Skip to content

Posts from the ‘1976: Heaven is Now!’ Category

Lama and Jon Landaw: “Thank you dear”

jonlandaw_lamayesheFrom 1976: Heaven is Now! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Jon Landaw worked closely with Lama Yeshe again during this course, editing his teachings and leading discussions. “Lama believed that at the start of a course it was more beneficial for newcomers if the students appointed to answer questions were not ordained,” said Jon. “He thought the robes might intimidate them at first, but when they got used to seeing Western monks and nuns it no longer mattered who answered questions. I usually gave the introductory talks. Prostrations always seemed to freak a lot of people out at first. Since I didn’t have a religious background I felt comfortable pointing out there was value in the act, that it wasn’t just bowing to graven images.”

Ever practical, Lama Yeshe allowed students to develop at their own pace. For example, Jon Landaw refused to even think about the subject of reincarnation for the first three years. “When the lamas taught on rebirth I just put down my pen,” he said. “I didn’t even take notes. There are so many riches in the Buddhist teachings I didn’t worry about the bits that made me feel uncomfortable. Besides, Lama was always advising us to be skeptical. ‘Check up, dear,’ was his constant refrain. ‘This meditation course isn’t about Buddha, it isn’t even about Buddhism. It’s about you. Whatever you hear you have to check up,’ he told us. He loved us trying to pick holes in his arguments. He knew a lot of us had run away from religion and were totally against blind faith.

“There were certain expressions Lama used repeatedly. For example, when he talked about experiences he knew we’d had he would say, ‘So simple, dear!’ That allowed us to acknowledge these experiences. He said ‘Thank you dear’ so often that some of us called him ‘the thank you lama.’ I’m not sure if any of us quite knew what his ‘Thank you, dears’ meant, because he’d say it when he did something for us. Perhaps it was for the opportunity to be of service.

“Another of his power expressions was ‘Difficult!’—meaning he understood how difficult it was for us to change our habits, but that it was definitely possible to change. He taught us that every time we recognized the sufferings of another sentient being, this could become the motivation for us to continue on the spiritual path. In this way desperate situations could be turned into positive experiences.

“Lama was always involving us in activities rather than running the show himself. It was always, ‘Let’s do it together.’ He gave me the confidence to give talks, lead discussions and edit. He told me it wasn’t Tibetans who were going to bring Dharma to the West, but Westerners.

“I never asked him why he didn’t finish his geshe degree. He always made light of the subject. ‘Oh, all these people taking exams and making tea offerings—it’s just a Tibetan trip,’ he’d say. ‘I got the impression that if you had the knowledge you didn’t need the degree. I don’t know if that was his only attitude to it but it was the one he showed us.

“Lama had a unique teaching style. Instead of saying, ‘Do you understand me?’ he’d ask, ‘Are we communicating?’ Moreover, he acted out what he was saying, which was very helpful because not all his students spoke English. Even those who did speak English often couldn’t understand him properly until they caught on to his unusual rhythms of speech, peculiar pronunciation and unorthodox sentence structure. Lama communicated far beyond the meaning of the words he used, using facial expressions and sometimes just silences to get his point across. This made it challenging to edit his teachings for publication, because so much of what he conveyed was non-verbal.

“Lama’s ability to communicate without relying on words was truly phenomenal. I remember one day at Kopan there was an outdoor picnic being held to celebrate the conclusion of a meditation course. The mother of two students was attending. She spoke only Spanish. English was the only Western language Lama knew, but that didn’t stop him from holding a ‘conversation’ with her. I was standing at some distance from them, but even from there I could clearly understand what Lama was ‘saying’ to her. Using the gestures of a master mime, he addressed the fears she had by acting out the following: ‘I know you are concerned about your children being so far from home, but you don’t have to worry. I will keep an eye on them.’”

During the closing puja it was customary for a tray to be passed around for those who wanted Lama Yeshe to bless their malas, small statues and other personal items. One girl added a White Tara thangka to the pile and was surprised when Lama Yeshe later suggested she have it framed.

“There was no name on it so how did he know it was mine?” she wondered. “I did have it framed, though in very untraditional colors. When I went back to McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, I left it with my luggage in Tashi’s thukpa shop while I went looking for a room. When I came back to collect my things, the thangka was just gone.

“Some weeks later I was in the Dalai Lama’s temple, and lo and behold, there was my White Tara thangka hanging on the wall. I recognized it immediately. The monk in charge told me it had been found in the marketplace. I suddenly felt it was exactly where it ought to be. I left it there, where it still hangs to this day among many other White Tara thangkas.”

After the meditation course, Lama Yeshe gave a Manjushri initiation to a select few in the privacy of his room. “I’d done a number of retreats and considered myself a great meditator,” said one man there. “In the Vajrasattva commentary it says that during purification your nervous system is destroyed so it can be rebuilt. That is exactly what Lama Yeshe did to mine during that initiation: he tore my nervous system apart.”

Lama Yeshe on Asanga

From 15 December 1976 to 2 January 1977 Lama Yeshe taught on chapter one of Discriminating Between the Middle and the Extremes,[1] one of the five great treatises attributed to Maitreya, the “coming Buddha.”

A remarkable story tells how these great texts came to exist. The fourth-century Indian saint, Asanga, lived in a cave in retreat and engaged in the practice of Maitreya, praying continuously to see the future buddha. After three years of practice with no results, Asanga gave up, thinking his efforts were fruitless, and started to leave. But as he walked down the mountain, he saw a bird fly between two large boulders to get at its nest. The boulders were worn smooth simply from the bird’s feathers repeatedly brushing against them. Asanga thought to himself that if such a gentle occurrence could have such an effect, then surely he could try harder and reach his goal. So he returned to retreat.

After three more years of practice with no results, again Asanga abandoned his retreat in discouragement. But again, as he walked away from his cave, he saw a spot where water was dripping onto a rock surface. The constant dripping of the water had worn a hole in the rock over time. Again, this made a strong impression on Asanga’s mind and he returned to his retreat with renewed inspiration.

