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Dharma Wisdom

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

With his quick ear for the hippie idiom, Thubten Yeshe put it simply: “I was a drop-out geshe!”

Later, when better able to express himself in English, he said, “I left Tibet with nothingness. Who helped me? My mum was not there, my bed was not there, all my comforts were not there. But Dharma wisdom explained everything to me. Really, I have no higher realizations, but personally, I am very happy the Chinese caused me to leave. I could have created an incredible attachment fantasy with my life with titled names and other ridiculous things. But it’s fanciful; it would have meant nothing. The Chinese pushing me out made me develop much more strength. Up to the twenty-fifth year of my life, I was incredibly taken care of in such good conditions, compared to Western people. But if you actualize your understanding of the nature of Buddhadharma for just ten minutes every day, it is really worthwhile and keeps you laughing, rather than just being restless.”

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Zina is Ordained

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Yeshe: “Zina had decided to become a nun. I thought that was a good idea. But since according to the Vinaya, novice ordination requires the participation of at least four monks in addition to the preceptor, Lama Zopa and I couldn’t do it ourselves, so we went to Dharamsala to ask His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He couldn’t do it either but arranged for some other lamas to ordain her…”

Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche returned to Darjeeling and then went to Calcutta to meet up with Zina. This trip must have given them their first sight of the ocean. The trio then traveled to Dharamsala. There they went to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama and make offerings. This was only the second time Zopa Rinpoche had seen His Holiness; the first time had been outside the Dalhousie school, when he had come to meet Mrs. Bedi.

During this audience, Zina took off all her jewelry and offered it to the Dalai Lama. Afterward, her thick blonde hair was shaved off and on 31 July 1968 she was ordained by Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche at his home, Nowrojee Kotee Villa. She was given the name Thubten Changchub Palmo.

Two weeks later, on August 14, 1968, traveling papers issued by the Indian government arrived for Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche. The papers stated that “Serjhey Thubten Zipa Tulku R.C. No 284/Buxa and Serjhey Thubten Yeshey R.C. No 869/Buxa are invited to Ceylon for one year by Mrs. C. Rookes, St. George, Kandy, who will meet the cost of their journey and also their maintenance in Ceylon.”

Yet after all that, they did not go. Lama Yeshe: “For some reason I felt uneasy about going to Ceylon, so I suggested to Zina that we go to Nepal instead. It was close to Tibet and beautiful, peaceful and quiet. Environment is very important and I thought that since Zina was now a nun, she needed to be where she could lead a simple life. Taking ordination alone is not enough; after leaving life in the big samsara, you need time to adjust to life as a monk or nun, and your surroundings are very important in this.”

There were additional reasons why they did not go. Ceylon and Tibet adhere to traditions of Buddhist practice—known respectively as Theravadan and Mahayana—which, although they derive from a common source, evolved along different lines. Endeavoring to establish a Mahayana monastery in a Theravadan country may therefore have resulted in difficulties. As well, Ceylon’s climate was hot and humid and Zopa Rinpoche’s health was still quite fragile. Also, Zina no longer controlled large sums of money; in fact, she was often close to broke.

But they couldn’t stay in India, either. Indian government spies still watched Zina’s every move. Four or five spies lurked constantly, and another, who had a classic curly moustache, had even sat with them in the same train carriage on their way to Dharamsala. The Indian government refused to give Zina another visa.

So it was decided they should go to Nepal, where Lama Zopa had been born. Nepal had other advantages—there were mountains, and it was cold and beautiful and close to Tibet. So they left Dharamsala and traveled to Delhi where Zina put them all up in the new Hotel Oberoi Intercontinental. They arrived in Nepal in October 1968. A message was rapidly dispatched to Losang Nyima in Buxa to please come and bring the rest of their belongings, which consisted mostly of Tibetan pecha (loose-leaf Tibetan texts).

Many of Thubten Yeshe’s peers were deeply shocked that a monk of his stature would walk out of his monastery before completing his geshe degree and run off to Nepal with an Inji female. But every move Thubten Yeshe made was personally approved by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his two tutors, Kyabjé Ling Rinpoche and Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche.

