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Lama was totally behind the idea

From  1979: Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

23298_ngFrom Sydney, the party went directly to Chenrezig Institute, just in time for Lama Zopa Rinpoche’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:

Loden Geshe, Lama Yeshe, Zasep Tulku

Zasep Tulku, Lama Yeshe and Loden Geshe

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. 

Loden Geshe and Zasep Tulku

Loden Geshe and Zasep Tulku

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.



Natural and uncomplicated

From  1979: Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

12877_slAfter 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.


Geshe Jampa Tegchok

“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.”


Geshe Jampa Tegchok

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 Rinpoche’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.22154_ng

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.

25013_ngUnder 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].”

The first thing is to be practical

From  1979: Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

(16690_sl.tif) Istituto Lama Tsongkhapa, Pomaia, Italy, 1979.

Istituto Lama Tsongkhapa, Pomaia, Italy, 1979.

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.

Claudio Cipullo and Piero Cerri, ILTK, 1979Lama 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.



Even your breath in the West gives benefit

13893_udFrom  1979: Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

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 Rinpoche 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 Rinpoche didn’t return from Lawudo by a certain date, Jacie would have to go up and fetch him back.


Lawudo Retreat Centre, Nepal, Solu Khumbu, Thangme Gompa

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 Rinpoche now, you will never get Lama Zopa Rinpoche 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…”).[1] 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.

13900_udJacie 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.

[1]    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.

Do your own thing but don’t forget bodhicitta

From  1979: Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

12839_slLama 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 bodhicitta. Go wherever you want to go, do whatever you want to do, but always have bodhicitta 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.


12th Meditation Course, 1979, Jacie Keeley, Kathmandu, Kopan Monastery, Nepal

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 Rinpoche’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 Rinpoche 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.

22821_ngNext, 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.”

Intellectual Mount Meru

From  1979: Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

24710_slEveryone knew Lama Yeshe was going to give a Cittamani Tara 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 Meru 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. 25351_ng-1

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 Cittamani Tara 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 Rinpoche 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. 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 Cittamani Tara [1]:

22921_ngAccording 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.

[1] A transcript of this teaching is available from the LYWA website


Liberating pleasure

From  1979: Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama meditating at Borobodur, Java, 1979Lama 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.

Daja with Max, 1979

Daja with Max, 1979

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,

Your Yeshe

[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. CN

Stop! Don’t leave. Sit down.

16746_slAt the end of the 1976 course Lama Yeshe had begun teaching Discriminating Between the Middle and the Extremes (Tib. U ta nam che), one of the five treatises of Maitreya Buddha. Now, at the end of 1978 Lama resumed these teachings. He finished the first chapter of the text and began the second.

Every day Jon Landaw sat with Lama while they translated a few verses into English. Jon then wrote the verses out on a blackboard for everyone to copy. Jon also gave daily talks between the teachings, sharing what Lama had taught him during their translation sessions.

“Lama was every bit the scholar, sitting in his room with the root text and surrounded by all the commentaries that had been written about it. Sometimes Lama Zopa Rinpoche was there too, with all his texts. I didn’t read Tibetan and didn’t know what these texts were, but there was one by the Karmapa and another by Vasubandhu,” Jon recalled.[1]

“Lama translated each line word by word, then he and Rinpoche discussed it, sometimes in Tibetan, sometimes in English. Rinpoche often said that the commentaries he was reading suggested that this particular verse meant such and such. Lama then thought for a bit and say, ‘Well, one of the commentaries I’m reading agrees with that interpretation, and this other commentary says something else, but I think for these students here now it would be best if we explained it like this.’ And then he offered up another explanation.

“It wasn’t that Lama was guessing about the meaning of the verse in question, or that he was familiar with only one commentary. Instead, after digesting all the commentaries Lama chose the presentation that in his opinion was the most suitable for the audience he was addressing.”

02297_ng-2George Churinoff was now Lama Yeshe’s attendant, responsible for getting him to the teachings on time and ensuring he stopped on time. Lama simply ignored George’s clock-watching during the teachings and mercilessly and joyfully teased him about it. Returning to his room after one of the first lectures, he leaned on George’s arm and asked him, “Do you think they understood?” Once when George went to get him, Lama exclaimed, “What do you mean? You’re ten minutes early!” and got right back into bed.

One evening during these teachings Claudio Cipullo’s brother, Marco, suddenly felt ill. As he was quietly slipping out the door Lama Yeshe called to him from the throne, “Stop! Don’t leave. Sit down.” Marco sat down but soon began creeping away again, certain that he was about to be sick. “Stop!” Lama ordered. “Don’t leave. If you just sit down, the sickness will pass!” “I couldn’t argue with Lama so I did sit down, and just as he had said the sickness passed,” said Marco.

