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The Tara Statue

Rinpoche painting Tara, 1976From 1976: Heaven is Now! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Another American, Connie Miller, had arrived on Christmas Day 1975 to stay at Kopan. A couple of weeks earlier in December, she had come up to Kopan to visit her friend Karuna Cayton, a fellow student from The Evergreen State College in Washington State (USA) doing independent research in Nepal for his final university theses. Karuna was participating in the group lam-rim retreat one hundred students were doing with Thubten Pende following the November meditation course.

On the afternoon of that first visit, Thubten Pemo got talking with Connie. Pemo said she felt strongly “from the sound of her voice” that she should join the retreat. Connie wasn’t easily convinced, since she had not done the previous month-long meditation course, but Pemo persisted. She was also enticed by Pemo telling her that Lama Yeshe was going to be giving a Green Tara initiation sometime soon. The topic of the thesis Connie was working on was related to female deities in Tibetan Buddhism, and to Tara in particular.

Connie returned to Kathmandu with the intention of packing her things and coming up to Kopan to stay. She finally walked up the hill carrying her backpack, arriving during the Christmas puja taking place in the large tent on the side of Kopan hill. After getting settled, Connie joined the guided lam-rim retreat and attended the mind training teachings on the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation from Lama Zopa Rinpoche that were also taking place.

“One day in January Rinpoche was looking down from the balcony outside his room as Connie sat in the sun behind the gompa. She had fallen ill with bronchitis and stopped attending the retreat sessions. After they talked for a while, Rinpoche invited her to help him paint the large Tara statue Lama Yeshe had sent Max to find in Kathmandu,” recalled Pemo. “This surprised me a lot. Rinpoche paid a lot of attention to Connie and they spent a lot of time together painting. Now when people ask Connie how she met the lamas she always says it was because of me. Then we look at each other and laugh.”

Rinpoche explained exactly how the statue should be painted and told a visiting elderly relative from Solu Khumbu to help Connie. Lama Pasang had begun constructing a glass-fronted house on a pedestal where the statue would eventually reside. Lama Yeshe wanted Tara to overlook a triangular pond surrounded by flowers that was to be built under the ancient bodhi tree that stood in front of the gompa.

For some time, the unfinished Tara statue sat on the balcony outside the lamas’ rooms and Connie came every afternoon to paint for a few hours. Sometimes Lama Yeshe came out after his afternoon “rest” and talked with her, occasionally sharing his special tea. “That tea was incredible! Part salty and part sweet, almost like a hot tea-flavored milkshake,” she said. “It was unlike anything I had ever tasted, before or since.”

“After a while, the statue was moved into the Kopan library, a big room, also called Mummy Max’s room, located above the office, and I continued painting it there. Jampa Chökyi was also working on an embroidered appliqué thangka in the same room,” Connie continued. “Whenever she showed it to Lama he’d shout at her, telling her it was all wrong and she must undo it. The way Lama pushed her was incredible. He cut through all her excuses like a knife. Jampa Chökyi was a proud young Spanish woman from a wealthy family and I had a lot of respect for her and the way she accepted all the criticism.” Jampa Chökyi made at least two appliquéd thangkas, including one of thousand-armed Chenrezig made of pieces of silk and installed at Lawudo, and a second one of Tara Chittamani, also made of silk, that was eventually hung at Vajrapani Institute in California.

Eventually, on 16 March, just as Thubten Pemo had said, Lama Yeshe conferred a Green Tara initiation to a group of Western students and Connie was able to attend.

One afternoon, when the painting was nearly done, Lama showed Connie several packets of gems that were destined to adorn the statue of Tara. “Lama often talked to me about Tara. ‘Tara has so many beautiful, natural jewels,’ he once told me. Naturally I was thinking in the most concrete terms, of gemstones, but the way Lama looked at me it suddenly dawned on me that he was speaking of a very different type of jewel, of Tara’s qualities that transcend anything physical. I felt quite embarrassed by how dense I was!” Connie recalled.

 

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on Tara in March 1976:

What is Divine Wisdom Mother Tara? Who is she? All this wintertime we have been working to fix our Mummy Tara statue. So I think that at least you have a good visualization, a good basic understanding of what she looks like. I hope so.

The actual Divine Wisdom Mother Tara is the embodiment of all the manifested activities of all universal supreme beings. Their actions are transformed into Tara’s green radiating light body. Therefore, meditation on Tara can result in very incredible and powerful activities. Also, her meditation yields results very quickly. This is because Tara is in female aspect and we consider feminine energy to have the characteristic of being quicker, acting more quickly than masculine energy. The favorite deity of all the great Mahayana saints is Tara.

