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The First Course at Chenrezig Institute

Lamas having lunch, 1975From 1975: We Need a Foundation by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Yeshe gave two lectures in Brisbane before arriving at Chenrezig Institute in time for a month-long course, the second such meditation course held outside Nepal. One hundred and twenty people had enrolled for it. Anila Ann and her team had all but finished building the gompa on that steep empty land at Eudlo. The work had been done mainly by volunteers, qualified tradespeople turning up just in the nick of time and seemingly out of the blue. Ann had raised the money to pay for every plank and nail, though she was still living in the old shed.

Once again caravans were hired for the lamas and Mummy Max, who was not impressed. “I said to Lama, ‘Oh God, Lama, what karma you have! These camper trailers, no roads, no nothing.’ ‘It’s not for me, it’s for them,’ he told me,” recalled Max.

Lama had a big vision for this center. In 1974 he had told them, “Think big! Think big!” That year, a horse called Think Big had won the world-famous Melbourne Cup. In 1975 Think Big won the cup again. No one had thought to place a bet.

The course ran from May 5 to June 1. Mummy Max did not attend. Nor did Kathy Vichta, with whom Lama Yeshe spent some time cooking. “He showed me how to save time by squashing things with your hand instead of cutting them up. It worked just as well. He made a casserole one day by opening cans and just squashing the contents into bowls and saying mantras over them. Lama always said mantras while he cooked. He put so much physical energy into mundane stuff, like it was a really important part of his life,” said Kathy.

Lama’s students presented him with an electric razor, despite the fact that he had only about twenty whiskers. He preferred the Tibetan method of plucking them out with a small engraved brass clip during quiet breakfasts with Mummy Max.

Cameras always appeared when Lama Yeshe was around. Everyone loved new photos of him—dancing on the beach, sitting in meditation, laughing, playing. With the idea of commissioning a statue of Lama, Max arranged for a series of shots taken just of his head, from every angle. He posed for these graciously and without any self-consciousness.

Pete Northend and Colin Crosbie worked hard on the new building but Lama Yeshe wanted his wild-partying, hard-drinking shing-zö to enter a thirteen-year retreat. “I just couldn’t do it,” said Pete. “No way!”

Meanwhile, Electric Roger was thinking of becoming a monk. “I spoke to Lama Yeshe about it in Sydney. He said that I should check up whether I could renounce everything, even food. He said if I wasn’t ready to do that I could start up a center in Sydney. When I got to Chenrezig, I had an interview with him in the gompa. He was sitting alone in the middle of the room. I knew I was supposed to prostrate to him, but I still couldn’t bow down to a person. So I turned and prostrated to the altar instead. When I told him I wanted to take robes he just said, ‘Now or at Kopan?’ I said I’d come to Kopan.”

Lama Yeshe invited Mummy Max to give a talk on what had led her to take ordination. Max was not used to this kind of thing. Lama further honored her by insisting she sit on the teaching throne while speaking.

Peter Fenner arrived in time for one of Lama Zopa’s specialities, the death meditation. “It shifted something for me,” recounted Peter. “I knew about my dark side, so I loved the idea of purification. I met Lama Yeshe alone in the gompa and asked him to be my guru. I had a list of questions I didn’t even get to ask because he answered them anyway. In the space of about twenty minutes he also articulated the next twenty years of my life. He suggested I come and live at Chenrezig with my wife and daughter. ‘I want you to become a university professor and teach Dharma,’ he said. It wasn’t exactly what I was planning, but I had total confidence in him,” said Peter.

On 24 May 1975, Lama wrote a letter to Judy Weitzner in California, asking her to write the book His Holiness the Dalai Lama had requested, Tibetan People Today:

Please choose right name that is perfect, suitable and pays attention. Maybe make a documentary movie? Please you set up and organize. Should we adopt a legal name? You put your ideas together on paper and send to me in California.

“Lama had spoken to me about this book before,” said Judy. “I told him I didn’t think I could do much. ‘Yes, you can. You’re Chenrezig. You have a thousand arms and you can do what you want,’ was his reply. I went to Kopan to live in Max’s house and taught the boys English. I planned to meet Lama again in Switzerland,” said Judy. In her quiet way Judy Weitzner was actually a political firebrand. The Free Speech Movement, which developed into the anti-Vietnam War effort in America, had its origins in her Berkeley apartment. Judy produced the first ever Free Tibet bumper stickers, but the book Lama Yeshe described never saw the light of day.

