What would Lama do? Transcending Ordinary View
The second half of the month in Yucca Valley was devoted to a retreat focusing on the buddha Vajrapani, 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.”
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!
. 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.