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Lama Yeshe’s Tantric Teaching

Lama and HH Trijang Rinpoche, 1976From 1976: Heaven is Now! by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

During this visit to Dharamsala, Gareth Sparham, one of the Westerners ordained at Bodhgaya in 1974, underwent public examination at Tushita. “Both lamas attended as well as  a number of Dharamsala geshes,” said Gareth. “I gave a talk on renunciation. I didn’t really  know anything about it so I just went on and on about how wonderful Lama Yeshe was. His head dropped lower and lower. When everyone had gone, he said to me, ‘Dear, never ever refer to me again!’ After that I started really studying hard and stayed on in Dharamsala for many years.”

Around mid-April, Lama Zopa Rinpoche decided to travel to south India for a short time to attend teachings at Sera Jé. Just before leaving Dharamsala, he told Thubten Gyatso, who was about to start a Mahakala retreat in Rinpoche’s room at Tushita, “I am sorry for the bad vibrations I have left in my room.” Gyatso found no bad vibrations, just several large scorpions. Gyatso was about to embark on a tantric practice but knew nothing about tantra. Tantra is sometimes called the resultant path, wherein a practitioner learns to think, speak and act in the present as if he or she were already a fully enlightened buddha.

 

From Lama Yeshe’s tantric teachings:

According to tantra, perfection is not something that is waiting for us somewhere in the future. “If I practice hard now maybe I will become a perfect buddha” or “If I behave well in this life and act like a religious person, maybe someday I will go to heaven.” According to tantra, heaven is now! We should be gods and goddesses right now. But at present we are burdened with limiting concepts: “Men are like this; women are like this; I am a certain way and there is nothing I can do about it” and so forth. This is why we have conflict within ourselves and with one another. All this conflict will dissolve as we train in the tantric point of view and recognize that each man is a complete man and each woman a complete woman. Furthermore, every man and woman contains both male and female energy. In fact, each one of us is a union of all universal energy. Everything that we need in order to be complete is within us right at this very moment. It is simply a matter of being able to recognize it. This is the tantric approach.

 

Thubten Gyatso: “The night before I started retreat Lama Yeshe called me into his big room at Tushita to explain the Mahakala practice to me. Lama’s face was very close to mine and it assumed a blue and incredibly wrathful appearance. To be qualified to do this retreat one is supposed to have taken certain initiations beforehand, but I had only received a Chenrezig initiation. ‘That’s okay,’ Lama told me. ‘You visualize yourself as Vajrasattva (the purifying buddha). Imagine your consort has one arm around your neck and with her curved knife she cuts your body into pieces. You die and your mind enters into her body, then you are born again, very pure and enlightened. You still feel like yourself but she has shredded your ego. Okay?” At the time, I knew nothing about tantra and this was so powerful for me. “Next morning breakfast was delivered to my room after my first meditation session.

One fried okra looking like a slab of green mucus. I sat on Rinpoche’s bed, my mind completely black, thinking, ‘How can I do retreat with food like this?’ Suddenly the front window flew open and in came Lama Yeshe’s hand. He was holding a fresh piece of Tibetan bread covered in Vegemite. I humbly accepted Lama’s offering and he walked away without a word. I resolved to never complain about food again.” Vegemite, a salty spread made from yeast extract, is a staple of the Australian diet. Lama Yeshe was always looking for healthy foods to introduce at Kopan and returned from a trip to Australia one year with jars of Vegemite. Not everyone became a convert to it.

There were two other students doing solitary retreats at Tushita that spring, one of them an Icelandic girl, Thorhalla Bjornsdottir. Lama Yeshe instructed her to spend two years in calm abiding (Tib. shiné; Skt. shamatha) retreat. In the practice of calm abiding one develops deeper and deeper levels of concentration by repeatedly stabilizing one’s attention firmly on an inner object while controlling outer distractions.

The lamas returned to Kopan in the latter part of April, Lama Yeshe from Dharamsala and Lama Zopa Rinpoche from south India. On May 1, Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave teachings to those students still staying at Kopan on the practice of prostrations to the thirty-five Confession Buddhas and on Jorchö, the lam-rim preliminary practices.

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The First Course at Chenrezig Institute

Lamas having lunch, 1975From 1975: We Need a Foundation by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Yeshe gave two lectures in Brisbane before arriving at Chenrezig Institute in time for a month-long course, the second such meditation course held outside Nepal. One hundred and twenty people had enrolled for it. Anila Ann and her team had all but finished building the gompa on that steep empty land at Eudlo. The work had been done mainly by volunteers, qualified tradespeople turning up just in the nick of time and seemingly out of the blue. Ann had raised the money to pay for every plank and nail, though she was still living in the old shed.

Once again caravans were hired for the lamas and Mummy Max, who was not impressed. “I said to Lama, ‘Oh God, Lama, what karma you have! These camper trailers, no roads, no nothing.’ ‘It’s not for me, it’s for them,’ he told me,” recalled Max.

Lama had a big vision for this center. In 1974 he had told them, “Think big! Think big!” That year, a horse called Think Big had won the world-famous Melbourne Cup. In 1975 Think Big won the cup again. No one had thought to place a bet.

The course ran from May 5 to June 1. Mummy Max did not attend. Nor did Kathy Vichta, with whom Lama Yeshe spent some time cooking. “He showed me how to save time by squashing things with your hand instead of cutting them up. It worked just as well. He made a casserole one day by opening cans and just squashing the contents into bowls and saying mantras over them. Lama always said mantras while he cooked. He put so much physical energy into mundane stuff, like it was a really important part of his life,” said Kathy.

Lama’s students presented him with an electric razor, despite the fact that he had only about twenty whiskers. He preferred the Tibetan method of plucking them out with a small engraved brass clip during quiet breakfasts with Mummy Max.

