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A New Tradition: Public Examinations

IMI monks and nuns, Kopan 1974From 1974: Introducing Adamantine Being (Vajrasattva) by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Lama Yeshe was very keen for his own students to be examined. Now that most of them had been studying for at least two years, Lama began holding public examinations at Kopan starting in December of 1974. The dates on which these were to be held were even advertised in Kathmandu. Each person was given a lam-rim subject, sometimes not until the exam was just about to begin. He or she had to give a talk on the topic in front of all the other students and then had to debate with Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche. These proved to be very interesting and successful events, where Lama carefully boosted the confidence of those who needed it. He was still constantly amazed at the lack of self-confidence among the apparently powerful Injis. This was also one of Lama’s teaching methods aimed at preparing his monks and nuns eventually to be able to teach the Dharma in the West.

From Lama Yeshe’s lecture to the IMI Sangha in preparation for the first public examinations:

“I think it is necessary that you know why we are going to hold examinations of IMI Sangha.

Since you took ordination, your life, your body and speech, do not belong to you, nor do they belong to Lama. They belong to all universal living beings. It was because of your understanding that you decided to live in the thirty-six vows, to renounce samsara. Lama did not push you. Therefore your duty is to integrate your body, speech and mind as much as possible into Dharma knowledge-wisdom and to give that light to all mother sentient beings. To do this it is not enough to spend all your life sitting on the mountain, doing a “Milarepa trip.” Nor is it enough to receive teachings on just one particular book—for example, the Vajrasattva text—and then spend your life studying that small information just for your own knowledge. To think that work such as this is the purpose of your life is a wrong conception.

You need to be able to explain the basic psychological Dharma wisdom terms that are found in the Prajnaparamita texts of Lord Buddha and in the commentaries written by Nagarjuna, Maitreya and Atisha. Those teachings have been integrated into the graduated path to liberation, the lam-rim. So the IMI Sangha have to at least know Lama Zopa’s lam-rim teaching completely.

The aim of establishing the Institute was to make sure you had the opportunity to study those teachings. You have to know and be able to explain these subjects at least intellectually. If you cannot even answer questions on an intellectual level, how can your actions become practice? First comes hearing, then intellectual understanding, then the experience, the realization.

So in order to have a clean-clear understanding you have to be able to express your thoughts and engage in debate. Many times you may think that you know the answers, you may even think you are Buddha. But when someone questions or contradicts you, then your words are nothingness, because of your limited mind. That can be very dangerous because you are thereby making Dharma wisdom tasteless, even making it smell like ka-ka. So by having deep understanding you have to be able to meditate and also to express yourself within the Sangha. In that way you keep your intellectual understanding and realizations together. You keep both your heart and your speech clean and working simultaneously.”

 

“Those public examinations were terrifying,” said Thubten Pemo. “Sometimes we were not told in advance what the topic would be or who was going to be examined. I remember speaking about impermanence and Rinpoche interrupting with questions. Dr. Nick called out and asked me something like, ‘Where does the ignorance go when we realize emptiness?’ and I replied, ‘Where does the darkness go when we turn on the light in the room?’ And everyone laughed.”

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The Seventh Kopan Meditation Course

Lama Yeshe at Kopan, 1974From 1974: Introducing Adamantine Being (Vajrasattva) by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

The seventh Kopan meditation was organized slightly differently than previous courses. Since the attrition rate of the sixth course had been so severe, Vens. Chötak and Pende conducted pre-course interviews with everyone who registered for the course; they provided thorough orientation into the course discipline aimed especially at newcomers so they would know ahead of time what they were signing up for. In addition, once the course got going, there were actually two parallel courses running simultaneously. While the more advanced students, those who had already attended a couple of meditation courses, were receiving teachings on the lam-rim preliminary practices, or Jorchö, from Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Dr. Nick was guiding the new students in the basic lam-rim teachings. “So I was all disgruntled, being left to handle the new students while my peers were getting advanced teachings!” Nick recalled many years later.

Halfway through the seventh meditation course Lama Yeshe arrived at Kopan to a traditional welcome of the eight auspicious symbols drawn in white chalk on the forecourt. Everyone lined up to greet him with incense, flowers, and khatas as he stepped down from Mummy Max’s Jeep. Despite the rest in Mussoorie his senior students had never seen Lama looking so unwell. He was gray, breathing heavily, and looked uncomfortably bloated—all symptoms of his heart condition. But slowly the puffiness subsided and once more he looked golden and shiny. “Lama is invincible,” his students told themselves. “He’ll be fine.”