Lama teased many students about their nationalistic loyalties. Even the Sangha sat together in little national groups. Lama wanted to demonstrate how such mundane distinctions could be divisive. He ribbed the Americans with, “Wealthiest nation in the world but they don’t even have time to eat breakfast!” Then he started in on the Italians. “Italy is a disaster! India begins in Italy! For one letter to get to another town it takes a month. They’re hopeless!”

Bob Alcorn had met Lama Yeshe only recently and at first sight he was not very impressed. “He struck me as just a fat Tibetan lama,” said Bob. Westerners tended to like their saints thin and seemed to find Rinpoche’s extremely slight frame very inspiring. In reality, Lama was not so much fat as swollen with fluids.

12946_pr“I did notice it was Lama Yeshe who got everyone excited, however,” Bob later remarked. “Years later I realized that Lama was not at all laid back and was probably even stricter than Rinpoche. I got ordained after my first course and then wanted to disrobe because the politics of being a Western monk in Asia and living in a Dharma center were too much for me. When I told Lama Yeshe he exploded. We were standing outside his room and he went into a huge rage, calling me every abusive name under the sun without swearing. We then had a very heated debate about the value of keeping ordination, which he won. Thirty-five years later I was still a monk, entirely due to that debate.”

Lama loved the garden at Kopan and was very disappointed that fruit trees continually failed to thrive there. He said as much to the monk Pelgye, who asked him what he meant by disappointed. Wasn’t the idea to have equanimity in all things? “Yes dear,” said Lama. “In my heart I am completely blissful but at the same time disappointed.”

[1].    Vasubandhu, a great scholar and the younger brother of the Indian saint Asanga, composed the Abhidharmakosha, a highly revered text on Buddhist phenomenology.

My fully liberated American dakini

From  1978: Mahayana, Mahayana, Mahayana! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Yeshe with His Holiness and entourage, 1982“On the train ride up to Dharamsala Lama and I shared a first-class compartment with two other people,” Judy Weitzner recalled. “Even though he was wearing robes, Lama pretended we were married and drove them nuts by never quite answering any of their questions. It was very funny. At Tushita Retreat Centre he kept introducing me as ‘my fully liberated American dakini.’ All I could say was, ‘Oh God, Lama!’

“He’d picked up all sorts of quaint little objects during his travels and began arranging them on his altar. There was a little Eiffel Tower, miniature animals and this and that. It was so charming and the mixture so incongruous. I had brought him some chocolate-covered raisins which went into a little bowl and straight onto the altar. There were also packages of bulbs and seed catalogues that had been sent to him by American students. Lama loved planning his garden.

“While I was at Tushita he asked me to monitor his appointments. I was supposed to keep them brief because he was exhausted. But every time he greeted someone he made them feel as if he had all the time in the world, just for them. Whenever I went in and tried to edge someone out, they’d say, ‘But Lama told me to stay.’ He would go on and on until he was utterly spent. Then he’d grab his old ski-pole walking stick and trudge off to visit someone he’d heard was sick.”

Judy continued her story. “Lama told me that lots of Tibetans criticised him for bothering with teaching Dharma to Westerners, but I knew he reported to the Dalai Lama after each tour and that everything he did was with the approval of His Holiness.

“True to his word, Lama took me to see His Holiness when he made his usual report. The conversation was mostly in Tibetan but I could tell that Lama was telling His Holiness what he had observed on his tour of Western countries. They talked quite a lot about Western psychology. It seemed Lama was among the first Tibetan monks to get around in the Western world in the way he did.

Lama Yeshe and Geshe Losang Tsultrim, 1982“Lama wanted me to report to the Dalai Lama about the activities of the International Society for Tibetan Reality, which I did and was then sent to see His Holiness’s secretary, Tenzin Geyche, who had organised Justice for Tibet International. We had the same purposes and joined forces. While in Dharamsala I realised that one of the reasons so little about Tibet was being published was because there were no Western-trained journalists there to write press releases likely to be picked up.   By this time all I ever talked about was Tibet and on the flight back to the US I was telling the Asian man sitting next to me all about how the US wouldn’t let His Holiness in and he said to me, “I can assure you it will not be long before His Holiness will be granted a visa to the United States.” He knew something.

“We began working on several projects, one of which was to lobby the US State Department to give the Dalai Lama a visa to enter the country. We deluged them and our congressmen and senators with letters suggesting a change in policy and petitioned Amnesty International to take up the cause of Tibetan political prisoners. We became a kind of clearing house for information about Tibet. I printed the first ever Free Tibet stickers and sent a bundle to Nepal to put on the Tiger Taxis. I was only back from India a few months when His Holiness was granted a visa.”