Zopa Rinpoche was his constant companion and Thubten Yeshe committed himself totally to this exceptional student. That year, the committee at Buxa decided to make early nominations for the geshe exam entrants; they included Thubten Yeshe’s name in that list. But he never returned to Buxa. When his classmates and friends received their geshe degrees, they remembered their friend. “This was how he had chosen to use his time,” said Geshe Jampa Tegchok. “There is a lot of waiting around for the geshe degree and he was already very knowledgeable in all the subjects. In fact, he had all the qualifications of a geshe and many monks called him by that title despite his never officially receiving the degree.”

Once again Thubten Yeshe had made his own decision against the advice of others, such as his teacher Geshe Sopa, who had advised him to stay on and complete the degree. “But he left anyway, taking Lama Zopa, who also had to study. And then they met this Zina!” said Geshe Sopa. It was all most irregular.

Villa Altomont continued…

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Although Zina was quite serious about developing a spiritual life, she was still pretty hedonistic. Drugs had been a part of her life for a long time. A true child of the 1960s, she had taken LSD with Timothy Leary at his Millbrook estate in New York. Marijuana was a staple in her life. “I don’t know which came first for the Injis,” said Zopa Rinpoche, using the common term among Tibetans for Westerns, “LSD or The Way of the White Clouds.” Once when Zina was going out to buy marijuana, Lama Yeshe confronted her straightaway and told her he didn’t want her to use drugs. Zina suddenly realized that he had known what she was doing all along.

For Zina, life was still a party- hours in the bathroom, choosing jewels to wear, selling jewels or other possessions when funds were low, purchasing more from local craftsmen. She had stacks of matching luggage, closets full of fine linens, dinnerware and decorations. Wherever Zina set up home, it was always a palace.

A princess needs an entourage and Villa Altomont gave the monks their first experience of Injis at play. Soon Lama Yeshe was adding cocktail party mimicry to his comic routines, holding his glass just right, turning self-consciously this way and that. His brilliant acting had everyone in fits of laughter.

Thubten Yeshe had no illusions of Zina; he often hid his face as she strode through the local markets, traffic-stoppingly gorgeous in catsuit and cape, full of her own self-importance, insulting the local people, believing she was the reincarnation of Madame Blavatsky. The monks from Buxa would mutter, “What is this senior monk and great debater doing with this arrogant Inji woman!” Lama Yeshe knew exactly what they thought. Zina was a classically samsaric woman; she was glamorous, famous and beautiful, and she sought pleasure in material things. These had already failed her, but still she tried to squeeze the last drop of pleasure from them. She was not yet ready to recognize that all these things had so far failed to make her happy and could never do so, so she habitually returned to them for further unsatisfactory pleasure. But from Lama Yeshe’s perspective, if Zina could learn Dharma, anyone could. Besides, he could see how unhappy she was.

In the summer of 1967, Nikolaus Dutschke came from Berlin to stay. “He stayed for a few months; the whole time he was writing a novel on a continuous roll of paper,” said Clive Giboire. “Then there was Bhagavan Das, alias Michael Riggs, who helped the lamas with their English, and his friend, a tall thin American called Dharma Dipo. Zina liked socializing, provided it was with the ‘right’ people. I had a birthday party there one time and wanted to invite Mrs. Shaw, who ran the guest house, but that just wasn’t on.”

“Zina and I were in love,” said Nikolaus. “With the lamas there we had a wonderful family life around them. Every day the summerhouse throbbed like a drum as they did their practices there. During that summer Zina and I received a kind of initiation; we left the world of parties and hashish behind. Rhea was with us all the time. Lama Yeshe was the adult among us, even though he was just thirty-two, the same age as me. Zina was four years older. It was amazing how Zopa could translate for us. He was just a teenager!” Zopa Rinpoche was in fact twenty-one, but he was so slight that everyone believed that he was much younger.

“Zina was so unpredictable,” said Nikolaus, “constantly furious, impatient, unjust and outrageous. Lama Zopa was absolutely scared of her. I spent all my time consoling people, assuring them she didn’t really mean to hurt them. I was there for her in any way she needed me. We always had our meals with the lamas, and at night as I wrote, I could hear their little bells and chants coming from the tea house.”

