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We need to eliminate that ego because it makes our life sick

Lama at a family gathering, 1983From  1981: Public Life and Private Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

In Lama Yeshe’s last week at Chenrezig Institute he taught on Chenrezig guru yoga. He also gave a talk on tantra, conferred a thousand-armed Chenrezig initiation and held a question-and-answer session. On 22 July Lama Yeshe also gave a Mahakala initiation.

“When Lama put the vase on my head during that Chenrezig initiation I thought I would physically explode,” said one student. “I had to concentrate every ounce of my energy as I felt a force like a blissful thunderbolt, a cyclone, a volcano, synthesize in my head. A few seconds later I was aware that my memory of this experience was already fading in an exponential wave. I knew that if I multiplied whatever memory I could rescue of it by a hundred, it still wouldn’t be anything near the experience. Somehow, that made me feel very secure. It became my personal quality control as the most amazing experience of my life.

“That standard of pleasure Lama had set for me didn’t so much make me detached as put pleasure into perspective. Now I find the only way to solve the suffering of attachment to pleasure is certainly not to try and be detached while practicing asceticism, but to experience what real pleasure is. Then the rest can be seen for what it is. For me, no orgasm, however ‘spiritual,’ can come close to a Chenrezig initiation.”

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara at Chenrezig Institute, 1981:
Your conscious psychic energy is transformed into Avalokiteshvara. This is the tantric method that serves to eliminate the heavy energy blanket of concepts. One identifies with such a profound emanation in order to connect with the profound non-duality image. Of course, you can argue that the blanket of concepts is still there. But by understanding that its characteristic nature is non-duality, then there is no heavy blanket of concepts.

Throughout our history we’ve never had any chance to experience ourselves as totally developed buddhas, have we? Avalokiteshvara is a buddha, is he not? So when you transform into Avalokiteshvara, you emanate as a buddha. Have you ever experienced yourself as a buddha, having a total understanding of shunyata, with no dualistic concepts? Well, this is the time to bring enlightened experience into the actual moment. This is why tantra is so very powerful. We bring Buddha’s experience into the path to enlightenment.

Lama at a family gathering, 1983Every day, we criticize our bodies, don’t we? Relatively, our ego is never satisfied with our own body. There always seems to be something wrong, always. So we criticize, always saying things like, ‘My body is blah, blah, blah,’ and ‘I am this, this, this.’ This is one way we have to build up and energize our ego. We develop it in that way.

Carl Jung explained that every group of people living in a common environment develops a kind of individual ego. I think in a way it is true: In each different environment the people develop a similar ego in the way they criticize, the way they grow, the way they experience difficulties and problems. In my own experience, the ego conflicts of Himalayan mountain people and those of modern Western society are different. I am not sure but this is my observation. Both are ego, but the specific ways of the ego, the way the ego criticizes is different. Therefore, I think that each civilization has a different group ego. I think if you understand this it can help you to understand Buddhism better. That is what I say.

Nevertheless, whether we are talking about a group ego or an individual ego, there is a great need to eliminate it. We need to eliminate that ego because it makes our life sick. It becomes the heavy blanket of concepts that plagues us and makes us sick. So the reason that tantra uses such a particularly profound quality emanation is to demonstrate reality so that we can change. The vision of Avalokiteshvara serves to demonstrate the reality, to demonstrate non-duality, to demonstrate our ego’s vision, to demonstrate our own pre-conceptual ideas. I really feel that if one has the experience of identifying oneself as Avalokiteshvara’s form, it becomes so very, very profound.

First of all, it is kind of a peculiar form isn’t it? A thousand arms, so many eyes…it is quite peculiar. If you imagine yourself in that form for one hour and then go out into the outside world, maybe you will feel that the outside world has become strange, that you no longer belong to the outside world. So instead of your ego being strongly involved as the group ego and individualistic ego were, this identification starts to break down. Maybe you experience things as very strange. Perhaps you think to yourself, “Maybe I am a human being, maybe not.” Sometimes such an experience happens. It is really quite interesting. If you have good sessions when in retreat, this experience can be quite strong, unbelievably strong. When you have a good session, it can be painful to come down from such an experience—for example, when you talk to somebody during the break between sessions. Also your old ego, the previous group or individual ego, considered many things in life as being so important. But when you are in retreat and when you come out at the session break time, there are none of the normal importances. They don’t belong to you any more; they belong to somebody else. It is like when somebody you know has changed and now you can’t take it. This is the experience.

      For this reason we imagine ourselves emanating as white radiating light of compassion and we identify with the non-duality character nature of Avalokiteshvara’s body. For example, when we look at a rainbow, at rainbow light, somehow we don’t grasp as strongly as usual. When that light disappears we just think, “Oh, it’s gone!” We seem to be able to let go of the experience in a normal, reasonable sort of way. But usually we don’t let go of other things so reasonably. We don’t let go of chocolate so easily, do we? Our grasping for some things is so strong, isn’t it? So, it is very important in one way.

      Lama Yeshe in Sweden, 1983Just as I said before, your ego’s criticism of the body is actually very bad. “I am sick, I am this, I am that, I am no good, blah, blah, blah, blah.” All the time you are putting yourself down. No one else puts you down like that. Your ego develops by constantly thinking, “I am not good quality.” So, that makes you ugly, doesn’t it? You are no longer handsome. So when we strongly emanate ourself as and identify ourself as Avalokiteshvara, we also emanate as white radiating light. When you worry, you get many wrinkles, don’t you? But if you strongly emanate yourself as Avalokiteshvara, after one hour the wrinkles will disappear. (Lama laughs.) I believe so. Because in one way the wrinkles are from being too tight. The nervous system is not flowing because of the tightness. Because you are uptight you get wrinkles. I am sure I must have quite a few, don’t I? (Lama laughs again.) I think I am bad example. Never mind. It is really possible.

