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Lama’s whole being was about service

06666_ng_gFrom  1980: The teachings are all about you! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Yeshe held a special concern for the children of his students and their care and education. He specifically addressed this issue with his center directors.

Concerning families and children, if we have the resources we should make a school. The center directors should have a plan for this. If you do not express that this is what you would like to do then no one will know, so you should write it down in big huge letters: THIS IS WHAT WE WANT TO DO! And as much as possible you should do it. But energy is like dreams—sometimes it comes suddenly then it suddenly disappears. You never know who will give you energy and who will not. I truly believe that lay people love their children and that they want a Buddhist-style education for them. It is a pity if we do not put that together for them. So far we have tried but what we have done is not really sufficient. Sorry! We should put this into reality.

In Buddhism we have such material for children’s education. It is a pity that no one has developed it, because we have the potential and the methods for making books and other things for children. There is so much material, so much information, but instead of using it we are wasting so much energy. It is especially good if our center directors take an interest in this. I’m not criticizing, I understand that energy builds up slowly, slowly. First we have to take care of our urgent fundamental needs. Then when we have extra energy we can spread out into other endeavors. But even now we should have a broad view of what we want to accomplish when we have sufficient energy. Center directors should have a broad view rather than a limitation mind, which can keep the center from growing. Also, you shouldn’t keep this total view inside your mind. You should put it out there. Write it down and let people know.

11736_ng_gMax Redlich (now Thubten Gelek) paraphrased Lama’s speech for the first edition of a magazine published by Tara House in Melbourne. (Tara Magazine produced fourteen issues over four years, then folded.)

The very next day after Lama gave specific rules for the establishment of new centers, he broke them, cutting right across his own guidelines to give someone permission to start a new center. Everyone was a little bewildered by that, but knew Lama’s mind was without bounds. The CPMT also issued a formal invitation to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, inviting him to tour Europe later in 1980 and give ten-day courses at each of the FPMT centers there. The invitation was extended to include a similar tour of Australian centers in 1981.

Max Redlich (now Thubten Gelek) paraphrased Lama’s speech for the first edition of amagazine published by Tara House in Melbourne. (Tara Magazine produced fourteen issues over four years, then folded.)

The very next day after Lama gave specific rules for the establishment of new centers, he broke them, cutting right across his own guidelines to give someone permission to start a new center. Everyone was a little bewildered by that, but knew Lama’s mind was without bounds. The CPMT also issued a formal invitation to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, inviting him to tour Europe later in 1980 and give ten-day courses at each of the FPMT centers there. The invitation was extended to include a similar tour of Australian centers in 1981.

12729_sl-2_g“At the CPMT meeting Lama drew a square diagram of what the ideal center should look like,” Peter Kedge recalled. “It should be away from town but not too distant, and on elevated land with a view, which is important for the mind. The gompa, monastic and teaching areas should be in the middle with the lay community at the periphery. Lama was very specific that communities should grow in this way.

“In the early days when centers were being established and people became residents, it frequently happened that their initial gratitude at having this opportunity changed to claiming ‘rights’ as tenants. Lama was very clear. The reason centers were established was to serve. As soon as they turned into what he called ‘clubs for people who have been to India’ or private homes where people forgot about giving service, he preferred to have those people gone and the centers empty. Sometimes people in centers formed cliques, which Lama put a stop to very quickly.”

Peter continued, “Lama’s whole being was about service. When he spoke to new monks and nuns he explained to them that their purpose was to serve. It wasn’t to become a yogi or a retreater or to escape from anything—it was to serve others. And you could see that’s exactly what Lama and Rinpoche did. I found a tremendous difference in the vibration at Kopan to the great monasteries in the south, or even in Dharamsala. People would go to those places to become monks and study, but Kopan was different. And what made it different was this huge underlying emphasis on the lam-rim and the practice of bodhicitta, on going out to serve. Of course there were wonderful monks in the big monasteries, but the overriding feeling was that those places were centers of academia rather than service.”


Harmony is number one


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

The second international meeting of the Council for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (CPMT) ran at Kopan from 4 January to 15 January 1980. In addition to the meetings, the event also included a retreat. Lama Yeshe told the directors he wanted to get the geshes in the centers thinking about new ways of teaching the Dharma, such as to specific age groups or special-interest groups.

During this meeting a maturing CPMT drew up the following mission statement:

“Without Dharma, sentient beings lack the true means to happiness. The Mahayana tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa faces the danger of dying with the present lineage holders. The Dharma needs to be translated into Western languages and cultures in a similar way to when Buddhism moved from India to Tibet, for preservation’s sake. It needs to find a medium that will carry it beyond this present generation and out into many generations in the future.

To actualize this, participation at all levels of the organization is vital, each link working in conjunction with the next, sharing the bond of a common vision.

As times become darker and degeneration more apparent, the mind will find it increasingly difficult to turn toward virtue. A self-sufficient community on the scale of a town or village would provide the environment and cultural protection necessary for the propagation of the Mahayana tradition.

The basis of the community would be families. The focus of Dharma activity would be the monastery or college of Buddhist studies, open to all.”

On 4 January 1980 Lama Yeshe gave a four-hour address to the CPMT. He began by talking about the purpose of these meetings of center directors and by describing some of the more important aspects of center directors’ responsibilities.

It is a good idea for us to meet together because we are all working and putting energy toward the same goal. So it is important that there is harmony and good mutual understanding between us and that we respect each other. Then we can have one mandala, one harmonious whole.

