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Posts from the ‘1977: The more meditation, the more happy!’ Category

The Little Man in Red

23053_ng_webFrom  1977: The more meditation, the more happy! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Ibiza, in the Balearic Islands lying about fifty miles (80km) off the coast of Spain was a sleepy peasant farming community until the 1960s when large numbers of world travelers made it their summer destination. Rents were cheap, the beaches pristine, the climate perfect and the locals tolerant.

At the end of the first week of October the lamas arrived into the relaxed Ibiza atmosphere to teach a ten-day meditation course. Jampa Chökyi, Lama’s first Spanish nun, had spent the previous two months there helping Philippe and François Camus prepare a gompa. She had also given simple introductory teachings in Spanish to the 150 people who had enrolled for the lamas’ course. Assisting her was another Spanish nun, Angeles de la Torre, and Kopan students Antonio Pascual and Jasmin Ubinas.

François Camus and his wife ran a health food shop on Ibiza. Philippe Camus and his wife, Linda, ran a local restaurant. Through those two businesses the two couples got to know many people from the cosmopolitan crowd and promoted the lamas’ upcoming course with great enthusiasm.

21637_pr_crop  The Camus family was in the wine and spirit trade and had used a geodesic dome for a recent exhibition. With money he had received as a wedding present, Francois arranged to have a similar dome built and delivered to Ibiza just two days before the course began. The white plastic-covered dome was set up in a field close to the beach. The organizers insisted the lamas needed to stay in a decent place of their own. The more bohemian types argued that if they were so unattached their accommodation hardly mattered. Arguments quickly became heated, but Jampa Chökyi had a fiery Spanish temperament and was able to stand up to anyone, so the matter was soon sorted out. Philippe and Linda Camus gave up their best rooms, though Lama Yeshe had said “some little corner” would do. Even so, their house was still rather primitive with no bathroom or running water, so a hole was dug in the ground to serve as a toilet with cane fencing erected in a spiral around it to provide some privacy. Lama Yeshe was not impressed.

Jampa Chökyi noticed that Paco Hita, one of the people living at Can Tirurit (a Payesan house that was a kind of alternative altruistic community center located nearby), was always very polite and accommodating. Paco was asked to be the chauffeur for the lamas and as a result became the person who spent the most time with Lama Yeshe in Ibiza. François Camus waited at his house while Paco collected the lamas from the airport. “The moment they arrived,” recalled François, “the person who had been the most difficult came to me in tears saying, ‘Now I understand.’ This man hadn’t even spoken to the lamas yet but he was totally changed.”

“I had worked from the age of eight until I was twenty-five when a great restlessness arose in me,” said Paco. “Although I had very little education and only the few skills employment had given me, I was determined to search for something to give meaning to my life. In Ibiza I began to live again, free of prejudices and material possessions.21670_pr_web

“I imagined the lamas as barefoot, begging for food and wearing very little clothing. The first sign of action was when they sent us this hurricane, this demanding little Spanish nun. She quickly got a group together to sew a large thangka of Guru Shakyamuni. They also made a canopy and cloths for the altar. She taught us all how to sit, how to visualize and how to meditate and gave courses on how to draw Buddhist images.

“My job was to drive the lamas to and from the course grounds, fetch the food supplies and have the car always available for them. Rinpoche taught in the mornings and Lama in the afternoons. During the fourteen days they were on the island I did not leave their side except to retire at night. I did not understand or speak English, so I was not able to talk with them at all. With Lama Zopa Rinpoche that was no problem, because he never spoke—except once when I was driving rather fast because we were late. That time he turned and said something. Later I asked someone to translate it. What he had said was, ‘Are you in a hurry to attain enlightenment?’

23051_ng_web“Rinpoche spent all his free time in his room emitting little sounds that seemed like profound laments to me. His replies to Lama were always in this timid whisper that seemed to come from the depths of the earth. As I watched the two of them together Lama was like the sun and Rinpoche like a candle softening in its heat and bending irresistibly toward him.”

Paco continued, “Words were not necessary with Lama Yeshe. We developed our own communication. Occasionally, when he came out from a lecture he would put his arm over my shoulders and say, ‘Good?’ I would answer, ‘Very good!’ Then I put my right arm around his waist and felt how he was transmitting energy that filled my whole being with joy. I sat in the front row for his talks so I could get him whatever he needed. I hardly understood what he was talking about, even though it was translated into Spanish. The concepts were light years away from my mind. But now and then Lama pointed to me and told the others that if they had questions they should ask me, because I understood. I felt nothing could be further from the truth, but what I did understand was the respectful, kindly and affectionate way he treated people.

“One afternoon when I was driving him home he let me know he wanted a driving lesson. So I stopped and invited him to sit behind the wheel. The car was a Citroën belonging to a Saudi girl, Zia Bassam, who was living on Ibiza and also had an aunt who lived there. After confirming he understood how it worked, we set off. Lama tore up the dirt road with violent jerks and raised clouds of dust because he was holding the clutch halfway down at the same time that he stepped on the accelerator. I made him stop and scolded him firmly. ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry!’ he said. He went a little better then. But when we came to a hill, the car stalled. Lama mistakenly stepped on the clutch thinking it was the brake and we rolled down into a dirt mound next to the gutter. With more instruction he drove all the way home. The next day he wanted to do it again, but on the first turn after leaving the course grounds he crashed into a stone wall and the car was crumpled.”

Lama and Paco returned to the house laughing their heads off. “Oh Zia! Car! Zia! Car! We broke the car! Ha ha ha!” When Zia came to see Lama, he confessed to the accident and offered to pay, but she said no.