This profound yoga method of Divine Wisdom Mother Tara brings us to the everlasting peaceful realizations of enlightenment, benefiting not only ourselves but also all mother sentient beings. But also many people—materialistic people and even some lamas—also do this puja all the time not for enlightenment realizations, you understand, but just to have a comfortable and successful life. For example, the farmers who are growing wheat and barley may be worried that there won’t be sufficient rain this year for their crops, so they do this puja to ensure that the rains will come. This is the same as the Nepalese people who make offerings to Kali [the Hindu mother goddess] because they think that if they do not, they won’t have good crops that year, no rice, no dhal, and so on. It is some kind of simple mind, you know. But even that is not right! Using such an incredibly powerful method in such a simple way is like using a cloth made of gold to clean your toilet. If I were to do that, you would say to me, “What a stupid lama you are! Why are you using this incredibly valuable golden cloth to clean your bathroom?”

The position in which Tara is sitting has great significance. Her right leg is extended outward and down whereas her left leg is drawn in, sitting this way, yes? This means that Tara has complete control. She is able to completely control all her monthly periods, all emotional up-and-down mood swings, up-and-down female energy. She has realized complete control over all these aspects. How wonderful! This is why if you understand the real essence of Tara it is very encouraging to women, you understand? Women are better able to take care of the body, to make the body beautiful; they have better understanding of these things. It is possible, yes? More importantly, women are encouraged by using such a yoga method that they are equally able to discover enlightenment, just as men can do. There is no distinction! In this Mahayana yoga tantra tradition, there is no division between what men can accomplish and what women can accomplish. There is nothing that says that men can discover enlightenment realizations in this life using this powerful yoga method but women cannot. This is wrong! We are all equally capable; we all have the same possibilities.

Historically, when Mother Tara first took the bodhisattva vows she vowed in front of the Buddha at that time, “There are many buddhas in male aspect in the world but very few in female aspect. So I will remain always in female aspect and become enlightened in female aspect in order to help all Dharma practitioners be successful.” She promised! Therefore, any serious Dharma practitioner who engages in the deity practice of Tara will be very successful. This yoga method can also be used to bring success for Dharma purposes, to overcome problems, even to obtain material things, equipment that we need for our Dharma practice. In such cases, you can use this practice for those purposes. Clearly, it all depends on your motivation.

When the painting project was completed, Lama told Connie to join him in the gompa one afternoon toward the end of April so he could show her exactly where the various jewels should be placed on Tara’s crown, necklace, bracelets and so on. The day of the meeting, however, Connie found herself doubled over with intense abdominal pains. Incapacitated and in extreme distress, she was rushed down to Shanti Bhawan hospital in Kathmandu where it was determined that she was suffering an attack of appendicitis. That same evening, she was operated on, and according to her friends nearly died when she was carried to her room after the appendectomy and went into convulsions. “What I remember is a long series of dreams and hallucinations in which appeared various people from Kopan, monks and nuns and especially Lama Yeshe. I felt in my heart that Lama Yeshe was there with me. He had sent a message to me that I should visualize strong golden light entering into my belly, healing everything that was wrong,” Connie remembered. “Somehow this image pervaded all the hallucinations that I had all night long. I have no doubt that Lama saved my life.” Lama Yeshe had showered her with gifts, including a picture of himself inscribed on the back in his erratic hand, “Much love, Lama Yeshe. See you space.”

Meanwhile, Lama supervised the construction of the triangular reflecting pond. A week later, the Tara statue was scheduled to be consecrated in a series of special pujas attended by many dignitaries and Lama Yeshe’s personal friends, who brought mountains of offerings. Connie’s responsibility had been to paint the crown, the robes and the lotus seat on which Tara sits, but the fine detailed painting of Tara’s facial features, especially her eyes, was done by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Rinpoche was truly able to bring Tara alive when he “opened the eyes” of the statue. This was the last step before the actual consecration, during which Tara was invited to come and reside in the statue.

“A week after the surgery, I checked myself out of the hospital and took a taxi back up to Kopan,” Connie reminisced. “I was able to attend the main puja, which went on for hours. During a break around midnight everyone was asked to leave the meditation hall. As I was leaving with the others Lama Yeshe told me to go wash my hands and feet and to come back quickly to the gompa. Lama, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Lama Pasang, Lama Lhundrup, Tenzin Norbu Rinpoche, Gelek Gyatso Rinpoche, Yangsi Rinpoche and I were the only people in the gompa. The doors were then closed and I sat and looked on while they filled the statue with various holy things and prayers and mantras written on tightly rolled up lengths of paper. I was still full of stitches and had the strangest sensation of my own insides being stuffed. It was the most amazing experience! When they’d finished, everyone else returned and the puja continued all night long.

“The next morning, two monks carrying Tara on their shoulders led everyone in a joyous procession all around Kopan hill. Lama was wearing a ceremonial crown of the five tathagata buddhas and we stopped at various points to chant and make prayers. Lama explained to everyone that we were showing Tara around her new home. Then she was placed in her house in front of the gompa. I always thought of her as watching over and protecting Kopan from there.”

 

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Lama’s Domestic Life

Front of photo given to Connie Miller by Lama Yeshe, 1976From 1976: “Heaven is Now!” by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

It was Thubten Monlam’s job to cook for the lamas when they were at Kopan. When they went on tour he had time to study. “Lama Zopa didn’t care what I served him,” said Thubten Monlam. “He hardly ate anything at all, but if the food was really good he would eat more. He liked to put erma, Sherpa pepper, on everything, but Lama Yeshe never used erma. After his heart tests Lama was much more careful about his food. The Injis were always telling me, “Don’t serve him this, don’t serve him that!”

