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The First Trek to Lawudo (Part 2)

From 1969: Kopan’s Beginning by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

As recalled by Judy Weitzner:

“The trail was still easy and so we strolled along for quite awhile. We had to cross the river, using the bridge suspended high above the water. There were cables for handgrips and cables holding boards end to end—except where there were gaps between them!—where we were supposed to walk. The bridge swayed and bounced as we walked across one by one. I was afraid that the weight of two people might bring the bridge down, but the Sherpas were all giggling and laughing at our obvious fear. They said that the bridge had been constructe under Sir Edmund Hillary’s direction, so there was nothing to fear. Nevertheless, I found it terrifying.

“As we continued, we were all scattered along the path quite far apart from each other. Max and I were walking together. Suddenly the trail came to a dead end right at the base of a mountain. Not far ahead I could see a very steep path leading straight up, which was the path we needed to follow, but I just couldn’t believe it was the right one. Still, we had no choice but to start climbing. As we trudged upward, whenever we needed a hand or a boost, Lama Yeshe would make an appearance. I was nearing exhaustion when I came upon a Sherpa serving hot tea to the lamas. He had hiked down from Lama Zopa’s village, bringing tea. So we all sat and had tea on the side of the mountain. I was slowly getting the picture that Lama Zopa was an important person and that the Sherpas were very happy that he was coming to visit. We could often hear them saying, “Lama Zopa coming! Lama Zopa coming!”

“When we had just about reached Namché Bazar, Max and I just sat down on the trail overlooking the famous market town of the Himalayas. I watched the huge eagles gliding effortlessly on the updrafts and felt envious. I was tired and crabby and needed to muster energy to walk to the guesthouse where we would spend the night. It had turned cold, and although I was wearing my down jacket, I was still freezing. Lama Yeshe came along and sat next to us, admiring the view. He took my cold hands in his to warm them up. Suddenly I was jarred out of my self-pity and noticed what was going on. Here I was, dressed in multiple layers and still cold, while Lama was in a sleeveless shirt and light robes and was as warm as toast…and trying to take care of me. I asked him, ‘How can you do this? How can you be warm and I am cold, even with my down jacket?’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s easy, dear. In Tibet we learn this meditation to keep us warm. It is very necessary in cold weather.’ I had been plagued with cold all my life, and so I longed to learn it. Many years
later, I understood that Lama was talking about tummo meditation, which he later taught to  us.

“The next thing that happened is really hard to believe—but it did happen. Lama had a canteen of cold tea. He asked if I wanted something to drink and I said yes, but not tea. I was sick of it. ‘What would you like, dear?’ he asked. I told him Coca-Cola. There was no Coca-Cola in Nepal at the time, and I doubt that Lama knew what I was talking about. Nevertheless, he poured some liquid out of the canteen and gave it to Max. Suddenly she said, ‘Look, Judy, it’s Coke!’ I looked. It was carbonated. Bubbles were moving up the side of the cup. I tasted it and it was Coca-Cola! There on the mountainside I realized that Lama Yeshe was totally amazing and powerful. We all laughed and laughed and I forgot all about my exhaustion and bad mood.

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The First Trek to Lawudo (Part 1)

From 1969: Kopan’s Beginning by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Zopa Rinpoche had not returned to his birthplace since leaving for Tibet as a young child. Spring was perfect weather for trekking, and he wanted to go home to Lawudo. Word was sent ahead, and a trekking party was formed. It included Thubten Yeshe, Zopa Rinpoche, Max (who once again paid for the lamas’ expenses), Zina, Jacqueline Fagan (a New Zealander who had been at Villa Altomont), and Judy and Chip Weitzner. Judy, Chip, and Max were on their spring break from school. There was also a German photographer named Lorenz Prinz, who always wore a jaunty beret, and his female assistant, Christina. Prinz was completing a book of photographs of the Himalayas. He had experience with trekking in Nepal and helped us to organize eveything, even managing to hire the airplane belonging to the King of Nepal. He also told the Injis what clothes to bring.