Out of the blue Mummy Max’s ex-husband, Marty Widener, suddenly turned up. He was staying on the nearby island of Formentera where he had seen a poster advertising the course. “I came bursting into their room telling Yeshe how happy I was to see him, while he kept bumping foreheads with me. They invited me to lunch the next day and the three of us just sat around and yacked and laughed and cackled. It was wonderful,” said Marty.

“One day Lama suggested a picnic at a little cove by the sea near Philippe’s house,” Paco recounted. “We brought bread and many ingredients, spread a cloth and Lama began to construct these high sandwich towers, offering them to us one by one. We were about to start eating when Lama pointed to a spot in the distance where we could see the outline of a person sitting on the rocks contemplating the sea. Lama made it clear he wanted me to invite him to eat too, so I walked over and gave him Lama’s message and he shared the food with us. We all talked enthusiastically and laughter rebounded off the rocks. When we left the stranger thanked us and said those moments had actually been life-changing for him.

“On another day we visited a country store that sold everything from rope sandals to codfish. The owner was a perpetually bad-tempered woman who mistrusted everyone. I had never seen her smile. Lama wanted to buy presents, so we went inside and he began sniffing around the open shelves. When the woman came out from an inner room he transformed himself completely, bent double, face to the floor and hands joined at his forehead to greet her. He was so humble that she too was transformed. Her hard little eyes warmed and her mouth formed a surprisingly sweet smile. By gestures, Lama asked if he could look around. She indicated he could look wherever he liked, even behind the counter. Lama ended up buying nothing but the woman looked as if she had made the best deal of her life. From that day on she never ceased to ask me about the little man in red.”


Bonjuorno , cappuccino, spaghetti, mozzarella!

Lama teaching, Yucca Valley, 1977From  1977: The more meditation, the more happy! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

From India, the lamas arrived at the new Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa. Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught for ten days on lam-rim and thought transformation and Lama Yeshe gave a ten-day course on The Hundred Deities of the Land of Joy (Ganden Lha Gyäma), a central Gelug prayer invoking the blessings of Lama Tsongkhapa and his two chief disciples.

Pino Corona was pleased with the purchase of the castello and delighted that he and Massimo, his eldest son, were once again on excellent terms. Initially, the building was divided into a number of apartments, four of which were made available to the lamas and their students. The others were still occupied by tenants of the previous owner. He too was still in residence and turned out to be rather difficult to get along with.

During this visit by the lamas a large bronze statue of Shakyamuni Buddha arrived from Nepal and was installed with much ceremony in the temporary gompa.

Lama Yeshe adapted quickly to this Mediterranean culture, becoming as Italian as the Italians. “We could feel this universal quality in him immediately. I could easily imagine that when in America he would be just like the Americans,” said one student.

Bonjuorno [sic], cappuccino, spaghetti, mozzarella! Italy is fantastic,” Lama wrote to Susanna Parodi in Nepal via Peter, who added, “Lama says in April you come here and be spiritual director.” However, this prospect terrified the world’s first Italian Mahayana Buddhist nun. “I had only just learned how to do the mandala offering and had barely started on the long Chenrezig mantra,” Susanna later explained. “One year earlier I had been shooting heroin. Maybe I could be a kitchen manager or maybe I could live with Marcel’s tailors and show them how to cut a pattern, but spiritual director? I burst into tears, grabbed a taxi, put my zen over my head and bought a packet of cigarettes. Then I smoked every one of them while driving round and round the Ring Road in Kathmandu.”

Up at Kopan, Lama Pasang’s brand new and very large block of toilet stalls included a septic tank. The young monks discovered methane gas came out of the vent. If you held a lit match near it, you could get quite a flame. They had tried this a few times in the past, to their delight. While the lamas were still away in Italy and most of those on the hill were in the gompa with Geshe Sopa, one young monk, Thubten Ngödrub, held a match to the vent to watch the methane burn off. But somehow the flame was sucked back into the pipe and the entire concrete structure blew up in a massive explosion. Chunks of concrete were later found in the fields at least fifty yards from the tank and excrement was blasted all over the hill. The young monk flew through the air and miraculously, was unhurt. An emergency international fund-raising effort succeeded in gathering sufficient funds to quickly repair the damage before people fell ill from the pollution and lack of facilities.

Almost all the Italian students had been raised as Catholics and many had a rather conservative attitude toward spiritual matters. But there were also quite a few less inhibited Rajneeshis among the newer students, the Rajneesh movement being popular in Italy at the time. At the conclusion of the lamas’ teachings, thirty people received refuge vows and eighteen received lay vows, after which Lama told them to hold a big party with music and dancing. Lama cleverly guessed that a party was a perfect opportunity for the dancing “orange people”—as the Rajneeshis were known—and the traditional Catholics to relax together.

“I was the uninhibited Aussie rocker playing Gloria on my guitar,” said Gabriel Knox, who had come down from Manjushri Institute. “Lama spat on my guitar to bless it. He told us that if we really liked dancing and music then to do it, but to offer the enjoyment for the happiness of all sentient beings.”

Finally, an ordination ceremony was held for three Italians—Claudio Cipullo and two others, Beppe Molinari and Dario Tesoroni—who were all ordained as getsuls, or novice monks. The day before, a tragic accident had occurred when Claudio’s car had broken down on a freeway. A passing motorist had stopped to offer assistance only to be struck down and killed by another vehicle as he crouched beside Claudio’s car. It was a horribly vivid reminder of impermanence.

