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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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