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I feel like some cheesecake

From  1978: Mahayana, Mahayana, Mahayana! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

(12946_pr.jpg) photo by Robbie SolickZong Rinpoche and Lama Zopa Rinpoche embarked on a tour of Canada. They were scheduled to be at Geshe Sopa’s Deer Park center from 17 June to 16 July, and Ama Lobsang was to join them for the last two weeks. The Californians piled into cars and headed for Wisconsin while Lama Yeshe went off to Seattle with Jon Landaw for a break and to attend more English classes. Pam Cowan, now a lawyer, arranged for them to stay in a very nice house belonging to a federal judge she knew. While there Lama Yeshe received two empowerments from Dezhung Rinpoche, one of the Sakya lamas with whom he had escaped to India from Tibet. Lama requested him to give bodhisattva vows at Vajrapani Institute the following year.

Pam and her husband, Steve, picnicked with Lama Yeshe, took him to the zoo and to some wonderful botanical gardens in Vancouver, British Columbia. They even took him sailing. “Such was his enthusiasm for the tiller we nearly ran aground several times,” said Pam. “He often came over to our house and brought me flowers from the judge’s garden. I was always watching his diet and his health but he was extremely partial to cheesecake. I had a cat called Yeshe and he thought it was very funny when I yelled, ‘Yeshe! Get off the table!’

“I knew Lama wasn’t in good health. One evening when he came over for dinner I was thinking to myself that if he died I would be so honored to be his next mother. Of course I didn’t share this with him but Lama suddenly started laughing and very lovingly said, ‘You can’t be my mother because you would never let me go!’  I was quite rattled by the interchange!”

Continuing, Pam said, “Steve and I were planning a trip to Indonesia. Lama thought this was a crazy idea. He couldn’t understand wanderlust at all. He said we should stay at home, have children, be good practitioners and cut out this restless activity.”

“Years earlier before leaving Nepal,” Pam later recalled, “I had told Lama I wanted to become a nun. He’d laughed and said I would be a householder with three children!  After Steve and I had two sons we decided not to have more children, and I remember thinking at least that was one thing Lama hadn’t known. But three years later I had my daughter!”

"Wellie Wanging" with Lama, 1979Many years later, Jon still had vivid memories of an incident that happened one night while Lama and he were staying at the judge’s house. “He said to me, ‘I feel like some cheesecake.’ I told him it was pretty late and all the shops were probably closed. He replied, ‘Let’s call Pam and Steve and maybe they’ll invite us over for some.’ So I dialed their number and passed him the phone. Just then a mischievous look appeared on Lama’s face and I wondered what prank we were in store for. I could hear Pam answer and then Lama said in a slow, sad voice, ‘Oh hello, dear. I just thought you should know—the house caught on fire.’ I could hear Pam’s panicked voice saying something. Lama continued, ‘There’s smoke everywhere.’ Pam must have asked to speak to me, because the next thing Lama said was, ‘He can’t come to the phone, dear. He’s sitting in the corner, crying.’

“Knowing how hysterical Pam would be at the thought of the judge’s home being destroyed, I decided to put an immediate end to this pretence and grabbed the phone out of Lama’s hand. After assuring Pam the whole thing was a joke, I gave the phone back to Lama. She told him she and Steve were now fully awake and wouldn’t be going to sleep any time soon, so maybe Lama and I should drive over there. Lama put down the phone, turned to me triumphantly and said, ‘See! I told you they would invite us over for cheesecake!’

“When we arrived at their house a little while later Pam stormed out, still in her dressing gown, went right up to Lama, waved a finger in his face and cried, ‘Lama, don’t you ever do that again!’”

