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Posts from the ‘1970: The First Group Ordination’ Category

The First Group Ordination

The first ordination, 1970From 1970: The First Group Ordination written by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

From the Lama Yeshe’s teachings to his monks and nuns:

The reason we are unhappy is because we have extreme craving for sense objects, samsaric objects, and we grasp at them. We are seeking to solve our problems but we are not seeking in the right place. The right place is our own ego grasping; we have to loosen that tightness, that’s all.

According to the Buddhist point of view, monks and nuns are supposed to hold renunciation vows. The meaning of monks and nuns renouncing the world is that they have less craving for and grasping at sense objects. But you cannot say that they have already given up samsara, because monks and nuns still have stomachs! The thing is…the English word “renounce” is linguistically tricky. You can say that monks and nuns renounce their stomachs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they actually throw their stomachs away.

So, I want you to understand that renouncing sensory pleasure doesn’t mean throwing nice things away. Even if you do, it doesn’t mean you have renounced them. Renunciation is a totally inner experience.

Renunciation of samsara does not mean you throw samsara away because your body and your nose are samsara. How can you throw your nose away? Your mind and body are samsara—well, at least mine are. So I cannot throw them away. Therefore, renunciation means less craving; it means being more reasonable instead of putting too much psychological pressure on yourself and acting crazy.

The important point for us to know, then, is that we should have less grasping at sense pleasures, because most of the time our grasping at and craving desire for worldly pleasure does not give us satisfaction. That is the main point. It leads to more dissatisfaction and to psychologically crazier reactions. That is the main point.

 

Both Kopan and Rana House were in chaos as the lamas, Zina, and the four students to be ordained organized their robes and gifts for the officiating monks. Lama Yeshe came back from Kathmandu with a huge stack of texts for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, including one particularly wide handwritten text containing many illustrations. The others were printed from woodblocks. He asked Ann to find suitcases to put them in.

At Kathmandu airport the customs officers were constantly on the lookout for antiques, which could not leave the country. The illustrated text was packed into a round case on its own, and Ann was nervous when they asked to see inside. “Okay, let me open it for you,” she suggested and swiftly turned to a page with no illustrations. “Max and Lama had both wandered off and disappeared at the end of the customs hall. Lama was spinning his mala so fast I knew he was up to something. The customs official looked at the page for a long moment, then said we could go through. When I joined the others, I could hardly breathe,” said Ann.

From Delhi, Zina, Sylvia, James and Zopa Rinpoche traveled to Dharamsala by train.

Max had arranged for herself, Lama Yeshe and Ann to fly, but they were grounded in Delhi due to a strike. It was late at night. A taxi driver at the airport approached Max and begged her to let him take them to Dharamsala—he remembered her from a trip to the Taj Mahal three years earlier. Even Delhi could be a small town, especially with regard to foreigners who tipped well. In the middle of the night they came to a state border barred by a gate and a sleeping sentry who could not be roused. “You must know some way around this,” Lama encouraged the driver, who then drove off the road and crossed the river below via boards and little islands.

Arriving in Dharamsala they took rooms at the local government guesthouse. These are called Dak Bungalows, or Dak Guesthouses, and can be found all over India. They were about to go and have breakfast when the Injis expressed some concerns about their unlockable doors. Padlocks were a necessity, and they hadn’t brought any. “This will do it,” said Lama Yeshe, wrapping his mala around the doorknob. “No one will have the nerve to take that off.” Later that day they moved into the famously seedy Hotel Kailash in McLeod Ganj, the village above Dharamsala—much to the visible disgust of the local monks. “Well, if you don’t like me being here, then you give me a better place,” Lama Yeshe told them. They shuffled away. Everyone in Dharamsala was on the thin edge of poverty, and they didn’t have a better place to offer.

Lama Yeshe organized everything. On the eve of the big day, Lama brought his students to an interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, seeking his approval and blessing. The next day, 16 December 1970, the ordination took place at Chopra House, Kyabjé Ling Rinpoche’s residence located on a hill just outside McLeod Ganj. Geshe Rabten presided as he had promised, along with Lama Yeshe, Gen Jampa Wangdu, and two other monks. Traditionally, four monks and an abbot are required for monastic ordination ceremonies.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche did not attend. The four Westerners received a short lecture in English on the vows they were about to take, but the ceremony itself was in Tibetan. They were instructed not to speak or ask questions. Whenever a response was required, Lama answered on their behalf. Afterward, everyone posed for photos.

 

 

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Ann McNeil and Ordination

Lama Zopa Rinpoche  and Lama Yeshe, 1970From 1970: The First Group Ordination by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

In October 1970 Ann McNeil, a lanky Canadian ski instructor, arrived from Mykonos to stay with her friend Max.

