Zina is Ordained
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.