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Villa Altomont continued…

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Although Zina was quite serious about developing a spiritual life, she was still pretty hedonistic. Drugs had been a part of her life for a long time. A true child of the 1960s, she had taken LSD with Timothy Leary at his Millbrook estate in New York. Marijuana was a staple in her life. “I don’t know which came first for the Injis,” said Zopa Rinpoche, using the common term among Tibetans for Westerns, “LSD or The Way of the White Clouds.” Once when Zina was going out to buy marijuana, Lama Yeshe confronted her straightaway and told her he didn’t want her to use drugs. Zina suddenly realized that he had known what she was doing all along.

For Zina, life was still a party- hours in the bathroom, choosing jewels to wear, selling jewels or other possessions when funds were low, purchasing more from local craftsmen. She had stacks of matching luggage, closets full of fine linens, dinnerware and decorations. Wherever Zina set up home, it was always a palace.

A princess needs an entourage and Villa Altomont gave the monks their first experience of Injis at play. Soon Lama Yeshe was adding cocktail party mimicry to his comic routines, holding his glass just right, turning self-consciously this way and that. His brilliant acting had everyone in fits of laughter.

Thubten Yeshe had no illusions of Zina; he often hid his face as she strode through the local markets, traffic-stoppingly gorgeous in catsuit and cape, full of her own self-importance, insulting the local people, believing she was the reincarnation of Madame Blavatsky. The monks from Buxa would mutter, “What is this senior monk and great debater doing with this arrogant Inji woman!” Lama Yeshe knew exactly what they thought. Zina was a classically samsaric woman; she was glamorous, famous and beautiful, and she sought pleasure in material things. These had already failed her, but still she tried to squeeze the last drop of pleasure from them. She was not yet ready to recognize that all these things had so far failed to make her happy and could never do so, so she habitually returned to them for further unsatisfactory pleasure. But from Lama Yeshe’s perspective, if Zina could learn Dharma, anyone could. Besides, he could see how unhappy she was.

In the summer of 1967, Nikolaus Dutschke came from Berlin to stay. “He stayed for a few months; the whole time he was writing a novel on a continuous roll of paper,” said Clive Giboire. “Then there was Bhagavan Das, alias Michael Riggs, who helped the lamas with their English, and his friend, a tall thin American called Dharma Dipo. Zina liked socializing, provided it was with the ‘right’ people. I had a birthday party there one time and wanted to invite Mrs. Shaw, who ran the guest house, but that just wasn’t on.”

“Zina and I were in love,” said Nikolaus. “With the lamas there we had a wonderful family life around them. Every day the summerhouse throbbed like a drum as they did their practices there. During that summer Zina and I received a kind of initiation; we left the world of parties and hashish behind. Rhea was with us all the time. Lama Yeshe was the adult among us, even though he was just thirty-two, the same age as me. Zina was four years older. It was amazing how Zopa could translate for us. He was just a teenager!” Zopa Rinpoche was in fact twenty-one, but he was so slight that everyone believed that he was much younger.

“Zina was so unpredictable,” said Nikolaus, “constantly furious, impatient, unjust and outrageous. Lama Zopa was absolutely scared of her. I spent all my time consoling people, assuring them she didn’t really mean to hurt them. I was there for her in any way she needed me. We always had our meals with the lamas, and at night as I wrote, I could hear their little bells and chants coming from the tea house.”

Bhagavan Das was already a famous figure at that time, an American who had become a Hindu guru and dressed like an Indian sadhu. “I came to Darjeeling in the fall of 1967, got off the bus and found Zina’s house. When we greeted each other, she said, “Michael, you have to meet my lamas,” just like you’d say, “You have to meet my dogs.” Their doghouse was a shack with windows. When Lama Yeshe greeted me at the door, I still remember his smile- it lit up the night sky like a sun. Lama Zopa sat in the corner, a skinny kid wrapped in a blanket. Lama Yeshe was his mother and so sweet and kind to him, just like my own grandmother, who had raised me until I was six, when she had been killed.