Lama Yeshe worked hard in his English classes, writing notes such as, “America was discover by Colompa.” On one occasion, his English teacher gave the students an assignment to write and perform an advertisement for a product in front of the class. Lama’s ad was for Jasmine Soap, which had all sorts of amazing abilities to make its user attractive to others. The last line of Lama’s ad, which he read in a voice that mimicked pitchmen on TV, was the following: “The Queen of England uses Jasmine Soap and her husband loves her, and he doesn’t know why!”
One of the things about advertising that intrigued Lama Yeshe was its use of exaggeration. He once said, “In the West it is incredible how everything is exaggerated so the deluded mind is made certain to pay attention to it. ‘Look at this, how fantastic it is!’ This technique is used so extensively that even when we give a meditation course we have to advertise, ‘Come to our fantastic meditation and learn all about your amazing mind!’” After this observation he added, “Western culture seems a little too much for me.”

04406_sl_BGLama’s English classes were held in the morning and sometimes Jon had to wake him. “One morning I knocked on his door,” reported Jon, “and there was no answer, so I opened it, went over and touched his arm. Later, he told me I shouldn’t wake him up in this way but should instead make a sound by knocking on the door or playing a damaru (small hand drum) gently and then gradually let the sound grow louder. Although Lama Yeshe was certainly not averse to physical contact, he definitely did not want to be woken up by touch. As Lama Zopa Rinpoche has explained, the deep “sleeps” that Lama went into were actually a practice of profound meditative absorption and it could be dangerous to be aroused too suddenly from such a deep state.

“So the next day, when it was time to wake him up, I did as he had instructed me. I knocked and knocked, slowly increasing the volume, but there was no reply. Finally I opened the door a crack to see what was up and there was Lama, sprawled out on the bed, looking as if he were dead. I burst out laughing because I could see straight away he was fooling. And he immediately started laughing, too. This act of pretending to be dead was something he did on many occasions. It was very realistic and he only opened his eyes when people started to panic. It seemed clear that he wanted us to get used to the fact of mortality—his and our own.”

Lama had made a promise to a student at Lawudo to visit his Seattle herb shop, Tenzing Momo, in one year. He kept his promise. “It was one year to the day,” said Bradley Dobos, the happy shop owner. “He walked in by himself, just before closing time. Suddenly the whole store seemed to be bathed in white light.”

People were constantly looking for evidence of supernatural powers in this extraordinary, enchanting and irrepressible Tibetan lama. He seemed to be able to read the future, change the weather at will and appear to be in two places at once, but they were never completely sure. Real magic, Lama Yeshe kept saying, involves learning to control one’s own mind. Still, every once in a while he would demonstrate a trick or two.

Like this one. Having completed several Kopan courses Jimi Neal decided he wanted to become a monk. But he didn’t want to become a beggar as well. With Lama Yeshe’s permission he took a job as a bus driver in Seattle. At the time he believed that Lama had already left the United States, a rumor that had been deliberately spread in order to give Lama some space.

09379_sl_BG“I had just started my second year on the job,” Jimi explained. “I drove the night shift because I liked the silence and the crazy people who used buses then. Very late one night I was way out at the end of the line in a fancy neighborhood and staring into the dark when suddenly this apparition appeared right in front of me. It was Lama Yeshe standing alone in a field just a little to the side of the bus. I thought it must be my hallucination. It was the middle of the night, he had no attendant and besides, he wasn’t even in the country. But there he was. He even turned and looked at me. So I stopped the bus and looked back at him. A couple of passengers started asking what I thought I was doing. I didn’t really know, but then the image just disappeared.”

Jimi continued his story. “A couple of days later I got a call from Pam Cowan inviting me to dinner. ‘Lama’s going to be there, isn’t he?’ I said. ‘How did you know?’ she exclaimed. It had been a very well-kept secret. We ended up having a really nice evening. I went into a separate room with Lama and we talked for a couple of hours. He told me he was really glad I was working so I didn’t have to ask others for money. Later on I heard that at a couple of courses he spoke about seeing me in the bus. He often said if he could just get his students to see that things do not exist the way they appear, that would be good enough.”

“Good enough, dear” was one of Lama Yeshe’s most encouraging and comforting expressions. When Lama said it, it conveyed a kind of profound caring acceptance of both one’s efforts and one’s limitations. Lama’s Western students might have been able to discuss emptiness, bodhicitta, the qualities of enlightenment and the like, borrowing descriptions from scholarly works, but to actually live in the realizations of emptiness or bodhicitta was far beyond most of them. Nevertheless, they were earnestly trying and Lama was especially brilliant at acknowledging their efforts.



