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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.”

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