Judy Weitzner later recalled, “Trekking was really something in 1969. We had to scrounge and scramble to come up with the right equiptment and food; in those days Kathmandu wasn’t full of trekking equiptment and used gear from many mountaineering expeditions as it is today. On the morning of 5 April 1969 we all turned up at the airport; Max showed up in those long brocade chuba, a silk blouse, and flowers stuck in the beautiful long wig she’d put on over her afro. She was always equipped for fashion but seldom for function! I rolled my eyes and said, ‘Max, we’ll be walking in the mountains for days.’ She pulled up her skirts and pointed to a pair of Nepalese army boots, her only gesture to actual hiking gear.

“Zina was in charge of equipping the lamas for the trek, but they showed up in flip-flop sandals and their robes- no boots, no jackets, no hats. I was mad at Zina for not taking more care, but they seemed content with what they had. We waited awhile for the pilot, but when one finally arrived, he announced that he was a replacement for the regular pilot, who was sick. The new pilot said that he had never flown their route before but was willing to give it a try.

“We literally tied outselves into our seats with ropes. Unfortunately, I already knew from a Canadian consultant to Royal Nepal Airplines that the landing strip at Lukla was 300 feet too short for the king’s plane, but I figured that they’d never jeopardize an entire airplane just for some charter money. I was wrong! It was the first time the lamas had flown anywhere. They sat at the back and smiled, while their malas clicked non-stop. It was the most harrowing flight I have ever been on. We were in abject terror, almost touching the mountains in one moment then dropping like a stone when we hit air pockets. Christina, Prinz’s assistant, fainted dead away. At Lukla the pilot had to climb high and then spiral down to approach the runway, which was clearly too short. So we were rushing headlong toward this sheer mountain face when the pilot suddently spun the plan around in a U-turn, bringing it to a dead stop facing the way we had come. We all piled out of the plane onto the ground as quickly as possible!

“Some Sherpas approached and Prinz hired them to carry some of the gear. We paid them the going rate, which was about $3 a day in those days. We regrouped at a tea house in Lukla then started a very pleasant, fairly flat walk up the mountain valley, following the trail of the Dudh Kosi River. I was lulled into thinking that trekking wasn’t really so tough after all. We spent the night in a Sherpa home of some relatives of one of our guides. They seemed to have cousins, aunts, and brothers in every village!

“In the morning Max wanted a bath. There was neither sufficient hot water nor a bathtub available for bathing. The family was put to work hauling water, heating it over a fire, then filling the largest washtub they owned for Max.”

Sherpas, Zopa Rinpoche and the Lawudo Lama

From 1969: Kopan’s Beginning by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“The Sherpas (Tibetan:shar pa, from shar “east” + pa “people”) are an ethnic group who live in the high mountain region of the eastern Himalayas. According to the Sherpas themselves, however, sherpa actually refers to all Tibetans, i.e., all “people from the east.” About 3,000 of the more than 10,000 Sherpas in Nepal reside in the Solu Khumbu valley, the entryway to Mount Everest from the southwest. However, some live farther west in the high Rolwaling Valley and in the Langtang-Helambu region directly north of Kathmandu. Sherpas have their own language, which resembles a dialect of Tibetan. Most Sherpas are Tibetan Buddhists of the Nyingma sect.

The term sherpa is also used to refer to local mountain people, men and also women, who work as guides and porters for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas. They are highly regarded as elite mountaineers and experts in their local geography. Historically Sherpas were traders; even today, yak trains carry various goods and food items across the Nangpa La pass to Tibet, returning with salt and wool.

