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Lama Yeshe’s Heart Condition

Lama Yeshe with his dog Dolma, 1971From 1971: The First Kopan Meditation Course by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Ann returned to Kopan in September to find Lama Yeshe very unwell. She took him to the emergency department at the hospital in Kathmandu, where doctors duly informed her that Lama had an extremely serious heart condition. The doctors told them that in just a year or two Lama’s breathing would become difficult and he would grow weaker and weaker. “Naturally, this news freaked us all out,” said Ann. “Lama Yeshe, on the other hand, made light of it, which didn’t help matters much. For instance, when we wished him goodnight and said, ‘See you in the morning,’ he’d reply, ‘Yes, well, if I’m not dead tomorrow!’ Oh God, we thought, here we are, starting to build a gompa at Kopan, and he’s going to be dead in two years.”

Many years later, Zopa Rinpoche related that Lama Yeshe had told him that the doctors in Kathmandu had actually given him just one year to live.

“Poor Lama, poor Lama! Soon he’ll die!” Lama Yeshe said to Åge.

“But you’ll get a good rebirth,” Åge replied.

In her quiet way Max was still paying for everything, but Lama was also looking after Max. “I was in a taxi with him in Kathmandu one day when Lama mentioned that he had to take a present to someone,” said Anila Ann. “It turned out to be the wife of an architect that Max had been fooling around with before she met the lamas. Lama seemed to spend a lot of time cleaning up after people.

Still more people began enrolling in Lama Yeshe’s Sunday classes. Among them was Jeffrey Miller, the American who would later come to be known as Lama Surya Das. He had been in the audience almost a year earlier when Lama Yeshe had given his very first public talk at the International Yoga Conference in Delhi in December 1970. “Whenever I had a chat with Lama Yeshe,” Surya Das recalled, “he’d exclaim, ‘You’re too much, boy!’ When I asked him what he thought about masturbation, he gave the same reply, ‘You’re too much, boy!’ He acted as if he’d never heard of it. To most of my questions he’d say, ‘Let’s look into that together.’ I liked that ‘together.’”

Surya Das continued, “Sometimes it seemed his main purpose in life was to ensure that Lama Zopa ate enough food and got some sleep. I went to the classes and helped Lama Yeshe with his English. Then I went to Tatopani and took two trips of purple mescaline.

When I told him about my experiences with it, he said again, ‘You’re too much, boy!’ His view of hallucinogens was that meditation could take you there, and even farther.”

From the teachings of Lama Yeshe:

Q: It seems that to achieve the desired result from meditation, you need a certain kind of environment. What are the implications of this fact for those of us who live in a concrete, noisy, nine-to-five world with little or no contact with others interested in the spiritual path? Do you believe that psychedelics like LSD can be important or useful for people like this?

Lama Yeshe: Well, it’s hard to say. I’ve never taken anything like that. But Buddhist teachings do talk about how material substances affect the human nervous system and the relationship between the nervous system and the mind. We study this kind of thing in Buddhist philosophy. From what I’ve learned, I would say that taking drugs goes against what Buddhism recommends. However, my own point of view is that people who are completely preoccupied with the sense world, who have no idea of the possibilities of mental development, can possibly benefit from the drug experience. How? If people whose reality is limited to the meat and bone of this human body have this experience, perhaps they’ll think, “Wow! I thought this physical world was all there is, but now I can see that it’s possible for my mind to develop beyond the constraints of my flesh-and-blood body.” In some cases the drug experience can open up a person’s mind to the possibility of mental development. But once you’ve had that experience, it’s wrong to keep taking hallucinogens because the drug experience is not real understanding; it’s not a proper realization. The mind is still limited because matter itself is so limited; it’s up and down, up and down. Also, if you take too many drugs you can damage your brain. So, that’s just my personal point of view.”

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The First Meditation Course at Kopan

First Meditation Course, Kopan Monastery, 1971From 1971: The First Kopan Meditation Course by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

” Zina was still eager for Lama Yeshe to teach a course, but he refused. She turned to Lama Zopa Rinpoche. “She pestered me like a mosquito,” Rinpoche recalled. “She kept on asking until I began to feel encouraged in my heart and developed a strong wish to do it. I asked Lama Yeshe what he thought. He replied, ‘Well, if you think it will be beneficial, then you do it.’ So with Lama’s blessing I agreed,” said Zopa Rinpoche.