After three more years of practice with no results again, Asanga became quite desperate; again, he abandoned his cave and headed down the mountainside. This time he saw a man patiently making sewing needles by rubbing a thick piece of iron with just a thread. Surely, thought Asanga, if this man can be so patient and work so hard for such a small result, I can try harder. Back he went, for three more years.

At the end of those years Asanga had been in retreat for twelve years and still he didn’t seem to have had any results at all. This time he left his cave determined not to return. On his way to the nearest village Asanga saw a sick and wounded dog lying by the side of the path. Its wounds were rotting and full of maggots. Asanga’s heart was moved with compassion and the wish to help this poor suffering dog. But he also did not wish to harm in any way the maggots feeding on its flesh. He had to devise a way to help all of them without harming anyone. Asanga then sliced a piece of flesh from his own leg and placed it beside the dog. Knowing that if he tried to pick up the maggots with his fingers, he would squash them, Asanga decided to lick the maggots off one by one with his tongue so as not to hurt them, and to place them onto the flesh from his leg, which would provide them with needed food. Closing his eyes, he leaned over the dog to do this. As he leaned further and further forward, he became puzzled as he never reached the dog’s wound. Asanga opened his eyes and was amazed to see that the dog was no longer there and before him stood Maitreya.

Asanga immediately exclaimed, “Where have you been? Why didn’t you come to me in retreat?” Pointing to some spittle adhering to the hem of his robe, Maitreya replied, “My son, even though you couldn’t see me, I have been with you constantly since your first day in the cave. Remember all the times you caught cold and had to spit? Here it is on my robe, where it landed. You recited my mantra more than a billion times and developed very powerful concentration, but your mind was still bound by the self-cherishing attitude. Today you have learned the meaning of loving others more than yourself; therefore, you are able to see me as I am.”

Asanga was so delighted that he lifted Maitreya onto his shoulders and paraded through the town, crying, “Behold, Maitreya has come!’ But the people of the village saw only a crazy man carrying nothing at all on his shoulders, with the exception of one old woman who saw the wounded dog.

Then Asanga took hold of Maitreya Buddha’s robe and was transported off to the pure land of Tushita, where he spent just one morning. During that brief celestial visit Maitreya transmitted to Asanga five major treatises, of which Discriminating Between the Middle and the Extremes was one. When Asanga was returned to earth, bringing with him these texts by Maitreya, he was amazed to find that fifty years had passed!

In later years, Lama Yeshe shared the following reflections with his students about this story: “I think this story very beautifully illustrates an essential point of Mahayana thought. People often have a tendency to think meditation is easy. One just sits down on the cushion and immediately reaches beyond all delusion into divine wisdom. This simply is not so. It is a gradual process. We must be realistic and start where we are. The mind is a difficult thing to tame. For example, we all know how difficult it is to preserve our bodies. According to Mahayana Buddhism it is much more difficult to keep our mind in tranquility and full of wisdom. It is not enough to have perfect single pointed concentration. We must also have the great wish for enlightenment (bodhicitta) the nature of which is selfless love and universal compassion.”

[1].    In Tibetan, U ta nam che, in Sanskrit, Madhyanta-vibhanga. CN

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on Discriminating Between the Middle and the Extremes at Kopan in 1976:

Chapter 1, Stanza 4:

The environment (sensory world), sentient beings, the self-existent entity and cognition (in general)—all these appearances of mental consciousness strongly grow (from the repeated imprints of superstition); these (appearances) do not exist (in the way they are perceived). (Therefore) because the object does not exist (as it appears), the subject (perceiving the object) also does not exist (as it appears).

Each time we have delusion, our appearances become thicker and thicker. For example, our memories of home or of our neighborhood supermarket will frequently come into our minds. These memories come from imprints that are placed on the consciousness and remain there continuously. When we sit down and try to meditate on a subject again and again, these memories come up again and again. We don’t want them, but we can’t stop them. Intellectual understanding isn’t enough; we need method and wisdom. We start with our intellectual understanding. Then we practice contemplation from which experience comes.

Roughly speaking, we can talk about two types of sense objects: inert material forms and sentient beings, beings with mind. These objects in the external sense world appear to our consciousness. But the appearances of these things don’t exist in the way they are perceived. The various appearances of the material world, sentient beings, the self-existent I, all our sense perceptions—all these appearing things do not exist in the way we perceive them. We can say this in another way: that is, the entire sense world does not exist as perceived because we only perceive our limited dualistic view. This is especially true with regard to our perceptions of the ego—“I am”—and each other.

Nevertheless, our deluded perceiving consciousness continues to grow because the imprints of dualistic appearance are repeated billions of times. For example, when we see the color white, the object of our sense consciousness is manifested from our consciousness. The imprint is manifested from our consciousness into a color, which then appears to us. There’s no color white sitting there waiting for us to perceive it. When our consciousness looks at the environment, the environment comes into existence.


Lama Yeshe’s first visit to Manjushri Institute

Lama Yeshe, Lake Arrowhead, 1975

From 1976: Heaven is Now! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

The purchase of Conishead Priory, now known as Manjushri Institute, was completed ten days before the lamas arrived in London on 31 August 1976. In Lama Yeshe’s luggage was a gift for the new center—Jampa Chökyi’s beautiful Tara Chittamani thangka, painted and sewn from pieces of silk and blessed by Trijang Rinpoche.

When it was purchased in 1976 the Priory had been empty for four years and the building was riddled with damp and dry rot. For the seventy people who attended the lamas’ first meditation course held there, karma yoga ranked high on the list of duties. Fortunately, it was late summer. Ripe fruit was falling fatly from the fruit trees, the old roses were in bloom and no bitter cold winds howled through the long damp corridors. It was also fortunate that an experienced and cheerful cook, Ronnie King, had hitchhiked up to Cumbria from Glastonbury. She was unfazed by the vast broken-down kitchens. During their visit, Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche stayed in a small, dry cottage in the grounds close to the market garden.