“I loved being in that room with Lama Yeshe. I spoke Hindi like a five-year-old, and he spoke it like a seven-year-old, so we were on the same page. He asked me if I would teach him English, and in return he taught me Tibetan Buddhism. We had tea together every morning for a couple of weeks while he taught me and I taught him. He was so humble. He would always bow to me when I arrived and I would kiss his hands. He was just pure love and devotion, a mahasiddha and rainbow light came out of his teeth.”


Villa Altomont

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“After a month of going back and forth to Ghoom, Zina asked the monks if they would come and live with her in Darjeeling. Incredibly, they agreed, transferring themselves and their few belongings to Villa Altomont. They stayed in Zina’s cold, glassed-in summerhouse for nine months. This small outbuilding contained a table, one door, and just enough room on the floor for the monks to sleep, one on either side of the door. Meanwhile, Zina swanned around her sprawling bungalow with a continuous parade of exotic guests. She addressed the monks as “Lama Yeshe” and “Lama Zopa.”

Early every morning a manservant brought tea to the lamas while they did their daily prayers. Zina rose around 8:00 am; the monks were always shocked by how she looked. “When she first came out in her long dressing gown, she looked seventy,” recalled Lama Zopa. “Then she spent two hours in the bathroom. The house only had one bathroom, so we all had to walk through her museum…things to paint and fix her body spread out everywhere. Then at 10:00 am when she came for teachings, she looked twenty, maybe twenty-five. A huge difference!”

Lama Yeshe, the natural clown, would imitate Zina’s face-painting rituals to howls of laughter from Zina and her friends. “Am I okay?” he would say, looking worriedly into an imaginary mirror. Zina had an extensive wardrobe, wonderful jewelry and a collection of wigs. She was fond of dressing up, often changing outfits several times a day.

After breakfast Zina would spend the next hour or two with the monks, who went over texts with her and listened to stories about her remarkable life. After lunch, she would usually go to one of Darjeeling’s two movie houses, while Clive Giboire would help Lama Yeshe with his English. Both monks were absolutely dedicated to learning this language, often breaking out in Americanisms, hippie jargon and modern idioms to the great amusement of their audiences.

Several times a week throughout his nine months at Villa Altomont, Lama Yeshe walked two miles through rain and constant fog to visit two elderly Christian women who were also teaching him English. They had devoted themselves to learning Tibetan in order to teach Tibetans about Christianity. Before class they all sang Christian songs together. Zopa Rinpoche attended these sessions only occasionally. On his feet Lama Yeshe wore thick black rubber sandals made from automobile tires. Most of the Buxa monks wore these as they were very strong and very cheap. There were no cars or buses and the monks had no money, so they walked everywhere.

During this time, Lama Yeshe continued to study grammar and astrology with a well-respected local Sherpa, Ngawang Yonten, who published an astrological calendar every year giving details of planetary movements, the world’s weather and auspicious events through the year. Soon Lama Yeshe was able to build an astrological calendar for a whole year.

Nehnang Pawo Rinpoche, who had first recognized the child Dondrub Dorje as the reincarnation of the abbess, Aché Jampa, was also living in the area, residing at the oldest monastery in Darjeeling. When Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche went to visit him, they took Zina with them. “His manner reminded me of His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche,” said Zopa Rinpoche later. “While he was talking to us, many flies were flying around the room. As he sat there, he’d stretch out his hand and catch one, then blow on it and let it go.”

Delighted with “her” lamas, Zina sent postcard photographs of Lama Yeshe holding baby Rhea to friends in Europe, including an old friend from Mykonos, Olivia de Haulleville, who was then working for the World Health Organization in Paghman, Afghanistan. “How do you like my babysitter!” wrote Zina. Olivia, who had a son the same age as Rhea, thought, “Oh God, what has Zina done now!”

Meeting Zina Rachevsky

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Some months after Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche’s arrival, a tall, glamorous Western woman turned up at Samten Chöling. This was Zinaide Rachevsky, then aged thirty-six.

