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More teachers, More students

Lama Yeshe, Kopan, 1975From 1976: “Heaven is Now!” by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Yeshe had planned for a Westerner to once again lead the spring meditation course and had asked Piero to do it, but unfortunately, Piero was now in Italy.

“I had been the Kopan typist since 1974,” recalled Thubten Pemo. She wasn’t the only one. Nicole Couture, Yeshe Khadro and others also typed constantly. Nicole had been warned that those who were smart didn’t admit to being able to type because they would immediately be given work. But Pemo always happily accepted typing work.

One day, she was walking with Marcel, for whom she was doing some typing. “We met Lama Yeshe on the path and asked him who was going to teach the course in Piero’s place. Lama looked at me and replied, ‘You. You can teach the course. Think about it and come back to me tomorrow and let me know.’ I couldn’t believe it. I knew nothing. My entire Dharma education consisted of four of Rinpoche’s courses. But since Lama had asked me, he must have thought that I could do it. Nevertheless, I was terrified. How could I possibly teach for four hours a day for thirty days? That’s one hundred and twenty hours! The next day I went to Lama’s room and said that if he wanted me to teach, I would teach. I thought Lama would tell me what to teach and in what order, and that he would teach me how to teach. But no. Lama said just one sentence to me. ‘You become Manjuishri and then you give the teachings.’ Of course, I had no idea how to become Manjushri.”

And so Thubten Pemo became the first Western female to teach an entire month-long lam-rim course at Kopan. Ngawang Chötak agreed to lead the meditations. It was an enormous job and Pemo spent every spare moment studying. The course began during the second half of March. At her request the lamas did a puja on the first morning of the course to bless it and then drove off in the Jeep, heading for the airport and India. They were returning to Dharamsala for the ordination ceremony of a new group of students.

Pemo’s course was a great success. Later, ten of Pemo’s students went to Dharamsala to do a month-long lam-rim retreat at Tushita. This all made Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche so happy that Lama was heard to exclaim, “My nuns can teach! My nuns can teach!”

Rinpoche wrote her a beautiful letter of thanks:

Most dear Thubten Pemo Rinpoche,

How are you? We have met your incredible disciples. They look that they have gained much wisdom. That must mean you have that much wisdom. We think and HOPE that you will attain Manjushri soon by Mahakala’s continual protection. We will pray for that.

See you soon,

               Yeshe, Zopa

Among those at Pemo’s course were some very dedicated students, such as Dharmawati Brechbuhl from Indonesia, Caroline Crossman and Tony Beaumont from Australia, and several others who would become long-term practitioners. Since that time it has become quite normal for Western women to give Dharma teachings all over the world.

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Mount Everest Center

Lama with the MEC students, 1976From 1976: “Heaven is Now!” by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

The Kopan community fell neatly into two separate worlds: the Injis and the Mount Everest Centre monks. As far as the Injis were concerned Kopan was paradise—the best thing that had ever happened to them. In contrast, some of the young monks wanted to run away. Michael Losang Yeshe was no longer the exotic little Inji monk he had once been but was now one of the crowd, speaking Tibetan like a native and looking every bit as grubby as his Sherpa classmates. He constantly used the expression “we Tibetans.”

“Once four of us ran away together,” Michael recalled. “Our punishment was to carry six tins of water each from the bottom of the hill, then pour it into the Tara pond. This meant a fifteen-minute walk each way. After just one trip we decided the only way to avoid this horrible task was to run away again. My father had married a Nepali woman, so we ran to his house in Kathmandu. But one of the monks ran back to Kopan and told Lama what we were doing. Only my stepmother was home when we got there and to our dismay she immediately drove Gelek Gyatso Rinpoche and me back to Kopan and marched us into Lama’s room. We sat down nervously. ‘You escaped! Shame on you!’ said Lama. ‘You too Losang Yeshe, have shame!’ But he gave us an easier punishment than the first one. The fourth monk had also run to his family’s home in Kathmandu, but when he returned Lama told him he had to leave Kopan. ‘The reason you escaped is because you don’t like it here, you don’t get what you need here and something is wrong for you, isn’t it? So why did you come back? You don’t want to stay, so you can go,’ Lama told him. It’s funny how Lama sent him away and not us. I ran away a couple more times and nobody ran away more than Gelek Gyatso, yet Lama accepted him back every time.”

