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Posts from the ‘1973: First Steps First Students’ Category

The Fifth Kopan Meditation Course

Fifth Meditation Course, Kopan monastery, Nepal, 1973From 1973: First Steps First Students by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

The time had come during the course for Lama Yeshe to come and give a talk. He was to give refuge and precepts on December 6, so on the previous day he gave a preliminary talk about them to everyone. “He’s not like Rinpoche,” the old hands told the new ones. “He makes you laugh, makes you feel like you can do anything, that you’re wonderful and definitely going to become enlightened, rather than remaining absolutely hopeless and going straight to hell!”

Lama Yeshe entered the tent in his best robes. As he climbed up onto the throne he snapped his finger and thumb, a customary gesture. Once a teacher is seated it is usual for those who are attending the teaching to respectfully prostrate three times. To some this finger snap seemed a rather haughty signal to everyone to make their prostrations. Lama Yeshe later explained that this finger snap was actually a special prayer. “I am not a throne lama; this is not my place. So I snap to remember impermanence,” he said. “It’s an antidote to pride.”

His talk had its usual effect. Everyone relaxed, cried with laughter, forgot for a time their anxieties and sorrows and felt inspired to practice Dharma—to be of infinite service to others until the day they died. And all this took place while Lama Yeshe, in his unique brand of English, was saying things never before heard, such as, “Your berserky mind preak out!” Many European students who were there also spoke little English, but everyone could understand Lama Yeshe. Afterward they discussed his talk among themselves. Some had heard one thing emphasized, others had heard something else.

* * *

From Lama Yeshe’s talk on refuge and precepts on December 5:

Anila Ann told me that some people wanted to take refuge and the five precepts but before doing so it’s necessary to understand why you’re doing so, how to do so and what the benefits are. That’s very important. If you don’t know all this, your practice becomes less powerful and you can start to have doubts about it rather than feeling comfortable with it. You need to know what you are doing. Therefore I’m going to give you a short introduction.

Actually, I don’t need to tell you much because you’ve had teachings on refuge and karma during the course and in meditation have already checked beyond the words. This is actually the perfect introduction.

Taking refuge means having a continuously enthusiastic feeling for discovering the pure energy and omniscient wisdom that we call “buddha.” It doesn’t really matter what we call it; there are so many words. Actually it means perfect wisdom, understanding wisdom, and how seeking this is beneficial for our life rather than living with the empty, cold feelings that we often experience. Taking refuge brings a warm feeling into our heart and the continuous wish to grow and develop instead of thinking, “Oh, I’m hopeless, I can’t do anything,” the kind of thinking that brings you down.

You have thought about the perfect qualities of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and realized that you too can acquire those qualities and are no longer under the illusion that Buddha and Jesus Christ are way up there in the sky somewhere and you are down here, nothing. Thinking that you are nothing, that you’re just like an animal, is totally the wrong way to think. You’re putting yourself down, completely underestimating your ability. You have the incredible potential to develop in exactly the same way that Lord Buddha and Jesus did. They both appeared on earth and passed away—their physical atoms don’t exist here any more, do they? But even today we still enjoy their wisdom light, power and compassion.

When Lord Buddha was here, his body was not an ordinary body. Through the power of his bodhicitta, to use Buddhist terminology, whenever people saw his body they gained higher realizations, such as single-pointed concentration. But when he was finished on the physical level, his knowledge, the power of his wisdom, lived on such that we can still feel it today. This is the result of the wisdom and true compassion of his bodhicitta mind. So I’m saying that discovering that you have the ability or potential to develop that within you, that you can grow continuously without stopping, no matter what happens to your physical body, your mind can be completely relaxed. Even though you get old, changing, changing, changing, on the mental level you can continuously develop and better understand your own nature and no matter that the external world goes up and down, your internal world is always supported by your understanding. You are supported by your wisdom in the middle way rather than falling this way or that.

We talk about eternal happiness, eternal bliss, eternal joy—these qualities last forever, unlike the momentary, transient pleasures of samsara. And they arise from knowledge-wisdom. So taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha means you are taking refuge in Lord Buddha’s ultimate wisdom, true compassion and everlasting bliss.

