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Posts from the ‘1969: Kopan’s Beginning’ Category

Lame Yeshe, Lama Zopa and the Injis

From 1969: Kopan’s Beginning by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Titles are something of a feature in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Zina and her friends had always called Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche “Lama Yeshe” and “Lama Zopa.” The Westerners who gathered around them did the same, though they also called Lama Zopa by his title, “Rinpoche.” To Tibetans, however, they were still Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche. As neither monk had received a geshe degree, one title by which they were not addressed was “Geshe-la,” though a few people did refer to Lama Yeshe this way.

Zina ran the house. She was “mother.” Most days at Kopan passed with just Zina, Jan, Robbie, Randy and Piero sitting around talking with the lamas when they were not doing their practices. Lama Yeshe began giving classes twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays. A daily schedule was posted outside his room indicating when he was free for interviews, which were translated by Rinpoche. Piero Cerri put his name down for every day of the week.

Staying at Kopan wasn’t all sweetness and light. Piero bravely produced daily lists of his meditation problems while Jan and Randy fought—often. Lama Yeshe would calm everyone down over and over again.

Everyone who met the two lamas noticed the differences between them. Rinpoche was the impossibly thin ascetic who took forever to bless his food and then ate next to nothing. He happily allowed mosquitoes to bite him as he sat in endless meditation. On the other hand Lama Yeshe was exuberant. He ate heartily, enjoyed everything, and engaged everyone in conversations ranging from gardening to physics. He never appeared to study the texts he knew so well, though people noticed that the lamas’ lights were generally left on all night long.

Both monks had outrageously infectious laughs—waterfalls of unrestrained joy breaking out all over the silent hill late at night as the Injis sat meditating with their sore knees and aching legs, full of their daily miseries. Everyone figured that if the lamas could laugh like that, well, there had to be something to this Buddhadharma.

Lama Yeshe told his students that he had been entrusted with Zopa Rinpoche’s education and care. Sometimes he would interrupt his ascetic student’s meditations, pointing at him and saying, “You’re going to have to teach!” Zopa Rinpoche would beg off, saying nervously, “Please, Lama, no!” This made Lama Yeshe rock with laughter.

Thubten Yeshe had all the time in the world for the crazy Injis and was full of boundless energy for anyone who needed him. When he had time, he still ran around Kathmandu and hung out with Jampa Trinley’s young family.

The psychedelic-loving Injis were fascinated by the lamas and loved to relate details of their wild drug experiences, hoping to coax the monks into talking about their own “magic.”

But on this subject, the lamas remained disappointingly silent. Everyone thought they could read others’ minds like a book but that they just wouldn’t say so. Once Randy said, “Come on, Lama, astral traveling and all this stuff can’t really be true!” Lama Yeshe gave his usual teasing reply: “Everything is possible, dear.”

 

 

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Jan Willis and the Solicks

From 1969: Kopan’s Beginning by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

In late October three more Americans walked into Kopan. They were Jan Willis, an African-American political activist majoring in philosophy, her best friend, Randy, and Randy’s husband, Robbie Solick. Jan had won a scholarship to study in Varanasi for a year, the only Westerner and the only woman in a class with seven Thai monks. Jan had been to India before. She had attended a Buddhist education program at the university in Varanasi and had gone on to Nepal, where she had made friends with a Tibetan monk, Losang Chonjor, who lived at Samten Ling Monastery in Boudhanath. Subsequently, they kept in touch through letters.

Jan had grown up in a deeply segregated South in the United States. The Ku Klux Klan had burned a cross in front of her family’s home in Alabama when she was accepted to college. A brilliant young student at Cornell, she had come in contact with the Black Panthers, a militant American political movement demanding equality for black citizens. She had considered joining them, but a factional division within the Panthers had led to her deciding to go to Europe and India with the Solicks instead.

