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Les Bayards, Switzerland

1975 Geshe Rabten in SwitzerlandFrom 1975: We Need a Foundation by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

On September 24, three days after the seminar at Royal Holloway in Surrey, England, the lamas and Nick flew from London to Geneva. Chris and Barbara Vautier, two of the organizers of the upcoming two-week course, met them at the airport and drove them to the picture-postcard village of Les Bayards in the Jura, a canton in northwest Switzerland. The lamas had been invited to Switzerland by the Vautiers and Jamie and Isabelle Johnston. The Vautiers had rented Les Places, a beautiful spic-and-span house, for the lamas in the countryside about twenty minutes from Les Bayards.

Chris and Barbara, who had attended the third Kopan course in 1972, were interested in establishing a center in Switzerland, which already had a strong Tibetan community. Geshe Rabten, attended by Gonsar Rinpoche, had arrived there in 1974 to take up a three-year post as abbot of the Tibet Institute in Rikon, Switzerland. In view of this Lama Yeshe told Peter Kedge that he could not possibly consider opening a center in Switzerland, as that would have been arrogant and extremely disrespectful to Geshe Rabten.

The day after they arrived in Switzerland the lamas went to visit Geshe Rabten at the Tibet Institute, and then all together they went to visit Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche who was staying close by. During this visit, Lama Yeshe asked Trijang Rinpoche to record some advice for the 120 students at Les Bayards on a cassette tape.

Åge Delbanco, who had not seen the lamas for two years, came to cook for them. “I drove them back and forth to the teachings,” he said. “Whenever we arrived for the teachings or left afterward, students would run out to surround the car. Bent over in devotion they all rushed to be the one to open the car door. Once Lama Yeshe exclaimed, ‘Ho! This guru business!’ as if to say, ‘Why can’t they just relax and be natural?’ Lama was so sweet to me then, but he treated Lama Zopa like he was a little boy. There was a lot of, ‘What are you doing! Do this! Do that!’”

Kopan students from all over Europe were thrilled to meet each other again. “For many of us it was the first time we had seen the lamas and each other for years and it presaged great things to come. After this, new centers began opening all over the continent,” said Paula de Wys. In charge of the kitchen during the course was Patricia Zenn Calaman, who would later come to be known as Bhikshuni Professor Karma Lekshe Tsomo and would become one of the founders of Sakyadita, the International Association of Buddhist Women.

The students took the eight Mahayana precepts every morning during the second week of the course. This was challenging, so Lama Yeshe came along to give everyone courage:

Good morning. We are here to engage in this exercise, to concentrate on our own beliefs. Perhaps I will explain a little why we do this.

It is very simple. We have tremendous energy from our previous experiences, both physical and mental. We are influenced too much by this uncontrolled energy. So when we try to engage in actions that put our energy in the right direction, we need to relieve that garbage energy that has been uncontrollably occupying our minds for so long. In order to actualize the Hinayana path, the Paramitayana path, or even the Tantrayana path, it is necessary to eliminate that uncontrolled negative energy that we are all too familiar with.

But we cannot do this merely intellectually. This is like feeling hungry but then denying that you have a stomach! You understand? You cannot just say, “I want to stop,” (clap) and expect it to happen. You have to understand that your mind is like a baby. You have to concentrate this positive energy into your own movement reality, your own coming and going, so that the mind automatically integrates one-pointedly and stops the mundane worldly thoughts.

Lama always said he never rehearsed his talks and never knew what he was going to say until he sat on the throne.

As the attendant Nick was in charge of all the mundane matters, such as seeing that everything ran to schedule, especially lunch. On the days when everyone took precepts, lunch was the only meal of the day and it was supposed to be over by noon. Lama often lectured in the morning on those days, and his lectures often went overtime. With five minutes to spare, Nick would discreetly remind Lama of the time. Twenty minutes later he often had to do so again, because Lama had taken no notice. One day, after Nick’s third interruption, Lama Yeshe rounded on him and said, “In Tibet when someone is being a nuisance, we do this to them!” He made a squishing gesture with his thumb. Nick stayed quiet. “When the lecture was finally over I followed Lama down the stairs,” said Nick. “My mind was just about to boil over when Lama turned, gave me a look full of real fear for my future lives and said, ‘Don’t say a thing!’ Then he walked off.” Displaying anger toward one’s guru creates very bad karma.

As promised, Judy Weitzner turned up to discuss Lama’s plans for a Tibetan organization. Later, she remembered talking with Lama about the project. “At one point I said, ‘Why stop at “International Society” for Tibetan Reality? Why not intergalactic?’ Lama thought that was a great idea. He also said he wanted to establish universities in Tibet, where scholars from all over the world could come and teach Dharma to the Tibetans. They were the ones who were missing out now,” said Judy.

