From 1978: Mahayana, Mahayana, Mahayana! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:
Zong Rinpoche and Lama Zopa Rinpoche embarked on a tour of Canada. They were scheduled to be at Geshe Sopa’s Deer Park center from 17 June to 16 July, and Ama Lobsang was to join them for the last two weeks. The Californians piled into cars and headed for Wisconsin while Lama Yeshe went off to Seattle with Jon Landaw for a break and to attend more English classes. Pam Cowan, now a lawyer, arranged for them to stay in a very nice house belonging to a federal judge she knew. While there Lama Yeshe received two empowerments from Dezhung Rinpoche, one of the Sakya lamas with whom he had escaped to India from Tibet. Lama requested him to give bodhisattva vows at Vajrapani Institute the following year.
Pam and her husband, Steve, picnicked with Lama Yeshe, took him to the zoo and to some wonderful botanical gardens in Vancouver, British Columbia. They even took him sailing. “Such was his enthusiasm for the tiller we nearly ran aground several times,” said Pam. “He often came over to our house and brought me flowers from the judge’s garden. I was always watching his diet and his health but he was extremely partial to cheesecake. I had a cat called Yeshe and he thought it was very funny when I yelled, ‘Yeshe! Get off the table!’
“I knew Lama wasn’t in good health. One evening when he came over for dinner I was thinking to myself that if he died I would be so honored to be his next mother. Of course I didn’t share this with him but Lama suddenly started laughing and very lovingly said, ‘You can’t be my mother because you would never let me go!’ I was quite rattled by the interchange!”
Continuing, Pam said, “Steve and I were planning a trip to Indonesia. Lama thought this was a crazy idea. He couldn’t understand wanderlust at all. He said we should stay at home, have children, be good practitioners and cut out this restless activity.”
“Years earlier before leaving Nepal,” Pam later recalled, “I had told Lama I wanted to become a nun. He’d laughed and said I would be a householder with three children! After Steve and I had two sons we decided not to have more children, and I remember thinking at least that was one thing Lama hadn’t known. But three years later I had my daughter!”
Many years later, Jon still had vivid memories of an incident that happened one night while Lama and he were staying at the judge’s house. “He said to me, ‘I feel like some cheesecake.’ I told him it was pretty late and all the shops were probably closed. He replied, ‘Let’s call Pam and Steve and maybe they’ll invite us over for some.’ So I dialed their number and passed him the phone. Just then a mischievous look appeared on Lama’s face and I wondered what prank we were in store for. I could hear Pam answer and then Lama said in a slow, sad voice, ‘Oh hello, dear. I just thought you should know—the house caught on fire.’ I could hear Pam’s panicked voice saying something. Lama continued, ‘There’s smoke everywhere.’ Pam must have asked to speak to me, because the next thing Lama said was, ‘He can’t come to the phone, dear. He’s sitting in the corner, crying.’
“Knowing how hysterical Pam would be at the thought of the judge’s home being destroyed, I decided to put an immediate end to this pretence and grabbed the phone out of Lama’s hand. After assuring Pam the whole thing was a joke, I gave the phone back to Lama. She told him she and Steve were now fully awake and wouldn’t be going to sleep any time soon, so maybe Lama and I should drive over there. Lama put down the phone, turned to me triumphantly and said, ‘See! I told you they would invite us over for cheesecake!’
“When we arrived at their house a little while later Pam stormed out, still in her dressing gown, went right up to Lama, waved a finger in his face and cried, ‘Lama, don’t you ever do that again!’”
Lama Yeshe worked hard in his English classes, writing notes such as, “America was discover by Colompa.” On one occasion, his English teacher gave the students an assignment to write and perform an advertisement for a product in front of the class. Lama’s ad was for Jasmine Soap, which had all sorts of amazing abilities to make its user attractive to others. The last line of Lama’s ad, which he read in a voice that mimicked pitchmen on TV, was the following: “The Queen of England uses Jasmine Soap and her husband loves her, and he doesn’t know why!”