 15131_sl_gOur aim is to spread good vibrations through giving our body, speech and mind to others. This is our only reason for establishing centers. It is really important that center directors see each other as brothers and sisters and help each other. If one center becomes a disaster, then the other centers help. We share and we learn from each other. Until we open our hearts to each other we are not learning anything. The center director has such a huge responsibility. It is not easy, not a part-time job directing and fulfilling people’s needs. It is not enough just to have a good heart.

 It is good if each director communicates with all the other centers, making sure they are happy. Why? Because we are all one mandala. You shouldn’t just make sure that your cup has tea and not care about anyone else’s. You should be open to each other and say, “Okay, if you make a mistake then you tell me.” That is the purpose of meeting—to see others’ perspectives rather than only your own view. We all have different notions but in the Dharma we are completely unified. We don’t need to think we are special or beautiful—we show what we are by our actions.

 The center director is responsible for harmony in the center. When trouble comes, you should point it out—it doesn’t matter where or what it is. Wherever there is disunity it is as if all the potential of a place has been burned so that it cannot progress. It is possible that people may come to your center just to take advantage. Harmony is number one—only then can we build up our centers. You should nurture the attitudes that give the center energy, not those that take from it. If you’re working just to have possessions, that’s garbage. You center directors should have the attitude that you’re getting nothing for this lifetime except energy for your enlightenment. I feel grateful for your incredible dedication. Anyone who is not happy should dedicate this way: ‘This time I cannot do but I hope to be able to do in the future,’ and dedicate. Don’t worry about whether Lama Yeshe will be disappointed. My concern is that everybody should be happy and make their own dedication. I don’t like other people telling me what to do either—I have my own way of dedicating.

 Eventually, we want to place two geshes in each center: one as the program director who keeps our family in the center happy and looks after visitors, and the other who more strictly gives teachings, such as geshe training. But many of my centers are not yet professional, not yet stable. Gypsy centers are not responsible enough to take on having a geshe. First the foundation needs to be stable.

 Center directors should be like the sun and moon—without discrimination or favorites, embracing all people. No matter who is at the center, you should pay equal attention to them. Whether person is ugly or beautiful, you should think, ‘This is my child, my mother sentient being.’ If you think like that, then it is very good. This doesn’t mean you cannot have your friends. That is a personal thing. When you are unhappy, your friend gives you cheesecake.

15130_pr_gAlso the center director should not be hippie looking, childish looking. But this does not mean that when childish people come you do not give them time. We should be sympathetic to young people who are difficult or mentally disturbed. These people are human beings, with power like Buddha. You give these people time, love them, give them a house and a job. They understand what you are doing; they know you are making special consideration for them. From being broken-hearted they transform; then they are successful. Centers should include hippies, professional people, unprofessional people, married people, unmarried people, everybody. So the center director’s attitude should be to expect anything.

I always say that centers should have job creation. I think we should be creative. Our twentieth-century people are so creative, but they are also dangerous with aggression and frustration. My opinion is that this is a difficult time. It would be very good if at each of our centers we can do something for those young people who are lost on drug trips or angry at society and so on, providing them with activities and tasks that they can enjoy. Our program for them can also include counseling by a psychologist, short meditations and other appropriate things that can slowly, slowly lead them to a healthy mind.

 When we can afford it we should have places for families, for single people, as well as for monks and nuns. You can say, ‘We put you here; this is your place. You stay here; you do your business and lay people do their business. You do not come down this other place.’ Whether lay or ordained, each person can choose a different lifestyle to live.


Who said Jesus didn’t teach shunyata?

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

The Mount Everest Centre daily schedule began when the boys were awakened at 6:00 am; they washed and dressed and then went to the gompa for puja. They had breakfast at 8:00 am and then cleaned the grounds until 10:00 am, shouting mantras all the time. This was followed by memorization until mid-day and a half-hour painting class until lunch. After lunch, they had Tibetan grammar classes and English classes. In the middle of the afternoon they had a tea break, after which there was Tibetan writing class, teachings on the various texts they were studying, and debating of those texts until dinner at 7:30 pm. After dinner the younger boys then debated in the gompa from 8:00 to 9:00 pm, when they would be sent to bed. The older boys often studied late into the night. In addition to their class studies, every boy, perhaps with the exception of the rinpoches, took their turn at working in the kitchen, helping with construction work around the monastery and working in the garden.

Pam Philip became one of the painting teachers and held an exhibition of the boys’ work, which was very bright and fresh. “Lots of people who had been at the November course came to the exhibition and bought paintings,” Pam recalled. “Lama was wandering about and came up close to me. Indicating a woman who had just been speaking to me, he said, ‘Let her have whatever she wants.’ Then he walked on. Well, this woman decided she didn’t want one of the boys’ paintings but instead wanted a very nice old thangka that belonged to the monastery instead. I told her it wasn’t one of the boys’ works. She offered to pay something for it. Remembering Lama’s words, I asked her how much and she said, ‘Three.’ I said, ‘300 rupees?’ ‘No, three rupees,’ she replied. I thought, ‘My God, what planet is she from?’ I said that I was sorry but this was a very old thangka and very valuable. Even 300 rupees would be ridiculous. Then she just started to freak out and cry and I realized I had blown it. She didn’t get the thangka, but I really felt I had not done what Lama had said to do. He had some insight into this woman and wanted to make her happy, and I hadn’t followed through. If it was some kind of test then I failed it.”

Pam Cayton and Karuna Cayton

Karuna Cayton and Pam Cayton

Pam continued, “I often watched how Lama dealt with people who were really difficult. Instead of rejecting them, Lama embraced them. On the other hand he often ridiculed those who you thought were so nice, embarrassing them in public. You were always wondering whether this was something to benefit that person or yourself.