Adele Hulse also attended the Swiss course. “I followed the tour down to Les Bayards and was the only other Australian there besides Nick,” recalled Adele. “Every evening there were discussions conducted in several language groups. I would walk around from group to group, not quite belonging. I saw that the French all spoke at once, the Germans made lists of words, the English were super polite and said nothing, and the Italians were extremely emotional. I thought it very funny.

“Nick invited me to come over to the lamas’ house and clean up in readiness for a short visit from Geshe Rabten. Naturally, I was thrilled. The house had been squeaky Swiss clean before the lamas moved in, but now it was untidy and the kitchen was a mess. There were splotches and burn marks on practically every surface.

“The lamas had just finished cooking a mountain of momos for Geshe Rabten and I was washing up, my hands in the sink. I didn’t notice Lama Yeshe come up behind me until I suddenly felt this massive thump, square in the middle of my back. I was stunned. It was obviously a precise strike and delivered in neither fun nor anger. In my straightforward Australian way I turned to look at him. His eyes were rolled right back in his head, his hands folded and he just kept saying, ‘Thank you, dear, thank you, dear.’ I didn’t understand at all and just went on with the dishes.

“That day Lama asked me, ‘Why do you stay in London for so long, such a dirty place? Why don’t you go back to Australia? A clean place and such good food. See your mummy.’ Soon afterward I left Switzerland knowing that my time on the road was up.”

Two days before the end of the course Lama Yeshe gave a public talk at nearby Chaux-de-Fonds. On the last day of the course Geshe Rabten gave a talk and Zopa Rinpoche gave a Tara initiation. Lama Yeshe also gave a Chenrezig initiation and played Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche’s recorded advice to the students, which was translated by the American monk, Alan Wallace.

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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 Sees a Doctor

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

Around this time Lama Yeshe told Judy Weitzner that he suffered from heart trouble. What? This vigorous young man who had leapt up the path to Lawudo? Judy had noticed his shortness of breath in the mountains but she had blamed it on the altitude. Max had even fainted up there. More worrying, though, were his constant nosebleeds and bouts of vomiting.

Zina took him to the hospital in Kathmandu where tests revealed a serious heart condition. The doctors told her that there was not much they could do about it. He also seemed to be unusually full of water, spitting a lot and bursting out with huge wet sneezes. He didn’t talk much about his heart, but he occasionally pointed to the deep scar on his cheek from the abscess he had had at Sera. He mentioned again how kind the Chinese nurse had been in the clinic he had attended. No one ever heard Thubten Yeshe say a bad word about any Chinese individual.

Life for the little group went on, Zopa Rinpoche bent over his texts day and night, Lama Yeshe scuttling around Kathmandu making friends.

Judy Weitzner: “One time Max and I went to the American Commissary store and bought some marshmallows. We drove out into the countryside with the lamas and handed them around to some village children. They had never seen anything like them in their lives and just stared in amazement. We had to demonstrate that they really could be eaten!

“We enjoyed lots of picnics with the lamas. They were clearly there for us Westerners, even though there were very few of us around with good visas and enough time to spend with them. But we were able to see Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa whenever we wanted to. I related to them more as wonderful friends than as gurus. Lama Yeshe really spoke very little English. He called us all ‘dear’ and exuded this wonderful light. He’d say, ‘Don’t worry,’ and ‘Be happy’ and was always eager to learn more words. Looking back, I think I got as much out of him then as when he spoke English fluently.”

An Important Statue

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

After returning from Lawudo…

One day Max told Judy she had seen an exquisite but very expensive statue that she just had to have. She was short of money at the time but bought it anyway. Wanting to know what it was, she invited the lamas to come over one Sunday and examine it. They arrived around mid-morning.

Judy Weitzner: “So that was how I met them; Zina was the queen bee and the lamas were like her exotic pets. They said the statue looked pretty good, but to really know they had to do a special puja to open it up and see what it was filled with—the mantras and precious gems and other things. We didn’t even know what a puja was. I’d only just learned the Tibetans didn’t think it was cool to use offering bowls as wine cups. Tibetan antiques were all just decorator items to us.

“Lama Yeshe said they needed all this special equipment for the puja, but somehow they looked around the apartment and found everything they needed stashed in fireplaces or being used as ashtrays and such. The lamas were quite skillful and sweet about prompting us to take care of ritual and holy objects in a more reverent way. They went down to Max’s bedroom, which was on the floor below the living room and relatively quiet, to do the puja.

“While they did their thing, we began to have a party. Chip and I had the latest Beatles record that we took with us everywhere that there was a phonograph, because we didn’t have one. So we played that record and danced around and had a great time. Some of us went up to the roof garden to smoke dope and take in the fabulous view. After a while, we settled into the low couches in the living room and began sharing our travel stories. We forgot all about the lamas downstairs.