Marcel Bertels, at the time the gekö (disciplinarian) of the International Mahayana Institute, was in the Netherlands teaching a lam-rim course which eventually led to the creation of a new center in that country. Lama Yeshe asked him to come to Manjushri. Until this time Marcel had focused mainly on study and retreat, but things were about to change for him.

“Lama Yeshe and Rinpoche invited me for lunch, which meant that something unusual was on the agenda,” Marcel recounted. “Lama explained that Roger Wheeler was burned out trying to run the fashion business in Kathmandu, for which Peter Stripes in Melbourne was still the main customer. He asked me if I could take over on a day-to-day basis because he was concerned about the financial viability of the Sangha. ‘Try for one year, dear,’ Lama told me. I had no wish to leave my studies and go to work, but since Lama had asked I knew there had to be a profound reason behind his request. I figured this had to be part of my path.

“I was in the same position as Roger Wheeler, in that I had neither talent nor business experience. So everything was by trial and error. At first we made a little money, mainly by not spending any. When I left Kopan to go to work on my first day Lama had told me, ‘You walk everywhere. If you are busy, you can take a rickshaw.’ For some years I commuted between Kopan and the business in Kathmandu every day. This meant a forty-five minute walk, then a journey of indeterminate length on the badly maintained and overcrowded mini-buses running between Boudhanath and Ratna Park in Kathmandu.

“That was the start of my long career in business. At the end of the day it was usually quite late by the time I walked back up the hill at Kopan. Lama kept an eye on things all the time. Every night when I came back to Kopan I spent an hour with him. He’d ask me what was going on in the business, as well as what the Sangha were doing and so on. It was very consistent.”

The first course that Lama Yeshe taught at Manjushri Institute was on general Buddhist teachings, including the subjects of the graduated path.


From Lama Yeshe’s 1976 teachings at Manjushri Institute, Cumbria

You can explain karma in many different ways. For example, it can be explained academically with many divisions and analytical points of view. But right now I am going to give just a simple explanation.

      Karma means action; the actions of body, speech, and mind are karma. For example, we have just recited, “I take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha; I will follow the Dharma.” But if we are not conscious in our everyday actions of body, speech, and mind I think it is difficult to really take refuge.

      Taking refuge cannot solve your problems if you are not aware of your own actions. Even though you believe, “Buddha is fantastic; Dharma is fantastically pure; Sangha is fantastic. They are perfect; I have no doubts,” that is not enough. It is not enough to say, “Okay, I understand from the meditation, the books, and the lamas that Buddhadharma is perfectly clean clear. I know now that this is my path.” If you live that way rather than being aware of your own actions, I think refuge cannot solve your problems. Real refuge is saying and doing things according to the motivation of refuge in your mind; and that is karma.

      Karma means that you act in a certain way with a certain motivation and some effect arises within you. Karma can be positive or negative. Actions that bring a positive reaction we call morality; actions that bring a negative reaction we call immorality. Whatever action—or we can call it energy—of body, speech, or mind that brings confusion, restlessness, sorrow, or suffering is immorality. So as much as possible, we should try to understand Lord Buddha’s teaching which says that certain actions are morality and certain actions are immorality because they bring good or bad reactions.

      Understanding this, as much as possible in your everyday life you should make your actions positive. Try to understand, “If I think this way and act this way, what kind of result will it bring?” Knowing this is very important. Also, karma is not something that you just believe. Your entire energy since you were born has been related to karma. The existence of karma is not dependent on whether somebody believes it or not.

      For example, maybe you say, “I don’t believe in karma. I don’t believe in anything. There is no such thing as karma making me happy or unhappy.” No matter how much you are against it, the entire you, your saying this and thinking that—it is all karma. No matter how much a person may be against Lord Buddha’s idea…it doesn’t matter. The entire person, both psychologically and physically, who is tick, tick, ticking like a watch—all of that is karma. Therefore, karma is just the energy of one’s body, speech, and mind. The human body, speech, and mind are karma.

      The meaning of karma includes cause and effect. Your entire physical and mental energy, everything is reacting and producing other actions, no matter whether you believe it or not. Sometimes Western people think, “Well, if I am Buddhist and I believe Lord Buddha’s idea, then I have to be careful. If I am not careful I will get bad karma, but if I do not believe it doesn’t matter.”

      Many Western people think like this; in my life I have heard some people say this. It is not like that. Karma does not depend on whether you believe it or not. It doesn’t matter if you believe; it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe; it doesn’t matter even if you reject. Karma is talking about natural scientific law—that’s all. Natural scientific law—how can you reject that? It is not something Lord Buddha made up.

      Also, there is some confusion around Eastern words. The word karma is Sanskrit. When one says karma you say, “Oh, karma is Eastern stuff.” You cannot do like that. All of you is karma. You are karma; you cannot escape from karma. It does not matter if you follow another religion, if you are Hindu, if you are Christian, if you are a believer or a non-believer, you are completely immersed in karma

      That is why karma is very heavy. You cannot say, “I don’t believe in suffering.” It does not matter whether you believe you are suffering or not, you are suffering. Your suffering is not dependent on whether you believe in it or not.

      Now, you can see through your own meditation experience how the mind is continually circling around—whooooshhhhhh. You cannot stop your mind from running around—one thought, then another thought, and another thought, and another…phew! Incredible! This is karma, the uncontrolled thoughts running, running like a watch. Without understanding the activity of our body, speech, and mind we will not understand how to generate a positive or a negative lifestyle. Even though we have tremendous belief that “Buddhadharma is my way,” we are still joking.

      The simple way to live positively is to examine the everyday actions of your own body, speech, and mind. As much as possible be aware; what we call morality is putting the energy of body, speech, and mind in a positive direction. But in the West, morality and immorality have religious connotations. There are some funny ideas such as the belief that morality is something made up by religious people. No! Morality is not merely a religious idea; it is not some philosophical creation. Morality is about nature.

      Scientists explain natural things—organic, inorganic, the evolution of human beings, fish, and monkeys. This is all taught at school and you learn these things. From Lord Buddha’s point of view, karma is closer to the things you learn at school. In your school, as much as possible, they teach the scientific way, “This is exactly like this, then this comes, then this, then that,” and so on, the mathematical way. Karma is similar.