Even Yangsi Rinpoche occasionally got into trouble. “Sometimes we had our art class in the gompa,” he recalled, “and occasionally Lama would walk through and inspect our work. One day I shouted something carelessly to another boy. Lama came straight over and scolded me, saying, ‘Aren’t you ashamed of shouting like that in class? You are a rinpoche and have to behave better than that.’ I was pretty young but I never forgot that incident. Lama was always so kind and loving to me. This was the first time he had ever scolded me. It brought down my ego.”

One little monk, Thubten Sherab, got thrown out of Kopan for being naughty. Everyone liked Thubten Sherab, who spoke Italian and Spanish and even taught English. Lama Yeshe noted Jimi Neal’s distress over the expulsion. “You shocked my method, dear?” Lama asked him. “I was and said so, but I immediately guessed what he was up to,” said Jimi. “Thubten Sherab was supposed to find some adult to come back to Kopan with him and beg for him to be allowed back. That’s exactly what happened and from then on things were fine for him.”

Most of the boys were from the Himalayan mountains and as wild as little lions. They needed Lama’s tough love. Lama Yeshe often whacked the boys with his long wooden mala. This horrified some of the Injis but he dismissed their concerns. “Look at these boys, how lucky they are! Here they spend their days doing puja and practicing Dharma. If they were in America what do you think they’d be doing?”

Lama regularly exacted discipline in the boys’ dining room. “His big thing was that we should not talk while eating,” said one boy. “If he heard noise from the dining room he’d come in, take off one of his wooden Dr. Scholl’s sandals and go down the line banging everybody on the head with it. Nobody cried because we weren’t really afraid of Lama Yeshe. Lama Pasang was much tougher on us. As for Lama Lhundrup, no one was ever afraid of him. Once we were playing around during a meal when suddenly Lama

Yeshe was there behind us. “You are shouting during dinner! You haven’t got any manners!” He went to the vegetable store, took out a big long white radish and went boom, boom, on everyone’s head. The radish broke at the fifth boy, so he got another one.”

Lama Yeshe kept a close watch on their food, making sure it was clean, not greasy and included a daily salad. At night they usually ate thukpa and chapattis. Lama didn’t want them eating Western bread and jam, which was of very low quality in Nepal. When he left to go on tour, however, standards in the kitchen tended to decline. Lama also instructed the boys in cleanliness and personal hygiene.

Sometimes the boys cleaned up the Inji dining room during courses and washed dishes, but generally the Mount Everest Centre boys had little contact with the foreign community other than at pujas. Falling asleep during puja was a common occurrence.

“We were allowed to fall asleep twice, but if it happened a third time it meant a black mark on your discipline record,” recalled Michael Losang Yeshe. “I learned how to fall asleep sitting upright with only my head drooping and one eye half open. Once I woke from a sound sleep to feel the unmistakable presence of Lama Yeshe behind me and something cold and heavy on my head. I realized it was one of the big water bowls off the altar. He poured the water all over me and held the bowl on my head while all the Injis behind me giggled.”

But life for the boys wasn’t all discipline and hardship. There were wonderful times with Lama, especially when they got out the traditional dancing masks. At Losar the boys had a marvelous time prancing around in them, clashing cymbals and blowing the long horns while Lama Yeshe threw handfuls of candies to them from the gompa roof.

Once again Michael’s father, Yorgo Cassapidis, invited all the Kopan monks to make puja at his house and in return gave each boy an offering of 100 rupees. Riches beyond their wildest dreams! Back at Kopan Lama Yeshe produced a list of every boy who had been at that puja and greeted them with an outstretched hand. Funds at Kopan were desperately short and again, such largesse was not to be wasted.