It was a beautiful Sunday when Zina met the monks for the first time. Accompanying Gene and Zina was Jampa Gyaltsen Mutugtsang (whose name means “smoke of the dragon”), a married Kagyu tulku whom Zina had found to translate for her. “I took her everywhere, to see everyone,” he said. “She wore Western dress with lots of jewelry and asked many questions. I knew Zopa Rinpoche from the Young Lamas’ Home School, where we had spent six or seven months together. She knew she wasn’t meeting Domo Geshe Rinpoche, though at school we had always called Zopa Rinpoche ‘Domo Rinpoche’ because he had come from that monastery. I never heard him called Zopa until I met Westerners. Rinpoche invited us in and offered tea.”

The first thing Zina saw when the door opened was tiny Zopa Rinpoche looking up from his painting. She introduced herself and said she was looking for a Dharma teacher. At first she didn’t see Thubten Yeshe, who was meditating in a corner of the dark room.

Suddenly he called to Zopa in Tibetan, “Who is she, what does she want?” Rinpoche replied that she was seeking enlightenment. Thubten Yeshe was astounded to hear a Westerner express such a request. The general attitude among Tibetans was that Westerners were unable to understand Dharma and that teaching them was a waste of time. Zopa Rinpoche had met Westerners before while at the Young Lamas’ Home School, where the young tulkus had often visited Western embassies in Delhi. But neither monk had ever met anyone like Zina.

Zopa Rinpoche called for tea, which duly arrived—a big monastery kettle of salty Tibetan butter tea. A big mug of it was poured for Zina, who drank it all, immediately. “That was the first time she had ever drunk Tibetan tea, and I don’t recall her ever drinking it again,” said Zopa Rinpoche.

Years later, Lama Yeshe recalled the day. “So there we were, and one morning a monk knocked at our door and said, ‘Lama Zopa’s friend has come to see him.’ It was Zina Rachevsky, a Russian-American woman, who was supposed to be a princess or something.

“She said that she’d come to the East seeking peace and liberation and asked me how they could be found. I was kind of shocked because I’d never expected Westerners to be interested in liberation or enlightenment. For me, that was a first. I thought, ‘This is something strange but very special.’ Of course, I did have some idea of what Westerners were, but obviously it was a Tibetan projection! So, despite my surprise, I thought I should check to see if she was really sincere or not.

“I started to answer her questions as best I could, according to my ability, but after an hour she said she had to go back to where she was staying in Darjeeling. However, as she was leaving she asked, ‘Can I come back tomorrow?’ So I said, ‘All right.’”

“Zina liked the atmosphere and asked some questions about Buddhism,” recounted Gene. “Rinpoche answered very well so she wanted to see him again. He agreed because since he was convalescing he had some spare time. But Zina needed help. Rinpoche’s English was not good enough and Thubten Yeshe didn’t speak any English at all. So two or three times a week I’d hire a Jeep and we would spend an hour or two with them. They were always together but Zina only spoke with Zopa Rinpoche because, being a tulku, he sat on a higher seat. Also, he spoke some English.”

“She came into our room like a thunderstorm,” said Zopa Rinpoche, “full of energy and enthusiasm and talking sharp sense about some high things and completely complicated nonsense about others. Most of her questions were about astral trips and psychic powers and those things.”

Zina began visiting the monks every morning at 9:00 am, bringing new questions every time. One day she came with a rock on which the mantra Om Mani Padmé Hum had been carved. “What is this for?” she asked. Another day she brought prayer flags. “Explain these. Why do Tibetans do this?” After two or three hours she would leave in the Jeep. Zina always brought her daughter Rhea, who wasn’t even a year old, with her but would leave her in the Jeep with her Nepalese nanny during these sessions.

“How We Started Teaching Westerners”

Video interview with Lama Yeshe on October 25, 1982 at Institute Lama Tzong Khapa in Pomaia, Italy

Lama Yeshe… by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

From the Foreword by Lama Zopa Rinpoche:

“Lama has those very high attainments but never shows people. How he shows outside is that when business people come he appears that way; when he meets children he behaves exactly like them and plays. He manifests exactly according to whatever kind of people come. It makes everybody happy when you do that. It is so very skillful. Really it is Buddha nature guiding and manifesting to the sentient beings. Buddhas manifest to the pretas as pretas and guide them in that form. They also manifest as animals and nagas to benefit those beings. Buddhas can be in the form of children, beggars, right people, kings, even spirits. Just because you see an ordinary being does not mean it is not Buddha. You can’t really tell who is Buddha or not when you go on the street. Buddha can be anywhere. It is amazing, unbelievable. Lama manifested in those ways.