I hit you, my problem. You get angry, your trouble.

From  1978: Mahayana, Mahayana, Mahayana! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama at Shantiniketan, 1979While in Dharamsala, Lama’s student Gyatso (Dr. Adrian Feldmann) took Lama down to a big hospital in Lower Dharamsala for a medical check-up. “The X-rays revealed Lama’s heart was so massively enlarged it filled his chest cavity,” reported Adrian. “Non-functioning heart valves make a lot of noise, a whooshing sound. I listened to it with the Indian doctors who all shook their heads very solemnly. It was a very frustrating day. The staff took ages to do anything and I was becoming increasingly irritated—until I caught Lama’s eye. That was enough to quiet me because in that moment I saw his fragility and the power he used to simply stay alive.”

At this time Gyatso was in charge of shopping at Tushita Retreat Centre, but he wasn’t especially good at bargaining. “One lovely day Lama came outside and said to me, ‘I take you shopping!’ He stood right out in the street and took over completely, ordering this and that and bargaining the price down hard every time. Everyone just stood around and watched him. You could see the sellers were really happy to do business with a real pro! He showed me that to get what you want you have to be strong.”

That February, a foot of snow lay on the ground when a dozen Injis showed up to do a four-week Green Tara retreat. Among them was Sylvia Wetzel, the German feminist from Berlin. “Lama began doing a retreat of his own at the same time, yet every day he would check up on us, making sure we were not too tense, too silent, too uptight. Some evenings he came in with some chocolate and asked each one of us how we were doing, often recommending specific foods for certain people,” said Sylvia.

Australian Robina Courtin, dressed in nuns’ robes, had also arrived from Kopan to participate in the retreat, having received her rabjung vows from Lama Zopa Rinpoche at the beginning of February. Lama Yeshe then organized a getsul ordination ceremony for Robina and two others—Vicky from Sydney, Australia, and Stefano Piovella—which was to take place on March 9. As Robina recalled later, “Lama had requested Ling Rinpoche, His Holiness’s senior tutor, whose house was a five-minute walk from Tushita, to run the ceremony but Rinpoche was busy, so Tarab Tulku gave us the vows. As it was a novice ordination, there needed to be at least five fully ordained monks [there were no fully ordained nuns in the Tibetan tradition at the time], so Lama and Rinpoche were two of the five. I was very glad they were there! Afterwards, out back near Tushita’s kitchen, my friend Sylvia Wetzel grabbed her camera, handed me a rhododendron, which flourish in the area, and took a photo.”

Dr. Adrian at the People's Clinic

Dr. Adrian Feldmann at the People’s Clinic

“At Kopan and Tushita all we wanted to do was study, learn Tibetan and practice becoming saints,” Pelgye continued, “but Lama wanted bricklayers, toilet-cleaners, English teachers, gardeners and business people. When we complained he would tell us, ‘Fine. If you don’t want to do all these things, if you just want to be in retreat then I’ll go back to the mountains and do retreat too.’

“But if that happened, who would answer our questions? Lama laid great emphasis on the fact that he had worked hard to provide this opportunity for us. If we didn’t want to work so others could also hear the teachings, well then, he’d be happy to stay in retreat for the rest of his life. On the other hand, if we helped him build centers he would always help us. We would discover when to do our own long retreats in our own good time.”

Pelgye went on. “One day at Kopan I witnessed Lama Yeshe swatting two young boys who had been caught playing hooky. He ordered them to bend over and brought this bamboo ski-pole whizzing down through the air. Crack! I was aghast. Catching my eye Lama gestured for me to come forward, bend over and get whacked too. I found the cane made a lot of noise but didn’t really hurt; it was just a good show. I straightened up and thanked him politely. He gave me a fierce look and said, ‘That’s right. If I hit you, that’s my trouble. If you get angry, that’s your trouble.’ I got the message. It seemed like a really core teaching on karma.”