      I have interviewed many students who have done retreat about their experiences. They have already had these kinds of experiences during retreat. For this reason I am very convinced that Westerners can practice tantra effectively. If we Tibetans present tantra in the simplest way so that it is therefore understood in a simple way, not only can Westerners understand and practice it but they experience exceptional results. So I am really confident that you can all practice tantra and experience the profound positive results.

As a matter of fact we are always on an old trip.

Lama Yeshe teaching, 1975From  1981: Public Life and Private Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Ninety people attended Lama Yeshe’s teachings on powa at Chenrezig from June 6 to 15. Powa is the practice of transferring one’s own or another’s consciousness at the time of death to ensure a positive rebirth. Lama Yeshe taught powa in order to preserve the tradition and so his students could develop some idea of what one could accomplish through cultivating the concentrated power of the mind. Lama often encouraged his students to feel they could accomplish anything they put their mind to.

Lama supplemented his teaching on powa with an explanation of Buddha’s doctrine of dependent origination, presented in terms of the twelve links of dependent arising.

From Lama Yeshe’s 1981 Chenrezig Institute teachings:

Today I thought that my subject would be dependent origination—that is, how and why we are existent on this earth. I think that many Western people question why they have come on this earth. It is difficult sometimes to find the answer to this. Buddhism has an answer to why we are existent. That is why I feel that sharing this explanation with you is so important.

When Shakyamuni Buddha gave this teaching on interdependence, he held up one flower, like this, demonstrating that because this flower is existing, there must be a seed from which it came. Thus, because there was a seed, now there is this flower. Isn’t that true?

This is a very simple way of explaining. We have to understand that all phenomena are existent in this way, that all phenomena arise from causes. Every phenomenon is related to other phenomena; every phenomenon comes from something else. All of us have a father and a mother; we are dependent on our father, our mother, genetics and the energy of the four elements. Thus, it is important to know the interdependent cycle of existence. In this way, according to Buddhism, we can eventually discover the totality of shunyata (emptiness). If we don’t understand the interdependent relationship of all existence, then shunyata becomes just words and it’s not possible to discover this profound totality.

I’m sure that all of you have studied the science of botany and biology and those things. If you have this kind of knowledge then it is easy for us to understand the Buddhist explanation of dependence. Subjectively, this is an explanation of how we sentient beings are interdependent. Objectively, for example, science clearly explains how trees are interdependent. So simple. So, the Buddhist explanation pertaining to sentient beings is that of the twelve links of dependent origination.

First of all, in Buddhism the primary cause is ignorance. Ignorance is the creative cause of all worldly, or samsaric, beings. Ignorance means the ignorant mind. It is the mind that is unclear, that does not understand reality. This is the meaning of ignorance. Don’t think that ignorance is somewhere in space, somewhere “out there.” In very simple terms, all of our human energy—physical, mental—could not exist without interdependent causation. All our energy came from a previous energy, which in turn came from yet another previous energy, and so on. So we are linked.

Procession to Eudlo, 1974So ignorance is the main cause of life existing. It is the cause that produces the seed of life. Now one can have either a good life or a difficult life. We all know this. A difficult life comes from ignorance but also a good life, a life filled with temporal pleasure, comes from ignorance as well.

We can talk about different types of ignorance and different degrees of ignorance, can’t we? If you eat muesli, then this might indicate that you know how to take care of your body. But you might not know how to do anything more than that to stay healthy. So beyond that knowledge, you are still ignorant, aren’t you? Thus you shouldn’t think that ignorance means something totally black. I don’t want you to think that way. It’s not true.

From a Buddhist perspective, we are all considered to be fortunate beings. As human beings, we are of especially profound good quality. But still our source is ignorance. Nevertheless, as good human beings we have potential, great potential. That’s why we can progress, because we can use our energy to develop that potential.

Ignorance is very dangerous because it produces extreme minds: extreme in both overestimating and underestimating reality, and in projecting mistaken characteristics on reality. Because of ignorance we judge and project wrong values, wrong motivations, and then we act mistakenly and again bring ourselves more trouble. So from ignorance arises motivation, that is, what we call karma. Karma means to make active, active and shaking. It also means to shape and to change. That is karma. So from the unclear mind comes shaking, perhaps in the form of extreme hatred or extreme attachment. That becomes our motivation. This motivation then leads to another and to another, until after an hour that motivation passes and you seem to be okay. But actually you are still not okay because one hour of extreme negative energy is still left in the ocean of your consciousness. The imprints are left there and you are still carrying them. Month after month, year after year, you continue to carry everything you have done. It is so important to comprehend this, to gain that comprehension. Most of the time we ignore this. We think that it is all gone, but it is not gone. The emotional disturbance has gone but the imprints, the reality imprints are published in our consciousness. Then, after a thousand years, because of those imprints in the mind, again we react in the same way. Our reaction comes out from this confusion left in the mind.

This is why we understand that ignorance is the first and primary cause, which then creates the reaction of karma, leaving imprints on the consciousness. Thus the potential for the cycle to continue is there.