      Actually, if you are aware of how your own body, speech, and mind are running, the evolution of your everyday life is similar to what you learned at school. When you understand karma you will see how greatly effective is just one small action. For example, when Lord Buddha once explained karma, he gave the example of the small seed of a Bodhi tree. Do you know the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya? It is huge, isn’t it? He took some seeds of the Bodhi tree and said that by putting one tiny seed into the ground the effect is a huge tree that can give shelter to 500 bullock carts. This is Lord Buddha’s example, a small seed produces such a huge plant. It is the same thing with karma. Especially the psychological effect, this is much greater than the external effect.

      In the West, some people think that karma is something simple whereas meditation is a profound and unusual contemplation where you become very high and feel, “I’m happy…” They think that is fantastic. Actually, according to the lam-rim, meditation is not the most important thing. What is extremely important is to maintain awareness of your everyday life actions. Be aware of your own actions and put your actions on the right track. Then you will begin to experience an incredible effect.


The Tara Statue

Rinpoche painting Tara, 1976From 1976: Heaven is Now! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Another American, Connie Miller, had arrived on Christmas Day 1975 to stay at Kopan. A couple of weeks earlier in December, she had come up to Kopan to visit her friend Karuna Cayton, a fellow student from The Evergreen State College in Washington State (USA) doing independent research in Nepal for his final university theses. Karuna was participating in the group lam-rim retreat one hundred students were doing with Thubten Pende following the November meditation course.

On the afternoon of that first visit, Thubten Pemo got talking with Connie. Pemo said she felt strongly “from the sound of her voice” that she should join the retreat. Connie wasn’t easily convinced, since she had not done the previous month-long meditation course, but Pemo persisted. She was also enticed by Pemo telling her that Lama Yeshe was going to be giving a Green Tara initiation sometime soon. The topic of the thesis Connie was working on was related to female deities in Tibetan Buddhism, and to Tara in particular.

Connie returned to Kathmandu with the intention of packing her things and coming up to Kopan to stay. She finally walked up the hill carrying her backpack, arriving during the Christmas puja taking place in the large tent on the side of Kopan hill. After getting settled, Connie joined the guided lam-rim retreat and attended the mind training teachings on the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation from Lama Zopa Rinpoche that were also taking place.

“One day in January Rinpoche was looking down from the balcony outside his room as Connie sat in the sun behind the gompa. She had fallen ill with bronchitis and stopped attending the retreat sessions. After they talked for a while, Rinpoche invited her to help him paint the large Tara statue Lama Yeshe had sent Max to find in Kathmandu,” recalled Pemo. “This surprised me a lot. Rinpoche paid a lot of attention to Connie and they spent a lot of time together painting. Now when people ask Connie how she met the lamas she always says it was because of me. Then we look at each other and laugh.”

Rinpoche explained exactly how the statue should be painted and told a visiting elderly relative from Solu Khumbu to help Connie. Lama Pasang had begun constructing a glass-fronted house on a pedestal where the statue would eventually reside. Lama Yeshe wanted Tara to overlook a triangular pond surrounded by flowers that was to be built under the ancient bodhi tree that stood in front of the gompa.

For some time, the unfinished Tara statue sat on the balcony outside the lamas’ rooms and Connie came every afternoon to paint for a few hours. Sometimes Lama Yeshe came out after his afternoon “rest” and talked with her, occasionally sharing his special tea. “That tea was incredible! Part salty and part sweet, almost like a hot tea-flavored milkshake,” she said. “It was unlike anything I had ever tasted, before or since.”

“After a while, the statue was moved into the Kopan library, a big room, also called Mummy Max’s room, located above the office, and I continued painting it there. Jampa Chökyi was also working on an embroidered appliqué thangka in the same room,” Connie continued. “Whenever she showed it to Lama he’d shout at her, telling her it was all wrong and she must undo it. The way Lama pushed her was incredible. He cut through all her excuses like a knife. Jampa Chökyi was a proud young Spanish woman from a wealthy family and I had a lot of respect for her and the way she accepted all the criticism.” Jampa Chökyi made at least two appliquéd thangkas, including one of thousand-armed Chenrezig made of pieces of silk and installed at Lawudo, and a second one of Tara Chittamani, also made of silk, that was eventually hung at Vajrapani Institute in California.

Eventually, on 16 March, just as Thubten Pemo had said, Lama Yeshe conferred a Green Tara initiation to a group of Western students and Connie was able to attend.

One afternoon, when the painting was nearly done, Lama showed Connie several packets of gems that were destined to adorn the statue of Tara. “Lama often talked to me about Tara. ‘Tara has so many beautiful, natural jewels,’ he once told me. Naturally I was thinking in the most concrete terms, of gemstones, but the way Lama looked at me it suddenly dawned on me that he was speaking of a very different type of jewel, of Tara’s qualities that transcend anything physical. I felt quite embarrassed by how dense I was!” Connie recalled.


From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on Tara in March 1976:

What is Divine Wisdom Mother Tara? Who is she? All this wintertime we have been working to fix our Mummy Tara statue. So I think that at least you have a good visualization, a good basic understanding of what she looks like. I hope so.

The actual Divine Wisdom Mother Tara is the embodiment of all the manifested activities of all universal supreme beings. Their actions are transformed into Tara’s green radiating light body. Therefore, meditation on Tara can result in very incredible and powerful activities. Also, her meditation yields results very quickly. This is because Tara is in female aspect and we consider feminine energy to have the characteristic of being quicker, acting more quickly than masculine energy. The favorite deity of all the great Mahayana saints is Tara.