Think what a fantastic state of mind that is. Just imagining it brings you energy. I mean, you haven’t yet attained it but just visualizing the omniscient mind, thinking about it, brings its reflection into your mind. You feel more peaceful and relaxed. A sensation of happiness comes into your mind; a warm feeling, a really warm feeling. By discovering that such qualities lie within you makes you also respect other sentient beings’ abilities and stops you from putting them down, too: “You can’t do anything; you’re hopeless.” That’s not right. By discovering your own abilities you respect others and generate warm feelings toward them rather than hatred. It’s so simple.”

* * *

Lama Yeshe’s words had the power to change peoples’ lives, among them Dieter Kratzer’s. “I sat throughout his talk in full lotus posture,” Dieter explained. “This was something I had never been able to do until then. I closed my eyes and during the whole two hours of that talk I just trembled and cried. ‘Come on Dieter,’ I told myself. ‘You’re German, male, rational, not a slave to your emotions.’ But I couldn’t stop. Afterward I made an appointment to see Lama. He told me, ‘I have a feeling we have known each other before some time in the past.’ At the next teaching I not only sat without any pain in my legs at all, but for the very first time I understood every word Lama Zopa was saying. It was all absolutely crystal clear.”

Another highlight of Lama Yeshe’s talks was question-and-answer time. Some students liked to ask complex questions, designed perhaps to parade their intellectual skills. Lama Yeshe’s answers always seemed tailored to each type of person. First he would listen with eyes closed, rocking slowly back and forth. Then came a period of intense silence. When he finally answered, the words seemed to come from somewhere very deep within him. They cut sharply through cleverness, encouraged the timid and exposed logical flaws. Many people tried to nail Lama with Western science but he always won—and in the simplest language, which everyone could understand.

 

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Work at Kopan

Lama Yeshe, Kopan, 1973.From 1973: First Steps First Students by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Before going to Kopan as suggested, Steven Levy had called in to see Lama Yeshe at Tushita in August to make sure that Lama still wanted a gardener.

“He reached under his little meditation table and pulled out a gardening trowel,” Steven recalled. “‘You know how to use this? We’ll talk more when you come to Nepal,’ he said. I was amazed that he even remembered me. When I got to the monastery, Yeshe Khadro was in the office. I told her that Lama had told me to come but I didn’t have any money. She told me I had to work for my keep and could sleep in the storeroom. It was pretty awful.

“Then Lama showed up. Every day Max would return from Kathmandu with her Jeep full of plants. When Lama came downstairs after breakfast, he was all business. It was always, ‘What are you doing? Why did you do that? Where are Mummy’s plants? Where do you think this one should go? What about this tree? Lama is busy now…see you later!’ I’d be left wandering around trying to work out where to put things. I’d dig a hole and then he would suddenly show up again, demanding, ‘You think this is good place? Are you sure?’ The minute he said that, I’d say, ‘Weeellll…’ and he’d immediately jump on me. ‘You’re not sure? When you are sure, Lama will come back!’

“Every time I planted something he’d ask if I was sure. When I said I was, he’d say, ‘But are you sure that you are sure?’ And we’d both crack up laughing. That laugh of Lama’s was so infectious…it was like sonar, laser. I’d like to have a tape of Lama’s laugh to listen to forever. But he was heavy, too. I would dig a dozen holes for some plants. ‘Why are you putting that plant there?’ I’d remind him that hours earlier we had both agreed on that spot. ‘Do you think that Lama doesn’t know what he said? Put the plant over here!’ I’d move it back and forth, back and forth, and then he’d want it back in the original position. It seemed like he was testing me, seeing how far he could push me. He’d say, ‘Let’s dig here!’ I’d say, ‘No, I’ll dig that,’ and he’d give me a firm, loving shove with his shoulder, grab the shovel and say, ‘No, Lama will dig!’ I was thirty-two years old and he was only six years older, but he was like a father or even a grandfather. I felt like a child. He was ageless. His male mothering fed so many neglected, untouched, unloved places within me.”

Anila Ann watched how Lama interacted with everyone. “He climbed into our skins to find out what made us tick and mimicked our body language and mannerisms. He was just hilarious. If I was unhappy and feeling low, he’d find some way to make me feel valued. When he’d fixed me up, he’d turn to the next needy person and maybe do exactly the same thing with them, while I was still there. He’d flick an eye over at me to make sure I was getting it. Lama was just as skillful in showing us our negative traits as our positive qualities.