Ann McNeil: “Max asked me if I wanted to receive a teaching from Lama Yeshe. She had given me a room in the tower of her house, and Lama Yeshe came up there. He taught me how to watch and count my breath, to imagine it entering and leaving.”

Lama Yeshe’s instructions on the basic nine-round breathing meditation:

First sit cross-legged, in the lotus or half-lotus position if you can, or just comfortably. Make sure your mind is here with your body. It’s no good if your body is here but your mind is at home. You can’t take a meditation course with your body alone. Meditation is done by the mind. Therefore, your mind should be with you in the present, not obsessed with another time, place, person, or some other object. The method we use to bring attention totally to the here-and-now is concentration on the breath— focusing on how your breath moves through your nervous system.

This is not all that this method is helpful for; it has many other benefits. It can even help you recover from physical illness. For example, if your nervous system has been damaged by a stroke, intensive concentration on the movement of your breath through your nervous system can restore its function. This is experience, not just empty talk.

If you are unfamiliar with the following meditation, you might find it easier to concentrate by closing the nostril you are not focusing on with your index finger.

As you breathe out through your left nostril, use your finger to block the right. Exhale slowly; don’t rush it. Breathe normally, but make sure to exhale completely. Then, move your finger to block the left nostril as you inhale slowly and deeply through your right. Then, for a second time, block your right nostril while you exhale slowly, gently, naturally and completely through the left, and then block your left nostril as you again inhale slowly and completely through the right. Repeat all this for a third time. Thus, you exhale through the left and inhale through the right three times.

Then reverse the procedure, breathing out through the right and in through the left three times. While doing this, sit up straight. This keeps your nervous system straight and allows the air you inhale to pervade your whole body, your entire nervous system. If you don’t keep your spine straight when you meditate, it is difficult for the breath energy to spread throughout your nervous system. Nevertheless, do this practice very naturally. Don’t force it.

When you inhale, feel that the air completely fills your body, and when you exhale, feel that it completely leaves. But while you’re doing this, don’t sit there thinking, “Now I’m doing the breathing exercise.” That’s not necessary. Just do it, concentrating on the movement of the breath energy through your nervous system as much as you possibly can.

Also, don’t think that this meditation is ridiculously simple. If you are aware, you will notice that people who are emotionally or mentally disturbed—for example, those who are depressed—breathe differently from normal people. This shows that the way the breath energy moves through the nervous system is very closely connected with the mind. You know from your own experience that when you are angry you don’t breathe normally. Sometimes anger can even make you physically sick.

You can measure scientifically how many times a day you breathe in and out. Buddhism has also calculated this. If you train yourself in the breathing meditation and practice breathing in and out slowly every day, you can prolong your life. If air enters your nervous system in a disturbed way it can disturb your mind. You should breathe slowly, steadily, naturally and completely, like a reliable old clock ticking away. Your breath is like an internal clock.

After you have breathed out through the left and in through the right three times, and out through the right and in through the left three times, breathe in and out through both nostrils together. Again, bring air in slowly, gently, naturally and completely, allowing it to fill your nervous system, and slowly, gently and completely send it out again. If your belt is too tight, loosen it. You should be comfortable when you do this practice. Again, don’t think, “I am doing the breathing exercise…right nostril…left nostril….” Just let your mind dwell in the concentration. Breathe in and out through both nostrils together about twenty times.

“The following weekend he gave me another lesson,” Ann continued. “I told him that I’d done Transcendental Meditation and been involved with the Hare Krishnas, and so I wondered which technique he thought was best for my temperament. He suggested we go to Swayambhu to ask Serkong Rinpoche what he thought. Then he pulled out this long Tibetan text and said, ‘Meanwhile, I’ll just recite this to bless you and give you a mantra. You just relax and meditate while I read.’

“He started reading and I noticed something interesting happening to his face—it was kind of lifting off, like a mask. I watched it float out about four inches, drift over to one side then go back to where it was. I thought, Wow! This is even more interesting than LSD! He continued reading, and it happened again. This time I really looked at it hard. I saw that the floating mask, though similar and Tibetan-looking, wasn’t really his own face. I thought, if it happens again, I’ll know I’m really seeing something…and it did, it happened again. Then Lama finished reading and got me to write down what I later discovered was the Vajrasattva mantra. By that time, I was pretty excited by him and said I didn’t think we really had to go see another lama. But he said, no, no, we should go.

