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My fully liberated American dakini

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

Lama Yeshe with His Holiness and entourage, 1982“On the train ride up to Dharamsala Lama and I shared a first-class compartment with two other people,” Judy Weitzner recalled. “Even though he was wearing robes, Lama pretended we were married and drove them nuts by never quite answering any of their questions. It was very funny. At Tushita Retreat Centre he kept introducing me as ‘my fully liberated American dakini.’ All I could say was, ‘Oh God, Lama!’

“He’d picked up all sorts of quaint little objects during his travels and began arranging them on his altar. There was a little Eiffel Tower, miniature animals and this and that. It was so charming and the mixture so incongruous. I had brought him some chocolate-covered raisins which went into a little bowl and straight onto the altar. There were also packages of bulbs and seed catalogues that had been sent to him by American students. Lama loved planning his garden.

“While I was at Tushita he asked me to monitor his appointments. I was supposed to keep them brief because he was exhausted. But every time he greeted someone he made them feel as if he had all the time in the world, just for them. Whenever I went in and tried to edge someone out, they’d say, ‘But Lama told me to stay.’ He would go on and on until he was utterly spent. Then he’d grab his old ski-pole walking stick and trudge off to visit someone he’d heard was sick.”

Judy continued her story. “Lama told me that lots of Tibetans criticised him for bothering with teaching Dharma to Westerners, but I knew he reported to the Dalai Lama after each tour and that everything he did was with the approval of His Holiness.

“True to his word, Lama took me to see His Holiness when he made his usual report. The conversation was mostly in Tibetan but I could tell that Lama was telling His Holiness what he had observed on his tour of Western countries. They talked quite a lot about Western psychology. It seemed Lama was among the first Tibetan monks to get around in the Western world in the way he did.

Lama Yeshe and Geshe Losang Tsultrim, 1982“Lama wanted me to report to the Dalai Lama about the activities of the International Society for Tibetan Reality, which I did and was then sent to see His Holiness’s secretary, Tenzin Geyche, who had organised Justice for Tibet International. We had the same purposes and joined forces. While in Dharamsala I realised that one of the reasons so little about Tibet was being published was because there were no Western-trained journalists there to write press releases likely to be picked up.   By this time all I ever talked about was Tibet and on the flight back to the US I was telling the Asian man sitting next to me all about how the US wouldn’t let His Holiness in and he said to me, “I can assure you it will not be long before His Holiness will be granted a visa to the United States.” He knew something.

“We began working on several projects, one of which was to lobby the US State Department to give the Dalai Lama a visa to enter the country. We deluged them and our congressmen and senators with letters suggesting a change in policy and petitioned Amnesty International to take up the cause of Tibetan political prisoners. We became a kind of clearing house for information about Tibet. I printed the first ever Free Tibet stickers and sent a bundle to Nepal to put on the Tiger Taxis. I was only back from India a few months when His Holiness was granted a visa.”

Lama Yeshe told Judy Weitzner that the names he gave to each center were very carefully chosen. ‘I give the name Vajrapani to the people in California for their center and they don’t know what it means. But they say the word a lot and it makes an imprint on their minds,’ “He explained that Vajrapani’s energy was the kind they needed in California,” said Judy.

“Lama was always so kind to me. Once when I discovered that all my jewelry had been stolen he told me, ‘Oh good! Now the grasping attachment things are gone!’ Later in the mail came two wedding rings for me to wear, one from Lama and one from Lama Zopa.

“He sent me on ahead to Kopan with a message that the ground beneath the meditation tent was to be sprayed for fleas before the November course. The hard-liners were shocked, but Lama argued that if biting fleas interfered with the students’ ability to concentrate on the Dharma they must be gotten rid of.”

“If that message was received, it was not acted on,” said Jacie Keeley. “The fleas were dreadful that year and Lama was outraged.”