The Sherpas grow or raise most of their food by herding yaks and planting potatoes. Yaks provide wool for clothing, leather for shoes, dung for fuel and fertilizer, milk, butter, cheese and meat. Potatoes, which grow at altitudes up to 14,000 feet, provide the Sherpas with their dietary staple: the main food eaten is Sherpa stew, shakpa, a meat- and potato-based stew with some vegetables mixed in. The typical Nepali fare of rice with lentils, called dhal bhaat, is also a common meal among Sherpas. Tea is the drink of choice, served in big thermoses, with plenty of milk and either sugar or salt and butter already added. Each household brews its own chang, which is a thick, rice- or barley-based beer.

Sherpa hospitality is legendary. Trekkers hiking along the paths into the mountains can stop for tea, or a meal, or an overnight stay at any Sherpa’s house, even the poorest, and be welcomed openly with kindness; no one is ever turned away from the door.

Every twelve years the Sherpa people of Solu Khumbu traveled from their mountain homes down to Kathmandu for a traditional pilgrimage tour of the holy Buddhist sites there. In the early spring of 1969 Zopa Rinpoche’s mother and other family members embarked on this pilgrimage, traveling to Kathmandu together with their friends and neighbors. But Zopa Rinpoche’s relatives had an even more compelling reason to head to Kathmandu that spring. They intended to beg Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the incarnation of the previous Lawudo Lama who had died in March 1945, to come back home to Solu Khumbu.

Dawa Chötar, the little boy who would eventually be ordained as Thubten Zopa, was born in the small town of Thangmé, just below the village of Lawudo, on 3 December 1945. His father had died when he was only two, leaving his impoverished mother with four children to raise, one of whom had died at the age of nine. He had an older brother, Sangye, and an older sister, Ngawang Samten. They dressed in rags and had little to eat. When he was barely able to walk, Dawa Chötar began trying to make his way up the mountain to Lawudo, a two-hour trek across a river and straight up the mountainside. He insisted that the cave up there was his home. He played at giving initiations and could name, apparently from memory, all the benefactors of the Lawudo Lama.

The Lawudo Lama had been a married salt trader with a son and a daughter. Married lamas are common in the Nyingma tradition, to which he belonged. He had decided to spend his life in retreat in a cave once used to store radishes. As he was digging it out, he discovered a beautiful space marked with sacred signs. But just as he was about to move into the cave, he was struck with paralysis. Later, he declared his disease a special blessing because it meant he could meditate undisturbed, having been rendered useless for anything else. So for thirteen years he sat in meditation on a stone seat in this cave, his hair left uncut and dressed always in an old white fur coat and a pair of big round earrings. It is said that during his cremation rainbow clouds filled the sky, flower-shaped snowflakes fell, and the air was filled with music.

Three years later a two-year old boy from one of the poorest families in the area began insisting he was the Lawudo Lama’s reincarnation. His relatives were embarrassed, but one night the late Lama’s daughter, Karzang, secretly visited the boy’s home with articles that had belonged to her father. Little Dawa Chötar identified them immediately. He was then subjected to public examinations; he passed every test and was officially recognized. When he was four years old, an uncle took him to Rolwaling Monastery, which was two days’ hard walk from Thangmé. The boy, now called Ang Gyältsen, spent seven years there, before his uncles took him to Tibet, where he was ordained at Domo Geshe Rinpoche’s Dungkar Monastery in Phag-ri. Not long after that, it was 1959 and he had to escape to India.”

Introducing Max Matthews (Part 2)

From 1968: Return to Nepal… For the First Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Although Max and Zina were both grandes dames, they were, nevertheless, two very different people. Zina was not actually very much older than Max, but she seemed considerably older in her appearance. “She’d done so much, taken so many drugs, read so much esoteric literature, dabbled in her witching, and had this Blavatsky trip going on,” said Max. “Zina had left no stone unturned. She had ‘made her soup’ as Lama Yeshe put it, and her last pregnancy seemed to have taken a lot out of her. But she was still hooked on the celebrity lifestyle with these hippies out at the Double Dorje house.

