Be Slow, Go Deep
In January Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche left for Bodhgaya to attend His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s annual teachings. Lama Lhundrup, Lama Pasang, Geshe Jampa Gyatso and a group of devoted students accompanied them, while Geshe Tsering remained at Kopan as acting abbot.
His Holiness taught in Tibetan for four hours every morning and every afternoon Alex Berzin translated it all into English. That took another four hours. The Westerners, seated behind thousands of Tibetans, didn’t understand a word of the morning teachings, so one day during lunch a brave soul asked Lama Yeshe if it was necessary for them to sit through them. Garrey Foulkes recalled Lama’s wrathful reaction. “It was one of the few times I ever saw him show anger. He couldn’t believe that a student of his would ever think of missing an opportunity to sit in the presence of His Holiness. I felt a great relief that it wasn’t me who had asked the question, because any of us could have.”
“Back then Westerners often sat for hours listening to teachings in Tibetan,” said Peter Kedge. “We just sat there hoping somehow to absorb some blessings, which I’m sure we did. It certainly felt as though we did. But compared to teachings in the twenty-first century, where simultaneous multi-language translations are broadcast directly into headphones, or where you can pick up a copy of the teachings as you walk out the door, it was a different world back then.”
Bodhgaya was bustling with monks and Max Redlich watched everything going on around him. “His Holiness gave a talk under the Bodhi tree to all the geshes and I saw how they packed themselves so tightly into such a small space. One geshe was asked a question and it appeared his answer was wrong. Afterwards I saw Lama walking along in his Dr. Scholl’s sandals with that geshe, punching him in the shoulder and pushing him roughly in that typical debating style of theirs. It often looks as if they are about to have a knock-down fight, but of course they never do.”
Elea Redel, from France, was in Bodhgaya simply because her Nepalese visa had expired. “I was never a hippie and all that overt Buddhist devotion did not appeal to me. I mentioned this to a friend there who said, ‘Ha ha! Lama Yeshe is here just for you!’ I agreed to meet him, but when someone told me to take a khata as an offering I got irritated. If he was going to be offended because I failed to bring a khata, he was definitely not for me.
“At our meeting Lama told me I couldn’t accept just anyone as my teacher and that I should ‘check up.’ I liked that. I told him I could not go around prostrating or with a mala in my hands. ‘Buddhism is an inner attitude,’ he explained. ‘You don’t have to do those things, but also you don’t know what others feel when they do them. So you do it when you feel like it.’ That was exactly what I wanted to hear. I took refuge with him the following morning.”
“Mahayana, Mahayana, Mahayana!” Lama taught. “Saying 100,000 mantras or not, doing prayers the wrong way, breaking this or that vow—the main thing to concentrate on is Mahayana, Mahayana, Mahayana!” The point of prayer and ritual was not to become an expert in Buddhism but to develop the essence of Mahayana, the warm-hearted bodhicitta attitude of truly caring for all sentient beings equally. Aware that some students considered the Gelug lineage too intellectual, focusing only on study, Lama told them, “We may be slow, but we go deep.”