Lama is so very proud of you!

From  1978: Mahayana, Mahayana, Mahayana! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama teaching at UCSC, 1978, vol. 2Lama Yeshe had expressed a desire for an American university “experewence” on many occasions. In the spring of 1978, Jan Willis was able to fulfill Lama’s wish. She arranged for him to teach a course on Tibetan Buddhism at the University of California’s Oakes College on the Santa Cruz campus during the spring quarter, which ran approximately from mid-March through the end of May. He was to teach Jan’s UC Santa Cruz class while she took up an appointment as a Visiting Lecturer at Wesleyan University.

“We had to locate some Tibetan documents in order to prove that Lama really was highly educated,” said Jan. “Everything was very easy to arrange, probably because Lama was so keen to do it. He lived in student housing not far from Robbie and Randy Solick who lived in the apartments designated for married students. Robbie was appointed Lama’s official teaching assistant with Jon Landaw acting informally as a second assistant. Robbie and Jon led discussions and helped students with Buddhist terminology. Lama was to lecture two mornings a week and be available for interviews in his office on Wednesday afternoons.”

Being responsible for the shopping at Kopan had given Ngawang Chötak enough expertise to land a job in California as a purchasing officer. Unfortunately, his employer was going broke, so as a result Chötak was free to move into Lama’s apartment, sleeping upstairs in a little room off the kitchen.

“One of his little games was to lie on his bed and play dead when I came into the room. It scared the hell out of me but he thought it was a great joke. He wouldn’t study too much for his lectures because he knew exactly what to tell them. He spent a lot of time looking at magazines and had me read him some long articles. He also watched Roots on TV.

“Many, many people came to see him. Judy Weitzner always had access. He was
indefatigable and worked me to death. He’d want tea for twelve people at 2:00 am or it would be something else. But he was just bliss to be with.”

Chötak continued. “One day I took him along to a Hopi Indian reservation and told him their prophecy about us all coming to the end of what they call the ‘fourth world.’ According to the Hopi, people will not be able to travel around so much anymore and many other aspects of life as we know it will disappear. ‘I think they’re right. Why do you think I travel around the world introducing Mahayana in so many different places at once?’ said Lama.”

Karuna Cayton’s younger sister, Lori, enrolled in Lama’s class and moved into the student building directly opposite his apartment. “My thing was always just to sit and watch him,” she said. “The course was held in a small auditorium. Jon Landaw pushed a table up against the blackboard and placed a Tibetan carpet and a cushion on it. Lama came in, climbed right up onto the table and sat down.”

Lama teaching at UCSC, 1978, vol. 2He was a hit from the very first session and his lectures were packed. The Vajrapani people gate-crashed every one, driving in from their primitive huts and showering in the university gym. They were careful not to act devotionally, which would have been inappropriate in a college atmosphere. There were no prostrations or the traditional offering of khatas, flowers or incense, but whenever Lama entered the auditorium, always from the back of the room, the whole audience automatically stood as one. No one in America stands for professors. On the first day the students didn’t even know he was in robes until he got down to the front of the room. Nevertheless, they all stood up, every day.

Lama’s course was a survey of the origin, evolution and spread of Buddhism, placing special emphasis on the lives of Shakyamuni Buddha and later Indian masters. Given that Lama himself was an active participant in the present-day movement of Buddhism from Asia into Western cultures, not surprisingly his course also examined the various ways that the Buddhist teachings had moved from India into the very foreign culture of Tibet. This included an exploration of the history and development of the various schools of Buddhist thought and the differences between them. At the end of each session Lama answered questions. To one student who claimed that working for others to gain merit was self-interest, Lama replied, “I can only work for my own enlightenment.” To those who raised objections or who expressed opposing views he said, “Good! I like debate.”

“He answered every individual question all 150 of us could come up with,” said Debra Lockwood. “Lama Yeshe treated us all as equals and gave each of us a voice. He also instilled in me the possibility of attaining enlightenment in a single lifetime because the complete teachings for doing that were all at hand. He could also be outrageous. He related directly with the students, but strictly within the boundaries of his Vinaya vows. No wine, women and song.” Debra Lockwood, Kevin Ergil and Greg Hillis were among the few students at that course to go to Kopan.

