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Posts tagged ‘Michael Losang Yeshe’

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.


Life Among the Mount Everest Centre Monks

MEC students in Bodhgaya, India, 1974From 1974: Introducing Adamantine Being (Vajrasattva) by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

By 1974 Michael Losang Yeshe, then nine, had spent almost half his life at Kopan. Olivia, his mother, now lived in Japan. One day Michael received a parcel from her. “Lama Yeshe heard about it and came to my room,” said Michael. “‘Where is the parcel?’ he asked. ‘Open it.’ He looked inside and handed me a set of colored pencils. ‘These colors, these are for everyone, not just you.’ He pulled out a shirt and underwear. ‘These you can wear.’ Then he saw the fancy Mickey Mouse watch. ‘You’re too young for a watch; you don’t know how to tell time. This for me. I keep for you.’ If I had kept it, I would only have lost it, or traded it for comics or something a few days later. He never did give it back,” said Michael.

Very occasionally the boys were given cash offerings at pujas. When Michael’s father, Yorgo, married a Nepali woman and moved to Kathmandu, he sponsored a big puja at his house. All the boys there received 100 rupees each. When they returned to Kopan Lama took all the rupees from them. They didn’t need money—Kopan did. Yorgo also donated buffaloes to Kopan so the monastery wouldn’t have to buy milk, and he often drove Lama around town on errands.

Lama Yeshe could shift at the drop of a hat from acting the clown to being extremely wrathful. Every inch the abbot, he would walk up and down the rows of small boys in the gompa, making sure they paid attention and not hesitating to discipline them with judicious use of his heavy mala where required.

“I was a naughty one,” said Tenzin Dorje Rinpoche, also known as Charok Lama. “I was lazy and he beat me on the shoulders with his big mala or with a stick. The big wooden malas really hurt. Many boys cried when Lama hit. The Western view is that hitting is bad, but Lama’s motivation and his way of hitting were different. Somehow I was always happy after he hit me. Of course, there were some boys who really didn’t want to be in the monastery and who didn’t like Lama either. But Lama always told us to have an open ear, to listen to everyone for a good education. That way we would develop bigger ideas, which are more beneficial.”

Before the Kalachakra in Bodhgaya the boys had had classes only in the mornings and then had played in the afternoons. But after the Kalachakra Lama Yeshe had them working in the gardens in the afternoons, instead of just making noise. Gardening included lugging water up from the spring, an endless and arduous task but exactly what they would have been doing had they stayed in Solu Khumbu. Lama did not want them to waste any time. Now they had fresh milk, and Lama Pasang built a chicken coop so they could have eggs, too.

The Mount Everest Centre population was constantly changing as new boys arrived and others left. They included Sherpas, a few Tibetans, and Manangis, boys from the Manang Valley, which lies close to the Tibetan border north of Pokhara. At one stage there were more Manangis at Kopan than Sherpas, but over time many of these left.

Everyone on the hill knew that Lama Yeshe took a nap every afternoon after lunch. “For his heart,” they said. It was also the only privacy he could count on during the day. “One day when we were all making a lot of noise in front of the office after lunch, he came down and went whack! whack! whack! getting three boys at a time with his big bamboo stick,” said Michael Losang Yeshe. “We were always told to keep quiet at that time. Once an urgent message arrived after lunch and some boys were sent to his room. When they opened the door and peeked in he wasn’t asleep at all, but sitting up surrounded by texts, studying.”

Although this time after lunch was generally called Lama Yeshe’s “rest time,” his students came to know in later years that this was actually Lama’s daily meditation time, when he meditated on the clear light. Some years later, Lama Zopa Rinpoche reminisced, “After lunch each day Lama usually went to rest for one or two hours. Wherever Lama was, in the West or in the East, Lama tried to take time to rest. In the beginning I didn’t realize what Lama was doing and thought it was just like our sleep; then gradually I felt that it was actually a meditation session. In the general view, Lama was continuing to meditate on clear light in order to develop that realization. People who didn’t know that Lama was a great hidden yogi, a great tantric practitioner, might believe that what Lama calls “rest” or “sleep” is the same as an ordinary person’s sleep.”

Mummy Max was perfectly cast in her role. Whenever her Jeep was seen coming up the hill, word flew around, “Mummy’s coming! Mummy’s coming!” The boys would rush to meet her in the courtyard, knowing that she would have a treat for them.

Their first picnic with Max was like a trip to another planet. “She sent two beautiful clean buses from Lincoln School for us,” said Michael Losang Yeshe. “We had never seen anything like them in our lives and couldn’t believe they were for us to ride in. Lama Yeshe came, too. We went to Parphing, two hours away, and had a picnic on a nice big open plateau. Mummy had paper cups and paper napkins for us. We had never touched anything like paper cups…and napkins!”


Parphing, located southwest of Kathmandu city in the hills surrounding the valley close to the Hindu pilgrimage site of Dakshinkali, is a popular and very sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site. There are many temples, shrines, and holy places in and around Parphing, many of which are connected to various female Buddhist deities, just as Dakshinkali is devoted to the wrathful female Hindu deity, Kali. It is said that many women saints and meditators practiced nearby.

In Parphing is an important Vajrayogini temple, built in the eleventh century, which is where many Vajrayogini lineage holders and realized practitioners did retreat and gained realizations over the centuries. The great mahasiddha Naropa himself resided there not long after the temple was built. In the eighth century, long before Naropa’s time, the great Guru Padmasambhava had stayed in Parphing for some time after leaving Tibet. There, together with his consort Sakyadevi, he attained enlightenment while retreating in Langlesho cave, high on the hillside there. One day when Padmasambhava exited the cave in an exalted state of mind, he placed his hand against the rock face of the mountain and left a miraculous handprint impressed forever in the stone, which can still be seen today.

On a hillside at Parphing, close to a spring, several bas-relief images of Tara are clearly visible in a rock, some of their features more clearly formed than others. They are said to be self-emanating—emerging from the rock by their own power. In the 1970s there was only one Tara image, but one by one new Tara images have been gradually appearing in the rock next to that spring.


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