Lama had great hopes

(15514_ng.psd) Lama Yeshe teaching in the gompa (shrineroom) at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1974. Photo by Ursula Bernis.1981:Public Life and Private Time by Adele Hulse,Big Love author:

A few days after Lama Yeshe returned to Kopan someone stole money from the donation box in the gompa. Moreover, local dogs were climbing in the low windows and eating food offerings from the altar. From a Buddhist point of view this was seriously bad karma for the young monks in charge of taking care of the gompa. Their duties included laying out offerings, caring for the butter lamps, keeping the statues and the room clean, filling and emptying the waterbowls, making sure the donation box was locked—in short, seeing to the overall care and safety of the meditation hall and its contents. Everyone knew the two boys currently rostered to that duty were lazy and often snuck off to Kathmandu to watch movies.

Lama Yeshe walked into the gompa during the middle of the morning puja, stopped the chanting and began lecturing to the assembled monks in Tibetan. “First he berated the two gompa keepers while walking around them with his big, heavy bodhi-seed mala going round and round in his hands,” said Karuna Cayton, who could understand Tibetan. “The talk was all about karma, responsibility and their laziness. Lama was very, very heavy. As he spoke he whacked the two boys around the head with his mala. The mala suddenly broke and beads flew around the gompa. This kind of corporal punishment was commonly used in all Tibetan monasteries.”

Lama mixing cement, Kopan, 1974Pujas were formal affairs and discipline in the gompa was for everyone. Even when a Western Sangha member arrived late for puja, Lama Yeshe would stop the ritual to scold that person publicly for being careless, insensitive to others and ego-tripping.

Lama Yeshe was full of fund-raising ideas. “We should build a supermarket in Kathmandu!” he told Max Redlich. There was no such thing in Nepal at the time, so this was a groundbreaking concept. “We should make ginger beer! All the centers should copy the same recipe!” He even sent Jacie down to Delhi to buy bottles and caps and told her to develop a label that used the words “healthy,” “natural” and “good for the stomach.”

“It didn’t work,” said Jacie. “The bottles kept exploding.”

As usual, Lama was ahead of common thinking in his views on healthy living and good food. There is every reason to think that a well-run ginger beer business would have been successful. Lama also wanted to start a flower farm in Delhi, noting it was very hard to buy good-quality cut flowers. That too could have been a successful business.

“Lama came up with all sorts of ideas and schemes,” Peter Kedge explained. “There was really no limit to the amount of Dharma activity Lama could envisage in both the West and the East, and no lack of enthusiastic people more than willing to dedicate themselves to the fulfillment of these activities. But we just didn’t have the training and business background to follow them up. Some Dharma organizations seemed to attract wealthy professionals, but the style and evolution of the FPMT took place differently. It initially attracted many so-called ‘hippies,’ those who had opted out of conventional society and therefore had spare time, rather than those who pursued professions and had careers. Later on, that changed. On several occasions Lama told us he wanted us to learn how to do business in order to support the Western Sangha, Mount Everest Centre and all the other centers. We were not lacking in enthusiasm, but fundamentally the organization lacked an economic base.”

Lama supervising construction, Kopan, 1974Around this time Lama gave Tenzin Dorje (Charok Lama) some jeans and a shirt and sent him to work in Marcel’s shop, Mandala, in Kathmandu. Tenzin Dorje didn’t wear robes for a whole year, after which Lama sent him to Dharamsala for three months of retreat before he was to depart for south India to study at Sera Jé. After that retreat, however, Tenzin Dorje, now eighteen years old, decided he didn’t want to be a monk anymore. Lama Yeshe asked him if he wanted to work for a Dharma center and he decided to remain at Tushita Retreat Centre, where he took over the shopping.

“Lama Yeshe never criticized my decision to disrobe and never tried to change my mind, nor did I think he would try,” said Tenzin Dorje. “Lama also got Gelek Gyatso a job in a Kathmandu garage where he spent a lot of time just watching what was going on and drinking Coca-Cola. I knew Lama had great hopes for Thubten Zopa Small. Gelek Gyatso and I were always running away, but Thubten Zopa only ran away once or twice, at Lawudo.” He ran to his family’s guesthouse and restaurant, which was in Namché Bazar, where Tenzin Dorje had come from as well.

Just let go. Don’t worry about it.

Lama with Nick Ribush, 1983 1980: Public Life and Private Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:
The FPMT was gradually maturing but Lama Yeshe still received plenty of criticism from Tibetan traditionalists for his popularity with the “rich Injis,” for holding hands and traveling with women and for his eccentric robes. The red down vest he wore in Dharamsala was untraditional in that it was a modern Western garment stuffed with feathers, but traditional in that it did not have sleeves. He also wore a fringed zen (monk’s upper shawl), when the rule is that it should have cleanly hemmed edges. Lama’s zen was also a funny fuchsia color and bore obvious signs of age, yet he wore it everywhere. “I guessed it was a special present from someone,” said one monk. It was. Mummy Max was the first to buy Lama Yeshe these fringed zens made of raw silk that came out somewhat more pink than dark maroon when dyed. Paul Bourke offered him one and there may have been others. One result was that you could always pick Lama Yeshe out in a crowd of Tibetan monks.

After the CPMT meeting Ira Zunin left for Poona. He later returned to Tushita-Dharamsala to tell Lama Yeshe he wished to follow Shri Bhagwan Rajneesh. Ira’s interview was just at the end of Lama’s Mahakala retreat. “He was in peak form and utterly clear—he wasn’t at the end of a long tour, nor in a foreign country, nor finishing a big course and surrounded by people wanting things from him,” Ira said. “I was a bit nervous because I had agreed to do all these things for Lama and was about to walk away, but he said, ‘Sure, dear. That sounds good. I’m sure you can learn something down at Poona.’ When I asked about the Tibetan medical stuff we had planned, he said, ‘Oh, never mind. Just let go. Don’t worry about it.’”

