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Lay Precepts

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

One hundred and eight people completed the fourth Kopan course—and for once, everyone paid. 108 is an auspicious number relating to the 108 volumes of the Kangyur, the collection of the words of the Buddha. There is a popular Tibetan Buddhist prayer entitled One Hundred and Eight Verses in Praise of Great Compassion and there are also commonly 108 beads on a Buddhist mala.

Near the end of the course Lama Yeshe gave a talk on refuge and precepts, which left everybody weak with laughter and filled with enthusiasm for living a different kind of life. As usual, a number of those in attendance opted not to take the precept to abstain from taking intoxicants. Hash was still just too much fun for some.

From Lama Yeshe’s talk on the lay precepts from the fourth course:

There are some people here who want to take the five precepts. Ordination is beneficial for oneself and for sentient beings. The lamas’ experience is that before taking and giving these precepts we should have some understanding of what they are and why we take them. It is not just a samsaric custom.

We all want perfect peace, happiness, everlasting satisfaction and liberation. Since that’s our goal, we should head in that direction. Otherwise we’re just hypocrites—we say we want, we want, but act completely opposite to our desire. A simple example: In the West, people with severe psychological problems are put into mental hospitals, which is pretty radical treatment. What they need is soft, peaceful treatment. Putting someone in jail is wrathful treatment, neither soft nor peaceful. Lama’s rule is that mental hospitals are okay, but they should be peaceful and the patients should be treated with understanding. They should come to understand themselves slowly, slowly, not by force.

By constraining ourselves with ordination we can gradually develop our mind. We are not ready for immediate development by forced meditation and so forth. We need to create peaceful conditions for ourselves so that our mind will develop in a certain way and gradually become more stable, not up and down. From there it can be liberated without having to come down into the samsaric world.

So ordination is the method of achieving this. Lord Buddha never said we have to follow any rule without knowing its purpose. He said that if you keep this kind of precept it will give you this kind of mental feeling, safety from certain problems. The five precepts are not killing, not lying, not stealing, not becoming intoxicated and not engaging in sexual misconduct. Lord Buddha never said, “Don’t do these five things.” Rather he explained what kind of mind, what kind of confused mental attitude, engages in killing and so forth; what kind of selfish motivation causes us to engage in such actions.

Before taking the five precepts our mind is dissatisfied, kind of berserk. Lord Buddha said this confused mental attitude brings conflict. If we’re in control of our mind, actions such as killing, lying and so forth, never bring the reaction of conflict in our mind. He never said, “Stop doing that forever.” He just said that avoiding it is useful for your mind. When we reach enlightenment we don’t need ordination rules. For example, small children are told not to touch electricity—their mothers make a kind of rule against it—but older children don’t need such rules; they already know. It’s the same thing for the higher consciousness, the liberated, stable consciousness. It doesn’t need that rule, it is already free from that condition. “If you have an uncontrolled, deluded motivation, do not do such actions.” That’s all Lord Buddha said.

Ordination is helpful not just because a lama gives it to us but because we take it ourselves. If we have great determination, if we understand the nature of the samsaric mind and the way the wrong-concept mind reacts and take the ordination with great psychic mental determination—not just ignorantly saying, “I want this,” but having perfect determination through understanding—then that mental power can lead us in a positive direction for a long time. Samsara comes from the power of the mind, as does the result of liberation. The whole thing is mental attitude; the whole thing is really simple.

Lord Buddha also asked, “What do we need to be qualified to take ordination?” And gave the answer, “Renunciation of samsara.” It’s nothing external, such as robes and so forth. However, we all have a different idea of what renunciation is. My connotation is that renunciation is on a mental level. It means not to give something with mental attachment, not to give an object with the mind still in it, such as when we think, “I wish I hadn’t given that.” This way of thinking only gives trouble. We can renounce lunch but still eat it—renunciation is on the mental attitude.

It’s difficult but possible, it varies from person to person, but some people have very high consciousness; they have control over negativity and problems, and at the same time act in unity with phenomena. But others, when they touch electricity they get burnt. Similarly, some experience suffering when they contact the negative mind—we can call it karma, mental reaction, karmic result of action, causation, mental attitude, or movement of the mind. How can we develop our consciousness? If we always put our mind into unconscious situations, we cannot develop higher consciousness. We make it possible by putting our mind into a peaceful atmosphere through ordination. Then we can realize how our mind tricks us. “I thought I was like this but now I see I’m like that.”