The 8th Kopan Meditation Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More new monks and nuns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.”

The First Course at Chenrezig Institute

Lamas having lunch, 1975From 1975: We Need a Foundation by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Yeshe gave two lectures in Brisbane before arriving at Chenrezig Institute in time for a month-long course, the second such meditation course held outside Nepal. One hundred and twenty people had enrolled for it. Anila Ann and her team had all but finished building the gompa on that steep empty land at Eudlo. The work had been done mainly by volunteers, qualified tradespeople turning up just in the nick of time and seemingly out of the blue. Ann had raised the money to pay for every plank and nail, though she was still living in the old shed.

Once again caravans were hired for the lamas and Mummy Max, who was not impressed. “I said to Lama, ‘Oh God, Lama, what karma you have! These camper trailers, no roads, no nothing.’ ‘It’s not for me, it’s for them,’ he told me,” recalled Max.

Lama had a big vision for this center. In 1974 he had told them, “Think big! Think big!” That year, a horse called Think Big had won the world-famous Melbourne Cup. In 1975 Think Big won the cup again. No one had thought to place a bet.

The course ran from May 5 to June 1. Mummy Max did not attend. Nor did Kathy Vichta, with whom Lama Yeshe spent some time cooking. “He showed me how to save time by squashing things with your hand instead of cutting them up. It worked just as well. He made a casserole one day by opening cans and just squashing the contents into bowls and saying mantras over them. Lama always said mantras while he cooked. He put so much physical energy into mundane stuff, like it was a really important part of his life,” said Kathy.

Lama’s students presented him with an electric razor, despite the fact that he had only about twenty whiskers. He preferred the Tibetan method of plucking them out with a small engraved brass clip during quiet breakfasts with Mummy Max.

Cameras always appeared when Lama Yeshe was around. Everyone loved new photos of him—dancing on the beach, sitting in meditation, laughing, playing. With the idea of commissioning a statue of Lama, Max arranged for a series of shots taken just of his head, from every angle. He posed for these graciously and without any self-consciousness.

Pete Northend and Colin Crosbie worked hard on the new building but Lama Yeshe wanted his wild-partying, hard-drinking shing-zö to enter a thirteen-year retreat. “I just couldn’t do it,” said Pete. “No way!”

Meanwhile, Electric Roger was thinking of becoming a monk. “I spoke to Lama Yeshe about it in Sydney. He said that I should check up whether I could renounce everything, even food. He said if I wasn’t ready to do that I could start up a center in Sydney. When I got to Chenrezig, I had an interview with him in the gompa. He was sitting alone in the middle of the room. I knew I was supposed to prostrate to him, but I still couldn’t bow down to a person. So I turned and prostrated to the altar instead. When I told him I wanted to take robes he just said, ‘Now or at Kopan?’ I said I’d come to Kopan.”

Lama Yeshe invited Mummy Max to give a talk on what had led her to take ordination. Max was not used to this kind of thing. Lama further honored her by insisting she sit on the teaching throne while speaking.

Peter Fenner arrived in time for one of Lama Zopa’s specialities, the death meditation. “It shifted something for me,” recounted Peter. “I knew about my dark side, so I loved the idea of purification. I met Lama Yeshe alone in the gompa and asked him to be my guru. I had a list of questions I didn’t even get to ask because he answered them anyway. In the space of about twenty minutes he also articulated the next twenty years of my life. He suggested I come and live at Chenrezig with my wife and daughter. ‘I want you to become a university professor and teach Dharma,’ he said. It wasn’t exactly what I was planning, but I had total confidence in him,” said Peter.

On 24 May 1975, Lama wrote a letter to Judy Weitzner in California, asking her to write the book His Holiness the Dalai Lama had requested, Tibetan People Today:

Please choose right name that is perfect, suitable and pays attention. Maybe make a documentary movie? Please you set up and organize. Should we adopt a legal name? You put your ideas together on paper and send to me in California.

