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Shunyata has many names

From  1979: Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

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1979, Borobodur, Java, Lama Yeshe

Lama Yeshe’s third teaching on Maitreya’s text Discriminating Between the Middle and the Extremes (Tib. U ta nam che) began in the big tent. There was still no electricity in there, so people took notes by kerosene lamps. Jan Willis was present, as was Margaret Castles, an Australian who then moved down to Tushita-Delhi.

“Every night when Lama taught U ta nam che he had a different aspect,” Margaret recalled. “Some nights he was incredibly attractive and other nights he was very sick, puffy and uncomfortable. Some nights he was just blissful. At the beginning of the teaching we always said a Maitreya prayer and then chanted the mantra of the wisdom gone beyond—Ta ya taa gaté gaté para gaté parasamgaté bodhi soha—to a particularly slow and beautiful tune that gave us goosebumps. I loved Lama’s language. ‘Overestimated phenomena’ was his term for the apprehended objects of deluded materialistic views. A more common translation is ‘imaginary’ or ‘imputed’ phenomena. Emptiness was ‘total truth phenomena.’ His teachings were so experiential and his pronunciation difficult, but he made his language reach right across to us all, connecting our own range of languages.”

Jimi Neal was Lama’s assistant this year. “It was great. There were no Tibetan scholars around so I got to go up to his room every day. We went through each stanza and wrote them out in English. But it wasn’t easy. Lama would often scold me, saying, ‘We already did that verse!’”

The focus this time was on chapter three. As before, Lama followed the text closely, translating many individual Tibetan terms. The text begins with a summary outlining the three categories of things: “overestimated phenomena,” “causational phenomena,” and “total truth phenomena.”

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on chapter three of U ta nam che, December 1979–January 1980:

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1979, Borobodur, Java, Lama Yeshe

These three are the root of the subject. All existence—whether samsara or nirvana—is contained in these three categories. In Buddhism every existence has its own unique significant characteristic. Maybe you people think that Buddhism is not concerned with external existence, but only with the mind. That is not true. Shunyata has many names, you know. Each different name gives a different comprehension of what shunyata is. Each term means essentially the same thing, but each one gives a different feeling. This term, total truth phenomenon, brings a certain kind of blessing, as it is saying that shunyata is the only truth and that overestimated phenomena and causational phenomena are false. They are all false appearance, producing delusion. They are like the banana tree, in that they do not have any solid essence. All the Prajnaparamita commentaries and texts explain reality in this way. And this is why Shantideva—you remember Shantideva, who wrote A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life?—wrote that every single tiny word of the Buddha’s teachings were for the purpose of helping sentient beings to gain direct wisdom of shunyata. Every single teaching. Also, in Chandrakirti’s Madhyamaka text, he states that when the Buddha taught relative truth, this was his method to lead sentient beings to absolute wisdom.

The teaching was complex and filled with many new terms. It was a classic philosophical teaching illustrated by Lama’s many insights into the Western mind, together with his indomitable humor. There were frequent outbreaks of laughter. The students needed the jokes as it was a demanding teaching.

Thubten Chodron arrived from Italy and helped Jimi and Sylvia Wetzel with the translation. “We spent a lot of time going through the work with Lama,” recalled Chodron. “There were constant interruptions. People were always coming in to ask Lama this or that. I watched as he mirrored their personalities every time, showing them themselves. The new students always fell for his jokes and humor. They were utterly charmed and warmed by him, but the older students often didn’t laugh as hard. They had learned there was a deeper level beneath Lama’s jokes they needed to pay attention to.”

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1979, Borobodur, Java, Lama Yeshe

Ken Liberman, an academic, just loved the U ta nam che teachings. “My field of expertise is European epistemology, upon which existentialism as an ethical system is based. It looks at how reality is projected by our own concepts. Lama Yeshe’s teachings on the Chittamatrin Maitreya text U ta nam che was brilliant stuff. I was stunned by how similar it was to my own work. I told Lama and he asked me to teach him Western philosophy. So for six weeks I went up to his room every day after his nap with Edmund Husserl’s Introduction to Pure Phenomenology tucked under my arm. I’d raise a topic from Husserl and he’d get out a text and we’d discuss both interpretations. I read the whole book to Lama, who happily collected terminology to use in his teachings. Afterward I decided to learn the Tibetan language because they have been at the game hundreds of years longer than Westerners and obviously have more to say.”

     

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One can only be utterly grateful

From  1979: Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

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1979, Australia

Peter Kedge was not having a good time. “Lama was getting at me in Australia. As usual, I was very clean around him, like a surgeon. I washed my hands after I touched anything and prepared his food so cleanly. I just about sterilized the cutlery, but still he picked it up, spat on it as though it was dirty, rubbed it and put it back. I’d cook something so carefully and he’d say it was disgusting. And so it went.