“The next day was Max’s day off, so he pushed her to get out her little blue Volkswagen car and we drove over to see Serkong Dorje Chang. Serkong Rinpoche threw a mo and said to do whatever I’d been doing before I joined the Hare Krishnas. I told Lama that I’d been into many different things then, and he said, ‘Doesn’t matter, dear; we’ll ask again.’ The next time, the answer was, ‘Doesn’t matter which path you take to enlightenment, they all lead there.’ So I thought, Oh darn, I’ll just have to make the decision myself. But I liked Lama Yeshe, so I asked him if he would be my guru. He said, ‘Yes, dear,’ and that was that.

“The next day was Sunday and Max asked me to escort Lama up to Kopan. In that way I would find out where it was and be able to hear his lecture that afternoon. She told me to make sure that he didn’t dawdle so he would get there on time. As we walked up from Boudha, there was dew on the ground. Lama stopped constantly to pick up these worms that were on the path and put them to one side, so they wouldn’t get stepped on. I said that it was going to make us late and would he please stop. He just looked at me. His face was so shiny, so radiantly blissful that it was unforgettable. I knew he was showing me this bliss for my benefit, but I just didn’t know what to do with the experience.”

When the lamas returned to Rana House the following weekend, Max discussed her ordination with Lama Yeshe, at which point Ann asked to be ordained as well. Lama said that his own teacher Geshe Rabten should perform the ceremony. One week later Geshe Rabten sent a message saying that he would ordain them in Dharamsala on 16 December. Lama Yeshe suggested to Sylvia White, now living in Kathmandu with Harriet Straus, that she too might like to get ordained. There was also an American boy, James (whose surname is not known), who had been taking teachings for some time. He also wanted to become ordained.

By now the lamas were holding regular classes on Wednesdays and Sundays for a dozen or so Westerners. Numbers grew as the word went out that there were teachings available in English. Well, “sort of” English. Lama Yeshe taught in Tibetan, interspersed with an occasional string of complex psychological terms he had learned in English. Lama Zopa would then translate. Lama Yeshe constantly deferred to his closest disciple during these teachings. “Zopa Rinpoche is much better at teaching than I am,” he said. “I’m nobody, just a monk. Not even a geshe. I’m a drop-out geshe!”

Where he did push his charge was at the dinner table, constantly encouraging the frail Zopa Rinpoche, who did not look well, to eat. “You must eat! You must be strong for all sentient beings!” Lama Yeshe occasionally referred to his own weak heart, saying, “You never know how long your teacher will be with you.”

 

Lama Yeshe’s English Language

Lama Yeshe in the old gompa, 1970From 1970: The First Group Ordination by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

From the lamas’ perspective, the world of all these Injis was upside down. They had everything but drowned themselves in self-pity and a lack of confidence. It was ironic: Here were two refugees looking after a stream of well-educated middle-class Westerners, all of whom were full of fear, wringing their pale hands. “Don’t preak out!”

Lama Yeshe exhorted. “You can help people, you can do! You should try to help mother sentient beings. You must try! Possible, possible. The mind is so strong. Never underestimate the power of mind.”

The women were particularly disheartened by the lack of female lineage holders in the Tibetan Buddhist lineages. “Well, maybe you can be the first woman lama!” he would tell them. “Pantastic!” Of course, Lama was speaking in an enthusiastically overstated manner; there had already been a number of women lamas throughout Tibetan Buddhist history. Yet on the other hand, to Lama Yeshe, nothing was impossible.

His Western students slowly got used to Lama Yeshe’s language, cherishing his eccentricities. Often one could only work out what he was saying by studying the accompanying gestures and facial expressions. When the meaning became clear, though, it often had a profound effect.

Jampa Laine

Lama Yeshe worked constantly to improve his English and took lessons every Friday afternoon for more than a year from John Laine, an American. Time magazine, the only Western publication regularly available in Nepal, was a valuable source of words and ideas. “Why do Westerners care about that?” Lama Yeshe would ask as they read an article together.

John Laine: “I was very serious. I was reading Evans-Wentz’s books on Tibetan Buddhism and was full of questions.

Lama asked me, ‘Who is Evans-Wentz?’ I explained that he was a very famous scholar. ‘What is a scholar? Has he experienced what he writes about?’ I said I didn’t know, and he replied, ‘Never listen to anyone who has not directly experienced what they are speaking about. People who translate without experience (Lama pronounced this “experewence”) are just pretending wisdom.’ “I asked him to give me a Tibetan name in a private empowerment. ‘You want a full Tibetan initiation and ceremony? What for? Travel souvenir? Okay, next week!’ But he did nothing about it, so I asked again. He gave me a name—Jampa. I asked how to spell it. ‘How do I know? I can’t read or write your language. Find out for yourself!’ Then he sprinkled me with ice cold water and flung rice at me—really hard. I wondered whether he was deliberately mocking the ceremony or just making me pay attention.