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on Lama Tsongkhapa in Italy, 1977:

Portraits of Lama, 1977Nowadays, many people in the West are interested in somebody telling them what to do. So when you engage in this practice of guru yoga, if you pose a serious question before you fall asleep, even if it is not clean clear, then the answer will come. This is the experience of meditators. So it is very, very useful.

      When you visualize Guru Tsongkhapa, some kind of communication takes place between the dharmakaya and you. The dharmakaya is not visible to the eye; it is not an object of our sense perceptions. Nevertheless, Guru Tsongkhapa comes with his great compassion and deep wisdom so that when you contact him a kind of communication happens between the dharmakaya and you. Thus, whenever you pose an intensive question, you receive an answer. It is natural.

      With the dualistic mind, when you see Guru Tsongkhapa and know his history, your mind instinctively creates a distinction between Guru Tsongkhapa and yourself. You think, “He must be very special, completely special. I can’t possibly do what he can do; I can’t possibly be like him.” You completely put yourself down. Do you understand? You don’t believe that it is possible for you to benefit all sentient beings. You think, “I am not worthy, I am nothing!” The dualistic mind creates a gap between this absolute being and the relative you; you make a separation.

      Guru yoga is a method to cut through this joke and to unify your consciousness with what is truly pure, with the absolute guru or whatever you call the transcendental blissful fully awakened enlightened mind, which is manifesting as Lama Tsongkhapa. Each time we practice guru yoga we are unifying in this way.

      When students are living close by their lama, they say, “I like to practice the gradual path to enlightenment.” But when they go back home and are no longer in physical proximity to their lama, when their lama is no longer there, then the lam-rim is also not there. The lama isn’t there, so the lam-rim isn’t there; meditation isn’t there. You understand? For some people if they aren’t physically close to their lama, then they don’t feel in contact. Sometimes they can’t see or feel their lama at all, not even in their meditation. Why?

      The way that your guru benefits you is to guide you and explain to you the nature of reality, the nature of what you are and how you exist. That is your lama’s duty to you. Otherwise, if you are always trying to be around your lama, this shows that the recognition of the reality of the absolute guru is somehow missing. You have to know what your lama has instructed you to do, what your guru really wants you to do. YOU HAVE TO KNOW! After you have received teachings from your guru, you cannot then say, “I don’t know what to do! He didn’t give me anything to do.” Do you know what I mean? At the end of the course, if somebody comes up to the lama and says, “You didn’t tell us anything! I don’t know what to do with my life!” then your lama is going to burst out laughing!

      The guru teaches every student differently according to their level. What each student understands is their own interpretation. So when you are truly listening to the teaching, you almost have to listen beyond the words. The words kind of disappear somewhere. But the true reality, the real teaching, is not in the words. The way one listens makes an enormous difference. The way that some people listen, when it comes time to listen to the lama’s words, they are already realized. Then when the lama talks, they completely come to the point, entering totally into samadhi. This is possible. But if you only listen for the words, words make you too rigid, because words come from dualistic superstition. Words are a function of superstition thought. So the conceptual mind can become an obstacle. If you are listening somehow beyond the words, you can penetrate the meaning of what the lama has taught and you can contemplate that. Possible. For some people it is possible. But that is according to the individual. Understand?

      You can see now that the actual guru, although appearing as the tathagata Guru Tsongkhapa, is actually YOU. Your method-wisdom is the guru. Your close waking state wisdom is the guru and the path and the elevator to reach the center of the dharmakaya. It is the path to reach your God, your enlightenment, your liberation.

Lama manifests Manjushri

Portraits of Lama, 1977From  1977: The more meditation, the more happy! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

One English businessman found Rinpoche’s demanding teaching style excruciating. “My marriage was collapsing, I had nowhere to live, I had never sat cross-legged in my life, everything hurt and here’s this monk in front of us stuttering and coughing his way through two weeks. All I heard was ‘cough cough suffering cough cough suffering.’ Yet the people around me were madly writing it all down. I couldn’t understand a word and was so miserable Dieter arranged an interview for me.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche had arrived at Manjushri separately from Nepal and his two-week lam-rim course preceded Lama Yeshe’s arrival. “Lama Zopa Rinpoche was sitting on a bed. I offered him an orange and told him that my marriage wasn’t working. ‘Marriage not working—ha ha ha!’ he said. Then I said I was thinking of separating from my wife. ‘Thinking of separating from your wife—ha ha ha!’ he said. He giggled at everything I said and finally made a few inconsequential comments. I thought, ‘Well, this is very trivial.’

“I left the room and halfway across the lawn, I suddenly stopped. Something seemed to hit me hard in the heart, almost like a switch being turned on and I thought, ‘Gosh, he’s right.’ When I came back into the hall all these people said, ‘What’s happened to you? You look amazing! You’ve seen Rinpoche, haven’t you!’ I told them I didn’t want to talk about it. During the interview I had told Rinpoche I didn’t understand a word he was saying in the teachings. I did notice though, that he didn’t cough once while I was with him. After that, everything he said was absolutely clear and I too started taking pages and pages of notes.”

Peter Kedge’s parents were on the platform at Rugby station when the train to Cumbria made a brief stop. They had come specifically to greet Lama Yeshe for the first time.

Although it was mid-summer when Lama Yeshe and Peter arrived at Manjushri Institute, the climate inside that enormous dry-rot permeated Gothic building remained bone-chillingly cold and damp. The teachings were held in a large front room blessed with a Jotul brand wood burning stove. There was another of these excellent stoves in the dining room and one in the Oak Room, which had become the center library.

