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Max takes Lama Yeshe on a holiday

From 1970: The First Group Ordination by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

During one of her school holidays Max accompanied Lama Yeshe to Delhi, where he shared a room at the Hotel Diplomat with Domo Geshe Rinpoche from Samten Chöling Monastery in Ghoom, Darjeeling. Domo Geshe was on his way to Switzerland to perform certain rituals for the Tibetan community there. At Lama Yeshe’s request, Max accompanied Domo Geshe Rinpoche on what she recalls as the first ever 747 jumbo jet flight out of India. She also brought him back to Delhi, as usual paying all costs.

Max wanted to take Domo Geshe and Lama Yeshe to Japan for a short holiday, but this was not possible on their refugee Indian identity certificates (IC), the government-issued passport-substituting documents for refugees. Instead, they spent a week on a houseboat on Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir. Domo Geshe Rinpoche, who spoke excellent English, took many photographs.

Srinagar is the summer capital of the northwestern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and is located on the shores of Dal Lake. The lake is connected to several other lakes in the Kashmir Valley. An extremely picturesque vacation spot, the lake is known for its Victorian-era wooden houseboats, which had been built as vacation homes for members of the British Raj. Following the shoreline around the lake is a long boulevard lined with Mughal-era gardens, parks and hotels. Lotus flowers and water lilies float on the lake’s surface, and kingfishers and herons can be seen in quiet coves or flying close to shore.

Max Mathews: “Domo Geshe was a master mind manipulator. He constantly asked me questions and baited me. I was so green and naïve that my answers just cracked him and Lama right up. They laughed and laughed at me. The American astronauts had just walked on the moon the previous year, and they asked me, ‘Did they see the beings there?’ Domo Geshe insisted there were plenty of living beings on the moon. He and Lama were like two little old ladies, cooking, enjoying the lake, the flowers, the peace, and laughing at me. They laughed at everything.

“I could feel Domo Geshe’s incredible power. I knew Lama also had that kind of power, but he never showed it to me the way Domo Geshe did. I could feel him sweeping my mind until there was nothing left in it but this visualization of a huge erect penis, and I knew he could see that. Well, I couldn’t just sit there with that in my head, so I acted as if I had to do something. Just as I was about to go out the door, Domo Geshe burst out laughing and asked me, ‘How do you protect your mind?’ I said I didn’t know. He said to me, ‘You use your mantra.’

“He was always doing things to my mind. It would suddenly go blank, then a vision would arise that I just knew he had put there. Domo Geshe could walk into your mind as if it were a living room. Later Lama said to me, ‘You can have no more secrets, because any lama can just look into your mind and see what’s there.’ I wondered how they learned to do that!”


Lame Yeshe, Lama Zopa and the Injis

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

Titles are something of a feature in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Zina and her friends had always called Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche “Lama Yeshe” and “Lama Zopa.” The Westerners who gathered around them did the same, though they also called Lama Zopa by his title, “Rinpoche.” To Tibetans, however, they were still Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche. As neither monk had received a geshe degree, one title by which they were not addressed was “Geshe-la,” though a few people did refer to Lama Yeshe this way.

Zina ran the house. She was “mother.” Most days at Kopan passed with just Zina, Jan, Robbie, Randy and Piero sitting around talking with the lamas when they were not doing their practices. Lama Yeshe began giving classes twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays. A daily schedule was posted outside his room indicating when he was free for interviews, which were translated by Rinpoche. Piero Cerri put his name down for every day of the week.

Staying at Kopan wasn’t all sweetness and light. Piero bravely produced daily lists of his meditation problems while Jan and Randy fought—often. Lama Yeshe would calm everyone down over and over again.

Everyone who met the two lamas noticed the differences between them. Rinpoche was the impossibly thin ascetic who took forever to bless his food and then ate next to nothing. He happily allowed mosquitoes to bite him as he sat in endless meditation. On the other hand Lama Yeshe was exuberant. He ate heartily, enjoyed everything, and engaged everyone in conversations ranging from gardening to physics. He never appeared to study the texts he knew so well, though people noticed that the lamas’ lights were generally left on all night long.