This profound yoga method of Divine Wisdom Mother Tara brings us to the everlasting peaceful realizations of enlightenment, benefiting not only ourselves but also all mother sentient beings. But also many people—materialistic people and even some lamas—also do this puja all the time not for enlightenment realizations, you understand, but just to have a comfortable and successful life. For example, the farmers who are growing wheat and barley may be worried that there won’t be sufficient rain this year for their crops, so they do this puja to ensure that the rains will come. This is the same as the Nepalese people who make offerings to Kali [the Hindu mother goddess] because they think that if they do not, they won’t have good crops that year, no rice, no dhal, and so on. It is some kind of simple mind, you know. But even that is not right! Using such an incredibly powerful method in such a simple way is like using a cloth made of gold to clean your toilet. If I were to do that, you would say to me, “What a stupid lama you are! Why are you using this incredibly valuable golden cloth to clean your bathroom?”

The position in which Tara is sitting has great significance. Her right leg is extended outward and down whereas her left leg is drawn in, sitting this way, yes? This means that Tara has complete control. She is able to completely control all her monthly periods, all emotional up-and-down mood swings, up-and-down female energy. She has realized complete control over all these aspects. How wonderful! This is why if you understand the real essence of Tara it is very encouraging to women, you understand? Women are better able to take care of the body, to make the body beautiful; they have better understanding of these things. It is possible, yes? More importantly, women are encouraged by using such a yoga method that they are equally able to discover enlightenment, just as men can do. There is no distinction! In this Mahayana yoga tantra tradition, there is no division between what men can accomplish and what women can accomplish. There is nothing that says that men can discover enlightenment realizations in this life using this powerful yoga method but women cannot. This is wrong! We are all equally capable; we all have the same possibilities.

Historically, when Mother Tara first took the bodhisattva vows she vowed in front of the Buddha at that time, “There are many buddhas in male aspect in the world but very few in female aspect. So I will remain always in female aspect and become enlightened in female aspect in order to help all Dharma practitioners be successful.” She promised! Therefore, any serious Dharma practitioner who engages in the deity practice of Tara will be very successful. This yoga method can also be used to bring success for Dharma purposes, to overcome problems, even to obtain material things, equipment that we need for our Dharma practice. In such cases, you can use this practice for those purposes. Clearly, it all depends on your motivation.

When the painting project was completed, Lama told Connie to join him in the gompa one afternoon toward the end of April so he could show her exactly where the various jewels should be placed on Tara’s crown, necklace, bracelets and so on. The day of the meeting, however, Connie found herself doubled over with intense abdominal pains. Incapacitated and in extreme distress, she was rushed down to Shanti Bhawan hospital in Kathmandu where it was determined that she was suffering an attack of appendicitis. That same evening, she was operated on, and according to her friends nearly died when she was carried to her room after the appendectomy and went into convulsions. “What I remember is a long series of dreams and hallucinations in which appeared various people from Kopan, monks and nuns and especially Lama Yeshe. I felt in my heart that Lama Yeshe was there with me. He had sent a message to me that I should visualize strong golden light entering into my belly, healing everything that was wrong,” Connie remembered. “Somehow this image pervaded all the hallucinations that I had all night long. I have no doubt that Lama saved my life.” Lama Yeshe had showered her with gifts, including a picture of himself inscribed on the back in his erratic hand, “Much love, Lama Yeshe. See you space.”

Meanwhile, Lama supervised the construction of the triangular reflecting pond. A week later, the Tara statue was scheduled to be consecrated in a series of special pujas attended by many dignitaries and Lama Yeshe’s personal friends, who brought mountains of offerings. Connie’s responsibility had been to paint the crown, the robes and the lotus seat on which Tara sits, but the fine detailed painting of Tara’s facial features, especially her eyes, was done by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Rinpoche was truly able to bring Tara alive when he “opened the eyes” of the statue. This was the last step before the actual consecration, during which Tara was invited to come and reside in the statue.

“A week after the surgery, I checked myself out of the hospital and took a taxi back up to Kopan,” Connie reminisced. “I was able to attend the main puja, which went on for hours. During a break around midnight everyone was asked to leave the meditation hall. As I was leaving with the others Lama Yeshe told me to go wash my hands and feet and to come back quickly to the gompa. Lama, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Lama Pasang, Lama Lhundrup, Tenzin Norbu Rinpoche, Gelek Gyatso Rinpoche, Yangsi Rinpoche and I were the only people in the gompa. The doors were then closed and I sat and looked on while they filled the statue with various holy things and prayers and mantras written on tightly rolled up lengths of paper. I was still full of stitches and had the strangest sensation of my own insides being stuffed. It was the most amazing experience! When they’d finished, everyone else returned and the puja continued all night long.

“The next morning, two monks carrying Tara on their shoulders led everyone in a joyous procession all around Kopan hill. Lama was wearing a ceremonial crown of the five tathagata buddhas and we stopped at various points to chant and make prayers. Lama explained to everyone that we were showing Tara around her new home. Then she was placed in her house in front of the gompa. I always thought of her as watching over and protecting Kopan from there.”


Lama Yeshe’s Tantric Teaching

Lama and HH Trijang Rinpoche, 1976From 1976: Heaven is Now! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

During this visit to Dharamsala, Gareth Sparham, one of the Westerners ordained at Bodhgaya in 1974, underwent public examination at Tushita. “Both lamas attended as well as  a number of Dharamsala geshes,” said Gareth. “I gave a talk on renunciation. I didn’t really  know anything about it so I just went on and on about how wonderful Lama Yeshe was. His head dropped lower and lower. When everyone had gone, he said to me, ‘Dear, never ever refer to me again!’ After that I started really studying hard and stayed on in Dharamsala for many years.”

Around mid-April, Lama Zopa Rinpoche decided to travel to south India for a short time to attend teachings at Sera Jé. Just before leaving Dharamsala, he told Thubten Gyatso, who was about to start a Mahakala retreat in Rinpoche’s room at Tushita, “I am sorry for the bad vibrations I have left in my room.” Gyatso found no bad vibrations, just several large scorpions. Gyatso was about to embark on a tantric practice but knew nothing about tantra. Tantra is sometimes called the resultant path, wherein a practitioner learns to think, speak and act in the present as if he or she were already a fully enlightened buddha.