“Lama liked cooking very much, always chopping things very very fast and saying mantra, “Ommmmmmmmm pham pham pham,” while making a big mess for me to clean up. But he never burned anything. He always cooked for Mummy Max because he knew what she liked. I only knew thukpa, momos, bread, Tibetan tea and khapse. That’s all,” he said. Khapse is fried Tibetan bread—deep-fried yellow dough around the size, shape and texture of a clog shoe—usually made on Tibetan holidays.

“Lama Yeshe never drank Tibetan tea—he didn’t like it at all. But Lama Zopa liked it,” Thubten Monlam continued. “Lama Yeshe liked sweet Indian tea with milk and sugar served separately, like the Injis. I’d put it all on a tray and take it to him in the early morning. He also ate bread then and sometimes an egg. Sometimes he ate in his room, but most times he ate out on the patio roof with the little dogs.”

The custom of taking tea is as much a feature of Tibetan as it is of English culture and connoisseurs are sensitive to its quality. Over an afternoon cup with one of his Western monks Lama asked him what he thought of its quality. On being assured it was much better than the tea in the IMI’s storeroom, Lama replied, “I sure hope so!’ Over time Lama Yeshe developed a taste for Twinings Lapsang Souchong, which he called “Losang Chonjur” (coincidentally the name of Jan Willis’s friend from Samten Ling), or if that was not available, Earl Grey, pronounced “Er Gay.”

When Thubten Monlam was not in sight, Lama called out for tea in the old Tibetan style, with a gruff, “Eugh!” If the boy still didn’t come, Rinpoche would creep from his room, humble as a sweeper, to make Lama’s tea himself.

Besides cooking for the lamas it was Thubten Monlam’s job to clean their rooms and make up Lama Yeshe’s bed every night. “But Lama Yeshe often sat on his bed talking to students until midnight,” he explained. “Sometimes I’d fall asleep at the door waiting for him to finish and sometimes he forgot all about me. I’d try to make the bed early, when he was not sitting on it. Lama was kind to me—he gave me cookies and presents and invited me to work at Tushita in Dharamsala.

“I never saw Lama Zopa go to bed, but I did see him lie down in his robes three or four times in the middle of the day. I think he was checking dreams or something. He was always up very late at night. When I’d come into his room, he’d be drowsy and give a start, then he’d say, “Om mani padmé hum,” and go back to saying mantras.

“Lama Yeshe would go to bed really late at night and sleep late in the morning, sometimes up to nine or ten o’clock. When he’d sleep late I was afraid something had happened to him, but I would never go in and wake him. I’d just wait until he woke up by himself. Lama took a nap every afternoon because the doctor said he needed rest for his heart. Often it seemed like he was sleeping then, but he was not. He knew what was going on. He was very sensitive and woke up very easily in the afternoons.”

That was the conventional explanation for Lama’s traditional afternoon rest—his weak heart. “Rinpoche’s explanation was that Lama was a tantric master whose afternoon sleep was in fact the most profound Hayagriva dream yoga practice,” said Peter Kedge. “I didn’t like to disturb Lama from those afternoon rests, though several times I did have to wake him up. Although he did wake easily, he seemed to come back from some very far away place.

“Actually, Lama’s afternoon rests were the greatest break for me when I began touring with the lamas. There was incredible pressure when Lama was around and always so much activity, so when Rinpoche was meditating in his room and Lama was having his afternoon rest in another, it was almost like putting the kids to bed and being able to relax a little.”

By nature a night owl, one night Nick Ribush floated into Lama Yeshe’s room around 11:00 pm, confident as ever, to ask a question about some administrative matter. Lama flew at him, demanding, “Why are you coming at this time! You think I don’t need time? You’ve got no consideration!” On the other hand, when Jimi Neal went to him late one night with a list of Dharma questions, he was welcomed. “I didn’t even get the chance to produce my list,” said Jimi. “Without even seeing it Lama just went through each question I’d written down, one after the other in the same order as I’d written them. When he finished we talked about other things.”

On Lama Yeshe’s altar was a photo of a famous statue commonly known as the fasting Buddha. Tibetans generally didn’t seem to have much affinity with this particular image of the Buddha, so it was quite uncommon among them to use this image as an object of devotion on a personal altar. Lama Yeshe would sometimes describe to his students how other Tibetan monks and lamas teased him about it, saying, “What is that? Why do you have that on your altar?” Peter Kedge recalled Lama telling him he found the image very inspiring, “explaining that the Buddha’s spine was visible from the front and how that signified such incredible determination and effort.”