Bhagavan Das was already a famous figure at that time, an American who had become a Hindu guru and dressed like an Indian sadhu. “I came to Darjeeling in the fall of 1967, got off the bus and found Zina’s house. When we greeted each other, she said, “Michael, you have to meet my lamas,” just like you’d say, “You have to meet my dogs.” Their doghouse was a shack with windows. When Lama Yeshe greeted me at the door, I still remember his smile- it lit up the night sky like a sun. Lama Zopa sat in the corner, a skinny kid wrapped in a blanket. Lama Yeshe was his mother and so sweet and kind to him, just like my own grandmother, who had raised me until I was six, when she had been killed.

“I loved being in that room with Lama Yeshe. I spoke Hindi like a five-year-old, and he spoke it like a seven-year-old, so we were on the same page. He asked me if I would teach him English, and in return he taught me Tibetan Buddhism. We had tea together every morning for a couple of weeks while he taught me and I taught him. He was so humble. He would always bow to me when I arrived and I would kiss his hands. He was just pure love and devotion, a mahasiddha and rainbow light came out of his teeth.”

Villa Altomont

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“After a month of going back and forth to Ghoom, Zina asked the monks if they would come and live with her in Darjeeling. Incredibly, they agreed, transferring themselves and their few belongings to Villa Altomont. They stayed in Zina’s cold, glassed-in summerhouse for nine months. This small outbuilding contained a table, one door, and just enough room on the floor for the monks to sleep, one on either side of the door. Meanwhile, Zina swanned around her sprawling bungalow with a continuous parade of exotic guests. She addressed the monks as “Lama Yeshe” and “Lama Zopa.”

Early every morning a manservant brought tea to the lamas while they did their daily prayers. Zina rose around 8:00 am; the monks were always shocked by how she looked. “When she first came out in her long dressing gown, she looked seventy,” recalled Lama Zopa. “Then she spent two hours in the bathroom. The house only had one bathroom, so we all had to walk through her museum…things to paint and fix her body spread out everywhere. Then at 10:00 am when she came for teachings, she looked twenty, maybe twenty-five. A huge difference!”

Lama Yeshe, the natural clown, would imitate Zina’s face-painting rituals to howls of laughter from Zina and her friends. “Am I okay?” he would say, looking worriedly into an imaginary mirror. Zina had an extensive wardrobe, wonderful jewelry and a collection of wigs. She was fond of dressing up, often changing outfits several times a day.

After breakfast Zina would spend the next hour or two with the monks, who went over texts with her and listened to stories about her remarkable life. After lunch, she would usually go to one of Darjeeling’s two movie houses, while Clive Giboire would help Lama Yeshe with his English. Both monks were absolutely dedicated to learning this language, often breaking out in Americanisms, hippie jargon and modern idioms to the great amusement of their audiences.

Several times a week throughout his nine months at Villa Altomont, Lama Yeshe walked two miles through rain and constant fog to visit two elderly Christian women who were also teaching him English. They had devoted themselves to learning Tibetan in order to teach Tibetans about Christianity. Before class they all sang Christian songs together. Zopa Rinpoche attended these sessions only occasionally. On his feet Lama Yeshe wore thick black rubber sandals made from automobile tires. Most of the Buxa monks wore these as they were very strong and very cheap. There were no cars or buses and the monks had no money, so they walked everywhere.

During this time, Lama Yeshe continued to study grammar and astrology with a well-respected local Sherpa, Ngawang Yonten, who published an astrological calendar every year giving details of planetary movements, the world’s weather and auspicious events through the year. Soon Lama Yeshe was able to build an astrological calendar for a whole year.

Nehnang Pawo Rinpoche, who had first recognized the child Dondrub Dorje as the reincarnation of the abbess, Aché Jampa, was also living in the area, residing at the oldest monastery in Darjeeling. When Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche went to visit him, they took Zina with them. “His manner reminded me of His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche,” said Zopa Rinpoche later. “While he was talking to us, many flies were flying around the room. As he sat there, he’d stretch out his hand and catch one, then blow on it and let it go.”