The first course was held in the spring of April 1971. It was springtime at Kopan, dry and breezy. The monsoon rains weren’t due to start until the end of May or early June, but the colder winter months had passed and the temperature was quite warm during the days.  Zina took charge of the overall arrangements and Zopa Rinpoche taught a ten-day course based on his stamp-filled text on thought transformation. With help from Anila Ann, he managed to translate six lines on hell, two lines on the perfect human rebirth, and one line on karma. These were developed into an extensive meditation on how to regard friends, enemies and strangers with equanimity and an explanation of the sufferings of animals and pretas (hungry ghosts). In those days, the only substantial book on Dharma that was available in English was Herbert Guenther’s translation of Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation, which was first published in 1959. “I taught mainly about the lower realms, the sufferings of hell beings and animals, ending up with the sufferings of human beings,” said Rinpoche.

 

From Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s lam-rim teachings:

In order to realize the three lower realms we must fully see the sufferings that exist there. However, at the moment we have no power to perceive these things directly, and therefore we should try to experience those realms through our practice, using the examples shown in the teachings. In this way we can gain the power to see this suffering clearly in our minds.

Even at this moment most beings are suffering in the three lower realms, especially in the narak realms.

Their suffering has not been created by God, or fixed by some other being. It is only a creation of those suffering beings’ minds, just as in a dream we may sometimes suffer in a fire, or from all kinds of fearful persons or demons fighting and frightening us. In the same way that these fearful dreams and visions are the creation of our illusive mind, so are the suffering and the realms of the naraks and so forth the creation of beings’ ignorant minds. However, the narak realms are not the same as dreams, but are karmic creations of the ignorant mind. This is similar to the way that one place can be seen differently by two different people—one may see a clean place while another person may see a dirty place. Although the object is the same, the view varies according to the level of mind, fortune, and the karma the being has created. As the mind reaches higher levels the enjoyments and the visions change, and the transcendental awareness and happiness that we experience increases more and more.

Each living beings’ samsara is a creation of that mind; each living being’s enlightenment is also a mental creation. In a dim room lit by a small candle with a flickering flame, a person without acute perception may see a fearful moving animal or demon, become afraid, and perhaps throw something at it. This problem is only the creation of that person’s mind. The person with a calm, relaxed mind, on the other hand, will see what is actually there clearly. All experiences are created by the mind, and similarly the suffering of the narak being is merely the creation of the suffering being’s mind. Therefore the choice to experience suffering, to be in a suffering realm, or to be in the perfect peace of enlightenment depends upon the decision of the mind.

Around a dozen people took that course, Zengo’s students from Bodhgaya as well as Åge, Zina, and Claudio Cipullo. Claudio had been down in Bodhgaya when he found himself staring fixedly at a photo of Lama Yeshe. “I decided he was calling me! That course was like an explanation of my whole life,” said Claudio. Losang Nyima, Lama Yeshe’s student from Tibet, acted as umze (chant leader) and took care of the candles, water bowls, incense, and food offerings arranged on the altars. He also supervised all the cooking. During the course Lama Yeshe stayed down at Max’s house.

Two days before the end of the course Lama Yeshe, in the company of a Lhasa Apso, returned to Kopan and gave a couple of talks. This wonderful little dog accompanied him nearly everywhere he went and was much admired by everyone at Kopan. Many strays found their way to Kopan and devoured any food they were offered, but this little dog always sat back very nobly and waited. She never fought for her food or tried to get at it until everyone else had finished. Then she’d eat alone, quietly. Actually, it was Rinpoche’s dog, a gift from his mother. She was named Drolma, which is Tibetan for Tara, the female buddha of enlightened skillful activity.

Anila Ann did not attend the course. “I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do it or not. When I asked Lama Zopa, he was silent for about fifteen minutes; then he said it would be worthwhile. So I started it, but one day Lama Yeshe came up from Max’s house, called me out, and said, ‘Ann, you’re going to leave the course, walk up to Lawudo with some people, and spend the summer there. Lama Zopa will fly up in a few days’ time but there is no room in the plane for you.’ He said that he and Max were going to India.