“He seemed to know intuitively when people were arriving and what had happened to them. I read his mail for him and he often knew what it contained before being told. Or he’d say to me, ‘Marcel is here—I can always tell when Marcel is here.’ I’d look out the window and there would be Marcel, coming out of his retreat hut. ‘Magic’ is the only word I have for it.

“Another example: We were always late getting to the airport with no time to spare at all, the other cars having already gone and Lama not quite ready every time. Finally, Lama would climb into the rotten little Nepali taxi and the driver would pump the ignition but it wouldn’t start! Lama couldn’t drive at all, but he’d lean over and turn the key and it would start right up, every time. ‘Okay, let’s go!’ he’d say, precluding any kind of conversation about what he’d just done.”

Lama also kept his eye on the money and gave Yeshe Khadro the job of accountant. “He was very astute,” she remembered. “He checked every transaction. When the tiny building I used as an office was pulled down and Pete Northend began building a big new kitchen/dining room complex in 1974, it was assumed that the larger of the two spare rooms would be the office. But no, Lama said it had to become a coffee shop. Shops make money, he told us, not offices.” And Lama Yeshe needed money. How else was he going to feed and support the growing number of young monks?

Money was always a big subject. Once when Anila Ann and Lama Lhundrup were greeting Lama Yeshe at Kathmandu airport, some American tourists came over and took their photos. Then they admired the lamas’ malas. “They aren’t for sale, are they?” They most certainly were and an excellent price was obtained. While they were haggling, however, Anila Ann drifted out of sight. She was sentimentally attached to her mala and had no intention of selling it.

Zina Rachevsky Dies

Zina and her daughter RheaFrom 1973: First Steps First Students by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Khumjung, where Rinpoche had sent me to find Gomchen-la, is in the last wave of mountains before Mount Everest,” Chötak recalled. “During the monsoon the mornings are usually clear, but then it rains solidly for the rest of the day. But the first three days I was there it rained non-stop. When the sun broke through, there was a huge rainbow in front of an extraordinary sunset of glowing fire. I fed two crows there and they ‘talked’ to me. Whenever someone was coming along the path, they’d land on my roof with a big thud to let me know. They were right every time.

“One day the crows started making a big fuss on the roof. I looked down the valley and in the distance I could see Trulshik Rinpoche coming along with his entourage. The Sherpas burnt piles of fragrant juniper along the way and you could hear his deep puja voice reverberating for miles. When he arrived, his attendant told me that I had to speak to him. By then I could speak just enough Tibetan to get by.

“Rinpoche took me by the arm and told me that a runner had come up from Thubten Chöling to Tengboché to tell him that Zina had died three days ago. He said that he had known she was dead before the runner came. He told me that as he was getting up on the first morning of those three days of endless rain, he was meant to read the text for that day but then changed his plans and decided to meditate instead. He said to me, ‘I stayed in my room and meditated all that day, all that night, all the next day and night, and all the next day as well. At sunset on the third day I stopped.’

“Then he looked me in the eye and told me that he had done powa for Zina and transferred her consciousness. He said that the signs were good, the sky auspicious and the weather had broken to reveal double rainbows. However, he was worried about Rhea, who was still at Thubten Chöling. He said she was a very special girl and he wanted me to get down to Thubten Chöling as soon as possible before they sent someone to take her away.

“Zina had died just at the time of that incredible sunset—pink-tinged neon turquoise over white snow peaks. I’ll never forget that sunset. Trulshik Rinpoche said Lama Yeshe had told him that Zina would die soon and that she was the cooperative cause for the existence of Kopan and his whole trip of teaching Westerners.

“I ran all the way down to Thubten Chöling, all night along the black, narrow paths. I even hired a Sherpa to carry my pack. It took me two and a half days, but I didn’t get there in time. I walked into Junbesi the day after Zina had been cremated. Trulshik Rinpoche didn’t want to kidnap Rhea, he just wanted to see her and talk to her guardian. Conrad Rooks, Zina’s ex-husband, was in Kathmandu, having recently finished making the movie Siddhartha, so he came up and took her away. Mummy Max had passed him a message that had been sent to Kopan saying that Zina was seriously ill. She was dead by the time he arrived.”