Andrea Antonietti, a twenty-one-year-old Italian lad, arrived at Tushita and announced that Kyabjé Ling Rinpoche had agreed that he could be ordained in a few months’ time. Lama Yeshe asked if he had obtained his parents’ permission. “Permission, Lama? I have lived away from home for some years. Why do I need their permission?” Lama was adamant, adding that he could be ordained at Kopan once his parents consented. Lama told Andrea to write a letter to his Catholic parents.

00001_udAndrea described what happened. “Lama told me exactly what to write, word for word, admitting all the problems and worry I had brought them by hanging around with hippies and indulging in ‘extra-sensory experiences.’ He told me to emphasize that my attitude had changed, that now I valued religion. My parents gave their permission and said they were very happy to support me as a Buddhist monk.

“Lama also said I should go back to Italy and visit Assisi, where I had never been before because of my prejudices against Christianity. He mentioned that he had seen Zeffirelli’s movie on St. Francis of Assisi, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and said it was the best religious movie he had ever seen.”

Before leaving Dharamsala for Kopan Lama Yeshe mailed a brick of the very best quality Tibetan tea to David Templeman in Melbourne. On the enclosed card he wrote, “Dear David, Mery (sic) Christmas, see you soon, much love Lama Yeshe.”



Just practice what the Buddha taught

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

Lama teaching, Kopan, 1974Trisha Donnelly had spent several years in Delhi in the employ of Jamie and Isabelle Johnston. She met Nick Ribush when he moved into the Johnston’s house in Old Delhi. Now, Trisha turned up at Kopan to attend her first course. She just loved Lama Zopa Rinpoche. His endless talk about death did not bother her in the least, though it sent one woman running down the hill screaming, never to return. Twenty-six others left the course, citing mind control and cultist behavior. This was not unusual.

The eleventh Kopan course commenced on 15 November 1978. Two hundred people from twenty different countries enrolled in the course. The teachings in English were simultaneously translated into French, German, Spanish and Italian.

A fuel shortage in Nepal at the time meant that Kancha, now head cook at Kopan, had to make do with just one wood-burning stove on which to cook meals for all the Injis as well as nearly a hundred Mount Everest Centre monks. With Nepal’s forests just about stripped bare, Kopan’s wood now came all the way from the Indian border. In addition, the monastery still had water problems. Even though the water was collected from the spring at night and never reduced the availability of water for the local villagers, they repeatedly sabotaged the plastic pipes. It took years to reach a resolution with them.

From among the crowd that greeted Lama Yeshe upon his arrival he singled out Elea Redel, the French skeptic from Bodhgaya. “So, you’re back!” he exclaimed. “I don’t remember your name, but I remember all my people.”

Three days after the course began, more than 900 Americans committed suicide at Jonestown, Guyana, by swallowing cyanide at the direction of their “guru,” Jim Jones. Lama Yeshe pointed to the dangers of slavishly following a leader. “You don’t need a Tibetan trip,” he told the students. “Don’t follow blindly or with mystical attraction just because someone is a Tibetan yogi. You people are already silly wearing Tibetan clothes. You just practice what the Buddha taught, think carefully and test ideas independently.” He also told them not to try to convert their parents and siblings. “You don’t need to teach them anything. They probably have a lot more compassion than you do.”

Ngawang Chötak cornered Lama Yeshe as he left the tent after one teaching, determined to show him one of Carlos Castaneda’s books. “Lama, you just must read this book,” Chötak enthused. Lama took the book from Chötak and holding it with both hands, struck him on the head with it as he said, “I (hit) do (hit) not (hit) need (hit) to (hit) read (hit) this (hit) book (hard hit)!”

A German girl, Eva Marz, came down with a high fever during the course. “Oh, fever! That’s excellent! Just bring the heat from your head to your heart and it will be wonderful,” he told her. This cheered her enormously, but no sooner had the fever abated than diarrhea struck. While preparing a soothing herbal tea in the big kitchen, she ran into Lama again and said she was too ill to attend the teachings. “If you are sick you have to understand time and space. That’s all,” he said. This simple advice made her feel so relaxed she stopped worrying about what she was missing and just took care of herself.