“It wasn’t the first time Lama had played with me in this way,” Peter explained. “Once, when we were in a hotel in Delhi I was absolutely exhausted from Lama pulling my wires and just couldn’t take any more needling. I had made Lama’s bed so many times that day—in the morning and after his rest, once more when he’d pulled it apart again. This time, while I was making it up yet again, he came in and said, ‘One more thing…’ and I just left the bed half made, walked out and slammed the door, to my shame.

“Another time we were in London and Lama wanted to buy artificial flowers at Harrods, which has a wonderful selection. Silk flowers are everywhere now but they were quite special back then. Tibetans love them and Lama wanted to offer some to his gurus in India. So we were going through London and being English, I knew how to get to Harrods. But Lama insisted I stop people along the way and ask them directions. Of course this bugged me like anything, really offended me. He would say to me, ‘You don’t know. Ask this person.’

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1979, England, Lama Yeshe

“On other occasions he’d be searching for an English word in a talk or at a meeting and he’d ask for suggestions. French and Spanish people would suggest words for him, but when I’d suggest a word he’d say, ‘Phoo! You don’t know English!’

“Once in a public talk Lama was talking about pollution from aircraft and used the example of a jet trail, saying it was pollution. But being a Rolls-Royce–trained aircraft engineer I said that water vapor is actually more evident than any exhaust from a gas turbine engine. Anyway, I was rubbished for that in front of 200 people. This constant abrasion of the ego became very tiresome, but of course it was also essential and part of the process for which one can only be utterly grateful.”

Peter continued. “Lama used to get terrible sneezing fits. Instead of sneezing into his elbow or hand, as I felt was the right thing to do, he sneezed quite openly. I frequently got drizzled on when sitting in front of him taking dictation or discussing something. I’m sure it was on purpose. It was quite painful not knowing whether to feel disgusted and to point out how gross this was, or to feel that it was really a huge blessing.

“Lama was extremely sensitive to dirt and uncleanliness. If a place was dirty he sneezed continuously and his eyes ran. He seemed to pick up on dirty vibrations and could get sick from a number of things— the food, the person or people preparing the food, a dirty cup, a bed or just the ‘vibation’ of a place. When we stopped at roadside chai shops in India and drank from cups that were not properly washed, that sort of dirt never bothered Lama. He would just take the cup or spoon or whatever and say Om Ah Hum Om Ah Hum Om Ah Hum and sort of half spit half blow on the utensil or food. He said that purification always did the trick. One time I tried to do it on Lama’s behalf, to save him the trouble. I got howls of derision for the quality of my Om Ah Hum and blowing.”

 

The essence of natural medicine

From  1979: Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

22831_ngIn mid-December, Lama Yeshe gave a Medicine Buddha initiation over two days during which he stressed the inner quality that is the essence of natural medicine.

From Lama Yeshe’s Medicine Buddha teachings, Kopan, December 1979:

Our love is weak. We know we have love, but our love is so limited. That is why we have to meditate on limitless love. The limitation of our love is the problem. Our jealousy comes from this limitation. ‘I love you.’ What does that mean? Does that mean I want you to be happy? No! That means I want to be happy. ‘I love you’ almost means taking advantage in some way. So that is not love; it is completely the opposite. But limitless love is the psychologically healthy way. With limitless love, no one can irritate you. It is amazing! And its function is to understand every person’s needs and to wish that they get the happiness they need. Everyone needs happiness, without exception. With limitless love we give our energy and time with a wish-fulfilling attitude, instead of feeling jealous when someone else receives something.

 What is bodhicitta? Bodhicitta is a Sanskrit word. Citta means heart, the totally open heart. It is like the lotus, which first grows in the mud and then slowly, slowly opens up fully into a pristine lotus blossom. So this sense of totally open, or totally developed, can also be understood as omniscience, totally wisdom and compassion. And this is what we call “buddha.” “Buddha” means one who is totally open and totally developed, one in whom all limitations have been extinguished. This buddhahood state is also one of total healing. And bodhicitta is the attitude wishing to lead all beings to that total healing state.

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12th Meditation Course, 1979, Kopan Monastery, Nepal

 And how did the Medicine Buddha become so special, having this energy to heal diseases and so on. The Medicine Buddha was once a sentient being, like us. He was not special. But at some time he woke up and saw all living beings, filled with diseases, misconceptions, karma, demons, and so on. On this earth how many sentient beings have sicknesses or disease? Now in our twentieth century cancer is everywhere; it is this century’s worst disease. Also, how many people’s minds are sick, occupied by spirits or demons? Then, of course, there is the demon of our egos that creates great suffering, shaking our minds.

 Seeing all this, his bodhicitta attitude grew and became great healing for all these universal living beings. As a bodhisattva he prayed with great determination to be successful in helping sentient beings. He was very determined, which is why he became a great healer.

