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Posts tagged ‘Ann McNeil’

Kalachakra Initiation, Bodhgaya

H.H. Dalai Lama, Bodhgaya, 1974From 1974: Introducing Adamantine Being (Vajrasattva) by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

In January 1974 His Holiness the Dalai Lama bestowed the Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) initiation for the fifth time in his life, and the third since leaving Tibet. The profound Kalachakra Tantra, a pathway to full enlightenment, contains elements of astrology, medicine, and mathematics. Over 100,000 Tibetans descended on Bodhgaya. They came by train, bus, rickshaw, and on foot from many places inside and outside India: Dharamsala, Darjeeling, Dalhousie, Mysore, and Bangalore; from Ladakh, Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, and Tibet, many of them wearing local costumes and jewelry. Tent cities sprang up with bustling restaurants serving all types of Tibetan and Indian food—momos (Tibetan meat dumplings), thukpa (Tibetan meat stew), samosas, chai, and the like—alongside market stalls selling clothes, religious objects, and antiques. It was a scene out of National Geographic magazine.

Several hundred Westerners also poured into Bodhgaya for the initiation. Many of them stayed in the Tibetan tent-restaurants, which allowed people to sleep on the wide benches at night. The hippies in their motley garb mixed easily with the wild folk from the mountains, the men in sheepskin trousers, their long plaits woven with red ribbon. For many Tibetans it was their first sight of the Dalai Lama. They prostrated and cried loudly. All day and all night pilgrims circumambulated the Mahabodhi stupa on its three different walkways, many prostrating all the way around.

Everybody at Kopan who could get to Bodhgaya went there. When asked to explain the Kalachakra initiation, Lama Yeshe became very serious, telling the students this was not something they should take lightly. The lamas flew to the gray, poverty-stricken city of Patna with Mummy Max, Marcel, and two of Jampa Trinley’s children. For once Mummy Max was short of money and so Linda Grossman paid for the lamas’ tickets—an auspicious prelude to her ordination.

The moment they landed Lama Yeshe appeared to change personality.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Marcel Bertels recalled. “He put on this incredible tough face and shouted at the taxi driver and staff at the Hotel Patna, where we stayed overnight. However, it was very effective. It got us everything we needed without any fuss. But he was so stern, so different—even his body language.

“Rinpoche was confounded by the showers in our hotel rooms. He thought taking all your clothes off and getting wet was a total waste of time, especially when it was mid-winter and very foggy. The next day, we took a train to Gaya, then taxis to Bodhgaya.”

Marcel con’t asked to be ordained but Lama told me to do so, saying to me, ‘Life is very short and many things can happen; it is good protection for the future to be ordained.’ I had nothing but one shirt and a zen [monk’s shawl], so he gave me his shemtab [monk’s skirt] and a shirt. It was a good shemtab, one that Max had bought him. Later, he took it back. I had to tell my parents about my ordination, but I definitely didn’t have to ask their permission.”

Lama told Pete Northend that he too should be ordained in Bodhgaya with the others, but Pete declined. He and Steve Malasky were charged with the task of taking to India as many little monks as would fit into the rattling old Bedford van that Kopan had acquired. It was known as the Grey Steel Death Trap. During the colder periods of winter, it could only be started after a small fire had first been lit under the diesel tank to warm it up.

Pete Northend remembered that trip. “We squeezed in about fourteen of them with their bedding and food. Of course they didn’t have papers so we had to creep across the borders and be really nice to the guards so they wouldn’t check inside the van.

“When we got to Bodhgaya I felt really strange, like I should have been getting ordained after all. But I just couldn’t. They had good tents for us. Peter Kedge had got hold of some army tents from Pathankot. Lama Yeshe’s was in the back garden of the Mahabodhi Society, which manages the stupa.”

The rest of the monks and Injis, about twenty people in all, traveled to Bodhgaya in the back—or on top!—of a large cattle truck that they had rented. It was a long and extremely bumpy ride, lasting three days in all. Needless to say, everyone was most relieved to arrive at their destination.

