From 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.
As 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.”
“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.