As a follow-up to the many tests Lama Yeshe had had while in the United States, a letter arrived from the chief resident at Memorial Hospital in Wisconsin, Dr. Frank Ryning, confirming his diagnosis:

Lama Thubten Yeshe has severe rheumatic heart disease. This means that one of his heart valves is deformed due to severe scarring of the valve. This valve normally prevents blood from flowing back into the heart from the aorta, the main channel through which blood is distributed to the rest of the body. However in Lama Yeshe’s case, deformity of the valve impedes blood flow out of the heart into the aorta. The patient can have no complaints even with severe obstruction, but once symptoms begin to appear the prognosis is grim, with most patients dying within a relatively short period of time.

Dr. Ryning suggested replacing the damaged valve with an artificial one, a low-risk operation, followed by a lifetime of anticoagulant medicine to be checked every six weeks. But Lama would have none of it.

The students who knew about Lama’s health problems took over a number of secretarial and administrative jobs in order to give him more time to rest. Lama scoffed at their concern. “Since a long time Western doctors have said I’d be dead three years ago but they know nothing of psychic energy and this magical illusory body. No, you please tell everyone not to worry about me. I’ll be here for a looooong time!” Still, some noticed that when Lama laughed, he would clutch his side, so now they hesitated to tell him funny things.

In an effort to protect his health some of Lama’s senior students decided to limit access to him. This did not endear them to newer students. However, if Lama really wanted to see someone he would simply run into them in the garden or on a path. No one could stop him doing that.

“Lama is really buddha, you know,” whispered one devoted student to George Churinoff. George, a graduate in astro-physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a teacher at the esteemed Choate School, was a newcomer at Kopan.

“I thought, ‘Ah, give me a break! Lama Zopa is the real one here. Who is this Lama Yeshe guy?’” George recalled. “The cult of adoration surrounding him revolted me. Once when Lama walked by me, I said, ‘It’s a nice day,’ and he replied, ‘Thank you, dear,’ and I thought, ‘What do you mean? Did you make the day?’ I was really negative.”

One day when one of the course participants was speaking with Lama Yeshe in his room, Lama Zopa came in, fell to his knees, and started to pray. For the benefit of that student Lama pointed toward himself and said, “Dorje Chang,” indicating that Rinpoche was seeing him in the aspect of Dorje Chang. (“Who is Dorje Chang?” a student once asked him. “The biggest buddha, dear,” Lama replied.) Some students reported that they had seen Rinpoche making offerings to Lama Yeshe with tears running down his face. At other times he would not raise his eyes to look at Lama at all. Lama Yeshe was often heard speaking brusquely to Rinpoche; at the same time he also told students that Rinpoche was one of the most highly evolved beings on this planet. Lama Yeshe addressed Lama Zopa as “Kusho.” This term is generally translated from the Tibetan as “your honor” or “your worship,” and is how Tibetans commonly address monks and others of higher rank in society. These translations, however, in no way capture the clear warmth and affection expressed when Lama Yeshe addressed Rinpoche in that way. Lama actually told one student that compared to Rinpoche, he himself was just a water buffalo. And late at night, when the two lamas were alone together, all that students ever heard was an indescribable cascade of their laughter pouring out across the hill, like two buddhas in total bliss.

Philippe Camus turned up with his friend Joseph. Lama Zopa asked Joseph to tell everyone his story. It seems that he had been profoundly affected by Lama Yeshe during an earlier course and had departed with the notion that having met him, he could now do anything. What Joseph wanted most of all was to become a famous hairdresser. This he had achieved, having acquired a glamorous salon in New York filled with celebrity customers. “Ah, this is good karma!” he thought. But then things started to go wrong, very wrong. Money disappeared. One day he was stabbed in the street. In a final attempt to reinstate his fortune Joseph sailed a yacht loaded with hashish into American waters, where it ran aground on a reef and was seized. Joseph’s celebrity attorney got him out of trouble but he realized that his good karma had run out. “I’ve got to get back to Yeshe! That’s where good karma comes from!” he told himself.  So here he was again, soaking it up. Lama Zopa found Joseph’s story very funny.

 

During the last ten days or so of the seventh meditation course, Lama Yeshe gave occasional teachings to the students on the theme of “Death, Bardo, and Rebirth.”