Lama Yeshe told Judy Weitzner that the names he gave to each center were very carefully chosen. ‘I give the name Vajrapani to the people in California for their center and they don’t know what it means. But they say the word a lot and it makes an imprint on their minds,’ “He explained that Vajrapani’s energy was the kind they needed in California,” said Judy.

“Lama was always so kind to me. Once when I discovered that all my jewelry had been stolen he told me, ‘Oh good! Now the grasping attachment things are gone!’ Later in the mail came two wedding rings for me to wear, one from Lama and one from Lama Zopa.

“He sent me on ahead to Kopan with a message that the ground beneath the meditation tent was to be sprayed for fleas before the November course. The hard-liners were shocked, but Lama argued that if biting fleas interfered with the students’ ability to concentrate on the Dharma they must be gotten rid of.”

“If that message was received, it was not acted on,” said Jacie Keeley. “The fleas were dreadful that year and Lama was outraged.”

Andrea Antonietti, a twenty-one-year-old Italian lad, arrived at Tushita and announced that Kyabjé Ling Rinpoche had agreed that he could be ordained in a few months’ time. Lama Yeshe asked if he had obtained his parents’ permission. “Permission, Lama? I have lived away from home for some years. Why do I need their permission?” Lama was adamant, adding that he could be ordained at Kopan once his parents consented. Lama told Andrea to write a letter to his Catholic parents.

00001_udAndrea described what happened. “Lama told me exactly what to write, word for word, admitting all the problems and worry I had brought them by hanging around with hippies and indulging in ‘extra-sensory experiences.’ He told me to emphasize that my attitude had changed, that now I valued religion. My parents gave their permission and said they were very happy to support me as a Buddhist monk.

“Lama also said I should go back to Italy and visit Assisi, where I had never been before because of my prejudices against Christianity. He mentioned that he had seen Zeffirelli’s movie on St. Francis of Assisi, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and said it was the best religious movie he had ever seen.”

Before leaving Dharamsala for Kopan Lama Yeshe mailed a brick of the very best quality Tibetan tea to David Templeman in Melbourne. On the enclosed card he wrote, “Dear David, Mery (sic) Christmas, see you soon, much love Lama Yeshe.”


Just practice what the Buddha taught

From  1978: Mahayana, Mahayana, Mahayana! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama teaching, Kopan, 1974Trisha Donnelly had spent several years in Delhi in the employ of Jamie and Isabelle Johnston. She met Nick Ribush when he moved into the Johnston’s house in Old Delhi. Now, Trisha turned up at Kopan to attend her first course. She just loved Lama Zopa Rinpoche. His endless talk about death did not bother her in the least, though it sent one woman running down the hill screaming, never to return. Twenty-six others left the course, citing mind control and cultist behavior. This was not unusual.

The eleventh Kopan course commenced on 15 November 1978. Two hundred people from twenty different countries enrolled in the course. The teachings in English were simultaneously translated into French, German, Spanish and Italian.

A fuel shortage in Nepal at the time meant that Kancha, now head cook at Kopan, had to make do with just one wood-burning stove on which to cook meals for all the Injis as well as nearly a hundred Mount Everest Centre monks. With Nepal’s forests just about stripped bare, Kopan’s wood now came all the way from the Indian border. In addition, the monastery still had water problems. Even though the water was collected from the spring at night and never reduced the availability of water for the local villagers, they repeatedly sabotaged the plastic pipes. It took years to reach a resolution with them.

From among the crowd that greeted Lama Yeshe upon his arrival he singled out Elea Redel, the French skeptic from Bodhgaya. “So, you’re back!” he exclaimed. “I don’t remember your name, but I remember all my people.”

Three days after the course began, more than 900 Americans committed suicide at Jonestown, Guyana, by swallowing cyanide at the direction of their “guru,” Jim Jones. Lama Yeshe pointed to the dangers of slavishly following a leader. “You don’t need a Tibetan trip,” he told the students. “Don’t follow blindly or with mystical attraction just because someone is a Tibetan yogi. You people are already silly wearing Tibetan clothes. You just practice what the Buddha taught, think carefully and test ideas independently.” He also told them not to try to convert their parents and siblings. “You don’t need to teach them anything. They probably have a lot more compassion than you do.”

Ngawang Chötak cornered Lama Yeshe as he left the tent after one teaching, determined to show him one of Carlos Castaneda’s books. “Lama, you just must read this book,” Chötak enthused. Lama took the book from Chötak and holding it with both hands, struck him on the head with it as he said, “I (hit) do (hit) not (hit) need (hit) to (hit) read (hit) this (hit) book (hard hit)!”