“Lama had spoken to me about this book before,” said Judy. “I told him I didn’t think I could do much. ‘Yes, you can. You’re Chenrezig. You have a thousand arms and you can do what you want,’ was his reply. I went to Kopan to live in Max’s house and taught the boys English. I planned to meet Lama again in Switzerland,” said Judy. In her quiet way Judy Weitzner was actually a political firebrand. The Free Speech Movement, which developed into the anti-Vietnam War effort in America, had its origins in her Berkeley apartment. Judy produced the first ever Free Tibet bumper stickers, but the book Lama Yeshe described never saw the light of day.

A week before the end of the course, to celebrate the Buddha’s birthday (Saka Dawa), Lama Yeshe asked everyone to come outside after a Guru Puja and to meditate together on the hill behind the gompa. “Lama and Rinpoche sat above us, right on the top of the hill,” said Adrian Feldmann. “We meditated for about fifteen minutes during which time I had a very strong vision of four-armed Chenrezig and a green lady. At that time I didn’t know about Green Tara at all. I’ve never had another vision like that one. It just appeared in my mind that Lama was Tara and Rinpoche was Chenrezig.”

A couple of days before the course ended, Phra Somdet, abbot of Wat Bovoranives, who had offered lunch to the lamas in Bangkok two months earlier, visited the center. He was accompanied by Phra Khantipalo, Ayya Khema, and some Thai monks from Sydney. Lama instructed his students to line up and formally welcome them, while he bounced around with his camera taking photos and laughing freely, in total contrast to the very sober demeanor of his visitors. The abbot gave a Dharma talk to the Westerners who were still there at the center; Lama Yeshe sat in the very front row for the talk.

At the end of the month-long course, fifty people took refuge with Lama Yeshe. Also, fifty-eight received a Chenrezig empowerment and forty-five received a Tara empowerment.

A number of those who had attended the course planned to do group retreat together but Adrian Feldmann wanted to do retreat alone. “I went to see Lama in his caravan and told him. He said that was fine, adding, ‘Whenever a question comes into your mind I want you to write me a letter.’ I said, ‘Okay,’ even though I knew I was going to be in an extremely remote spot and miles from any letter-box.”

One of the lamas’ last tasks in Queensland was to write to Peter Guiliano in Melbourne, thanking him for his many services:

Dear Peter Juliyana, thank you so much for your giving pure Dharma. As much as possible practise wisdom light and giving energy to other students. Please write what everyone is doing nowaday. I want to check up your daily life. So report! Keep continuously energetic wisdom bell ringing. Chenrezig Institute is fantastic!

See you next year, psychic kiss.

Love love love love Lama Yeshe

 

On the way to the airport, Lama Yeshe stopped to buy an orange plastic mug for everyone at Kopan. “These are very good, dear; not too hot to hold,” he said. The lamas then missed their flight to Sydney. Anila Ann felt sad about the lamas’ departure. “Don’t you like it here?” asked Lama. “Oh, Lama,” said Ann, “you know all I want to do is live in your pocket.”

Back at Chenrezig, the retreaters settled into a regimen of silence and a diet of macrobiotic food. Lama Yeshe had left a taped message for them, which they played every day:

Good morning, golden flower students. Enjoy divine wisdom chanting as much possible, cultivate or activate wisdom action and stay in the universal compassion wisdom, never come down in supermarket. Worthwhile. See you soon in the everlasting peaceful sky. Stay.

 

Such simple words filled their hearts and minds with more satisfaction than years of formal education ever could.

Lama Yeshe’s geshe degree & Manjushri teachings

Portrait of Lama Yeshe, 1975From 1975: We Need a Foundation by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Shortly after Yangsi Rinpoche’s enthronement, the lamas went to Bodhgaya for His Holiness’s winter teachings. From there they went to Varanasi where they called on Geshe Legden, one of Lama’s teachers from Sera, who held a teaching position at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies at Sarnath.

