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my Milarepas

15132_sl_gFrom  1980: The teachings are all about you! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama sent letters to a number of his students advising them to attend the Dalai Lama’s post-Losar teachings in Dharamsala. Together with others coming from England was journalist Vicki Mackenzie. She had not received a letter and so told Lama, “I hope it’s all right that I’m here.” Lama Yeshe touched her forehead with his and said, “Never mind, dear. You and me have special communication!”

Feeling decidedly uncomfortable in his new robes, Jimi Neal followed the lamas to Dharamsala. “I was thinking how the zen was stupid and fussy when Lama Yeshe suddenly came up to me and said, ‘I hate them, too.’ He stood in front of me grinning, hands thrust into the slash pockets of the red jacket he favored. He wore a zen on formal occasions but his attitude to the traditional robes was unusual. Given the conservatism of most other monks it was fairly outrageous. Personally, I found his modern outlook a great relief.”

Geshe Rabten was visiting Dharamsala from his home in Switzerland and stayed at Tushita-Delhi, where on 11 April he had given a teaching on the twelve links of dependent origination, translated by his close disciple, Gonsar Rinpoche. While he was in Dharamsala Lama Yeshe offered Geshe Rabten a long life puja. Once again the students observed the incredible respect Lama showed his teachers. His every gesture was an offering.

Tushita looked beautiful because Lama had filled it with flowers. Every year, a few days after he arrived at Tushita, Lama visited a flower farm an hour’s drive from McLeod Ganj on the road to Manali. Lama Yeshe could never have enough flowers.

15180_ng_gAs a builder and jack-of-all-trades, Gabriel Forrer was a valuable asset, spending half the year at Kopan and half at Tushita Retreat Centre. He also got along well with Lama Pasang, who could be tough. “Lama Pasang was a doer,” Gabriel explained. “If he needed a piece of wood, he’d cut down a tree. I knew I couldn’t argue with him so I got Lama to plant more trees, many of which died because water was still a big problem. At Kopan I built a huge septic tank, the first floor of Tabsheling and a couple of smaller houses.
“When I first came to Tushita, there was just the main house and a row of rooms Lama had insisted Stefano Piovella build in order to purify his karma. But Stefano was no builder and the structure was very unsound and damp. Lama also said the rooms were too big—he wanted everything as small and simple as possible. Lama and I only ever talked about building. In early 1980 he grabbed me by the hand and we walked around to where a huge boulder lay. He told me he wanted a house built right there for himself and Lama Zopa.”

Removing the boulder was a project in itself. As the area was earthquake prone Gabriel reinforced the foundation with steel, though Lama Yeshe said that was too expensive. Peter Baker, an old student who had just come out of retreat, helped Gabriel. One day they walked onto the site of the half-built house and found Lama sitting up against the wall in meditation posture.

Peter Baker: “We worked really hard. One night Lama appeared and invited us into his room for dinner. I told him I thought I should be cooking dinner for him, but he looked at me very sternly and said, ‘I only do what I want, dear.’ He always called us ‘my Milarepas.’

“While we worked, Gabriel and I often talked about what to do next. Meeting the lamas had changed my life and I wanted to be of benefit to people. When I finally got back to the United States I bought a property in Vermont at a very good price and offered it to Lama. Pelgye [John Douthitt] told me later Lama did pirouettes around his room for half an hour after he got my letter. Then he sent Pelgye out to help me, with a sketch map of how the new center should be laid out and its name—Milarepa.”


Front veranda at Tushita retreat Center

“Now you have something to do,” Lama told Pelgye. “You can go and build this Milarepa Center and get Mahayana teaching started there.” Pelgye pointed out that there might not be any buildings there. “You put up tents and go into retreat. You get lam-rim teachings started, then you can come back.” Pelgye said he didn’t have any money and might have to get a job. “Please, don’t ever work just to feed your mouth. Don’t waste your time. You’ll always have enough food to eat,” Lama told him.

After receiving instructions from Lama Yeshe, Piero Cerri and Claudio Cipullo began a ten-day retreat at Tushita with orders to stay away from females. “After a few days people appeared to us as mere bundles of bones and meat with vibrations coming out of their mouths. We did not imagine this with our minds but saw it with our own eyes. As for Lama Yeshe, his appearance was different from that of any other human being. There was no doubt about it. Claudio and I did not make this up. After we finished the retreat we went to see him and I got a strong impression of him as one of those card-playing mavericks on a Mississippi riverboat. He was such a totally self-assured, solid person with no bullshit, no timidity and no fear,” said Piero.


