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Posts tagged ‘puja’

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.

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Building Kopan Gompa

Lama Yeshe as foreman, 1972From 1972: Unsurpassed Dharma Land of Enlightenment by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Now that it was winter, the track that passed for a road up to Kopan was dry. It was time to start building Kopan’s gompa. Åge made a beautiful little architectural model of the proposed design. Monks from the newly re-established Gyuto Tantric College in Dalhousie happened to be in Boudhanath to bless the stupa, which had been under repair for many years after having been struck by lightning. Lama requested them to come and bless Kopan. The monks came up and sat around the hill, smiling at Åge’s little model. They had never seen anything like it before.

Together with Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa they performed a solemn puja, harmonic multiphonic single-voice chords echoing around the valley as they called on all the buddhas, bodhisattvas, Dharma protectors, and landlord spirits to bless the hill and the building to be erected there. Lama Yeshe told his students that every place has its own specific landlord spirits. The gompa at Kopan was given the name Ogmin Jangchub Chöling, which means Unsurpassed Dharma Land of Enlightenment.

Afterward, Ann asked Lama what he had prayed for during the puja. “I prayed that if this gompa is going to be really beneficial and benefit countless beings, then may it be built right away without any obstructions, because I don’t have much time and I don’t want to waste my life. But things look good. During such pujas, we look for auspicious signs. Did you see the two horses galloping up the hill during the puja? One of them was white. That is a very auspicious sign!” he told her.

Construction began with Lama Yeshe taking the role of foreman. He supervised everything. His students had donated the funds to build this gompa, and he wasn’t going to waste one penny. Max spent every spare moment of her time purchasing building materials—and ferrying them up the hill as well. The Nepali contractors would leave everything at the bottom of the hill, refusing to even attempt the terrible Kopan road. Fortunately, Max had recently bought a small Jeep through a contact at the King’s Palace.

An American student, Steve Malasky, returned to Kopan with some money he had received from a health insurance payout. He wanted to use his money to build a Tibetan tower at one end of the Kopan land. Lama Yeshe approved the plan and design and gave him permission to go ahead and build his fantasy. “First of all I had to find enough rock,” said Steve. “One day Lama Zopa came over, pointed to a particular spot and said, ‘Dig there!’ The Nepali crew I’d hired dug down and found this immense granite boulder. When cut and chiseled it provided just enough blocks for the tower walls.”

Tibetans weren’t able to pronounce Steve’s name correctly so at Kopan he was always called “Esteeb”.

Two small huts were also built at Kopan; one was for Max and Åge moved into the other. The gompa itself included rooms for the lamas. Then there was “Esteeb’s tower.” “Lama never stopped teasing me about that tower. It ended up costing more than the gompa!” said Steve.

Lama Yeshe’s next project was a little row of retreat rooms. While these were in the planning stage, Ann asked Lama how big they should be. He lay down on the ground indicating that she should draw a line, one at the top of his head and another at the soles of his feet. That was enough room for anybody, he said. Lama Yeshe was not a tall man, though people often thought he was huge. Over the years many of his students reported that his apparent size would occasionally change quite dramatically. This seemed to be one of his powers.

An Important Statue

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

After returning from Lawudo…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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