Manjushri now had a permanent community of thirty, including three mothers with young children. The cost of repairing the dry rot turned out to be four times the original estimate and in addition, more money had to be found for other essential renovations. The residents removed rotten beams, scraped walls, scrubbed and painted and injected foul-smelling chemicals into the dry rot. In some rooms entire walls and floors had to be removed. The Priory became a place where you could open a door to find nothing on the other side.

Harvey had developed a remuneration system that charged residents room and board according to how many hours they worked each day. Those who worked an eight-hour day received free room and board. Some of the young men became quite angry because they had gone there to receive Dharma teachings and found themselves doing all this heavy physical labour. At least the work kept them warm.

On 29 July 1977, the day after Lama Yeshe arrived, he gave refuge to twenty-eight students, lay vows to nineteen and the next day, a Manjushri initiation to fifty people.

The transformed note-taking English businessman was in for a further surprise. During the initiation he swore that when he looked at Lama Yeshe he appeared to be transparent. “I could see right through him,” he said. This was a very conservative, absolutely drug-free, professional man.

Lama Yeshe then gave a two-week commentary on the yoga method of Manjushri. Manjushri represents enlightened wisdom and holds above his head a flaming wisdom sword that cuts through our delusions. For the first half of the course Lama concentrated on raising the students’ awareness to a point where they could see that what is generally held to be concrete is merely perception, which is dependent upon a shifting range of variables.

Lama also taught Manjushri’s mantra, om ah ra pa tsa na dhi. Mantra was a new subject for Westerners. One visualizes the seed-syllable, dhi (pronounced “dhee”), as a red-yellow flame upon the tongue. The syllable is then repeated 108 times at the end of the mantra, in one exhalation. Those students who had spent time at Kopan were familiar with this mantra as it was the one the Mount Everest Centre boys shouted as they swept the courtyard every morning: “Dhi dhi dhi dhi dhi dhi dhi dhi dhi dhi!’

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on the Manjushri yoga method in August 1977:

Lama teaching, Yucca Valley, 1977These days, in the West, we hear a lot about the open heart, about opening your heart. This is common. From the Buddhist point of view, in order to open your heart, you have to realize something. “I want to open my heart, but how?”—this is the question. Opening has to do with realization; no realization, nothing opens. It doesn’t matter that you say, emotionally, “I’m open. I love you; you love me so much.” That doesn’t mean you’re open. We say that kind of thing, don’t we? “No matter how much I open myself up to you, you never open yourself up to me.” It’s a joke. It’s not true.

      Well, perhaps it’s true in one sense, but actually, true openness implies space—your consciousness embracing some kind of wide totality. This experience of embracing totality itself becomes the solution, or antidote, to the narrow, fanatical, conceptualizing dualistic mind.

      But then there’s the danger of the attitude, “Wow! Universal reality is incredibly special,” arising. We get the impression that shunyata is a really special, fantastic phenomenon. This attitude is wrong. Instead of, “Oh, non-duality is special, up there; the ordinary, relative bubble of samsara is down here,” which is completely wrong, our position should be more realistic: whenever there’s the appearance of the bubble of relativity, we should simultaneously see non-duality within it.

      When we’re in a conducive environment, we find meditation easier—because we’re free of the vibration of the conflict of duality. When we’re out and about, in contact with the objects of the bubble of relativity, our hearts immediately begin to shake; sense objects make uncontrolled energy run rampant within us. Because we don’t see the non-duality of universal reality within the bubble of relativity, our reactions to objects in the sense world are fragmented. If we could see reality, we wouldn’t shake every time there was a change in our external environment.

      Why, when the environment changes, does your behavior change immediately as well? You know, I like talking about this. For me, this is much more realistic than talking philosophy. So, why do we change like that? Well, look at what happens to you here. As soon as you leave the meditation hall and go into the dining room, you manifest as something else completely. You’re almost another person. Why? Because you differentiate between the deepest, essential nature of the meditation hall and that of the dining room. If you could see the universal reality of these two rooms—and essential reality is non-differentiated; it has a unified quality—you would not change so easily. You see, we are completely intoxicated by the dualistic mind; the dualistic mind completely overwhelms us. The vibration of each different environment too easily influences us. We think we’re in control; we’re not in control.

      When I look at a lovely flower, I’m too influenced. I’m intoxicated by it. When I look at something else, that, too, intoxicates me. I’m completely dominated by my dualistic mind; I have no control. I’m completely influenced by the external world and, from my own side, am totally helpless. We’re all the same—we’re constantly under the influence of whatever we see and hear outside. It’s incredible. The dualistic, relative mind intoxicates us, while our wisdom realizing universal reality is in a deep sleep. Now is the time to reveal and activate that wisdom.

      Our dualistic minds are so rigid. As soon as the environment changes, our reality changes. While we’re here at the center, it’s all Dharma. When we go into town to have fun, the sense world bubble of the dance club becomes our reality. Why am I taking this negative approach? Because it’s more realistic. This is our experience. If I just talk abstract philosophy, you can’t relate, because it’s not your experience. I like to talk about experience. Why, when the environment changes, does your reality change? That’s all I’m asking.

      You must really understand this yo-yo mind. The yo-yo mind is always up and down, and that’s how you spend your whole life—going up and down. The relative environment changes automatically; there’s no unchangeable environment. So as the relative bubble of your external environment constantly changes, your reality constantly changes, and you really believe that this is this and that is that. You have no universal understanding. That’s what makes you and all other sentient beings suffer.

