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Miracle at Mullumbimby, Australia

Lama Yeshe on the hill, 1975From 1975: We Need a Foundation by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

That same day, 24 October 1975, is engraved forever in the minds of Australian students Gloria and Bill Searle. At the fourth Kopan course Lama Yeshe had paid considerable attention to the Searles’ small son, Adam, and had warned them at the time that the child was reckless.

Gloria and Bill lived on a small farm at Mullumbimby in New South Wales, Australia, prime hippie country. On that day in October 1975 Adam, then six years old, was playing with his little friend, Jason, at the edge of a dam on the property. Bill was working in the herb garden just below it.

“It was about two o’clock in the afternoon,” recalled Bill Searle. “Adam and Jason were chasing dragonflies around the dam and nagging me to take them to the beach. Suddenly I heard Jason yell, ‘Come back, Adam!’ Something in the tone of his voice made me climb up there. Jason was standing knee deep in this thick brown water pointing to a flat empty space. I remember thinking very strongly that I just didn’t want to acknowledge this. I just wanted to walk away, pretend it wasn’t happening. But I stripped off and jumped in. I swam up and down that dam for I don’t know how long. Twice I had to crawl out and vomit up all the filthy brown water I’d swallowed. Little Jason just stood there, mute.

“Then I found Adam, face down in the mud under ten feet of icy cold water. I got hold of him but his little body slipped out of my grasp before I got to the surface. To make things worse, I had to get out and vomit again, because I was full of water. I went back in and got him and he was entirely dead. I wasn’t even going to attempt resuscitation.

“Then I had a vision of Lama Yeshe. I can’t describe it other than to say he was there, standing on the rise on the other side of the dam. The vision was absolutely clear and seemed completely external—outside of me. He appeared to be a little bigger than normal size but not huge. He was in robes and bathed in this golden light and was looking directly at me. It was like a reality check, because everything happening right then was pretty unreal. The message I got from him was that there was something I could do about it, that I was not unempowered.

“I immediately started doing CPR, which I’d recently learned on a building site first-aid course. By now Gloria knew what was happening and had raced off to find a telephone. We didn’t have one then. Completely out of the blue a friend arrived and took over doing mouth-to-mouth. My breathing had become pretty irregular, but I was able to keep up doing the heart massage. I felt Adam’s heart give a kick and realized he might come back. When the ambulance came we took him to a hospital forty minutes away. We had oxygen on him by this time and I just kept up working away at his heart. A doctor friend of ours happened to be on duty in the emergency room. He took us aside and said, ‘You should hope he does not live because he’s full of very dirty water, has a huge brain edema and badly damaged lungs.’ We estimated that he’d been under the water for ten minutes.”

“Everyone started praying for him,” recounted Gloria Searle. “Every church in Mullumbimby held a service for him. Two days later he was still in a coma and everyone was sure he would die. Anila Ann was visiting the town at the time and invited us to a puja they were having for Adam, but we couldn’t go. We were just too upset.

“The next day Adam woke up, pulled out all the equipment he was hooked up to and sat up. Our doctor friend told us he was completely clean and had only very slight brain damage, which might show up during adolescence. The only sign of it we ever noticed was his poor ball-handling skills. He grew up to be a healthy man and became an environmental lawyer.

“The really surprising thing about the vision of Lama was that it happened to Bill, not to me. He wasn’t a Dharma student to the same extent as I was. He hadn’t even thought about Lama Yeshe for a long time prior to that day. I heard later about a drowning incident in America and learned that the body just shuts down at certain temperatures, allowing for just enough blood to reach the brain to keep it ticking. Our dam water was pretty cold at the bottom, so I think that was it.”