A German girl, Eva Marz, came down with a high fever during the course. “Oh, fever! That’s excellent! Just bring the heat from your head to your heart and it will be wonderful,” he told her. This cheered her enormously, but no sooner had the fever abated than diarrhea struck. While preparing a soothing herbal tea in the big kitchen, she ran into Lama again and said she was too ill to attend the teachings. “If you are sick you have to understand time and space. That’s all,” he said. This simple advice made her feel so relaxed she stopped worrying about what she was missing and just took care of herself.

As usual, several students came down with hepatitis. They ate a fat-free diet of boiled rice and vegetables and took Tibetan medicine. Lama Yeshe’s standard treatment for those with diarrhea was black coffee and yogurt. Others swore by plain white rice and weak black sugarless tea. Antibiotics were very popular in India and Nepal in the 1970s and Lama thought tetracyclin, or “tetracycle,” as he called it, was a great thing. He often sent someone down to Kathmandu to buy it over the counter. Before giving it out to people who came to him with headaches, fevers and upset stomachs, Lama held it in his hand, rubbed it, said some mantras and blew on it.

Rinpoche teaching, Kopan, 1974 Lama Yeshe did not put in an appearance until almost the end of the month-long course. “We were all really tense,” said Trisha, “so Lama began with, ‘That Lama Zopa! He’s been talking to you about death and all these heavy things. Don’t you worry about that! Just forget about it. Lama Zopa just goes on and on, doesn’t he!’ As usual the tension melted away and everyone laughed their heads off. Then Rinpoche came back the next day and took up right where he had left off—talking about death.”

When Lama Yeshe taught he gave the students the very essence of the teaching, without its traditional cultural packaging. If someone asked him a question about something, such as the ten moralities for example, Lama would mention one or two of them in his reply and then say, “Those ten things. You ask Zopa about those ten things.”

As November became December, the weather became mild and lovely. Several students preferred sunbathing on the hill to listening to Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Lama Yeshe began his second talk with a message for the self-righteous. “I know some of you are angry about those people out there lying on the hill in the sun instead of coming to the session. But I tell you, if they lie out there and rejoice in the good karma we create by doing this course and meditating, then they create better karma than you do sitting here and getting angry with them for not coming.”

During his final lecture Lama agreed to answer written questions that had been placed in a basket. “Are you enlightened?” read one. Lama Yeshe covered his face with his zen, a characteristic gesture of his. “Of course I am,” he chortled, joking. The tent rocked with laughter. The Tibetan view is that those who are enlightened never say so, and those who claim they are enlightened are not.

At the end of the course there was the usual scramble to obtain interviews with the lamas.

An Australian boy wishing to formally ask Lama Yeshe to be his teacher was told by other students that he must first make three prostrations and present an offering. “I did so with much ceremony, but to my surprise he promptly tossed my offering of incense straight over my head into a corner of the room. He made it very clear he was not impressed by us copying Tibetan manners. That was simply not the point at all,” he said.

Two years earlier Jacques Haseart had been strangely attracted to a photograph of Lama Yeshe that had appeared in a French magazine and had decided he had to meet him. Jacques finally made it to Kopan. Like so many others he longed for an interview, but seeing the pressure Lama was under gave up on the idea. “One day as I was standing in the courtyard watching everyone making a beeline for him the moment he appeared, he suddenly by-passed them all and came straight over to me. He took my hand and walked with me until we were out of the way, then he said, ‘You want to ask me something?’ I said no, but he insisted that we go straight up to his room. Before I had even formulated any of the questions I did want to ask him about Christianity and God, they just evaporated.”

A doctor who had attended the course requested an interview with Lama. Lama Yeshe told him he should touch his patients constantly and not underestimate its healing power.

For some, interviews with Lama Yeshe were a highly charged emotional experience. “I think I cried out my whole life,” said one woman, “but afterwards I felt a real new beginning. He inspired me completely.”

The kitchen at Kopan, 1976Trisha Donnelly asked if she could do a Tara retreat. “You don’t want to do lam-rim?” Lama asked her with exaggerated mock surprise. “No,” replied Trisha and promptly dissolved into tears. “I told him I had been much happier before doing this course and that feeling angry, for example, had seemed natural and spontaneous. I also told him I seemed to have lost my sense of humor, that instead of being able to make people laugh I just felt uptight. Then I cried a lot more and Lama told one of the boys to bring me a cup of coffee.” Years later, Trisha recalled the incident. “It was my first course and I’d decided I didn’t like lam-rim. It was confusing me. I wanted to be ‘me,’ not suppressing ‘me,’ as I saw it then. I loved the thought of tantra. So Lama showed me just with the way he asked the question that you need to practice lam-rim before you can practice tantra.”


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