Word got around that Lama Yeshe was going to give a talk to the Injis about taking a tantric initiation and the tantric vows. The Japanese temple was packed with students who were all very relieved to hear someone teach in English. Lama Yeshe arrived, mounted the throne, and sat in utter stillness and silence for a full five minutes. Then, placing his hands on his heart, he said, “I hope you people are not expecting too much from me. That’s why we meditated silently…because I do not have knowledge, such deep understanding… One thing, my students are always begging. Until now, I am waiting to see if somebody does for them, because there are many higher lamas here, the very highest lamas who are existing in this time and this place. So I wait up to now. But they tell me they need badly, so I come here today for their expectation mind. But I hope you don’t have too much expectation.”

The essence of the talk that followed was basic Buddhism, but some students were excited by the esoterics of the Kalachakra and had complicated questions they hardly knew how to ask. “How do you visualize the mandala?” asked one. “At which stage do you enter the mandala?” asked another. Lama’s answers were simple. “Well, you don’t need to know those things,” he told them. “The main thing for you to do is learn to meditate and focus. I know you don’t know what’s going on out there, but sometimes neither do learned Tibetan geshes. We don’t know, but we just sit there and feel blissful and experience that bliss.”

 

From Lama Yeshe’s talk for Westerners at the Japanese temple in Bodhgaya:

To receive such a powerful initiation we traditionally need certain qualifications, certain inner understandings. Therefore, we are strict. If we are not strict, we are empty. We are not empty! And we are not miserly with the teachings. We have no reason to be. On the one hand, we have the lama’s experience. And on the other, we have the nature of the Mahayana teaching. The Mahayana teachings provide an individual method for each individual personality, or even for each distinct element of an individual sentient being’s mind.

As you can see, we have so many people who are here to take the initiation. But as we have observed, each one of us receives that powerful initiation individually. Just because everybody is sitting in one place, you believe that each person’s energy body receives the same thing? (laughs) Really!?! It’s so simple, isn’t it! You should check up yourself. You don’t need me to explain it to you.

To receive this initiation, the most important things you need are a pure motivation, that is, the mind of bodhicitta, together with a renunciation of samsara and an understanding of the reality nature of your own mind, or shunyata. Whatever you call it! These are what you need!

Don’t be afraid when I talk about this bodhicitta mind. Bodhicitta means to have a pure motivation, such as when we are not involved with our ego trips or with attachment to sense gratification and reputation, when we are very sincerely wishing to reach everlasting blissful enlightenment as quickly as possible for mother sentient beings. If you have this kind of motivation, then you have got it right. No matter what you are, whether black, white, yellow, red or green, it doesn’t matter! This is the most important thing of all, dear.

Then, when Lama talks about renunciation of samsara, you are also afraid. Normally people have some fear when we say “renunciation.” But you should understand clearly and exactly what renunciation is. It is not referring to the externals; instead it means to renounce whatever makes you agitated in your mind. This is an example of how we often have trouble with words.

“Lama says renunciation! Lama says suffering!” But so often, what you think is meant by those words doesn’t exist; they are not existent. I tell you! Really!

Renunciation doesn’t mean that I give up this place and so I go somewhere else. Not like that…. You should know! By understanding the nature of your own confused mind, by understanding and being willing to reach beyond it, to apply a solution for your own problem, that is renunciation. That is renunciation of samsara! Good enough!

Renunciation of samsara does not mean to become extreme, by not eating or drinking, or by trying to eliminate completely every need. That doesn’t help. We renounce the mind full of superstition, filled by superstition, by uncontrolled sensations, uncontrolled feelings, uncontrolled emotions. All of this is the source of our suffering! This is Lama’s connotation, Lama’s understanding of suffering! That’s all! You may believe that your physical situation is okay. You have good health, you have possessions, money, and so on; you don’t have any physical problems. But if you check up there is something; there is some problem in your mind. This is Lama’s understanding, Lama’s connotation of suffering! So simple, dear! So simple!

When we explain suffering, maybe we should say “schizophrenic disease,” or “mental disease.” That might make more sense for Westerners’ minds rather than saying “suffering.” You should understand this well, because understanding is far more important than just believing. That is very important to emphasize. That is the reason that I stress understanding the three prerequisites of the initiation. They are of great importance for your life. This teaching, this Kalachakra initiation, is almost an impossible thing to happen. It is so very important for you to take advantage of this powerful teaching.