This specific representation is actually of Siddhartha Gautama before his enlightenment, during the six years of his life when he was engaged in ascetic practices under the guidance of a Hindu guru. He became extremely emaciated and weak until one day he concluded that asceticism was not the true path to liberation from suffering. Close to death, Siddhartha was found next to the Nairanjana River by a local girl who brought him a bowl of milk and rice, which he ate. His strength restored, Siddhartha then sat under the Bodhi tree, determined to discover the true nature of reality, which he did, thereby achieving enlightenment.

Lama Yeshe regularly went down to Kathmandu on business, or to spend time with Jampa Trinley and his family. He often invited Yangsi Rinpoche’s sister Tseyang (known as Tsen-la) a school girl at the time, to come and stay at Kopan during her school holidays. “Lama looked after her very carefully,” said Peter Kedge. “In retrospect he was preparing her to be the nun she later became. Lama paid a lot of attention to Jampa Trinley’s family. When Tsen-la’s older brother fell very ill, Lama visited him several times and showed tremendous concern.”

The Western Sangha, conspicuous in their red robes and shaven pink heads, were also seen all over town. Lay students at Kopan often gathered for picnics in the forest bordering the Bagmati River opposite Pashupatinath, an important Hindu temple, from where one could just see its famous Golden Cow statue. Entry to the temple was known to be strictly limited to Hindus. One day an older Kopan student stood outside Pashupatinath explaining this to a group of visitors when suddenly Lama Yeshe walked out of the temple holding the hand of a small Mount Everest Centre monk. Both had red Hindu tika1 marks on their foreheads.

Hayagriva: An enlightened meditational deity who is an embodiment of wrathful compassion.

The fasting Buddha: This statue of the fasting Buddha (second century a.d.) resides in the Lahore Museum in Lahore, Pakistan. It dates from the Gandharan period of South Asian art during the time that Buddhism flourished in the area we now know as Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is said that the anatomical accuracy of the statue reflects the Hellenic influence of the Greeks under Alexander the Great who conquered this area in the fourth century B.C.

Tika: Hindu devotees place a red tika mark at the center of their brows to symbolize attaining the “third eye” of enlightenment. 

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 birth of Wisdom Publications

Lama and Rinpoche, New Zealand, 1975From 1975: We Need a Foundation by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Nick Ribush and many of the IMI Sangha had been actively engaged in publishing activities at Kopan since even before obtaining their own Gestetner printing machine. The Wish-Fulfilling Golden Sun and the various editions of Meditation Course Notes had been published under the imprint of the International Mahayana Institute.

On 8 December 1975 Jesse Sartain, an American publisher who was a student of Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey and had been studying at the Tibetan Library in Dharamsala, visited Lama Yeshe; he suggested that the talks from the 1974 American tour be published. Nick was passionate about publishing the lamas’ work and was invited to the meeting. Lama Yeshe suggested that a book be published jointly by Jesse’s Conch Press and what he now called Publications for Wisdom Culture, Kopan’s own imprint. The Conch/Wisdom collaboration, properly printed, bound and titled Wisdom Energy, was published in 1976. It was edited by Jon Landaw and his old friend Alex Berzin. By the 1980s this publishing endeavor would transmute into Wisdom Publications with offices in Boston, Massachusetts, and would eventually become one of the world’s foremost English-language Buddhist publishing houses.

 

Statues and Images

It was typical of new students to want to buy a Buddha statue before leaving Nepal. “I went everywhere in Kathmandu and Patan and saw hundreds of statues, but none of them appealed to me because they were all mass produced,” said one young man. “Then in Boudha I saw a beautiful statue that had come from Tibet but was far too expensive for me. The only valuable thing I had with me was a really good pair of German binoculars because I was a passionate ornithologist. I put a ‘For sale’ notice up at Kopan, but there were no takers. Then a monk came to me to say that Lama Yeshe wanted to know how much I was asking for them. Of course I halved the price for him. The monk came to see me again the next day and told me Lama Yeshe wanted to know what price I really wanted for them. I told him the full amount, he gave me the money, and I was then able to buy that statue.”

That same year, Lama sent Mummy Max off to find a Tara statue. “I told him I’d go the next day,” Max recalled, “but he said, ‘No, now. You go and don’t come back without it! It’s there; you find it.’ I went all over Kathmandu on what happened to be a Nepali public holiday, so half the shops were shut. I looked in all the obvious places, went to Patan [the artistic center of Kathmandu], looked everywhere and couldn’t find anything. So I started on the back streets. I was exhausted and sure that I was never going to find this statue. But Lama knew. He knew exactly and I’m convinced he led me to it, because I didn’t have a clue. Finally, when it was getting dark I found the perfect statue in a pile in a statue maker’s warehouse. When I got back to Kopan and showed it to him, all he said was ‘Huh!’”

 

 

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.

 

The Sixth Kopan Meditation Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Work at Kopan

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

Before going to Kopan as suggested, Steven Levy had called in to see Lama Yeshe at Tushita in August to make sure that Lama still wanted a gardener.

“He reached under his little meditation table and pulled out a gardening trowel,” Steven recalled. “‘You know how to use this? We’ll talk more when you come to Nepal,’ he said. I was amazed that he even remembered me. When I got to the monastery, Yeshe Khadro was in the office. I told her that Lama had told me to come but I didn’t have any money. She told me I had to work for my keep and could sleep in the storeroom. It was pretty awful.

