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Controlling the berserk mind – that is difficult.


Lama Yeshe teaching at UCSC.

From 1981: Public and Private Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

During an interview with Lama Yeshe, journalist Vicki Mackenzie suggested there must be some advantages to his new Western lifestyle.

“I think it is truly a challenge,” Lama Yeshe replied. “I want my life to benefit others, so I am hard-working and feel very satisfied. Otherwise, what else work I do? Sit somewhere, meditate? I don’t think that is good enough. So I feel lucky that I have the opportunity to serve by using this knowledge.”

“I enjoy all international Western food and apple juice is my favorite Western drink,” Lama continued. “I think Western things are good, especially cars. Otherwise, I cannot get around, you know. But I feel Western society is set up in such a way that material things are the only valuable things in your life. That makes the Western world unknowing, sad. It is not your fault but it is the way things are oriented through your entire life, since you born up until you die. That makes me little bit sad. An attractive outward appearance is the only thing you gain from all your material wealth. I find that very ugly and it’s not so good from generation to generation. It produces unstable minds. Human relationships are broken and unstable. There is no trust in the fundamental human relationship. Human relationship has become nothing now. It’s like you have a relationship with a piece of wood, you know.

“I talk about bliss to help people go beyond the mundane world. I thought if I explained bliss then at least Western people have a glimpse of something to think about. My thought is to introduce the inner quality. These are not secret teachings, nothing special. Westerners sometimes have superstition about the teachings.”


Lama Yeshe at Manjushri Institute.

Regarding his health, Lama Yeshe said, “I have already been alive for seven or ten years more than Western doctors said. They are completely mistaken. They administrate medicine. Forty doctors looked at my heart photo on television and decided I can only live three months, six months. Unbelievable, these people putting heavy trip, you know. I don’t have faith in Western doctors. I think they really make human beings sick. I don’t think they are bad. I believe what they saw in photo is true—three damaged valves in my heart. But even you have such a bad point of view, human beings are something special. You cannot make decision you are this, you are that.”

To Vicki’s question about an expedition of Western scientists to remote regions of India to test yogis for their ability to control body temperature, Lama Yeshe replied, “For the Western mind this is a very interesting subject. Heat comes from the mind. But putting heat into the body is not difficult. Also, we have physical exercises for this. Not difficult. But controlling the berserk mind – that is difficult.”


Our mind is like the surface on which we make a drawing

Lama teaching, CIN, 1976

Lama Yeshe teaching at Chenrezig Institute, Australia, 1976

From 1981: Public and Private Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

That evening Lama Yeshe led a puja at Tara House. Two days later he gave a weekend course to eighty people on Nagarjuna’s Letter to a King. This was a letter written by one of Buddhism’s most highly realized scholar-practitioners to a king in India nearly 2,000 years ago. During the teaching Scott Brusso picked random questions from the audience out of a basket. “While he was answering one question, I was picking out the next,” said Scott. “I read it then decided it wasn’t very good. So I put it back and went to choose another. This was all quite invisible to everyone else and done below the lip of the basket. But Lama stopped in mid-sentence, turned to me and said, ‘Don’t discriminate! Give it to me now—that one!’”

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on Nagarjuna’s Letter to a King in Melbourne, 1981:

Nagarjuna explains how we control our anger by actualizing the paramita (perfection) of patience. He also says how it is very important in the first place that we not open up the door of any situation that may lead to anger. Why? Because the minute that we generate anger energy, its characteristic is to react again and again and again, thereby leading us into a miserable life. Simple, isn’t it?! So, on the other hand, Nagarjuna quotes Shakyamuni Buddha himself, who said in the sutras that if one abandons anger, there’s no need to worry about entering any situation; there is no need to worry about having a miserable life. Shakyamuni promised, and Nagarjuna quotes from Shakyamuni’s teaching. That’s interesting for me. At this particular place Nagarjuna says, “Shakyamuni says that if you don’t have anger, you don’t have to worry about entering any miserable life situation during this life or your next several lifetimes.” Interesting, isn’t it? I feel that this is really very important. Anger is the worst karma to have. Not only does it destroy your good-quality peaceful joyful life right now, but it also destroys your good quality next life as well. There is a reason that we are born in an unpleasant place, isn’t there? Due to causation, the mental energy of anger irritates and results in our physical situation, our physical bodies. Buddhists believe that everything has a reason, that everything has a history and an evolution.     

Lama teaching, MI, 1976

Lama Yeshe teaching, Manjushri Institute, England, 1976.