Right livelihood

Lama meditating, Lake Arrowhead, 1975From  1977: The more meditation, the more happy! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

That April Susanna Parodi was ordained in Dharamsala by Ling Rinpoche and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Cherry Greene was ordained as Thubten Chodron in the same ceremony. She later wrote many books on meditation and became a well-known Dharma teacher, establishing Sravasti Abbey, a monastic community in rural Washington State, USA.

“Lama Yeshe had asked Lama Pasang to get robes for me,” Susanna recalled, “but the ones he got were huge and made of polyester. The fabric was so shiny they called me the ‘nightclub nun.’ It was a very funny day. During the ritual, there was a part where I had to kneel down. But when they told me it was time to stand up, I couldn’t because I was still recovering from drugs and in a lot of pain. Ling Rinpoche kindly said it was okay for me to remain down, but I thought this so inauspicious I somehow managed to make it to my feet. So there I was, standing there in my huge shiny robes. Everyone just cracked up laughing because I looked so funny. They were laughing so hard they were crying!

“Then Ling Rinpoche said, ‘Stop. We aren’t going to give her the name chosen here. We’ll give her a special name, Thubten Chökyi,’ [which can be loosely interpreted to mean happiness in the Dharma.] So I became the happy nun.”

On May 12 Lama Yeshe wrote to Susanna from Madison:

Dear my daughter Susanna.

Congratulations for your right livelihood. I know too you are fortunated. Continue you study Dharma and dedicate your life, eventually gain enlightenment for all mother sentient beings. You are the first lady on this earth to become Italian Mahayana Buddhist nun. I pray for successful your destination.


Lama Yeshe

The Superstitious Mind

Lama Yeshe on the beach, 1975From  1977: The more meditation, the more happy! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

By 10 April 1977 Lama Yeshe and Peter were back in Madison, Wisconsin. Once again, Lama stayed in Geshe Sopa’s Lake Mendota Drive home. Jon Landaw and Petey Shane rented a house just down the road.

While Jon Landaw assisted Lama Yeshe in preparing the teachings he was to give, Petey Shane helped with secretarial work and housekeeping. “Lama wrote to one student about the way a woman’s mind worked,” said Petey. “He said a woman could think through something, make up her mind, think it through again, and change her mind faster than a man could think it through once.”

Lama Yeshe’s health continued to be a concern to those around him. “There were so many demands made on his time and the strain showed,” Petey continued. “He still had a rest after lunch, but not for as long as he was supposed to. He had this huge paper package full of herbs, which had to be boiled down into a decoction. Sometimes he drank it and sometimes he didn’t. There was also a lot of Tibetan medicine he was awful about taking. He called me Mummy and joked, ‘Oh, you got yourself this baby who won’t behave!’ We had a lot of fun in the kitchen together, especially when he got in there and made momos, splattering the walls with dough.”

Even though it was not yet summer, Madison was not an ideal place for Lama Yeshe. The humidity caused him to struggle for breath, not that this seemed to curtail his activities. One person he visited frequently was Kalleen, the cheesecake maker, and her husband. They invited him to parties in their home and she fondly recalled watching him introduce himself to their houseplants, stroking them and saying a few words to each one. Despite his breathing difficulties he played frisbee enthusiastically in the front yard, much to the delight of the neighbors. One night they put up a sheet in the back yard and showed slides of Kirlian photography in which Lama had become very interested.

Lama Yeshe also went to see the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon, on the life of St. Francis of Assisi. He said it was the best religious movie he had ever seen, adding that he hadn’t really cared for Conrad Rooks’s Siddhartha.

Jon Landaw accompanied Lama Yeshe to the English classes he attended regularly on the other side of Madison. Naturally, Lama wanted to drive. “I was always telling him to slow down, slow down,” Jon explained. “‘But they take advantage when I slow down!’ Lama replied. He was fearless in everything and that included driving. Saying mantras while sitting beside him was the only way to keep sane. We’d park in this underground car park after making a right turn from a fairly busy street. After a lot of practice he had that maneuver down pretty well and did it at the same speed every day. Then one day he whipped into the car park without slowing down at all. I caught my breath and he said, ‘Did I get you hot?’ That was his key phrase that summer, ‘Did I get you hot?’ So I told him, ‘Yes, Lama, you got me hot.’

“Another time Lama drove Petey and me out of Madison for a picnic. By the time we were ready to come back it was getting late and as expected, he also wanted to drive on the return trip. But I was worried that he was too tired so I asked him for the keys. Lama refused and I actually wrestled him for them. Wrestling with one’s lama was not something most people would ever think of doing, but Lama Yeshe was so comfortable to be with that I had no hesitation doing whatever I could to get the keys out of his possession. I have to admit, however, that I was not successful.”

When Geshe Sopa returned from Albuquerque, Lama Yeshe and Peter prepared to leave for California. On the day of their departure, they were running late as usual and Jon Landaw rushed them to the airport. “I’m basically a cautious, law-abiding kind of a guy and certainly no risk-taker as a driver. But on that day I pulled out all the stops and drove them to the airport as fast as I could, even driving off the road at one point to pass another driver. Lama was very pleased that I allowed my wild side to come out and whistled his approval.”

Lama planned to stay there for six weeks and teach another of Maitreya’s five treatises, Discriminating between the Relative and the Ultimate (Skt. Dharma-dharmata-vibhaga-karika, Tib. Chö dang chönyi nam che). Jon Landaw worked with Lama Yeshe to create a simple English translation of this relatively short work.

