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Posts tagged ‘Bodhgaya’

Lama Yeshe’s Tantric Teaching

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

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

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

 

From Lama Yeshe’s tantric teachings:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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The 8th Kopan Meditation Course

Group photo, Kopan, 1975From 1975: We Need a Foundation by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Two hundred people turned up for the eighth course, many of them veterans of several courses already. The more long-term students were increasingly serious about learning to control their minds and stop harming others. Marcel was appointed as the course leader and Jon Landaw was requested to conduct the discussions. “Lama didn’t give me any particular instructions,” said Jon. “He just threw me in there.” Yeshe Khadro, Thubten Pemo, Sangye Khadro, and John Feuille all returned to Kopan from a three-month Manjushri retreat at Lawudo to attend the meditation course.

Adrian Feldmann came to the course from his one-room cabin in the Australian bush where he had been doing solitary retreat. During his retreat he had not seen a single person. “I’d followed Lama Yeshe’s advice and started writing him letters when questions arose, but I never finished one of them. As soon as I started writing the answers just came to me. After the retreat I wrote to Lama and asked when I could become a monk. He told me to come to the course.”

Among the new students attending this course was John Cayton, an American college student. He was one of a group of undergraduates from The Evergreen State College in Washington State, USA, who had come to Nepal to engage in individual research. Most people called him Karuna; he had been given that name by a Hindu guru a few years previously. On his first night at Kopan he dreamed of a lama bowing and smiling at him in greeting. “The next morning I was going to breakfast and I saw this lama walking by, bowing to everyone and smiling. It was Lama Yeshe; he was the one I had seen in my dream. I’d never even seen a photo of him before,” said Karuna.

Andy Weber, who was studying thangka painting in Boudhanath, had met Lama Yeshe in Bodhgaya in 1974. This was his first Kopan course. “I didn’t like the first day—those pretentious Americans with their backpacks and superdown gear and polite palaver. Everyone looked so rich and neat,” Andy remembered. “It was like being at college in the West. The day before the course started I was standing beside the gompa looking down into the valley and wondering whether to stay. I turned around and there was Lama Yeshe’s beaming face at the window. He just nodded to me, but I felt a thud of blessed energy. I knew then that I had to stay. But I thought Marcel was a pain in the neck. Sometimes I just had to go down to Boudha for a chillum.

“I got very depressed during Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings. The only reason I stayed was because Lama Yeshe occasionally dropped in and gave one of his blissful talks, and because he sometimes called me to his room for a chat. His was the message we all wanted to hear. However, we also knew that we first had to walk the path Lama Zopa Rinpoche was pointing out, the same path Lama Yeshe had followed.”

Five friends from the seventh course had spent the year together in Dharamsala and had then returned to Kopan for more. “We were a wild bunch,” said Jimi Neal. Wildest of all was an intense young Italian, Stefano Piovella. “A lot of people at Kopan were very straight. They didn’t like Stefano because he was such a hippie,” said Jimi. “He spent most of the course crashed out in the front row looking totally out of it. Then every now and then he would jump up with the most amazingly profound or poignant questions. He just adored Lama Zopa Rinpoche. He told me that he was amazed at Lama Yeshe’s deep understanding of Italian psychology and culture after he had spent only two weeks in Italy.”

Some months later the somewhat unpredictable but charismatic Stefano was ordained by His Holiness the Karmapa. “Ha ha ha! You! A monk!” everybody exclaimed. “I’m glad you did it,” said Lama. “You’ll last two months.” And he did—to the day. Stefano later took ordination again, and disrobed again.

Jimi Neal was present on the day a student arrived at Kopan on a huge BMW motorbike. “Lama Yeshe might have seen one before but he certainly hadn’t ridden one,” said Jimi. “He got on it, put his hands and feet in the right places, and hunkered down as though the wind was tearing at his face. Marcel Marceau had nothing on him—he was a magnificent actor and a superb mimic.”

One person who didn’t show up for the course was the lamas’ Lake Arrowhead driver Teresa Knowlton, a devout and cheerful young girl from Seattle. Teresa had planned to take ordination and was expected to arrive at Kopan with gardening tools and a typewriter. Time magazine was one of the very few Western publications regularly available in Nepal and Lama Yeshe usually had the latest copy. One day he pointed to a paragraph about an Indian-Vietnamese man, Charles Sobhraj, who had murdered a number of young travelers and stolen their cash and passports, apparently for the sheer excitement of it. Among his victims, found drowned on a beach in Thailand, was Teresa Knowlton. “She wanted to practice Dharma,” said Lama, “but she never reached here.” The message was clear—anything can happen, so use your time well.