Continuing, Ira said, “I then asked him what he thought would really be best for me but he said, ‘I cannot advise you at this time.’ I told him the toughest part for me was that I loved him so much. I felt he was my root guru and I didn’t feel that way about Bhagwan. Then he started berating me. ‘Come on! Don’t you get attached to my physical form! You know that you just have to visualize me and I’m right there!’ He pointed to a spot just above and in front of his crown chakra. ‘Right there, anytime. You and me, we are crystal clear. You can come back anytime.’ So that was it. I went off and joined the Rajneeshis. Poona closed down one month later.”

Lama Yeshe's room, Tushita Retreat Centre

Lama Yeshe’s big room at Tushita Retreat Centre.

Lama Yeshe turned to his correspondence. To a student who had not done as he told her he wrote, “You ask if you can still say mantras. Yes, of course, please do. About feeling guilty and about worrying—you are wrong. Do not feel guilty. Do not worry. Just do not do it. Just do not think negative. Have a good positive attitude of yourself. Eliminate the self-pity concepts that you hold and feel your dignity, feel the purity that you have. Can you be forgiven? Yes. You should not worry. Guilty is only a concept that you build up. You should not build up concepts of feeling guilty. You created your confusions and sufferings yourself by thinking unclear concepts, by not thinking of the totality of your own nature. You do have buddha-quality and you should recognize it both physically and mentally.”

A young woman had written to Lama. She had become worn out working as a schoolteacher but thought she should continue anyway, believing that Bodhicitta meant she should wear herself out completely for others. Lama wrote back, “Withdraw dear, while there is still something left of yourself. Strengthen yourself and come back, because if you go until there is nothing left, you can’t do anything for yourself or anyone else.”

We react, react, react

(13147_pr-2.psd) In the spring of 1978, Jan Willis arranged for Lama Yeshe to teach a course on Tibetan Buddhism at the University of California’s Oakes College on the Santa Cruz campus during the spring trimester, which ran approximately from mid-March through the end of May. Photos by Jon Landaw.From  1980: The teachings are all about you! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on Discriminating Between the Middle and the Extremes, chapter 5, at Kopan, December 1980:

Up to now we have explained the calm abiding (shamatha) side so tonight we are going to continue with the side of penetrative wisdom (vipasyana) in detail.

 So regarding what are we deluded? We are deluded with regard to the truth, with regard to dependent phenomena. We discussed this previously. This refers to words, the names of things, and their meanings and how they are connected, how they are habituated and become concepts. We have to understand that the notion of interdependence is a conventional reality. Thus, it is important to know conventional reality, relative phenomena, and the way in which they exist. It is about this that we are deluded. This also includes how we ourselves exist; we are also deluded about what we are. You know, Chandrakirti, the great Indian pandit, himself said that understanding relative conventional reality is the method leading to an understanding of absolute truth. By understanding the structure of relative compassion, then we are able to transcend, to go beyond that. We are no longer caught in the bondage of the relative bubble.

So, it is with regard to the fundamental truth that we are deluded. Let’s take, for example, Jon. Because of the way that I am deluded, my superstition is mixed up about the name “Jon” and the meaning of Jon. When I hear the name Jon, then I get a sort of artificial picture of what I think is the reality of him. I cannot perceive his real reality because the means of my understanding is through words, through this name. But the name “Jon” is here (Lama holding his hand up in front of his face), like this, so it is through this that I must try to look, to find out his reality. But the name is not the reality, this artificial cloud picture is not the reality, so already I am deluded. I am deluded in the beginning and in the end. The result is that deluded imprints are repeatedly placed in the mind. You understand?

 (13070_pr-2.PSD) In the spring of 1978, Jan Willis arranged for Lama Yeshe to teach a course on Tibetan Buddhism at the University of California’s Oakes College on the Santa Cruz campus during the spring trimester, which ran approximately from mid-March through the end of May. Photos by Jon Landaw.Next, we have the characteristics of delusion. Delusion means the misconception or superstition that is characterized by the dualistic view of phenomena, even though what that dualistic view perceives does not exist. And from where does delusion come? Delusion arises from our consciousness. Of course, there is the philosophical view of the Chittamatrin school, which talks about the ground-of-all consciousness, which holds all the imprints of karma and delusion and whatever there is. Like a container it holds all these imprints, all our garbage experiences, all our good experiences, since we were born up to now. Everything is held there as in a container. It is a kind of foundational consciousness. Why do we call it “foundational”? It holds all the roots, you know? The roots of the manifestations are held there in consciousness and from there all those imprints can manifest all of samsara. All of samsara manifests from all those imprints. But leaving aside the philosophical points, according to our common sense we can say that delusions arise from consciousness, which holds the imprints of all our experiences, the karma from our bad experiences and our good experiences. Holding, holding. Until the necessary cooperative energies, conditions, come together, then these imprints simply remain there, latent. But when all the cooperative conditions come together, then the seeds are there and the cooperative causes are now present and bam! they manifest in an experience of samsara. They again become a samsaric reaction. We react, react, react. Okay.

      From that then deluded actions and functions arise. From just one moment of superstition, reaction after reaction after reaction, one after another after another, are accumulated. You know? Endless superstitious reactions. (Lama laughs as he winds his mala through his fingers.) Because of cause and effect, the functioning of causation, then from delusion comes delusion, delusion, delusion. In other words, hallucinations. In Buddhist terminology, we refer to this state of delusion as hallucination. In other words, we do not see reality but are always perceiving wrong projections.

