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Lama had great hopes

(15514_ng.psd) Lama Yeshe teaching in the gompa (shrineroom) at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1974. Photo by Ursula Bernis.1981:Public Life and Private Time by Adele Hulse,Big Love author:

A few days after Lama Yeshe returned to Kopan someone stole money from the donation box in the gompa. Moreover, local dogs were climbing in the low windows and eating food offerings from the altar. From a Buddhist point of view this was seriously bad karma for the young monks in charge of taking care of the gompa. Their duties included laying out offerings, caring for the butter lamps, keeping the statues and the room clean, filling and emptying the waterbowls, making sure the donation box was locked—in short, seeing to the overall care and safety of the meditation hall and its contents. Everyone knew the two boys currently rostered to that duty were lazy and often snuck off to Kathmandu to watch movies.

Lama Yeshe walked into the gompa during the middle of the morning puja, stopped the chanting and began lecturing to the assembled monks in Tibetan. “First he berated the two gompa keepers while walking around them with his big, heavy bodhi-seed mala going round and round in his hands,” said Karuna Cayton, who could understand Tibetan. “The talk was all about karma, responsibility and their laziness. Lama was very, very heavy. As he spoke he whacked the two boys around the head with his mala. The mala suddenly broke and beads flew around the gompa. This kind of corporal punishment was commonly used in all Tibetan monasteries.”

Lama mixing cement, Kopan, 1974Pujas were formal affairs and discipline in the gompa was for everyone. Even when a Western Sangha member arrived late for puja, Lama Yeshe would stop the ritual to scold that person publicly for being careless, insensitive to others and ego-tripping.

Lama Yeshe was full of fund-raising ideas. “We should build a supermarket in Kathmandu!” he told Max Redlich. There was no such thing in Nepal at the time, so this was a groundbreaking concept. “We should make ginger beer! All the centers should copy the same recipe!” He even sent Jacie down to Delhi to buy bottles and caps and told her to develop a label that used the words “healthy,” “natural” and “good for the stomach.”

“It didn’t work,” said Jacie. “The bottles kept exploding.”

As usual, Lama was ahead of common thinking in his views on healthy living and good food. There is every reason to think that a well-run ginger beer business would have been successful. Lama also wanted to start a flower farm in Delhi, noting it was very hard to buy good-quality cut flowers. That too could have been a successful business.

“Lama came up with all sorts of ideas and schemes,” Peter Kedge explained. “There was really no limit to the amount of Dharma activity Lama could envisage in both the West and the East, and no lack of enthusiastic people more than willing to dedicate themselves to the fulfillment of these activities. But we just didn’t have the training and business background to follow them up. Some Dharma organizations seemed to attract wealthy professionals, but the style and evolution of the FPMT took place differently. It initially attracted many so-called ‘hippies,’ those who had opted out of conventional society and therefore had spare time, rather than those who pursued professions and had careers. Later on, that changed. On several occasions Lama told us he wanted us to learn how to do business in order to support the Western Sangha, Mount Everest Centre and all the other centers. We were not lacking in enthusiasm, but fundamentally the organization lacked an economic base.”

Lama supervising construction, Kopan, 1974Around this time Lama gave Tenzin Dorje (Charok Lama) some jeans and a shirt and sent him to work in Marcel’s shop, Mandala, in Kathmandu. Tenzin Dorje didn’t wear robes for a whole year, after which Lama sent him to Dharamsala for three months of retreat before he was to depart for south India to study at Sera Jé. After that retreat, however, Tenzin Dorje, now eighteen years old, decided he didn’t want to be a monk anymore. Lama Yeshe asked him if he wanted to work for a Dharma center and he decided to remain at Tushita Retreat Centre, where he took over the shopping.

“Lama Yeshe never criticized my decision to disrobe and never tried to change my mind, nor did I think he would try,” said Tenzin Dorje. “Lama also got Gelek Gyatso a job in a Kathmandu garage where he spent a lot of time just watching what was going on and drinking Coca-Cola. I knew Lama had great hopes for Thubten Zopa Small. Gelek Gyatso and I were always running away, but Thubten Zopa only ran away once or twice, at Lawudo.” He ran to his family’s guesthouse and restaurant, which was in Namché Bazar, where Tenzin Dorje had come from as well.

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Just let go. Don’t worry about it.

Lama with Nick Ribush, 1983 1980: Public Life and Private Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:
The FPMT was gradually maturing but Lama Yeshe still received plenty of criticism from Tibetan traditionalists for his popularity with the “rich Injis,” for holding hands and traveling with women and for his eccentric robes. The red down vest he wore in Dharamsala was untraditional in that it was a modern Western garment stuffed with feathers, but traditional in that it did not have sleeves. He also wore a fringed zen (monk’s upper shawl), when the rule is that it should have cleanly hemmed edges. Lama’s zen was also a funny fuchsia color and bore obvious signs of age, yet he wore it everywhere. “I guessed it was a special present from someone,” said one monk. It was. Mummy Max was the first to buy Lama Yeshe these fringed zens made of raw silk that came out somewhat more pink than dark maroon when dyed. Paul Bourke offered him one and there may have been others. One result was that you could always pick Lama Yeshe out in a crowd of Tibetan monks.

After the CPMT meeting Ira Zunin left for Poona. He later returned to Tushita-Dharamsala to tell Lama Yeshe he wished to follow Shri Bhagwan Rajneesh. Ira’s interview was just at the end of Lama’s Mahakala retreat. “He was in peak form and utterly clear—he wasn’t at the end of a long tour, nor in a foreign country, nor finishing a big course and surrounded by people wanting things from him,” Ira said. “I was a bit nervous because I had agreed to do all these things for Lama and was about to walk away, but he said, ‘Sure, dear. That sounds good. I’m sure you can learn something down at Poona.’ When I asked about the Tibetan medical stuff we had planned, he said, ‘Oh, never mind. Just let go. Don’t worry about it.’”

Continuing, Ira said, “I then asked him what he thought would really be best for me but he said, ‘I cannot advise you at this time.’ I told him the toughest part for me was that I loved him so much. I felt he was my root guru and I didn’t feel that way about Bhagwan. Then he started berating me. ‘Come on! Don’t you get attached to my physical form! You know that you just have to visualize me and I’m right there!’ He pointed to a spot just above and in front of his crown chakra. ‘Right there, anytime. You and me, we are crystal clear. You can come back anytime.’ So that was it. I went off and joined the Rajneeshis. Poona closed down one month later.”

Lama Yeshe's room, Tushita Retreat Centre

Lama Yeshe’s big room at Tushita Retreat Centre.

Lama Yeshe turned to his correspondence. To a student who had not done as he told her he wrote, “You ask if you can still say mantras. Yes, of course, please do. About feeling guilty and about worrying—you are wrong. Do not feel guilty. Do not worry. Just do not do it. Just do not think negative. Have a good positive attitude of yourself. Eliminate the self-pity concepts that you hold and feel your dignity, feel the purity that you have. Can you be forgiven? Yes. You should not worry. Guilty is only a concept that you build up. You should not build up concepts of feeling guilty. You created your confusions and sufferings yourself by thinking unclear concepts, by not thinking of the totality of your own nature. You do have buddha-quality and you should recognize it both physically and mentally.”

A young woman had written to Lama. She had become worn out working as a schoolteacher but thought she should continue anyway, believing that Bodhicitta meant she should wear herself out completely for others. Lama wrote back, “Withdraw dear, while there is still something left of yourself. Strengthen yourself and come back, because if you go until there is nothing left, you can’t do anything for yourself or anyone else.”

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