More new monks and nuns

Adrian Feldmann was preparing to take robes. His girlfriend was at Kopan and tried to get the lad to spend one last romantic weekend with her at the lovely lakeside town of Pokhara. “I had to check up very deeply,” said Adrian. “I took my girlfriend up to the astrologer’s hill and pointed to the North Star. ‘See that star?’ I said. ‘It never moves and the whole universe moves around it. It is the same as my determination to be a monk.’ She cried a bit and we had one last kiss and cuddle.”

Most of those seeking ordination had already received “Dharma names,” but Adrian hadn’t. He hadn’t even taken the five lay vows that were often given together with refuge. Lama Yeshe gave these vows to Adrian and to Scott Brusso, who also hadn’t yet received all five vows. Then Lama closed his eyes for a moment and gave Adrian the name Thubten Gyatso.

Elisabeth Drukier was on the way to becoming Lama’s first French nun. “I’m not sure about French people,” Lama told her, “I don’t know so many.” George Churinoff went to see Lama Zopa Rinpoche about whether to become ordained. “He told me, ‘For you it would be good.’ So that was that. I thought that becoming a monk was really the only way I could practice Dharma and I had no relationship responsibilities,” said George.

These three—Adrian, Elisabeth, and George—together with several more of Kopan’s Western students, were slated to be ordained by in Dharamsala early in 1976.

In the meantime, however, Lama Yeshe unexpectedly announced on November 17 that a preliminary rabjung ceremony would take place the very next day. This was the third group of Lama Yeshe’s students to request getsul ordination and Lama wanted to ensure that their monastic future was well planned. By receiving the eight barma rabjung vows early they would have some experience of having lived together as Sangha before committing themselves to the thirty-six getsul vows. On that day, George Churinoff, Adrian Feldmann, Elisabeth Drukier, Electric Roger, Karin Valham, Roger Wheeler, Peter Kedge, Scott Brusso, Suzi Albright, and Margaret McAndrew received barma rabjung ordination together. After the ceremony Lama told them, “From now on I am your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your mummy, your daddy, your teacher and your best friend. You have no worries. Now you have a big party!”

“We went down to the Sangha gompa, which was the big room in the old house,” said Adrian. “There was a big table of food and Lama insisted that we sing and dance and play music, all of which are alien practices for ordained people. So we got out the few cassette tapes that we still had, such as the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, and drank lemonade and ate biscuits. We didn’t actually sing and dance and Lama didn’t come to the party.”

Lama Yeshe gave several talks to the Sangha about how to live together as a community. He also had them give Dharma talks to each other in the evenings, with question-and-answer sessions, in this way training his monks and nuns to eventually be able to teach in the West.

 

Life Among the Mount Everest Centre Monks

MEC students in Bodhgaya, India, 1974From 1974: Introducing Adamantine Being (Vajrasattva) by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

By 1974 Michael Losang Yeshe, then nine, had spent almost half his life at Kopan. Olivia, his mother, now lived in Japan. One day Michael received a parcel from her. “Lama Yeshe heard about it and came to my room,” said Michael. “‘Where is the parcel?’ he asked. ‘Open it.’ He looked inside and handed me a set of colored pencils. ‘These colors, these are for everyone, not just you.’ He pulled out a shirt and underwear. ‘These you can wear.’ Then he saw the fancy Mickey Mouse watch. ‘You’re too young for a watch; you don’t know how to tell time. This for me. I keep for you.’ If I had kept it, I would only have lost it, or traded it for comics or something a few days later. He never did give it back,” said Michael.

Very occasionally the boys were given cash offerings at pujas. When Michael’s father, Yorgo, married a Nepali woman and moved to Kathmandu, he sponsored a big puja at his house. All the boys there received 100 rupees each. When they returned to Kopan Lama took all the rupees from them. They didn’t need money—Kopan did. Yorgo also donated buffaloes to Kopan so the monastery wouldn’t have to buy milk, and he often drove Lama around town on errands.

Lama Yeshe could shift at the drop of a hat from acting the clown to being extremely wrathful. Every inch the abbot, he would walk up and down the rows of small boys in the gompa, making sure they paid attention and not hesitating to discipline them with judicious use of his heavy mala where required.