As usual, several students came down with hepatitis. They ate a fat-free diet of boiled rice and vegetables and took Tibetan medicine. Lama Yeshe’s standard treatment for those with diarrhea was black coffee and yogurt. Others swore by plain white rice and weak black sugarless tea. Antibiotics were very popular in India and Nepal in the 1970s and Lama thought tetracyclin, or “tetracycle,” as he called it, was a great thing. He often sent someone down to Kathmandu to buy it over the counter. Before giving it out to people who came to him with headaches, fevers and upset stomachs, Lama held it in his hand, rubbed it, said some mantras and blew on it.

Rinpoche teaching, Kopan, 1974 Lama Yeshe did not put in an appearance until almost the end of the month-long course. “We were all really tense,” said Trisha, “so Lama began with, ‘That Lama Zopa! He’s been talking to you about death and all these heavy things. Don’t you worry about that! Just forget about it. Lama Zopa just goes on and on, doesn’t he!’ As usual the tension melted away and everyone laughed their heads off. Then Rinpoche came back the next day and took up right where he had left off—talking about death.”

When Lama Yeshe taught he gave the students the very essence of the teaching, without its traditional cultural packaging. If someone asked him a question about something, such as the ten moralities for example, Lama would mention one or two of them in his reply and then say, “Those ten things. You ask Zopa about those ten things.”

As November became December, the weather became mild and lovely. Several students preferred sunbathing on the hill to listening to Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Lama Yeshe began his second talk with a message for the self-righteous. “I know some of you are angry about those people out there lying on the hill in the sun instead of coming to the session. But I tell you, if they lie out there and rejoice in the good karma we create by doing this course and meditating, then they create better karma than you do sitting here and getting angry with them for not coming.”

During his final lecture Lama agreed to answer written questions that had been placed in a basket. “Are you enlightened?” read one. Lama Yeshe covered his face with his zen, a characteristic gesture of his. “Of course I am,” he chortled, joking. The tent rocked with laughter. The Tibetan view is that those who are enlightened never say so, and those who claim they are enlightened are not.

At the end of the course there was the usual scramble to obtain interviews with the lamas.

An Australian boy wishing to formally ask Lama Yeshe to be his teacher was told by other students that he must first make three prostrations and present an offering. “I did so with much ceremony, but to my surprise he promptly tossed my offering of incense straight over my head into a corner of the room. He made it very clear he was not impressed by us copying Tibetan manners. That was simply not the point at all,” he said.

Two years earlier Jacques Haseart had been strangely attracted to a photograph of Lama Yeshe that had appeared in a French magazine and had decided he had to meet him. Jacques finally made it to Kopan. Like so many others he longed for an interview, but seeing the pressure Lama was under gave up on the idea. “One day as I was standing in the courtyard watching everyone making a beeline for him the moment he appeared, he suddenly by-passed them all and came straight over to me. He took my hand and walked with me until we were out of the way, then he said, ‘You want to ask me something?’ I said no, but he insisted that we go straight up to his room. Before I had even formulated any of the questions I did want to ask him about Christianity and God, they just evaporated.”

A doctor who had attended the course requested an interview with Lama. Lama Yeshe told him he should touch his patients constantly and not underestimate its healing power.

For some, interviews with Lama Yeshe were a highly charged emotional experience. “I think I cried out my whole life,” said one woman, “but afterwards I felt a real new beginning. He inspired me completely.”

The kitchen at Kopan, 1976Trisha Donnelly asked if she could do a Tara retreat. “You don’t want to do lam-rim?” Lama asked her with exaggerated mock surprise. “No,” replied Trisha and promptly dissolved into tears. “I told him I had been much happier before doing this course and that feeling angry, for example, had seemed natural and spontaneous. I also told him I seemed to have lost my sense of humor, that instead of being able to make people laugh I just felt uptight. Then I cried a lot more and Lama told one of the boys to bring me a cup of coffee.” Years later, Trisha recalled the incident. “It was my first course and I’d decided I didn’t like lam-rim. It was confusing me. I wanted to be ‘me,’ not suppressing ‘me,’ as I saw it then. I loved the thought of tantra. So Lama showed me just with the way he asked the question that you need to practice lam-rim before you can practice tantra.”

