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Lama Yeshe’s first visit to Manjushri Institute

Lama Yeshe, Lake Arrowhead, 1975

From 1976: Heaven is Now! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

The purchase of Conishead Priory, now known as Manjushri Institute, was completed ten days before the lamas arrived in London on 31 August 1976. In Lama Yeshe’s luggage was a gift for the new center—Jampa Chökyi’s beautiful Tara Chittamani thangka, painted and sewn from pieces of silk and blessed by Trijang Rinpoche.

When it was purchased in 1976 the Priory had been empty for four years and the building was riddled with damp and dry rot. For the seventy people who attended the lamas’ first meditation course held there, karma yoga ranked high on the list of duties. Fortunately, it was late summer. Ripe fruit was falling fatly from the fruit trees, the old roses were in bloom and no bitter cold winds howled through the long damp corridors. It was also fortunate that an experienced and cheerful cook, Ronnie King, had hitchhiked up to Cumbria from Glastonbury. She was unfazed by the vast broken-down kitchens. During their visit, Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche stayed in a small, dry cottage in the grounds close to the market garden.

Marcel Bertels, at the time the gekö (disciplinarian) of the International Mahayana Institute, was in the Netherlands teaching a lam-rim course which eventually led to the creation of a new center in that country. Lama Yeshe asked him to come to Manjushri. Until this time Marcel had focused mainly on study and retreat, but things were about to change for him.

“Lama Yeshe and Rinpoche invited me for lunch, which meant that something unusual was on the agenda,” Marcel recounted. “Lama explained that Roger Wheeler was burned out trying to run the fashion business in Kathmandu, for which Peter Stripes in Melbourne was still the main customer. He asked me if I could take over on a day-to-day basis because he was concerned about the financial viability of the Sangha. ‘Try for one year, dear,’ Lama told me. I had no wish to leave my studies and go to work, but since Lama had asked I knew there had to be a profound reason behind his request. I figured this had to be part of my path.

“I was in the same position as Roger Wheeler, in that I had neither talent nor business experience. So everything was by trial and error. At first we made a little money, mainly by not spending any. When I left Kopan to go to work on my first day Lama had told me, ‘You walk everywhere. If you are busy, you can take a rickshaw.’ For some years I commuted between Kopan and the business in Kathmandu every day. This meant a forty-five minute walk, then a journey of indeterminate length on the badly maintained and overcrowded mini-buses running between Boudhanath and Ratna Park in Kathmandu.

“That was the start of my long career in business. At the end of the day it was usually quite late by the time I walked back up the hill at Kopan. Lama kept an eye on things all the time. Every night when I came back to Kopan I spent an hour with him. He’d ask me what was going on in the business, as well as what the Sangha were doing and so on. It was very consistent.”

The first course that Lama Yeshe taught at Manjushri Institute was on general Buddhist teachings, including the subjects of the graduated path.


From Lama Yeshe’s 1976 teachings at Manjushri Institute, Cumbria

You can explain karma in many different ways. For example, it can be explained academically with many divisions and analytical points of view. But right now I am going to give just a simple explanation.

      Karma means action; the actions of body, speech, and mind are karma. For example, we have just recited, “I take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha; I will follow the Dharma.” But if we are not conscious in our everyday actions of body, speech, and mind I think it is difficult to really take refuge.

      Taking refuge cannot solve your problems if you are not aware of your own actions. Even though you believe, “Buddha is fantastic; Dharma is fantastically pure; Sangha is fantastic. They are perfect; I have no doubts,” that is not enough. It is not enough to say, “Okay, I understand from the meditation, the books, and the lamas that Buddhadharma is perfectly clean clear. I know now that this is my path.” If you live that way rather than being aware of your own actions, I think refuge cannot solve your problems. Real refuge is saying and doing things according to the motivation of refuge in your mind; and that is karma.

      Karma means that you act in a certain way with a certain motivation and some effect arises within you. Karma can be positive or negative. Actions that bring a positive reaction we call morality; actions that bring a negative reaction we call immorality. Whatever action—or we can call it energy—of body, speech, or mind that brings confusion, restlessness, sorrow, or suffering is immorality. So as much as possible, we should try to understand Lord Buddha’s teaching which says that certain actions are morality and certain actions are immorality because they bring good or bad reactions.