“I was a naughty one,” said Tenzin Dorje Rinpoche, also known as Charok Lama. “I was lazy and he beat me on the shoulders with his big mala or with a stick. The big wooden malas really hurt. Many boys cried when Lama hit. The Western view is that hitting is bad, but Lama’s motivation and his way of hitting were different. Somehow I was always happy after he hit me. Of course, there were some boys who really didn’t want to be in the monastery and who didn’t like Lama either. But Lama always told us to have an open ear, to listen to everyone for a good education. That way we would develop bigger ideas, which are more beneficial.”

Before the Kalachakra in Bodhgaya the boys had had classes only in the mornings and then had played in the afternoons. But after the Kalachakra Lama Yeshe had them working in the gardens in the afternoons, instead of just making noise. Gardening included lugging water up from the spring, an endless and arduous task but exactly what they would have been doing had they stayed in Solu Khumbu. Lama did not want them to waste any time. Now they had fresh milk, and Lama Pasang built a chicken coop so they could have eggs, too.

The Mount Everest Centre population was constantly changing as new boys arrived and others left. They included Sherpas, a few Tibetans, and Manangis, boys from the Manang Valley, which lies close to the Tibetan border north of Pokhara. At one stage there were more Manangis at Kopan than Sherpas, but over time many of these left.

Everyone on the hill knew that Lama Yeshe took a nap every afternoon after lunch. “For his heart,” they said. It was also the only privacy he could count on during the day. “One day when we were all making a lot of noise in front of the office after lunch, he came down and went whack! whack! whack! getting three boys at a time with his big bamboo stick,” said Michael Losang Yeshe. “We were always told to keep quiet at that time. Once an urgent message arrived after lunch and some boys were sent to his room. When they opened the door and peeked in he wasn’t asleep at all, but sitting up surrounded by texts, studying.”

Although this time after lunch was generally called Lama Yeshe’s “rest time,” his students came to know in later years that this was actually Lama’s daily meditation time, when he meditated on the clear light. Some years later, Lama Zopa Rinpoche reminisced, “After lunch each day Lama usually went to rest for one or two hours. Wherever Lama was, in the West or in the East, Lama tried to take time to rest. In the beginning I didn’t realize what Lama was doing and thought it was just like our sleep; then gradually I felt that it was actually a meditation session. In the general view, Lama was continuing to meditate on clear light in order to develop that realization. People who didn’t know that Lama was a great hidden yogi, a great tantric practitioner, might believe that what Lama calls “rest” or “sleep” is the same as an ordinary person’s sleep.”

Mummy Max was perfectly cast in her role. Whenever her Jeep was seen coming up the hill, word flew around, “Mummy’s coming! Mummy’s coming!” The boys would rush to meet her in the courtyard, knowing that she would have a treat for them.

Their first picnic with Max was like a trip to another planet. “She sent two beautiful clean buses from Lincoln School for us,” said Michael Losang Yeshe. “We had never seen anything like them in our lives and couldn’t believe they were for us to ride in. Lama Yeshe came, too. We went to Parphing, two hours away, and had a picnic on a nice big open plateau. Mummy had paper cups and paper napkins for us. We had never touched anything like paper cups…and napkins!”

 

Parphing, located southwest of Kathmandu city in the hills surrounding the valley close to the Hindu pilgrimage site of Dakshinkali, is a popular and very sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site. There are many temples, shrines, and holy places in and around Parphing, many of which are connected to various female Buddhist deities, just as Dakshinkali is devoted to the wrathful female Hindu deity, Kali. It is said that many women saints and meditators practiced nearby.

In Parphing is an important Vajrayogini temple, built in the eleventh century, which is where many Vajrayogini lineage holders and realized practitioners did retreat and gained realizations over the centuries. The great mahasiddha Naropa himself resided there not long after the temple was built. In the eighth century, long before Naropa’s time, the great Guru Padmasambhava had stayed in Parphing for some time after leaving Tibet. There, together with his consort Sakyadevi, he attained enlightenment while retreating in Langlesho cave, high on the hillside there. One day when Padmasambhava exited the cave in an exalted state of mind, he placed his hand against the rock face of the mountain and left a miraculous handprint impressed forever in the stone, which can still be seen today.

