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Right livelihood

Lama meditating, Lake Arrowhead, 1975From  1977: The more meditation, the more happy! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

That April Susanna Parodi was ordained in Dharamsala by Ling Rinpoche and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Cherry Greene was ordained as Thubten Chodron in the same ceremony. She later wrote many books on meditation and became a well-known Dharma teacher, establishing Sravasti Abbey, a monastic community in rural Washington State, USA.

“Lama Yeshe had asked Lama Pasang to get robes for me,” Susanna recalled, “but the ones he got were huge and made of polyester. The fabric was so shiny they called me the ‘nightclub nun.’ It was a very funny day. During the ritual, there was a part where I had to kneel down. But when they told me it was time to stand up, I couldn’t because I was still recovering from drugs and in a lot of pain. Ling Rinpoche kindly said it was okay for me to remain down, but I thought this so inauspicious I somehow managed to make it to my feet. So there I was, standing there in my huge shiny robes. Everyone just cracked up laughing because I looked so funny. They were laughing so hard they were crying!

“Then Ling Rinpoche said, ‘Stop. We aren’t going to give her the name chosen here. We’ll give her a special name, Thubten Chökyi,’ [which can be loosely interpreted to mean happiness in the Dharma.] So I became the happy nun.”

On May 12 Lama Yeshe wrote to Susanna from Madison:

Dear my daughter Susanna.

Congratulations for your right livelihood. I know too you are fortunated. Continue you study Dharma and dedicate your life, eventually gain enlightenment for all mother sentient beings. You are the first lady on this earth to become Italian Mahayana Buddhist nun. I pray for successful your destination.


Lama Yeshe


The Superstitious Mind

Lama Yeshe on the beach, 1975From  1977: The more meditation, the more happy! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

By 10 April 1977 Lama Yeshe and Peter were back in Madison, Wisconsin. Once again, Lama stayed in Geshe Sopa’s Lake Mendota Drive home. Jon Landaw and Petey Shane rented a house just down the road.

While Jon Landaw assisted Lama Yeshe in preparing the teachings he was to give, Petey Shane helped with secretarial work and housekeeping. “Lama wrote to one student about the way a woman’s mind worked,” said Petey. “He said a woman could think through something, make up her mind, think it through again, and change her mind faster than a man could think it through once.”

Lama Yeshe’s health continued to be a concern to those around him. “There were so many demands made on his time and the strain showed,” Petey continued. “He still had a rest after lunch, but not for as long as he was supposed to. He had this huge paper package full of herbs, which had to be boiled down into a decoction. Sometimes he drank it and sometimes he didn’t. There was also a lot of Tibetan medicine he was awful about taking. He called me Mummy and joked, ‘Oh, you got yourself this baby who won’t behave!’ We had a lot of fun in the kitchen together, especially when he got in there and made momos, splattering the walls with dough.”

Even though it was not yet summer, Madison was not an ideal place for Lama Yeshe. The humidity caused him to struggle for breath, not that this seemed to curtail his activities. One person he visited frequently was Kalleen, the cheesecake maker, and her husband. They invited him to parties in their home and she fondly recalled watching him introduce himself to their houseplants, stroking them and saying a few words to each one. Despite his breathing difficulties he played frisbee enthusiastically in the front yard, much to the delight of the neighbors. One night they put up a sheet in the back yard and showed slides of Kirlian photography in which Lama had become very interested.

Lama Yeshe also went to see the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon, on the life of St. Francis of Assisi. He said it was the best religious movie he had ever seen, adding that he hadn’t really cared for Conrad Rooks’s Siddhartha.

Jon Landaw accompanied Lama Yeshe to the English classes he attended regularly on the other side of Madison. Naturally, Lama wanted to drive. “I was always telling him to slow down, slow down,” Jon explained. “‘But they take advantage when I slow down!’ Lama replied. He was fearless in everything and that included driving. Saying mantras while sitting beside him was the only way to keep sane. We’d park in this underground car park after making a right turn from a fairly busy street. After a lot of practice he had that maneuver down pretty well and did it at the same speed every day. Then one day he whipped into the car park without slowing down at all. I caught my breath and he said, ‘Did I get you hot?’ That was his key phrase that summer, ‘Did I get you hot?’ So I told him, ‘Yes, Lama, you got me hot.’