“Then Lama showed up. Every day Max would return from Kathmandu with her Jeep full of plants. When Lama came downstairs after breakfast, he was all business. It was always, ‘What are you doing? Why did you do that? Where are Mummy’s plants? Where do you think this one should go? What about this tree? Lama is busy now…see you later!’ I’d be left wandering around trying to work out where to put things. I’d dig a hole and then he would suddenly show up again, demanding, ‘You think this is good place? Are you sure?’ The minute he said that, I’d say, ‘Weeellll…’ and he’d immediately jump on me. ‘You’re not sure? When you are sure, Lama will come back!’

“Every time I planted something he’d ask if I was sure. When I said I was, he’d say, ‘But are you sure that you are sure?’ And we’d both crack up laughing. That laugh of Lama’s was so infectious…it was like sonar, laser. I’d like to have a tape of Lama’s laugh to listen to forever. But he was heavy, too. I would dig a dozen holes for some plants. ‘Why are you putting that plant there?’ I’d remind him that hours earlier we had both agreed on that spot. ‘Do you think that Lama doesn’t know what he said? Put the plant over here!’ I’d move it back and forth, back and forth, and then he’d want it back in the original position. It seemed like he was testing me, seeing how far he could push me. He’d say, ‘Let’s dig here!’ I’d say, ‘No, I’ll dig that,’ and he’d give me a firm, loving shove with his shoulder, grab the shovel and say, ‘No, Lama will dig!’ I was thirty-two years old and he was only six years older, but he was like a father or even a grandfather. I felt like a child. He was ageless. His male mothering fed so many neglected, untouched, unloved places within me.”

Anila Ann watched how Lama interacted with everyone. “He climbed into our skins to find out what made us tick and mimicked our body language and mannerisms. He was just hilarious. If I was unhappy and feeling low, he’d find some way to make me feel valued. When he’d fixed me up, he’d turn to the next needy person and maybe do exactly the same thing with them, while I was still there. He’d flick an eye over at me to make sure I was getting it. Lama was just as skillful in showing us our negative traits as our positive qualities.

“He seemed to know intuitively when people were arriving and what had happened to them. I read his mail for him and he often knew what it contained before being told. Or he’d say to me, ‘Marcel is here—I can always tell when Marcel is here.’ I’d look out the window and there would be Marcel, coming out of his retreat hut. ‘Magic’ is the only word I have for it.

“Another example: We were always late getting to the airport with no time to spare at all, the other cars having already gone and Lama not quite ready every time. Finally, Lama would climb into the rotten little Nepali taxi and the driver would pump the ignition but it wouldn’t start! Lama couldn’t drive at all, but he’d lean over and turn the key and it would start right up, every time. ‘Okay, let’s go!’ he’d say, precluding any kind of conversation about what he’d just done.”

Lama also kept his eye on the money and gave Yeshe Khadro the job of accountant. “He was very astute,” she remembered. “He checked every transaction. When the tiny building I used as an office was pulled down and Pete Northend began building a big new kitchen/dining room complex in 1974, it was assumed that the larger of the two spare rooms would be the office. But no, Lama said it had to become a coffee shop. Shops make money, he told us, not offices.” And Lama Yeshe needed money. How else was he going to feed and support the growing number of young monks?

Money was always a big subject. Once when Anila Ann and Lama Lhundrup were greeting Lama Yeshe at Kathmandu airport, some American tourists came over and took their photos. Then they admired the lamas’ malas. “They aren’t for sale, are they?” They most certainly were and an excellent price was obtained. While they were haggling, however, Anila Ann drifted out of sight. She was sentimentally attached to her mala and had no intention of selling it.

Zina Rachevsky Dies

Zina and her daughter RheaFrom 1973: First Steps First Students by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Khumjung, where Rinpoche had sent me to find Gomchen-la, is in the last wave of mountains before Mount Everest,” Chötak recalled. “During the monsoon the mornings are usually clear, but then it rains solidly for the rest of the day. But the first three days I was there it rained non-stop. When the sun broke through, there was a huge rainbow in front of an extraordinary sunset of glowing fire. I fed two crows there and they ‘talked’ to me. Whenever someone was coming along the path, they’d land on my roof with a big thud to let me know. They were right every time.

“One day the crows started making a big fuss on the roof. I looked down the valley and in the distance I could see Trulshik Rinpoche coming along with his entourage. The Sherpas burnt piles of fragrant juniper along the way and you could hear his deep puja voice reverberating for miles. When he arrived, his attendant told me that I had to speak to him. By then I could speak just enough Tibetan to get by.

“Rinpoche took me by the arm and told me that a runner had come up from Thubten Chöling to Tengboché to tell him that Zina had died three days ago. He said that he had known she was dead before the runner came. He told me that as he was getting up on the first morning of those three days of endless rain, he was meant to read the text for that day but then changed his plans and decided to meditate instead. He said to me, ‘I stayed in my room and meditated all that day, all that night, all the next day and night, and all the next day as well. At sunset on the third day I stopped.’