Cameras always appeared when Lama Yeshe was around. Everyone loved new photos of him—dancing on the beach, sitting in meditation, laughing, playing. With the idea of commissioning a statue of Lama, Max arranged for a series of shots taken just of his head, from every angle. He posed for these graciously and without any self-consciousness.

Pete Northend and Colin Crosbie worked hard on the new building but Lama Yeshe wanted his wild-partying, hard-drinking shing-zö to enter a thirteen-year retreat. “I just couldn’t do it,” said Pete. “No way!”

Meanwhile, Electric Roger was thinking of becoming a monk. “I spoke to Lama Yeshe about it in Sydney. He said that I should check up whether I could renounce everything, even food. He said if I wasn’t ready to do that I could start up a center in Sydney. When I got to Chenrezig, I had an interview with him in the gompa. He was sitting alone in the middle of the room. I knew I was supposed to prostrate to him, but I still couldn’t bow down to a person. So I turned and prostrated to the altar instead. When I told him I wanted to take robes he just said, ‘Now or at Kopan?’ I said I’d come to Kopan.”

Lama Yeshe invited Mummy Max to give a talk on what had led her to take ordination. Max was not used to this kind of thing. Lama further honored her by insisting she sit on the teaching throne while speaking.

Peter Fenner arrived in time for one of Lama Zopa’s specialities, the death meditation. “It shifted something for me,” recounted Peter. “I knew about my dark side, so I loved the idea of purification. I met Lama Yeshe alone in the gompa and asked him to be my guru. I had a list of questions I didn’t even get to ask because he answered them anyway. In the space of about twenty minutes he also articulated the next twenty years of my life. He suggested I come and live at Chenrezig with my wife and daughter. ‘I want you to become a university professor and teach Dharma,’ he said. It wasn’t exactly what I was planning, but I had total confidence in him,” said Peter.

On 24 May 1975, Lama wrote a letter to Judy Weitzner in California, asking her to write the book His Holiness the Dalai Lama had requested, Tibetan People Today:

Please choose right name that is perfect, suitable and pays attention. Maybe make a documentary movie? Please you set up and organize. Should we adopt a legal name? You put your ideas together on paper and send to me in California.

“Lama had spoken to me about this book before,” said Judy. “I told him I didn’t think I could do much. ‘Yes, you can. You’re Chenrezig. You have a thousand arms and you can do what you want,’ was his reply. I went to Kopan to live in Max’s house and taught the boys English. I planned to meet Lama again in Switzerland,” said Judy. In her quiet way Judy Weitzner was actually a political firebrand. The Free Speech Movement, which developed into the anti-Vietnam War effort in America, had its origins in her Berkeley apartment. Judy produced the first ever Free Tibet bumper stickers, but the book Lama Yeshe described never saw the light of day.

A week before the end of the course, to celebrate the Buddha’s birthday (Saka Dawa), Lama Yeshe asked everyone to come outside after a Guru Puja and to meditate together on the hill behind the gompa. “Lama and Rinpoche sat above us, right on the top of the hill,” said Adrian Feldmann. “We meditated for about fifteen minutes during which time I had a very strong vision of four-armed Chenrezig and a green lady. At that time I didn’t know about Green Tara at all. I’ve never had another vision like that one. It just appeared in my mind that Lama was Tara and Rinpoche was Chenrezig.”

A couple of days before the course ended, Phra Somdet, abbot of Wat Bovoranives, who had offered lunch to the lamas in Bangkok two months earlier, visited the center. He was accompanied by Phra Khantipalo, Ayya Khema, and some Thai monks from Sydney. Lama instructed his students to line up and formally welcome them, while he bounced around with his camera taking photos and laughing freely, in total contrast to the very sober demeanor of his visitors. The abbot gave a Dharma talk to the Westerners who were still there at the center; Lama Yeshe sat in the very front row for the talk.

At the end of the month-long course, fifty people took refuge with Lama Yeshe. Also, fifty-eight received a Chenrezig empowerment and forty-five received a Tara empowerment.

A number of those who had attended the course planned to do group retreat together but Adrian Feldmann wanted to do retreat alone. “I went to see Lama in his caravan and told him. He said that was fine, adding, ‘Whenever a question comes into your mind I want you to write me a letter.’ I said, ‘Okay,’ even though I knew I was going to be in an extremely remote spot and miles from any letter-box.”

One of the lamas’ last tasks in Queensland was to write to Peter Guiliano in Melbourne, thanking him for his many services:

Dear Peter Juliyana, thank you so much for your giving pure Dharma. As much as possible practise wisdom light and giving energy to other students. Please write what everyone is doing nowaday. I want to check up your daily life. So report! Keep continuously energetic wisdom bell ringing. Chenrezig Institute is fantastic!

See you next year, psychic kiss.

Love love love love Lama Yeshe

 

On the way to the airport, Lama Yeshe stopped to buy an orange plastic mug for everyone at Kopan. “These are very good, dear; not too hot to hold,” he said. The lamas then missed their flight to Sydney. Anila Ann felt sad about the lamas’ departure. “Don’t you like it here?” asked Lama. “Oh, Lama,” said Ann, “you know all I want to do is live in your pocket.”

Back at Chenrezig, the retreaters settled into a regimen of silence and a diet of macrobiotic food. Lama Yeshe had left a taped message for them, which they played every day:

Good morning, golden flower students. Enjoy divine wisdom chanting as much possible, cultivate or activate wisdom action and stay in the universal compassion wisdom, never come down in supermarket. Worthwhile. See you soon in the everlasting peaceful sky. Stay.

 

Such simple words filled their hearts and minds with more satisfaction than years of formal education ever could.

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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