 

Lama Yeshe’s candor cheered everyone considerably. “I was hooked,” said Andy Weber, a German artist. “I thought he was one of the most realized beings I had ever met.” Andy Weber later turned up at Kopan, as did a number of other Injis present at that talk. Among these was Kathleen McDonald, a serious young American who initially thought Lama was a bit of an old fake. “I thought he was just pretending to love people,” Kathleen said, “that it just couldn’t be genuine. I was very cynical and didn’t believe in love. But then I met him in Dharamsala and he was so utterly gentle with me I decided to go to Kopan to check things out.”

Anila Ann reminded students at the Japanese temple that every highest yoga tantra initiation, such as Kalachakra, required that they take on the commitment to recite and meditate on a particular prayer, the Six-Session Guru Yoga, six times a day. “Sure,” they all said, hardly knowing what they were agreeing to.

One young American anxiously asked Lama whether or not he should attend an initiation about which he understood nothing. Lama told him, “Even the dogs in Bodhgaya will be getting His Holiness’s blessing!”

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Work at Kopan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Third Kopan Meditation Course

Third Kopan Meditation Course, Lama Yeshe, 1972From 1972: Unsurpassed Dharma Land of Enlightenment by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

In November 1972 Zopa Rinpoche taught his third meditation course. Around fifty people attended, including Massimo Corona and his brother Luca, Piero and Claudio, Paula Koolkin, and Peter Kedge. Advertising flyers appeared in Kathmandu cafes such as the Camp Hotel, where Marcel Bertels, a serious Dutch lad from a conservative Catholic family, had just met a French-Canadian, Nicole Couture. They both decided to do “the course,” as it was now called.

An Australian couple—Nick Ribush, a doctor, and Marie Obst, a nurse—also heard about the course and went up to Kopan to check things out. On the notice board they found advertisements for Lama Zopa’s month-long course, costing 300 rupees, as well as the Burmese teacher Goenka’s ten-day vipassana meditation course, for 100 rupees. “Let’s do the short one,” said Marie. After a full Catholic upbringing she was more interested in shedding religion than acquiring an alternative one. But Nick was “looking” and they booked into the longer one.

Twenty-six-year-old law graduate Helly Pelaez, the only child of a prominent Spanish cardiologist from Granada, was definitely looking. Running into Steve Malasky and his mother in Amala’s, Boudhanath’s only restaurant, she heard about the course and subsequently attended an early group interview with Lama Yeshe. “Why do you want to do the course?” Lama asked.

“I said I didn’t know if I could even do it,” said Helly. “According to him, everybody could, even animals. I thought him strange and was glad he wasn’t the one teaching.

“While I was walking back down to my room in Boudha, I started to feel funny, like someone was with me in my mind, working on it, stronger and stronger. Back in my room I then spent the two most horrible days of my life. I cried non-stop. The fact is I’d had lots of fights with my parents and led a very unstable life. Coming to India was a last resort for me. I had decided that if this course didn’t change things for me, I was going to kill myself. A week before it began, I moved up to Kopan. Lama Yeshe had gone to Dharamsala and I thought, ‘Good, I don’t want to see him.’”

Nick, Marie, Helly, and an English girl, Suzanne Lee, walked up to Kopan together. On the way they encountered Anila Ann—bald, robes tied round her long skinny flanks, working like a ditch digger at a trouble spot in the road. From the hill they were able to look down into a magical valley carved into terraced rice paddies with two-storey ochre colored houses hedged with roses. Chickens clucked in attics, chilies dried on roofs and were laid out in neatly swept forecourts. Dogs barked incessantly and children called across the fields: “Babuuuuuuuuuu! Didiiiiiiiiiii!” Hindu puja bells tinkled, incense wafted on the air, and old men puffed on bidis (hand-rolled Indian clove cigarettes) in the shade of ancient trees. Winding through this scene ran a rutted dirt road that became a rough track, from which branched little paths like rivulets, some of which led to the top of Kopan hill.

Here they came, the fortunate traveling children of the world’s middle classes, toting their backpacks, super down sleeping bags, toilet paper, and patented antibiotic medicines. They carried copies of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, Baba Ram Dass’s Be Here Now, and well-thumbed copies of Lama Govinda’s The Way of the White Clouds. The Kopan course was becoming the place to be even though Kopan had no electricity and all the monastery’s water had to be carried up the hill from a spring 150 feet below the gompa in two big Nepali biscuit tins dangling from a yoke balanced across the coolies’ shoulders. The chief water carrier was a cheery Nepali, Bir Bahadur.