“On Mykonos, she had tried to get me to take LSD and was forever saying how drugs could open your mind. But I wasn’t into drugs. I used to throw people out of the gallery just for smoking bidis – I couldn’t tell the difference between those little rolled tobacco leaves and hashish. Sex and a few beers was my high. Zina was a much more experienced woman than I was. I was a baby. My freedom and my great salary were enough for me,” said Max.

Their backgrounds could not have been more different. Max’s current lifestyle was a far cry from the grinding poverty of her early years. Born in 1933 to a desperately poor black undertaker in Virginia, USA, Max and her siblings had often helped embalm bodies after school. “Embalming was all the go with poor blacks,” she said. Her parents’ marriage broke up when she was around ten years old and Max was adopted into a wealthy white family, with a house on the West Coast and an apartment in New York. Max was thirteen when that white couple separated. She stayed with her adoptive father, moving right into his bedroom. “The arrangement suited me just fine. I was no victim…. By the age of ten I was already a very sexually experienced little girl, and he treated me like a princess,” she said.

Max eventually got her Masters degree in education from Columbia University in New York, and after graduating, she was ready for adventure. Joining the American diplomatic service as a teacher gave Max the freedom to travel, the security of American protection, and an American salary. Her teaching career took her to Greece, Germany and Moscow and, in August 1968, landed her in Kathmandu.

 

Introducing Max Matthews (Part 1)

From 1968: Return to Nepal… For the First Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Far from this ancient life of ordered study and esoteric wisdom, yet just around the corner, lay the very worldly pleasures of Kathmandu. On the last Thursday of November 1968 Zina set off with Clive Giboire for an all-American Thanksgiving Day party at an art gallery right next to the American Embassy. Max’s Gallery was the first commercial art gallery in Nepal.
Its owner, Max Mathews, an African-American woman, worked as a teacher in the American diplomatic service’s international schools division. The job at Kathmandu’s Lincoln School paid very well, and Max definitely had a taste for the high life. No hippie, she lived in a beautifully furnished apartment above the gallery. She had arrived in Nepal only four months earlier, following a posting in Russia where she had acquired the impressive collection of icons and fine modern paintings now hanging in her new gallery.

Max was dynamite and Zina was nervous about meeting her again. They had originally known each other on Mykonos, where Max had spent her summer vacations, first while she was teaching in Germany and then when she moved to a new teaching position in Athens. “Zina had been gorgeous beyond belief,” said Max. “Astoundingly, traffic-stoppingly beautiful, with platinum hair. She wore things like a full-length mink coat with nothing underneath. She also wore a lot of black because she’d gotten involved with this witchy coven stuff in Paris.”

Max was pretty gorgeous herself, a small woman with a wonderful figure, twinkling black eyes, and a vivaciousness that stood out in any crowd. Max draped herself in luxurious brocades and exotic jewels. She was more conservative than Zina, but no less noticeable.

Despite the difficult history between them, they enjoyed meeting again in Kathmandu. “Well hi! Will you look at you!” they said to each other and settled into a pleasant evening of eating, drinking and talking. It was all extremely friendly. Max found Zina still elegant, despite her dramatically changed appearance. “She had gotten huge, massive. I was kind of shocked to see her in nun’s robes. When I launched into a description of my latest disastrous love affair with yet another married man, Zina said to me, ‘Come and meet my lamas…they’ll give you some advice.’ I promised to get in touch,” said Max.

Zina took Max along to Samten Ling to meet “my lamas,” which is how she always referred to them. “They were sitting on the floor in a very bleak little room. Lama Yeshe folded his hands, bowed and smiled,” said Max. “The next thing I knew I was on the floor, sobbing. I just cried and cried. I cried for hours. Zina and Lama Zopa were both there and I didn’t even acknowledge them. It was just bang! Instantaneous! When I finally stopped crying, I felt incredibly relieved, with no problems, no pain or questions. I felt I had come home and that Lama Yeshe was my guru. He just opened me up completely. I felt balanced and whole, like I was walking on air. I also felt committed. There was no going back,” she said.”