So for us it is very important to control our anger as much as possible. Anger is our worst enemy, you know, our worst enemy. I think that anger destroys all the good qualities of our human dignity. For this reason, it is very important to control it. For example, one moment of anger can destroy a good friendship of twenty or thirty years, a long-time relationship in which the friends shared everything. Anger can destroy this in just a moment. The angry mind has no appreciation for any of this. Can you imagine? It’s unbelievable, but even the shortest moment of anger can destroy the collected energy of twenty or thirty years of friendship and lead to misery. All these things are part of human experience, aren’t they? Therefore, since we like to be happy, Buddhism places much emphasis on the importance of controlling anger, so we can be happy. By controlling our anger we’ll receive only a human rebirth and we’ll go from happiness to happiness, from bliss to bliss. I think this is very sensible understanding.

      Patience, on the other hand, is the opposite of anger. To be patient is to not be irritated or angry. But in order to be patient, one must first understand the anger situation. In one of Shantideva’s verses, he writes, “If somebody beats me and punches me and then I become angry and punch him back…” He says that this is nonsense. “By reacting with anger, does the pain of the punch you already received disappear? Or not?” Shantideva sort of scientifically analyzes the situation. Maybe your nose is already broken. By reacting in anger, your nose doesn’t get fixed, does it?! In just this way you can analyze all the details of the situation. And because of this kind of analysis, Buddhist anger control is unique.

      Now I’ve been talking about control, controlling our anger. But is this the correct word? Sometimes I have a problem with language, with finding just the right word in English. Here, control does not mean you repress your anger. Control refers to a way to understand, a way to express.

      In Buddhism, it is highly advised that we not manifest anger physically or verbally. Because by the time it manifests it is already super strong, super intense. So before we express our anger verbally or physically, somehow we need to stand up and control it. Somehow we need to digest or abandon the emotion of anger, through meditation, through analytical wisdom, through whatever method we can use.    

Lama at MI, 1976

Lama Yeshe teaching, Manjushri Institute, England, 1976

Nagarjuna explains how to deal with situations in which strong emotions arise. Each human being has the aspect of a different element, which manifests as a way of thinking, a way of perceiving, a kind of mentality. There are three basic types. Our mind is like the surface on which we make a drawing. Sometimes the mind where we draw an object is like water, sometimes it is like earth, and sometimes it is like rock or stone. Okay. So when this kind of superstition or delusion arises in the mind, sometimes it’s like drawing on water, isn’t it? It arises suddenly, and then phew! It disappears almost immediately. Sometimes it’s like drawing in earth; the delusion only disappears slowly, slowly. But sometimes, the impression left on the mind is like a drawing on rock or on concrete. In that case, it seems to stay; it seems like it is always there, doesn’t it? In the instance of drawing on the water, that kind of mind is unstable. Therefore, whatever deluded minds or emotions arise—anger or whatever—as much as possible we should try to make this like drawing on water. Okay? This is what Nagarjuna said. But when the profound wisdom that touches reality arises in the mind, you should make this like drawing on stone. You should develop this kind of stability so that you can become liberated. That’s very important.

Universal reality is like a seal, because there is no way out.

Meditation at Chenrezig Institute, 1975

Meditation at Chenrezig Institute, 1975.

From 1981: Public and Private Time by Adele Hulese, Big Love author:

The transition from family business to Buddhist center had not been completely easy, especially for Joyce Green, Ian’s mother. She had worked very hard for Sandhurst Town for some years. Suddenly, teams of young Buddhists had been foisted on her and were now invading her kitchen and her life. Aflame with righteousness, they threw out her mousetraps and fly-sprays and sometimes treated her less than respectfully. Her husband spent each week in Melbourne, but Joyce lived in a house immediately adjacent to the new center. During Lama Yeshe’s visit, Joyce graciously moved out so he could stay there in comfort. Max and Maggie Feldmann filled the place with orchids. Joyce Green ended up accepting the situation and generating the highest regard for Lama Yeshe, who gave her a beautiful Tibetan carpet.

About seventy people took the Heruka Chakrasamvara initiation, during which they all placed little bits of gum leaf on their heads instead of the traditional flower. Many had no idea what to do with the strip of red cotton cloth with which one covers the eyes at a certain point in the initiation. Some placed these cloth strips over their mouths, but those kinds of details didn’t faze Lama Yeshe who laughed all the way through. As he was about to give the students the bodhisattva and tantric vows he said, “These vows are a little bit dangerous, but don’t worry.”

The teaching began with a reminder that nothing could be achieved without reference to the four preliminaries: taking refuge, actualizing bodhicitta by being totally open to others, purification and the practice of guru yoga.

The term mahamudra has the literal meaning of “great seal” and Lama Yeshe explained this in his own unique style.