“Then he looked me in the eye and told me that he had done powa for Zina and transferred her consciousness. He said that the signs were good, the sky auspicious and the weather had broken to reveal double rainbows. However, he was worried about Rhea, who was still at Thubten Chöling. He said she was a very special girl and he wanted me to get down to Thubten Chöling as soon as possible before they sent someone to take her away.

“Zina had died just at the time of that incredible sunset—pink-tinged neon turquoise over white snow peaks. I’ll never forget that sunset. Trulshik Rinpoche said Lama Yeshe had told him that Zina would die soon and that she was the cooperative cause for the existence of Kopan and his whole trip of teaching Westerners.

“I ran all the way down to Thubten Chöling, all night along the black, narrow paths. I even hired a Sherpa to carry my pack. It took me two and a half days, but I didn’t get there in time. I walked into Junbesi the day after Zina had been cremated. Trulshik Rinpoche didn’t want to kidnap Rhea, he just wanted to see her and talk to her guardian. Conrad Rooks, Zina’s ex-husband, was in Kathmandu, having recently finished making the movie Siddhartha, so he came up and took her away. Mummy Max had passed him a message that had been sent to Kopan saying that Zina was seriously ill. She was dead by the time he arrived.”

There were all sorts of rumors as to the cause of Zina’s death. Apparently her stomach had swollen up like a basketball. She had had terrible cramps and was no longer able to fold her legs but had sat with them stretched out in front while she continued reciting mantras until she died. Some said her illness lasted five days and that on the morning of the fifth day she had sat up, announced she was going to die and then resumed saying mantras. Then there were rumors that she had been poisoned by a primitive Sherpa tribe that believed it was possible to take over another person’s power by killing them. Apparently the previous incarnation of the young Kopan tulku Gelek Gyatso, who had lived in the Junbesi area of Solu, was thought to have died that way. Others said that she had inadvertently poisoned herself by mistaking a local poisonous bulb for garlic; that she had died of amoebic dysentery; that she had died from eating another poisonous plant, datura; that she had died from untreated appendicitis.

Clive Giboire was in his Kathmandu apartment when General Kiran, who’d rented his house to Zina’s mother, telephoned on an army radio. “He told me he had been radioed from Solu with the news that Zina was dead. He didn’t know who to contact so he called me,” said Clive. At the time Harriet, Zina’s mother, was in New York with Rhea’s Aunt Louise.

“Zina’s death was very traumatic for Rhea, who went to the United States soon afterward. All her grandmother’s family were devout Catholics, so she was subsequently raised a Catholic. Years later she showed a friend of mine a charming little storybook that her mother had written and drawn for her. But she was not prepared to talk about her mother’s death at all. She isn’t at all involved with Buddhist things.”

Rhea and some nuns were present when Zina’s head nodded forward and her consciousness left her body. It was said later that Rhea told Clive Giboire, “Mummy sat back and stopped counting prayers.” She had just turned eight years old.

Piero Cerri was with Lama Yeshe in Tushita Retreat Centre when Lama said to him, “Zina is dying now.” Lama went immediately into meditation. He told Piero later that he had transferred Zina’s consciousness to Vajrayogini’s pure land.

Less than a year after her death Tom Laird, who had visited Zina in April together with his friend Mimi, was back at Thubten Chöling and asked Trulshik Rinpoche what had happened to Zina. “This time there was a translator,” said Tom. “He told us that Zina had had ‘a very good death,’ that she had died in meditation and that her daughter had been there and had lit her funeral pyre. I also heard that a doctor at the Hillary Hospital at Paphlu had tested her fecal matter and said that she had died of cholera. Indeed, there had been a cholera outbreak in that valley during that summer and several people had died.”

Lama Zopa said Zina knew she was going to die, that the signs in the weather during her cremation were very good, and that Trulshik Rinpoche had said she was in Vajrayogini’s pure land. Some time after this Zopa Rinpoche asked Zong Rinpoche where Zina had taken rebirth; Zong Rinpoche also said that Zina had been reborn in a pure land.

The Third Kopan Meditation Course

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

In November 1972 Zopa Rinpoche taught his third meditation course. Around fifty people attended, including Massimo Corona and his brother Luca, Piero and Claudio, Paula Koolkin, and Peter Kedge. Advertising flyers appeared in Kathmandu cafes such as the Camp Hotel, where Marcel Bertels, a serious Dutch lad from a conservative Catholic family, had just met a French-Canadian, Nicole Couture. They both decided to do “the course,” as it was now called.

An Australian couple—Nick Ribush, a doctor, and Marie Obst, a nurse—also heard about the course and went up to Kopan to check things out. On the notice board they found advertisements for Lama Zopa’s month-long course, costing 300 rupees, as well as the Burmese teacher Goenka’s ten-day vipassana meditation course, for 100 rupees. “Let’s do the short one,” said Marie. After a full Catholic upbringing she was more interested in shedding religion than acquiring an alternative one. But Nick was “looking” and they booked into the longer one.