In Varanasi, Arthur Mandelbaum, who had been studying with Nyingma lamas in India for seven years, told Jan and the Solicks of a Lama Yeshe, and said that he lived on a hill called Kopan beyond Boudhanath, on the way to Urgyen Tulku’s gompa. Upon hearing that name, “all the hairs on my skin gently stood erect,” Jan later recalled. Their travel plans had included a trip to Nepal. Arriving at Samten Ling Jan had asked for her friend Losang Chonjor, only to learn that he was away but that she was expected and could stay in his room. Samten Ling was now home to forty Tibetan and ten Mongolian monks—and Jan Willis. She asked the monks about the high lamas in the area. The kitchen monk took her outside, pointed up the hill, and said, “Thubten Yeshe.” It was the second time she had heard that name and once again she felt a tingling sensation at hearing it. That same day Jan went into Kathmandu and picked up the Solicks from their hotel. They took a taxi back out to Boudha stupa and then walked up to Kopan together.

Jan Willis: “It was a beautiful day to walk through the rice paddies. The only person at home when we arrived was Zina. She said there were only four people living there at the time: herself, the lamas, and a young cook. She invited us into her big room with thick, cushy wall-to-wall white carpet, and we chatted about America. When we asked to see Thubten Yeshe, she told us he was too busy to see us. Then she served us a wonderful vegetarian meal at a round brick outdoor table.

“We said goodbye while it was still light and started to depart. Just as we were turning the corner of the building, we saw a door at the far end open a little and a hand beckon us inside, followed by a face peering out…to check that Zina hadn’t seen. The three of us tiptoed into this tiny little room containing only two beds and a table. And so we met Thubten Yeshe and the thinnest monk I have ever seen. Thubten Yeshe managed the conversation pretty well with help from Zopa Rinpoche, who was already advanced in philosophical and technical psychological terms and eager to increase his vocabulary.

“We said that we were looking for a teacher. Thubten Yeshe replied, ‘I am so happy you made it here safely and have already had some training in meditation.’ That really blew us away. We had not told him that we had just had our first meditation classes in Bodhgaya or that just before leaving Europe we had had a very lucky escape from a serious road accident. We all felt that somehow he seemed to know everything already. He told us we could come back and study with him and that Zina would see to our accommodation.”

Jan decided to stay on at Samten Ling and study Tibetan language. The next day Robbie and Randy moved into one-half of a nearby house on the back side of Kopan hill belonging to a local Nepali farmer, Laxman Bahadur, cousin of Ram Bahadur, who later also rented his house out to Injis visiting Kopan. The Solicks stayed at Laxman’s house for almost a year.

Lama Yeshe Sees a Doctor

From 1969: Kopan’s Beginning by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Around this time Lama Yeshe told Judy Weitzner that he suffered from heart trouble. What? This vigorous young man who had leapt up the path to Lawudo? Judy had noticed his shortness of breath in the mountains but she had blamed it on the altitude. Max had even fainted up there. More worrying, though, were his constant nosebleeds and bouts of vomiting.

Zina took him to the hospital in Kathmandu where tests revealed a serious heart condition. The doctors told her that there was not much they could do about it. He also seemed to be unusually full of water, spitting a lot and bursting out with huge wet sneezes. He didn’t talk much about his heart, but he occasionally pointed to the deep scar on his cheek from the abscess he had had at Sera. He mentioned again how kind the Chinese nurse had been in the clinic he had attended. No one ever heard Thubten Yeshe say a bad word about any Chinese individual.

Life for the little group went on, Zopa Rinpoche bent over his texts day and night, Lama Yeshe scuttling around Kathmandu making friends.

Judy Weitzner: “One time Max and I went to the American Commissary store and bought some marshmallows. We drove out into the countryside with the lamas and handed them around to some village children. They had never seen anything like them in their lives and just stared in amazement. We had to demonstrate that they really could be eaten!

“We enjoyed lots of picnics with the lamas. They were clearly there for us Westerners, even though there were very few of us around with good visas and enough time to spend with them. But we were able to see Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa whenever we wanted to. I related to them more as wonderful friends than as gurus. Lama Yeshe really spoke very little English. He called us all ‘dear’ and exuded this wonderful light. He’d say, ‘Don’t worry,’ and ‘Be happy’ and was always eager to learn more words. Looking back, I think I got as much out of him then as when he spoke English fluently.”