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The Indiana Course

Geshe Sopa and Lama, 1975From 1975: We Need a Foundation by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

From California the lamas returned to Louie-Bob Wood’s Bodhicitta Center in Indiana, Max and Wongmo accompanying them. They were scheduled to give a two-week course there starting on July 24. Louie-Bob had rented a venue this time and once again many of those attending were older people—mostly devout Christians. Definitely not hippies. In addition to the local attendees, however, there were also about twenty people in attendance who had already received teachings from the lamas. While in California, Lama Zopa Rinpoche had dictated the Yoga Meditation of Chenrezig Compassionate Wisdom to Wongmo, who had then arranged to have it printed in time for a Chenrezig initiation that Lama gave to eighty-five people at the end of the course. Rinpoche had signed the booklet “Zopa—Lama in name only.”

During the question-and-answer time a woman asked Lama if Buddha’s ultimate nature was the same as God. Lama paused in deep contemplation for a long minute before clearly replying, “Yes.” As most of those attending this course were Christians, Lama spoke often about Jesus and his qualities and even had them visualizing Jesus instead of Buddha. Two hundred people attended Lama Yeshe’s public talk at the Brown County Art Gallery on the second night of the course. At the end of the course Lama gave refuge to forty people and lay vows to thirty.

Lama told all the people who wanted to do further study to visit Geshe Sopa in Madison, Wisconsin. Several of them went directly there and became dedicated students of Lama’s long-time teacher.

Max Mathews stayed on the tour for the duration of her school holiday leave. In Nashville, Indiana, she spent time working on an innovative education project that Lama had discussed with her. Lama had told her that he believed Buddhism could be taught all around the world without using any Buddhist terms at all, and in such a way that children could learn that life is impermanent, all things are interrelated, and the path to life’s fulfillment involves exercising compassion and wisdom and applying appropriate methods. Max thought that the first thing to do was to prepare texts in order to be able to train teachers. She wrote out a program, developed concepts, and had long discussions with Lama. News of her work elicited offers from two American universities to complete a Ph.D. in educational research, but she did not accept. When the lamas left for Wisconsin, Max returned to Nepal and her job at Lincoln School. She was still the only source of support for more than fifty young Mount Everest Centre monks.

 

In Wisconsin with Geshe Sopa

Several days into the Indiana course, on July 29, because of difficulties with his health due to the Indiana summer heat, Lama Yeshe cancelled the upcoming course in New York that had been organized by Roger Jackson and Pam Percy with help from Nicole Couture. “He was obviously not well,” said Pam. “He paused every now and then as some pain passed through him, but he was more concerned about us. He wouldn’t let us leave until we were quite clear of his reasons for cancelling the New York course. He kept asking us to take care of each other.”

The upside of this was that it gave the lamas more time to spend with their precious teacher, Geshe Sopa. They traveled to Madison, Wisconsin, directly from Indiana, spending the next month there receiving teachings from Geshe Sopa on the The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lam-rim Chenmo). It was also a time for Lama Yeshe to take a break from his grueling schedule and escape from the heat that oppressed him so. Because Geshe Sopa’s house was right next to the lake, it was more comfortable in summer than much of the rest of the area.

Khamlung Rinpoche, whose house was just down the road from Geshe Sopa’s, hadn’t seen Thubten Yeshe since that dreadful day at Sera in March 1959. Here in the United States the Tibetans spent long pleasant evenings dining together, Lama Yeshe doing some of the cooking. Geshe Sopa was teachings only one weekly class at the time so he had free time to spend with his old student. Meanwhile, Nick embarked on series of long bus and plane rides to Chicago, Boston, Toronto, and Gainesville, Florida, giving talks on Buddhism to raise funds for the IMI before returning to Madison.

* * *

Allyn Roberts was a psychologist and the director of one of Wisconsin’s first private clinics. In 1972 his friend, Geshe Sopa, had asked him to deliver a message to Lama Yeshe while he was traveling in India. He had been warmly welcomed by Lama and the two had enjoyed many enthusiastic conversations about the overlap of Buddhism and Western psychology in relieving suffering. They had agreed that each discipline needed to learn from and be complemented by the other. Lama asked Allyn to send him some suitable books written by Western psychologists, which he had done. Lama even suggested that they swap roles for a few months. These conversations had taken place even before the term “transpersonal psychology” entered the common vernacular and at a time when Western psychological traditions rarely focused on spiritual dimensions in their pursuit of wholeness.