Delighted with “her” lamas, Zina sent postcard photographs of Lama Yeshe holding baby Rhea to friends in Europe, including an old friend from Mykonos, Olivia de Haulleville, who was then working for the World Health Organization in Paghman, Afghanistan. “How do you like my babysitter!” wrote Zina. Olivia, who had a son the same age as Rhea, thought, “Oh God, what has Zina done now!”

Meeting Zina Rachevsky

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Some months after Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche’s arrival, a tall, glamorous Western woman turned up at Samten Chöling. This was Zinaide Rachevsky, then aged thirty-six.

It was a beautiful Sunday when Zina met the monks for the first time. Accompanying Gene and Zina was Jampa Gyaltsen Mutugtsang (whose name means “smoke of the dragon”), a married Kagyu tulku whom Zina had found to translate for her. “I took her everywhere, to see everyone,” he said. “She wore Western dress with lots of jewelry and asked many questions. I knew Zopa Rinpoche from the Young Lamas’ Home School, where we had spent six or seven months together. She knew she wasn’t meeting Domo Geshe Rinpoche, though at school we had always called Zopa Rinpoche ‘Domo Rinpoche’ because he had come from that monastery. I never heard him called Zopa until I met Westerners. Rinpoche invited us in and offered tea.”

The first thing Zina saw when the door opened was tiny Zopa Rinpoche looking up from his painting. She introduced herself and said she was looking for a Dharma teacher. At first she didn’t see Thubten Yeshe, who was meditating in a corner of the dark room.

Suddenly he called to Zopa in Tibetan, “Who is she, what does she want?” Rinpoche replied that she was seeking enlightenment. Thubten Yeshe was astounded to hear a Westerner express such a request. The general attitude among Tibetans was that Westerners were unable to understand Dharma and that teaching them was a waste of time. Zopa Rinpoche had met Westerners before while at the Young Lamas’ Home School, where the young tulkus had often visited Western embassies in Delhi. But neither monk had ever met anyone like Zina.

Zopa Rinpoche called for tea, which duly arrived—a big monastery kettle of salty Tibetan butter tea. A big mug of it was poured for Zina, who drank it all, immediately. “That was the first time she had ever drunk Tibetan tea, and I don’t recall her ever drinking it again,” said Zopa Rinpoche.

Years later, Lama Yeshe recalled the day. “So there we were, and one morning a monk knocked at our door and said, ‘Lama Zopa’s friend has come to see him.’ It was Zina Rachevsky, a Russian-American woman, who was supposed to be a princess or something.

“She said that she’d come to the East seeking peace and liberation and asked me how they could be found. I was kind of shocked because I’d never expected Westerners to be interested in liberation or enlightenment. For me, that was a first. I thought, ‘This is something strange but very special.’ Of course, I did have some idea of what Westerners were, but obviously it was a Tibetan projection! So, despite my surprise, I thought I should check to see if she was really sincere or not.

“I started to answer her questions as best I could, according to my ability, but after an hour she said she had to go back to where she was staying in Darjeeling. However, as she was leaving she asked, ‘Can I come back tomorrow?’ So I said, ‘All right.’”

“Zina liked the atmosphere and asked some questions about Buddhism,” recounted Gene. “Rinpoche answered very well so she wanted to see him again. He agreed because since he was convalescing he had some spare time. But Zina needed help. Rinpoche’s English was not good enough and Thubten Yeshe didn’t speak any English at all. So two or three times a week I’d hire a Jeep and we would spend an hour or two with them. They were always together but Zina only spoke with Zopa Rinpoche because, being a tulku, he sat on a higher seat. Also, he spoke some English.”

“She came into our room like a thunderstorm,” said Zopa Rinpoche, “full of energy and enthusiasm and talking sharp sense about some high things and completely complicated nonsense about others. Most of her questions were about astral trips and psychic powers and those things.”

Zina began visiting the monks every morning at 9:00 am, bringing new questions every time. One day she came with a rock on which the mantra Om Mani Padmé Hum had been carved. “What is this for?” she asked. Another day she brought prayer flags. “Explain these. Why do Tibetans do this?” After two or three hours she would leave in the Jeep. Zina always brought her daughter Rhea, who wasn’t even a year old, with her but would leave her in the Jeep with her Nepalese nanny during these sessions.

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