“Lama often handed me a Time magazine and asked me questions about worldly affairs; I had absolutely no idea. Once he asked me to open this new suitcase he had, with a fancy latch. I couldn’t do it and he said, ‘Pam, I think you need to go back to the West for a while.’ I knew he wanted me to be of practical use in the world.”

Karuna had brought a copy of The Essence Gospel of Peace to Kopan with him. “They were beautifully written in verse and Lama loved them,” said Karuna. “When I read them to 200 students after the course, there was a stunned silence. Lama was sitting on the throne above me. He broke the silence by commenting, ‘Who said Jesus didn’t teach shunyata? This proves he did. Please put a copy of these in the library.’”

Elea Redel stayed on after the November course. “One night I felt I was just boiling over. I ran across Lama standing outside in his big fluffy monk’s cape and told him I was exploding. He slapped me on the shoulder with his mala and ordered, ‘You go to puja!’ It was about to start and I had planned to miss it, but I did feel better afterward. I was always escaping from things and running into Lama. When he asked me, ‘How are you?’ I muttered something about self-cherishing and he said, ‘Where is your self-cherishing mind?’ Just the way he said it made me realize I mustn’t exaggerate my ego.”

1978, 1979, Adrian Feldmann (Thubten Gyatso), Chombey, Karuna Cayton, Kathmandu, Kopan Monastery, Nepal

(L-R) Karuna Cayton, Adrian Feldmann (Thubten Gyatso), Thubten Ngodrub, Chombey, Kopan Monastery, Kathmandu, Nepal

“I wanted to retreat but I had ‘love problems,’” Elea recalled. ‘So, why aren’t you with this man anymore?’ Lama asked. I muttered about suffering and attachment and he said, ‘Attachment? There is attachment all the time. In Tibet we say there are three ways to work with attachment: you can cut your hair and change your dress, you can get married, or you can live alone, not need anybody and find the energies within yourself.’ Later, Lama asked me to go and work in the Italian center, because I spoke English. I said wouldn’t it be better if I went to France because I am French? ‘We need people all over the world’, he told me.”



Embodiment of female wisdom

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

06315_ng_gTwo days after a festival day to celebrate the end of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s course, Lama Yeshe conferred a Vajrayogini empowerment on seventy people followed by two weeks of commentary on the meditation practice. The empowerment had a commitment to recite 500,000 mantras in a two-month retreat—quite demanding, but it is a short mantra. Nick Ribush, just back from a Kick the Habit tour in Europe, was delighted to be asked to lead the meditations during this course. It meant ready access to Lama.

Robina Courtin joined the tour in Australia and took over from Connie Miller as fund-raiser for Mount Everest Centre. She was thrilled to be there. “The moment I first heard the word ‘Vajrayogini’ I wanted to know more,” she said.

From Lama Yeshe’s Vajrayogini teachings:

Vajrayogini is from the maha-anuttara yoga category of tantra [highest yoga tantra], which has two divisions: father tantra and mother tantra. Vajrayogini is from among the mother tantra class. Mother tantra has the sensitive aspect of emphasizing great wisdom. In our astrological system daytime is associated with male energy and nighttime with female energy. Vajrayogini is the embodiment of female wisdom, and so to begin our practice of Vajrayogini at night emphasizes this female energy.

The whole subject of tantric yoga is included in two divisions—evolutionary yoga and completion yoga. We have a system: Before a commentary is given on how to practice tantric yoga, first a teaching is given on taking refuge, actualizing bodhicitta and the Vajrasattva practice, guru yoga and offering the mandala. Most of you have already learned these practices during the teachings on the lam-rim. For those who have not yet received the commentary on Vajrasattva and made that retreat, it would be good to do that in the future. We do have a system.

 06182_ng_gAt this time we are practicing the evolutionary yoga method. The principal aspect of this is taking the three kayas [enlightened bodies] into the present path of enlightenment. I am sure you have heard about the three kayas: the dharmakaya, the sambhogakaya, and the nirmanakaya. The reason we do this is to purify ordinary death, intermediate state and rebirth, to make those vanish. This is the unique characteristic of tantric yoga.

Human beings have a gross level body and a subtle level body. We also have a gross mind and a subtle mind. Our gross consciousness is made up of our sense perceptions, but to understand our subtle consciousness is very difficult. There is a subtle, perpetually residing consciousness always existing within us from life to life, whether you are a buddha or a mosquito. That consciousness has a clean, clear character. When this consciousness is functioning you can always experience something similar to non-duality, or shunyata.

 For example, when you meditate you almost stop breathing. As your breath becomes smoother you reach the point of being calm, clear and slowed down. In order to discover this subtlest consciousness we need deep penetrative concentration on the clarity of our own consciousness.

 At the time of death the four elements [earth, water, fire, and air] are absorbed and we experience the clear light nature of the mind. It doesn’t matter whether you are a meditator or not, you have this experience. This is because our sense perceptions have ceased to function and so the gross level of consciousness has disappeared. We gradually reach a point where the last thing functioning is the energy in the central channel, or shushumna. At that time the subtlest consciousness is able to function and the result is the clear light experience. Every ordinary death has that experience. So why do we need to meditate? Because ordinarily we aren’t able to comprehend that experience, we have no awareness of it and so it comes as a shock. In meditation, however, we take that ordinary death experience into the present path, which is the dharmakaya experience. In meditation we train the mind to use that opportunity.