On the first day of his commentary, Lama Yeshe explained:

Geshe Sopa and Lama, 1975The entire subject matter of this work is included within these two terms dharma and dharmata: relative and absolute phenomena. In this work the term dharma also means samsaric phenomena while dharmata signifies the phenomena of liberation, or nirvana. So what exactly is dharma or samsaric phenomena? It is the dualistic mind. This is the superstitious mind that perceives the dualistic vision. As such, it is the cause of the uncontrolled, agitated life. And from this cause of the agitated life comes uncontrollable sickness, uncontrollable death, uncontrollable rebirth and all other forms of uncontrollable confusion. All these samsaric phenomena come from one root: the dualistic mind perceiving the dualistic vision, what we may call nam-tog, or superstition. This is something we have to understand.

      This work by Maitreya explains that the dualistic mind is always involved in some form of competition. This is a major characteristic of modern life, isn’t it? When we consider the Western way of life, and particularly American culture, everywhere we look we see competition; there is always some kind of contest going on. Take a simple example: the man next door buys himself an expensive car and, as soon as we see it, jealousy begins to arise in our mind. “He has such a good car, so big and comfortable. Where does that leave me? I’ll have to do something about that. I’ll get myself an even bigger car….” As far as material progress is concerned, such a competitive spirit is good, but as far as our mind is concerned, it is not good at all. Why not? Because it only makes us more agitated and conflicted; this is the symptom of the dualistic mind. We call it dualistic because as soon as one thing appears to our mind we look around for something else to compare it with. That shows our dissatisfaction, the way in which we are always searching for something newer, something better, something else. This is the way our dualistic mind is; this is how it works.

    This syndrome of the dualistic mind is true for everyone. It doesn’t matter whether you are a religious person or a non-religious person, Buddha’s teaching describes the way things are. This is not a religious trip we are talking about; it is not Buddha’s trip or some lama’s trip. Whether you are religious or non-religious, intelligent or dull, as long as you have a dualistic mind conflict is always arising. Sometimes it appears on a gross, emotional level; sometimes it works on a subtle, unconscious level. But as long as there is the dualistic mind, there is some form of contradiction and conflict going on.

      The dualistic mind is functioning within you right now, and if you just take a look it is easy to understand and experience how this mind is playing games with your life, games that only lead to misery. You can see just how this mind leads to restlessness, frustration, and dissatisfaction. And when you release that dualistic mind, you are a Buddha, or whatever you want to call that state of complete freedom. At that point you can call yourself a liberated lady or a liberated gentleman if you want to; it doesn’t matter. In short, the cessation of the dualistic mind is liberation, the experience of ultimate reality.

What would Lama do? Transcending Ordinary View

Lama teaching, Yucca Valley, 1977From  1977: The more meditation, the more happy! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

The second half of the month in Yucca Valley was devoted to a retreat focusing on the buddha Vajrapani,[1] for which 140 people were enrolled. Lama Yeshe delayed the initiation by one day for the sake of a student who was late.

“A qualified tantric guru should know the state of all his disciples’ minds twenty-four hours a day. If he doesn’t, he is not qualified,” he told them. With typical modesty he declared himself unqualified, but repeated that a guru must be able to determine whether a student is capable of keeping the tantric vows. He explained that these could be withheld for certain people during the ceremony. It was very important to Lama Yeshe to do everything possible to maintain the strength and purity of the tantric lineages he was so generously transmitting to his students.

There was always a little competition among the students when it came to performing some personal service for Lama Yeshe, right down to who would have the honor of bringing him the freshly squeezed juice he liked to sip during teachings. He often visited the kitchen to chat with the Sangha, who washed the dishes. Soon it became clear he was spending extra time with Chuck Thomas. “Jon Landaw and I spent quite a bit of time with him privately, just hanging out,” said Chuck. “At the time I didn’t realize how lucky I was and so I mainly wasted the opportunity. One time Lama was laughing so much he just leaned over and threw up into the garbage pail. We realized Lama’s body was barely sustaining him. He told us quite plainly that he kept himself alive with his own psychic powers.”

Lama Yeshe, an avid TV watcher, was intrigued by advertisements and knew the advertising industry didn’t bother with an idea unless it was going to work for them. He saw how advertisers used enthusiasm and exaggeration to sell their products, and he would sometimes half-jokingly inject the same qualities into his Dharma talks: “This emptiness, shunyata, is the best one! It is pantastic! Wow!” He also knew that slang was powerful. The expressions “freak out” (which Lama pronounced “preak out”) and “uptight” were his favorites when referring to students who neglected themselves and “beat themselves up.”

He had no patience with the cry, “I’m so bad!” He pointed out that self-pity was not the same as humility. He wanted his students to develop faith in their inner guru, their own potential for enlightenment. He saw guilt and self-disparagement as a Western disease of the spirit.

Peter Kedge later reflected on his experience with the lamas. “After being around Lama for some time, which was a huge luxury, one starts to think, ‘What would Lama do? How would he handle this?’ when dealing with people in daily life situations. And his guidance would be there, because one could refer back to his indomitable example. Lama often repeated that human beings’ biggest problem is low self-image. It was from that point that Lama taught human potential in a very structured way.