During office hours Lama Yeshe patiently listened to everyone’s tales of woe—horrible divorces and family traumas. He saw anybody at any time and Robbie Solick often had to step in to ensure he got some time for himself. “He was so powerful,” said one new student. “I loved to watch him being so patient with people with whom I had absolutely no patience at all.”

One afternoon Bill Kane, a Vajrapani resident, jumped the interview queue. “I was suffering from the most painful stress and told Lama I was freaking out! ‘Oh, don’t worry,’ said Lama, ‘you think Guru Shakyamuni doesn’t have an answer to your problem? You do tummo [inner heat] meditation, take some nice walks and relax.’ When I got up to leave he grabbed me, said some mantras and started blowing on my heart. I nearly blacked out. I don’t know how to tell you this but right in front of me he turned into Vajradhara. After a few minutes of this he said, ‘Okay, goodbye, dear’, and went back to being Lama. I know he released something in my heart that day. I could feel it,” he said.

“One day in a lecture Lama did a little snap of the fingers and twist of the wrist and pointed in my direction, causing the greatest delight I have ever experienced,” said another student. “It was like the floor dropped out from under me and what was left was this exhilarating joy. Lama Yeshe was known as a populist but he was really a master of the yogic requirement of ‘super-hiding,’ of never revealing one’s practice or realizations. He was so much more than a sweetie-pie. Outwardly he taught us lam-rim, but secretly he taught the highest tantric practice to those who could fix their thoughts on him. Superficially he was a nice Buddhist monk, but inwardly he was a miracle-making mahasiddha [a highly realized meditator] of the first order.”

Lama teaching at UCSC, 1978, vol. 2The student continued his account. “Some time later I found Lama Yeshe could enter my dream states. I was sleeping and Lama was far away. I heard a telephone ring and then Lama was in my dream. I was convinced he was performing initiations. When I asked Lama Zopa Rinpoche about it he got excited, but pretended he didn’t quite understand what I was saying. Geshe Rabten was even cooler about it, indicating that such things happen all the time. But all I had to do was think about Lama Yeshe and there was an automatic response in me.”

“Lama was forever telling his students what to do,” Robbie Solick explained. “He’d say, ‘You be a monk,’ ‘You go into retreat,’ ‘You do this or that.’ One day I asked him why he never told me what I ought to do. He said, ‘Your family is your responsibility and Dharma practice right now. It is not necessary for me to tell you what to do.’ Randy and I both got that message so we made no demands on his time.

The academic year at Wesleyan, where Jan Willis was teaching, ended earlier than that at UCSC, and so Lama Yeshe invited Jan to come and give a guest lecture in his class. Jan described her experience in detail in her book, Dreaming Me. “Lama Yeshe briefly introduced me to the class, then took a seat among the students,” Jan wrote. “I gave a lecture that compared the sacred life stories (called nam-thar in Tibetan) of two of the most famous Buddhist yogis, Naropa and Milarepa. I began by first writing the term nam-thar on the blackboard on Tibetan. The students seemed impressed by the beauty of the script as well as by my general remarks concerning how such spiritual biographies work to impart, in narrative and aesthetic form, the essence of practice. I proceeded to narrate each of the yogis’ lives—with all the facial, hand and body gestures I am famous for—and then to compare and contrast certain details of the stories. The time flew by and I was in my element. When I finished, the hundred or so students gave me a standing ovation. Just before the class’s question-and-answer period, Lama Yeshe beckoned me over to him. He was beaming like a proud father. When I leaned near to him I could see that tears were streaming down his cheeks. Lifting his robe to partially cover his face, he whispered to me, ‘Lama is so very proud of you!’ I thought my heart would burst wide open. It seemed at that moment that this was the assurance I had been waiting for all my life.”

As usual Lori Cayton was watching carefully. “Lama was just so radiant. You could tell this was ‘his child’ and that he was extremely proud of her.”

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