06080_ng_gBriefly, it is said that a buddha, or enlightened being, has two “bodies” or aspects: a form, or physical, aspect (in Sanskrit, rupakaya) and a truth, or consciousness, aspect (Skt. dharmakaya). The dharmakaya can be understood very simply as the pure mind of a buddha. However, only buddhas can communicate dharmakaya to dharmakaya, or mind to mind. So out of their great compassion, buddhas manifest themselves in more tangible physical forms, as the various rupakayas, in order to communicate with unenlightened beings, from us ordinary people all the way up to highly skilled bodhisattva meditators. There are two types of rupakaya: the enjoyment form aspect (Skt. sambhogakaya) and the transformation form aspect (Skt. nirmanakaya). The historic Buddha, Shakyamuni, is an example of the nirmanakaya. “The uncertainty about the nirmanakaya aspect is that at worldly levels we never know who is a nirmanakaya buddha and who is not,” Lama Yeshe pointed out with a sly smile. “Therefore, we should treat all beings as though they just might be buddhas.”

Lama told the students that while in retreat they should not meditate more than one hour at a time. “The reason is that when we meditate for one hour, we do a good job. And when we are tired we should stop. It is a completely personal individual experience, but we should not push. Lama Tsongkhapa says that when your meditation is going well, then you want to meditate more; so when you are having a good time, then you should stop. If the good time finishes before the end of your session, then the next time you won’t want to meditate. But if you have a powerful meditation, you’ll feel blissful as soon as you merely see your meditation place.”

Shunyata has many names

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


1979, Borobodur, Java, Lama Yeshe

Lama Yeshe’s third teaching on Maitreya’s text Discriminating Between the Middle and the Extremes (Tib. U ta nam che) began in the big tent. There was still no electricity in there, so people took notes by kerosene lamps. Jan Willis was present, as was Margaret Castles, an Australian who then moved down to Tushita-Delhi.

“Every night when Lama taught U ta nam che he had a different aspect,” Margaret recalled. “Some nights he was incredibly attractive and other nights he was very sick, puffy and uncomfortable. Some nights he was just blissful. At the beginning of the teaching we always said a Maitreya prayer and then chanted the mantra of the wisdom gone beyond—Ta ya taa gaté gaté para gaté parasamgaté bodhi soha—to a particularly slow and beautiful tune that gave us goosebumps. I loved Lama’s language. ‘Overestimated phenomena’ was his term for the apprehended objects of deluded materialistic views. A more common translation is ‘imaginary’ or ‘imputed’ phenomena. Emptiness was ‘total truth phenomena.’ His teachings were so experiential and his pronunciation difficult, but he made his language reach right across to us all, connecting our own range of languages.”

Jimi Neal was Lama’s assistant this year. “It was great. There were no Tibetan scholars around so I got to go up to his room every day. We went through each stanza and wrote them out in English. But it wasn’t easy. Lama would often scold me, saying, ‘We already did that verse!’”

The focus this time was on chapter three. As before, Lama followed the text closely, translating many individual Tibetan terms. The text begins with a summary outlining the three categories of things: “overestimated phenomena,” “causational phenomena,” and “total truth phenomena.”

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on chapter three of U ta nam che, December 1979–January 1980:


1979, Borobodur, Java, Lama Yeshe

These three are the root of the subject. All existence—whether samsara or nirvana—is contained in these three categories. In Buddhism every existence has its own unique significant characteristic. Maybe you people think that Buddhism is not concerned with external existence, but only with the mind. That is not true. Shunyata has many names, you know. Each different name gives a different comprehension of what shunyata is. Each term means essentially the same thing, but each one gives a different feeling. This term, total truth phenomenon, brings a certain kind of blessing, as it is saying that shunyata is the only truth and that overestimated phenomena and causational phenomena are false. They are all false appearance, producing delusion. They are like the banana tree, in that they do not have any solid essence. All the Prajnaparamita commentaries and texts explain reality in this way. And this is why Shantideva—you remember Shantideva, who wrote A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life?—wrote that every single tiny word of the Buddha’s teachings were for the purpose of helping sentient beings to gain direct wisdom of shunyata. Every single teaching. Also, in Chandrakirti’s Madhyamaka text, he states that when the Buddha taught relative truth, this was his method to lead sentient beings to absolute wisdom.

The teaching was complex and filled with many new terms. It was a classic philosophical teaching illustrated by Lama’s many insights into the Western mind, together with his indomitable humor. There were frequent outbreaks of laughter. The students needed the jokes as it was a demanding teaching.

Thubten Chodron arrived from Italy and helped Jimi and Sylvia Wetzel with the translation. “We spent a lot of time going through the work with Lama,” recalled Chodron. “There were constant interruptions. People were always coming in to ask Lama this or that. I watched as he mirrored their personalities every time, showing them themselves. The new students always fell for his jokes and humor. They were utterly charmed and warmed by him, but the older students often didn’t laugh as hard. They had learned there was a deeper level beneath Lama’s jokes they needed to pay attention to.”


1979, Borobodur, Java, Lama Yeshe

Ken Liberman, an academic, just loved the U ta nam che teachings. “My field of expertise is European epistemology, upon which existentialism as an ethical system is based. It looks at how reality is projected by our own concepts. Lama Yeshe’s teachings on the Chittamatrin Maitreya text U ta nam che was brilliant stuff. I was stunned by how similar it was to my own work. I told Lama and he asked me to teach him Western philosophy. So for six weeks I went up to his room every day after his nap with Edmund Husserl’s Introduction to Pure Phenomenology tucked under my arm. I’d raise a topic from Husserl and he’d get out a text and we’d discuss both interpretations. I read the whole book to Lama, who happily collected terminology to use in his teachings. Afterward I decided to learn the Tibetan language because they have been at the game hundreds of years longer than Westerners and obviously have more to say.”