Twenty-six-year-old law graduate Helly Pelaez, the only child of a prominent Spanish cardiologist from Granada, was definitely looking. Running into Steve Malasky and his mother in Amala’s, Boudhanath’s only restaurant, she heard about the course and subsequently attended an early group interview with Lama Yeshe. “Why do you want to do the course?” Lama asked.

“I said I didn’t know if I could even do it,” said Helly. “According to him, everybody could, even animals. I thought him strange and was glad he wasn’t the one teaching.

“While I was walking back down to my room in Boudha, I started to feel funny, like someone was with me in my mind, working on it, stronger and stronger. Back in my room I then spent the two most horrible days of my life. I cried non-stop. The fact is I’d had lots of fights with my parents and led a very unstable life. Coming to India was a last resort for me. I had decided that if this course didn’t change things for me, I was going to kill myself. A week before it began, I moved up to Kopan. Lama Yeshe had gone to Dharamsala and I thought, ‘Good, I don’t want to see him.’”

Nick, Marie, Helly, and an English girl, Suzanne Lee, walked up to Kopan together. On the way they encountered Anila Ann—bald, robes tied round her long skinny flanks, working like a ditch digger at a trouble spot in the road. From the hill they were able to look down into a magical valley carved into terraced rice paddies with two-storey ochre colored houses hedged with roses. Chickens clucked in attics, chilies dried on roofs and were laid out in neatly swept forecourts. Dogs barked incessantly and children called across the fields: “Babuuuuuuuuuu! Didiiiiiiiiiii!” Hindu puja bells tinkled, incense wafted on the air, and old men puffed on bidis (hand-rolled Indian clove cigarettes) in the shade of ancient trees. Winding through this scene ran a rutted dirt road that became a rough track, from which branched little paths like rivulets, some of which led to the top of Kopan hill.

Here they came, the fortunate traveling children of the world’s middle classes, toting their backpacks, super down sleeping bags, toilet paper, and patented antibiotic medicines. They carried copies of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, Baba Ram Dass’s Be Here Now, and well-thumbed copies of Lama Govinda’s The Way of the White Clouds. The Kopan course was becoming the place to be even though Kopan had no electricity and all the monastery’s water had to be carried up the hill from a spring 150 feet below the gompa in two big Nepali biscuit tins dangling from a yoke balanced across the coolies’ shoulders. The chief water carrier was a cheery Nepali, Bir Bahadur.

Hashish was still legal in Nepal, but while some occasionally slipped down the hill for a chillum or two, most did the course straight, beginning to end. Blotting paper tabs of LSD were carefully tucked away.

Everyone was given a copy of the cyclostyled notes that Massimo Corona, Anila Ann, and others had prepared from the first two courses. These were now neatly arranged into a folder and given an extensive title similar in length to those of the traditional Sanskrit and Tibetan scriptures: The Wish-Fulfilling Golden Sun of the Mahayana Thought Training: Directing in the Shortcut Path to Enlightenment. This was one of the first lam-rim (or “stages of the path”) teachings to appear in English.

The popular view that Buddhism was not really a religion was somewhat undermined by Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s monastic demeanor and the fact that quite a few prayers were recited, regularly. Nevertheless, the principles of lam-rim are universal and adjustable to any society at any time. This is, perhaps, their most magical and fascinating characteristic.
Zopa Rinpoche’s teaching plan during this course was to concentrate on the hell realms. On and on, day after day there was talk of hell realms and still more hell realms, all in Rinpoche’s halting English, punctuated by frequent pauses and long silences. It is no coincidence that Rinpoche’s name, zopa, means patience.

Most of the students present did not realize that during those long silences Rinpoche meditated deeply. When he did speak, to the untrained ear Rinpoche sounded as though he were simply repeating himself. In actuality, each time he addressed his subject matter, he did so from a slightly different angle, thereby allowing his listeners to enter more and more deeply into the experience he was describing. Westerners were used to receiving information in a more linear fashion and they were often looking for something pre-packaged, some spiritual insight they could swallow whole. Rinpoche’s style required them to stop, listen, and turn over in their minds what they were hearing. Those who related to Rinpoche’s teachings as if they were listening to a university lecturer could easily become frustrated by his seemingly endless repetitions. However, those who followed what he was saying as if they were being led through a guided meditation—which, in fact, they were—found his style of teaching remarkably effective for their minds and often deeply moving.

A few students escaped the course on a full moon night to attend the legendary acid parties at Swayambhu. One New Yorker returned the next day literally trembling, having experienced hell realms during his trip in all the vivid detail that Lama Zopa had just spent several days describing.

Some who attended were irritated by the course, others inspired. Marcel Bertels took to it like a duck to water and was soon meditating even during the session breaks. College graduates happily prostrated themselves over and over and chanted mantras as if they had been saying them all their lives. The more excitable claimed they saw lights and had visions. Maybe they did. During the breaks, everyone except Marcel chatted and gossiped. During the lectures that followed, Zopa Rinpoche would tell them what they had been talking about. They were convinced he was clairvoyant. The whole experience felt very close, magical, and powerful.