One of the things about advertising that intrigued Lama Yeshe was its use of exaggeration. He once said, “In the West it is incredible how everything is exaggerated so the deluded mind is made certain to pay attention to it. ‘Look at this, how fantastic it is!’ This technique is used so extensively that even when we give a meditation course we have to advertise, ‘Come to our fantastic meditation and learn all about your amazing mind!’” After this observation he added, “Western culture seems a little too much for me.”
Lama’s English classes were held in the morning and sometimes Jon had to wake him. “One morning I knocked on his door,” reported Jon, “and there was no answer, so I opened it, went over and touched his arm. Later, he told me I shouldn’t wake him up in this way but should instead make a sound by knocking on the door or playing a damaru (small hand drum) gently and then gradually let the sound grow louder. Although Lama Yeshe was certainly not averse to physical contact, he definitely did not want to be woken up by touch. As Lama Zopa Rinpoche has explained, the deep “sleeps” that Lama went into were actually a practice of profound meditative absorption and it could be dangerous to be aroused too suddenly from such a deep state.
“So the next day, when it was time to wake him up, I did as he had instructed me. I knocked and knocked, slowly increasing the volume, but there was no reply. Finally I opened the door a crack to see what was up and there was Lama, sprawled out on the bed, looking as if he were dead. I burst out laughing because I could see straight away he was fooling. And he immediately started laughing, too. This act of pretending to be dead was something he did on many occasions. It was very realistic and he only opened his eyes when people started to panic. It seemed clear that he wanted us to get used to the fact of mortality—his and our own.”
Lama had made a promise to a student at Lawudo to visit his Seattle herb shop, Tenzing Momo, in one year. He kept his promise. “It was one year to the day,” said Bradley Dobos, the happy shop owner. “He walked in by himself, just before closing time. Suddenly the whole store seemed to be bathed in white light.”
People were constantly looking for evidence of supernatural powers in this extraordinary, enchanting and irrepressible Tibetan lama. He seemed to be able to read the future, change the weather at will and appear to be in two places at once, but they were never completely sure. Real magic, Lama Yeshe kept saying, involves learning to control one’s own mind. Still, every once in a while he would demonstrate a trick or two.
Like this one. Having completed several Kopan courses Jimi Neal decided he wanted to become a monk. But he didn’t want to become a beggar as well. With Lama Yeshe’s permission he took a job as a bus driver in Seattle. At the time he believed that Lama had already left the United States, a rumor that had been deliberately spread in order to give Lama some space.
“I had just started my second year on the job,” Jimi explained. “I drove the night shift because I liked the silence and the crazy people who used buses then. Very late one night I was way out at the end of the line in a fancy neighborhood and staring into the dark when suddenly this apparition appeared right in front of me. It was Lama Yeshe standing alone in a field just a little to the side of the bus. I thought it must be my hallucination. It was the middle of the night, he had no attendant and besides, he wasn’t even in the country. But there he was. He even turned and looked at me. So I stopped the bus and looked back at him. A couple of passengers started asking what I thought I was doing. I didn’t really know, but then the image just disappeared.”
Jimi continued his story. “A couple of days later I got a call from Pam Cowan inviting me to dinner. ‘Lama’s going to be there, isn’t he?’ I said. ‘How did you know?’ she exclaimed. It had been a very well-kept secret. We ended up having a really nice evening. I went into a separate room with Lama and we talked for a couple of hours. He told me he was really glad I was working so I didn’t have to ask others for money. Later on I heard that at a couple of courses he spoke about seeing me in the bus. He often said if he could just get his students to see that things do not exist the way they appear, that would be good enough.”
“Good enough, dear” was one of Lama Yeshe’s most encouraging and comforting expressions. When Lama said it, it conveyed a kind of profound caring acceptance of both one’s efforts and one’s limitations. Lama’s Western students might have been able to discuss emptiness, bodhicitta, the qualities of enlightenment and the like, borrowing descriptions from scholarly works, but to actually live in the realizations of emptiness or bodhicitta was far beyond most of them. Nevertheless, they were earnestly trying and Lama was especially brilliant at acknowledging their efforts.