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Introducing Max Matthews (Part 2)

From 1968: Return to Nepal… For the First Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Although Max and Zina were both grandes dames, they were, nevertheless, two very different people. Zina was not actually very much older than Max, but she seemed considerably older in her appearance. “She’d done so much, taken so many drugs, read so much esoteric literature, dabbled in her witching, and had this Blavatsky trip going on,” said Max. “Zina had left no stone unturned. She had ‘made her soup’ as Lama Yeshe put it, and her last pregnancy seemed to have taken a lot out of her. But she was still hooked on the celebrity lifestyle with these hippies out at the Double Dorje house.

“On Mykonos, she had tried to get me to take LSD and was forever saying how drugs could open your mind. But I wasn’t into drugs. I used to throw people out of the gallery just for smoking bidis – I couldn’t tell the difference between those little rolled tobacco leaves and hashish. Sex and a few beers was my high. Zina was a much more experienced woman than I was. I was a baby. My freedom and my great salary were enough for me,” said Max.

Their backgrounds could not have been more different. Max’s current lifestyle was a far cry from the grinding poverty of her early years. Born in 1933 to a desperately poor black undertaker in Virginia, USA, Max and her siblings had often helped embalm bodies after school. “Embalming was all the go with poor blacks,” she said. Her parents’ marriage broke up when she was around ten years old and Max was adopted into a wealthy white family, with a house on the West Coast and an apartment in New York. Max was thirteen when that white couple separated. She stayed with her adoptive father, moving right into his bedroom. “The arrangement suited me just fine. I was no victim…. By the age of ten I was already a very sexually experienced little girl, and he treated me like a princess,” she said.

Max eventually got her Masters degree in education from Columbia University in New York, and after graduating, she was ready for adventure. Joining the American diplomatic service as a teacher gave Max the freedom to travel, the security of American protection, and an American salary. Her teaching career took her to Greece, Germany and Moscow and, in August 1968, landed her in Kathmandu.



Introducing Max Matthews (Part 1)

From 1968: Return to Nepal… For the First Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Far from this ancient life of ordered study and esoteric wisdom, yet just around the corner, lay the very worldly pleasures of Kathmandu. On the last Thursday of November 1968 Zina set off with Clive Giboire for an all-American Thanksgiving Day party at an art gallery right next to the American Embassy. Max’s Gallery was the first commercial art gallery in Nepal.
Its owner, Max Mathews, an African-American woman, worked as a teacher in the American diplomatic service’s international schools division. The job at Kathmandu’s Lincoln School paid very well, and Max definitely had a taste for the high life. No hippie, she lived in a beautifully furnished apartment above the gallery. She had arrived in Nepal only four months earlier, following a posting in Russia where she had acquired the impressive collection of icons and fine modern paintings now hanging in her new gallery.

Max was dynamite and Zina was nervous about meeting her again. They had originally known each other on Mykonos, where Max had spent her summer vacations, first while she was teaching in Germany and then when she moved to a new teaching position in Athens. “Zina had been gorgeous beyond belief,” said Max. “Astoundingly, traffic-stoppingly beautiful, with platinum hair. She wore things like a full-length mink coat with nothing underneath. She also wore a lot of black because she’d gotten involved with this witchy coven stuff in Paris.”

Max was pretty gorgeous herself, a small woman with a wonderful figure, twinkling black eyes, and a vivaciousness that stood out in any crowd. Max draped herself in luxurious brocades and exotic jewels. She was more conservative than Zina, but no less noticeable.

Despite the difficult history between them, they enjoyed meeting again in Kathmandu. “Well hi! Will you look at you!” they said to each other and settled into a pleasant evening of eating, drinking and talking. It was all extremely friendly. Max found Zina still elegant, despite her dramatically changed appearance. “She had gotten huge, massive. I was kind of shocked to see her in nun’s robes. When I launched into a description of my latest disastrous love affair with yet another married man, Zina said to me, ‘Come and meet my lamas…they’ll give you some advice.’ I promised to get in touch,” said Max.

Zina took Max along to Samten Ling to meet “my lamas,” which is how she always referred to them. “They were sitting on the floor in a very bleak little room. Lama Yeshe folded his hands, bowed and smiled,” said Max. “The next thing I knew I was on the floor, sobbing. I just cried and cried. I cried for hours. Zina and Lama Zopa were both there and I didn’t even acknowledge them. It was just bang! Instantaneous! When I finally stopped crying, I felt incredibly relieved, with no problems, no pain or questions. I felt I had come home and that Lama Yeshe was my guru. He just opened me up completely. I felt balanced and whole, like I was walking on air. I also felt committed. There was no going back,” she said.”

Serkong Dorje Chang

From 1968: Return to Nepal… For the First Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Following tradition, upon arriving in Nepal Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche paid their respects to the highest Gelug lama in the Kathmandu Valley, Serkong Dorje Chang. Zina loved meeting high lamas and Thubten Yeshe had prepared some questions for her to ask. Arriving at Serkong Rinpoche’s gompa at Swayambhu they asked directions from a nondescript passing monk, who directed them upstairs and told them to wait. To their surprise the great Serkong Dorje Chang and this seemingly insignificant monk turned out to be one and the same person. There were many tales told about Serkong Dorje Chang’s ability to disappear and reappear at will, and that he almost never appeared in photographs taken of him.

Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche knew that when you ask questions of a great yogi, he may not answer, may respond wrathfully, or may even ask you to leave. But if it is the right time of day (for example, dusk is considered inauspicious), and if your heart is sincere and your karma good, he will talk with you. Zina piped up confidently with a question about guru devotion, a central tenet of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. Serkong Dorje Chang replied with a small lesson. “I couldn’t comprehend any of it,” Zopa Rinpoche admitted later. “The only thing I heard was, ‘When the guru is sitting on the floor in front of you, just think, “This is Guru Shakyamuni Buddha.”’”