A week before the end of the course, to celebrate the Buddha’s birthday (Saka Dawa), Lama Yeshe asked everyone to come outside after a Guru Puja and to meditate together on the hill behind the gompa. “Lama and Rinpoche sat above us, right on the top of the hill,” said Adrian Feldmann. “We meditated for about fifteen minutes during which time I had a very strong vision of four-armed Chenrezig and a green lady. At that time I didn’t know about Green Tara at all. I’ve never had another vision like that one. It just appeared in my mind that Lama was Tara and Rinpoche was Chenrezig.”

A couple of days before the course ended, Phra Somdet, abbot of Wat Bovoranives, who had offered lunch to the lamas in Bangkok two months earlier, visited the center. He was accompanied by Phra Khantipalo, Ayya Khema, and some Thai monks from Sydney. Lama instructed his students to line up and formally welcome them, while he bounced around with his camera taking photos and laughing freely, in total contrast to the very sober demeanor of his visitors. The abbot gave a Dharma talk to the Westerners who were still there at the center; Lama Yeshe sat in the very front row for the talk.

At the end of the month-long course, fifty people took refuge with Lama Yeshe. Also, fifty-eight received a Chenrezig empowerment and forty-five received a Tara empowerment.

A number of those who had attended the course planned to do group retreat together but Adrian Feldmann wanted to do retreat alone. “I went to see Lama in his caravan and told him. He said that was fine, adding, ‘Whenever a question comes into your mind I want you to write me a letter.’ I said, ‘Okay,’ even though I knew I was going to be in an extremely remote spot and miles from any letter-box.”

One of the lamas’ last tasks in Queensland was to write to Peter Guiliano in Melbourne, thanking him for his many services:

Dear Peter Juliyana, thank you so much for your giving pure Dharma. As much as possible practise wisdom light and giving energy to other students. Please write what everyone is doing nowaday. I want to check up your daily life. So report! Keep continuously energetic wisdom bell ringing. Chenrezig Institute is fantastic!

See you next year, psychic kiss.

Love love love love Lama Yeshe

 

On the way to the airport, Lama Yeshe stopped to buy an orange plastic mug for everyone at Kopan. “These are very good, dear; not too hot to hold,” he said. The lamas then missed their flight to Sydney. Anila Ann felt sad about the lamas’ departure. “Don’t you like it here?” asked Lama. “Oh, Lama,” said Ann, “you know all I want to do is live in your pocket.”

Back at Chenrezig, the retreaters settled into a regimen of silence and a diet of macrobiotic food. Lama Yeshe had left a taped message for them, which they played every day:

Good morning, golden flower students. Enjoy divine wisdom chanting as much possible, cultivate or activate wisdom action and stay in the universal compassion wisdom, never come down in supermarket. Worthwhile. See you soon in the everlasting peaceful sky. Stay.

 

Such simple words filled their hearts and minds with more satisfaction than years of formal education ever could.

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The Dromana Course

Lama adjusts his robe, 1975From 1975: We Need a Foundation by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Yeshe’s students in Melbourne booked a facility in the bayside town of Dromana, on the Mornington Peninsula. Eighty-five people attended a five-day course there over Easter, with Nick teaching the “lower realms and suffering” part in Rinpoche’s absence. It was a sophisticated crowd including many friends of people who had been to Kopan and who were wondering what on earth their mates had gotten themselves into. Lama Yeshe was ready for them.

 

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings at Dromana, Australia:

Not only are you people mentally strong, you are also skeptical. That’s good. Lord Buddha’s teaching is skeptical too. This meeting of skeptics is excellent. Do you understand what I mean by skeptical? I mean you don’t easily believe or accept anything. You check and experiment to see if something works or not. If it doesn’t, you keep checking, checking, checking, using your brain, your wisdom. In that way you grow. This is all part of the path of inner freedom, liberation and enlightenment. Just believing what someone tells you emotionally, without understanding, has nothing to do with any religion. Even though you might pretend: “I’m a such and such”, it’s just a label and still an ego trip.

The two departments of ego and attachment work together in your mind and as long as they do, whatever sense pleasure you enjoy, wherever you go, whatever friends you have, nothing lasts. Your ego makes a wrong projection on an object and your attachment follows without hesitation and gets completely stuck on, or tied to, that object. This splits and severely agitates your mind.

I’m sure you can philosophize intellectually that things are impermanent, but if you check more deeply into how your ego interprets objects, what it projects onto them, you will find that it’s expecting them to last and perceiving them as permanent.

When two people get married their ego’s interpretation is that they should be together forever in life, and even in death. This is so exaggerated. It’s impossible for people to make that decision. It’s not up to them, it’s up to karma. Uncontrollably, karmic energy makes the decision whether one partner lives and the other dies. When one finally does, the other misses him or her so badly and suffers enormously.