Hashish was still legal in Nepal, but while some occasionally slipped down the hill for a chillum or two, most did the course straight, beginning to end. Blotting paper tabs of LSD were carefully tucked away.

Everyone was given a copy of the cyclostyled notes that Massimo Corona, Anila Ann, and others had prepared from the first two courses. These were now neatly arranged into a folder and given an extensive title similar in length to those of the traditional Sanskrit and Tibetan scriptures: The Wish-Fulfilling Golden Sun of the Mahayana Thought Training: Directing in the Shortcut Path to Enlightenment. This was one of the first lam-rim (or “stages of the path”) teachings to appear in English.

The popular view that Buddhism was not really a religion was somewhat undermined by Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s monastic demeanor and the fact that quite a few prayers were recited, regularly. Nevertheless, the principles of lam-rim are universal and adjustable to any society at any time. This is, perhaps, their most magical and fascinating characteristic.
Zopa Rinpoche’s teaching plan during this course was to concentrate on the hell realms. On and on, day after day there was talk of hell realms and still more hell realms, all in Rinpoche’s halting English, punctuated by frequent pauses and long silences. It is no coincidence that Rinpoche’s name, zopa, means patience.

Most of the students present did not realize that during those long silences Rinpoche meditated deeply. When he did speak, to the untrained ear Rinpoche sounded as though he were simply repeating himself. In actuality, each time he addressed his subject matter, he did so from a slightly different angle, thereby allowing his listeners to enter more and more deeply into the experience he was describing. Westerners were used to receiving information in a more linear fashion and they were often looking for something pre-packaged, some spiritual insight they could swallow whole. Rinpoche’s style required them to stop, listen, and turn over in their minds what they were hearing. Those who related to Rinpoche’s teachings as if they were listening to a university lecturer could easily become frustrated by his seemingly endless repetitions. However, those who followed what he was saying as if they were being led through a guided meditation—which, in fact, they were—found his style of teaching remarkably effective for their minds and often deeply moving.

A few students escaped the course on a full moon night to attend the legendary acid parties at Swayambhu. One New Yorker returned the next day literally trembling, having experienced hell realms during his trip in all the vivid detail that Lama Zopa had just spent several days describing.

Some who attended were irritated by the course, others inspired. Marcel Bertels took to it like a duck to water and was soon meditating even during the session breaks. College graduates happily prostrated themselves over and over and chanted mantras as if they had been saying them all their lives. The more excitable claimed they saw lights and had visions. Maybe they did. During the breaks, everyone except Marcel chatted and gossiped. During the lectures that followed, Zopa Rinpoche would tell them what they had been talking about. They were convinced he was clairvoyant. The whole experience felt very close, magical, and powerful.

Once again Lama Yeshe returned quietly to Kopan sometime around the middle of the meditation course. None of the new students even knew he existed, until one day Anila Ann asked Nick Ribush if he would attend to his leg. A cut had become infected. “I was told that he had a heart problem, so I thought it best to give him a penicillin shot,” said Nick. “However, I hadn’t tightened the syringe properly and the stuff shot out all over the place. ‘It’s okay, dear,’ he told me, ‘maybe we try again tomorrow.’ So they got more penicillin and I gave him the shot, then visited every day to change the dressings.” From then on everyone called him Dr. Nick.

Lama Zopa had been telling everyone that it was harder for a woman to become enlightened than for a man, which upset all the women. Marie asked Nick to seek Lama Yeshe’s opinion. When they came to learn that he’d told Nick, “Of course women can get enlightened!” Lama Yeshe instantly became their hero. As it turns out, this disagreement between the lamas was more apparent than real. In talking about the additional difficulties women faced in becoming enlightened, Lama Zopa was addressing in part the unfortunate, but very real, obstacles that women—especially those in patriarchal societies—must overcome if they dare to defy cultural expectations in their desire to pursue a solitary life of contemplation. Lama Yeshe addressed the issue from a different perspective. His response—that men and women had the same spiritual capacity—focused on the fact that everyone, whether male or female, equally possesses buddha-nature: the potential to achieve full enlightenment. From this point of view, there is absolutely no difference between the sexes.