Allyn had heard that after spending time at Kopan many young drug addicts had been able to kick their addiction, while in contrast, clinical approaches were having only limited success. He wanted to know how they did it. “That’s easy,” Lama Yeshe had told him. “They are hungry for nourishing food. I feed them and then it is easier for them to forgo the non-nourishing food.”

Now that Lama was visiting Madison, Geshe Sopa called Allyn saying that Lama wanted to come and see him. “Geshe-la wanted Lama to see the silo that was attached to my home, on top of which I had built a glass-walled viewing room,” Allyn recalled. “Lama arrived and darted up the inner staircase leading to the room. Geshe-la was anxious because he knew of Lama’s heart condition. Halfway up he looked back at Geshe-la and me in a laughing and mischievous way. ‘I’m fine!’ Lama said. We followed at a much less vigorous pace. In the viewing room Lama was absolutely overjoyed. He said, ‘This gives me an idea. We should build a statue of the Buddha like this, with an inner staircase surrounded by Buddhist and spiritual art objects.’ He said that our energy and spirits were raised in the process of climbing up and that most people needed some kind of physical experience. People would take with them memories and images that would assist their spiritual growth.”

Some of Lama Yeshe’s students had written to Geshe Sopa in hopes that he could persuade Lama to undergo the heart valve replacement recommended by several cardiologists. They had also written to Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche about it. However, Trijang Rinpoche told Lama that his divinations had advised against having any operation at all. Nevertheless Lama, now forty years old, went back to the university hospital for more tests.

While he was at the hospital, a vending machine there attracted his attention. “So beautiful. Just like karma. You select something, put a coin in, and the result appears,” he said.

The upshot of this visit was that Lama agreed to be admitted for two days to have a cardiac catheterization. It was noted in the hospital documents that his date of birth (invented by Mummy Max for Lama’s travel documents) was 21 May 1935 and that he was 5′ 3″ tall and weighed 155 pounds. The procedure was performed under a local anesthetic on 10 September 1975. “They took me to that chopping place and put me on a chopping table. They showed me on TV; I could watch like a movie!” said Lama afterward. He had not been at all nervous and had cheerfully joked all the way through the procedure. The doctors were impressed.

Before leaving Geshe Sopa’s house for the hospital Lama Yeshe had given his teacher an envelope containing some money and his will. “It seemed he had already decided that it didn’t matter if he died during the operation. Of course, once you decide that, there is no problem,” said Geshe Sopa.

Dr. Nick attended the post-examination medical conference. “The doctors couldn’t understand how Lama could travel and be so active with his heart in such poor condition. One of them pointed out that he was a Buddhist monk and probably led a very sedentary life, so I was prompted to tell them how just last year he had scooted up the hill at Lawudo, which is at 14,000 feet. I’m not sure they believed me, however. A monk wasn’t going to have the same credibility as a doctor. And a doctor-monk, well… Whenever any of us students asked Lama how he coped with his heart, he always said it was the power of mantras. I didn’t tell them that.”

Geshe Sopa also attended this conference. “The doctor was very frank. He insisted that it was better to do the operation now; otherwise, if we were to wait then [his heart] would deteriorate and it could be very dangerous. Right then it was not so dangerous. I pushed him to say how long he thought that Lama could live without an operation. He said eight years,” said Geshe Sopa. But later, Lama repeated Trijang Rinpoche’s advice not to have the surgery. “If we followed the doctors, then I would already be dead; several doctors said that I should be dead. I don’t want to do that operation now. Maybe later I can come back. I’ve stayed alive a lot longer than anyone thought I could and I have so much to do. I can’t afford the recovery time that an operation would take.”