      Understanding this, as much as possible in your everyday life you should make your actions positive. Try to understand, “If I think this way and act this way, what kind of result will it bring?” Knowing this is very important. Also, karma is not something that you just believe. Your entire energy since you were born has been related to karma. The existence of karma is not dependent on whether somebody believes it or not.

      For example, maybe you say, “I don’t believe in karma. I don’t believe in anything. There is no such thing as karma making me happy or unhappy.” No matter how much you are against it, the entire you, your saying this and thinking that—it is all karma. No matter how much a person may be against Lord Buddha’s idea…it doesn’t matter. The entire person, both psychologically and physically, who is tick, tick, ticking like a watch—all of that is karma. Therefore, karma is just the energy of one’s body, speech, and mind. The human body, speech, and mind are karma.

      The meaning of karma includes cause and effect. Your entire physical and mental energy, everything is reacting and producing other actions, no matter whether you believe it or not. Sometimes Western people think, “Well, if I am Buddhist and I believe Lord Buddha’s idea, then I have to be careful. If I am not careful I will get bad karma, but if I do not believe it doesn’t matter.”

      Many Western people think like this; in my life I have heard some people say this. It is not like that. Karma does not depend on whether you believe it or not. It doesn’t matter if you believe; it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe; it doesn’t matter even if you reject. Karma is talking about natural scientific law—that’s all. Natural scientific law—how can you reject that? It is not something Lord Buddha made up.

      Also, there is some confusion around Eastern words. The word karma is Sanskrit. When one says karma you say, “Oh, karma is Eastern stuff.” You cannot do like that. All of you is karma. You are karma; you cannot escape from karma. It does not matter if you follow another religion, if you are Hindu, if you are Christian, if you are a believer or a non-believer, you are completely immersed in karma

      That is why karma is very heavy. You cannot say, “I don’t believe in suffering.” It does not matter whether you believe you are suffering or not, you are suffering. Your suffering is not dependent on whether you believe in it or not.

      Now, you can see through your own meditation experience how the mind is continually circling around—whooooshhhhhh. You cannot stop your mind from running around—one thought, then another thought, and another thought, and another…phew! Incredible! This is karma, the uncontrolled thoughts running, running like a watch. Without understanding the activity of our body, speech, and mind we will not understand how to generate a positive or a negative lifestyle. Even though we have tremendous belief that “Buddhadharma is my way,” we are still joking.

      The simple way to live positively is to examine the everyday actions of your own body, speech, and mind. As much as possible be aware; what we call morality is putting the energy of body, speech, and mind in a positive direction. But in the West, morality and immorality have religious connotations. There are some funny ideas such as the belief that morality is something made up by religious people. No! Morality is not merely a religious idea; it is not some philosophical creation. Morality is about nature.

      Scientists explain natural things—organic, inorganic, the evolution of human beings, fish, and monkeys. This is all taught at school and you learn these things. From Lord Buddha’s point of view, karma is closer to the things you learn at school. In your school, as much as possible, they teach the scientific way, “This is exactly like this, then this comes, then this, then that,” and so on, the mathematical way. Karma is similar.

      Actually, if you are aware of how your own body, speech, and mind are running, the evolution of your everyday life is similar to what you learned at school. When you understand karma you will see how greatly effective is just one small action. For example, when Lord Buddha once explained karma, he gave the example of the small seed of a Bodhi tree. Do you know the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya? It is huge, isn’t it? He took some seeds of the Bodhi tree and said that by putting one tiny seed into the ground the effect is a huge tree that can give shelter to 500 bullock carts. This is Lord Buddha’s example, a small seed produces such a huge plant. It is the same thing with karma. Especially the psychological effect, this is much greater than the external effect.

      In the West, some people think that karma is something simple whereas meditation is a profound and unusual contemplation where you become very high and feel, “I’m happy…” They think that is fantastic. Actually, according to the lam-rim, meditation is not the most important thing. What is extremely important is to maintain awareness of your everyday life actions. Be aware of your own actions and put your actions on the right track. Then you will begin to experience an incredible effect.


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