“I invited them to my place for dinner and noticed that Lama Zopa was very skinny and unhealthy looking,” Geshe Legden recalled. “Lama Yeshe was very concerned that Lama Zopa refused to eat meat, because it was bad karma. I told Lama Zopa, ‘You’ve got to look after your health, even if it does mean eating a bit of meat. If you don’t nourish your body properly, then practicing Dharma properly is difficult. I have never come across any particular point in the Vinaya Sutra saying monks may not eat meat, except in relation to impure meat—when an animal is slaughtered specifically for you.’ Lama Zopa thanked me for saying these things and we debated long on the pros and cons of the issue.”

Geshe Legden also spoke to Lama Yeshe about completing his geshe degree. “I said it was good karma to do it even though he has even greater knowledge, experience, and realization than a geshe. I reminded him that one of the rules of Sera Jé was that if any geshe finds the big offerings he has to make as part of the examination a financial burden, he is exempted from making them. He told me that he would love to do the geshe examination, but he no longer had the time to do it. I went to the monastery and looked up the list to find out when it was Lama Yeshe’s turn to sit the examination. I even put his name down for it by offering a khata. But it’s true, he just didn’t have the time. He had started a tradition in the West and was too busy opening centers and teaching so many students and doing so much marvelous work. Later, all the monks acknowledged that none of them had done nearly as much as he had to bring Dharma to the West. My gut feeling is that Lama Yeshe felt that if he was cooped up in the monastery as abbot or gekö or administrator—the kinds of things he might be required to do if he completed the degree —he wouldn’t have time for his other unprecedented and unparalleled work.”

From Sarnath, the lamas returned to Kopan for Losar (Tibetan New Year), which fell on February 12. During the celebrations Lama asked the Westerners to show him some Inji dancing. Lama’s monks and nuns were reluctant to do so because dancing to music was against their monastic vows. However, since their guru had asked, Steve Malasky and the youngest nun, Spring, got up and did some rock and roll jive in their robes. Lama rolled on the floor crying with laughter.

At the end of January, Lama Yeshe had given the Sangha a Manjushri initiation, and after Losar gave four nights of commentary on the meditation practice and retreat, completing them just before leaving to go on tour again. That summer many of the Sangha and lay people did Manjushri retreat in Kopan’s gompa while Yeshe Khadro, Sangye Khadro and John Feuille, among others, went to Lawudo to do their Manjushri retreat there.

 

From Lama Yeshe’s Manjushri teachings:

Most of the time, our objects of joy are not limitless; we discriminate. Our minds are funny; they decide, “This one, I like; that one, I don’t.” We divide things into pieces. It doesn’t come from the side of the object; it comes from our own mind’s decision. We see a person and automatically our mind goes, “I’m not happy with him; he gives me no pleasure.” It doesn’t come from him; it comes from your dualistic determination that has already created divisions in your own mind so that when you see people you automatically categorize them. This creates difficulties; it causes conflict and complications and psychological bother.

Do you see how fantastic Lord Buddha’s psychology and scientific understanding of the mind is? How well he explains how the mind works? If you can understand this, you’ll see it’s really too much. It’s amazing; you don’t need too many words to describe it. It’s beautiful…and really so simple.

Anyway, when we talk about limitless love, we’re not talking about cement; we’re talking about living beings. Most of the time, our conflicts arise from contact with other human beings, each other, not from dogs or cement. Westerners are always going on, “Oh, the environment is no good, that’s why we have problems. This house is no good; this food’s no good. That’s why I’m unhappy.” So much emphasis on externals, which is completely opposite to Lord Buddha’s scientific knowledge wisdom, the way Lord Buddha thinks.