Lama’s friend Chombey also recalled discussing the matter with him. “Lama said Trijang Rinpoche told him not to have it, because it wouldn’t make any big difference. The operation would not prolong his life and not having it would not shorten his life either. But Trijang Rinpoche also made a promise to Lama. He told him, ‘As long as I live, you will be taken care of. Nothing will happen to you. I can’t do much in spreading the Dharma around and you are doing all that work. I’ll look after you while I live.’ That’s what he told Lama,” said Chombey.

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!”

Lame Yeshe, Lama Zopa and the Injis

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

Titles are something of a feature in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Zina and her friends had always called Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche “Lama Yeshe” and “Lama Zopa.” The Westerners who gathered around them did the same, though they also called Lama Zopa by his title, “Rinpoche.” To Tibetans, however, they were still Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche. As neither monk had received a geshe degree, one title by which they were not addressed was “Geshe-la,” though a few people did refer to Lama Yeshe this way.

Zina ran the house. She was “mother.” Most days at Kopan passed with just Zina, Jan, Robbie, Randy and Piero sitting around talking with the lamas when they were not doing their practices. Lama Yeshe began giving classes twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays. A daily schedule was posted outside his room indicating when he was free for interviews, which were translated by Rinpoche. Piero Cerri put his name down for every day of the week.

Staying at Kopan wasn’t all sweetness and light. Piero bravely produced daily lists of his meditation problems while Jan and Randy fought—often. Lama Yeshe would calm everyone down over and over again.

Everyone who met the two lamas noticed the differences between them. Rinpoche was the impossibly thin ascetic who took forever to bless his food and then ate next to nothing. He happily allowed mosquitoes to bite him as he sat in endless meditation. On the other hand Lama Yeshe was exuberant. He ate heartily, enjoyed everything, and engaged everyone in conversations ranging from gardening to physics. He never appeared to study the texts he knew so well, though people noticed that the lamas’ lights were generally left on all night long.

Both monks had outrageously infectious laughs—waterfalls of unrestrained joy breaking out all over the silent hill late at night as the Injis sat meditating with their sore knees and aching legs, full of their daily miseries. Everyone figured that if the lamas could laugh like that, well, there had to be something to this Buddhadharma.

Lama Yeshe told his students that he had been entrusted with Zopa Rinpoche’s education and care. Sometimes he would interrupt his ascetic student’s meditations, pointing at him and saying, “You’re going to have to teach!” Zopa Rinpoche would beg off, saying nervously, “Please, Lama, no!” This made Lama Yeshe rock with laughter.

Thubten Yeshe had all the time in the world for the crazy Injis and was full of boundless energy for anyone who needed him. When he had time, he still ran around Kathmandu and hung out with Jampa Trinley’s young family.

The psychedelic-loving Injis were fascinated by the lamas and loved to relate details of their wild drug experiences, hoping to coax the monks into talking about their own “magic.”

But on this subject, the lamas remained disappointingly silent. Everyone thought they could read others’ minds like a book but that they just wouldn’t say so. Once Randy said, “Come on, Lama, astral traveling and all this stuff can’t really be true!” Lama Yeshe gave his usual teasing reply: “Everything is possible, dear.”

 

 

Sherpas, Zopa Rinpoche and the Lawudo Lama

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

“The Sherpas (Tibetan:shar pa, from shar “east” + pa “people”) are an ethnic group who live in the high mountain region of the eastern Himalayas. According to the Sherpas themselves, however, sherpa actually refers to all Tibetans, i.e., all “people from the east.” About 3,000 of the more than 10,000 Sherpas in Nepal reside in the Solu Khumbu valley, the entryway to Mount Everest from the southwest. However, some live farther west in the high Rolwaling Valley and in the Langtang-Helambu region directly north of Kathmandu. Sherpas have their own language, which resembles a dialect of Tibetan. Most Sherpas are Tibetan Buddhists of the Nyingma sect.

The term sherpa is also used to refer to local mountain people, men and also women, who work as guides and porters for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas. They are highly regarded as elite mountaineers and experts in their local geography. Historically Sherpas were traders; even today, yak trains carry various goods and food items across the Nangpa La pass to Tibet, returning with salt and wool.