Ordination is like a test. For example, perhaps we have no idea and always think, “I am perfect, pure; I don’t tell lies,” but when we put ourselves into a situation where we are always aware, we realize that our negative mind is very much involved in what we are doing. When we lie, we are trying to change another’s mental attitude. Although we don’t say the words, “I am always right,” our mental attitude says that we are. Until we can trust ourselves there is no truth at all. For example, we can have an experience, a flash, in meditation, but that doesn’t mean we have found the truth.

Also, keeping precepts is basic, fundamental to samadhi meditation because when we live in ordination our body, speech and mind are already in a positive, relaxed atmosphere. Out of this basic atmosphere we can guide our mind into the peaceful path of liberation. If somebody is agitating us all the time, it’s an impossible situation for developing control. Therefore, cut the agitated situation and create the atmosphere you want.

I’m not pushing people to take ordination; pushing people is not the Buddhist way. We don’t care if people become Buddhists or not. But those who want to should understand why and how. If you don’t want to take precepts then it’s better that you don’t.

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Lama Yeshe’s Christmas Talk

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

From Lama Yeshe’s Christmas talks:

“When we see each other again on Christmas Eve for the celebration of holy Jesus’s birth, let us do so in peace, with a good vibration and a happy mind. I think it would be wonderful! To attend the celebration with an angry disposition would be so sad. Come instead with a beautiful motivation and much love. Have no discrimination, but see everything as a golden flower, even your worst enemy. Then Christmas, which so often produces an agitated mind, will become so beautiful.

When you change your mental attitude, the external vision also changes. This is a true turning of the mind. There is no doubt about this. I am not special, but I have had experience doing this, and it works. You people are so intelligent so you can understand how the mind has this ability to change itself and its environment. There is no reason why this change cannot be for the better.

Some of you might think, “Oh, I want to have nothing to do with Jesus, nothing to do with the Bible.” This is a very angry, emotional attitude to have toward Christianity. If you really understood, you would recognize that what Jesus said was, “Love!” It is as simple and as profound as that. When you have true love within you, I am sure that you will feel much more peaceful than you do now.

How do you normally think of love? Be honest. It is always involved with discrimination, isn’t it? Just look around this room and see if anyone here is an object of your love. Why do you discriminate so sharply between friend and enemy? Why do you see such a big difference between yourself and others? In the Buddhist teachings, this falsely discriminating attitude is called dualism. Jesus said that such an attitude is the opposite of true love. Therefore, is there any one of us who has the pure love Jesus was talking about? If we do not, we should not criticize his teachings or feel that they are irrelevant to us. We are the ones who have misunderstood, perhaps knowing the words of his teachings but never acting upon them.

There are many beautiful sentences in the Bible, but I do not recall reading that Jesus ever said that without your doing anything whatsoever, without preparing yourself in the same way, the Holy Spirit will descend upon you—whoosh! If you do not act the way he said you should act, there is no Holy Spirit existent anywhere for you.

What I have read in the Bible has the same connotation as the Buddhist teachings on equilibrium, compassion, and changing one’s ego-attachment into love for others. It may not be immediately obvious how to train your mind to develop these attitudes, but it is certainly possible to do so. Only our selfishness and closed-mindedness prevent us.

With true realizations, the mind is no longer egotistically concerned with only its own salvation. With true love, one no longer behaves dualistically, feeling very attached to some people, distant from others, and totally indifferent to the rest. It is so simple. In the ordinary personality, the mind is always divided against itself, always fighting and disturbing its own peace.
The teachings on love are very practical. Do not put religion somewhere up in the sky and feel you are stuck down here on earth. If one’s actions of body, speech, and mind are in accordance with loving kindness, then you automatically become a truly religious person. To be religious does not mean that you attend certain teachings. If you listen to teachings and misinterpret them, you are, in fact, the opposite of religious. And it is only because you do not understand a certain teaching that you abuse religion.

