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The Sixth Kopan Meditation Course

Rinpoche teaching, Kopan, 1974From 1974: Introducing Adamantine Being (Vajrasattva) by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

It was springtime in Nepal; the days were starting to get warmer, the weather was generally sunny and breezy, dry and dusty, while the nights were still quite chilly. The sixth meditation course began on 22 March 1974. Preparations had been going on for several weeks. The big tent behind the gompa came from army headquarters in Kathmandu and was installed at the very last minute. The army even sent Gurkhas to Kopan to help set it up.

The meditation course was well known along the hippie trail, a cool thing to do if you were spiritual—and it was definitely cool to be spiritual in the Himalayas. Nepal was a magical place to be and the wonderful views over the Kathmandu Valley could not fail to lift hearts and minds.

Harvey Horrocks, Peter Kedge’s friend from the aeronautical division of Rolls-Royce, had returned to Nepal to do the course. Yeshe Khadro managed the office. Thanks to Mummy Max asking Roger, a tall skinny Australian lad, what he did for a living, there was now some electricity at Kopan—parts of it, at least. This young electrician was thereafter known as Electric Roger.

Anila Ann led the meditation sessions and Chötak did all the shopping for the community. Lama Yeshe knew he would never waste a penny. “Lama used to call me ‘the backward Indian boy,’” said Chötak. “He knew I couldn’t possibly fit in with the sort of regime the new Sangha were into.” Losang Nyima had been sent to work at Tushita in Dharamsala as the housekeeper.

Once the course got started, Lama Zopa Rinpoche relentlessly unraveled the sufferings of existence, particularly those of the lower realms of existence—the hot and cold hells, and the realm of the pretas. Rinpoche also spoke at length on the shortcomings of seeking pleasure for oneself and the immense value of caring for others. But the spiritually cool wanted auras, astral travel, and tantric sex.

Two hundred and fifty people enrolled for the course; within two weeks over seventy had left. Lama Yeshe didn’t mind at all—he even made a comment about “junk” people. “Junk” was one of his newest words.

Many people were finding meditation to be very difficult and the group was becoming increasingly agitated. “One morning Lama called me to breakfast,” said Peter Kedge. “He made oatmeal and served it to me. I don’t know what it was but it was the most delicious oatmeal I have ever eaten in my life. After I’d finished, Lama said that I had to give a talk and tell everyone that nobody invited them to come, but as long as they are here they have to follow the discipline, follow the program, and keep the five precepts. Anyone was welcome to leave if they didn’t like it.”

By the third week of the course the tension was palpable. One day, a man stood at the back of the tent holding up his watch and calling out that it was time that Lama Zopa stopped talking. Time was never anything to Rinpoche. Some accused him of brainwashing. Just before the afternoon tea break a sudden storm erupted but ended just as quickly, leaving in its wake spectacular double rainbows in the valley below. Immediately the group tension just melted away. An hour later a bird flew into the tent and perched on someone’s shoulder.

During one meditation session several students found themselves rocking back and forth involuntarily. Someone had already asked Lama Zopa about this unusual sensation that some people experienced during meditation. Rinpoche put it down to a simple lack of control. However, this time the flowering plant on the throne was also rocking. Actually, the earth itself was shuddering. “Meditate on bodhicitta; it is very important!” Rinpoche instructed. If this was going to be the last moment in their lives, the one truly valuable act they could do was to generate the compassionate wish to be of maximum benefit to others. Then everything went dead quiet. Moments later the valley below filled with the frightened barking of hundreds of dogs and the anxious cries of villagers. Three separate earth tremors followed but no real damage was done.

* * *
From Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s sixth meditation course teachings:

Bodhicitta is a pure thought. Its essence is caring more for others than yourself. This is the opposite of the thought that always puts yourself first, the mind that thinks, “I am the most important of all.” The person with bodhicitta thinks that others are more important. This is the complete opposite of self-cherishing—you always want to sacrifice yourself in order to benefit others, to give pleasure to others, to free others from suffering, to enlighten other sentient beings.

And anybody can practice bodhicitta. It doesn’t depend on your color, caste, race, class or the way you dress. It doesn’t even depend upon your religion—even Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, anybody can practice bodhicitta.

No matter what you are called, you need to develop this pure thought because with it you never give harm to either yourself or other beings; not the tiniest atom of trouble. And besides not giving even an atom of harm, bodhicitta always keeps you and others in peace. With this pure thought in mind there’s no way you can hurt others in any way. Furthermore, anything you do for the benefit of others, such as making charity, teaching Dharma and so forth, is all the more pure and sincere; these actions are pure since they’re done with the motivation of wanting to release others from problems. The more an action is pure and sincere, the more beneficial it becomes.