Moving to Kopan

From 1969: Kopan’s Beginning by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Around July the lamas moved into Kopan, where Zina gave them a small dark room with two small beds at the side of the house. There was just enough room for Losang Nyima to sleep on the floor. Once again, their food was awful. The monks accepted it all.

Clive Giboire visited them there. Later, he recalled, “I must confess that I was shocked to find the lamas stuck away in such a tiny room at the back of the house when Zina had this rather grand boudoir kitted out in white carpet and a leopard-skin bedspread.

“There were times you felt like cursing Zina. You would lend her some book you treasured and it would come back underlined in red all over the place, pages missing and coffee spilt all over it. But that was Zina. You couldn’t really get angry with her…that would have been useless. By and large she was a true friend. You didn’t lose her. She was friends with everybody and yet nobody in particular. She got along well with Boris Lissanevitch. He had danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo before arriving in Kathmandu and opening the luxurious Hotel Yak and Yeti. They were both café society people and understood each other’s worlds.

“Initially, Kopan was a bit like the Villa Altomont revisited—a beautiful environment, people coming and going, and ‘her lamas’ tucked away there. When I first met Zina, Conrad Rooks was still very much a presence. Without his small monthly allowance she would have been on skid row. She was always rushing to the Rastra Bank or the Nepal Bank to see if he’d sent her a bit.”

Every so often Zina would go to Calcutta to sell something—jewelry, silver and such. She was an experienced hustler. On one of these trips she ran into her old translator, Jampa Gyaltsen Mutugtsang. “I had a restaurant in Sarnath then,” he said. “She was alone, without her daughter. I was very surprised to see that she was a nun. She told me she wanted my help to find Hindi, Nepali and Tibetan translators for a big project she was starting up in Nepal.”

After the trek Max had begun to study the lamas’ teachings. She had agreed to help finance a gompa for Lawudo and continued to support the lamas, which included paying for English lessons. She was utterly devoted to Lama Yeshe, but there was constant tension between her and Zina. Time and strikingly different circumstances had not taken the edge off their old competitiveness. They were both used to being the center of attention.

 

An Important Statue

From 1969: Kopan’s Beginning by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

After returning from Lawudo…

One day Max told Judy she had seen an exquisite but very expensive statue that she just had to have. She was short of money at the time but bought it anyway. Wanting to know what it was, she invited the lamas to come over one Sunday and examine it. They arrived around mid-morning.

Judy Weitzner: “So that was how I met them; Zina was the queen bee and the lamas were like her exotic pets. They said the statue looked pretty good, but to really know they had to do a special puja to open it up and see what it was filled with—the mantras and precious gems and other things. We didn’t even know what a puja was. I’d only just learned the Tibetans didn’t think it was cool to use offering bowls as wine cups. Tibetan antiques were all just decorator items to us.

“Lama Yeshe said they needed all this special equipment for the puja, but somehow they looked around the apartment and found everything they needed stashed in fireplaces or being used as ashtrays and such. The lamas were quite skillful and sweet about prompting us to take care of ritual and holy objects in a more reverent way. They went down to Max’s bedroom, which was on the floor below the living room and relatively quiet, to do the puja.

“While they did their thing, we began to have a party. Chip and I had the latest Beatles record that we took with us everywhere that there was a phonograph, because we didn’t have one. So we played that record and danced around and had a great time. Some of us went up to the roof garden to smoke dope and take in the fabulous view. After a while, we settled into the low couches in the living room and began sharing our travel stories. We forgot all about the lamas downstairs.

“But as the afternoon progressed, I began to feel quite queasy and uncomfortable. Though it was a warm day I began to shiver and noticed goose bumps on my arms. Finally, I told the others I felt weird, that maybe I was coming down with something. Then Zina said, ‘I feel strange, too.’ Max, Chip, Jacqueline, and whoever else was there, they said they all felt strange as well. Suddenly, we’re all saying, ‘What’s going on here?’ In the now quiet room I became aware of the sounds of the bells and the tap-tap-tap of the damarus (double-headed hand drums) coming from the room below us. A palpable energy was emanating from down there. We all felt it. At that time we would probably have called such an experience psychedelic, but this was beyond anything I had ever experienced. A shimmering pervaded the entire room and went right through our bodies.

