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The 8th Kopan Meditation Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More new monks and nuns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Indiana Course

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

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

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

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

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

 

In Wisconsin with Geshe Sopa

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Meditation Course at Kopan

First Meditation Course, Kopan Monastery, 1971From 1971: The First Kopan Meditation Course by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

” Zina was still eager for Lama Yeshe to teach a course, but he refused. She turned to Lama Zopa Rinpoche. “She pestered me like a mosquito,” Rinpoche recalled. “She kept on asking until I began to feel encouraged in my heart and developed a strong wish to do it. I asked Lama Yeshe what he thought. He replied, ‘Well, if you think it will be beneficial, then you do it.’ So with Lama’s blessing I agreed,” said Zopa Rinpoche.

The first course was held in the spring of April 1971. It was springtime at Kopan, dry and breezy. The monsoon rains weren’t due to start until the end of May or early June, but the colder winter months had passed and the temperature was quite warm during the days.  Zina took charge of the overall arrangements and Zopa Rinpoche taught a ten-day course based on his stamp-filled text on thought transformation. With help from Anila Ann, he managed to translate six lines on hell, two lines on the perfect human rebirth, and one line on karma. These were developed into an extensive meditation on how to regard friends, enemies and strangers with equanimity and an explanation of the sufferings of animals and pretas (hungry ghosts). In those days, the only substantial book on Dharma that was available in English was Herbert Guenther’s translation of Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation, which was first published in 1959. “I taught mainly about the lower realms, the sufferings of hell beings and animals, ending up with the sufferings of human beings,” said Rinpoche.

 

From Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s lam-rim teachings:

In order to realize the three lower realms we must fully see the sufferings that exist there. However, at the moment we have no power to perceive these things directly, and therefore we should try to experience those realms through our practice, using the examples shown in the teachings. In this way we can gain the power to see this suffering clearly in our minds.

Even at this moment most beings are suffering in the three lower realms, especially in the narak realms.

Their suffering has not been created by God, or fixed by some other being. It is only a creation of those suffering beings’ minds, just as in a dream we may sometimes suffer in a fire, or from all kinds of fearful persons or demons fighting and frightening us. In the same way that these fearful dreams and visions are the creation of our illusive mind, so are the suffering and the realms of the naraks and so forth the creation of beings’ ignorant minds. However, the narak realms are not the same as dreams, but are karmic creations of the ignorant mind. This is similar to the way that one place can be seen differently by two different people—one may see a clean place while another person may see a dirty place. Although the object is the same, the view varies according to the level of mind, fortune, and the karma the being has created. As the mind reaches higher levels the enjoyments and the visions change, and the transcendental awareness and happiness that we experience increases more and more.

Each living beings’ samsara is a creation of that mind; each living being’s enlightenment is also a mental creation. In a dim room lit by a small candle with a flickering flame, a person without acute perception may see a fearful moving animal or demon, become afraid, and perhaps throw something at it. This problem is only the creation of that person’s mind. The person with a calm, relaxed mind, on the other hand, will see what is actually there clearly. All experiences are created by the mind, and similarly the suffering of the narak being is merely the creation of the suffering being’s mind. Therefore the choice to experience suffering, to be in a suffering realm, or to be in the perfect peace of enlightenment depends upon the decision of the mind.

Around a dozen people took that course, Zengo’s students from Bodhgaya as well as Åge, Zina, and Claudio Cipullo. Claudio had been down in Bodhgaya when he found himself staring fixedly at a photo of Lama Yeshe. “I decided he was calling me! That course was like an explanation of my whole life,” said Claudio. Losang Nyima, Lama Yeshe’s student from Tibet, acted as umze (chant leader) and took care of the candles, water bowls, incense, and food offerings arranged on the altars. He also supervised all the cooking. During the course Lama Yeshe stayed down at Max’s house.

Two days before the end of the course Lama Yeshe, in the company of a Lhasa Apso, returned to Kopan and gave a couple of talks. This wonderful little dog accompanied him nearly everywhere he went and was much admired by everyone at Kopan. Many strays found their way to Kopan and devoured any food they were offered, but this little dog always sat back very nobly and waited. She never fought for her food or tried to get at it until everyone else had finished. Then she’d eat alone, quietly. Actually, it was Rinpoche’s dog, a gift from his mother. She was named Drolma, which is Tibetan for Tara, the female buddha of enlightened skillful activity.

Anila Ann did not attend the course. “I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do it or not. When I asked Lama Zopa, he was silent for about fifteen minutes; then he said it would be worthwhile. So I started it, but one day Lama Yeshe came up from Max’s house, called me out, and said, ‘Ann, you’re going to leave the course, walk up to Lawudo with some people, and spend the summer there. Lama Zopa will fly up in a few days’ time but there is no room in the plane for you.’ He said that he and Max were going to India.