One can only be utterly grateful

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


1979, Australia

Peter Kedge was not having a good time. “Lama was getting at me in Australia. As usual, I was very clean around him, like a surgeon. I washed my hands after I touched anything and prepared his food so cleanly. I just about sterilized the cutlery, but still he picked it up, spat on it as though it was dirty, rubbed it and put it back. I’d cook something so carefully and he’d say it was disgusting. And so it went.

“It wasn’t the first time Lama had played with me in this way,” Peter explained. “Once, when we were in a hotel in Delhi I was absolutely exhausted from Lama pulling my wires and just couldn’t take any more needling. I had made Lama’s bed so many times that day—in the morning and after his rest, once more when he’d pulled it apart again. This time, while I was making it up yet again, he came in and said, ‘One more thing…’ and I just left the bed half made, walked out and slammed the door, to my shame.

“Another time we were in London and Lama wanted to buy artificial flowers at Harrods, which has a wonderful selection. Silk flowers are everywhere now but they were quite special back then. Tibetans love them and Lama wanted to offer some to his gurus in India. So we were going through London and being English, I knew how to get to Harrods. But Lama insisted I stop people along the way and ask them directions. Of course this bugged me like anything, really offended me. He would say to me, ‘You don’t know. Ask this person.’


1979, England, Lama Yeshe

“On other occasions he’d be searching for an English word in a talk or at a meeting and he’d ask for suggestions. French and Spanish people would suggest words for him, but when I’d suggest a word he’d say, ‘Phoo! You don’t know English!’

“Once in a public talk Lama was talking about pollution from aircraft and used the example of a jet trail, saying it was pollution. But being a Rolls-Royce–trained aircraft engineer I said that water vapor is actually more evident than any exhaust from a gas turbine engine. Anyway, I was rubbished for that in front of 200 people. This constant abrasion of the ego became very tiresome, but of course it was also essential and part of the process for which one can only be utterly grateful.”

Peter continued. “Lama used to get terrible sneezing fits. Instead of sneezing into his elbow or hand, as I felt was the right thing to do, he sneezed quite openly. I frequently got drizzled on when sitting in front of him taking dictation or discussing something. I’m sure it was on purpose. It was quite painful not knowing whether to feel disgusted and to point out how gross this was, or to feel that it was really a huge blessing.

“Lama was extremely sensitive to dirt and uncleanliness. If a place was dirty he sneezed continuously and his eyes ran. He seemed to pick up on dirty vibrations and could get sick from a number of things— the food, the person or people preparing the food, a dirty cup, a bed or just the ‘vibation’ of a place. When we stopped at roadside chai shops in India and drank from cups that were not properly washed, that sort of dirt never bothered Lama. He would just take the cup or spoon or whatever and say Om Ah Hum Om Ah Hum Om Ah Hum and sort of half spit half blow on the utensil or food. He said that purification always did the trick. One time I tried to do it on Lama’s behalf, to save him the trouble. I got howls of derision for the quality of my Om Ah Hum and blowing.”


The essence of natural medicine

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

22831_ngIn mid-December, Lama Yeshe gave a Medicine Buddha initiation over two days during which he stressed the inner quality that is the essence of natural medicine.

From Lama Yeshe’s Medicine Buddha teachings, Kopan, December 1979:

Our love is weak. We know we have love, but our love is so limited. That is why we have to meditate on limitless love. The limitation of our love is the problem. Our jealousy comes from this limitation. ‘I love you.’ What does that mean? Does that mean I want you to be happy? No! That means I want to be happy. ‘I love you’ almost means taking advantage in some way. So that is not love; it is completely the opposite. But limitless love is the psychologically healthy way. With limitless love, no one can irritate you. It is amazing! And its function is to understand every person’s needs and to wish that they get the happiness they need. Everyone needs happiness, without exception. With limitless love we give our energy and time with a wish-fulfilling attitude, instead of feeling jealous when someone else receives something.

 What is bodhicitta? Bodhicitta is a Sanskrit word. Citta means heart, the totally open heart. It is like the lotus, which first grows in the mud and then slowly, slowly opens up fully into a pristine lotus blossom. So this sense of totally open, or totally developed, can also be understood as omniscience, totally wisdom and compassion. And this is what we call “buddha.” “Buddha” means one who is totally open and totally developed, one in whom all limitations have been extinguished. This buddhahood state is also one of total healing. And bodhicitta is the attitude wishing to lead all beings to that total healing state.


12th Meditation Course, 1979, Kopan Monastery, Nepal

 And how did the Medicine Buddha become so special, having this energy to heal diseases and so on. The Medicine Buddha was once a sentient being, like us. He was not special. But at some time he woke up and saw all living beings, filled with diseases, misconceptions, karma, demons, and so on. On this earth how many sentient beings have sicknesses or disease? Now in our twentieth century cancer is everywhere; it is this century’s worst disease. Also, how many people’s minds are sick, occupied by spirits or demons? Then, of course, there is the demon of our egos that creates great suffering, shaking our minds.

 Seeing all this, his bodhicitta attitude grew and became great healing for all these universal living beings. As a bodhisattva he prayed with great determination to be successful in helping sentient beings. He was very determined, which is why he became a great healer.

So what is Medicine Buddha? Medicine Buddha is this attitude, bodhicitta. He is the fully developed consciousness energy of wisdom-compassion, manifesting as blue radiating light.

Many people stayed on at Kopan to do retreat or in hopes of getting an interview with Lama Yeshe. Some thoroughly enjoyed their retreats, whereas others had a miserable time. When they brought their problems to Lama Yeshe, he often turned them back on their own resources. “I trust your wisdom, dear, I trust your wisdom. Thank you, thank you.”