The Sherpas grow or raise most of their food by herding yaks and planting potatoes. Yaks provide wool for clothing, leather for shoes, dung for fuel and fertilizer, milk, butter, cheese and meat. Potatoes, which grow at altitudes up to 14,000 feet, provide the Sherpas with their dietary staple: the main food eaten is Sherpa stew, shakpa, a meat- and potato-based stew with some vegetables mixed in. The typical Nepali fare of rice with lentils, called dhal bhaat, is also a common meal among Sherpas. Tea is the drink of choice, served in big thermoses, with plenty of milk and either sugar or salt and butter already added. Each household brews its own chang, which is a thick, rice- or barley-based beer.

Sherpa hospitality is legendary. Trekkers hiking along the paths into the mountains can stop for tea, or a meal, or an overnight stay at any Sherpa’s house, even the poorest, and be welcomed openly with kindness; no one is ever turned away from the door.

Every twelve years the Sherpa people of Solu Khumbu traveled from their mountain homes down to Kathmandu for a traditional pilgrimage tour of the holy Buddhist sites there. In the early spring of 1969 Zopa Rinpoche’s mother and other family members embarked on this pilgrimage, traveling to Kathmandu together with their friends and neighbors. But Zopa Rinpoche’s relatives had an even more compelling reason to head to Kathmandu that spring. They intended to beg Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the incarnation of the previous Lawudo Lama who had died in March 1945, to come back home to Solu Khumbu.

Dawa Chötar, the little boy who would eventually be ordained as Thubten Zopa, was born in the small town of Thangmé, just below the village of Lawudo, on 3 December 1945. His father had died when he was only two, leaving his impoverished mother with four children to raise, one of whom had died at the age of nine. He had an older brother, Sangye, and an older sister, Ngawang Samten. They dressed in rags and had little to eat. When he was barely able to walk, Dawa Chötar began trying to make his way up the mountain to Lawudo, a two-hour trek across a river and straight up the mountainside. He insisted that the cave up there was his home. He played at giving initiations and could name, apparently from memory, all the benefactors of the Lawudo Lama.

The Lawudo Lama had been a married salt trader with a son and a daughter. Married lamas are common in the Nyingma tradition, to which he belonged. He had decided to spend his life in retreat in a cave once used to store radishes. As he was digging it out, he discovered a beautiful space marked with sacred signs. But just as he was about to move into the cave, he was struck with paralysis. Later, he declared his disease a special blessing because it meant he could meditate undisturbed, having been rendered useless for anything else. So for thirteen years he sat in meditation on a stone seat in this cave, his hair left uncut and dressed always in an old white fur coat and a pair of big round earrings. It is said that during his cremation rainbow clouds filled the sky, flower-shaped snowflakes fell, and the air was filled with music.

Three years later a two-year old boy from one of the poorest families in the area began insisting he was the Lawudo Lama’s reincarnation. His relatives were embarrassed, but one night the late Lama’s daughter, Karzang, secretly visited the boy’s home with articles that had belonged to her father. Little Dawa Chötar identified them immediately. He was then subjected to public examinations; he passed every test and was officially recognized. When he was four years old, an uncle took him to Rolwaling Monastery, which was two days’ hard walk from Thangmé. The boy, now called Ang Gyältsen, spent seven years there, before his uncles took him to Tibet, where he was ordained at Domo Geshe Rinpoche’s Dungkar Monastery in Phag-ri. Not long after that, it was 1959 and he had to escape to India.”

Dharma Wisdom

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

With his quick ear for the hippie idiom, Thubten Yeshe put it simply: “I was a drop-out geshe!”

Later, when better able to express himself in English, he said, “I left Tibet with nothingness. Who helped me? My mum was not there, my bed was not there, all my comforts were not there. But Dharma wisdom explained everything to me. Really, I have no higher realizations, but personally, I am very happy the Chinese caused me to leave. I could have created an incredible attachment fantasy with my life with titled names and other ridiculous things. But it’s fanciful; it would have meant nothing. The Chinese pushing me out made me develop much more strength. Up to the twenty-fifth year of my life, I was incredibly taken care of in such good conditions, compared to Western people. But if you actualize your understanding of the nature of Buddhadharma for just ten minutes every day, it is really worthwhile and keeps you laughing, rather than just being restless.”