There were all sorts of rumors as to the cause of Zina’s death. Apparently her stomach had swollen up like a basketball. She had had terrible cramps and was no longer able to fold her legs but had sat with them stretched out in front while she continued reciting mantras until she died. Some said her illness lasted five days and that on the morning of the fifth day she had sat up, announced she was going to die and then resumed saying mantras. Then there were rumors that she had been poisoned by a primitive Sherpa tribe that believed it was possible to take over another person’s power by killing them. Apparently the previous incarnation of the young Kopan tulku Gelek Gyatso, who had lived in the Junbesi area of Solu, was thought to have died that way. Others said that she had inadvertently poisoned herself by mistaking a local poisonous bulb for garlic; that she had died of amoebic dysentery; that she had died from eating another poisonous plant, datura; that she had died from untreated appendicitis.

Clive Giboire was in his Kathmandu apartment when General Kiran, who’d rented his house to Zina’s mother, telephoned on an army radio. “He told me he had been radioed from Solu with the news that Zina was dead. He didn’t know who to contact so he called me,” said Clive. At the time Harriet, Zina’s mother, was in New York with Rhea’s Aunt Louise.

“Zina’s death was very traumatic for Rhea, who went to the United States soon afterward. All her grandmother’s family were devout Catholics, so she was subsequently raised a Catholic. Years later she showed a friend of mine a charming little storybook that her mother had written and drawn for her. But she was not prepared to talk about her mother’s death at all. She isn’t at all involved with Buddhist things.”

Rhea and some nuns were present when Zina’s head nodded forward and her consciousness left her body. It was said later that Rhea told Clive Giboire, “Mummy sat back and stopped counting prayers.” She had just turned eight years old.

Piero Cerri was with Lama Yeshe in Tushita Retreat Centre when Lama said to him, “Zina is dying now.” Lama went immediately into meditation. He told Piero later that he had transferred Zina’s consciousness to Vajrayogini’s pure land.

Less than a year after her death Tom Laird, who had visited Zina in April together with his friend Mimi, was back at Thubten Chöling and asked Trulshik Rinpoche what had happened to Zina. “This time there was a translator,” said Tom. “He told us that Zina had had ‘a very good death,’ that she had died in meditation and that her daughter had been there and had lit her funeral pyre. I also heard that a doctor at the Hillary Hospital at Paphlu had tested her fecal matter and said that she had died of cholera. Indeed, there had been a cholera outbreak in that valley during that summer and several people had died.”

Lama Zopa said Zina knew she was going to die, that the signs in the weather during her cremation were very good, and that Trulshik Rinpoche had said she was in Vajrayogini’s pure land. Some time after this Zopa Rinpoche asked Zong Rinpoche where Zina had taken rebirth; Zong Rinpoche also said that Zina had been reborn in a pure land.

Lay Precepts

Lama Yeshe teaching, Kopan, 1973From 1973: First Steps First Students by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

One hundred and eight people completed the fourth Kopan course—and for once, everyone paid. 108 is an auspicious number relating to the 108 volumes of the Kangyur, the collection of the words of the Buddha. There is a popular Tibetan Buddhist prayer entitled One Hundred and Eight Verses in Praise of Great Compassion and there are also commonly 108 beads on a Buddhist mala.

Near the end of the course Lama Yeshe gave a talk on refuge and precepts, which left everybody weak with laughter and filled with enthusiasm for living a different kind of life. As usual, a number of those in attendance opted not to take the precept to abstain from taking intoxicants. Hash was still just too much fun for some.

From Lama Yeshe’s talk on the lay precepts from the fourth course:

There are some people here who want to take the five precepts. Ordination is beneficial for oneself and for sentient beings. The lamas’ experience is that before taking and giving these precepts we should have some understanding of what they are and why we take them. It is not just a samsaric custom.

We all want perfect peace, happiness, everlasting satisfaction and liberation. Since that’s our goal, we should head in that direction. Otherwise we’re just hypocrites—we say we want, we want, but act completely opposite to our desire. A simple example: In the West, people with severe psychological problems are put into mental hospitals, which is pretty radical treatment. What they need is soft, peaceful treatment. Putting someone in jail is wrathful treatment, neither soft nor peaceful. Lama’s rule is that mental hospitals are okay, but they should be peaceful and the patients should be treated with understanding. They should come to understand themselves slowly, slowly, not by force.