Serkong Dorje Chang

From 1968: Return to Nepal… For the First Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Following tradition, upon arriving in Nepal Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche paid their respects to the highest Gelug lama in the Kathmandu Valley, Serkong Dorje Chang. Zina loved meeting high lamas and Thubten Yeshe had prepared some questions for her to ask. Arriving at Serkong Rinpoche’s gompa at Swayambhu they asked directions from a nondescript passing monk, who directed them upstairs and told them to wait. To their surprise the great Serkong Dorje Chang and this seemingly insignificant monk turned out to be one and the same person. There were many tales told about Serkong Dorje Chang’s ability to disappear and reappear at will, and that he almost never appeared in photographs taken of him.

Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche knew that when you ask questions of a great yogi, he may not answer, may respond wrathfully, or may even ask you to leave. But if it is the right time of day (for example, dusk is considered inauspicious), and if your heart is sincere and your karma good, he will talk with you. Zina piped up confidently with a question about guru devotion, a central tenet of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. Serkong Dorje Chang replied with a small lesson. “I couldn’t comprehend any of it,” Zopa Rinpoche admitted later. “The only thing I heard was, ‘When the guru is sitting on the floor in front of you, just think, “This is Guru Shakyamuni Buddha.”’”

Serkong Dorje Chang had a text open beside him. In her direct Western manner Zina asked him to read from it. He refused, saying, “No, no, I’m completely ignorant.” “He often spoke like that if he felt there was no good purpose in teaching more,” said Zopa Rinpoche. However, Serkong Dorje Chang was soon to demonstrate another lesson on guru devotion. Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche arrived at Samten Ling just in time for a nyung-nay, the two-day fasting retreat associated with Avalokiteshvara, the buddha of compassion. The nyung-nay practice lineage was particularly important at Samten Ling. All the Samten Ling monks had come from the same monastery in Tibet near the Nepalese border north of Langtang, whose founder had authored an important nyung-nay practice text. The Samten Ling monks invited their guests to join them in the practice, which was scheduled to coincide with Lhabab Duchen, one of the four auspicious “wheel-turning” days that celebrate significant events in the life of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Typically, nyung-nays are sponsored. A benefactor pays for the food on the first day and gives generous offerings to each monk at the end. The Samten Ling monks invited Serkong Dorje Chang to perform the daily Mahayana ordination ceremony that takes place every morning during nyung-nay, in which one vows to keep the eight Mahayana precepts for twenty-four hours.

Serkong Dorje Chang entered the crowded gompa, sat on the throne, opened his text, and began the Mahayana motivation that precedes all practices and focuses on directing one’s efforts to the ultimate benefit of all sentient beings. “Real Dharma practice,” he said, “is if your guru tells you to eat ka-ka (feces), you eat it while it is still hot. There is no other motivation. Guru devotion leads to realization of the three principal aspects of the path leading to enlightenment.” He then closed the text, descended the teaching throne, and without another word left the room. The monks sat in silence contemplating his words. That day they took their vows by visualizing the Buddha leading them through the ritual, rather than receiving them from an actual teacher.

Zopa Rinpoche said later that those few words had struck him so deeply that he immediately accepted Serkong Rinpoche as a guru, including him in his visualization of the merit field.

Story of the Origin of Kathmandu Valley

From 1968: Return to Nepal… For the First Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“From the Buddhist scriptures comes the story of the origin of the Kathmandu Valley and the holy stupa of Swayambhu. Previously, Manjudeva, an emanation of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, came to Nepal. He circumambulated the valley, striding along the surrounding mountaintops. At that time, the Kathmandu Valley was an enormous lake, in the center of which was a hill covered with lotus flowers. Manjudeva took his great sword and sliced a gash in the mountains to the south. The waters of the lake drained away, leaving only a small lake behind; thus was the Kathmandu Valley made habitable. The gash came to be known as Chhobar Gorge, and through Manjudeva’s magical powers, a lotus was transformed into the Swayambhu stupa on its hilltop, which is holy to both Hindus and Buddhists.