“I preferred studying alone and told him that the Wednesday classes bored me to tears. ‘What?’ he shouted, ‘You don’t like class? What do you want? What do you want?’ He was sneering at me. I told him that I just wanted to meditate. Instantly his demeanor changed from furious to placid and he said, ‘Class is for those who think they need class. You meditate!’ When I told him that he seemed more like a wise older brother than a great teacher, he said to me, “’I am not an older brother. I am your son; you are my father.’

“I left Nepal to follow another teacher with Lama’s full blessing. He never discouraged people, but sometimes, when they had wild ideas, he’d say, ‘If you do that, you’ll go berserky!’ Then he’d roll his eyes and stick out his tongue.”

The Inji students, mainly Christians and Jews, often considered it spiritually courageous to reject their religious backgrounds, but Lama Yeshe wasn’t impressed. “Not necessary…it’s the same thing, dear. The main thing is to be kind and happy,” he would say.

Tibetan traditionalism had no appeal for Lama Yeshe either. He still went around in Zina’s polyester roll-neck “New York shirts” (in the wrong colors). She also bought him shoes and a watch. Max bought him socks and underpants. “Look what she’s given me…now she thinks I’m her husband! What am I supposed to do with these? Tibetans don’t wear underpants!”

Some of the Americans around Kopan were shocked at the way Max and Zina fought with each other about who “controlled” the lamas. They repeatedly assured Lama Yeshe that both women were unusual and that he shouldn’t think all Americans were like them. Lama responded that he knew that, that teaching them was an experiment on his part. He figured that if they could practice Dharma, then anyone could. He said that they were both very intelligent women with powerful personalities and could do much to benefit others.

Mahayana Teachings School at Kopan

Lama Yeshe with students, 1970From 1970: The First Group Ordination by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

When he was at Lawudo, Lama Yeshe had more private time to study and meditate. Since Zopa Rinpoche was the star, he could disappear into the background. But back at Kopan Lama Yeshe was always at the beck and call of all those who came up the hill.

During Lama Yeshe’s classes, Åge Delbanco, whom Zina nicknamed Babaji, a name that he kept for life, would make beautiful embroidered Tibetan-style bags that he would sell to rich hippies. Lama Yeshe got Åge to make a big sign that read, “Mahayana Teachings School.”

Åge Delbanco: “The condition was that if you lived there you had to go to class. But for me Lama Yeshe’s most effective teachings were those I caught in a second—a look, a frown, a word. Everybody was asking for help with their problems, but he just encouraged me to go with my inner feelings. ‘I have never asked anybody what I should do,’ he told me.

“In one teaching Lama had been talking about whether or not to interfere in someone else’s affairs. Somebody asked what he would do if he saw a drunken man beating a little boy—not such an uncommon sight in that part of the world. ‘Would you interfere then?’ they asked. ‘Oh yes, I’d ask the man if he would like another drink,’ said Lama.

“Another time an American boy full of self-pity began to whine and complain about all his troubles, pouring them out one after the other. After ten minutes of this, everyone was depressed. Lama Yeshe didn’t say anything at first. Then he suddenly burst out laughing. He laughed and laughed and laughed until the whole room joined in, including the American boy. Later, the boy said that all his problems seemed to have suddenly disappeared.

“We often went for walks together to discuss things. One day Lama turned up at my hut to go for a walk. I said, ‘Just let me fix the fire in the grate first.’ Lama said, ‘Let me.’ He put some sticks on and arranged the fire carefully and we left. We were away for quite some time, but when we returned, that fire was burning as brightly as when we left it. I thought, What trick is this?”

Lama Yeshe got involved in everyone’s problems. Knocking on the door of a girl sitting depressed and alone, he teased her out with, “Oh, dear, please, you have lunch with me…. I little bit lonely today.” The effect on her was magic, she felt so honored. He was very clever at making people feel that they were helping him when really it was the other way round. He regularly gave out mantras to youngsters with broken hearts, never ridiculing them. To one boy he gave a special mantra because the police had confiscated his passport. Everyone wanted to stay in Nepal forever, and visas were hard to renew. The boy said this mantra for weeks. Finally, to his great surprise and pleasure, the police refused to let him leave the country.

Zopa Rinpoche moved into a little storeroom on the upper level behind the main house, while Lama Yeshe remained in his small dark room below. Both lamas began sitting in meditation with students for an hour each evening.