Both monks had outrageously infectious laughs—waterfalls of unrestrained joy breaking out all over the silent hill late at night as the Injis sat meditating with their sore knees and aching legs, full of their daily miseries. Everyone figured that if the lamas could laugh like that, well, there had to be something to this Buddhadharma.

Lama Yeshe told his students that he had been entrusted with Zopa Rinpoche’s education and care. Sometimes he would interrupt his ascetic student’s meditations, pointing at him and saying, “You’re going to have to teach!” Zopa Rinpoche would beg off, saying nervously, “Please, Lama, no!” This made Lama Yeshe rock with laughter.

Thubten Yeshe had all the time in the world for the crazy Injis and was full of boundless energy for anyone who needed him. When he had time, he still ran around Kathmandu and hung out with Jampa Trinley’s young family.

The psychedelic-loving Injis were fascinated by the lamas and loved to relate details of their wild drug experiences, hoping to coax the monks into talking about their own “magic.”

But on this subject, the lamas remained disappointingly silent. Everyone thought they could read others’ minds like a book but that they just wouldn’t say so. Once Randy said, “Come on, Lama, astral traveling and all this stuff can’t really be true!” Lama Yeshe gave his usual teasing reply: “Everything is possible, dear.”



Jan Willis and the Solicks

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

In late October three more Americans walked into Kopan. They were Jan Willis, an African-American political activist majoring in philosophy, her best friend, Randy, and Randy’s husband, Robbie Solick. Jan had won a scholarship to study in Varanasi for a year, the only Westerner and the only woman in a class with seven Thai monks. Jan had been to India before. She had attended a Buddhist education program at the university in Varanasi and had gone on to Nepal, where she had made friends with a Tibetan monk, Losang Chonjor, who lived at Samten Ling Monastery in Boudhanath. Subsequently, they kept in touch through letters.

Jan had grown up in a deeply segregated South in the United States. The Ku Klux Klan had burned a cross in front of her family’s home in Alabama when she was accepted to college. A brilliant young student at Cornell, she had come in contact with the Black Panthers, a militant American political movement demanding equality for black citizens. She had considered joining them, but a factional division within the Panthers had led to her deciding to go to Europe and India with the Solicks instead.

In Varanasi, Arthur Mandelbaum, who had been studying with Nyingma lamas in India for seven years, told Jan and the Solicks of a Lama Yeshe, and said that he lived on a hill called Kopan beyond Boudhanath, on the way to Urgyen Tulku’s gompa. Upon hearing that name, “all the hairs on my skin gently stood erect,” Jan later recalled. Their travel plans had included a trip to Nepal. Arriving at Samten Ling Jan had asked for her friend Losang Chonjor, only to learn that he was away but that she was expected and could stay in his room. Samten Ling was now home to forty Tibetan and ten Mongolian monks—and Jan Willis. She asked the monks about the high lamas in the area. The kitchen monk took her outside, pointed up the hill, and said, “Thubten Yeshe.” It was the second time she had heard that name and once again she felt a tingling sensation at hearing it. That same day Jan went into Kathmandu and picked up the Solicks from their hotel. They took a taxi back out to Boudha stupa and then walked up to Kopan together.

Jan Willis: “It was a beautiful day to walk through the rice paddies. The only person at home when we arrived was Zina. She said there were only four people living there at the time: herself, the lamas, and a young cook. She invited us into her big room with thick, cushy wall-to-wall white carpet, and we chatted about America. When we asked to see Thubten Yeshe, she told us he was too busy to see us. Then she served us a wonderful vegetarian meal at a round brick outdoor table.

“We said goodbye while it was still light and started to depart. Just as we were turning the corner of the building, we saw a door at the far end open a little and a hand beckon us inside, followed by a face peering out…to check that Zina hadn’t seen. The three of us tiptoed into this tiny little room containing only two beds and a table. And so we met Thubten Yeshe and the thinnest monk I have ever seen. Thubten Yeshe managed the conversation pretty well with help from Zopa Rinpoche, who was already advanced in philosophical and technical psychological terms and eager to increase his vocabulary.

“We said that we were looking for a teacher. Thubten Yeshe replied, ‘I am so happy you made it here safely and have already had some training in meditation.’ That really blew us away. We had not told him that we had just had our first meditation classes in Bodhgaya or that just before leaving Europe we had had a very lucky escape from a serious road accident. We all felt that somehow he seemed to know everything already. He told us we could come back and study with him and that Zina would see to our accommodation.”

Jan decided to stay on at Samten Ling and study Tibetan language. The next day Robbie and Randy moved into one-half of a nearby house on the back side of Kopan hill belonging to a local Nepali farmer, Laxman Bahadur, cousin of Ram Bahadur, who later also rented his house out to Injis visiting Kopan. The Solicks stayed at Laxman’s house for almost a year.

Lama Yeshe Sees a Doctor

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

Around this time Lama Yeshe told Judy Weitzner that he suffered from heart trouble. What? This vigorous young man who had leapt up the path to Lawudo? Judy had noticed his shortness of breath in the mountains but she had blamed it on the altitude. Max had even fainted up there. More worrying, though, were his constant nosebleeds and bouts of vomiting.

Zina took him to the hospital in Kathmandu where tests revealed a serious heart condition. The doctors told her that there was not much they could do about it. He also seemed to be unusually full of water, spitting a lot and bursting out with huge wet sneezes. He didn’t talk much about his heart, but he occasionally pointed to the deep scar on his cheek from the abscess he had had at Sera. He mentioned again how kind the Chinese nurse had been in the clinic he had attended. No one ever heard Thubten Yeshe say a bad word about any Chinese individual.

Life for the little group went on, Zopa Rinpoche bent over his texts day and night, Lama Yeshe scuttling around Kathmandu making friends.

Judy Weitzner: “One time Max and I went to the American Commissary store and bought some marshmallows. We drove out into the countryside with the lamas and handed them around to some village children. They had never seen anything like them in their lives and just stared in amazement. We had to demonstrate that they really could be eaten!

“We enjoyed lots of picnics with the lamas. They were clearly there for us Westerners, even though there were very few of us around with good visas and enough time to spend with them. But we were able to see Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa whenever we wanted to. I related to them more as wonderful friends than as gurus. Lama Yeshe really spoke very little English. He called us all ‘dear’ and exuded this wonderful light. He’d say, ‘Don’t worry,’ and ‘Be happy’ and was always eager to learn more words. Looking back, I think I got as much out of him then as when he spoke English fluently.”

Moving to Kopan

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

Around July the lamas moved into Kopan, where Zina gave them a small dark room with two small beds at the side of the house. There was just enough room for Losang Nyima to sleep on the floor. Once again, their food was awful. The monks accepted it all.

Clive Giboire visited them there. Later, he recalled, “I must confess that I was shocked to find the lamas stuck away in such a tiny room at the back of the house when Zina had this rather grand boudoir kitted out in white carpet and a leopard-skin bedspread.

“There were times you felt like cursing Zina. You would lend her some book you treasured and it would come back underlined in red all over the place, pages missing and coffee spilt all over it. But that was Zina. You couldn’t really get angry with her…that would have been useless. By and large she was a true friend. You didn’t lose her. She was friends with everybody and yet nobody in particular. She got along well with Boris Lissanevitch. He had danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo before arriving in Kathmandu and opening the luxurious Hotel Yak and Yeti. They were both café society people and understood each other’s worlds.

“Initially, Kopan was a bit like the Villa Altomont revisited—a beautiful environment, people coming and going, and ‘her lamas’ tucked away there. When I first met Zina, Conrad Rooks was still very much a presence. Without his small monthly allowance she would have been on skid row. She was always rushing to the Rastra Bank or the Nepal Bank to see if he’d sent her a bit.”