Serkong Dorje Chang had a text open beside him. In her direct Western manner Zina asked him to read from it. He refused, saying, “No, no, I’m completely ignorant.” “He often spoke like that if he felt there was no good purpose in teaching more,” said Zopa Rinpoche. However, Serkong Dorje Chang was soon to demonstrate another lesson on guru devotion. Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche arrived at Samten Ling just in time for a nyung-nay, the two-day fasting retreat associated with Avalokiteshvara, the buddha of compassion. The nyung-nay practice lineage was particularly important at Samten Ling. All the Samten Ling monks had come from the same monastery in Tibet near the Nepalese border north of Langtang, whose founder had authored an important nyung-nay practice text. The Samten Ling monks invited their guests to join them in the practice, which was scheduled to coincide with Lhabab Duchen, one of the four auspicious “wheel-turning” days that celebrate significant events in the life of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Typically, nyung-nays are sponsored. A benefactor pays for the food on the first day and gives generous offerings to each monk at the end. The Samten Ling monks invited Serkong Dorje Chang to perform the daily Mahayana ordination ceremony that takes place every morning during nyung-nay, in which one vows to keep the eight Mahayana precepts for twenty-four hours.

Serkong Dorje Chang entered the crowded gompa, sat on the throne, opened his text, and began the Mahayana motivation that precedes all practices and focuses on directing one’s efforts to the ultimate benefit of all sentient beings. “Real Dharma practice,” he said, “is if your guru tells you to eat ka-ka (feces), you eat it while it is still hot. There is no other motivation. Guru devotion leads to realization of the three principal aspects of the path leading to enlightenment.” He then closed the text, descended the teaching throne, and without another word left the room. The monks sat in silence contemplating his words. That day they took their vows by visualizing the Buddha leading them through the ritual, rather than receiving them from an actual teacher.

Zopa Rinpoche said later that those few words had struck him so deeply that he immediately accepted Serkong Rinpoche as a guru, including him in his visualization of the merit field.

Story of the Origin of Kathmandu Valley

From 1968: Return to Nepal… For the First Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“From the Buddhist scriptures comes the story of the origin of the Kathmandu Valley and the holy stupa of Swayambhu. Previously, Manjudeva, an emanation of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, came to Nepal. He circumambulated the valley, striding along the surrounding mountaintops. At that time, the Kathmandu Valley was an enormous lake, in the center of which was a hill covered with lotus flowers. Manjudeva took his great sword and sliced a gash in the mountains to the south. The waters of the lake drained away, leaving only a small lake behind; thus was the Kathmandu Valley made habitable. The gash came to be known as Chhobar Gorge, and through Manjudeva’s magical powers, a lotus was transformed into the Swayambhu stupa on its hilltop, which is holy to both Hindus and Buddhists.

The mystical aura associated with Kathmandu lured many to take a bus or a plane to that legendary valley. Many world-travelers got as far Kathmandu and went no farther. There was also a small community of Western diplomats and aid workers—Peace Corps, embassy staff, workers with other NGOs—living in the Kathmandu Valley. With them they brought an influx of foreign currency, especially American dollars. Many of these Western visitors were the sons and daughters of affluent Western middle-class families, and the Tibetan refugees and Nepali merchants were happy to profit from their patronage.

In 1968 Kathmandu was like the proverbial Shangri-la, untouched, innocent. Small streets, rickshaws rather than cars, only a few tourists, breathtaking views of the Himalayas, Hindu and Buddhist temples on every corner, occasional mountain-climbing expeditions making ready to trek to higher altitudes. Crime was almost unheard of, no one locked their doors. And there was no electricity, except in the area around the King’s palace. In honor of the thousands of hippies who passed through, Jochhen Tole in downtown Kathmandu came to be known as ‘Freak Street.’ A small nondescript lane, it was lined with hash shops, cheap hostels, handicraft shops, and simple little restaurants serving pancakes, buffalo hamburgers, and other approximated Western foods as well as Tibetan momos and Indian chai.

Boudhanath Stupa  in the 1960s


Located about 7 miles (11 km.) by crowded minibus from Kathmandu, Boudhanath was a small village, just a circle of tall Nepalese houses clustered around a massive stupa, a gigantic white dome dating from the sixth century and topped with buddha eyes painted on all four sides. A hugely powerful sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site, the Boudhanath stupa was ringed at the base with a brick wall set with 147 niches, in which were inset 108 copper prayer wheels that revolved continuously under the hands of passing pilgrims. Around the stupa one could find all aspects of Kathmandu life: elderly Tibetan grandmothers, backs bent from a lifetime’s work; Sherpa and Nepali porters carrying huge loads on their backs, held by a jute sash strapped across their brow; Nepali and Tibetan merchants hawking their wares displayed on the walkway; small Tibetan carpet weaving enterprises; giggling toddlers playing with rocks in the street, no pants, no shoes, no diapers; smiling Tibetan nuns strolling around the stupa, arm in arm; meandering hippies dressed in Indian lunghis, Kashmiri shawls, and Afghani hats, rapt expressions on their faces. Little shops sold Tibetan antiques and cheap odds and ends from India. Devout Buddhists performed kora (circumambulations) around the stupa day and night, circling clockwise, clicking their rosaries, endlessly spinning the stupa prayer wheels. The atmosphere was full of muttered mantras and half-whispered prayers for the dead, for families left behind, for relief from all the unimaginable sufferings of the sentient beings who fill unimaginable universes.”

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