“I suddenly felt very unsure about everything. He held out his arm, golden, luminous, and precious, and offered me his hand. I took it very gently and he said, ‘Don’t worry. Go to my room tonight and on my bed you’ll find my cloak. Wrap it around you and sit on my bed and meditate. Tomorrow you can leave for Lawudo.’

“After supper that night I went straight to Lama’s room at Max’s. It was actually the sunroom and had a wonderful view overlooking the Boudha stupa. I snuggled under his thick cloak, feeling a bit lost, a little cast aside. I knew Lama Zopa would take care of me at Lawudo, but just the same, I wasn’t feeling very secure. As for meditation, the best I could do was visualize Lama Yeshe sitting in front of me. Then his mouth opened as if he was about to speak, but it kept opening wider and wider until I was looking through it into this incredible vastness of a moonless night full of stars. It was like looking into the universe. His mouth and face melted away and there was just this vast emptiness. Suddenly I felt the shock of it and the vision stopped immediately.

“It was years before I realized that during those first few months Lama had actually given me all the teachings he had to give, but in a very subtle way.”

Zopa Rinpoche’s return to Lawudo that year, and his previous visit in May 1970, marked the beginning of his fulfilling the commitment made by the previous Lawudo Lama to establish some form of school for the local Sherpa children. “

Mahayana Teachings School at Kopan

Lama Yeshe with students, 1970From 1970: The First Group Ordination by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

When he was at Lawudo, Lama Yeshe had more private time to study and meditate. Since Zopa Rinpoche was the star, he could disappear into the background. But back at Kopan Lama Yeshe was always at the beck and call of all those who came up the hill.

During Lama Yeshe’s classes, Åge Delbanco, whom Zina nicknamed Babaji, a name that he kept for life, would make beautiful embroidered Tibetan-style bags that he would sell to rich hippies. Lama Yeshe got Åge to make a big sign that read, “Mahayana Teachings School.”

Åge Delbanco: “The condition was that if you lived there you had to go to class. But for me Lama Yeshe’s most effective teachings were those I caught in a second—a look, a frown, a word. Everybody was asking for help with their problems, but he just encouraged me to go with my inner feelings. ‘I have never asked anybody what I should do,’ he told me.

“In one teaching Lama had been talking about whether or not to interfere in someone else’s affairs. Somebody asked what he would do if he saw a drunken man beating a little boy—not such an uncommon sight in that part of the world. ‘Would you interfere then?’ they asked. ‘Oh yes, I’d ask the man if he would like another drink,’ said Lama.

“Another time an American boy full of self-pity began to whine and complain about all his troubles, pouring them out one after the other. After ten minutes of this, everyone was depressed. Lama Yeshe didn’t say anything at first. Then he suddenly burst out laughing. He laughed and laughed and laughed until the whole room joined in, including the American boy. Later, the boy said that all his problems seemed to have suddenly disappeared.

“We often went for walks together to discuss things. One day Lama turned up at my hut to go for a walk. I said, ‘Just let me fix the fire in the grate first.’ Lama said, ‘Let me.’ He put some sticks on and arranged the fire carefully and we left. We were away for quite some time, but when we returned, that fire was burning as brightly as when we left it. I thought, What trick is this?”

Lama Yeshe got involved in everyone’s problems. Knocking on the door of a girl sitting depressed and alone, he teased her out with, “Oh, dear, please, you have lunch with me…. I little bit lonely today.” The effect on her was magic, she felt so honored. He was very clever at making people feel that they were helping him when really it was the other way round. He regularly gave out mantras to youngsters with broken hearts, never ridiculing them. To one boy he gave a special mantra because the police had confiscated his passport. Everyone wanted to stay in Nepal forever, and visas were hard to renew. The boy said this mantra for weeks. Finally, to his great surprise and pleasure, the police refused to let him leave the country.

Zopa Rinpoche moved into a little storeroom on the upper level behind the main house, while Lama Yeshe remained in his small dark room below. Both lamas began sitting in meditation with students for an hour each evening.

 

Moving to Kopan

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

Around July the lamas moved into Kopan, where Zina gave them a small dark room with two small beds at the side of the house. There was just enough room for Losang Nyima to sleep on the floor. Once again, their food was awful. The monks accepted it all.

Clive Giboire visited them there. Later, he recalled, “I must confess that I was shocked to find the lamas stuck away in such a tiny room at the back of the house when Zina had this rather grand boudoir kitted out in white carpet and a leopard-skin bedspread.