 

From Lama Yeshe’s lectures during the seventh Kopan meditation course, 1974:

After death we do not disappear. The energy of our consciousness does not disappear. Even though this physical body, these five aggregates, this physical energy, may disappear our consciousness still keeps going continuously. It doesn’t depend on whether you believe in this or not; your consciousness energy keeps going continuously. It’s natural. Energy is a natural phenomenon. So after death, your consciousness is functioning, continuously, continuously. If you are able to go beyond the ego’s wrong conceptions before you die, then you will not have to go to an uncontrolled suffering realm. On the other hand, as long as you possess an ego and its resultant wrong conceptions, you’ll automatically go to an uncontrolled situation. No one else can make you go there. Your uncontrolled circumstances are not just an idea; and no one has pushed you in that direction. It’s your own wrong-conception mind that pushes you into that uncontrolled channel.

That’s the kind of channel your mind is in now. Because you’re at the mercy of the five aggregates you get agitated. When you’re hungry or thirsty or in pain—all the information that makes you feel those things comes from these five aggregates, from this body. So the aggregates give so much information to your mind, which is in the “uncontrolled-situation” channel. Your own wrong-conception mind clung to this kind of body, and as a result you were born into an uncontrolled condition. You yourself put your mind into this kind of channel. Nobody else did it for you.

Until that uncontrolled energy is exhausted, you have to go through this cycle of death and rebirth. So after death we have an uncontrolled rebirth, maybe in a samsaric realm similar to where we are now. At present we are in a place where we can experience samsaric pleasure, aren’t we? We experience some samsaric happiness in this uncontrolled rebirth. But in another uncontrolled rebirth, we might be reborn as an animal or in what we call hell. But hell doesn’t mean a situation that goes on forever or a place that you can never come back from, which is how Westerners understand it. Hell is not a permanent state. It is also not something outside of us that we have to deal with, such as stones or a jungle. Hell is consciousness. The hell environment manifests from your consciousness, from your negative projection. Thus, the way you feel is your reality. Hell is not a place that is waiting for you, where you go down, down, down. It is also not a place where someone else puts you. When your consciousness is ready, you experience a certain impression from your environment. At that time, for you, hell is existent.

For example, from among all of us who are sitting here in this tent, there are some who feel that this tent is like hell and others who experience a good vibration, perhaps even a sense of bliss. These latter persons who are having a positive experience have clean clear vision and wholesome thoughts rather than an agitated mind. So even among those who are here, some are already in the hell realm. Yes! They’re already in a hell realm.

How can you distinguish a hell realm from the human realm? Normally we say that a hell realm is indicated by unusually extreme suffering, that is, suffering that is far beyond normal human suffering. You understand? The normal types of human suffering include the suffering of rebirth. During one’s lifetime, there is also the suffering of sickness, which is actually conflict that manifests through the body. And finally, there is the suffering of death. Rebirth, disease and death—these are the general human sufferings. We are all familiar with these. But the nature of hell is extreme suffering that is far greater than the usual human sufferings. Despite its intensity, that state is also impermanent. It does not last forever and is not static and unchangeable. When the energy for that state of consciousness is finished, then another reaction arises. If it didn’t then you would be suffering there permanently.

If you experience this tent as a hell realm, it is your schizophrenic, foggy mental projection that creates that experience. The experience does not arise from your belief. No matter whether you intellectually believe that this is a hell situation or not, for you the experience still comes, doesn’t it? It comes naturally. If you ask someone who is having this experience, “Do you believe this situation is like hell?” they’ll say, “I don’t know. I just know I have this kind of visualization.” They are going to tell you what they feel it’s like rather than what they believe it is. You can see that this kind of suffering doesn’t depend on our believing in it.

 

The Fifth Kopan Meditation Course

Fifth Meditation Course, Kopan monastery, Nepal, 1973From 1973: First Steps First Students by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

The time had come during the course for Lama Yeshe to come and give a talk. He was to give refuge and precepts on December 6, so on the previous day he gave a preliminary talk about them to everyone. “He’s not like Rinpoche,” the old hands told the new ones. “He makes you laugh, makes you feel like you can do anything, that you’re wonderful and definitely going to become enlightened, rather than remaining absolutely hopeless and going straight to hell!”

Lama Yeshe entered the tent in his best robes. As he climbed up onto the throne he snapped his finger and thumb, a customary gesture. Once a teacher is seated it is usual for those who are attending the teaching to respectfully prostrate three times. To some this finger snap seemed a rather haughty signal to everyone to make their prostrations. Lama Yeshe later explained that this finger snap was actually a special prayer. “I am not a throne lama; this is not my place. So I snap to remember impermanence,” he said. “It’s an antidote to pride.”