More profound than meditation

Lama teaching at UCSC, 1978From  1978: Mahayana, Mahayana, Mahayana! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

On 16 October, the day before the lamas’ scheduled departure, Lama met with the Spanish organizers of the course at Fredi’s house. Now that they had sufficient funds they could begin to think about what kind of center they wanted to establish in Spain. Lama Yeshe had already allocated a name, Centro Nagarjuna. The meeting was conducted in English, which Paco did not speak. At the end of the meeting Lama asked each of those present what contribution they could make to the new center. “When it was my turn,” said Paco, “my hands seem to stretch out of their own accord. I said these were all I had to offer. Lama very sweetly placed them on his cheeks and his head and said, ‘Okay dear, very good, very good.’ The others laughed at this, but I entered some timeless state.”

Lama suggested they search for a site high in the mountains, far from the polluted air of the cities. He told François Camus to lead meditations and be the spiritual director. Maria Torres was to continue in her role as housekeeper. The Spanish students had funds and Lama Yeshe had given a name, but it took eighteen months, two false starts and half of the funds before Spain finally had its first FPMT center. To Lama Yeshe it was clear from the very beginning that hedonistic Ibiza was not suitable.

Maria Torres was twenty-five years old and heavily pregnant. After years at a convent school she didn’t want anything more to do with religion, especially chanting and prostrations. So she was surprised to find how touched she was by Lama Yeshe and never missed any of his talks. “I sensed that he was probably the most important man I would ever meet in my life, someone completely integrated and absolutely authentic. I thought that to work for this man was one way to ensure I would never make big mistakes in my life,” Maria later explained. “I was about to have a baby and asked Lama to name it. He did some mantras and puja over my stomach with water and some kind of grass and said, ‘His name is Yeshe Gyatso.’ Lama gave me a picture of Tara, one pill to take and a visualization of green light to do during labor. Lama also told me to find a man who would be a good father to the child. Yeshe was born two days after Lama Yeshe left Ibiza. Paco and I then began a relationship and about six months later I took Paco’s name.”

Xavi Alongina wanted to publish Dharma books in Spanish. “Lama told me to go very slowly, not to hurry at all,” said Xavi. “I got seriously involved in studying and teaching yoga, which brought in enough to support me, my wife and our son, while I dedicated myself to building Ediciones Dharma in Alicante.” By 2011 this company, still under Xavi’s direction, had become the world’s largest publisher of Dharma books in Spanish, having sold over 220,000 books in all and 90,000 copies of their magazine, Cuadernos de Budismo, since 1991.

17351_pr_BGOne day Peter Kedge suddenly realized that Zong Rinpoche did not hold the appropriate papers to re-enter India. While the rest of the party went to Majorca for a little rest, Jacie Keeley went to Madrid to sort out his papers. “That was the turning point in my life,” Jacie recalled. “I had joined the tour at my own expense and was fast running out of money. I had also become conscious of the fact that my flower-child look was no longer appropriate. In Madrid, I swapped my long hippie skirts for a nice new dress, replaced my duffel bag with a proper suitcase and soon afterwards cut my waist-length hair. When I finished sorting out Zong Rinpoche’s papers I rejoined the others on Majorca.

“One day I was sitting on my bed bawling my eyes out because I only had $300 left. I didn’t know what to do, so I was making prayers to the only image I had, a line drawing of Tara I had cut out of a brochure. Peter Kedge walked in and said Lama wanted to sponsor me to go to Kopan. So that was that.”

From Spain, Yeshe Khadro escorted Zong Rinpoche to Switzerland by train. Rinpoche didn’t speak any English and she had never been to Switzerland before. “Some Tibetans met us at this tiny village and we stayed there the night,” said Yeshe Khadro. “Zong Rinpoche opened his suitcase and out tumbled all these electric wind-up toys that had been given to Lama Yeshe. He was taking them back to the monastery. There were police cars and dogs that jumped and all sorts of things. Rinpoche and the Tibetans had a great time playing with them.” Zong Rinpoche told Peter Kedge the toys were “for my next life.”