“There were times you felt like cursing Zina. You would lend her some book you treasured and it would come back underlined in red all over the place, pages missing and coffee spilt all over it. But that was Zina. You couldn’t really get angry with her…that would have been useless. By and large she was a true friend. You didn’t lose her. She was friends with everybody and yet nobody in particular. She got along well with Boris Lissanevitch. He had danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo before arriving in Kathmandu and opening the luxurious Hotel Yak and Yeti. They were both café society people and understood each other’s worlds.

“Initially, Kopan was a bit like the Villa Altomont revisited—a beautiful environment, people coming and going, and ‘her lamas’ tucked away there. When I first met Zina, Conrad Rooks was still very much a presence. Without his small monthly allowance she would have been on skid row. She was always rushing to the Rastra Bank or the Nepal Bank to see if he’d sent her a bit.”

Every so often Zina would go to Calcutta to sell something—jewelry, silver and such. She was an experienced hustler. On one of these trips she ran into her old translator, Jampa Gyaltsen Mutugtsang. “I had a restaurant in Sarnath then,” he said. “She was alone, without her daughter. I was very surprised to see that she was a nun. She told me she wanted my help to find Hindi, Nepali and Tibetan translators for a big project she was starting up in Nepal.”

After the trek Max had begun to study the lamas’ teachings. She had agreed to help finance a gompa for Lawudo and continued to support the lamas, which included paying for English lessons. She was utterly devoted to Lama Yeshe, but there was constant tension between her and Zina. Time and strikingly different circumstances had not taken the edge off their old competitiveness. They were both used to being the center of attention.

 

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.

The First Trek to Lawudo (Part 1)

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

Lama Zopa Rinpoche had not returned to his birthplace since leaving for Tibet as a young child. Spring was perfect weather for trekking, and he wanted to go home to Lawudo. Word was sent ahead, and a trekking party was formed. It included Thubten Yeshe, Zopa Rinpoche, Max (who once again paid for the lamas’ expenses), Zina, Jacqueline Fagan (a New Zealander who had been at Villa Altomont), and Judy and Chip Weitzner. Judy, Chip, and Max were on their spring break from school. There was also a German photographer named Lorenz Prinz, who always wore a jaunty beret, and his female assistant, Christina. Prinz was completing a book of photographs of the Himalayas. He had experience with trekking in Nepal and helped us to organize eveything, even managing to hire the airplane belonging to the King of Nepal. He also told the Injis what clothes to bring.

Judy Weitzner later recalled, “Trekking was really something in 1969. We had to scrounge and scramble to come up with the right equiptment and food; in those days Kathmandu wasn’t full of trekking equiptment and used gear from many mountaineering expeditions as it is today. On the morning of 5 April 1969 we all turned up at the airport; Max showed up in those long brocade chuba, a silk blouse, and flowers stuck in the beautiful long wig she’d put on over her afro. She was always equipped for fashion but seldom for function! I rolled my eyes and said, ‘Max, we’ll be walking in the mountains for days.’ She pulled up her skirts and pointed to a pair of Nepalese army boots, her only gesture to actual hiking gear.

“Zina was in charge of equipping the lamas for the trek, but they showed up in flip-flop sandals and their robes- no boots, no jackets, no hats. I was mad at Zina for not taking more care, but they seemed content with what they had. We waited awhile for the pilot, but when one finally arrived, he announced that he was a replacement for the regular pilot, who was sick. The new pilot said that he had never flown their route before but was willing to give it a try.

“We literally tied outselves into our seats with ropes. Unfortunately, I already knew from a Canadian consultant to Royal Nepal Airplines that the landing strip at Lukla was 300 feet too short for the king’s plane, but I figured that they’d never jeopardize an entire airplane just for some charter money. I was wrong! It was the first time the lamas had flown anywhere. They sat at the back and smiled, while their malas clicked non-stop. It was the most harrowing flight I have ever been on. We were in abject terror, almost touching the mountains in one moment then dropping like a stone when we hit air pockets. Christina, Prinz’s assistant, fainted dead away. At Lukla the pilot had to climb high and then spiral down to approach the runway, which was clearly too short. So we were rushing headlong toward this sheer mountain face when the pilot suddently spun the plan around in a U-turn, bringing it to a dead stop facing the way we had come. We all piled out of the plane onto the ground as quickly as possible!

“Some Sherpas approached and Prinz hired them to carry some of the gear. We paid them the going rate, which was about $3 a day in those days. We regrouped at a tea house in Lukla then started a very pleasant, fairly flat walk up the mountain valley, following the trail of the Dudh Kosi River. I was lulled into thinking that trekking wasn’t really so tough after all. We spent the night in a Sherpa home of some relatives of one of our guides. They seemed to have cousins, aunts, and brothers in every village!

“In the morning Max wanted a bath. There was neither sufficient hot water nor a bathtub available for bathing. The family was put to work hauling water, heating it over a fire, then filling the largest washtub they owned for Max.”

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