Lama called me daughter

13142_pr-2_gFrom  1980: The teachings are all about you! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

By this time Jan Willis was a professor of Buddhist studies, had published two books and was working on some oral histories of living sages. At Lama Yeshe’s request she was also working on a translation of the life stories of the Gelug mahasiddhas.

As Jan described in her autobiographical book, Dreaming Me, “Lama called me daughter. His mission was to make me feel that specialness and to teach me to trust my own power.”

Jan gave a lecture one evening at Kopan to a group of Westerners in which she mentioned that some texts say that the mother of one of the great Indian pandits, Asanga, had been cursed to be born a woman. Quite a few of the women attending the talk protested strongly, saying they had also heard that some other Buddhist texts say it isn’t even possible to attain enlightenment in a woman’s form. At the time, Jan had replied, “On, come on, now. Just look at Lama Yeshe, look at your own experience. Have you ever experienced that?”

“Some days after that,” Jan wrote, “Lama Yeshe and I were having lunch together and having a discussion about the set of life stories I was then translating. At some point we walked out together onto the upper deck of the monastery. There were a number of Western students milling about in the courtyard, on a break from the day’s activities. Suddenly, Lama Yeshe grabbed my arm and began calling out to all of them below. In a booming voice, he called, ‘Look, all of you! Look! Look! You want to see women’s liberation? This is’—pointing at me and patting me on the shoulders—‘this is women’s liberation! This is women’s liberation!’ It was both a very wonderful moment and a very awkward and humbling one.

13011_pr-2_gJan later recalled from the same period, “Then I got a letter saying I had been granted a year’s fellowship worth US$20,000, which is a lot in Nepal. ‘That’s wonderful, dear. Pantastic!’ said Lama. I had two days to reply and rushed off to Kathmandu to send a telegram.”

Lama was leaning toward not going on tour that year, though many were asking him to. Very early one morning I stood out in the courtyard in the mist while Lama came down from the gompa, wearing his huge sunhat. I watched him cross the courtyard and go into the kitchen and up to the dining room. I don’t think he saw me. I followed and watched him laughing and joking with the young monks, when just days before I had seen him smack them for not studying. The boys were lapping it up as he went from one to the next, tapping them on the head. I thought how rare and fortunate it is for us to have such a glorious teacher like Lama Yeshe, so wise, so smart, so compassionate that he can make joy wherever he is when it is needed.

“I bowed to him, handed him a check for $1,000 and asked him to please accept it and go on tour. And he cried. He just cried. Tears fell down his face as he said, ‘No, no, I can’t accept this.’ I said, ‘Lama, please, I’ve come into all this money.’ ‘No no,’ he said, still crying. He was so tender and so incredibly humble. Finally, he did accept it and he did go on tour.”

 Jan continued. “I rented a house in Maharaj Ganj in Kathmandu. Lama loved to come and visit, so I arranged a large guest room for him there. I also employed a cook, Kanchi, whom Lama flattered no end. She adored him. All he had to say was, ‘Kanchi, I want you to cook kala dhal for me today,’ and she’d get hysterical and rush out into the market to buy black dhal. I had a watchman too and the house was very peaceful. I was pleased that my house could be a haven for Lama.

12989_pr-2_g“One day Lama turned up with a Jeep full of Kopan boys and took them on a tour of the house, pointing out his room, the living room, bathrooms, my room and so on. Then he told me he was to give a talk at Kopan that night and asked me to write the lecture for him. My knees buckled and I asked if he really thought I could do that. ‘Oh yes, daughter. I want you to do it with all the Sanskrit equivalents to the Tibetan terms. I’ll be back in two hours. Have it ready.’ He strode off before I could blurt out my fears. It was a talk on the Medicine Buddha. I put together as much as I could in the time, gave him the notes and he hurried back to Kopan with them.”

During another visit to Maharaj Ganj, this time with Jacie, Lama Yeshe described how the Dharma would transfer into Western culture. He said pujas would endure because Westerners were learning the value of group prayer. Deities and the auspicious colors used in meditation and paintings, as well as the dorje and bell, would also last. He said the red Tibetan robes, however, were just a cultural phenomenon.



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