The 1978 tour was finally over and Lama Yeshe could go home. But where exactly did he belong, this Tibetan refugee who cheered the loneliest hearts wherever he went? In the United States he was an American, in Italy he became an Italian. Without exception he treated all who came to him for advice as if they were family. Maybe home was where his gurus were, in India.

From Lama Yeshe’s talks in Ibiza, Spain, in 1978:

The lam-rim actually teaches us that everything we see…on the television, the wind blowing, the movement of the ocean…all these are a teaching on karma. The lam-rim teaches reality. Time is changing. Summer changes to autumn, autumn changes to winter, and winter changes to spring. All these changes, all this movement shows the impermanent nature of reality. We should learn from these teachings that the world brings us constant change. In the same way that these things change, so do I. We haven’t yet understood this. We should understand that every movement that we see, every movement that exists in the entire world is showing you reality. When we watch something on television, we see it as a fantasy. Instead of seeing it as presenting the evolution of cause and effect, we are shaking with fantasy and become even more deluded. Are we communicating? But if we have Dharma wisdom, when we watch movies or television, we see that these are showing us cause and effect in the evolution of samsara. Unfortunately, we aren’t generally able to see actual reality. We only see things in a polluted way, and so we become more deluded.

      Every movement of karma has a reason. Every movement of karma is connected, is an evolutionary link. So if you understand that, then you understand karma! Your mind transforms, your body transforms, your nervous system transforms; they are all changing, changing, changing. You can see karma. And when you can see karma, then you are aware of your actions—what you are supposed to do, what you shouldn’t do. You have some control of your own mind. You become more discriminating with regard to your own behavior. Then it becomes the practice of Dharma. If you are unconscious about your own actions, if you don’t know what you are doing, then there is no way you can see what action brings what result. Not being able to see clean clear which results come from which attitude or action is actually a cause of your continuing ignorance. This is not Dharma practice.

      Being mindfully aware of all your own actions throughout all the hours of the day, from the time you get up in the morning until you go to sleep—that is even more profound than doing some kind of meditation in the morning. The reason I’m saying this is that Western people are so interested in meditation. They love meditation, love to talk about meditation, but they don’t love it when Lama explains karma. Karma is strong, strong. “Karma is… well…that’s too heavy for us !” But our body, speech and mind is heavy already. It’s not your lama who makes them heavy. They are already heavy. This is why understanding karma is very important. Meditation is okay. But even if you are unable to meditate it’s all right. My meditation is that as much as possible I try to be aware of my own actions. I dedicate my day as much as possible to other people. Whatever I am involved in I try to have loving kindness and be sympathetic to others and I try not to take advantage of others as much as possible. This is my meditation. I observe my own body and speech; this is my meditation. Actually that is more precise and realistic than, “Oh, I’m meditating on tantra…”

  Lama Yeshe, Kopan, 1981    Actually this is a very simple thing. Today even though we are here, our mind is not actually living here. Already we are thinking, “After the course I’ll…bla, bla, da da da…” Our body is here but our mind is already in the future, after the course, not living in the present, not living in the moment. We never pay full attention to each other in this present moment. For example, while I’m talking to you people, my mind is thinking of Tibet. I’m not with you. This is wrong! Each day, when you get up in the morning, remember, “Today I am alive. How fortunate that I am alive today. I can do much better than dogs or chickens because I have the dignity of human power. I have better understanding. So as much as possible today I’ll be aware and keep my body, speech and mind clean clear. I will communicate a good vibration to sentient beings, and dedicate my life to reach the highest destination—enlightenment.” By generating this dedicated attitude in the morning, by the power of your mind you bring great space to your day. In this way the power of your mind keeps you from becoming angry. By living in an awareness of the present moment, it brings a kind of total relaxation, rather than fooling yourself.


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