The Little Man in Red
Ibiza, in the Balearic Islands lying about fifty miles (80km) off the coast of Spain was a sleepy peasant farming community until the 1960s when large numbers of world travelers made it their summer destination. Rents were cheap, the beaches pristine, the climate perfect and the locals tolerant.
At the end of the first week of October the lamas arrived into the relaxed Ibiza atmosphere to teach a ten-day meditation course. Jampa Chökyi, Lama’s first Spanish nun, had spent the previous two months there helping Philippe and François Camus prepare a gompa. She had also given simple introductory teachings in Spanish to the 150 people who had enrolled for the lamas’ course. Assisting her was another Spanish nun, Angeles de la Torre, and Kopan students Antonio Pascual and Jasmin Ubinas.
François Camus and his wife ran a health food shop on Ibiza. Philippe Camus and his wife, Linda, ran a local restaurant. Through those two businesses the two couples got to know many people from the cosmopolitan crowd and promoted the lamas’ upcoming course with great enthusiasm.
The Camus family was in the wine and spirit trade and had used a geodesic dome for a recent exhibition. With money he had received as a wedding present, Francois arranged to have a similar dome built and delivered to Ibiza just two days before the course began. The white plastic-covered dome was set up in a field close to the beach. The organizers insisted the lamas needed to stay in a decent place of their own. The more bohemian types argued that if they were so unattached their accommodation hardly mattered. Arguments quickly became heated, but Jampa Chökyi had a fiery Spanish temperament and was able to stand up to anyone, so the matter was soon sorted out. Philippe and Linda Camus gave up their best rooms, though Lama Yeshe had said “some little corner” would do. Even so, their house was still rather primitive with no bathroom or running water, so a hole was dug in the ground to serve as a toilet with cane fencing erected in a spiral around it to provide some privacy. Lama Yeshe was not impressed.
Jampa Chökyi noticed that Paco Hita, one of the people living at Can Tirurit (a Payesan house that was a kind of alternative altruistic community center located nearby), was always very polite and accommodating. Paco was asked to be the chauffeur for the lamas and as a result became the person who spent the most time with Lama Yeshe in Ibiza. François Camus waited at his house while Paco collected the lamas from the airport. “The moment they arrived,” recalled François, “the person who had been the most difficult came to me in tears saying, ‘Now I understand.’ This man hadn’t even spoken to the lamas yet but he was totally changed.”
“I had worked from the age of eight until I was twenty-five when a great restlessness arose in me,” said Paco. “Although I had very little education and only the few skills employment had given me, I was determined to search for something to give meaning to my life. In Ibiza I began to live again, free of prejudices and material possessions.
“I imagined the lamas as barefoot, begging for food and wearing very little clothing. The first sign of action was when they sent us this hurricane, this demanding little Spanish nun. She quickly got a group together to sew a large thangka of Guru Shakyamuni. They also made a canopy and cloths for the altar. She taught us all how to sit, how to visualize and how to meditate and gave courses on how to draw Buddhist images.
“My job was to drive the lamas to and from the course grounds, fetch the food supplies and have the car always available for them. Rinpoche taught in the mornings and Lama in the afternoons. During the fourteen days they were on the island I did not leave their side except to retire at night. I did not understand or speak English, so I was not able to talk with them at all. With Lama Zopa Rinpoche that was no problem, because he never spoke—except once when I was driving rather fast because we were late. That time he turned and said something. Later I asked someone to translate it. What he had said was, ‘Are you in a hurry to attain enlightenment?’
“Rinpoche spent all his free time in his room emitting little sounds that seemed like profound laments to me. His replies to Lama were always in this timid whisper that seemed to come from the depths of the earth. As I watched the two of them together Lama was like the sun and Rinpoche like a candle softening in its heat and bending irresistibly toward him.”
Paco continued, “Words were not necessary with Lama Yeshe. We developed our own communication. Occasionally, when he came out from a lecture he would put his arm over my shoulders and say, ‘Good?’ I would answer, ‘Very good!’ Then I put my right arm around his waist and felt how he was transmitting energy that filled my whole being with joy. I sat in the front row for his talks so I could get him whatever he needed. I hardly understood what he was talking about, even though it was translated into Spanish. The concepts were light years away from my mind. But now and then Lama pointed to me and told the others that if they had questions they should ask me, because I understood. I felt nothing could be further from the truth, but what I did understand was the respectful, kindly and affectionate way he treated people.
“One afternoon when I was driving him home he let me know he wanted a driving lesson. So I stopped and invited him to sit behind the wheel. The car was a Citroën belonging to a Saudi girl, Zia Bassam, who was living on Ibiza and also had an aunt who lived there. After confirming he understood how it worked, we set off. Lama tore up the dirt road with violent jerks and raised clouds of dust because he was holding the clutch halfway down at the same time that he stepped on the accelerator. I made him stop and scolded him firmly. ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry!’ he said. He went a little better then. But when we came to a hill, the car stalled. Lama mistakenly stepped on the clutch thinking it was the brake and we rolled down into a dirt mound next to the gutter. With more instruction he drove all the way home. The next day he wanted to do it again, but on the first turn after leaving the course grounds he crashed into a stone wall and the car was crumpled.”
Lama and Paco returned to the house laughing their heads off. “Oh Zia! Car! Zia! Car! We broke the car! Ha ha ha!” When Zia came to see Lama, he confessed to the accident and offered to pay, but she said no.
Out of the blue Mummy Max’s ex-husband, Marty Widener, suddenly turned up. He was staying on the nearby island of Formentera where he had seen a poster advertising the course. “I came bursting into their room telling Yeshe how happy I was to see him, while he kept bumping foreheads with me. They invited me to lunch the next day and the three of us just sat around and yacked and laughed and cackled. It was wonderful,” said Marty.
“One day Lama suggested a picnic at a little cove by the sea near Philippe’s house,” Paco recounted. “We brought bread and many ingredients, spread a cloth and Lama began to construct these high sandwich towers, offering them to us one by one. We were about to start eating when Lama pointed to a spot in the distance where we could see the outline of a person sitting on the rocks contemplating the sea. Lama made it clear he wanted me to invite him to eat too, so I walked over and gave him Lama’s message and he shared the food with us. We all talked enthusiastically and laughter rebounded off the rocks. When we left the stranger thanked us and said those moments had actually been life-changing for him.
“On another day we visited a country store that sold everything from rope sandals to codfish. The owner was a perpetually bad-tempered woman who mistrusted everyone. I had never seen her smile. Lama wanted to buy presents, so we went inside and he began sniffing around the open shelves. When the woman came out from an inner room he transformed himself completely, bent double, face to the floor and hands joined at his forehead to greet her. He was so humble that she too was transformed. Her hard little eyes warmed and her mouth formed a surprisingly sweet smile. By gestures, Lama asked if he could look around. She indicated he could look wherever he liked, even behind the counter. Lama ended up buying nothing but the woman looked as if she had made the best deal of her life. From that day on she never ceased to ask me about the little man in red.”