Bodhicitta is especially important if you’re serious about desiring world peace. People who achieve bodhicitta can never give trouble to others out of jealousy, pride, avarice or aggression because these minds come from the self-cherishing thought and bodhicitta completely eliminates it. If everybody had bodhicitta, world peace would become a real possibility. Peace doesn’t depend so much on action—giving lectures, holding conferences, building things and so forth—because if what is done is tainted by the self-cherishing thought, even though its intention is to bring world peace, it is not pure and it won’t bring peace. If an action is motivated by self-cherishing, delusion, greed or hatred it cannot be pure. Therefore it cannot benefit others that much, it doesn’t have much power to benefit. Also, it can cause complications and suffering.

Anyway, actions done out of the negative mind are not the cause of peace, not the cause of happiness. They cause only suffering for self and others because they are rooted in negativity. Peace and happiness result from positive actions; positive actions arise from a pure mind.

So, if you really want to experience peace and bring peace to everybody on earth, you should not put so much energy into developing external objects but redirect it into developed and changing the mind—your own and others’. The negative mind is the cause of turmoil and suffering. Work at eradicating this poisonous root of suffering, which reaches deep into sentient beings’ minds, and planting the healing root of happiness, bodhicitta.

* * *

Adrian Feldmann, a doctor from Melbourne who knew all Nick’s friends, didn’t enjoy that course at all. He regularly marched off down to Boudha for steak dinners. Like many newcomers, especially the Jewish ones, Adrian was appalled by the practice of prostrating. He also suspected there was a lot of brainwashing going on. Yet every time he tried to better Lama Zopa in an argument, he got nowhere. At one point when Rinpoche was talking about the subtle aspects of death, Adrian stood up and said, “Do you mean to tell me that all those people I have certified dead were not really dead?” He was clearly outraged by the thought. Lama Yeshe had yet to make an appearance.

One day Adrian walked out in the middle of a discourse and climbed to the top of the ancient hill overlooking the gompa. “Three Nepalese children looking after their goats sat down beside me and offered me some boiled sweets,” said Adrian. “This is reality, I thought. What was going on down there in the tent, that wasn’t reality. I looked across to the gompa balcony and there was Lama Yeshe, quietly watching me. Suddenly I knew exactly what was going to happen next. Sure enough, a few minutes later he appeared at my side and looking me square in the eye said, ‘If you want power, get back into that tent.’ That really floored me because it was the Carlos Castaneda/Don Juan spiritual power thing that interested me about Buddhism. But I looked back at him and said, ‘No.’ He just turned, talked to the children for a moment, and left. That was my first meeting with Lama Yeshe,” said Adrian.

When it was time for Lama Yeshe’s talk everyone was nicely keyed up and expecting relief, insight, and laughter. Everyone sat in the tent and waited and waited. Suddenly peals of high-pitched laughter burst forth. Lama Yeshe flung aside the zen covering his face—he had crept in and sat down among the students without even one of them noticing. It reduced everyone to tears of laughter.

Adrian Feldmann was ready to do battle during the question-and-answer session. As a doctor he was not impressed with the concept of reincarnation and argued back and forth about the signs of death. Lama Yeshe insisted that death was accompanied by subtle signs that continued to manifest long after what was called clinical death. Adrian sulked. Western doctors are used to being right. When someone asked about the causes of schizophrenia, Lama Yeshe said that these lay in confused messages received in one’s childhood, leading to an inability to make decisions, heightened sensitivity, and paranoia. Suddenly Adrian was impressed. He had recently worked in a psychiatric hospital and shared exactly that view—one also held by the famous British psychiatrist, R. D. Laing.

“What would you know about it?” called one student aggressively from the back. “Are you speaking from experience?” Lama put his hands together in prayer and leaned forward. “Of course, dear, how else would you like me to speak? From a book?”

A highly qualified biologist then asked several complex questions about sentience in plants. She had stories of cacti traveling, grieving, and showing signs of pleasure. Surely if an ant was sentient, weren’t plants sentient, too? Because Lama Yeshe’s English was so basic her questions had to be very simply worded, which meant everyone could understand them. Lama replied that organic elemental energy is not the same as sentience. Cacti are not sentient, as they do not have the potential to reach enlightenment.

One of Lama Yeshe’s favorite teaching words was “chocolate,” which signified to him all that was delicious and pleasurable, even blissful, in life. For example: “Enlightenment is not just chocolate at the end, in a lump. It is chocolate, chocolate, chocolate all the way!”

 

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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 Fifth Kopan Meditation Course

Fifth Meditation Course, Kopan monastery, Nepal, 1973From 1973: First Steps First Students by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

The time had come during the course for Lama Yeshe to come and give a talk. He was to give refuge and precepts on December 6, so on the previous day he gave a preliminary talk about them to everyone. “He’s not like Rinpoche,” the old hands told the new ones. “He makes you laugh, makes you feel like you can do anything, that you’re wonderful and definitely going to become enlightened, rather than remaining absolutely hopeless and going straight to hell!”

Lama Yeshe entered the tent in his best robes. As he climbed up onto the throne he snapped his finger and thumb, a customary gesture. Once a teacher is seated it is usual for those who are attending the teaching to respectfully prostrate three times. To some this finger snap seemed a rather haughty signal to everyone to make their prostrations. Lama Yeshe later explained that this finger snap was actually a special prayer. “I am not a throne lama; this is not my place. So I snap to remember impermanence,” he said. “It’s an antidote to pride.”