For many years Lama used to read all sorts of texts, practice and write every day, as well as giving teachings late at night and advice to all those students who had problems. Late at night Lama would write twenty letters or more when Jacie was Lama’s student. Big piles of letters.

Lama is not only the guru showing the path, he is like a father looking after the students’ lives, correcting their behaviour, giving advice and happiness. Not only does Lama show the path to enlightenment, he is everything to the students, like a parent.”

Lama Yeshe’s Instructions

From the Introduction by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Lama Yeshe left instructions about the kind of biography he wanted written after his death:

‘My history, you should pool all information since Zina. All teachings, all ordinations, all refuge ceremonies. Where and how many people. All public lectures and question answer sessions, where and how many people. Also I want historical what happened each Centre.

‘First time hospital, Kopan, Shanti Bhawan, English Doctor there – Anila  Ann knows. He said: “Even you have one million dollars you never fix up your body, you can’t.”  Then in 1974 something with Nick in Madison. Geshe Sopa pushed for examination. All doctors freaked out. I want time, date, all history. I saw one famous Australian doctor, Yeshe Khadro knows. Then next year back in Madison he does not know why I am not dead.

‘What I did in Western world with Western people – all teachings, all business. Give Universal Education history, first with Max Mathews years ago, finally Connie Miller did.

‘Give history on all meditation courses, how many people, how did, where did, strict retreat etc. How many people have great experience.’

I spent nearly eighteen years working on this book – I could have easily spent much longer. Nevertheless, it is a beginning.  I believe there will be further biographies of Lama Thubten Yeshe, because his place in the establishment of Tibetan Buddhism in the West is so important. As several of his peers have said: no other monk of the Gelug lineage, besides His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has done more to spread the profound teachings and practices of Tibetan Buddhism.”

Welcome to Big Love

From the Introduction by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Welcome to Big Love, the biography of Lama Thubten Yeshe. This is the story of a Buddhist monk who changed our lives forever.  He taught us how to live, raise our children and die. He also taught us how to engage the unlimited potential of our minds in order to be of service to others.

In 1976 Lama Thubten Yeshe told me I was ‘a writer’, and that I should write for him.  I always enjoyed reading and words, but never had the confidence to consider myself ‘a writer’ until then.  At Lama’s request I began editing one of his teachings, and when that was finished wondered what to do next.  The only thing on my mind was to work for Lama Yeshe.

In 1977 I began importing into Australia some of the few books available in English on Tibetan Buddhism, published mostly by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, and Lama Yeshe’s new imprint, Publications for Wisdom Culture.

While running a fashion import business, again for Lama Yeshe’s organization, The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, I made a connection with The Age, Melbourne’s broadsheet daily newspaper.  I began writing occasional feature stories and in 1984 was offered a column.

Suddenly I felt this was my chance to write ‘for Lama’ because you can say anything in a column.  I began trickling Buddhist teachings through my work, which I wrote under a pseudonym.  By 2008 the column had been running for twenty-five years.

In 1992 Peter Kedge offered me the job of writing Lama’s biography, and his financial backing to travel the world and interview hundreds of Lama’s colleagues and students.  Initially, we thought it would take eighteen months, but that turned out to be eighteen years.  Peter has been a constant backstop and support to me throughout this time. As a foundation member of the Board of FPMT Inc and many years as Lama Yeshe’s attendant, his insights are invaluable and his dedication extraordinary.  This book would not exist without Peter.

I am quite sure there are many important stories about Lama that have not been told.  Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive would love to hear them.  Also, there is no doubt that I will have made mistakes in this work. I urgently request those who can identify these to please direct corrections to the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.”

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