Over the years Lama Yeshe’s classmates had often asked him to return to Sera and teach the young monks there but he was staunchly committed to teaching Westerners. For a long time his classmates believed he was wasting his time, as they had considered it impossible to teach Dharma to Injis. By this time, however, this somewhat dismissive attitude toward Westerners had definitely begun to change.

12th Meditation Course, 1979,  Kopan Monastery, Nepal

12th Meditation Course, 1979, Kopan Monastery, Nepal

Now, not only did the Tibetan community recognize Lama Yeshe as a well-known teacher of Westerners, they also believed him to be wealthy because of this. As a result, Lama received many requests for support from the Tibetan community, such as this letter from the Gelugpa Buddhist Cultural Society in Bylakuppe:

We would like to request you, while beseeching your understanding and not considering us greedy and presumptuous—we have bought quite a lot of land with a view to farming to support the study and practice of the two tantric and three practice monasteries. However this year wild pigs and elephants have destroyed our harvests which has resulted in losses…

And so on.

Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche always tried their utmost to support His Holiness the Dalai Lama in maintaining the monasteries and Tibetan communities, though the actual details of what happened in this particular circumstance have been lost.


We need to channel our practical energy

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

(06577_ng.JPG) Lama Yeshe teaching at Vajrapani Institute, California, 1983. Photos by Carol Royce-Wilder.

The day after the Manjushri Open Day the lamas left for London, spending a relaxing night at Joyce Petschek’s house before flying to San Francisco for a few days. Piero left the tour and went to Spain. No teaching duties were scheduled for the lamas while they were in California. They needed a rest. With Peter Kedge and Zia Bassam in attendance they arrived at Gabriel and Lois Audant’s house one day earlier than expected.

Lois Audant: “Peter telephoned us to ask if we could put them up, but somehow our wires got crossed. We cleaned the place night and day for three days. The night before we were expecting them, we came home from work to find them sitting at our kitchen table. ‘Welcome to my home,’ said Lama Yeshe. ‘Come and have some tea with me!’ We were a little embarrassed. Of course, we moved out immediately.”

“Without realizing it I had confused the time change and given Lois and Gabriel the wrong date,” Peter Kedge explained, “so there was no one to meet us at the airport in San Francisco. We took a taxi to their house, but no one was home. I called a cab and got a hotel room for Lama, who needed to rest after the twelve-hour flight. Then we went back to the house where I opened a screen window, climbed inside, opened the front door and let everyone in. We quickly made ourselves very much at home. While we were enjoying our tea Gabriel and Lois came home and found us there. Lama was not pleased with me over that. As the manager, it was my fault.”

On August 27, Lama Yeshe had a long meeting with the directors of Vajrapani. They were to sponsor a visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the University of California at Santa Cruz on October 2. Lama had this to say to the Vajrapani board of directors during that meeting:

(06621_ng.JPG) Lama Yeshe teaching at Vajrapani Institute, California, 1983. Photos by Carol Royce-Wilder.

We need to channel our practical energy. For example, historically, many of our students have taken responsibility, have given their energy, their life, everything. But our answer has been that all this energy has disappeared somewhere. Disappeared. This is wrong. In one way I feel the responsibility lies with the administrative people, with a lack of capability around how to use this energy. We cannot simply use students’ generosity, their money, like poof! Gone. Do you understand? We cannot throw it away. It is as if suddenly the energy is gone, like you’ve thrown it away. It is not fair, you know. The students give out of their own generosity, not in order for them to get pleasure. Out of their devotion to the Buddhadharma they just give. Isn’t it? So that is the purpose for which we must use what they have given, their energy, their money, their time. It needs skillful management.

Somehow we need a realistic way to administer. And we need everybody to understand what our aim is. If you do not understand what our aim is, what we are really trying to do, there is no point. Also, if we disagree with each other, there is no question. If some people disagree it doesn’t matter; they are not going to agree even if Buddha comes. Who cares? Who worries about two or three people disagreeing? That is their problem. But my understanding is that the essential meditators have to understand. We have to understand our essential aim. We have to be clean clear among ourselves, so that the majority of people will have confidence in what the essential administrator is doing. Then we can establish something important and we can make progress.

You do one thing perfectly and you attain everything

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


Geshe Jampa Tegchok

Seated on a teaching throne at the end of the beautiful old chapel with its immensely high ceilings and stained glass windows, Geshe Tegchok gave his first talk at Manjushri Institute while wearing the oddest square-lensed blue spectacles. Later, Lama Zopa Rinpoche conferred a Chenrezig empowerment, followed by Lama Yeshe’s Tara Cittamani empowerment and six days of commentary by Lama. This was held in what had been the billiard room of the old Priory. Peter Kedge and Connie Miller taped everything. Of the 120 people attending that commentary, 105 stayed on for the retreat.

Lama Yeshe taught twice a day, and although the text lay open before him he did not teach directly from it. There are several different types of commentaries that can be given on a meditative practice. Traditionally, the first teaching explains the meaning of each verse, line and word. Only later will a teacher offer an experiential teaching on the  practice. Contrary to tradition, Lama’s teachings were almost always experiential in nature.

Lama Yeshe’s descriptions of Tara were psychological and accessible, rather than textual. He presented Tara as a vehicle through which to discover one’s own intuitive knowledge and wisdom. “Men sometimes need contact with female energy, otherwise, they go crazy!” Lama explained. His language bridged the  worlds between traditional orthodoxy and modern desire. Tantra became exciting and available as Lama Yeshe brought it to life.