So what is Medicine Buddha? Medicine Buddha is this attitude, bodhicitta. He is the fully developed consciousness energy of wisdom-compassion, manifesting as blue radiating light.

Many people stayed on at Kopan to do retreat or in hopes of getting an interview with Lama Yeshe. Some thoroughly enjoyed their retreats, whereas others had a miserable time. When they brought their problems to Lama Yeshe, he often turned them back on their own resources. “I trust your wisdom, dear, I trust your wisdom. Thank you, thank you.”

Over the years Lama Yeshe’s classmates had often asked him to return to Sera and teach the young monks there but he was staunchly committed to teaching Westerners. For a long time his classmates believed he was wasting his time, as they had considered it impossible to teach Dharma to Injis. By this time, however, this somewhat dismissive attitude toward Westerners had definitely begun to change.

12th Meditation Course, 1979,  Kopan Monastery, Nepal

12th Meditation Course, 1979, Kopan Monastery, Nepal

Now, not only did the Tibetan community recognize Lama Yeshe as a well-known teacher of Westerners, they also believed him to be wealthy because of this. As a result, Lama received many requests for support from the Tibetan community, such as this letter from the Gelugpa Buddhist Cultural Society in Bylakuppe:

We would like to request you, while beseeching your understanding and not considering us greedy and presumptuous—we have bought quite a lot of land with a view to farming to support the study and practice of the two tantric and three practice monasteries. However this year wild pigs and elephants have destroyed our harvests which has resulted in losses…

And so on.

Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche always tried their utmost to support His Holiness the Dalai Lama in maintaining the monasteries and Tibetan communities, though the actual details of what happened in this particular circumstance have been lost.

 

We need to channel our practical energy

From  1979: Even your enemy who tries to kill you is your best friend. by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

(06577_ng.JPG) Lama Yeshe teaching at Vajrapani Institute, California, 1983. Photos by Carol Royce-Wilder.

The day after the Manjushri Open Day the lamas left for London, spending a relaxing night at Joyce Petschek’s house before flying to San Francisco for a few days. Piero left the tour and went to Spain. No teaching duties were scheduled for the lamas while they were in California. They needed a rest. With Peter Kedge and Zia Bassam in attendance they arrived at Gabriel and Lois Audant’s house one day earlier than expected.

Lois Audant: “Peter telephoned us to ask if we could put them up, but somehow our wires got crossed. We cleaned the place night and day for three days. The night before we were expecting them, we came home from work to find them sitting at our kitchen table. ‘Welcome to my home,’ said Lama Yeshe. ‘Come and have some tea with me!’ We were a little embarrassed. Of course, we moved out immediately.”

“Without realizing it I had confused the time change and given Lois and Gabriel the wrong date,” Peter Kedge explained, “so there was no one to meet us at the airport in San Francisco. We took a taxi to their house, but no one was home. I called a cab and got a hotel room for Lama, who needed to rest after the twelve-hour flight. Then we went back to the house where I opened a screen window, climbed inside, opened the front door and let everyone in. We quickly made ourselves very much at home. While we were enjoying our tea Gabriel and Lois came home and found us there. Lama was not pleased with me over that. As the manager, it was my fault.”

On August 27, Lama Yeshe had a long meeting with the directors of Vajrapani. They were to sponsor a visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the University of California at Santa Cruz on October 2. Lama had this to say to the Vajrapani board of directors during that meeting:

(06621_ng.JPG) Lama Yeshe teaching at Vajrapani Institute, California, 1983. Photos by Carol Royce-Wilder.

We need to channel our practical energy. For example, historically, many of our students have taken responsibility, have given their energy, their life, everything. But our answer has been that all this energy has disappeared somewhere. Disappeared. This is wrong. In one way I feel the responsibility lies with the administrative people, with a lack of capability around how to use this energy. We cannot simply use students’ generosity, their money, like poof! Gone. Do you understand? We cannot throw it away. It is as if suddenly the energy is gone, like you’ve thrown it away. It is not fair, you know. The students give out of their own generosity, not in order for them to get pleasure. Out of their devotion to the Buddhadharma they just give. Isn’t it? So that is the purpose for which we must use what they have given, their energy, their money, their time. It needs skillful management.

Somehow we need a realistic way to administer. And we need everybody to understand what our aim is. If you do not understand what our aim is, what we are really trying to do, there is no point. Also, if we disagree with each other, there is no question. If some people disagree it doesn’t matter; they are not going to agree even if Buddha comes. Who cares? Who worries about two or three people disagreeing? That is their problem. But my understanding is that the essential meditators have to understand. We have to understand our essential aim. We have to be clean clear among ourselves, so that the majority of people will have confidence in what the essential administrator is doing. Then we can establish something important and we can make progress.

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