“We all went downstairs to find that the lamas had just completed re-empowering the statue, after taking out all the stuff that was inside it and putting it back. The puja was over. The statue was sitting on the makeshift altar, with Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa sitting facing it. They both looked very joyous.

“The lamas told us it was a very, very old statue containing relics from the Buddha before Shakyamuni Buddha and that it was priceless. Of course, Max was just thrilled. We sat in a semi-circle facing the statue, and it became clear to us that all this shimmering energy was coming from the statue itself. The structure of my reality was eroding very quickly. I did not believe that objects could have power; I thought that the only power came from our minds. But there we all were, basking in this shimmering light energy. I felt immense love for everyone in the room. This statue had been venerated for hundreds of years and had become a repository of spiritual energy that we could all feel.

“We began talking about how we wanted to live our lives from this moment on. Zina began talking about finding a place where artists, musicians, poets and writers could come and work and learn meditation from the lamas. In a moment of deep honesty she said she had created a lot of bad karma in her life and felt she needed to work hard to change things for the better. This place would be her contribution. It was an inspiring idea and we all shared our vision of what such a center could be like. Lama Zopa listened to everyone and then exclaimed with great enthusiasm, ‘And everything is going to be perfect!’ That was the day the idea for what would become Kopan was born.

The First Trek to Lawudo (Part 2)

From 1969: Kopan’s Beginning by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

As recalled by Judy Weitzner:

“The trail was still easy and so we strolled along for quite awhile. We had to cross the river, using the bridge suspended high above the water. There were cables for handgrips and cables holding boards end to end—except where there were gaps between them!—where we were supposed to walk. The bridge swayed and bounced as we walked across one by one. I was afraid that the weight of two people might bring the bridge down, but the Sherpas were all giggling and laughing at our obvious fear. They said that the bridge had been constructe under Sir Edmund Hillary’s direction, so there was nothing to fear. Nevertheless, I found it terrifying.

“As we continued, we were all scattered along the path quite far apart from each other. Max and I were walking together. Suddenly the trail came to a dead end right at the base of a mountain. Not far ahead I could see a very steep path leading straight up, which was the path we needed to follow, but I just couldn’t believe it was the right one. Still, we had no choice but to start climbing. As we trudged upward, whenever we needed a hand or a boost, Lama Yeshe would make an appearance. I was nearing exhaustion when I came upon a Sherpa serving hot tea to the lamas. He had hiked down from Lama Zopa’s village, bringing tea. So we all sat and had tea on the side of the mountain. I was slowly getting the picture that Lama Zopa was an important person and that the Sherpas were very happy that he was coming to visit. We could often hear them saying, “Lama Zopa coming! Lama Zopa coming!”

“When we had just about reached Namché Bazar, Max and I just sat down on the trail overlooking the famous market town of the Himalayas. I watched the huge eagles gliding effortlessly on the updrafts and felt envious. I was tired and crabby and needed to muster energy to walk to the guesthouse where we would spend the night. It had turned cold, and although I was wearing my down jacket, I was still freezing. Lama Yeshe came along and sat next to us, admiring the view. He took my cold hands in his to warm them up. Suddenly I was jarred out of my self-pity and noticed what was going on. Here I was, dressed in multiple layers and still cold, while Lama was in a sleeveless shirt and light robes and was as warm as toast…and trying to take care of me. I asked him, ‘How can you do this? How can you be warm and I am cold, even with my down jacket?’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s easy, dear. In Tibet we learn this meditation to keep us warm. It is very necessary in cold weather.’ I had been plagued with cold all my life, and so I longed to learn it. Many years
later, I understood that Lama was talking about tummo meditation, which he later taught to  us.

“The next thing that happened is really hard to believe—but it did happen. Lama had a canteen of cold tea. He asked if I wanted something to drink and I said yes, but not tea. I was sick of it. ‘What would you like, dear?’ he asked. I told him Coca-Cola. There was no Coca-Cola in Nepal at the time, and I doubt that Lama knew what I was talking about. Nevertheless, he poured some liquid out of the canteen and gave it to Max. Suddenly she said, ‘Look, Judy, it’s Coke!’ I looked. It was carbonated. Bubbles were moving up the side of the cup. I tasted it and it was Coca-Cola! There on the mountainside I realized that Lama Yeshe was totally amazing and powerful. We all laughed and laughed and I forgot all about my exhaustion and bad mood.