At the very end of the course, Lama Yeshe gave a talk. By this time many students had heard of him, although few had seen him. It didn’t take long to work out that here was the real power behind Kopan. Before actually conferring refuge and lay precepts, Lama Yeshe spoke to the course students about the meaning of taking refuge and committing to taking any number of the five lay precepts. While he spoke, Rinpoche sat in the back of the room writing out “refuge names” in Tibetan. At the end of the refuge ceremony, Marie received the name Yeshe Khadro, and this is what she was mainly called for the rest of her life, especially by her Dharma brothers and sisters. As for Nick, he received the name Thubten Zopa, but out of his great respect for Rinpoche, he never used it. In any case, everyone was already calling him Dr. Nick, so Dr. Nick he remained. Both were very happy they had chosen to do the long course.

Ann McNeil Supervises Construction and does Retreat

Anila Ann and Max Mathews, 1972From 1972: Unsurpassed Dharma Land of Enlightenment by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Anila Ann took over supervision of the Kopan building site. When the lamas returned from Dharamsala, she went down to Kathmandu to do the banking, a day’s work on its own. “I asked Lama Yeshe if he’d keep track of the workers’ hours for me that day so I would know what to pay them,” she said. “They were all paid daily because they were very poor and we never knew exactly how many workers we would need each day. That night when I asked Lama for the pay book I saw he’d only put down two figures; the rest was just scribble. Well, this just blew my mind! How was I going to pay these people now? ‘Don’t worry,’ said Lama, ‘I’ll work it all out with them tomorrow.’ But I was upset; I said that even the Buddha would have kept track! It was the worst thing I could think of saying. With that I marched off to my room. Twenty minutes later there was a tap on the door. It was Lama with a glass of lemonade,” said Ann.

Ann then went into a retreat, during which she grew very miserable and lost her appetite—not a safe thing to do in Nepal under any circumstances but especially because she was already extremely lean. But the mind that rises in retreat is not always blissful. In fact, the arising mind may focus on precisely the mental habit that is most painful to the ego—such as jealousy or anger. Lama Yeshe began eating his supper with her, treating her as if she were a toddler. He made excited noises about how delicious the food was and tried to tempt her to take a few spoonfuls. “I was finally able to see how belligerent I’d become and was able to unhook that feeling and get my appetite back,” she said.

Toward the end of her retreat Lama Yeshe was due to return to Dharamsala, but first he gave Ann a Vajrasattva thangka he had commissioned for her. “We stood there looking at it together and I noticed he was ‘beaming’ again—that unearthly golden glow that sometimes emanated from him. I looked back at the thangka, then at him again. Each time he looked even more radiant and so shiny. I just stared and stared.

“He was always so subtle with me. During that business at Kathmandu airport with the hand-painted text, I developed what I can only call a very hot ear. It went blazing red for a while and felt so hot. That experience came to herald some form of communication from Lama Yeshe. I’d get a hot ear at 2:00 am and think, ‘Lama wants something.’ I’d go to his room and he was never surprised to see me. It was always, ‘Oh yes, Anila, I have something for you to do!’

“Lama encouraged all kinds of awareness in us. He often gave us spoonfuls of the dutsi [Skt. amrita; blessed nectar] he kept on his altar. It was made of crushed blessed pills, honey, and alcohol. We’d sit there like little kids with outstretched palms, licking the stuff off. He’d roll his eyes back into his head and just beam.”

 

The Second Kopan Meditation Course

Peter Kedge, 1972From 1972: Unsurpassed Dharma Land of Enlightenment by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Word spread that Lama Zopa was about to give a second meditation course in March 1972. More students arrived at Kopan, among them two English engineers from the Rolls-Royce aeronautical division, Peter Kedge and Roy Tyson.