Once again Lama Yeshe returned quietly to Kopan sometime around the middle of the meditation course. None of the new students even knew he existed, until one day Anila Ann asked Nick Ribush if he would attend to his leg. A cut had become infected. “I was told that he had a heart problem, so I thought it best to give him a penicillin shot,” said Nick. “However, I hadn’t tightened the syringe properly and the stuff shot out all over the place. ‘It’s okay, dear,’ he told me, ‘maybe we try again tomorrow.’ So they got more penicillin and I gave him the shot, then visited every day to change the dressings.” From then on everyone called him Dr. Nick.

Lama Zopa had been telling everyone that it was harder for a woman to become enlightened than for a man, which upset all the women. Marie asked Nick to seek Lama Yeshe’s opinion. When they came to learn that he’d told Nick, “Of course women can get enlightened!” Lama Yeshe instantly became their hero. As it turns out, this disagreement between the lamas was more apparent than real. In talking about the additional difficulties women faced in becoming enlightened, Lama Zopa was addressing in part the unfortunate, but very real, obstacles that women—especially those in patriarchal societies—must overcome if they dare to defy cultural expectations in their desire to pursue a solitary life of contemplation. Lama Yeshe addressed the issue from a different perspective. His response—that men and women had the same spiritual capacity—focused on the fact that everyone, whether male or female, equally possesses buddha-nature: the potential to achieve full enlightenment. From this point of view, there is absolutely no difference between the sexes.

At the very end of the course, Lama Yeshe gave a talk. By this time many students had heard of him, although few had seen him. It didn’t take long to work out that here was the real power behind Kopan. Before actually conferring refuge and lay precepts, Lama Yeshe spoke to the course students about the meaning of taking refuge and committing to taking any number of the five lay precepts. While he spoke, Rinpoche sat in the back of the room writing out “refuge names” in Tibetan. At the end of the refuge ceremony, Marie received the name Yeshe Khadro, and this is what she was mainly called for the rest of her life, especially by her Dharma brothers and sisters. As for Nick, he received the name Thubten Zopa, but out of his great respect for Rinpoche, he never used it. In any case, everyone was already calling him Dr. Nick, so Dr. Nick he remained. Both were very happy they had chosen to do the long course.

Ann McNeil Supervises Construction and does Retreat

Anila Ann and Max Mathews, 1972From 1972: Unsurpassed Dharma Land of Enlightenment by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Anila Ann took over supervision of the Kopan building site. When the lamas returned from Dharamsala, she went down to Kathmandu to do the banking, a day’s work on its own. “I asked Lama Yeshe if he’d keep track of the workers’ hours for me that day so I would know what to pay them,” she said. “They were all paid daily because they were very poor and we never knew exactly how many workers we would need each day. That night when I asked Lama for the pay book I saw he’d only put down two figures; the rest was just scribble. Well, this just blew my mind! How was I going to pay these people now? ‘Don’t worry,’ said Lama, ‘I’ll work it all out with them tomorrow.’ But I was upset; I said that even the Buddha would have kept track! It was the worst thing I could think of saying. With that I marched off to my room. Twenty minutes later there was a tap on the door. It was Lama with a glass of lemonade,” said Ann.

Ann then went into a retreat, during which she grew very miserable and lost her appetite—not a safe thing to do in Nepal under any circumstances but especially because she was already extremely lean. But the mind that rises in retreat is not always blissful. In fact, the arising mind may focus on precisely the mental habit that is most painful to the ego—such as jealousy or anger. Lama Yeshe began eating his supper with her, treating her as if she were a toddler. He made excited noises about how delicious the food was and tried to tempt her to take a few spoonfuls. “I was finally able to see how belligerent I’d become and was able to unhook that feeling and get my appetite back,” she said.

Toward the end of her retreat Lama Yeshe was due to return to Dharamsala, but first he gave Ann a Vajrasattva thangka he had commissioned for her. “We stood there looking at it together and I noticed he was ‘beaming’ again—that unearthly golden glow that sometimes emanated from him. I looked back at the thangka, then at him again. Each time he looked even more radiant and so shiny. I just stared and stared.

“He was always so subtle with me. During that business at Kathmandu airport with the hand-painted text, I developed what I can only call a very hot ear. It went blazing red for a while and felt so hot. That experience came to herald some form of communication from Lama Yeshe. I’d get a hot ear at 2:00 am and think, ‘Lama wants something.’ I’d go to his room and he was never surprised to see me. It was always, ‘Oh yes, Anila, I have something for you to do!’

“Lama encouraged all kinds of awareness in us. He often gave us spoonfuls of the dutsi [Skt. amrita; blessed nectar] he kept on his altar. It was made of crushed blessed pills, honey, and alcohol. We’d sit there like little kids with outstretched palms, licking the stuff off. He’d roll his eyes back into his head and just beam.”

 

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