(16769_sl.tif) Lama Yeshe wearing a ceremonial crown of the five dhyani buddhas for the Tara statue procession, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1976. Behind him is Yeshe Khadro (Marie Obst) on the left and Wendy Finster and  Ngawang Khyentse on the right.

Every day Jon Landaw led a review of the teachings. He had become an invaluable assistant, though  Lama still teased him mercilessly, calling him, “My Jewish genius!”

From Lama Yeshe’s 1979 Tara Cittamani teachings:

Sometimes Dharma becomes a complete hassle.  Let’s say you have promised to do this sadhana daily, you have commitment. But whenever you see Cittamani Tara you feel sick. “Oh, it’s already midnight!” And you are disaster. But if you can do it in two minutes, that’s okay. So instead of having guilt feelings, just go and do it. Sometimes Westerners take too many commitments and don’t know how to do them. In other words, they are lost again, lost in spiritual materialism. You don’t know what to do. Chenrezig and Tara and all these deities and you don’t know what on earth it means and you don’t understand anymore.

 Instead of becoming helpful for you, Dharma becomes your enemy. Dharma becomes cause for neurosis and guilt. I think that is useless.

In each sadhana you’ll find a refuge prayer, maybe three times, five or six bodhicitta prayers, and some kind of Vajrasattva practice. One good bodhicitta meditation is enough. Put your emphasis on one thing and go quickly over the others. Do this rather than allowing your practice to become a disaster.

 Atisha once said, “Tibetan people devote themselves to a hundred deities and don’t attain one, whereas Indian people devote themselves to one deity and attain a hundred.” I think Atisha is reasonable and correct. The Indian custom is much better than the Tibetan. That’s garbage. You do one thing perfectly and you attain everything.

     24982_ngTara is a perfect example. If you practice every day and do retreat for months, years—maybe you do only Tara retreat for fifty years—then in fifty years, by attaining the realization of Tara, you can do anything. But right now, you are ambitious for other things because you don’t have anything. And the same thing happens with the Dharma. Let’s say that somebody is giving a really high teaching. “Wow! I want to take this one—this one is really powerful!” When you say this you are really on a power trip. You want power. If you are not realistic, then this practice is useless. I’m sorry; I have no room for this. Such a student will never have any satisfaction no matter how many teachings he receives, because he won’t have any practical sadhana within himself.

Now you know who my boss is

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

 Zia Al Bassam

Zia Al Bassam

Lama Yeshe usually spent Losar at Kopan, but in 1979 he enjoyed the Losar holiday in Dharamsala. Elisabeth Drukier and the recently ordained Zia Bassam were sent ahead to clean his room at Tushita. Dirty rooms now made Lama sick very quickly. “Zia was a meticulous cleaner and we had to do it perfectly,” said Elisabeth. “Lama liked to have boxes of Kleenex everywhere and we learned to line wastebaskets with plastic bags. That was useful, as he was forever spitting. Every time he came back from the West his luggage was filled with boxes of Kleenex and plastic bags.”

“I used to try and tell Lama it wasn’t appropriate to spit into wastebaskets,” said Peter Kedge, “but even at the time I got the impression Lama had a reason for doing it, even if it annoyed people.”

Many of Lama Yeshe’s students and some Mount Everest Centre boys followed him to Dharamsala to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings and attend the big Losar puja. All the Sangha were given offerings of 100 rupees each, instead of the usual five or ten. The boys had never had so much money and were thrilled. But sure enough, as they piled into the new Jeep to go back up the steep road to Tushita, Lama calmly turned around from his front seat, held out his hand and said, “Okay, give me your money.”

Max Redlich also followed Lama to Tushita. “I always felt Lama would take care of me forever. He was performing a series of protector pujas at that time and every night I played the big drum for them. From where I sat I could peek through the lines and see Lama’s face. Every time he clashed the cymbals, I knew I had to bang the drum. These pujas went on for days. Sometimes Lama Zopa Rinpoche was there, sometimes he wasn’t. At the time I didn’t even know what kind of pujas they were. I’d go into daydreams with business plans for ‘when we get back to Tibet,’ which was a popular refrain. I was making all these plans in my head for hotels and making money to bring Dharma to the West. After one puja Gen Jampa Wangdu leaned over and rubbed his two fingers together in that universal money gesture, showing me he had read my mind exactly.
15864_sl“One afternoon Lama told me I didn’t need to attend that day’s puja. I felt a little left out and went off to my room. Suddenly I knew something was going to happen. I could hear the puja starting up, the drums going, but I just sat there, completely tense. Suddenly, Maureen came running in and said, ‘Quick, someone’s trying to set fire to all the building materials for Lama’s new house!’ I raced off and caught a guy just about to set fire to a pile of woodshavings. I managed to talk him out of it. I’m sure Lama had foreseen this, which was why he didn’t want me to be in the puja.”

In May, when the teachings were over, Lama Zopa Rinpoche went off to Lawudo to lead a nyung-nay retreat, while Lama Yeshe stayed on at Tushita Retreat Centre. He loved being in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama and Trijang Rinpoche were just down the road and Ling Rinpoche just around the hill, and where he was under less pressure than at Kopan or in the Western centers. He had great respect for his teachers and once told Jon Landaw, “If ever you need help deciding whether to do something or not, just consult Trijang Rinpoche. You don’t even have to tell him your question. Just formulate it in your mind, ask for a response, and he will answer yes or no.”

One day, Lama took Piero Cerri with him to meet Trijang Rinpoche. The conversation was in Tibetan, but afterwards Lama told Piero, “Now you know who my boss is.” Every Tibetan monk had a “boss” and Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche was undoubtedly Lama Yeshe’s.