All that worry and weeping, missing and memory comes from the two mental departments of ego and attachment. Not understanding the impermanent nature of phenomena, and expecting to live happily ever after as interpreted by ego and attachment, brings the reaction of misery. That is a karmic result or effect. If you understand impermanent nature there’s no upset, miserable reaction. You accept death as a natural thing. In fact, you expect it to happen. With understanding there’s no worry. You know separation is natural.

Therefore, instead of blindly following the grasping and attachment that result from the way your ego interprets things, it’s better to renounce. Perhaps you think that when I tell you to renounce, I mean that you should get rid of all your possessions. But true renunciation isn’t physical, it’s mental. It doesn’t refer to what things are worth monetarily, but to how your mind views them. Your mind makes things seem very important because it does not see their reality and overestimates their nature.

When you know that phenomena are changeable, transitory and impermanent by nature, you expect things to disappear. Of course, everyone knows this intellectually, but when you meditate on the sensations of your body and mind you experience their automatically changing nature. That’s not intellectual philosophy, but your own personal experience. Other objects, such as your family, friends, material possessions or whatever else may be your biggest object of attachment, are the same in nature. Everything is transitory and momentary. Nothing lasts. We cling to these things because we think they are helpful, but try to ascertain whether they really help or harm your mind. Perhaps, instead of inducing peace they disturb your peace of mind. You check up.

 

A camper trailer—what the British call a “caravan”—had been rented for Lama and it was there that Adrian Feldmann had his first private interview with Lama Yeshe. “I sat down beside him on the bed and told him that I had taken refuge and wanted my life to be as close to the Dharma as possible. I saw two ways of doing that. One was to become a monk; the other was to live with someone, share Dharma, and develop with them. I was hoping he’d recommend the second option, but all he did was roll around on the bed laughing. When he stopped he said, ‘Possible, dear, but very difficult. Instead of one crazy mind you have two, three, four crazy minds, plus all the problems of food and education.’

“‘So what about ordination,’ I asked. Again he rolled around the bed laughing, then sat up. He glanced at the sky with a shrug and said, ‘Practice Dharma twenty-four hours a day.’ I knew this was the real answer to my question and felt this iron hand grip my heart as I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to be a monk.’”

Back at Bea Ribush’s Lama Yeshe made himself at home. He watched TV, played with Bea’s little poodle, Bobik, and did some cooking. He telephoned Tibetologist David Templeman and once again invited him to tea.

“I only had some very low-grade Tibetan tea that time, but I brought it,” said David. “We sat in front of the TV with a huge pile of cakes and watched the coverage of the chaos taking place at the end of the Vietnam War. Lama was not agitated as we watched people fleeing for their lives, but sitting beside him I noticed him becoming warmer and warmer—more than warm. It was like sitting next to a furnace. He didn’t try to hold back the tears and neither did I. Then he turned to me and said in English, ‘Now they are refugees, just like me. Now they will have big sufferings.’ I got the impression he was right in there with them, that he was one of them, going through every second of their pain. It was a very strong experience.”

Embarking on the 1975 Teaching Tour

Lama Yeshe, Sydney, Australia, 1975From 1975: We Need a Foundation by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Leaving India behind, the lamas and Dr. Nick flew to Bangkok where they stayed at the YMCA. Very high temperatures and humidity left Lama Yeshe so exhausted that Nick became worried—it was the first time he’d observed the effects of heat on Lama. Nevertheless, no invitations were refused and the two lamas taught a weekend course to sixty people while they were there.

Lama Yeshe rushed here, there, and everywhere and never ceased patting women’s hands, which shocked some Thai monks, who never touch women. He also met with a Sera monk, Geshe Tengye, who would join Lama Yeshe’s organization a few years later, and with Zasep Tulku, a graduate of Freda Bedi’s Young Lamas’ Home School, who had come to Thailand to study vipassana meditation under direction from the Council for Religious Affairs in the Tibetan government-in-exile. “Oh, that’s too bad,” Lama Yeshe said to Zasep Tulku. “I need you. It would be nice if you could go to Australia.” A couple of years later, this would actually come to pass.

Lama Yeshe, Lama Zopa, and Nick arrived in Sydney on 19 March 1975. Electric Roger, a Sydney local, had rented a house for them in a quiet location for six weeks. Lama Zopa Rinpoche could do retreat there while Lama Yeshe taught. Then Lama could do retreat while Rinpoche taught. Roger acted as Zopa Rinpoche’s attendant at the house, but Lama Yeshe preferred to be alone and to do his own shopping.