By constraining ourselves with ordination we can gradually develop our mind. We are not ready for immediate development by forced meditation and so forth. We need to create peaceful conditions for ourselves so that our mind will develop in a certain way and gradually become more stable, not up and down. From there it can be liberated without having to come down into the samsaric world.

So ordination is the method of achieving this. Lord Buddha never said we have to follow any rule without knowing its purpose. He said that if you keep this kind of precept it will give you this kind of mental feeling, safety from certain problems. The five precepts are not killing, not lying, not stealing, not becoming intoxicated and not engaging in sexual misconduct. Lord Buddha never said, “Don’t do these five things.” Rather he explained what kind of mind, what kind of confused mental attitude, engages in killing and so forth; what kind of selfish motivation causes us to engage in such actions.

Before taking the five precepts our mind is dissatisfied, kind of berserk. Lord Buddha said this confused mental attitude brings conflict. If we’re in control of our mind, actions such as killing, lying and so forth, never bring the reaction of conflict in our mind. He never said, “Stop doing that forever.” He just said that avoiding it is useful for your mind. When we reach enlightenment we don’t need ordination rules. For example, small children are told not to touch electricity—their mothers make a kind of rule against it—but older children don’t need such rules; they already know. It’s the same thing for the higher consciousness, the liberated, stable consciousness. It doesn’t need that rule, it is already free from that condition. “If you have an uncontrolled, deluded motivation, do not do such actions.” That’s all Lord Buddha said.

Ordination is helpful not just because a lama gives it to us but because we take it ourselves. If we have great determination, if we understand the nature of the samsaric mind and the way the wrong-concept mind reacts and take the ordination with great psychic mental determination—not just ignorantly saying, “I want this,” but having perfect determination through understanding—then that mental power can lead us in a positive direction for a long time. Samsara comes from the power of the mind, as does the result of liberation. The whole thing is mental attitude; the whole thing is really simple.

Lord Buddha also asked, “What do we need to be qualified to take ordination?” And gave the answer, “Renunciation of samsara.” It’s nothing external, such as robes and so forth. However, we all have a different idea of what renunciation is. My connotation is that renunciation is on a mental level. It means not to give something with mental attachment, not to give an object with the mind still in it, such as when we think, “I wish I hadn’t given that.” This way of thinking only gives trouble. We can renounce lunch but still eat it—renunciation is on the mental attitude.

It’s difficult but possible, it varies from person to person, but some people have very high consciousness; they have control over negativity and problems, and at the same time act in unity with phenomena. But others, when they touch electricity they get burnt. Similarly, some experience suffering when they contact the negative mind—we can call it karma, mental reaction, karmic result of action, causation, mental attitude, or movement of the mind. How can we develop our consciousness? If we always put our mind into unconscious situations, we cannot develop higher consciousness. We make it possible by putting our mind into a peaceful atmosphere through ordination. Then we can realize how our mind tricks us. “I thought I was like this but now I see I’m like that.”

Ordination is like a test. For example, perhaps we have no idea and always think, “I am perfect, pure; I don’t tell lies,” but when we put ourselves into a situation where we are always aware, we realize that our negative mind is very much involved in what we are doing. When we lie, we are trying to change another’s mental attitude. Although we don’t say the words, “I am always right,” our mental attitude says that we are. Until we can trust ourselves there is no truth at all. For example, we can have an experience, a flash, in meditation, but that doesn’t mean we have found the truth.

Also, keeping precepts is basic, fundamental to samadhi meditation because when we live in ordination our body, speech and mind are already in a positive, relaxed atmosphere. Out of this basic atmosphere we can guide our mind into the peaceful path of liberation. If somebody is agitating us all the time, it’s an impossible situation for developing control. Therefore, cut the agitated situation and create the atmosphere you want.

I’m not pushing people to take ordination; pushing people is not the Buddhist way. We don’t care if people become Buddhists or not. But those who want to should understand why and how. If you don’t want to take precepts then it’s better that you don’t.

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