From Lama Yeshe’s Bendigo teachings on mahamudra, August 1981:

Universal reality is like a seal, because there is no way out. All levels of existence—organic, non-organic, permanent or impermanent—are of the nature of non-self-existence. Guru Shakyamuni said something like, “Not seeing is the perfect seeing.” Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Mahamudra is a strange thing that you have to learn. Not perceiving phenomena as dualistic is the perfect experience of seeing. Mahamudra is very different from shunyata, but the particular characteristic of mahamudra is an emphasis on how to experience shunyata, rather than explaining what it is.

When you have a small experience of mahamudra you drop out of heavy concepts, such as feeling that your body is a difficult combination of atoms rather than a transcendental experience. To develop mahamudra, concentration is not enough. Lama Tsongkhapa said, “Samadhi is not enough to eliminate the concept of ego.” We need the unity of concentration and mahamudra to achieve that, but first of all we need to neutralize the mind with breathing meditation. Then we slowly use the mind to watch our thoughts. But this is not watching in the usual sense. Language is a problem here. Take sunlight, for example. The sun doesn’t have to say, “I am shooting out sunlight.” Similarly, this “watching” doesn’t have a thinking process; it is just being.

Rainbow over the gompa, 1975

A rainbow over the gompa (meditation hall), Chenrezig Institute, Australia, 1975.

I want you to understand: Mahamudra is beyond words, beyond growing, beyond cessation. Don’t just trust my words. It doesn’t matter how much I use words, it still comes from my conception. So go…touch…then go beyond the words. Just watch and let go. Mahamudra emphasizes no intellect. At a certain point intellect is the enemy. Then the real transformation comes.

When I was first studying I thought that if one were to understand all of Buddhism—the philosophy, Madhyamaka and everything—then one would certainly knock out the ego. First I thought that, but then I checked and realized that my conception was not true. People could learn the words and ideas of the doctrine, by way of teachers, but somehow this did not stop all problems of the ego. That is possible. I was surprised. That’s why I feel that the mahamudra teaching is in touch with the heart.

Your view of yourself, your own intuition and simultaneously born ego—these have to be investigated. Fundamentally, you have to understand that anything you perceive on the basis of your five sense consciousnesses will be perceived dualistically as inherently self-existent. Everything. The moment you open your eyes everything is perceived in an entirely deluded, dualistic way.

Traditionally, when we teach mahamudra, instead of sitting inside meditating, the student walks around in order to be able to experience moment to moment. In that way the student captures the thief of the ego’s projections. So this time, even during the break times, you should try skillfully to investigate and discover the non-self-existence of the perceived absolute quality of the “I.” At a certain point, when you seek the I in that way, then you—the I that is being sought—and the seeker you, both are dissolved. Subject and object both dissolve. That is the experience. The fantasy concept of I that we hold is so built up that when it dissolves you may experience fear. This is a natural reaction. Leave it. Just let go.

Lama Tsongkhapa always emphasizes the unity of hearing, analytical checking and penetrative meditation. Take, for example, my own practice. I teach Westerners meditation, but some of my geshe friends think that first you have to study for thirty years, just as we Tibetan monks studied. After that you meditate. They negate what I am doing. But I just do. I don’t know why I do. That’s really my answer.

Now, in mahamudra the unique way of presenting universal reality is a particular emphasis on meditation on our own consciousness as the object. Normally our meditation object is something like Buddha’s image, the figure of a deity, and so on. But this time we contemplate our own consciousness. The characteristic of consciousness from the Buddhist point of view is its clean clear nature. It is like crystal, a mirror that takes on a reflection. Consciousness doesn’t have substantial physical energy. It has no color, no form. It is like space energy. Its nature is non-duality. Meditation on consciousness easily leads to mahamudra, which is why at the beginning you concentrate on your own consciousness.

Lama meditating by the ocean, Australia, 1974

Lama meditating by the ocean, Maroochydore, Australia, 1974.

First you clear your mind by focusing on your breathing. When you have reached a point where your mind is clear and quiet, then do not start thinking concepts like, “How beautiful, how wonderful.” No. You just rest there, being continuously mindful. It is not necessary to reach a state in which your mind is completely bright and clear. If you achieve the object to some extent, then that’s good enough; just let go. And at the same time use your subtle mind for analytical checking, such as perceiving whether the ego is existent or not. When you investigate such a concrete entity as the I, it naturally ends up disappearing, automatically. It cannot stand up to investigation. So at the same time you experience non-duality, or mahamudra.