From Lama Yeshe’s tantric teachings:

According to tantra, perfection is not something that is waiting for us somewhere in the future. “If I practice hard now maybe I will become a perfect buddha” or “If I behave well in this life and act like a religious person, maybe someday I will go to heaven.” According to tantra, heaven is now! We should be gods and goddesses right now. But at present we are burdened with limiting concepts: “Men are like this; women are like this; I am a certain way and there is nothing I can do about it” and so forth. This is why we have conflict within ourselves and with one another. All this conflict will dissolve as we train in the tantric point of view and recognize that each man is a complete man and each woman a complete woman. Furthermore, every man and woman contains both male and female energy. In fact, each one of us is a union of all universal energy. Everything that we need in order to be complete is within us right at this very moment. It is simply a matter of being able to recognize it. This is the tantric approach.


Thubten Gyatso: “The night before I started retreat Lama Yeshe called me into his big room at Tushita to explain the Mahakala practice to me. Lama’s face was very close to mine and it assumed a blue and incredibly wrathful appearance. To be qualified to do this retreat one is supposed to have taken certain initiations beforehand, but I had only received a Chenrezig initiation. ‘That’s okay,’ Lama told me. ‘You visualize yourself as Vajrasattva (the purifying buddha). Imagine your consort has one arm around your neck and with her curved knife she cuts your body into pieces. You die and your mind enters into her body, then you are born again, very pure and enlightened. You still feel like yourself but she has shredded your ego. Okay?” At the time, I knew nothing about tantra and this was so powerful for me. “Next morning breakfast was delivered to my room after my first meditation session.

One fried okra looking like a slab of green mucus. I sat on Rinpoche’s bed, my mind completely black, thinking, ‘How can I do retreat with food like this?’ Suddenly the front window flew open and in came Lama Yeshe’s hand. He was holding a fresh piece of Tibetan bread covered in Vegemite. I humbly accepted Lama’s offering and he walked away without a word. I resolved to never complain about food again.” Vegemite, a salty spread made from yeast extract, is a staple of the Australian diet. Lama Yeshe was always looking for healthy foods to introduce at Kopan and returned from a trip to Australia one year with jars of Vegemite. Not everyone became a convert to it.

There were two other students doing solitary retreats at Tushita that spring, one of them an Icelandic girl, Thorhalla Bjornsdottir. Lama Yeshe instructed her to spend two years in calm abiding (Tib. shiné; Skt. shamatha) retreat. In the practice of calm abiding one develops deeper and deeper levels of concentration by repeatedly stabilizing one’s attention firmly on an inner object while controlling outer distractions.

The lamas returned to Kopan in the latter part of April, Lama Yeshe from Dharamsala and Lama Zopa Rinpoche from south India. On May 1, Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave teachings to those students still staying at Kopan on the practice of prostrations to the thirty-five Confession Buddhas and on Jorchö, the lam-rim preliminary practices.

More teachers, More students

Lama Yeshe, Kopan, 1975From 1976: “Heaven is Now!” by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Yeshe had planned for a Westerner to once again lead the spring meditation course and had asked Piero to do it, but unfortunately, Piero was now in Italy.

“I had been the Kopan typist since 1974,” recalled Thubten Pemo. She wasn’t the only one. Nicole Couture, Yeshe Khadro and others also typed constantly. Nicole had been warned that those who were smart didn’t admit to being able to type because they would immediately be given work. But Pemo always happily accepted typing work.

One day, she was walking with Marcel, for whom she was doing some typing. “We met Lama Yeshe on the path and asked him who was going to teach the course in Piero’s place. Lama looked at me and replied, ‘You. You can teach the course. Think about it and come back to me tomorrow and let me know.’ I couldn’t believe it. I knew nothing. My entire Dharma education consisted of four of Rinpoche’s courses. But since Lama had asked me, he must have thought that I could do it. Nevertheless, I was terrified. How could I possibly teach for four hours a day for thirty days? That’s one hundred and twenty hours! The next day I went to Lama’s room and said that if he wanted me to teach, I would teach. I thought Lama would tell me what to teach and in what order, and that he would teach me how to teach. But no. Lama said just one sentence to me. ‘You become Manjuishri and then you give the teachings.’ Of course, I had no idea how to become Manjushri.”

And so Thubten Pemo became the first Western female to teach an entire month-long lam-rim course at Kopan. Ngawang Chötak agreed to lead the meditations. It was an enormous job and Pemo spent every spare moment studying. The course began during the second half of March. At her request the lamas did a puja on the first morning of the course to bless it and then drove off in the Jeep, heading for the airport and India. They were returning to Dharamsala for the ordination ceremony of a new group of students.

Pemo’s course was a great success. Later, ten of Pemo’s students went to Dharamsala to do a month-long lam-rim retreat at Tushita. This all made Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche so happy that Lama was heard to exclaim, “My nuns can teach! My nuns can teach!”

Rinpoche wrote her a beautiful letter of thanks:

Most dear Thubten Pemo Rinpoche,

How are you? We have met your incredible disciples. They look that they have gained much wisdom. That must mean you have that much wisdom. We think and HOPE that you will attain Manjushri soon by Mahakala’s continual protection. We will pray for that.

See you soon,

               Yeshe, Zopa

Among those at Pemo’s course were some very dedicated students, such as Dharmawati Brechbuhl from Indonesia, Caroline Crossman and Tony Beaumont from Australia, and several others who would become long-term practitioners. Since that time it has become quite normal for Western women to give Dharma teachings all over the world.

Lama’s Domestic Life

Front of photo given to Connie Miller by Lama Yeshe, 1976From 1976: “Heaven is Now!” by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

It was Thubten Monlam’s job to cook for the lamas when they were at Kopan. When they went on tour he had time to study. “Lama Zopa didn’t care what I served him,” said Thubten Monlam. “He hardly ate anything at all, but if the food was really good he would eat more. He liked to put erma, Sherpa pepper, on everything, but Lama Yeshe never used erma. After his heart tests Lama was much more careful about his food. The Injis were always telling me, “Don’t serve him this, don’t serve him that!”