“I suddenly felt very unsure about everything. He held out his arm, golden, luminous, and precious, and offered me his hand. I took it very gently and he said, ‘Don’t worry. Go to my room tonight and on my bed you’ll find my cloak. Wrap it around you and sit on my bed and meditate. Tomorrow you can leave for Lawudo.’

“After supper that night I went straight to Lama’s room at Max’s. It was actually the sunroom and had a wonderful view overlooking the Boudha stupa. I snuggled under his thick cloak, feeling a bit lost, a little cast aside. I knew Lama Zopa would take care of me at Lawudo, but just the same, I wasn’t feeling very secure. As for meditation, the best I could do was visualize Lama Yeshe sitting in front of me. Then his mouth opened as if he was about to speak, but it kept opening wider and wider until I was looking through it into this incredible vastness of a moonless night full of stars. It was like looking into the universe. His mouth and face melted away and there was just this vast emptiness. Suddenly I felt the shock of it and the vision stopped immediately.

“It was years before I realized that during those first few months Lama had actually given me all the teachings he had to give, but in a very subtle way.”

Zopa Rinpoche’s return to Lawudo that year, and his previous visit in May 1970, marked the beginning of his fulfilling the commitment made by the previous Lawudo Lama to establish some form of school for the local Sherpa children. “

Lama Yeshe’s thoughts about the Spiritual Teacher

Portrait of Lama Yeshe, 1971From 1971: The First Kopan Meditation Course  by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Q: What is your definition of a guru?

Lama Yeshe: A guru is a person who can really show you the true nature of your mind and who knows the perfect remedies for your psychological problems. Someone who doesn’t know his own mind can never know others’ minds and therefore cannot be a guru. Such a person can never solve other people’s problems. You have to be extremely careful before taking someone on as a guru; there are many impostors around. Westerners are sometimes too trusting. Someone comes along, “I’m a lama, I’m a yogi; I can give you knowledge,” and earnest young Westerners think, “I’m sure he can teach me something. I’m going to follow him.” This can really get you into trouble. I’ve heard of many cases of people being taken in by charlatans. Westerners tend to believe too easily. Eastern people are much more skeptical. Take your time; relax; check up.

Q: Why do we need a teacher?

Lama Yeshe: Why do you need an English teacher? For communication. It’s the same thing with enlightenment. Enlightenment is also communication. Even for mundane activities like shopping we need to learn the language so that we can communicate with the shopkeepers. If we need teachers for that, of course we need someone to guide us along a path that deals with so many unknowns like past and future lives and deep levels of consciousness. These are entirely new experiences; you don’t know where you’re going or what’s happening. You need someone to make sure you’re on the right track and not hallucinating.

Q: How can we recognize the right teacher?

Lama Yeshe: You can recognize your teacher through using your own wisdom and not just following someone blindly. Investigate potential teachers as much as you possibly can. “Is this the right teacher for me or not?” Check deeply before you follow any teacher’s advice. In Tibetan we have an admonition not to take a teacher like a dog seizes a piece of meat. If you give a hungry dog a piece of meat he’ll just gobble it up without hesitation. It is crucial that you examine possible spiritual leaders, teachers, gurus or whatever you call them very, very carefully before accepting their guidance. Remember what I said before about misconceptions and polluted doctrines being more dangerous than drugs? If you follow the misconceptions of a false spiritual guide it can have a disastrous effect on you and cause you to waste not only this life but many others as well. Instead of helping you, it can bring you great harm. Please, be very wise in choosing your spiritual teacher.”

The Bodhgaya Teachings

Zina Rachevsky, 1971From 1971: The First Kopan Meditation Course by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

The lamas always attended the Dalai Lama’s Bodhgaya teachings, but this was Zina’s first visit.

Ann and James traveled together, arriving at 3:00 in the morning. Bodhgaya was packed tight with Tibetans, but a Thai monk they met on the train invited them to stay at his temple. They were welcomed and given comfortable bunk beds. Monks and nuns always sleep in their long undershirts, and it simply never occurred to Ann, who was tall and very wiry, that they didn’t realize she was a woman. The lamas were staying at the Tibetan temple. Next morning, Ann and James hurried over there. “Lama,” said Ann, “they think I’m a monk. What am I going to do?” “Listen,” said Lama, “in the eyes of the Buddha there is no male and female; it doesn’t make any difference at all. Bodhgaya is full and there’s no place to stay, so just be quiet and don’t speak.” They returned to the Thai temple, but the following day some friends gave them a big room in the Dak Bungalow. Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche moved in there as well. In the room next door was an aristocratic woman from Darjeeling who had her servants prepare wonderful meals for them all.