“Another time Lama drove Petey and me out of Madison for a picnic. By the time we were ready to come back it was getting late and as expected, he also wanted to drive on the return trip. But I was worried that he was too tired so I asked him for the keys. Lama refused and I actually wrestled him for them. Wrestling with one’s lama was not something most people would ever think of doing, but Lama Yeshe was so comfortable to be with that I had no hesitation doing whatever I could to get the keys out of his possession. I have to admit, however, that I was not successful.”

When Geshe Sopa returned from Albuquerque, Lama Yeshe and Peter prepared to leave for California. On the day of their departure, they were running late as usual and Jon Landaw rushed them to the airport. “I’m basically a cautious, law-abiding kind of a guy and certainly no risk-taker as a driver. But on that day I pulled out all the stops and drove them to the airport as fast as I could, even driving off the road at one point to pass another driver. Lama was very pleased that I allowed my wild side to come out and whistled his approval.”

Lama planned to stay there for six weeks and teach another of Maitreya’s five treatises, Discriminating between the Relative and the Ultimate (Skt. Dharma-dharmata-vibhaga-karika, Tib. Chö dang chönyi nam che). Jon Landaw worked with Lama Yeshe to create a simple English translation of this relatively short work.

On the first day of his commentary, Lama Yeshe explained:

Geshe Sopa and Lama, 1975The entire subject matter of this work is included within these two terms dharma and dharmata: relative and absolute phenomena. In this work the term dharma also means samsaric phenomena while dharmata signifies the phenomena of liberation, or nirvana. So what exactly is dharma or samsaric phenomena? It is the dualistic mind. This is the superstitious mind that perceives the dualistic vision. As such, it is the cause of the uncontrolled, agitated life. And from this cause of the agitated life comes uncontrollable sickness, uncontrollable death, uncontrollable rebirth and all other forms of uncontrollable confusion. All these samsaric phenomena come from one root: the dualistic mind perceiving the dualistic vision, what we may call nam-tog, or superstition. This is something we have to understand.

      This work by Maitreya explains that the dualistic mind is always involved in some form of competition. This is a major characteristic of modern life, isn’t it? When we consider the Western way of life, and particularly American culture, everywhere we look we see competition; there is always some kind of contest going on. Take a simple example: the man next door buys himself an expensive car and, as soon as we see it, jealousy begins to arise in our mind. “He has such a good car, so big and comfortable. Where does that leave me? I’ll have to do something about that. I’ll get myself an even bigger car….” As far as material progress is concerned, such a competitive spirit is good, but as far as our mind is concerned, it is not good at all. Why not? Because it only makes us more agitated and conflicted; this is the symptom of the dualistic mind. We call it dualistic because as soon as one thing appears to our mind we look around for something else to compare it with. That shows our dissatisfaction, the way in which we are always searching for something newer, something better, something else. This is the way our dualistic mind is; this is how it works.

    This syndrome of the dualistic mind is true for everyone. It doesn’t matter whether you are a religious person or a non-religious person, Buddha’s teaching describes the way things are. This is not a religious trip we are talking about; it is not Buddha’s trip or some lama’s trip. Whether you are religious or non-religious, intelligent or dull, as long as you have a dualistic mind conflict is always arising. Sometimes it appears on a gross, emotional level; sometimes it works on a subtle, unconscious level. But as long as there is the dualistic mind, there is some form of contradiction and conflict going on.

      The dualistic mind is functioning within you right now, and if you just take a look it is easy to understand and experience how this mind is playing games with your life, games that only lead to misery. You can see just how this mind leads to restlessness, frustration, and dissatisfaction. And when you release that dualistic mind, you are a Buddha, or whatever you want to call that state of complete freedom. At that point you can call yourself a liberated lady or a liberated gentleman if you want to; it doesn’t matter. In short, the cessation of the dualistic mind is liberation, the experience of ultimate reality.

What would Lama do? Transcending Ordinary View

Lama teaching, Yucca Valley, 1977From  1977: The more meditation, the more happy! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

The second half of the month in Yucca Valley was devoted to a retreat focusing on the buddha Vajrapani,[1] for which 140 people were enrolled. Lama Yeshe delayed the initiation by one day for the sake of a student who was late.

“A qualified tantric guru should know the state of all his disciples’ minds twenty-four hours a day. If he doesn’t, he is not qualified,” he told them. With typical modesty he declared himself unqualified, but repeated that a guru must be able to determine whether a student is capable of keeping the tantric vows. He explained that these could be withheld for certain people during the ceremony. It was very important to Lama Yeshe to do everything possible to maintain the strength and purity of the tantric lineages he was so generously transmitting to his students.