A few days later Lama Yeshe and Nick flew to Melbourne to stay with Bea Ribush. All the old Kopan students in the area, mostly Nick’s friends, were delighted to see him. Bea too had become very devoted to Lama—so much so she failed to notice the way he treated her beloved son, which was abruptly to say the least. “Bring this! Get that! Now!” Nick tried hard, but Lama was unrelenting.

From Lama Yeshe’s talk at Melbourne University on 25 March 1975:

When I talk about mind I’m not just talking about my mind, my trip. I’m talking about the mind of each and every universal sentient being. The way we live, the way we think—everything is dedicated to material pleasure. We consider sense objects to be of utmost importance and materialistically devote ourselves to whatever makes us happy, famous or popular. Even though all this comes from our mind, we are so totally preoccupied with external objects that we never look within, we never question why we find them so interesting.

As long as we exist our mind is an inseparable part of us. As a result we are always up and down. It is not our body that goes up and down, it’s our mind—this mind whose way of functioning we do not understand. Therefore, we sometimes need to examine ourselves, not just our body, but our mind. After all, it is our mind that is always telling us what to do. We have to know our own psychology, or in religious terminology perhaps, our inner nature. Anyway, no matter what we call it, we have to know our own mind.

Don’t think that examining and knowing the nature of your mind is just an Eastern trip. That’s a wrong conception. It’s your trip. How can you separate your body or your self-image, from your mind? It’s impossible. You think you are an independent person, free to travel the world, enjoying everything. Despite what you think you are not free. I’m not saying you are under the control of someone else. It’s your own uncontrolled mind, your own attachment that oppresses you. If you discover how you oppress yourself, your uncontrolled mind will disappear. Knowing your own mind is the solution to all your problems.

 * * * Meeting with psychiatrists and social workers * * *

That afternoon there was a question-and-answer session for thirty psychiatrists and social workers in the conference room of one of the city’s largest public hospitals. For ninety minutes Lama Yeshe explained the Dharma approach to mental problems to a critical and cynical audience whose questions were designed to trip up this Tibetan monk. After all, he was not a doctor. But what he said was impressively clear.

From Lama Yeshe’s discussion with mental health professionals at Prince Henry’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia, on 25 March 1975:

By mental illness I mean the kind of mind that does not see reality, a mind that tends to either exaggerate or underestimate the qualities of the person or object it perceives, which always causes problems to arise. In the West you wouldn’t consider this to be mental illness, but Western psychology’s interpretation is too narrow. If someone is obviously emotionally disturbed you consider that to be a problem, but if someone has a fundamental inability to see reality, to see things as they really are and understand his or her own true nature, you don’t. Not knowing your own basic mental attitude is a huge problem. Human problems are more than just emotional distress or disturbed relationships. In fact these are tiny problems. It’s as if there’s this huge ocean of problems below but all we see are the waves on the surface.

Among the topics they discussed was the issue of anger and aggression.

Q: Some Western psychologists believe that aggression is an important and necessary part of human nature, that anger is a kind of positive driving force, even though it sometimes gets people into trouble. What is your view of anger and aggression?

Lama: I encourage people not to express their anger, not to let it out. Instead, I have people try to understand why they get angry, what causes it and how it arises. When you realize these things, instead of manifesting externally your anger digests itself. In the West some people believe that you get rid of anger by expressing it, that you finish it by letting it out. Actually, in this case what happens is that you leave an imprint in your mind to get angry again. The effect is just the opposite of what they believe. It looks like your anger escaped, but in fact you’re just collecting more anger in your mind. The imprints that anger leaves on your consciousness simply reinforce your tendency to respond to situations with more anger. But not allowing it to come out doesn’t mean you are suppressing it, bottling it up. That’s also dangerous. You have to learn to investigate the deeper nature of anger, aggression, anxiety or whatever it is that troubles you. When you look into the deeper nature of negative energy you’ll see that it’s really quite insubstantial, that it’s only mind. As your mental expression changes, the negative energy disappears, digested by the wisdom that understands the nature of hatred, anger, aggression and so forth.

Q: Where did the very first moment of anger come from—this anger that leaves imprint after imprint?

Lama: Anger comes from attachment to sense pleasure. Check up. This is wonderful psychology, but it can be difficult to understand. When someone touches something to which you are very attached, you freak out. Attachment is the source of anger.

Lama Yeshe’s geshe degree & Manjushri teachings

Portrait of Lama Yeshe, 1975From 1975: We Need a Foundation by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Shortly after Yangsi Rinpoche’s enthronement, the lamas went to Bodhgaya for His Holiness’s winter teachings. From there they went to Varanasi where they called on Geshe Legden, one of Lama’s teachers from Sera, who held a teaching position at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies at Sarnath.

