Meeting Zina Rachevsky
“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.