His talk had its usual effect. Everyone relaxed, cried with laughter, forgot for a time their anxieties and sorrows and felt inspired to practice Dharma—to be of infinite service to others until the day they died. And all this took place while Lama Yeshe, in his unique brand of English, was saying things never before heard, such as, “Your berserky mind preak out!” Many European students who were there also spoke little English, but everyone could understand Lama Yeshe. Afterward they discussed his talk among themselves. Some had heard one thing emphasized, others had heard something else.

* * *

From Lama Yeshe’s talk on refuge and precepts on December 5:

Anila Ann told me that some people wanted to take refuge and the five precepts but before doing so it’s necessary to understand why you’re doing so, how to do so and what the benefits are. That’s very important. If you don’t know all this, your practice becomes less powerful and you can start to have doubts about it rather than feeling comfortable with it. You need to know what you are doing. Therefore I’m going to give you a short introduction.

Actually, I don’t need to tell you much because you’ve had teachings on refuge and karma during the course and in meditation have already checked beyond the words. This is actually the perfect introduction.

Taking refuge means having a continuously enthusiastic feeling for discovering the pure energy and omniscient wisdom that we call “buddha.” It doesn’t really matter what we call it; there are so many words. Actually it means perfect wisdom, understanding wisdom, and how seeking this is beneficial for our life rather than living with the empty, cold feelings that we often experience. Taking refuge brings a warm feeling into our heart and the continuous wish to grow and develop instead of thinking, “Oh, I’m hopeless, I can’t do anything,” the kind of thinking that brings you down.

You have thought about the perfect qualities of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and realized that you too can acquire those qualities and are no longer under the illusion that Buddha and Jesus Christ are way up there in the sky somewhere and you are down here, nothing. Thinking that you are nothing, that you’re just like an animal, is totally the wrong way to think. You’re putting yourself down, completely underestimating your ability. You have the incredible potential to develop in exactly the same way that Lord Buddha and Jesus did. They both appeared on earth and passed away—their physical atoms don’t exist here any more, do they? But even today we still enjoy their wisdom light, power and compassion.

When Lord Buddha was here, his body was not an ordinary body. Through the power of his bodhicitta, to use Buddhist terminology, whenever people saw his body they gained higher realizations, such as single-pointed concentration. But when he was finished on the physical level, his knowledge, the power of his wisdom, lived on such that we can still feel it today. This is the result of the wisdom and true compassion of his bodhicitta mind. So I’m saying that discovering that you have the ability or potential to develop that within you, that you can grow continuously without stopping, no matter what happens to your physical body, your mind can be completely relaxed. Even though you get old, changing, changing, changing, on the mental level you can continuously develop and better understand your own nature and no matter that the external world goes up and down, your internal world is always supported by your understanding. You are supported by your wisdom in the middle way rather than falling this way or that.

We talk about eternal happiness, eternal bliss, eternal joy—these qualities last forever, unlike the momentary, transient pleasures of samsara. And they arise from knowledge-wisdom. So taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha means you are taking refuge in Lord Buddha’s ultimate wisdom, true compassion and everlasting bliss.

Think what a fantastic state of mind that is. Just imagining it brings you energy. I mean, you haven’t yet attained it but just visualizing the omniscient mind, thinking about it, brings its reflection into your mind. You feel more peaceful and relaxed. A sensation of happiness comes into your mind; a warm feeling, a really warm feeling. By discovering that such qualities lie within you makes you also respect other sentient beings’ abilities and stops you from putting them down, too: “You can’t do anything; you’re hopeless.” That’s not right. By discovering your own abilities you respect others and generate warm feelings toward them rather than hatred. It’s so simple.”

* * *

Lama Yeshe’s words had the power to change peoples’ lives, among them Dieter Kratzer’s. “I sat throughout his talk in full lotus posture,” Dieter explained. “This was something I had never been able to do until then. I closed my eyes and during the whole two hours of that talk I just trembled and cried. ‘Come on Dieter,’ I told myself. ‘You’re German, male, rational, not a slave to your emotions.’ But I couldn’t stop. Afterward I made an appointment to see Lama. He told me, ‘I have a feeling we have known each other before some time in the past.’ At the next teaching I not only sat without any pain in my legs at all, but for the very first time I understood every word Lama Zopa was saying. It was all absolutely crystal clear.”

Another highlight of Lama Yeshe’s talks was question-and-answer time. Some students liked to ask complex questions, designed perhaps to parade their intellectual skills. Lama Yeshe’s answers always seemed tailored to each type of person. First he would listen with eyes closed, rocking slowly back and forth. Then came a period of intense silence. When he finally answered, the words seemed to come from somewhere very deep within him. They cut sharply through cleverness, encouraged the timid and exposed logical flaws. Many people tried to nail Lama with Western science but he always won—and in the simplest language, which everyone could understand.