Peter Kedge: “With our friend, fellow engineer Harvey Horrocks, and another friend we had spent six months driving a Land Rover from Britain to Nepal, with many adventures on the way. One morning in Afghanistan, after setting up camp in complete darkness, we awoke to find that we had stopped right in front of the huge buddha statues carved into the cliffs at Bamiyan, the same statues that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

“Contact with Tibetans from one of the refugee camps in Pokhara awoke my interest in spirituality and some friends introduced us to what became for a time my personal bible, Ram Dass’s Be Here Now. One night on a trek in the Solu Khumbu Everest region of Nepal, I sat in a freezing cold Sherpa lodge and by candlelight tried one of the practices in this book. This was to visualize Guru Rinpoche (which I mispronounced ‘Rinposh’) and basically inhale white light and exhale all physical and mental negativities in the form of black fog. It seemed really strange.

“After ten days in that area, where everywhere one looks there are prayer flags, mani stone, monasteries and ascetics’ caves, we returned to Kathmandu and heard about a meditation course in English and a Canadian nun at this place called Kopan. Roy and I decided to go there. Harvey went on to Australia and our other friend went back to England.

“We arrived on the first day of the course, just in time for thirty minutes of full-length prostrations led by Anila Ann. We threw ourselves on the floor in front of a huge appliqué thangka of Buddha Avalokiteshvara, the one with a thousand arms, all amid billowing clouds of incense smoke.

“There were about a dozen people there. When I saw them assembled at the first breakfast, I remember thinking that compared with Roy and me, who were pretty conservative, they looked like very seasoned travelers in their Indian, Nepali, and Afghan clothes, their braided long hair, beards and so forth. I do remember feeling at the time that I didn’t belong there, but that feeling changed.”

The ground floor of the gompa was completed just before the course began, which was held in the old gompa (the original astrologer’s house). Lama Yeshe stayed at Kopan this time, keeping one eye on the construction team and the other on the meditators. Losang Nyima ran the kitchen and Ann McNeil rushed about typing up the most recent text translations on an ancient typewriter that someone had found in Kathmandu, checking up on the builders, and attending Rinpoche’s lectures.

Zopa Rinpoche’s teaching style demanded patience. Rinpoche’s vocabulary was still quite limited and he would cough and repeat himself interminably, over and over. Massimo could follow better than most because he had spent time with Rinpoche before the course, helping him put together a thirty-page booklet in English. This did not, however, prevent him from occasionally viewing Rinpoche with some skepticism. In an aside during one session, Massimo mumbled, “What does he know?” Rinpoche looked straight at Massimo and said, “Because I have realized these teachings.” No one had ever heard him say anything so direct before about his spiritual accomplishments and—according to common knowledge—he has never been heard to repeat anything like it ever again.

Peter Kedge: “We were given two or three mimeographed sheets with information on them. I just couldn’t understand why this young monk, Zopa as we called him, would close his eyes and talk through the first ringing of the lunch bell, the second ringing of the lunch bell, the third ringing of the lunch bell…until it seemed we’d get no lunch at all. To me, we had the information on these sheets, it was time for lunch and that was it. “On one such occasion I was leaning back against the wall of the gompa and really getting very annoyed and feeling quite rebellious, having heard the lunch bell call us for at least the third time. Then Zopa opened his eyes and, looking directly at me, asked if I had been the one to make the altar and put the flower offering there that morning. And yes, it had been me—it was my turn on the roster. I suddenly realized that Zopa wasn’t just a monk but someone extraordinary, with insights I had never experienced.

“Over the next few days I came to realize that this was a person who lived what he was explaining 100 percent. It came as a shock to realize that actually, I was sitting in front of a modern-day saint. I had always thought of saints as an extinct species. Spending time with Zopa like this, and later with Lama Yeshe, made me realize that saints really exist.”

During this meditation course, the focus had been on Zopa Rinpoche, and for a long time Peter wasn’t aware that there was another lama on the hill. “One day during the lunch break I was sunbathing on the steps leading down into the room in the old house where the course was held,” Peter recalled. “A monk came out and said, ‘Excuse me,’ as he needed to pass. I said, ‘Sure,’ and moved a little. He said, ‘Thank you so much.’ I couldn’t imagine why he was really thanking me, but he beamed and I felt a radiance from him. That was Lama Yeshe. A few days later, Anila Ann, who was in many ways my mentor during that course and subsequently, said to me, ‘You have to have a meeting with Lama Yeshe. You know, Lama Yeshe is the guru here. Lama Zopa is Lama Yeshe’s disciple.’ And so the first pieces were beginning to fall into place.