The mystical aura associated with Kathmandu lured many to take a bus or a plane to that legendary valley. Many world-travelers got as far Kathmandu and went no farther. There was also a small community of Western diplomats and aid workers—Peace Corps, embassy staff, workers with other NGOs—living in the Kathmandu Valley. With them they brought an influx of foreign currency, especially American dollars. Many of these Western visitors were the sons and daughters of affluent Western middle-class families, and the Tibetan refugees and Nepali merchants were happy to profit from their patronage.

In 1968 Kathmandu was like the proverbial Shangri-la, untouched, innocent. Small streets, rickshaws rather than cars, only a few tourists, breathtaking views of the Himalayas, Hindu and Buddhist temples on every corner, occasional mountain-climbing expeditions making ready to trek to higher altitudes. Crime was almost unheard of, no one locked their doors. And there was no electricity, except in the area around the King’s palace. In honor of the thousands of hippies who passed through, Jochhen Tole in downtown Kathmandu came to be known as ‘Freak Street.’ A small nondescript lane, it was lined with hash shops, cheap hostels, handicraft shops, and simple little restaurants serving pancakes, buffalo hamburgers, and other approximated Western foods as well as Tibetan momos and Indian chai.

Boudhanath Stupa  in the 1960s

Boudhanath:

Located about 7 miles (11 km.) by crowded minibus from Kathmandu, Boudhanath was a small village, just a circle of tall Nepalese houses clustered around a massive stupa, a gigantic white dome dating from the sixth century and topped with buddha eyes painted on all four sides. A hugely powerful sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site, the Boudhanath stupa was ringed at the base with a brick wall set with 147 niches, in which were inset 108 copper prayer wheels that revolved continuously under the hands of passing pilgrims. Around the stupa one could find all aspects of Kathmandu life: elderly Tibetan grandmothers, backs bent from a lifetime’s work; Sherpa and Nepali porters carrying huge loads on their backs, held by a jute sash strapped across their brow; Nepali and Tibetan merchants hawking their wares displayed on the walkway; small Tibetan carpet weaving enterprises; giggling toddlers playing with rocks in the street, no pants, no shoes, no diapers; smiling Tibetan nuns strolling around the stupa, arm in arm; meandering hippies dressed in Indian lunghis, Kashmiri shawls, and Afghani hats, rapt expressions on their faces. Little shops sold Tibetan antiques and cheap odds and ends from India. Devout Buddhists performed kora (circumambulations) around the stupa day and night, circling clockwise, clicking their rosaries, endlessly spinning the stupa prayer wheels. The atmosphere was full of muttered mantras and half-whispered prayers for the dead, for families left behind, for relief from all the unimaginable sufferings of the sentient beings who fill unimaginable universes.”

Dharma Wisdom

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

With his quick ear for the hippie idiom, Thubten Yeshe put it simply: “I was a drop-out geshe!”

Later, when better able to express himself in English, he said, “I left Tibet with nothingness. Who helped me? My mum was not there, my bed was not there, all my comforts were not there. But Dharma wisdom explained everything to me. Really, I have no higher realizations, but personally, I am very happy the Chinese caused me to leave. I could have created an incredible attachment fantasy with my life with titled names and other ridiculous things. But it’s fanciful; it would have meant nothing. The Chinese pushing me out made me develop much more strength. Up to the twenty-fifth year of my life, I was incredibly taken care of in such good conditions, compared to Western people. But if you actualize your understanding of the nature of Buddhadharma for just ten minutes every day, it is really worthwhile and keeps you laughing, rather than just being restless.”