“Lama liked cooking very much, always chopping things very very fast and saying mantra, “Ommmmmmmmm pham pham pham,” while making a big mess for me to clean up. But he never burned anything. He always cooked for Mummy Max because he knew what she liked. I only knew thukpa, momos, bread, Tibetan tea and khapse. That’s all,” he said. Khapse is fried Tibetan bread—deep-fried yellow dough around the size, shape and texture of a clog shoe—usually made on Tibetan holidays.

“Lama Yeshe never drank Tibetan tea—he didn’t like it at all. But Lama Zopa liked it,” Thubten Monlam continued. “Lama Yeshe liked sweet Indian tea with milk and sugar served separately, like the Injis. I’d put it all on a tray and take it to him in the early morning. He also ate bread then and sometimes an egg. Sometimes he ate in his room, but most times he ate out on the patio roof with the little dogs.”

The custom of taking tea is as much a feature of Tibetan as it is of English culture and connoisseurs are sensitive to its quality. Over an afternoon cup with one of his Western monks Lama asked him what he thought of its quality. On being assured it was much better than the tea in the IMI’s storeroom, Lama replied, “I sure hope so!’ Over time Lama Yeshe developed a taste for Twinings Lapsang Souchong, which he called “Losang Chonjur” (coincidentally the name of Jan Willis’s friend from Samten Ling), or if that was not available, Earl Grey, pronounced “Er Gay.”

When Thubten Monlam was not in sight, Lama called out for tea in the old Tibetan style, with a gruff, “Eugh!” If the boy still didn’t come, Rinpoche would creep from his room, humble as a sweeper, to make Lama’s tea himself.

Besides cooking for the lamas it was Thubten Monlam’s job to clean their rooms and make up Lama Yeshe’s bed every night. “But Lama Yeshe often sat on his bed talking to students until midnight,” he explained. “Sometimes I’d fall asleep at the door waiting for him to finish and sometimes he forgot all about me. I’d try to make the bed early, when he was not sitting on it. Lama was kind to me—he gave me cookies and presents and invited me to work at Tushita in Dharamsala.

“I never saw Lama Zopa go to bed, but I did see him lie down in his robes three or four times in the middle of the day. I think he was checking dreams or something. He was always up very late at night. When I’d come into his room, he’d be drowsy and give a start, then he’d say, “Om mani padmé hum,” and go back to saying mantras.

“Lama Yeshe would go to bed really late at night and sleep late in the morning, sometimes up to nine or ten o’clock. When he’d sleep late I was afraid something had happened to him, but I would never go in and wake him. I’d just wait until he woke up by himself. Lama took a nap every afternoon because the doctor said he needed rest for his heart. Often it seemed like he was sleeping then, but he was not. He knew what was going on. He was very sensitive and woke up very easily in the afternoons.”

That was the conventional explanation for Lama’s traditional afternoon rest—his weak heart. “Rinpoche’s explanation was that Lama was a tantric master whose afternoon sleep was in fact the most profound Hayagriva dream yoga practice,” said Peter Kedge. “I didn’t like to disturb Lama from those afternoon rests, though several times I did have to wake him up. Although he did wake easily, he seemed to come back from some very far away place.

“Actually, Lama’s afternoon rests were the greatest break for me when I began touring with the lamas. There was incredible pressure when Lama was around and always so much activity, so when Rinpoche was meditating in his room and Lama was having his afternoon rest in another, it was almost like putting the kids to bed and being able to relax a little.”

By nature a night owl, one night Nick Ribush floated into Lama Yeshe’s room around 11:00 pm, confident as ever, to ask a question about some administrative matter. Lama flew at him, demanding, “Why are you coming at this time! You think I don’t need time? You’ve got no consideration!” On the other hand, when Jimi Neal went to him late one night with a list of Dharma questions, he was welcomed. “I didn’t even get the chance to produce my list,” said Jimi. “Without even seeing it Lama just went through each question I’d written down, one after the other in the same order as I’d written them. When he finished we talked about other things.”

On Lama Yeshe’s altar was a photo of a famous statue commonly known as the fasting Buddha. Tibetans generally didn’t seem to have much affinity with this particular image of the Buddha, so it was quite uncommon among them to use this image as an object of devotion on a personal altar. Lama Yeshe would sometimes describe to his students how other Tibetan monks and lamas teased him about it, saying, “What is that? Why do you have that on your altar?” Peter Kedge recalled Lama telling him he found the image very inspiring, “explaining that the Buddha’s spine was visible from the front and how that signified such incredible determination and effort.”

This specific representation is actually of Siddhartha Gautama before his enlightenment, during the six years of his life when he was engaged in ascetic practices under the guidance of a Hindu guru. He became extremely emaciated and weak until one day he concluded that asceticism was not the true path to liberation from suffering. Close to death, Siddhartha was found next to the Nairanjana River by a local girl who brought him a bowl of milk and rice, which he ate. His strength restored, Siddhartha then sat under the Bodhi tree, determined to discover the true nature of reality, which he did, thereby achieving enlightenment.

Lama Yeshe regularly went down to Kathmandu on business, or to spend time with Jampa Trinley and his family. He often invited Yangsi Rinpoche’s sister Tseyang (known as Tsen-la) a school girl at the time, to come and stay at Kopan during her school holidays. “Lama looked after her very carefully,” said Peter Kedge. “In retrospect he was preparing her to be the nun she later became. Lama paid a lot of attention to Jampa Trinley’s family. When Tsen-la’s older brother fell very ill, Lama visited him several times and showed tremendous concern.”

The Western Sangha, conspicuous in their red robes and shaven pink heads, were also seen all over town. Lay students at Kopan often gathered for picnics in the forest bordering the Bagmati River opposite Pashupatinath, an important Hindu temple, from where one could just see its famous Golden Cow statue. Entry to the temple was known to be strictly limited to Hindus. One day an older Kopan student stood outside Pashupatinath explaining this to a group of visitors when suddenly Lama Yeshe walked out of the temple holding the hand of a small Mount Everest Centre monk. Both had red Hindu tika1 marks on their foreheads.