There was always a little competition among the students when it came to performing some personal service for Lama Yeshe, right down to who would have the honor of bringing him the freshly squeezed juice he liked to sip during teachings. He often visited the kitchen to chat with the Sangha, who washed the dishes. Soon it became clear he was spending extra time with Chuck Thomas. “Jon Landaw and I spent quite a bit of time with him privately, just hanging out,” said Chuck. “At the time I didn’t realize how lucky I was and so I mainly wasted the opportunity. One time Lama was laughing so much he just leaned over and threw up into the garbage pail. We realized Lama’s body was barely sustaining him. He told us quite plainly that he kept himself alive with his own psychic powers.”

Lama Yeshe, an avid TV watcher, was intrigued by advertisements and knew the advertising industry didn’t bother with an idea unless it was going to work for them. He saw how advertisers used enthusiasm and exaggeration to sell their products, and he would sometimes half-jokingly inject the same qualities into his Dharma talks: “This emptiness, shunyata, is the best one! It is pantastic! Wow!” He also knew that slang was powerful. The expressions “freak out” (which Lama pronounced “preak out”) and “uptight” were his favorites when referring to students who neglected themselves and “beat themselves up.”

He had no patience with the cry, “I’m so bad!” He pointed out that self-pity was not the same as humility. He wanted his students to develop faith in their inner guru, their own potential for enlightenment. He saw guilt and self-disparagement as a Western disease of the spirit.

Peter Kedge later reflected on his experience with the lamas. “After being around Lama for some time, which was a huge luxury, one starts to think, ‘What would Lama do? How would he handle this?’ when dealing with people in daily life situations. And his guidance would be there, because one could refer back to his indomitable example. Lama often repeated that human beings’ biggest problem is low self-image. It was from that point that Lama taught human potential in a very structured way.

“The way Rinpoche’s lam-rim teachings at Kopan unfolded into the various initiations—Chenrezig, Tara, Vajrapani, Manjushri, Vajrasattva and the Vajrasattva retreat—was like a huge doorway for everyone to pass through. There was a method in this unfolding. The seed-syllable meditation was really an extract from the Six Yogas of Naropa. It was Lama’s method to take the essence of the Buddha’s teachings and present it without any cultural or other form of packaging. It was pure essence taught in the manner, language and context that people—especially we young people in those days—were really able to understand.

“Several times it occurred to me that Lama Yeshe was Lama Tsongkhapa. Lama Tsongkhapa had himself absorbed and then presented the Buddha’s teachings in a manner appropriate, acceptable and relevant to people in the fifteenth century. That’s exactly what Lama was doing. Lama’s teachings were extraordinary and very different from Rinpoche’s, whose teachings were always absolutely traditional with not a single corner cut. Lama’s teachings were always fun, really meaningful and relevant to everyone’s lives. They were teachings from a very deep place of complete understanding of the psychological mechanics of mind. Not just human mind, but all mind. It seemed to me that if Lama Tsongkhapa were to reincarnate in these times, this is exactly what he would do.”

Yucca Valley group portrait, 1977

Yucca Valley group portrait, 1977

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on Vajrapani at Yucca Valley, California, in 1977:

Every day, in every moment, underneath everything else, you have the thought, “I am this or that kind of person, this or that kind of deluded, impure person.” It doesn’t matter whether you are religious or non-religious in your attitudes, you all have some kind of ordinary idea of who and what you are. Consciously or unconsciously you also apply that projection to all the other people, the other sentient beings, surrounding you. This mistaken conception pervades everything that you see; it characterizes your fundamental neurosis, your basic mental illness.

When we practice guru yoga, we have a small experience of a unified living image of ourselves and others. Through that experience and by learning the essence of the guru, we can gradually transcend our mundane relationships with others; we can transcend our mistaken and neurotic mental concepts and the atmosphere they create within us and around us.

We are surrounded by living beings. We are constantly involved with each other, always interacting, relating. Most human problems arise through our interactions with other human beings due to our mistaken ordinary concepts and the vibrations that we project onto others. From our neurotic and agitated state we tend to view other people as ordinary sense objects from which we try to gain some kind of sense gratification for our attachments rather than engaging others in an easy way with respect, seeing them positively. For example, perhaps it is possible to transcend such an ordinary view by transforming all sentient beings into the form of Vajrapani, so that your mind is automatically energized with an attitude of loving kindness and wisdom. In this way whenever you see another person, then your wisdom is energized, bringing greater control of your mind and blissful enjoyment in your life.

