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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.



One Comment Post a comment
  1. Ani Palmo #

    I am dismayed by the last sentence of this very lovely article. I know that both Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa are tremendously supportive of ordained sangha, but phrases like “robes are just a cultural phenomena” go a long way in undermining them, especially in the west. This I know, my friends, as I’ve been an ordained nun for over 20 years. It is SO hard in the west. We really do need all the support we can get, and from every quarter. Anyway, thank you for this loving memory of a great Teacher.

    March 4, 2016

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