      So what is the cause of the wrong projections that appear to the mind? The cause is the repeated perceiving of wrong view that creates imprints that are stored in our consciousness. They are manufactured non-stop, pam, pam, pam, pam, like a printing press publishing more and more imprints in every moment. Pam, pam, pam, pam. Then these are stored in our consciousness and they never finish. They are held there, like a treasure of superstitious imprints. It is from there that all delusions arise.

      We have to understand this clean clear. Generally we think that when one delusion comes, it comes just once and then it is finished. No! It is not like that! One delusion produces a hundred delusions; one superstition mind has the ability to produce a hundred reactions. And that hundred has the ability to produce a thousand. This is why it is not easy for us.

     13013_pr-2_g In Western culture, we are almost forced to watch television. Everyone does it. And there are so many incredible things shown on the television and we watch them. It seems so simple. You just sit there, the TV is on, and you seem to be doing nothing. But as you watch, in each moment it is recorded, you know? Moment after moment, imprints are made, tremendous imprints. And tremendous negative imprints arise…unless you see and recognize these things as characterized by non-duality, as like a mirage or a dream. Recognize that! By doing so, instead of producing superstition, you produce wisdom energy. Then it is okay.

      But we are not able to do this. We are beginners and are not able. It is very difficult to transform our projected view into wisdom energy. It is possible; we cannot say it is not possible. But as we are beginners, we should be very careful about what we see, what we watch. We should be careful. Why? Because the object itself also has the power to delude, the power to be superstition, hallucination. The object also has power. Because we have magnetized the superstition energy inside, so objects outside also come together as delusional.

      Remember, in the Abhidharmakosha it says that the cause of delusion is incorrect imagination, or, as we have called it, superstition. You always imagine the object incorrectly. And it says that we have this incorrect imagination already. So as you already have this superstition that sees incorrectly within you, when the external object appears and you come in contact with it, then pam! Delusion arises.

      For example, since we are here in this primitive tent in Nepal, then you don’t have a certain particular New York pleasure grasping mind, do you? Because the object isn’t here. The particular object needs to be close by. So when the superstitious thought is there inside and the external object is in close proximity, then delusion arises. That is why I am saying that we are usually perceiving things unconsciously and thinking that it doesn’t matter what we are seeing, but everything matters. Our minds are uncontrolled. Thus, as I am trying to demonstrate, it is very difficult see objectively and not to be deluded.

      Good.  So now we understand what we are deluded in regard to, the characteristics of delusion, and from where delusion arises. Now it is clear.

I never doubted that he loved me

Lama with Fabrizio Pallotti, 1983

From  1980: The teachings are all about you! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Lama just had to look at the kids wrathfully and they shuddered,” Karuna Cayton said. ” I often didn’t want to be around him myself because he criticized me so much. Every morning I’d wonder what he was going to have a go at me about today. But I never doubted that he loved me. He was the only person who could make me feel those two things at once.

“Every night we had ‘money meeting’ with Lama Lhundrup, Lama Pasang and a couple of other monks, such as the driver. Lama Pasang went into Kathmandu nearly every day, because there was no refrigeration in Nepal. Inevitably, if he left with 2,000 rupees he would account for 2,500 or 1,400—never 2,000. So the books were far from being balanced and Lama insisted we keep good books.

“Every year when Lama came back to Kopan he wanted to know how much we had spent. The November course involved a lot of money—shopping for 250 people cost many thousands of rupees. So every night we’d all get together in this room. Lama Lhundrup sat there very quietly doing his mantras. He held the key to the safe. I had everything itemized: a code for petrol, a code for bricks, another for flour, milk, seeds for Lama’s garden. I had ninety different codes. Then Lama Pasang would say, ‘I bought steel rebar today,’ and I’d think, ‘Oh, I don’t have a code for that.’

Lama teaching at VPI, 1983“It seemed that my relationship with Lama was not like what he had with a lot of other people. It was not sweet. Anyway, one night at money meeting I was sick with a fever, it was 9:30 at night and raining. I hadn’t eaten and all I wanted to do was go home, but Lama Pasang was going through his day. I’d say, ‘I gave you 10,000 rupees and there’s only 8,200 accounted for.’ He’d pull out all these scraps of paper from various folds in his robes, with receipts like five rupees for a rickshaw, two rupees for tea and we’re that much closer to the figure. I’d ask for more and he’d start scratching his head and talking to the monks in Nepalese, which I spoke, asking how much they had spent on petrol that day. I was just exhausted.

“After two hours of this, the door flies opens and it’s my worst nightmare. Many people have described how Lama seemed to change sizes. Well, this night he burst through the door like John Wayne into the saloon. He was six foot six, I swear! Lama Pasang was so clever. Without a hint he just slipped out the door, because he knew that if Lama was in the office that late at night he meant business. Next, Lama Lhundrup asks Lama really politely if he’d like a cup of tea or something, and he gets out. So there’s just me, trapped behind the desk.
“This was the first time he’d come to the office at night after returning from being on tour. He sat across from me and started. ‘How much did we spend on powdered milk last year and how many kilos did we buy?’ I said that I didn’t know as I didn’t record kilos. But he steamed right on. How many yards of steel rebar, how many gallons of petrol—when things were sold in meters and liters. How much money did we save by growing our own cauliflowers? On and on for two and a half hours, going right through the books. When I couldn’t answer his questions immediately, he’d berate and belittle me, saying, ‘You’re from America, richest country in the world and you don’t know anything about money!’Lama at a family gathering, 1983

“Then he starts going through the drawers in the office, then through all the files. He even went through the rubbish bin, finding obscure pieces of paper and asking what they were. He was brutal! And I have this aching fever and I just want to go home. I didn’t want to be there! He finds these letters in a drawer written by someone in 1970 or something and he wants to know where that person is now. On and on and on…

“Finally, around midnight he said, ‘Okay, dear, you can go now but I want you back in the office at six o’clock in the morning, because I want to go through the coffee shop’s books then.’”