The planned month-long course lasted only ten days. Suddenly, Zopa Rinpoche announced that Geshe Rabten had sent a telegram. He and Lama Yeshe were to go to Dharamsala immediately for a teaching by Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche on the Six Yogas of Naropa. Half an hour later the lamas left in a taxi and it was up to the two ordained people on the hill—Anila Ann McNeil and Jhampa Zangpo—to keep things going.

“But that’s how it was with the lamas,” said Ann. “You never knew what was going to happen next. Once I thought I’d write a book called Life with Lama, but it took me three days just to write down what happened in one day so I gave up.”

The day after the lamas left, a film crew from the American television newsmagazine 60 Minutes turned up. They were doing a feature on American hippies’ favorite overseas haunts, and Kathmandu was naturally at the top of the list. The director was keen to get the people who were wearing monks’ robes on film. “They wanted us to prostrate to the sun on top of the hill and a whole lot of other ridiculous things, so we decided not to go along with them at all,” said Ann. “I told the reporter that he might like to ask the Dalai Lama some questions instead of looking for sensational extremes.”

Lama Yeshe’s Heart Condition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the teachings of Lama Yeshe:

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

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

The First Meditation Course at Kopan

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

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

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

 

From Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s lam-rim teachings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ann McNeil and Ordination

Lama Zopa Rinpoche  and Lama Yeshe, 1970From 1970: The First Group Ordination by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

In October 1970 Ann McNeil, a lanky Canadian ski instructor, arrived from Mykonos to stay with her friend Max.

Ann McNeil: “Max asked me if I wanted to receive a teaching from Lama Yeshe. She had given me a room in the tower of her house, and Lama Yeshe came up there. He taught me how to watch and count my breath, to imagine it entering and leaving.”

Lama Yeshe’s instructions on the basic nine-round breathing meditation:

First sit cross-legged, in the lotus or half-lotus position if you can, or just comfortably. Make sure your mind is here with your body. It’s no good if your body is here but your mind is at home. You can’t take a meditation course with your body alone. Meditation is done by the mind. Therefore, your mind should be with you in the present, not obsessed with another time, place, person, or some other object. The method we use to bring attention totally to the here-and-now is concentration on the breath— focusing on how your breath moves through your nervous system.

This is not all that this method is helpful for; it has many other benefits. It can even help you recover from physical illness. For example, if your nervous system has been damaged by a stroke, intensive concentration on the movement of your breath through your nervous system can restore its function. This is experience, not just empty talk.

If you are unfamiliar with the following meditation, you might find it easier to concentrate by closing the nostril you are not focusing on with your index finger.

As you breathe out through your left nostril, use your finger to block the right. Exhale slowly; don’t rush it. Breathe normally, but make sure to exhale completely. Then, move your finger to block the left nostril as you inhale slowly and deeply through your right. Then, for a second time, block your right nostril while you exhale slowly, gently, naturally and completely through the left, and then block your left nostril as you again inhale slowly and completely through the right. Repeat all this for a third time. Thus, you exhale through the left and inhale through the right three times.

Then reverse the procedure, breathing out through the right and in through the left three times. While doing this, sit up straight. This keeps your nervous system straight and allows the air you inhale to pervade your whole body, your entire nervous system. If you don’t keep your spine straight when you meditate, it is difficult for the breath energy to spread throughout your nervous system. Nevertheless, do this practice very naturally. Don’t force it.

When you inhale, feel that the air completely fills your body, and when you exhale, feel that it completely leaves. But while you’re doing this, don’t sit there thinking, “Now I’m doing the breathing exercise.” That’s not necessary. Just do it, concentrating on the movement of the breath energy through your nervous system as much as you possibly can.

Also, don’t think that this meditation is ridiculously simple. If you are aware, you will notice that people who are emotionally or mentally disturbed—for example, those who are depressed—breathe differently from normal people. This shows that the way the breath energy moves through the nervous system is very closely connected with the mind. You know from your own experience that when you are angry you don’t breathe normally. Sometimes anger can even make you physically sick.