“The way Rinpoche’s lam-rim teachings at Kopan unfolded into the various initiations—Chenrezig, Tara, Vajrapani, Manjushri, Vajrasattva and the Vajrasattva retreat—was like a huge doorway for everyone to pass through. There was a method in this unfolding. The seed-syllable meditation was really an extract from the Six Yogas of Naropa. It was Lama’s method to take the essence of the Buddha’s teachings and present it without any cultural or other form of packaging. It was pure essence taught in the manner, language and context that people—especially we young people in those days—were really able to understand.

“Several times it occurred to me that Lama Yeshe was Lama Tsongkhapa. Lama Tsongkhapa had himself absorbed and then presented the Buddha’s teachings in a manner appropriate, acceptable and relevant to people in the fifteenth century. That’s exactly what Lama was doing. Lama’s teachings were extraordinary and very different from Rinpoche’s, whose teachings were always absolutely traditional with not a single corner cut. Lama’s teachings were always fun, really meaningful and relevant to everyone’s lives. They were teachings from a very deep place of complete understanding of the psychological mechanics of mind. Not just human mind, but all mind. It seemed to me that if Lama Tsongkhapa were to reincarnate in these times, this is exactly what he would do.”

Yucca Valley group portrait, 1977

Yucca Valley group portrait, 1977

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on Vajrapani at Yucca Valley, California, in 1977:

Every day, in every moment, underneath everything else, you have the thought, “I am this or that kind of person, this or that kind of deluded, impure person.” It doesn’t matter whether you are religious or non-religious in your attitudes, you all have some kind of ordinary idea of who and what you are. Consciously or unconsciously you also apply that projection to all the other people, the other sentient beings, surrounding you. This mistaken conception pervades everything that you see; it characterizes your fundamental neurosis, your basic mental illness.

When we practice guru yoga, we have a small experience of a unified living image of ourselves and others. Through that experience and by learning the essence of the guru, we can gradually transcend our mundane relationships with others; we can transcend our mistaken and neurotic mental concepts and the atmosphere they create within us and around us.

We are surrounded by living beings. We are constantly involved with each other, always interacting, relating. Most human problems arise through our interactions with other human beings due to our mistaken ordinary concepts and the vibrations that we project onto others. From our neurotic and agitated state we tend to view other people as ordinary sense objects from which we try to gain some kind of sense gratification for our attachments rather than engaging others in an easy way with respect, seeing them positively. For example, perhaps it is possible to transcend such an ordinary view by transforming all sentient beings into the form of Vajrapani, so that your mind is automatically energized with an attitude of loving kindness and wisdom. In this way whenever you see another person, then your wisdom is energized, bringing greater control of your mind and blissful enjoyment in your life.

The purpose of practicing guru yoga and the yoga method of Vajrapani is to release all the impure, depressed, dissatisfied energy within you by visualizing and actualizing such a transcendental vision. The specific way that we practice the guru yoga of Vajrapani—the process of dissolving, sinking, unifying—enables us to purify the dualistic mind and discover total unity. This is its purpose. Our ordinary existence is rooted in separation. Everything is fragmented because of our mistaken and exaggerated conceptions. Even though we are so disconnected and living in the world of our projections, we have the strong impression that we are completely crowded. This crowded feeling needs to be released.

It is true. Many times the projections that we have are completely unreal, non-existent, but because we believe them, we then experience them as if they exist. A good example: Sometimes when you are afraid and insecure, perhaps in a dark place, then you imagine seeing something out there. You think, “Maybe somebody is out there.” You look out into the dark where there is a group of trees and then you see something moving there. Nothing is actually there but you see something nevertheless. Something seems to be there and it appears to be real, even though it is not. Just like that.

Another example is when we are always thinking that there is something physically wrong with us. When we constantly say, “This hurts, that hurts, this hurts, that hurts.” Even if there isn’t really anything wrong in all those places, pretty soon you start to actually have pain, because you believe your projections.

Therefore, having such a unified transcendental recognition of ourselves and others as the deity is so important. This is how we train our minds to perceive reality positively without our ordinary agitated negative vibrations. From the start of retreat, all students should see themselves in the vision of the radiating rainbow body of Vajrapani. Contemplate and be aware of this as much as possible, all the time. Observe closely. If you can do this, then your retreat becomes a transcending process. Also, continuously recite Vajrapani’s mantra. Reciting mantra is very important. Mantra has a kind of energy to bring your mind into single-pointedness, rather than it being fragmented and scattered.

All existent energy has some kind of vibration, either positive or negative, to inspire. You can feel this vibration. Our negative egotistic deluded minds can spread their negative vibrations into material things. However, mantra cannot be affected in this way by the deluded mind. Mantra has a kind of purity; from the beginning it is pure.

You do not necessarily have to be sitting when you recite mantra; when you walk, even when you go to the bathroom, wherever you go or whatever you do you can be reciting mantra…even when you go shopping at the supermarket. You don’t need to make a big show of it; you just act naturally. You don’t even have to recite mantra with your mouth. You can recite mentally. You can do.

By integrating the mind into single-pointedness, mantra automatically energizes you with peace, bliss, joy. For example, the Vajrapani mantra is all the supreme powerful energy transformed into mantra. Vajrapani’s mantra is Vajrapani. It can cure any disease, but you need strength, meditation, and the power of inspiration within you. Really, it is possible!

[1].    Roughly, Vajrapani means “holding a vajra in the hand.” Vajrapani embodies enlightened power. Together with Manjushri (enlightened wisdom) and Chenrezig (enlightened compassion), he represents the third of the triad of primary characteristics of enlightenment. He appears as a wrathful buddha, dark blue in color, with one face, two arms and two legs.

