings. I was myself feeling quite disturbed: I had the most incredible sinking feeling, as if the earth had opened up wide and swallowed me whole. For hours afterwards I walked around Kopan like a zombie while everybody else had a good time.
As I had always worn the same kind of Nepali trousers as Bir Bahadur, a Nepali working for the monastery, the small Kopan monks had given me the nickname Bir Bahadur. But from that evening onwards, they called me “Aku Tönpa.” Years later, during the Geneva dinner mentioned in Big Love on page 1189, I was sitting next to Rinpoche. At some point Rinpoche elbowed me, saying, “Do you remember when you told the Aku Tönpa story?” and burst out laughing, and laughing.
In this letter, eminent US psychologist Allyn Roberts writes about his friendship with Lama Yeshe, Geshe Sopa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Jeffrey Hopkins and others who played key roles in bringing Tibetan Buddhism and practices such as mindfulness to the West. Read more about these relationships and associated seminal events in the book Buddha in Dairyland. You can read about Allyn and enjoy his story of the Wisconsin silo which inspired Lama’s vision for the Maitreya Buddha Project in India, in Big Love, pp. 443–44 and p. 668.
January 20, 2021
Dear Ms. Hulse and Dr. Nick,
What a gift your two-volume encyclopedia of Lama Yeshe’s life is. What a labour of love! I knew Geshe Lundub Sopa well, not as a devotee, but as a friend. Through him and my relationship with Jeffrey Hopkins, I got to know the Dalai Lama, Ling Rinpoche, Geshe Rabten and Lama Yeshe. I am in my nineties now and doing the kind of summing up the end life asks. It’s such a joy to see all these old friends (your compilation of photos must have been a Herculean task) and to understand more about their lives in the context of Buddhism and the bringing of Buddhism to the West. In some sense, their story complements my own.
According to my mother, who kept a Life magazine dedicated to the young Dalai Lama for years (which Geshe Sopa later gave to HHDL), my endless question was, “What is the light behind the light?” In search of answers, I later pursued chemistry, depth psychology with Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, who became a good friend, and spirituality. Geshe Sopa asked me to be his attendant on his first journey back to Tibet. Although I had to decline, while travelling in India, through an unlikely series of events, I met Ling Rinpoche, Geshe Rabten and Lama Yeshe. Geshe Sopa and the Dalai Lama both suggested I meet with Lama Yeshe. They considered him central to bringing Buddhism to the West due to his facility both in Western languages and sensibilities, not to mention his humor and profound wisdom.
Although Geshe Sopa asked me twice to become a monk, I decided to remain as a clinical psychologist, but my appreciation of, and interest in, bringing Buddhist practices and insights into psychology and the mainstream has never waned. To my mind, both systems are concerned with the ending of human suffering and complement one another. I believe Lama Yeshe felt the same. He asked me for books about psychology and even suggested we trade places for a period of time: he in my office and I in his monastery.
So far, to my dismay, this letter is an awful lot about me; that is not my intent. I would just like you to know, as I’m sure you already do, but perhaps with a bit more context, how important Lama Yeshe is in bringing Buddhism to the West and facilitating the integration of Buddhism into Western life. Buddhism situates Western psychology and science in a larger vision of who and why we are, how the mind works, the centrality of impermanence and interdependence, as well as compassion and loving kindness.
Because of Lama Yeshe and the Dalai Lama and Western scientists and psychologists like Richie Davidson and Daniel Goleman, mindfulness and meditation are now household words—standard practice in many schools, corporations and community organizations. The book you labored on for so long illustrates how this happened. It is to me a history of what perhaps will be as important an event in Buddhism and in the 21st century as the internet, quantum physics and ecology.
Thank you again for all that you have been a channel for,
by Dr. Renuka Singh
Dr. Renuka Singh reflects on meeting Lama Yeshe at the third Delhi Dharma Celebration, October 9, 1983. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was once again the guest of honor. The focus of the celebration was a spectrum of Indian and Tibetan views of Buddhist philosophy. Read more about this event in Big Love, pp. 1191–92.
I had gone to attend Tushita’s third Dharma Celebration being held at the Oberoi Hotel, New Delhi. Lama Yeshe arrived there looking absolutely radiant. As I set my eyes on him, a question arose in my mind, “What is he so happy about?” He also looked at me and there was an instantaneous response from him in the form of a very serious facial expression. I marveled at the speed with which he reacted.
During the lunch break I ran into Lama Yeshe and as he walked up to me and shook hands, he said, “I am very happy to meet you!” I immediately retorted, ”I really wanted to meet you!” He called out to his secretary Jacie and said, “She really wants to meet me, give her an appointment.” When I approached her for an audience with Lama, she said sorry and that Lama was very busy.
So, I waited for the function to be over and went up to the dais to tell Lama that his secretary had turned down my request. Lama said, ’’Do you have time now?” Of course yes was my answer!
We sat on a sofa nearby. While I asked my questions, photographers were clicking their cameras. Lama gave me fifteen minutes talking about suffering, knowledge and that ultimately awareness was the most important factor in one’s life. Before I left, Lama blessed me on my head and chanted some mantras. Little did I realize then that for my spiritual development, Lama was actually blessing me to eventually become the director of the Tushita Centre, New Delhi. Lama Zopa Rinpoche asked me to be a board member in 1987 and director in 1993. Ever since then I have been trying to fulfill their wishes by running the centre to, in Lama’s words, repay the kindness of Indians. I can never thank Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche enough for their kindness and compassion.
Pende writes about this photo of the lamas with Sangha and students doing puja in the rain, Bodhgaya, India, 1982.
I suspect that the reason everyone is laughing was because of a particular dedication I read.
As you recall, I led the chanting for the first time the Vajrasattva tsog was offered. I stood up and read the dedications that people submitted. You can see John Feuille looking up toward where I was standing. At the end I mentioned my own dedication which was to lead living beings to enlightenment if there were any left by the time I became a buddha. Everyone laughed. Some years later some people told me that they were miserable sitting in puddles in the rain doing that puja, but my dedication made them laugh and they felt better.
Anyway, just information about that photo.