The purpose of practicing guru yoga and the yoga method of Vajrapani is to release all the impure, depressed, dissatisfied energy within you by visualizing and actualizing such a transcendental vision. The specific way that we practice the guru yoga of Vajrapani—the process of dissolving, sinking, unifying—enables us to purify the dualistic mind and discover total unity. This is its purpose. Our ordinary existence is rooted in separation. Everything is fragmented because of our mistaken and exaggerated conceptions. Even though we are so disconnected and living in the world of our projections, we have the strong impression that we are completely crowded. This crowded feeling needs to be released.

It is true. Many times the projections that we have are completely unreal, non-existent, but because we believe them, we then experience them as if they exist. A good example: Sometimes when you are afraid and insecure, perhaps in a dark place, then you imagine seeing something out there. You think, “Maybe somebody is out there.” You look out into the dark where there is a group of trees and then you see something moving there. Nothing is actually there but you see something nevertheless. Something seems to be there and it appears to be real, even though it is not. Just like that.

Another example is when we are always thinking that there is something physically wrong with us. When we constantly say, “This hurts, that hurts, this hurts, that hurts.” Even if there isn’t really anything wrong in all those places, pretty soon you start to actually have pain, because you believe your projections.

Therefore, having such a unified transcendental recognition of ourselves and others as the deity is so important. This is how we train our minds to perceive reality positively without our ordinary agitated negative vibrations. From the start of retreat, all students should see themselves in the vision of the radiating rainbow body of Vajrapani. Contemplate and be aware of this as much as possible, all the time. Observe closely. If you can do this, then your retreat becomes a transcending process. Also, continuously recite Vajrapani’s mantra. Reciting mantra is very important. Mantra has a kind of energy to bring your mind into single-pointedness, rather than it being fragmented and scattered.

All existent energy has some kind of vibration, either positive or negative, to inspire. You can feel this vibration. Our negative egotistic deluded minds can spread their negative vibrations into material things. However, mantra cannot be affected in this way by the deluded mind. Mantra has a kind of purity; from the beginning it is pure.

You do not necessarily have to be sitting when you recite mantra; when you walk, even when you go to the bathroom, wherever you go or whatever you do you can be reciting mantra…even when you go shopping at the supermarket. You don’t need to make a big show of it; you just act naturally. You don’t even have to recite mantra with your mouth. You can recite mentally. You can do.

By integrating the mind into single-pointedness, mantra automatically energizes you with peace, bliss, joy. For example, the Vajrapani mantra is all the supreme powerful energy transformed into mantra. Vajrapani’s mantra is Vajrapani. It can cure any disease, but you need strength, meditation, and the power of inspiration within you. Really, it is possible!

[1].    Roughly, Vajrapani means “holding a vajra in the hand.” Vajrapani embodies enlightened power. Together with Manjushri (enlightened wisdom) and Chenrezig (enlightened compassion), he represents the third of the triad of primary characteristics of enlightenment. He appears as a wrathful buddha, dark blue in color, with one face, two arms and two legs.

Refuge at the Yucca Valley Course

Rinpoche and Lama meditating, Delhi,1975
From  1977: The more meditation, the more happy! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

One hundred people enrolled in Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s two-week lam-rim course at the Institute for Mental Physics in Yucca Valley, a residential retreat center in the California desert east of Los Angeles.

During Rinpoche’s course, Lama Yeshe gave a couple of talks. Among those meeting him for the first time was Jacie Keeley. “He looked very sick, all soft and squishy, and his skin was a yellow-gray putty color,” said Jacie. “This gray little man walked into the big room, climbed up on this huge throne and sat in meditation. By the time he spoke he was big, golden and powerful. I was impressed. I wore dark glasses to every talk Lama gave because I cried through every one. On my twenty-eighth birthday I went to Lama, told him I wanted to follow the bodhisattva path and was willing to help him in any way. I was absolutely hooked.”

It was also Janet Brooke’s first course. “I was raised a Mormon and ultra-Christian in outlook. At first everything the lamas said reinforced my heartfelt beliefs, but one morning Rinpoche was talking about taking responsibility for ourselves rather than leaving it all to God. Suddenly I felt very confused, started crying and left the room. After attending a group interview with Lama Yeshe I realized it was merely a matter of terminology and at the end of the course felt perfectly comfortable about taking refuge.”