Lack of deep understanding leads to partisanship. The ego feels, “I am a Buddhist; therefore Christianity must be all wrong.” This is very harmful to true religious feeling. You do not destroy a religion with bombs but with hatred. More importantly, you destroy the peacefulness of your own mind. It does not matter whether you express your hatred with words or not.

Words do not mean anything. The mere thought of hatred automatically destroys your peace. Similarly, true love does not depend on physical expression. You should realize this. True love is a feeling deep within you. It is not just a matter of wearing a smile on your face and looking happy. Rather, it arises from a heartfelt understanding of every other being’s suffering and radiates out to all of them indiscriminately. It does not favor a chosen few to the exclusion of everyone else. This is true love.”

Lama Yeshe’s Heart Condition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the teachings of Lama Yeshe:

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

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

Story of the Origin of Kathmandu Valley

From 1968: Return to Nepal… For the First Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“From the Buddhist scriptures comes the story of the origin of the Kathmandu Valley and the holy stupa of Swayambhu. Previously, Manjudeva, an emanation of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, came to Nepal. He circumambulated the valley, striding along the surrounding mountaintops. At that time, the Kathmandu Valley was an enormous lake, in the center of which was a hill covered with lotus flowers. Manjudeva took his great sword and sliced a gash in the mountains to the south. The waters of the lake drained away, leaving only a small lake behind; thus was the Kathmandu Valley made habitable. The gash came to be known as Chhobar Gorge, and through Manjudeva’s magical powers, a lotus was transformed into the Swayambhu stupa on its hilltop, which is holy to both Hindus and Buddhists.

The mystical aura associated with Kathmandu lured many to take a bus or a plane to that legendary valley. Many world-travelers got as far Kathmandu and went no farther. There was also a small community of Western diplomats and aid workers—Peace Corps, embassy staff, workers with other NGOs—living in the Kathmandu Valley. With them they brought an influx of foreign currency, especially American dollars. Many of these Western visitors were the sons and daughters of affluent Western middle-class families, and the Tibetan refugees and Nepali merchants were happy to profit from their patronage.

In 1968 Kathmandu was like the proverbial Shangri-la, untouched, innocent. Small streets, rickshaws rather than cars, only a few tourists, breathtaking views of the Himalayas, Hindu and Buddhist temples on every corner, occasional mountain-climbing expeditions making ready to trek to higher altitudes. Crime was almost unheard of, no one locked their doors. And there was no electricity, except in the area around the King’s palace. In honor of the thousands of hippies who passed through, Jochhen Tole in downtown Kathmandu came to be known as ‘Freak Street.’ A small nondescript lane, it was lined with hash shops, cheap hostels, handicraft shops, and simple little restaurants serving pancakes, buffalo hamburgers, and other approximated Western foods as well as Tibetan momos and Indian chai.

Boudhanath Stupa  in the 1960s

Boudhanath:

Located about 7 miles (11 km.) by crowded minibus from Kathmandu, Boudhanath was a small village, just a circle of tall Nepalese houses clustered around a massive stupa, a gigantic white dome dating from the sixth century and topped with buddha eyes painted on all four sides. A hugely powerful sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site, the Boudhanath stupa was ringed at the base with a brick wall set with 147 niches, in which were inset 108 copper prayer wheels that revolved continuously under the hands of passing pilgrims. Around the stupa one could find all aspects of Kathmandu life: elderly Tibetan grandmothers, backs bent from a lifetime’s work; Sherpa and Nepali porters carrying huge loads on their backs, held by a jute sash strapped across their brow; Nepali and Tibetan merchants hawking their wares displayed on the walkway; small Tibetan carpet weaving enterprises; giggling toddlers playing with rocks in the street, no pants, no shoes, no diapers; smiling Tibetan nuns strolling around the stupa, arm in arm; meandering hippies dressed in Indian lunghis, Kashmiri shawls, and Afghani hats, rapt expressions on their faces. Little shops sold Tibetan antiques and cheap odds and ends from India. Devout Buddhists performed kora (circumambulations) around the stupa day and night, circling clockwise, clicking their rosaries, endlessly spinning the stupa prayer wheels. The atmosphere was full of muttered mantras and half-whispered prayers for the dead, for families left behind, for relief from all the unimaginable sufferings of the sentient beings who fill unimaginable universes.”

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