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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.”

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. cathyfrenette #


    January 6, 2015
  2. thanks for this, it’s a beautiful and moving piece, and I wish I had that sort of connection with lama himself.

    January 7, 2015

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