Zina is Ordained

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

Lama Yeshe: “Zina had decided to become a nun. I thought that was a good idea. But since according to the Vinaya, novice ordination requires the participation of at least four monks in addition to the preceptor, Lama Zopa and I couldn’t do it ourselves, so we went to Dharamsala to ask His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He couldn’t do it either but arranged for some other lamas to ordain her…”

Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche returned to Darjeeling and then went to Calcutta to meet up with Zina. This trip must have given them their first sight of the ocean. The trio then traveled to Dharamsala. There they went to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama and make offerings. This was only the second time Zopa Rinpoche had seen His Holiness; the first time had been outside the Dalhousie school, when he had come to meet Mrs. Bedi.

During this audience, Zina took off all her jewelry and offered it to the Dalai Lama. Afterward, her thick blonde hair was shaved off and on 31 July 1968 she was ordained by Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche at his home, Nowrojee Kotee Villa. She was given the name Thubten Changchub Palmo.

Two weeks later, on August 14, 1968, traveling papers issued by the Indian government arrived for Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche. The papers stated that “Serjhey Thubten Zipa Tulku R.C. No 284/Buxa and Serjhey Thubten Yeshey R.C. No 869/Buxa are invited to Ceylon for one year by Mrs. C. Rookes, St. George, Kandy, who will meet the cost of their journey and also their maintenance in Ceylon.”

Yet after all that, they did not go. Lama Yeshe: “For some reason I felt uneasy about going to Ceylon, so I suggested to Zina that we go to Nepal instead. It was close to Tibet and beautiful, peaceful and quiet. Environment is very important and I thought that since Zina was now a nun, she needed to be where she could lead a simple life. Taking ordination alone is not enough; after leaving life in the big samsara, you need time to adjust to life as a monk or nun, and your surroundings are very important in this.”

There were additional reasons why they did not go. Ceylon and Tibet adhere to traditions of Buddhist practice—known respectively as Theravadan and Mahayana—which, although they derive from a common source, evolved along different lines. Endeavoring to establish a Mahayana monastery in a Theravadan country may therefore have resulted in difficulties. As well, Ceylon’s climate was hot and humid and Zopa Rinpoche’s health was still quite fragile. Also, Zina no longer controlled large sums of money; in fact, she was often close to broke.

But they couldn’t stay in India, either. Indian government spies still watched Zina’s every move. Four or five spies lurked constantly, and another, who had a classic curly moustache, had even sat with them in the same train carriage on their way to Dharamsala. The Indian government refused to give Zina another visa.

So it was decided they should go to Nepal, where Lama Zopa had been born. Nepal had other advantages—there were mountains, and it was cold and beautiful and close to Tibet. So they left Dharamsala and traveled to Delhi where Zina put them all up in the new Hotel Oberoi Intercontinental. They arrived in Nepal in October 1968. A message was rapidly dispatched to Losang Nyima in Buxa to please come and bring the rest of their belongings, which consisted mostly of Tibetan pecha (loose-leaf Tibetan texts).

Many of Thubten Yeshe’s peers were deeply shocked that a monk of his stature would walk out of his monastery before completing his geshe degree and run off to Nepal with an Inji female. But every move Thubten Yeshe made was personally approved by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his two tutors, Kyabjé Ling Rinpoche and Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche.

Zopa Rinpoche was his constant companion and Thubten Yeshe committed himself totally to this exceptional student. That year, the committee at Buxa decided to make early nominations for the geshe exam entrants; they included Thubten Yeshe’s name in that list. But he never returned to Buxa. When his classmates and friends received their geshe degrees, they remembered their friend. “This was how he had chosen to use his time,” said Geshe Jampa Tegchok. “There is a lot of waiting around for the geshe degree and he was already very knowledgeable in all the subjects. In fact, he had all the qualifications of a geshe and many monks called him by that title despite his never officially receiving the degree.”

Once again Thubten Yeshe had made his own decision against the advice of others, such as his teacher Geshe Sopa, who had advised him to stay on and complete the degree. “But he left anyway, taking Lama Zopa, who also had to study. And then they met this Zina!” said Geshe Sopa. It was all most irregular.

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