 

Lama Yeshe tests Jan Willis

Geshe Rabten and Lama Yeshe, 1970From 1970: The First Group Ordination by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Jan Willis had a calculating, trained, academic mind. Other people were clearly besotted with Lama Yeshe, but she wondered if there might not be other lamas who were even better. One day Lama Yeshe told Jan to take the next level of her teachings (calm abiding, or shine practice) with Geshe Rabten in Dharamsala. “He is a very wise teacher; he is wisdom incarnate,” Lama told Jan. “You shouldn’t have any trouble because you can speak Hindi and travel easily. You go straight there, now.”

But Jan did not go straight there; she dallied awhile in Varanasi. When she finally arrived in Dharamsala, Geshe Rabten turned his big powerful face toward her, pointed his finger, and began to yell. “He was like a mountain on fire,” said Jan. She understood enough of what he said to realize that he was accusing her of not doing exactly what Lama Yeshe had ordered—that is, coming directly to Dharamsala. “He didn’t want to know my name or hear my story. He just wanted me to know I was there to study, had arrived late, and this was serious. I fell totally in love with him.”

Six weeks later, walking up Kopan hill at dusk, Jan Willis looked up to see Thubten Yeshe looking down at her, a disgusted expression on his face. Having made eye contact he turned and went into his room. “I felt bad as I entered,” she said. “I was about to make the usual respectful three prostrations when Lama turned and threw another dreadful tirade in Tibetan at me. Suddenly it struck me that there was absolutely no difference between these lamas, that they had exactly the same things to teach, and that Lama had sent me on this long trip just to find this out, to prove to me that with my critical judgmental mind maybe I was not so smart after all. My arrogance just crumbled. I fell forward on all fours, crying and begging him to please accept me as his disciple and to forgive me for measuring him against Geshe Rabten. That moment sealed my relationship with Lama Yeshe. I saw that his wisdom was as vast as his compassion.”

Max takes Lama Yeshe on a holiday

From 1970: The First Group Ordination by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

During one of her school holidays Max accompanied Lama Yeshe to Delhi, where he shared a room at the Hotel Diplomat with Domo Geshe Rinpoche from Samten Chöling Monastery in Ghoom, Darjeeling. Domo Geshe was on his way to Switzerland to perform certain rituals for the Tibetan community there. At Lama Yeshe’s request, Max accompanied Domo Geshe Rinpoche on what she recalls as the first ever 747 jumbo jet flight out of India. She also brought him back to Delhi, as usual paying all costs.

Max wanted to take Domo Geshe and Lama Yeshe to Japan for a short holiday, but this was not possible on their refugee Indian identity certificates (IC), the government-issued passport-substituting documents for refugees. Instead, they spent a week on a houseboat on Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir. Domo Geshe Rinpoche, who spoke excellent English, took many photographs.

Srinagar is the summer capital of the northwestern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and is located on the shores of Dal Lake. The lake is connected to several other lakes in the Kashmir Valley. An extremely picturesque vacation spot, the lake is known for its Victorian-era wooden houseboats, which had been built as vacation homes for members of the British Raj. Following the shoreline around the lake is a long boulevard lined with Mughal-era gardens, parks and hotels. Lotus flowers and water lilies float on the lake’s surface, and kingfishers and herons can be seen in quiet coves or flying close to shore.

Max Mathews: “Domo Geshe was a master mind manipulator. He constantly asked me questions and baited me. I was so green and naïve that my answers just cracked him and Lama right up. They laughed and laughed at me. The American astronauts had just walked on the moon the previous year, and they asked me, ‘Did they see the beings there?’ Domo Geshe insisted there were plenty of living beings on the moon. He and Lama were like two little old ladies, cooking, enjoying the lake, the flowers, the peace, and laughing at me. They laughed at everything.

“I could feel Domo Geshe’s incredible power. I knew Lama also had that kind of power, but he never showed it to me the way Domo Geshe did. I could feel him sweeping my mind until there was nothing left in it but this visualization of a huge erect penis, and I knew he could see that. Well, I couldn’t just sit there with that in my head, so I acted as if I had to do something. Just as I was about to go out the door, Domo Geshe burst out laughing and asked me, ‘How do you protect your mind?’ I said I didn’t know. He said to me, ‘You use your mantra.’

“He was always doing things to my mind. It would suddenly go blank, then a vision would arise that I just knew he had put there. Domo Geshe could walk into your mind as if it were a living room. Later Lama said to me, ‘You can have no more secrets, because any lama can just look into your mind and see what’s there.’ I wondered how they learned to do that!”

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