The First Trek to Lawudo (Part 1)

From 1969: Kopan’s Beginning by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Zopa Rinpoche had not returned to his birthplace since leaving for Tibet as a young child. Spring was perfect weather for trekking, and he wanted to go home to Lawudo. Word was sent ahead, and a trekking party was formed. It included Thubten Yeshe, Zopa Rinpoche, Max (who once again paid for the lamas’ expenses), Zina, Jacqueline Fagan (a New Zealander who had been at Villa Altomont), and Judy and Chip Weitzner. Judy, Chip, and Max were on their spring break from school. There was also a German photographer named Lorenz Prinz, who always wore a jaunty beret, and his female assistant, Christina. Prinz was completing a book of photographs of the Himalayas. He had experience with trekking in Nepal and helped us to organize eveything, even managing to hire the airplane belonging to the King of Nepal. He also told the Injis what clothes to bring.

Judy Weitzner later recalled, “Trekking was really something in 1969. We had to scrounge and scramble to come up with the right equiptment and food; in those days Kathmandu wasn’t full of trekking equiptment and used gear from many mountaineering expeditions as it is today. On the morning of 5 April 1969 we all turned up at the airport; Max showed up in those long brocade chuba, a silk blouse, and flowers stuck in the beautiful long wig she’d put on over her afro. She was always equipped for fashion but seldom for function! I rolled my eyes and said, ‘Max, we’ll be walking in the mountains for days.’ She pulled up her skirts and pointed to a pair of Nepalese army boots, her only gesture to actual hiking gear.

“Zina was in charge of equipping the lamas for the trek, but they showed up in flip-flop sandals and their robes- no boots, no jackets, no hats. I was mad at Zina for not taking more care, but they seemed content with what they had. We waited awhile for the pilot, but when one finally arrived, he announced that he was a replacement for the regular pilot, who was sick. The new pilot said that he had never flown their route before but was willing to give it a try.

“We literally tied outselves into our seats with ropes. Unfortunately, I already knew from a Canadian consultant to Royal Nepal Airplines that the landing strip at Lukla was 300 feet too short for the king’s plane, but I figured that they’d never jeopardize an entire airplane just for some charter money. I was wrong! It was the first time the lamas had flown anywhere. They sat at the back and smiled, while their malas clicked non-stop. It was the most harrowing flight I have ever been on. We were in abject terror, almost touching the mountains in one moment then dropping like a stone when we hit air pockets. Christina, Prinz’s assistant, fainted dead away. At Lukla the pilot had to climb high and then spiral down to approach the runway, which was clearly too short. So we were rushing headlong toward this sheer mountain face when the pilot suddently spun the plan around in a U-turn, bringing it to a dead stop facing the way we had come. We all piled out of the plane onto the ground as quickly as possible!

“Some Sherpas approached and Prinz hired them to carry some of the gear. We paid them the going rate, which was about $3 a day in those days. We regrouped at a tea house in Lukla then started a very pleasant, fairly flat walk up the mountain valley, following the trail of the Dudh Kosi River. I was lulled into thinking that trekking wasn’t really so tough after all. We spent the night in a Sherpa home of some relatives of one of our guides. They seemed to have cousins, aunts, and brothers in every village!

“In the morning Max wanted a bath. There was neither sufficient hot water nor a bathtub available for bathing. The family was put to work hauling water, heating it over a fire, then filling the largest washtub they owned for Max.”

Sherpas, Zopa Rinpoche and the Lawudo Lama

From 1969: Kopan’s Beginning by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“The Sherpas (Tibetan:shar pa, from shar “east” + pa “people”) are an ethnic group who live in the high mountain region of the eastern Himalayas. According to the Sherpas themselves, however, sherpa actually refers to all Tibetans, i.e., all “people from the east.” About 3,000 of the more than 10,000 Sherpas in Nepal reside in the Solu Khumbu valley, the entryway to Mount Everest from the southwest. However, some live farther west in the high Rolwaling Valley and in the Langtang-Helambu region directly north of Kathmandu. Sherpas have their own language, which resembles a dialect of Tibetan. Most Sherpas are Tibetan Buddhists of the Nyingma sect.