We should check up our everyday lives here. We always blame outside things for our problems: “Shopping is difficult; Kathmandu is difficult,” and so forth. Actually, this is a deep subject; a very deep subject. It seems simple. It’s not at all simple. If you think about it properly, your ego will freak out; when you actualize Lord Buddha’s teachings, your ego has no space.

I always emphasize how in our daily lives we are always involved with other human beings. If you can see everyone around you as a friend, that will be beautiful. That will be your mandala. You’ll be happy wherever you go. In a way, you can say those around you are symbolic of all sentient beings. Look at a person you know; that person symbolizes your mandala. If you can be happy around that person and everybody else you know, perhaps you can be happy anywhere. Experiment, at least in your mind, on the basis of your interactions with that person. Visualize yourself in various situations or in different countries and see. The people around you put you into different situations, so if you check correctly, you can see how you’ll react under different circumstances with other sentient beings. Doing this is really worthwhile.

 

A New Tradition: Public Examinations

IMI monks and nuns, Kopan 1974From 1974: Introducing Adamantine Being (Vajrasattva) by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Yeshe was very keen for his own students to be examined. Now that most of them had been studying for at least two years, Lama began holding public examinations at Kopan starting in December of 1974. The dates on which these were to be held were even advertised in Kathmandu. Each person was given a lam-rim subject, sometimes not until the exam was just about to begin. He or she had to give a talk on the topic in front of all the other students and then had to debate with Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche. These proved to be very interesting and successful events, where Lama carefully boosted the confidence of those who needed it. He was still constantly amazed at the lack of self-confidence among the apparently powerful Injis. This was also one of Lama’s teaching methods aimed at preparing his monks and nuns eventually to be able to teach the Dharma in the West.

From Lama Yeshe’s lecture to the IMI Sangha in preparation for the first public examinations:

“I think it is necessary that you know why we are going to hold examinations of IMI Sangha.

Since you took ordination, your life, your body and speech, do not belong to you, nor do they belong to Lama. They belong to all universal living beings. It was because of your understanding that you decided to live in the thirty-six vows, to renounce samsara. Lama did not push you. Therefore your duty is to integrate your body, speech and mind as much as possible into Dharma knowledge-wisdom and to give that light to all mother sentient beings. To do this it is not enough to spend all your life sitting on the mountain, doing a “Milarepa trip.” Nor is it enough to receive teachings on just one particular book—for example, the Vajrasattva text—and then spend your life studying that small information just for your own knowledge. To think that work such as this is the purpose of your life is a wrong conception.

You need to be able to explain the basic psychological Dharma wisdom terms that are found in the Prajnaparamita texts of Lord Buddha and in the commentaries written by Nagarjuna, Maitreya and Atisha. Those teachings have been integrated into the graduated path to liberation, the lam-rim. So the IMI Sangha have to at least know Lama Zopa’s lam-rim teaching completely.

The aim of establishing the Institute was to make sure you had the opportunity to study those teachings. You have to know and be able to explain these subjects at least intellectually. If you cannot even answer questions on an intellectual level, how can your actions become practice? First comes hearing, then intellectual understanding, then the experience, the realization.

So in order to have a clean-clear understanding you have to be able to express your thoughts and engage in debate. Many times you may think that you know the answers, you may even think you are Buddha. But when someone questions or contradicts you, then your words are nothingness, because of your limited mind. That can be very dangerous because you are thereby making Dharma wisdom tasteless, even making it smell like ka-ka. So by having deep understanding you have to be able to meditate and also to express yourself within the Sangha. In that way you keep your intellectual understanding and realizations together. You keep both your heart and your speech clean and working simultaneously.”

 

“Those public examinations were terrifying,” said Thubten Pemo. “Sometimes we were not told in advance what the topic would be or who was going to be examined. I remember speaking about impermanence and Rinpoche interrupting with questions. Dr. Nick called out and asked me something like, ‘Where does the ignorance go when we realize emptiness?’ and I replied, ‘Where does the darkness go when we turn on the light in the room?’ And everyone laughed.”

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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