“I just went outside into the rain and cried. It was all I could do. Then I noticed a kitchen light was on. Kancha often worked until one in the morning preparing for the next day, when breakfast was served early and people taking precepts needed to have tea ready. I thought I’d better have some soup. So I went down and opened the kitchen door, took one step inside and there was Kancha—and Lama Yeshe. All I could think of was escape! But of course he turned and saw me. ‘Yes, dear?’ Like I hadn’t just spent three hours with him. ‘Come in, come in!’ I sauntered in, all defensive and he said, ‘Something?’ I didn’t say anything and he said, ‘You need to hear “I love you”?’”

Lori Cayton was at Kopan, sitting back quietly observing as usual. She could see why Lama tortured Karuna. “He was the one in our family who always got away with everything and had a knack for getting other people to do things for him. I always felt Lama’s method was to teach him how to take care of himself. Lama was the only person I ever saw treat Karuna like that.


Pam Cayton and Karuna Cayton

“I saw how Lama affected my parents, especially my mother who was so touched by him. Lama was so incredible with parents who were worried about cults and such things. People often asked my folks, ‘Is this what your kids are into?’ and they’d say, ‘No, no, Lama Yeshe is not like that at all.’

“But Lama was in Karuna’s face the whole time, often in public. I saw Lama hit him with his big mala several times. Lama never did anything like that to me because I was already so hard on myself. When I told him I wanted to do a three-month retreat at Tushita he said, ‘Oh, so much beating!’ and started hitting himself on the back. I thought, ‘Gosh, Vajrasattva is going to be really tough,’ but because that image of Lama beating himself stayed in my mind the whole time I kept wondering what it meant. Eventually I saw that I didn’t need someone to beat me, because I beat myself up the whole time.”


“Use your own wisdom, dear.”

22842_ngFrom  1980: The teachings are all about you! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Zopa Rinpoche returned to Kopan from his Australasian tour before Lama Yeshe and in time to teach the thirteenth Kopan course. It ran from November 10 to December 10.

Hearing Lama Zopa Rinpoche for the first time, Dean Alper, an American attorney, was shocked to discover how tense he was and how short his attention span. He remained plunged in misery until Lama Yeshe appeared like a ray of light and reminded him that yes, there was laughter in the world. Dean returned for the next three meditation courses and became familiar with various student types: the ones who called everything “purification,” others who couldn’t make a decision about anything without consulting a lama. He noted how cleverly Lama Yeshe managed both the slavish and the arrogantly learned.

Many students had difficulty making up their minds about taking initiations, but Lama Yeshe just told them they should make their own decisions. “Next thing they’ll be wanting me to tell them when they can go to the bathroom!” His constant refrain was, “Use your own wisdom, dear.” Everyone knew that Lama Zopa Rinpoche threw mos (divinations with dice) all the time, but Lama Yeshe was openly displeased with those who asked for mos for trivial reasons.

12611_ng-2_gAfter studying Dharma for just a year, Merry Colony asked Lama Yeshe if she could become a nun. He gave her a hard, scornful look and asked her if she was quite sure she had “finished with men.” “Four years later I disrobed for a man, so apparently I wasn’t,” said Merry.

Sex was a common subject in interviews. A “man-hating” Italian feminist told Lama she only had women friends and felt alienated from patriarchal society. “I understand, dear,” he told her kindly. “Women do understand women better, but I think that when a woman’s energy is balanced she will like men.”

When Denis Huet asked if he could confess his faults, Catholic style, Lama Yeshe burst out laughing. “I shall never forget how much he laughed at that, but it wasn’t embarrassing. His laugh was full of love and fun.”

Everyone celebrated the end of the course with a picnic in the park opposite the famous Hindu temple, Pashupatinath. Rinpoche had the students meditating on the ghats by the side of the river, where corpses were burning. Lama Yeshe got them playing football. He gave one student a big good-bye hug, which seemed to carry some hidden message. “During the twenty-five minute walk to Boudha my back got hotter and hotter until it felt like it was on fire. It was an extraordinary sensation I never experienced again.”


The way to seek shunyata

16769_sl_gFrom  1980: The teachings are all about you! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

To emphasize the possibility of transforming even negative energy into Tara’s wisdom, Lama pointed out that many of his students had been hippies yet had turned out differently.

The Western hippy movement lasted ten, maybe fifteen years. These hippies tried everything, every pleasure. They tried everything, this, that, politics, drugs, communism. But they reached a certain point where they discovered something and then they become good persons. Very good persons. The things they did were garbage things but then suddenly they turned out to be strong, transformed. So many hippies were creative, extreme extremists. They had a kind of power, super-samsaric power, that created nuclear energy. But when they became practitioners they stopped that super samsara and used that energy to become kind of super Dharma practitioners. Some of my students are just quiet and peaceful and their Dharma practice is slow, very slow. But this is just common sense. The main point is to look subjectively rather than objectively and in that way to recognize that every appearance in our life, every desire thought or hatred thought or ego thought has an inborn non-dual nature. Its nature is clean clear like the ocean. Each one has the character of non-dual blissful wisdom.