On a hillside at Parphing, close to a spring, several bas-relief images of Tara are clearly visible in a rock, some of their features more clearly formed than others. They are said to be self-emanating—emerging from the rock by their own power. In the 1970s there was only one Tara image, but one by one new Tara images have been gradually appearing in the rock next to that spring.

 

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!”

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. “

The Bodhgaya Teachings

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

The lamas always attended the Dalai Lama’s Bodhgaya teachings, but this was Zina’s first visit.

Ann and James traveled together, arriving at 3:00 in the morning. Bodhgaya was packed tight with Tibetans, but a Thai monk they met on the train invited them to stay at his temple. They were welcomed and given comfortable bunk beds. Monks and nuns always sleep in their long undershirts, and it simply never occurred to Ann, who was tall and very wiry, that they didn’t realize she was a woman. The lamas were staying at the Tibetan temple. Next morning, Ann and James hurried over there. “Lama,” said Ann, “they think I’m a monk. What am I going to do?” “Listen,” said Lama, “in the eyes of the Buddha there is no male and female; it doesn’t make any difference at all. Bodhgaya is full and there’s no place to stay, so just be quiet and don’t speak.” They returned to the Thai temple, but the following day some friends gave them a big room in the Dak Bungalow. Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche moved in there as well. In the room next door was an aristocratic woman from Darjeeling who had her servants prepare wonderful meals for them all.

Zina stayed at the best address in Bodhgaya, the Tourist Bungalow, which had bathrooms. Baba Ram Dass was paying for her room. He was in town attending a ten-day vipassana meditation course with the Burmese master, S. N. Goenka. Goenka, a layman and the most prominent student of the great master U Ba Khin, taught in English. His Vipassana courses consistently attracted many Westerners interested in learning meditation.

The lamas took their students to hear Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche. At the time, Trijang Rinpoche was unwell and would teach while lying down. Next, they all received an initiation of the highest yoga tantra diety Yamantaka.

This was followed by a three-week teaching (in Tibetan) from Kyabjé Ling Rinpoche. The Westerners did not understand one word.

All through Ling Rinpoche’s incomprehensible teachings it became more and more apparent to Zina that Zopa Rinpoche needed to teach a course in English. Lama Yeshe always claimed that his own English was not good enough, that only Zopa Rinpoche could deliver such a course. Thinking of Goenka’s success, Zina suggested a ten-day course, but Rinpoche insisted that ten days wasn’t nearly enough time to teach anything and that the whole idea was ridiculous. Consequently, he wasn’t interested.

Bodhgaya was a social hub for the Tibetans. Lama Yeshe ran around meeting all sorts of old friends. At one such reunion he got into a debate and swung his mala so energetically that it broke, showering the crowd with beads. About twenty old friends from Sera were staying at the Tibetan monastery, among them Jampa Gyatso, who had become a full-fledged Lharampa geshe. Lama asked him if he was interested in teaching Westerners. “Not now,” replied Geshe Jampa Gyatso, “but I might consider it in the future.” Geshe Jampa Gyatso later
went to Italy at Lama Yeshe’s behest and became the beloved resident teacher at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa near Pisa, residing there for twenty-seven years until his death in 2007.

Old friends teased Thubten Yeshe about mixing with Westerners, saying his main practice now appeared to be making money from Injis. One day Lama and Zopa Rinpoche produced bread and butter, tomatoes and such and started making sandwiches for themselves. None of the Tibetans had ever seen raw food prepared this way before. “What are you doing?” they asked. “Why won’t you spend money on food now that you are rich?”

The Inji students, eager for teachings in English, were happy to hear that Lama Yeshe had agreed to hold a question-and-answer session at the Tibetan temple. Among those attending were Alex Berzin and his childhood friend, Jon Landaw, both Americans from New Jersey who were in Bodhgaya attending teachings. Alex was one of the very few Westerners who had studied the Tibetan language before coming to India, and during the previous year he had lived in Dalhousie, studying with Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey. Jon had just arrived on his first visit to India and, once the winter had passed, he planned to go to Dalhousie to join his friend in studying with Geshe Dhargyey there. As for Geshe Dhargyey himself, he would soon be appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to become the principal teacher at the new Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala. In 1972 he took up this position at the Library, which would eventually become a major study center for Westerners in India, and held it until 1984. In 1985 Geshe Dhargyey moved to New Zealand, where he resided until he passed away in 1995.