Refuge at the Yucca Valley Course

Rinpoche and Lama meditating, Delhi,1975
From  1977: The more meditation, the more happy! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

One hundred people enrolled in Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s two-week lam-rim course at the Institute for Mental Physics in Yucca Valley, a residential retreat center in the California desert east of Los Angeles.

During Rinpoche’s course, Lama Yeshe gave a couple of talks. Among those meeting him for the first time was Jacie Keeley. “He looked very sick, all soft and squishy, and his skin was a yellow-gray putty color,” said Jacie. “This gray little man walked into the big room, climbed up on this huge throne and sat in meditation. By the time he spoke he was big, golden and powerful. I was impressed. I wore dark glasses to every talk Lama gave because I cried through every one. On my twenty-eighth birthday I went to Lama, told him I wanted to follow the bodhisattva path and was willing to help him in any way. I was absolutely hooked.”

It was also Janet Brooke’s first course. “I was raised a Mormon and ultra-Christian in outlook. At first everything the lamas said reinforced my heartfelt beliefs, but one morning Rinpoche was talking about taking responsibility for ourselves rather than leaving it all to God. Suddenly I felt very confused, started crying and left the room. After attending a group interview with Lama Yeshe I realized it was merely a matter of terminology and at the end of the course felt perfectly comfortable about taking refuge.”

Before the refuge ceremony Lama Yeshe told those who had come together for the ceremony, “Don’t do it just to do it. It’s really important to know if you have a connection with that teacher. See if when you think of that person, some kind of strong feeling comes up in your heart, even tears.” “Tears came out of nowhere for me pretty much every time I saw Lama,” said Lois Greenwood-Audant, who had been at the fourth Kopan course with her partner, Gabriel.

Carol Fields also took refuge, giving Lama her wedding ring as an offering—the only thing of value she had with her. “In front of everyone Lama Yeshe held up the ring and said, ‘This is a ring that people get married with, but I think she and I have been married for a long time.’ It was years before my usually sharp-eyed husband noticed the ring was missing. I think that ring not only bound me to Lama but protected my long marriage.”

Listening to the lam-rim teachings and just being with the lamas changed people’s lives. One man put his will in order before coming to the course and found many other students had done the same, sensing their lives were going to change forever. During this course Carol Royce-Wilder filmed the lamas walking around the Yucca Valley institute grounds. A great hawk circled above them, landing on a branch just beside Lama Yeshe. He walked right over to it and held up his hand. The bird didn’t move a muscle. “Power and magic!” exclaimed the Carlos Castaneda devotees.

Indeed, Lama Yeshe seemed to connect powerfully with many animals, even cats. Cats were quite rare in Tibet and Lama would have had little contact with them before coming to the West. Nicole Couture was present when Lama once pinched the tip of a cat’s tail, which made it walk backwards like a little robot. Nicole tried that later with other cats, but with no success whatsoever.

From Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s lam-rim teachings at Yucca Valley, California, in 1977:

The word “Dharma” is Sanskrit. Dharma means “holding up.” For example, if a person is about to fall down from a precipice, then holding them back from falling means to hold them back from getting hurt or killed. Dharma is a method that protects us from the dangers of suffering and unhappiness. This is the meaning of Dharma.

      In the West there are many different kinds of knowledge: psychology, education, psychiatry, and so on. What are all these for, what is their purpose? All these different methods are to bring about greater happiness instead of suffering. In the same way, the Dharma is a method for happiness. And the Buddhadharma contains all the various methods that are taught through education, that have different names. All this knowledge is contained in the Dharma, with nothing missing.

      The greatest problem for everyone, for even the tiniest creature, for every human being, is exactly the same: wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. Every living being hopes that the methods they employ in trying to obtain happiness will be successful, that whatever they decide to do will work. The problem is that in trying to achieve happiness and eliminate suffering they generally employ only external methods. They believe that happiness and suffering are caused by external factors. This is, in fact, a basic wrong conception. Both happiness and suffering are internal; they are both mental phenomena. They are not external, not physical. And the causes of happiness and suffering are also internal and mental; they are not external nor physical. The causes of suffering are in the mind and so to eliminate suffering those causes need to be purified, cleansed. In the same way the causes of happiness are also internal in nature, so in order to achieve happiness we must establish those causes in the mind.

      Let’s look at a simple example. Let’s say that someone steals your tape recorder. When you discover that your tape recorder has been stolen, at first there arises a sense of clinging. Your mind becomes so unhappy. Anger arises, and depression. But in that very minute, if you were to think that you should actually make charity, if you think how extremely kind this person has been to you, how helpful he is to give you this opportunity to make charity, then right in that moment there is a realization in the mind. If you totally determine in your mind to give your tape recorder to that other person, right then, in that moment when the decision is made, there is a true realization in the mind. You experience peace in your mind. Within just one minute the mind has been changed, from suffering to happiness. Before, the mind was unhappy, suffering, depressed. But by means of a single thought, just the determination to give the object away, the problem ceased and the unhappiness was stopped. The mind becomes peaceful, relaxed.

      In this way you can see that happiness, peace of mind, is not received from external factors. Happiness and peace of mind arise from internal factors, just by changing the way that we think. By applying a different way of thinking, we can experience happiness and stop suffering.

      Suffering is caused by the dissatisfied mind of attachment. This is one of the poisonous minds. When you plant a poisonous tree in your garden, you will get only poisonous fruit, but if you plant a medicinal tree, then you will get medicinal fruit. In the same way, by following the poisonous mind, the result that you get will be only suffering, but by planting positive virtuous minds, you will receive happiness as the result.


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