His talk had its usual effect. Everyone relaxed, cried with laughter, forgot for a time their anxieties and sorrows and felt inspired to practice Dharma—to be of infinite service to others until the day they died. And all this took place while Lama Yeshe, in his unique brand of English, was saying things never before heard, such as, “Your berserky mind preak out!” Many European students who were there also spoke little English, but everyone could understand Lama Yeshe. Afterward they discussed his talk among themselves. Some had heard one thing emphasized, others had heard something else.

* * *

From Lama Yeshe’s talk on refuge and precepts on December 5:

Anila Ann told me that some people wanted to take refuge and the five precepts but before doing so it’s necessary to understand why you’re doing so, how to do so and what the benefits are. That’s very important. If you don’t know all this, your practice becomes less powerful and you can start to have doubts about it rather than feeling comfortable with it. You need to know what you are doing. Therefore I’m going to give you a short introduction.

Actually, I don’t need to tell you much because you’ve had teachings on refuge and karma during the course and in meditation have already checked beyond the words. This is actually the perfect introduction.

Taking refuge means having a continuously enthusiastic feeling for discovering the pure energy and omniscient wisdom that we call “buddha.” It doesn’t really matter what we call it; there are so many words. Actually it means perfect wisdom, understanding wisdom, and how seeking this is beneficial for our life rather than living with the empty, cold feelings that we often experience. Taking refuge brings a warm feeling into our heart and the continuous wish to grow and develop instead of thinking, “Oh, I’m hopeless, I can’t do anything,” the kind of thinking that brings you down.

You have thought about the perfect qualities of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and realized that you too can acquire those qualities and are no longer under the illusion that Buddha and Jesus Christ are way up there in the sky somewhere and you are down here, nothing. Thinking that you are nothing, that you’re just like an animal, is totally the wrong way to think. You’re putting yourself down, completely underestimating your ability. You have the incredible potential to develop in exactly the same way that Lord Buddha and Jesus did. They both appeared on earth and passed away—their physical atoms don’t exist here any more, do they? But even today we still enjoy their wisdom light, power and compassion.

When Lord Buddha was here, his body was not an ordinary body. Through the power of his bodhicitta, to use Buddhist terminology, whenever people saw his body they gained higher realizations, such as single-pointed concentration. But when he was finished on the physical level, his knowledge, the power of his wisdom, lived on such that we can still feel it today. This is the result of the wisdom and true compassion of his bodhicitta mind. So I’m saying that discovering that you have the ability or potential to develop that within you, that you can grow continuously without stopping, no matter what happens to your physical body, your mind can be completely relaxed. Even though you get old, changing, changing, changing, on the mental level you can continuously develop and better understand your own nature and no matter that the external world goes up and down, your internal world is always supported by your understanding. You are supported by your wisdom in the middle way rather than falling this way or that.

We talk about eternal happiness, eternal bliss, eternal joy—these qualities last forever, unlike the momentary, transient pleasures of samsara. And they arise from knowledge-wisdom. So taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha means you are taking refuge in Lord Buddha’s ultimate wisdom, true compassion and everlasting bliss.

Think what a fantastic state of mind that is. Just imagining it brings you energy. I mean, you haven’t yet attained it but just visualizing the omniscient mind, thinking about it, brings its reflection into your mind. You feel more peaceful and relaxed. A sensation of happiness comes into your mind; a warm feeling, a really warm feeling. By discovering that such qualities lie within you makes you also respect other sentient beings’ abilities and stops you from putting them down, too: “You can’t do anything; you’re hopeless.” That’s not right. By discovering your own abilities you respect others and generate warm feelings toward them rather than hatred. It’s so simple.”

* * *

Lama Yeshe’s words had the power to change peoples’ lives, among them Dieter Kratzer’s. “I sat throughout his talk in full lotus posture,” Dieter explained. “This was something I had never been able to do until then. I closed my eyes and during the whole two hours of that talk I just trembled and cried. ‘Come on Dieter,’ I told myself. ‘You’re German, male, rational, not a slave to your emotions.’ But I couldn’t stop. Afterward I made an appointment to see Lama. He told me, ‘I have a feeling we have known each other before some time in the past.’ At the next teaching I not only sat without any pain in my legs at all, but for the very first time I understood every word Lama Zopa was saying. It was all absolutely crystal clear.”

Another highlight of Lama Yeshe’s talks was question-and-answer time. Some students liked to ask complex questions, designed perhaps to parade their intellectual skills. Lama Yeshe’s answers always seemed tailored to each type of person. First he would listen with eyes closed, rocking slowly back and forth. Then came a period of intense silence. When he finally answered, the words seemed to come from somewhere very deep within him. They cut sharply through cleverness, encouraged the timid and exposed logical flaws. Many people tried to nail Lama with Western science but he always won—and in the simplest language, which everyone could understand.

 

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