Jon was immediately overcome by his first sight of Lama Yeshe. “As soon as he walked into the room, smiling that wonderful smile of his, I experienced something I had never felt before,” Jon happily recalled. “It was as if iron filings filled my heart and Lama was a powerful electro-magnet that brought them to life, causing them to churn about and rearrange themselves. He was different from anyone I had ever met before and I liked him immediately. Although he appeared to be someone who had transcended the ordinary, he wasn’t at all otherworldly; instead, he was very human and I felt I could trust him completely. To say that his English was poor would be generous; in fact, it was very ‘broken,’ as he himself said, but I had never met anyone who could communicate so wonderfully. When he spoke about developing a ‘warm peeling,’ I did not understand his words at first. However, I soon realized he was talking about the ‘warm feeling’ that was growing within me at that very moment. Besides being so warm and clear, Lama was also very humorous. This endeared him to me immediately.”

Jan Willis and the Solicks

From 1969: Kopan’s Beginning by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

In late October three more Americans walked into Kopan. They were Jan Willis, an African-American political activist majoring in philosophy, her best friend, Randy, and Randy’s husband, Robbie Solick. Jan had won a scholarship to study in Varanasi for a year, the only Westerner and the only woman in a class with seven Thai monks. Jan had been to India before. She had attended a Buddhist education program at the university in Varanasi and had gone on to Nepal, where she had made friends with a Tibetan monk, Losang Chonjor, who lived at Samten Ling Monastery in Boudhanath. Subsequently, they kept in touch through letters.

Jan had grown up in a deeply segregated South in the United States. The Ku Klux Klan had burned a cross in front of her family’s home in Alabama when she was accepted to college. A brilliant young student at Cornell, she had come in contact with the Black Panthers, a militant American political movement demanding equality for black citizens. She had considered joining them, but a factional division within the Panthers had led to her deciding to go to Europe and India with the Solicks instead.

In Varanasi, Arthur Mandelbaum, who had been studying with Nyingma lamas in India for seven years, told Jan and the Solicks of a Lama Yeshe, and said that he lived on a hill called Kopan beyond Boudhanath, on the way to Urgyen Tulku’s gompa. Upon hearing that name, “all the hairs on my skin gently stood erect,” Jan later recalled. Their travel plans had included a trip to Nepal. Arriving at Samten Ling Jan had asked for her friend Losang Chonjor, only to learn that he was away but that she was expected and could stay in his room. Samten Ling was now home to forty Tibetan and ten Mongolian monks—and Jan Willis. She asked the monks about the high lamas in the area. The kitchen monk took her outside, pointed up the hill, and said, “Thubten Yeshe.” It was the second time she had heard that name and once again she felt a tingling sensation at hearing it. That same day Jan went into Kathmandu and picked up the Solicks from their hotel. They took a taxi back out to Boudha stupa and then walked up to Kopan together.

Jan Willis: “It was a beautiful day to walk through the rice paddies. The only person at home when we arrived was Zina. She said there were only four people living there at the time: herself, the lamas, and a young cook. She invited us into her big room with thick, cushy wall-to-wall white carpet, and we chatted about America. When we asked to see Thubten Yeshe, she told us he was too busy to see us. Then she served us a wonderful vegetarian meal at a round brick outdoor table.

“We said goodbye while it was still light and started to depart. Just as we were turning the corner of the building, we saw a door at the far end open a little and a hand beckon us inside, followed by a face peering out…to check that Zina hadn’t seen. The three of us tiptoed into this tiny little room containing only two beds and a table. And so we met Thubten Yeshe and the thinnest monk I have ever seen. Thubten Yeshe managed the conversation pretty well with help from Zopa Rinpoche, who was already advanced in philosophical and technical psychological terms and eager to increase his vocabulary.

“We said that we were looking for a teacher. Thubten Yeshe replied, ‘I am so happy you made it here safely and have already had some training in meditation.’ That really blew us away. We had not told him that we had just had our first meditation classes in Bodhgaya or that just before leaving Europe we had had a very lucky escape from a serious road accident. We all felt that somehow he seemed to know everything already. He told us we could come back and study with him and that Zina would see to our accommodation.”

Jan decided to stay on at Samten Ling and study Tibetan language. The next day Robbie and Randy moved into one-half of a nearby house on the back side of Kopan hill belonging to a local Nepali farmer, Laxman Bahadur, cousin of Ram Bahadur, who later also rented his house out to Injis visiting Kopan. The Solicks stayed at Laxman’s house for almost a year.

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