The term sherpa is also used to refer to local mountain people, men and also women, who work as guides and porters for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas. They are highly regarded as elite mountaineers and experts in their local geography. Historically Sherpas were traders; even today, yak trains carry various goods and food items across the Nangpa La pass to Tibet, returning with salt and wool.

The Sherpas grow or raise most of their food by herding yaks and planting potatoes. Yaks provide wool for clothing, leather for shoes, dung for fuel and fertilizer, milk, butter, cheese and meat. Potatoes, which grow at altitudes up to 14,000 feet, provide the Sherpas with their dietary staple: the main food eaten is Sherpa stew, shakpa, a meat- and potato-based stew with some vegetables mixed in. The typical Nepali fare of rice with lentils, called dhal bhaat, is also a common meal among Sherpas. Tea is the drink of choice, served in big thermoses, with plenty of milk and either sugar or salt and butter already added. Each household brews its own chang, which is a thick, rice- or barley-based beer.

Sherpa hospitality is legendary. Trekkers hiking along the paths into the mountains can stop for tea, or a meal, or an overnight stay at any Sherpa’s house, even the poorest, and be welcomed openly with kindness; no one is ever turned away from the door.

Every twelve years the Sherpa people of Solu Khumbu traveled from their mountain homes down to Kathmandu for a traditional pilgrimage tour of the holy Buddhist sites there. In the early spring of 1969 Zopa Rinpoche’s mother and other family members embarked on this pilgrimage, traveling to Kathmandu together with their friends and neighbors. But Zopa Rinpoche’s relatives had an even more compelling reason to head to Kathmandu that spring. They intended to beg Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the incarnation of the previous Lawudo Lama who had died in March 1945, to come back home to Solu Khumbu.

Dawa Chötar, the little boy who would eventually be ordained as Thubten Zopa, was born in the small town of Thangmé, just below the village of Lawudo, on 3 December 1945. His father had died when he was only two, leaving his impoverished mother with four children to raise, one of whom had died at the age of nine. He had an older brother, Sangye, and an older sister, Ngawang Samten. They dressed in rags and had little to eat. When he was barely able to walk, Dawa Chötar began trying to make his way up the mountain to Lawudo, a two-hour trek across a river and straight up the mountainside. He insisted that the cave up there was his home. He played at giving initiations and could name, apparently from memory, all the benefactors of the Lawudo Lama.

The Lawudo Lama had been a married salt trader with a son and a daughter. Married lamas are common in the Nyingma tradition, to which he belonged. He had decided to spend his life in retreat in a cave once used to store radishes. As he was digging it out, he discovered a beautiful space marked with sacred signs. But just as he was about to move into the cave, he was struck with paralysis. Later, he declared his disease a special blessing because it meant he could meditate undisturbed, having been rendered useless for anything else. So for thirteen years he sat in meditation on a stone seat in this cave, his hair left uncut and dressed always in an old white fur coat and a pair of big round earrings. It is said that during his cremation rainbow clouds filled the sky, flower-shaped snowflakes fell, and the air was filled with music.

Three years later a two-year old boy from one of the poorest families in the area began insisting he was the Lawudo Lama’s reincarnation. His relatives were embarrassed, but one night the late Lama’s daughter, Karzang, secretly visited the boy’s home with articles that had belonged to her father. Little Dawa Chötar identified them immediately. He was then subjected to public examinations; he passed every test and was officially recognized. When he was four years old, an uncle took him to Rolwaling Monastery, which was two days’ hard walk from Thangmé. The boy, now called Ang Gyältsen, spent seven years there, before his uncles took him to Tibet, where he was ordained at Domo Geshe Rinpoche’s Dungkar Monastery in Phag-ri. Not long after that, it was 1959 and he had to escape to India.”

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