This is the way to develop penetrative insight (Skt. vipasyana). Your own subtle mind moves like a fish, which swims through the water without disturbing the ocean. First it seems that the I has some sort of existence, but when you reach a certain point it dissolves. The experience is that both subject and object dissolve. At that point you let go. Lama Tsongkhapa says that at this point we should never allow any kind of object—such as form, color or deity—to arise. So even if a special fantastic vision comes, do not follow it.

Also watch Lama Yeshe answering questions on Mahamudra.



Renunciation is a little bit heavy for you.

Lama Yeshe, Kopan, 1980From  1981: Public Life and Private Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Yeshe arrived in Adelaide on 28 July, guest of the small Tibetan Buddhist community there, which included Doc Wight, Neil Huston and several others who had attended Kopan courses. They put him up at a cheap, noisy motel which was all they could afford.

Doc was not really interested in Buddhism, but over lunch at the motel Lama asked him if he’d given any thought to becoming a Buddhist. “I can’t,” Doc replied, “I’m Jewish.” “Who cares about that?” said Lama. “Being happy won’t interfere with being Jewish.”

Lama’s teachings on the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment ran from 29 July to 31 July at a local venue called the Box Factory. The royal wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer also took place on 29 July 1981. Wil and Lyndy Abrams turned up at the motel to collect Lama and found him engrossed in the TV coverage. “We were looking at our watches and worrying about the time. Lama said he didn’t think anyone would turn up for the teachings. When we got to the Box Factory everyone there was watching TV. ‘I told you!’ said Lama. But they did go to his teaching.” Wil and Lyndy asked Lama Yeshe if they could start a center in Adelaide. “Yes, dear, but it’s up to the students,” Lama told them.

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on the three principal aspects of the path, Adelaide, 1981:

Now, we are going to talk about the renunciation of samsara. Renunciation is the mind that leads to liberation. That particular renunciation, that specific kind of renounced mind is not easy to achieve. Normally we do have a renounced mind. For example, we try to renounce situations where there is disease, such as tuberculosis or cancer, don’t we? We try to avoid unpleasant situations as much as we can. This is not a specifically human sort of ability. Even insects, dogs, chickens and pigs can do this, can’t they? But if we consider the meaning of renunciation in our human life, it means to renounce the causes of confusion and dissatisfaction—that is, grasping at temporal pleasure and expecting that it will last, permanently, even if you don’t put it into words. Even if you don’t say, philosophically, “My pleasure is going to last a lifetime.” Intellectually you may say, “Of course it won’t last a lifetime, yah yah yah,” but, inside, psychologically, you’re expecting that your pleasure will last as long as possible.

But those thoughts are unrealistic. As long you have such an unrealistic grasping attitude, holding such a concept that regards pleasure as permanent and lasting, there is no space to liberate yourself, to achieve eternal peace or whatever you would like to call it. This is why renunciation is a little bit heavy for you. But that’s the way it is. What do I mean by heavy? Heavy means quite difficult to understand, because the ego doesn’t want to understand this. Because normally we see pleasure only in that unrealistic way. That is what is real for us. We don’t see anything else, any other alternative.

However from the Buddhist point of view, to eliminate the desire that craves temporal pleasure is essential in order to discover eternal peace or liberation. Otherwise, our situation is endless. Remember we’ve talked about the cycle of existence; that is what samsara means. We repeat our situation again and again, which gets us nowhere. The only result is dissatisfaction. Now, according to Buddhism, we need to use our intelligence. In a way Western society means well, using the intellect to develop whatever is best to give you the most pleasure, isn’t it? This is what we are chasing, aren’t we? We try. Similarly, Buddhism says that human beings can achieve indestructible peace and pleasure. We are capable. The problem is that we are always grasping for small pleasure. And this interferes with our being able to discover everlasting pleasure and peace.

(15514_ng.psd) Lama Yeshe teaching in the gompa (shrineroom) at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1974. Photo by Ursula Bernis.This is why you should use your wisdom to check up what is the best way to produce happiness in your life, in your mind. That’s the main point. We waste our life by focusing on such temporary business that results in such little pleasure, so little pleasure. We spend so much energy and effort but the result is almost all confusion. This is what we do, you know. I do this too, even though I am monk. Check up. You check up.

So, now, those who understand, those who have realized renunciation of samsara, no longer have any ambition for something missing. Do you understand what I mean? Normally, it doesn’t matter how much pleasure we experience, we still always feel like something is missing. But those who have really gained a deep realization of samsara, they no longer have this kind of ambition. They don’t wish for New York pleasure, they don’t wish for California pleasure, they don’t wish for Australia pleasure. Once you have reached that understanding, then you can rest. You rest because there is less contradiction in your mind. That’s the way to be liberated.



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.”


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