From 1979: Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:
Zia Al Bassam
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 Rinpoche 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-nay 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.