You can measure scientifically how many times a day you breathe in and out. Buddhism has also calculated this. If you train yourself in the breathing meditation and practice breathing in and out slowly every day, you can prolong your life. If air enters your nervous system in a disturbed way it can disturb your mind. You should breathe slowly, steadily, naturally and completely, like a reliable old clock ticking away. Your breath is like an internal clock.

After you have breathed out through the left and in through the right three times, and out through the right and in through the left three times, breathe in and out through both nostrils together. Again, bring air in slowly, gently, naturally and completely, allowing it to fill your nervous system, and slowly, gently and completely send it out again. If your belt is too tight, loosen it. You should be comfortable when you do this practice. Again, don’t think, “I am doing the breathing exercise…right nostril…left nostril….” Just let your mind dwell in the concentration. Breathe in and out through both nostrils together about twenty times.

“The following weekend he gave me another lesson,” Ann continued. “I told him that I’d done Transcendental Meditation and been involved with the Hare Krishnas, and so I wondered which technique he thought was best for my temperament. He suggested we go to Swayambhu to ask Serkong Rinpoche what he thought. Then he pulled out this long Tibetan text and said, ‘Meanwhile, I’ll just recite this to bless you and give you a mantra. You just relax and meditate while I read.’

“He started reading and I noticed something interesting happening to his face—it was kind of lifting off, like a mask. I watched it float out about four inches, drift over to one side then go back to where it was. I thought, Wow! This is even more interesting than LSD! He continued reading, and it happened again. This time I really looked at it hard. I saw that the floating mask, though similar and Tibetan-looking, wasn’t really his own face. I thought, if it happens again, I’ll know I’m really seeing something…and it did, it happened again. Then Lama finished reading and got me to write down what I later discovered was the Vajrasattva mantra. By that time, I was pretty excited by him and said I didn’t think we really had to go see another lama. But he said, no, no, we should go.

“The next day was Max’s day off, so he pushed her to get out her little blue Volkswagen car and we drove over to see Serkong Dorje Chang. Serkong Rinpoche threw a mo and said to do whatever I’d been doing before I joined the Hare Krishnas. I told Lama that I’d been into many different things then, and he said, ‘Doesn’t matter, dear; we’ll ask again.’ The next time, the answer was, ‘Doesn’t matter which path you take to enlightenment, they all lead there.’ So I thought, Oh darn, I’ll just have to make the decision myself. But I liked Lama Yeshe, so I asked him if he would be my guru. He said, ‘Yes, dear,’ and that was that.

“The next day was Sunday and Max asked me to escort Lama up to Kopan. In that way I would find out where it was and be able to hear his lecture that afternoon. She told me to make sure that he didn’t dawdle so he would get there on time. As we walked up from Boudha, there was dew on the ground. Lama stopped constantly to pick up these worms that were on the path and put them to one side, so they wouldn’t get stepped on. I said that it was going to make us late and would he please stop. He just looked at me. His face was so shiny, so radiantly blissful that it was unforgettable. I knew he was showing me this bliss for my benefit, but I just didn’t know what to do with the experience.”

When the lamas returned to Rana House the following weekend, Max discussed her ordination with Lama Yeshe, at which point Ann asked to be ordained as well. Lama said that his own teacher Geshe Rabten should perform the ceremony. One week later Geshe Rabten sent a message saying that he would ordain them in Dharamsala on 16 December. Lama Yeshe suggested to Sylvia White, now living in Kathmandu with Harriet Straus, that she too might like to get ordained. There was also an American boy, James (whose surname is not known), who had been taking teachings for some time. He also wanted to become ordained.

By now the lamas were holding regular classes on Wednesdays and Sundays for a dozen or so Westerners. Numbers grew as the word went out that there were teachings available in English. Well, “sort of” English. Lama Yeshe taught in Tibetan, interspersed with an occasional string of complex psychological terms he had learned in English. Lama Zopa would then translate. Lama Yeshe constantly deferred to his closest disciple during these teachings. “Zopa Rinpoche is much better at teaching than I am,” he said. “I’m nobody, just a monk. Not even a geshe. I’m a drop-out geshe!”

Where he did push his charge was at the dinner table, constantly encouraging the frail Zopa Rinpoche, who did not look well, to eat. “You must eat! You must be strong for all sentient beings!” Lama Yeshe occasionally referred to his own weak heart, saying, “You never know how long your teacher will be with you.”

 

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