“I invited them to my place for dinner and noticed that Lama Zopa was very skinny and unhealthy looking,” Geshe Legden recalled. “Lama Yeshe was very concerned that Lama Zopa refused to eat meat, because it was bad karma. I told Lama Zopa, ‘You’ve got to look after your health, even if it does mean eating a bit of meat. If you don’t nourish your body properly, then practicing Dharma properly is difficult. I have never come across any particular point in the Vinaya Sutra saying monks may not eat meat, except in relation to impure meat—when an animal is slaughtered specifically for you.’ Lama Zopa thanked me for saying these things and we debated long on the pros and cons of the issue.”

Geshe Legden also spoke to Lama Yeshe about completing his geshe degree. “I said it was good karma to do it even though he has even greater knowledge, experience, and realization than a geshe. I reminded him that one of the rules of Sera Jé was that if any geshe finds the big offerings he has to make as part of the examination a financial burden, he is exempted from making them. He told me that he would love to do the geshe examination, but he no longer had the time to do it. I went to the monastery and looked up the list to find out when it was Lama Yeshe’s turn to sit the examination. I even put his name down for it by offering a khata. But it’s true, he just didn’t have the time. He had started a tradition in the West and was too busy opening centers and teaching so many students and doing so much marvelous work. Later, all the monks acknowledged that none of them had done nearly as much as he had to bring Dharma to the West. My gut feeling is that Lama Yeshe felt that if he was cooped up in the monastery as abbot or gekö or administrator—the kinds of things he might be required to do if he completed the degree —he wouldn’t have time for his other unprecedented and unparalleled work.”

From Sarnath, the lamas returned to Kopan for Losar (Tibetan New Year), which fell on February 12. During the celebrations Lama asked the Westerners to show him some Inji dancing. Lama’s monks and nuns were reluctant to do so because dancing to music was against their monastic vows. However, since their guru had asked, Steve Malasky and the youngest nun, Spring, got up and did some rock and roll jive in their robes. Lama rolled on the floor crying with laughter.

At the end of January, Lama Yeshe had given the Sangha a Manjushri initiation, and after Losar gave four nights of commentary on the meditation practice and retreat, completing them just before leaving to go on tour again. That summer many of the Sangha and lay people did Manjushri retreat in Kopan’s gompa while Yeshe Khadro, Sangye Khadro and John Feuille, among others, went to Lawudo to do their Manjushri retreat there.

 

From Lama Yeshe’s Manjushri teachings:

Most of the time, our objects of joy are not limitless; we discriminate. Our minds are funny; they decide, “This one, I like; that one, I don’t.” We divide things into pieces. It doesn’t come from the side of the object; it comes from our own mind’s decision. We see a person and automatically our mind goes, “I’m not happy with him; he gives me no pleasure.” It doesn’t come from him; it comes from your dualistic determination that has already created divisions in your own mind so that when you see people you automatically categorize them. This creates difficulties; it causes conflict and complications and psychological bother.

Do you see how fantastic Lord Buddha’s psychology and scientific understanding of the mind is? How well he explains how the mind works? If you can understand this, you’ll see it’s really too much. It’s amazing; you don’t need too many words to describe it. It’s beautiful…and really so simple.

Anyway, when we talk about limitless love, we’re not talking about cement; we’re talking about living beings. Most of the time, our conflicts arise from contact with other human beings, each other, not from dogs or cement. Westerners are always going on, “Oh, the environment is no good, that’s why we have problems. This house is no good; this food’s no good. That’s why I’m unhappy.” So much emphasis on externals, which is completely opposite to Lord Buddha’s scientific knowledge wisdom, the way Lord Buddha thinks.

We should check up our everyday lives here. We always blame outside things for our problems: “Shopping is difficult; Kathmandu is difficult,” and so forth. Actually, this is a deep subject; a very deep subject. It seems simple. It’s not at all simple. If you think about it properly, your ego will freak out; when you actualize Lord Buddha’s teachings, your ego has no space.

I always emphasize how in our daily lives we are always involved with other human beings. If you can see everyone around you as a friend, that will be beautiful. That will be your mandala. You’ll be happy wherever you go. In a way, you can say those around you are symbolic of all sentient beings. Look at a person you know; that person symbolizes your mandala. If you can be happy around that person and everybody else you know, perhaps you can be happy anywhere. Experiment, at least in your mind, on the basis of your interactions with that person. Visualize yourself in various situations or in different countries and see. The people around you put you into different situations, so if you check correctly, you can see how you’ll react under different circumstances with other sentient beings. Doing this is really worthwhile.

 

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