“Lama appeared to rely on logic rather than magic to predict a person’s future,” said Piero. “He’d say, ‘You are behaving like this, so you will end up becoming like this.’ It was a mixture of clairvoyance and common sense but very precise and sharp. Lama always knew exactly what I was up to.”

Max Redlich had no doubts on this score. “Sometimes Lama would walk around the garden. I found him so powerful I was too petrified to come out of my room in case I ran into him. Once when our paths crossed he just looked me slowly up and down, as he often did, and I knew he could see every atom of me.”


Trijang Rinpoche

When Peter Kedge found some tapes of Trijang Rinpoche’s commentary on Heruka, Lama immediately went into retreat with them in his big room. He completed that retreat on 9 May 1979 and began making a batch of blessed pills. A student typed up a list of the astonishing ingredients in those pills: Lama Tsongkhapa’s hair and bone, Lama Tsongkhapa’s robe, Swiss cheese, mud, Heruka Yamantaka mandala sand from the Dalai Lama, Sera Hayagriva torma, Trijang Rinpoche’s dutsi (blessed nectar) pill, white raisins, mango, geranium, Dutsi Chömen from the Dalai Lama, whiskey, butter, saffron, honey, “Evening in Missaula” tea, peppermint, elder flowers and snakegrass were just a few. The finished pills were the size of a small blueberry.

On 26 March 1979 Lama had written to Massimo Corona to inform him that Geshe Yeshe Tobden was now ready to go to Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa.

“It was actually His Holiness the Dalai Lama who sent me to Italy, not Lama Yeshe,” said Geshe Yeshe Tobden. “Claudio Cipullo lived near me in Dharamsala while I was quite sick. He was moved by seeing I was a very serious monk and meditator, so he and Piero went to the Dalai Lama and asked him to send me to Italy. Claudio was the main one. I am a Sera Mé monk and knew Lama Yeshe from Buxa. He had repeatedly asked me to go to Italy, but I never agreed with him. Then His Holiness asked me to go and said it would be very beneficial. I stayed two years in Italy. Nothing shocked me about Westerners because I had already seen so many in Dharamsala.”

Everyone knew Lama Yeshe was visiting the meditators in their stone huts above Dharamsala in search of geshes to send to the West. Rumor had it he accused one of them of just sitting in the mountains thinking about his bank account, which was exactly what he was doing. His brother had just left him some money and he was sitting in his hut thinking about what to do with it.

Lama Yeshe’s half-brother, Geshe Tsering, had left Kopan and was now living at Tushita Retreat Centre. Students who wished to offer money to him were instructed by Lama to put it into his own account instead. Max Redlich thought this a little unfair, but Lama told him, “Dear, I look after them all from birth to the grave. Who takes care? I take care!”

Geshe Tsering: “The only thing Lama Yeshe ever sent me from the West was a book of postcard scenes. When Geshe Thinley and I were in Sera we didn’t have one paisa, so I wrote to Lama Yeshe about how when we came from Tibet we are five people with only seventy-five rupees between us, which I had shared around evenly. So Geshe Thinley and I wrote to him together saying, ‘If you want to help please do so right now, not after we are dead.’ After that he sent us 600 rupees, but said he had to keep money for his small disciples. I was always fighting with him over money. Eventually he gave me pocket money of 100 rupees a month, but he didn’t give anything to Thinley.”

Geshe Tsering at Tushita, 1979

Geshe Tsering

However, Lama had set Geshe Tsering up for life at Tushita and he also had a job for Geshe Thinley at Chenrezig Institute in Queensland. When Geshe Thinley heard this he asked his brother for some clothes, as he owned almost nothing. But that was his style. Lama gave him a shirt, a zen (monks’ shawl) and a shemtab (monks’ skirt).

“Lama loved Geshe Thinley,” said Peter Kedge. “He spent time with him and really looked after him. One time I was at Tushita and Geshe Thinley was in the room. Suddenly Lama said to me, ‘Ask Geshe Thinley some Dharma questions.’ I don’t think I came up with anything too profound, but Lama was keen to show Geshe Thinley that his students were studying and had some Dharma understanding. I suppose that was also part of persuading him to go to Australia.”

Some Westerners were even more poverty-stricken than the Tibetans, and received a lot less sympathy. An American monk, Jampa Gendun, formerly Sanford Jaffe and known by most as Chaitanya, had worked on the first English translation of Lama Chöpa, The Guru Puja. Now he was penniless.

Jampa Gendun: “I was an IMI monk, though I had been ordained by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey. I was so broke I was about to go to Tehran to teach English because the money there was so good. When Gareth Sparham told Lama Yeshe about this plan he said, ‘No no no, he musn’t go. Tell him I’ll give him what he needs to stay.’

“My parents were dead and I had nobody to help me, so I accepted Lama’s offer to stay at the FPMT’s Inji Gompa. I ran up a bill of eighty rupees a month until the monk in charge threw me out, with a warning not to tell Lama Yeshe about it. It was terribly unfair.

“I spoke Tibetan and knew that many Tibetans were openly critical of Lama Yeshe, but not of Geshe Dhargyey, although both of them had been personally requested by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to teach Westerners. The Tibetans thought this was a total waste of time. Their resentment of Lama was based on jealousy, because he was successful.”

The English translation of The Guru Puja (Lama Chöpa), written by the First Panchen Lama, was published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in June 1979. Garrey Foulkes did the cover illustration and the translators included Alex Berzin and Judith Diane Short, Jampa Gendun’s girlfriend from their Rajneeshi days, known in those days as Priya. Over thirty years later this translation is still in use around the world.


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