Hayagriva: An enlightened meditational deity who is an embodiment of wrathful compassion.

The fasting Buddha: This statue of the fasting Buddha (second century a.d.) resides in the Lahore Museum in Lahore, Pakistan. It dates from the Gandharan period of South Asian art during the time that Buddhism flourished in the area we now know as Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is said that the anatomical accuracy of the statue reflects the Hellenic influence of the Greeks under Alexander the Great who conquered this area in the fourth century B.C.

Tika: Hindu devotees place a red tika mark at the center of their brows to symbolize attaining the “third eye” of enlightenment. 

Mount Everest Center

Lama with the MEC students, 1976From 1976: “Heaven is Now!” by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

The Kopan community fell neatly into two separate worlds: the Injis and the Mount Everest Centre monks. As far as the Injis were concerned Kopan was paradise—the best thing that had ever happened to them. In contrast, some of the young monks wanted to run away. Michael Losang Yeshe was no longer the exotic little Inji monk he had once been but was now one of the crowd, speaking Tibetan like a native and looking every bit as grubby as his Sherpa classmates. He constantly used the expression “we Tibetans.”

“Once four of us ran away together,” Michael recalled. “Our punishment was to carry six tins of water each from the bottom of the hill, then pour it into the Tara pond. This meant a fifteen-minute walk each way. After just one trip we decided the only way to avoid this horrible task was to run away again. My father had married a Nepali woman, so we ran to his house in Kathmandu. But one of the monks ran back to Kopan and told Lama what we were doing. Only my stepmother was home when we got there and to our dismay she immediately drove Gelek Gyatso Rinpoche and me back to Kopan and marched us into Lama’s room. We sat down nervously. ‘You escaped! Shame on you!’ said Lama. ‘You too Losang Yeshe, have shame!’ But he gave us an easier punishment than the first one. The fourth monk had also run to his family’s home in Kathmandu, but when he returned Lama told him he had to leave Kopan. ‘The reason you escaped is because you don’t like it here, you don’t get what you need here and something is wrong for you, isn’t it? So why did you come back? You don’t want to stay, so you can go,’ Lama told him. It’s funny how Lama sent him away and not us. I ran away a couple more times and nobody ran away more than Gelek Gyatso, yet Lama accepted him back every time.”

Even Yangsi Rinpoche occasionally got into trouble. “Sometimes we had our art class in the gompa,” he recalled, “and occasionally Lama would walk through and inspect our work. One day I shouted something carelessly to another boy. Lama came straight over and scolded me, saying, ‘Aren’t you ashamed of shouting like that in class? You are a rinpoche and have to behave better than that.’ I was pretty young but I never forgot that incident. Lama was always so kind and loving to me. This was the first time he had ever scolded me. It brought down my ego.”

One little monk, Thubten Sherab, got thrown out of Kopan for being naughty. Everyone liked Thubten Sherab, who spoke Italian and Spanish and even taught English. Lama Yeshe noted Jimi Neal’s distress over the expulsion. “You shocked my method, dear?” Lama asked him. “I was and said so, but I immediately guessed what he was up to,” said Jimi. “Thubten Sherab was supposed to find some adult to come back to Kopan with him and beg for him to be allowed back. That’s exactly what happened and from then on things were fine for him.”

Most of the boys were from the Himalayan mountains and as wild as little lions. They needed Lama’s tough love. Lama Yeshe often whacked the boys with his long wooden mala. This horrified some of the Injis but he dismissed their concerns. “Look at these boys, how lucky they are! Here they spend their days doing puja and practicing Dharma. If they were in America what do you think they’d be doing?”

Lama regularly exacted discipline in the boys’ dining room. “His big thing was that we should not talk while eating,” said one boy. “If he heard noise from the dining room he’d come in, take off one of his wooden Dr. Scholl’s sandals and go down the line banging everybody on the head with it. Nobody cried because we weren’t really afraid of Lama Yeshe. Lama Pasang was much tougher on us. As for Lama Lhundrup, no one was ever afraid of him. Once we were playing around during a meal when suddenly Lama

Yeshe was there behind us. “You are shouting during dinner! You haven’t got any manners!” He went to the vegetable store, took out a big long white radish and went boom, boom, on everyone’s head. The radish broke at the fifth boy, so he got another one.”

Lama Yeshe kept a close watch on their food, making sure it was clean, not greasy and included a daily salad. At night they usually ate thukpa and chapattis. Lama didn’t want them eating Western bread and jam, which was of very low quality in Nepal. When he left to go on tour, however, standards in the kitchen tended to decline. Lama also instructed the boys in cleanliness and personal hygiene.

Sometimes the boys cleaned up the Inji dining room during courses and washed dishes, but generally the Mount Everest Centre boys had little contact with the foreign community other than at pujas. Falling asleep during puja was a common occurrence.

“We were allowed to fall asleep twice, but if it happened a third time it meant a black mark on your discipline record,” recalled Michael Losang Yeshe. “I learned how to fall asleep sitting upright with only my head drooping and one eye half open. Once I woke from a sound sleep to feel the unmistakable presence of Lama Yeshe behind me and something cold and heavy on my head. I realized it was one of the big water bowls off the altar. He poured the water all over me and held the bowl on my head while all the Injis behind me giggled.”

But life for the boys wasn’t all discipline and hardship. There were wonderful times with Lama, especially when they got out the traditional dancing masks. At Losar the boys had a marvelous time prancing around in them, clashing cymbals and blowing the long horns while Lama Yeshe threw handfuls of candies to them from the gompa roof.

Once again Michael’s father, Yorgo Cassapidis, invited all the Kopan monks to make puja at his house and in return gave each boy an offering of 100 rupees. Riches beyond their wildest dreams! Back at Kopan Lama Yeshe produced a list of every boy who had been at that puja and greeted them with an outstretched hand. Funds at Kopan were desperately short and again, such largesse was not to be wasted.

%d bloggers like this: