The First Meditation Course at Kopan
” Zina was still eager for Lama Yeshe to teach a course, but he refused. She turned to Lama Zopa Rinpoche. “She pestered me like a mosquito,” Rinpoche recalled. “She kept on asking until I began to feel encouraged in my heart and developed a strong wish to do it. I asked Lama Yeshe what he thought. He replied, ‘Well, if you think it will be beneficial, then you do it.’ So with Lama’s blessing I agreed,” said Zopa Rinpoche.
The first course was held in the spring of April 1971. It was springtime at Kopan, dry and breezy. The monsoon rains weren’t due to start until the end of May or early June, but the colder winter months had passed and the temperature was quite warm during the days. Zina took charge of the overall arrangements and Zopa Rinpoche taught a ten-day course based on his stamp-filled text on thought transformation. With help from Anila Ann, he managed to translate six lines on hell, two lines on the perfect human rebirth, and one line on karma. These were developed into an extensive meditation on how to regard friends, enemies and strangers with equanimity and an explanation of the sufferings of animals and pretas (hungry ghosts). In those days, the only substantial book on Dharma that was available in English was Herbert Guenther’s translation of Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation, which was first published in 1959. “I taught mainly about the lower realms, the sufferings of hell beings and animals, ending up with the sufferings of human beings,” said Rinpoche.
From Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s lam-rim teachings:
In order to realize the three lower realms we must fully see the sufferings that exist there. However, at the moment we have no power to perceive these things directly, and therefore we should try to experience those realms through our practice, using the examples shown in the teachings. In this way we can gain the power to see this suffering clearly in our minds.
Even at this moment most beings are suffering in the three lower realms, especially in the narak realms.
Their suffering has not been created by God, or fixed by some other being. It is only a creation of those suffering beings’ minds, just as in a dream we may sometimes suffer in a fire, or from all kinds of fearful persons or demons fighting and frightening us. In the same way that these fearful dreams and visions are the creation of our illusive mind, so are the suffering and the realms of the naraks and so forth the creation of beings’ ignorant minds. However, the narak realms are not the same as dreams, but are karmic creations of the ignorant mind. This is similar to the way that one place can be seen differently by two different people—one may see a clean place while another person may see a dirty place. Although the object is the same, the view varies according to the level of mind, fortune, and the karma the being has created. As the mind reaches higher levels the enjoyments and the visions change, and the transcendental awareness and happiness that we experience increases more and more.
Each living beings’ samsara is a creation of that mind; each living being’s enlightenment is also a mental creation. In a dim room lit by a small candle with a flickering flame, a person without acute perception may see a fearful moving animal or demon, become afraid, and perhaps throw something at it. This problem is only the creation of that person’s mind. The person with a calm, relaxed mind, on the other hand, will see what is actually there clearly. All experiences are created by the mind, and similarly the suffering of the narak being is merely the creation of the suffering being’s mind. Therefore the choice to experience suffering, to be in a suffering realm, or to be in the perfect peace of enlightenment depends upon the decision of the mind.
Around a dozen people took that course, Zengo’s students from Bodhgaya as well as Åge, Zina, and Claudio Cipullo. Claudio had been down in Bodhgaya when he found himself staring fixedly at a photo of Lama Yeshe. “I decided he was calling me! That course was like an explanation of my whole life,” said Claudio. Losang Nyima, Lama Yeshe’s student from Tibet, acted as umze (chant leader) and took care of the candles, water bowls, incense, and food offerings arranged on the altars. He also supervised all the cooking. During the course Lama Yeshe stayed down at Max’s house.
Two days before the end of the course Lama Yeshe, in the company of a Lhasa Apso, returned to Kopan and gave a couple of talks. This wonderful little dog accompanied him nearly everywhere he went and was much admired by everyone at Kopan. Many strays found their way to Kopan and devoured any food they were offered, but this little dog always sat back very nobly and waited. She never fought for her food or tried to get at it until everyone else had finished. Then she’d eat alone, quietly. Actually, it was Rinpoche’s dog, a gift from his mother. She was named Drolma, which is Tibetan for Tara, the female buddha of enlightened skillful activity.
Anila Ann did not attend the course. “I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do it or not. When I asked Lama Zopa, he was silent for about fifteen minutes; then he said it would be worthwhile. So I started it, but one day Lama Yeshe came up from Max’s house, called me out, and said, ‘Ann, you’re going to leave the course, walk up to Lawudo with some people, and spend the summer there. Lama Zopa will fly up in a few days’ time but there is no room in the plane for you.’ He said that he and Max were going to India.
“I suddenly felt very unsure about everything. He held out his arm, golden, luminous, and precious, and offered me his hand. I took it very gently and he said, ‘Don’t worry. Go to my room tonight and on my bed you’ll find my cloak. Wrap it around you and sit on my bed and meditate. Tomorrow you can leave for Lawudo.’
“After supper that night I went straight to Lama’s room at Max’s. It was actually the sunroom and had a wonderful view overlooking the Boudha stupa. I snuggled under his thick cloak, feeling a bit lost, a little cast aside. I knew Lama Zopa would take care of me at Lawudo, but just the same, I wasn’t feeling very secure. As for meditation, the best I could do was visualize Lama Yeshe sitting in front of me. Then his mouth opened as if he was about to speak, but it kept opening wider and wider until I was looking through it into this incredible vastness of a moonless night full of stars. It was like looking into the universe. His mouth and face melted away and there was just this vast emptiness. Suddenly I felt the shock of it and the vision stopped immediately.
“It was years before I realized that during those first few months Lama had actually given me all the teachings he had to give, but in a very subtle way.”
Zopa Rinpoche’s return to Lawudo that year, and his previous visit in May 1970, marked the beginning of his fulfilling the commitment made by the previous Lawudo Lama to establish some form of school for the local Sherpa children. “