Of course when we are dealing with the world we are not strong enough to see non-duality. It is natural for us to see dualistically. But we can make a strong determination within ourselves to recognize the duality that appears to us for what it is. One cannot avoid thinking dualistically; it comes through our habitual perceptions. But inside we can have the determination that this is illusion. This is dualistically appearing illusion. That we can do. That we should do.

09598_sl_gLama Yeshe spoke to his students about their dreams:

Usually we forget our dreams. This is not good. Dream comprehension is very important. Why are we so slow to become enlightened? Because half our life is spent unconscious, asleep. Maybe a quarter is spent eating, unconsciously. In tantra, practically speaking, we can make every important movement of energy become wisdom. It becomes awareness, mindfulness. It is very important to become mindful of our dreams. So before you go to sleep, make strong prayers to Tara to give you inspiration to be mindful of your dreams and to recognize your dream as a dream. This is good enough. Then put your head in Mother Tara’s lap and fall asleep like that. In this way, your sleep becomes more conscious, less unconscious. This is the best way to sleep.

Using every possible example from daily life, Lama continuously strove to bring home the core Buddhist understanding of emptiness to his students.

Perhaps if I explain it in a simpler way: The minute you check up with ego how you feel, how you are, what you think about yourself, you can only think about the previous you. The previous one is (snaps his fingers) gone already. Isn’t it! It is non-existent. The ego is very slow, I tell you. It doesn’t matter how intelligent the ego may be; it is too slow. It thinks that yesterday’s me is somewhere around here still. That’s too late. Even from the relative point of view of time and space it’s unrealistic. In Buddhism when you seek shunyata, in that moment when you are aware, that mindfulness cuts the self-existent appearance, which is totally non-existent. That is the way to seek shunyata. The skill is how to observe the ego’s interpretation.

     16051_ng-2_g Whenever there is emotional excitement and the ego manifests, the I-projection strongly arises. That is the moment when you get the chance to recognize it—for example, when you are angry. That is a very important moment.

      Remember. Philosophical doctrine is not important. Intellectual religion is not important. That’s why many intellectually religious people—intellectual Buddhists, intellectual Muslims, intellectual Christians—they miss the point. Just making things philosophical doesn’t work. Destroying the intellectual ego and making another one is just sublimating. The main business is our intuitive inborn ego.



Protection was the last thing Lama wanted

From  1980: The teachings are all about you! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

16008_pr_gJohn Schwartz was a confident, successful man and fair game for Lama’s teasing, some of which came in the form of his nickname as “John Shore.” Lama Yeshe never called him anything else. As Lama Yeshe’s new attendant, John decided the students were overly protective of the lamas, especially with regard to Lama Yeshe’s heart ailment. “How I look?” Lama would ask people who worried about him, sticking his face out for inspection and turning to display his upper arms as if the diagnosis lay there. “What you think? I tell you, Western science, they don’t understand the power of mantra, the power of mind!”

John Schwartz: “I discovered that protection was the last thing Lama wanted. People worried about whether he was up too late or talking too much with one person or whether the interviews were tiring him out—but he never got tired of doing stuff like that. I’d tell people they had just five or ten minutes with him. When that was up I’d walk in on them and stand there. Lama would look at me, say, ‘Thank you, dear,’ dismiss me, and just keep on going. He didn’t want someone to chaperone him, he wanted someone to clear the path, to make it easy for him. He knew when to stop talking. If he’s with someone for a long time it’s because they need it.

06666_ng_g“Teaching was no problem for Lama. He could teach twelve hours a day. What sapped his energy were people’s problems, their sob stories ad infinitum. Before doing interviews he’d say to me, ‘Time to go to work.’ Then there were meetings with center people. He went over the land with them, inspected everything and gave them pep talks. Lama worked absolutely all the time, he never stopped.

“I never saw anyone work a mala like Lama either—he used one all the time, no matter what he was doing. He wasn’t secret or invisible about it either, you could see his lips moving, too.” Lama Yeshe had a wide selection of malas, often favoring a kind of “global” mala with a crucifix and several other religious emblems on it.

Sometime after the Grizzly Lodge course was over, a Dorje Khadro fire puja was held at the Jackson’s kitchen on the Vajrapani land. But despite their reputation as resourceful “bushie people,” they could not seem to get a fire going. Lama Yeshe took over, rebuilt it and lit it just fine. “We made fires all the time,” said Åge Delbanco, one of the Vajrapani pioneers, “but we just couldn’t get that fire to start.”

A picnic on the high ridge followed. Tom Waggoner’s little truck was the best of a sorry lot of vehicles and he was given the job of driving Lama Yeshe back down to the gompa. “He got in and I warmed the engine before taking off, because it’s tricky to get off the ridge—it’s steep, with a lot of loose gravel. Lama wanted to drive but I couldn’t let him because you really had to know what you were doing up there,” said Tom. “On the way down he asked me to stop so he could take a pee. ‘These students,’ he told me, ‘you sit up there on the throne and they offer tea and don’t ever think Lama has to go pee-pee!’”

06649_ng_gLama Yeshe spent the next few days at a house on Lake Tahoe, resting and hunting out local antique shops with Anila Ann. He loved buying pretty things, most of which ended up in Marcel’s shop. Spotting a red vase in one shop, he distracted the owner with half an hour of amicable chit-chat before casually asking the price. “He became very charming and the owner was so taken with him the price just plummeted,” said Ann. “Then he bought it.”


Make yourself a complete human being

01174_ud_gFrom  1980: The teachings are all about you! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

In May 1980 Lama Yeshe taught the week-long course he mentions in his letter to Jacie. It was held at Grizzly Lodge in Portola, a beautiful spot in the California Sierra Nevada Mountains north of Lake Tahoe. Seventy-five people took the great initiation of thousand-armed Chenrezig.