Villa Altomont continued…

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Although Zina was quite serious about developing a spiritual life, she was still pretty hedonistic. Drugs had been a part of her life for a long time. A true child of the 1960s, she had taken LSD with Timothy Leary at his Millbrook estate in New York. Marijuana was a staple in her life. “I don’t know which came first for the Injis,” said Zopa Rinpoche, using the common term among Tibetans for Westerns, “LSD or The Way of the White Clouds.” Once when Zina was going out to buy marijuana, Lama Yeshe confronted her straightaway and told her he didn’t want her to use drugs. Zina suddenly realized that he had known what she was doing all along.

For Zina, life was still a party- hours in the bathroom, choosing jewels to wear, selling jewels or other possessions when funds were low, purchasing more from local craftsmen. She had stacks of matching luggage, closets full of fine linens, dinnerware and decorations. Wherever Zina set up home, it was always a palace.

A princess needs an entourage and Villa Altomont gave the monks their first experience of Injis at play. Soon Lama Yeshe was adding cocktail party mimicry to his comic routines, holding his glass just right, turning self-consciously this way and that. His brilliant acting had everyone in fits of laughter.

Thubten Yeshe had no illusions of Zina; he often hid his face as she strode through the local markets, traffic-stoppingly gorgeous in catsuit and cape, full of her own self-importance, insulting the local people, believing she was the reincarnation of Madame Blavatsky. The monks from Buxa would mutter, “What is this senior monk and great debater doing with this arrogant Inji woman!” Lama Yeshe knew exactly what they thought. Zina was a classically samsaric woman; she was glamorous, famous and beautiful, and she sought pleasure in material things. These had already failed her, but still she tried to squeeze the last drop of pleasure from them. She was not yet ready to recognize that all these things had so far failed to make her happy and could never do so, so she habitually returned to them for further unsatisfactory pleasure. But from Lama Yeshe’s perspective, if Zina could learn Dharma, anyone could. Besides, he could see how unhappy she was.

In the summer of 1967, Nikolaus Dutschke came from Berlin to stay. “He stayed for a few months; the whole time he was writing a novel on a continuous roll of paper,” said Clive Giboire. “Then there was Bhagavan Das, alias Michael Riggs, who helped the lamas with their English, and his friend, a tall thin American called Dharma Dipo. Zina liked socializing, provided it was with the ‘right’ people. I had a birthday party there one time and wanted to invite Mrs. Shaw, who ran the guest house, but that just wasn’t on.”

“Zina and I were in love,” said Nikolaus. “With the lamas there we had a wonderful family life around them. Every day the summerhouse throbbed like a drum as they did their practices there. During that summer Zina and I received a kind of initiation; we left the world of parties and hashish behind. Rhea was with us all the time. Lama Yeshe was the adult among us, even though he was just thirty-two, the same age as me. Zina was four years older. It was amazing how Zopa could translate for us. He was just a teenager!” Zopa Rinpoche was in fact twenty-one, but he was so slight that everyone believed that he was much younger.

“Zina was so unpredictable,” said Nikolaus, “constantly furious, impatient, unjust and outrageous. Lama Zopa was absolutely scared of her. I spent all my time consoling people, assuring them she didn’t really mean to hurt them. I was there for her in any way she needed me. We always had our meals with the lamas, and at night as I wrote, I could hear their little bells and chants coming from the tea house.”

Bhagavan Das was already a famous figure at that time, an American who had become a Hindu guru and dressed like an Indian sadhu. “I came to Darjeeling in the fall of 1967, got off the bus and found Zina’s house. When we greeted each other, she said, “Michael, you have to meet my lamas,” just like you’d say, “You have to meet my dogs.” Their doghouse was a shack with windows. When Lama Yeshe greeted me at the door, I still remember his smile- it lit up the night sky like a sun. Lama Zopa sat in the corner, a skinny kid wrapped in a blanket. Lama Yeshe was his mother and so sweet and kind to him, just like my own grandmother, who had raised me until I was six, when she had been killed.