Zina stayed at the best address in Bodhgaya, the Tourist Bungalow, which had bathrooms. Baba Ram Dass was paying for her room. He was in town attending a ten-day vipassana meditation course with the Burmese master, S. N. Goenka. Goenka, a layman and the most prominent student of the great master U Ba Khin, taught in English. His Vipassana courses consistently attracted many Westerners interested in learning meditation.

The lamas took their students to hear Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche. At the time, Trijang Rinpoche was unwell and would teach while lying down. Next, they all received an initiation of the highest yoga tantra diety Yamantaka.

This was followed by a three-week teaching (in Tibetan) from Kyabjé Ling Rinpoche. The Westerners did not understand one word.

All through Ling Rinpoche’s incomprehensible teachings it became more and more apparent to Zina that Zopa Rinpoche needed to teach a course in English. Lama Yeshe always claimed that his own English was not good enough, that only Zopa Rinpoche could deliver such a course. Thinking of Goenka’s success, Zina suggested a ten-day course, but Rinpoche insisted that ten days wasn’t nearly enough time to teach anything and that the whole idea was ridiculous. Consequently, he wasn’t interested.

Bodhgaya was a social hub for the Tibetans. Lama Yeshe ran around meeting all sorts of old friends. At one such reunion he got into a debate and swung his mala so energetically that it broke, showering the crowd with beads. About twenty old friends from Sera were staying at the Tibetan monastery, among them Jampa Gyatso, who had become a full-fledged Lharampa geshe. Lama asked him if he was interested in teaching Westerners. “Not now,” replied Geshe Jampa Gyatso, “but I might consider it in the future.” Geshe Jampa Gyatso later
went to Italy at Lama Yeshe’s behest and became the beloved resident teacher at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa near Pisa, residing there for twenty-seven years until his death in 2007.

Old friends teased Thubten Yeshe about mixing with Westerners, saying his main practice now appeared to be making money from Injis. One day Lama and Zopa Rinpoche produced bread and butter, tomatoes and such and started making sandwiches for themselves. None of the Tibetans had ever seen raw food prepared this way before. “What are you doing?” they asked. “Why won’t you spend money on food now that you are rich?”

The Inji students, eager for teachings in English, were happy to hear that Lama Yeshe had agreed to hold a question-and-answer session at the Tibetan temple. Among those attending were Alex Berzin and his childhood friend, Jon Landaw, both Americans from New Jersey who were in Bodhgaya attending teachings. Alex was one of the very few Westerners who had studied the Tibetan language before coming to India, and during the previous year he had lived in Dalhousie, studying with Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey. Jon had just arrived on his first visit to India and, once the winter had passed, he planned to go to Dalhousie to join his friend in studying with Geshe Dhargyey there. As for Geshe Dhargyey himself, he would soon be appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to become the principal teacher at the new Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala. In 1972 he took up this position at the Library, which would eventually become a major study center for Westerners in India, and held it until 1984. In 1985 Geshe Dhargyey moved to New Zealand, where he resided until he passed away in 1995.

Jon was immediately overcome by his first sight of Lama Yeshe. “As soon as he walked into the room, smiling that wonderful smile of his, I experienced something I had never felt before,” Jon happily recalled. “It was as if iron filings filled my heart and Lama was a powerful electro-magnet that brought them to life, causing them to churn about and rearrange themselves. He was different from anyone I had ever met before and I liked him immediately. Although he appeared to be someone who had transcended the ordinary, he wasn’t at all otherworldly; instead, he was very human and I felt I could trust him completely. To say that his English was poor would be generous; in fact, it was very ‘broken,’ as he himself said, but I had never met anyone who could communicate so wonderfully. When he spoke about developing a ‘warm peeling,’ I did not understand his words at first. However, I soon realized he was talking about the ‘warm feeling’ that was growing within me at that very moment. Besides being so warm and clear, Lama was also very humorous. This endeared him to me immediately.”

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