Lama Yeshe also gave two lectures on tantra. The following is from his introduction to the subject.

From Lama Yeshe’s Grizzly Lodge, California, teachings in 1980:

We mean well; we want to practice Mahayana. We’d like to be as open as possible. We want to go that way, even with hardship. But the narrow mind is overwhelming. It keeps on coming all the time. Maybe intellectually we try to be as open as possible but the narrow mind overwhelms us yet again. Therefore, it is not easy to be a Mahayanist. Both Atisha and Lama Tsongkhapa said that it is not enough for a person’s religion to be Mahayana; the person himself or herself must become Mahayana.

      So the business at hand is that both Hinayana and Mahayana practitioners are seeking liberation by understanding the nature of samsara, but one of them is making tremendous effort on the basis of, “I am the suffering one; I cannot stay there in this way. I want to liberation myself.” The emphasis is on liberating me. Great vehicle practitioners, Mahayanists, don’t cry so much. Even though they have problems, they are more concerned about other people’s problems than their own. That’s the difference.

      That’s why we say that bodhicitta is the door to enter the Mahayana vehicle. That’s why bodhicitta is the principal, most essential need for stopping the problem of the self-pitying, self-cherishing thought. Therefore, if you are a Mahayanist, you have bodhicitta. What makes you a bodhisattva is having the realization of bodhicitta.

   12729_sl-2_g   There are two things. A bodhisattva has two goals, two destinations: to help other people and to become self-sufficient by receiving enlightenment, by becoming totality. If we grab that—“It is more important that I become enlightenment”—it’s partial. But still we have to do it. It’s not the principal thing, it’s partial, but we still have to get the ticket in order to solve problems and help other sentient beings. I think this example is clear, isn’t it?

      Normally, Western people say, “I need so much love; nobody loves me.” They say that kind of thing, don’t they? Use that expression in the reverse way: We need the totally opened attitude. It takes care of all the problems that the narrow attitude brings. If you have this attitude you make yourself a complete human being—that’s a better way of putting it—because you have complete comprehension. Otherwise, you’re in the dark shadow of ignorance. You can see one thing but the rest is in the dark. You know that. When we don’t see totality we can’t see how everything is interrelated—when we move one thing, everything else moves too. We have to know that.

      The enlightened attitude of bodhicitta allows your energy to expand universally. You develop a broad view. Now, one who has bodhicitta can follow one of two vehicles, the Paramitayana and the Tantrayana. The Paramitayana is like the lam-rim, where you understand karmic causation and recognize your own profound ability, or potential, to solve completely all levels of ego problem, not just those on the human level. The Paramitayana takes you through the three principal paths to enlightenment and your job is to actualize the six paramitas. Practicing in that way leads you to enlightenment. But don’t think that the enlightenment the Paramitayana path leads you to is a small enlightenment, whereas Tantrayana leads you to a great enlightenment. The enlightened experience that results from following both these yanas is the same; the way they function is where they differ.

      Paramitayana and Tantrayana differ in that Tantrayana has the skillful wisdom by which you put totality together. Tantrayana has that kind of key. The Paramitayana also has a key, but its path is slow. The Paramitayana practitioner cannot put two things together simultaneously and keep going. To do that is difficult. Like my cook, Babaji—he can’t be in the kitchen and here listening to teachings at the same time! That’s his problem. The practitioner of Tantrayana has the skill and intelligence to both see reality clean clear in a penetrative way and simultaneously keep going in a unified way. There’s a great difference between the two.

      The difference between Paramitayana and Tantrayana is that the Tantrayana has the skillful methods whereby you can use desire objects that usually bring reactions of confusion and dissatisfaction in the path to enlightenment; by practicing tantric yoga, you can transform the energy of desire into the path to enlightenment. We call it taking desire as the path to enlightenment, but it is dangerous if you do not understand what these words mean; it takes some research to understand them correctly.

    11753_ng-2_g  The person practicing tantra has to have the skill to transform daily pleasures into the path to enlightenment. Let’s take our body as an example. As a matter of fact, our body comes from the functioning of desire, doesn’t it? Desire made this body; ego made this body. Our grabbing ego made this body manifest, come out. However, instead of looking at it negatively, we should regard it as precious. We know that our body is complicated, but from the Dharma point of view, instead of putting ourselves down with self-pity—“My body is a heavy burden; I wish it would disappear”—we should appreciate and take advantage of it. We should use it in a good way.

      So despite where the body comes from, the way it manifests, despite the fact that it’s not so easygoing, that it’s complicated, this body has great ability; it can do so much. With this body, not only can we take care of our food and clothing, but we can also reach beyond that; we have the opportunity to gain the eternal goals of liberation or enlightenment. That’s why our human body is precious; that’s the point. We can use it in a good way, even though it is potentially poisonous in that it can create more complications, confusion, suffering, loneliness, dissatisfaction and samsaric rebirths for us. If we can change in a positive way, we can feel grateful for having this body and make it worthwhile.

      When you practice tantra, instead of thinking, “I’m a problem; my ego’s a problem; I’m a weak person; I need…,” instead of thinking of yourself with self-pity, think, “I am the Buddha; I am Chenrezig; I am universal compassion.” The difference is unbelievable. Somehow you become transcendental; you bring the enlightenment experience into the now. That is the beauty of Tantrayana.

      So by using a skillful method, it’s possible for your life to become a transcendental experience. Your life can perhaps become an enlightened experience. Maybe I shouldn’t use those words, but I think it can become an enlightened experience.

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