“I loved being in that room with Lama Yeshe. I spoke Hindi like a five-year-old, and he spoke it like a seven-year-old, so we were on the same page. He asked me if I would teach him English, and in return he taught me Tibetan Buddhism. We had tea together every morning for a couple of weeks while he taught me and I taught him. He was so humble. He would always bow to me when I arrived and I would kiss his hands. He was just pure love and devotion, a mahasiddha and rainbow light came out of his teeth.”

Villa Altomont

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“After a month of going back and forth to Ghoom, Zina asked the monks if they would come and live with her in Darjeeling. Incredibly, they agreed, transferring themselves and their few belongings to Villa Altomont. They stayed in Zina’s cold, glassed-in summerhouse for nine months. This small outbuilding contained a table, one door, and just enough room on the floor for the monks to sleep, one on either side of the door. Meanwhile, Zina swanned around her sprawling bungalow with a continuous parade of exotic guests. She addressed the monks as “Lama Yeshe” and “Lama Zopa.”

Early every morning a manservant brought tea to the lamas while they did their daily prayers. Zina rose around 8:00 am; the monks were always shocked by how she looked. “When she first came out in her long dressing gown, she looked seventy,” recalled Lama Zopa. “Then she spent two hours in the bathroom. The house only had one bathroom, so we all had to walk through her museum…things to paint and fix her body spread out everywhere. Then at 10:00 am when she came for teachings, she looked twenty, maybe twenty-five. A huge difference!”

Lama Yeshe, the natural clown, would imitate Zina’s face-painting rituals to howls of laughter from Zina and her friends. “Am I okay?” he would say, looking worriedly into an imaginary mirror. Zina had an extensive wardrobe, wonderful jewelry and a collection of wigs. She was fond of dressing up, often changing outfits several times a day.

After breakfast Zina would spend the next hour or two with the monks, who went over texts with her and listened to stories about her remarkable life. After lunch, she would usually go to one of Darjeeling’s two movie houses, while Clive Giboire would help Lama Yeshe with his English. Both monks were absolutely dedicated to learning this language, often breaking out in Americanisms, hippie jargon and modern idioms to the great amusement of their audiences.

Several times a week throughout his nine months at Villa Altomont, Lama Yeshe walked two miles through rain and constant fog to visit two elderly Christian women who were also teaching him English. They had devoted themselves to learning Tibetan in order to teach Tibetans about Christianity. Before class they all sang Christian songs together. Zopa Rinpoche attended these sessions only occasionally. On his feet Lama Yeshe wore thick black rubber sandals made from automobile tires. Most of the Buxa monks wore these as they were very strong and very cheap. There were no cars or buses and the monks had no money, so they walked everywhere.

During this time, Lama Yeshe continued to study grammar and astrology with a well-respected local Sherpa, Ngawang Yonten, who published an astrological calendar every year giving details of planetary movements, the world’s weather and auspicious events through the year. Soon Lama Yeshe was able to build an astrological calendar for a whole year.

Nehnang Pawo Rinpoche, who had first recognized the child Dondrub Dorje as the reincarnation of the abbess, Aché Jampa, was also living in the area, residing at the oldest monastery in Darjeeling. When Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche went to visit him, they took Zina with them. “His manner reminded me of His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche,” said Zopa Rinpoche later. “While he was talking to us, many flies were flying around the room. As he sat there, he’d stretch out his hand and catch one, then blow on it and let it go.”

Delighted with “her” lamas, Zina sent postcard photographs of Lama Yeshe holding baby Rhea to friends in Europe, including an old friend from Mykonos, Olivia de Haulleville, who was then working for the World Health Organization in Paghman, Afghanistan. “How do you like my babysitter!” wrote Zina. Olivia, who had a son the same age as Rhea, thought, “Oh God, what has Zina done now!”