Before the refuge ceremony Lama Yeshe told those who had come together for the ceremony, “Don’t do it just to do it. It’s really important to know if you have a connection with that teacher. See if when you think of that person, some kind of strong feeling comes up in your heart, even tears.” “Tears came out of nowhere for me pretty much every time I saw Lama,” said Lois Greenwood-Audant, who had been at the fourth Kopan course with her partner, Gabriel.

Carol Fields also took refuge, giving Lama her wedding ring as an offering—the only thing of value she had with her. “In front of everyone Lama Yeshe held up the ring and said, ‘This is a ring that people get married with, but I think she and I have been married for a long time.’ It was years before my usually sharp-eyed husband noticed the ring was missing. I think that ring not only bound me to Lama but protected my long marriage.”

Listening to the lam-rim teachings and just being with the lamas changed people’s lives. One man put his will in order before coming to the course and found many other students had done the same, sensing their lives were going to change forever. During this course Carol Royce-Wilder filmed the lamas walking around the Yucca Valley institute grounds. A great hawk circled above them, landing on a branch just beside Lama Yeshe. He walked right over to it and held up his hand. The bird didn’t move a muscle. “Power and magic!” exclaimed the Carlos Castaneda devotees.

Indeed, Lama Yeshe seemed to connect powerfully with many animals, even cats. Cats were quite rare in Tibet and Lama would have had little contact with them before coming to the West. Nicole Couture was present when Lama once pinched the tip of a cat’s tail, which made it walk backwards like a little robot. Nicole tried that later with other cats, but with no success whatsoever.

From Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s lam-rim teachings at Yucca Valley, California, in 1977:

The word “Dharma” is Sanskrit. Dharma means “holding up.” For example, if a person is about to fall down from a precipice, then holding them back from falling means to hold them back from getting hurt or killed. Dharma is a method that protects us from the dangers of suffering and unhappiness. This is the meaning of Dharma.

      In the West there are many different kinds of knowledge: psychology, education, psychiatry, and so on. What are all these for, what is their purpose? All these different methods are to bring about greater happiness instead of suffering. In the same way, the Dharma is a method for happiness. And the Buddhadharma contains all the various methods that are taught through education, that have different names. All this knowledge is contained in the Dharma, with nothing missing.

      The greatest problem for everyone, for even the tiniest creature, for every human being, is exactly the same: wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. Every living being hopes that the methods they employ in trying to obtain happiness will be successful, that whatever they decide to do will work. The problem is that in trying to achieve happiness and eliminate suffering they generally employ only external methods. They believe that happiness and suffering are caused by external factors. This is, in fact, a basic wrong conception. Both happiness and suffering are internal; they are both mental phenomena. They are not external, not physical. And the causes of happiness and suffering are also internal and mental; they are not external nor physical. The causes of suffering are in the mind and so to eliminate suffering those causes need to be purified, cleansed. In the same way the causes of happiness are also internal in nature, so in order to achieve happiness we must establish those causes in the mind.

      Let’s look at a simple example. Let’s say that someone steals your tape recorder. When you discover that your tape recorder has been stolen, at first there arises a sense of clinging. Your mind becomes so unhappy. Anger arises, and depression. But in that very minute, if you were to think that you should actually make charity, if you think how extremely kind this person has been to you, how helpful he is to give you this opportunity to make charity, then right in that moment there is a realization in the mind. If you totally determine in your mind to give your tape recorder to that other person, right then, in that moment when the decision is made, there is a true realization in the mind. You experience peace in your mind. Within just one minute the mind has been changed, from suffering to happiness. Before, the mind was unhappy, suffering, depressed. But by means of a single thought, just the determination to give the object away, the problem ceased and the unhappiness was stopped. The mind becomes peaceful, relaxed.

      In this way you can see that happiness, peace of mind, is not received from external factors. Happiness and peace of mind arise from internal factors, just by changing the way that we think. By applying a different way of thinking, we can experience happiness and stop suffering.

      Suffering is caused by the dissatisfied mind of attachment. This is one of the poisonous minds. When you plant a poisonous tree in your garden, you will get only poisonous fruit, but if you plant a medicinal tree, then you will get medicinal fruit. In the same way, by following the poisonous mind, the result that you get will be only suffering, but by planting positive virtuous minds, you will receive happiness as the result.


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