Every so often Zina would go to Calcutta to sell something—jewelry, silver and such. She was an experienced hustler. On one of these trips she ran into her old translator, Jampa Gyaltsen Mutugtsang. “I had a restaurant in Sarnath then,” he said. “She was alone, without her daughter. I was very surprised to see that she was a nun. She told me she wanted my help to find Hindi, Nepali and Tibetan translators for a big project she was starting up in Nepal.”

After the trek Max had begun to study the lamas’ teachings. She had agreed to help finance a gompa for Lawudo and continued to support the lamas, which included paying for English lessons. She was utterly devoted to Lama Yeshe, but there was constant tension between her and Zina. Time and strikingly different circumstances had not taken the edge off their old competitiveness. They were both used to being the center of attention.


An Important Statue

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

After returning from Lawudo…

One day Max told Judy she had seen an exquisite but very expensive statue that she just had to have. She was short of money at the time but bought it anyway. Wanting to know what it was, she invited the lamas to come over one Sunday and examine it. They arrived around mid-morning.

Judy Weitzner: “So that was how I met them; Zina was the queen bee and the lamas were like her exotic pets. They said the statue looked pretty good, but to really know they had to do a special puja to open it up and see what it was filled with—the mantras and precious gems and other things. We didn’t even know what a puja was. I’d only just learned the Tibetans didn’t think it was cool to use offering bowls as wine cups. Tibetan antiques were all just decorator items to us.

“Lama Yeshe said they needed all this special equipment for the puja, but somehow they looked around the apartment and found everything they needed stashed in fireplaces or being used as ashtrays and such. The lamas were quite skillful and sweet about prompting us to take care of ritual and holy objects in a more reverent way. They went down to Max’s bedroom, which was on the floor below the living room and relatively quiet, to do the puja.

“While they did their thing, we began to have a party. Chip and I had the latest Beatles record that we took with us everywhere that there was a phonograph, because we didn’t have one. So we played that record and danced around and had a great time. Some of us went up to the roof garden to smoke dope and take in the fabulous view. After a while, we settled into the low couches in the living room and began sharing our travel stories. We forgot all about the lamas downstairs.

“But as the afternoon progressed, I began to feel quite queasy and uncomfortable. Though it was a warm day I began to shiver and noticed goose bumps on my arms. Finally, I told the others I felt weird, that maybe I was coming down with something. Then Zina said, ‘I feel strange, too.’ Max, Chip, Jacqueline, and whoever else was there, they said they all felt strange as well. Suddenly, we’re all saying, ‘What’s going on here?’ In the now quiet room I became aware of the sounds of the bells and the tap-tap-tap of the damarus (double-headed hand drums) coming from the room below us. A palpable energy was emanating from down there. We all felt it. At that time we would probably have called such an experience psychedelic, but this was beyond anything I had ever experienced. A shimmering pervaded the entire room and went right through our bodies.

“We all went downstairs to find that the lamas had just completed re-empowering the statue, after taking out all the stuff that was inside it and putting it back. The puja was over. The statue was sitting on the makeshift altar, with Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa sitting facing it. They both looked very joyous.

“The lamas told us it was a very, very old statue containing relics from the Buddha before Shakyamuni Buddha and that it was priceless. Of course, Max was just thrilled. We sat in a semi-circle facing the statue, and it became clear to us that all this shimmering energy was coming from the statue itself. The structure of my reality was eroding very quickly. I did not believe that objects could have power; I thought that the only power came from our minds. But there we all were, basking in this shimmering light energy. I felt immense love for everyone in the room. This statue had been venerated for hundreds of years and had become a repository of spiritual energy that we could all feel.

“We began talking about how we wanted to live our lives from this moment on. Zina began talking about finding a place where artists, musicians, poets and writers could come and work and learn meditation from the lamas. In a moment of deep honesty she said she had created a lot of bad karma in her life and felt she needed to work hard to change things for the better. This place would be her contribution. It was an inspiring idea and we all shared our vision of what such a center could be like. Lama Zopa listened to everyone and then exclaimed with great enthusiasm, ‘And everything is going to be perfect!’ That was the day the idea for what would become Kopan was born.

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