“But as the afternoon progressed, I began to feel quite queasy and uncomfortable. Though it was a warm day I began to shiver and noticed goose bumps on my arms. Finally, I told the others I felt weird, that maybe I was coming down with something. Then Zina said, ‘I feel strange, too.’ Max, Chip, Jacqueline, and whoever else was there, they said they all felt strange as well. Suddenly, we’re all saying, ‘What’s going on here?’ In the now quiet room I became aware of the sounds of the bells and the tap-tap-tap of the damarus (double-headed hand drums) coming from the room below us. A palpable energy was emanating from down there. We all felt it. At that time we would probably have called such an experience psychedelic, but this was beyond anything I had ever experienced. A shimmering pervaded the entire room and went right through our bodies.

“We all went downstairs to find that the lamas had just completed re-empowering the statue, after taking out all the stuff that was inside it and putting it back. The puja was over. The statue was sitting on the makeshift altar, with Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa sitting facing it. They both looked very joyous.

“The lamas told us it was a very, very old statue containing relics from the Buddha before Shakyamuni Buddha and that it was priceless. Of course, Max was just thrilled. We sat in a semi-circle facing the statue, and it became clear to us that all this shimmering energy was coming from the statue itself. The structure of my reality was eroding very quickly. I did not believe that objects could have power; I thought that the only power came from our minds. But there we all were, basking in this shimmering light energy. I felt immense love for everyone in the room. This statue had been venerated for hundreds of years and had become a repository of spiritual energy that we could all feel.

“We began talking about how we wanted to live our lives from this moment on. Zina began talking about finding a place where artists, musicians, poets and writers could come and work and learn meditation from the lamas. In a moment of deep honesty she said she had created a lot of bad karma in her life and felt she needed to work hard to change things for the better. This place would be her contribution. It was an inspiring idea and we all shared our vision of what such a center could be like. Lama Zopa listened to everyone and then exclaimed with great enthusiasm, ‘And everything is going to be perfect!’ That was the day the idea for what would become Kopan was born.

The First Trek to Lawudo (Part 2)

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

As recalled by Judy Weitzner:

“The trail was still easy and so we strolled along for quite awhile. We had to cross the river, using the bridge suspended high above the water. There were cables for handgrips and cables holding boards end to end—except where there were gaps between them!—where we were supposed to walk. The bridge swayed and bounced as we walked across one by one. I was afraid that the weight of two people might bring the bridge down, but the Sherpas were all giggling and laughing at our obvious fear. They said that the bridge had been constructe under Sir Edmund Hillary’s direction, so there was nothing to fear. Nevertheless, I found it terrifying.

“As we continued, we were all scattered along the path quite far apart from each other. Max and I were walking together. Suddenly the trail came to a dead end right at the base of a mountain. Not far ahead I could see a very steep path leading straight up, which was the path we needed to follow, but I just couldn’t believe it was the right one. Still, we had no choice but to start climbing. As we trudged upward, whenever we needed a hand or a boost, Lama Yeshe would make an appearance. I was nearing exhaustion when I came upon a Sherpa serving hot tea to the lamas. He had hiked down from Lama Zopa’s village, bringing tea. So we all sat and had tea on the side of the mountain. I was slowly getting the picture that Lama Zopa was an important person and that the Sherpas were very happy that he was coming to visit. We could often hear them saying, “Lama Zopa coming! Lama Zopa coming!”

“When we had just about reached Namché Bazar, Max and I just sat down on the trail overlooking the famous market town of the Himalayas. I watched the huge eagles gliding effortlessly on the updrafts and felt envious. I was tired and crabby and needed to muster energy to walk to the guesthouse where we would spend the night. It had turned cold, and although I was wearing my down jacket, I was still freezing. Lama Yeshe came along and sat next to us, admiring the view. He took my cold hands in his to warm them up. Suddenly I was jarred out of my self-pity and noticed what was going on. Here I was, dressed in multiple layers and still cold, while Lama was in a sleeveless shirt and light robes and was as warm as toast…and trying to take care of me. I asked him, ‘How can you do this? How can you be warm and I am cold, even with my down jacket?’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s easy, dear. In Tibet we learn this meditation to keep us warm. It is very necessary in cold weather.’ I had been plagued with cold all my life, and so I longed to learn it. Many years
later, I understood that Lama was talking about tummo meditation, which he later taught to  us.

“The next thing that happened is really hard to believe—but it did happen. Lama had a canteen of cold tea. He asked if I wanted something to drink and I said yes, but not tea. I was sick of it. ‘What would you like, dear?’ he asked. I told him Coca-Cola. There was no Coca-Cola in Nepal at the time, and I doubt that Lama knew what I was talking about. Nevertheless, he poured some liquid out of the canteen and gave it to Max. Suddenly she said, ‘Look, Judy, it’s Coke!’ I looked. It was carbonated. Bubbles were moving up the side of the cup. I tasted it and it was Coca-Cola! There on the mountainside I realized that Lama Yeshe was totally amazing and powerful. We all laughed and laughed and I forgot all about my exhaustion and bad mood.

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