Meeting Zina Rachevsky

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Some months after Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche’s arrival, a tall, glamorous Western woman turned up at Samten Chöling. This was Zinaide Rachevsky, then aged thirty-six.

It was a beautiful Sunday when Zina met the monks for the first time. Accompanying Gene and Zina was Jampa Gyaltsen Mutugtsang (whose name means “smoke of the dragon”), a married Kagyu tulku whom Zina had found to translate for her. “I took her everywhere, to see everyone,” he said. “She wore Western dress with lots of jewelry and asked many questions. I knew Zopa Rinpoche from the Young Lamas’ Home School, where we had spent six or seven months together. She knew she wasn’t meeting Domo Geshe Rinpoche, though at school we had always called Zopa Rinpoche ‘Domo Rinpoche’ because he had come from that monastery. I never heard him called Zopa until I met Westerners. Rinpoche invited us in and offered tea.”

The first thing Zina saw when the door opened was tiny Zopa Rinpoche looking up from his painting. She introduced herself and said she was looking for a Dharma teacher. At first she didn’t see Thubten Yeshe, who was meditating in a corner of the dark room.

Suddenly he called to Zopa in Tibetan, “Who is she, what does she want?” Rinpoche replied that she was seeking enlightenment. Thubten Yeshe was astounded to hear a Westerner express such a request. The general attitude among Tibetans was that Westerners were unable to understand Dharma and that teaching them was a waste of time. Zopa Rinpoche had met Westerners before while at the Young Lamas’ Home School, where the young tulkus had often visited Western embassies in Delhi. But neither monk had ever met anyone like Zina.

Zopa Rinpoche called for tea, which duly arrived—a big monastery kettle of salty Tibetan butter tea. A big mug of it was poured for Zina, who drank it all, immediately. “That was the first time she had ever drunk Tibetan tea, and I don’t recall her ever drinking it again,” said Zopa Rinpoche.

Years later, Lama Yeshe recalled the day. “So there we were, and one morning a monk knocked at our door and said, ‘Lama Zopa’s friend has come to see him.’ It was Zina Rachevsky, a Russian-American woman, who was supposed to be a princess or something.

“She said that she’d come to the East seeking peace and liberation and asked me how they could be found. I was kind of shocked because I’d never expected Westerners to be interested in liberation or enlightenment. For me, that was a first. I thought, ‘This is something strange but very special.’ Of course, I did have some idea of what Westerners were, but obviously it was a Tibetan projection! So, despite my surprise, I thought I should check to see if she was really sincere or not.

“I started to answer her questions as best I could, according to my ability, but after an hour she said she had to go back to where she was staying in Darjeeling. However, as she was leaving she asked, ‘Can I come back tomorrow?’ So I said, ‘All right.’”

“Zina liked the atmosphere and asked some questions about Buddhism,” recounted Gene. “Rinpoche answered very well so she wanted to see him again. He agreed because since he was convalescing he had some spare time. But Zina needed help. Rinpoche’s English was not good enough and Thubten Yeshe didn’t speak any English at all. So two or three times a week I’d hire a Jeep and we would spend an hour or two with them. They were always together but Zina only spoke with Zopa Rinpoche because, being a tulku, he sat on a higher seat. Also, he spoke some English.”

“She came into our room like a thunderstorm,” said Zopa Rinpoche, “full of energy and enthusiasm and talking sharp sense about some high things and completely complicated nonsense about others. Most of her questions were about astral trips and psychic powers and those things.”

Zina began visiting the monks every morning at 9:00 am, bringing new questions every time. One day she came with a rock on which the mantra Om Mani Padmé Hum had been carved. “What is this for?” she asked. Another day she brought prayer flags. “Explain these. Why do Tibetans do this?” After two or three hours she would leave in the Jeep. Zina always brought her daughter Rhea, who wasn’t even a year old, with her but would leave her in the Jeep with her Nepalese nanny during these sessions.

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