 

Lay Precepts

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

One hundred and eight people completed the fourth Kopan course—and for once, everyone paid. 108 is an auspicious number relating to the 108 volumes of the Kangyur, the collection of the words of the Buddha. There is a popular Tibetan Buddhist prayer entitled One Hundred and Eight Verses in Praise of Great Compassion and there are also commonly 108 beads on a Buddhist mala.

Near the end of the course Lama Yeshe gave a talk on refuge and precepts, which left everybody weak with laughter and filled with enthusiasm for living a different kind of life. As usual, a number of those in attendance opted not to take the precept to abstain from taking intoxicants. Hash was still just too much fun for some.

From Lama Yeshe’s talk on the lay precepts from the fourth course:

There are some people here who want to take the five precepts. Ordination is beneficial for oneself and for sentient beings. The lamas’ experience is that before taking and giving these precepts we should have some understanding of what they are and why we take them. It is not just a samsaric custom.

We all want perfect peace, happiness, everlasting satisfaction and liberation. Since that’s our goal, we should head in that direction. Otherwise we’re just hypocrites—we say we want, we want, but act completely opposite to our desire. A simple example: In the West, people with severe psychological problems are put into mental hospitals, which is pretty radical treatment. What they need is soft, peaceful treatment. Putting someone in jail is wrathful treatment, neither soft nor peaceful. Lama’s rule is that mental hospitals are okay, but they should be peaceful and the patients should be treated with understanding. They should come to understand themselves slowly, slowly, not by force.

By constraining ourselves with ordination we can gradually develop our mind. We are not ready for immediate development by forced meditation and so forth. We need to create peaceful conditions for ourselves so that our mind will develop in a certain way and gradually become more stable, not up and down. From there it can be liberated without having to come down into the samsaric world.

So ordination is the method of achieving this. Lord Buddha never said we have to follow any rule without knowing its purpose. He said that if you keep this kind of precept it will give you this kind of mental feeling, safety from certain problems. The five precepts are not killing, not lying, not stealing, not becoming intoxicated and not engaging in sexual misconduct. Lord Buddha never said, “Don’t do these five things.” Rather he explained what kind of mind, what kind of confused mental attitude, engages in killing and so forth; what kind of selfish motivation causes us to engage in such actions.

Before taking the five precepts our mind is dissatisfied, kind of berserk. Lord Buddha said this confused mental attitude brings conflict. If we’re in control of our mind, actions such as killing, lying and so forth, never bring the reaction of conflict in our mind. He never said, “Stop doing that forever.” He just said that avoiding it is useful for your mind. When we reach enlightenment we don’t need ordination rules. For example, small children are told not to touch electricity—their mothers make a kind of rule against it—but older children don’t need such rules; they already know. It’s the same thing for the higher consciousness, the liberated, stable consciousness. It doesn’t need that rule, it is already free from that condition. “If you have an uncontrolled, deluded motivation, do not do such actions.” That’s all Lord Buddha said.

Ordination is helpful not just because a lama gives it to us but because we take it ourselves. If we have great determination, if we understand the nature of the samsaric mind and the way the wrong-concept mind reacts and take the ordination with great psychic mental determination—not just ignorantly saying, “I want this,” but having perfect determination through understanding—then that mental power can lead us in a positive direction for a long time. Samsara comes from the power of the mind, as does the result of liberation. The whole thing is mental attitude; the whole thing is really simple.

Lord Buddha also asked, “What do we need to be qualified to take ordination?” And gave the answer, “Renunciation of samsara.” It’s nothing external, such as robes and so forth. However, we all have a different idea of what renunciation is. My connotation is that renunciation is on a mental level. It means not to give something with mental attachment, not to give an object with the mind still in it, such as when we think, “I wish I hadn’t given that.” This way of thinking only gives trouble. We can renounce lunch but still eat it—renunciation is on the mental attitude.

It’s difficult but possible, it varies from person to person, but some people have very high consciousness; they have control over negativity and problems, and at the same time act in unity with phenomena. But others, when they touch electricity they get burnt. Similarly, some experience suffering when they contact the negative mind—we can call it karma, mental reaction, karmic result of action, causation, mental attitude, or movement of the mind. How can we develop our consciousness? If we always put our mind into unconscious situations, we cannot develop higher consciousness. We make it possible by putting our mind into a peaceful atmosphere through ordination. Then we can realize how our mind tricks us. “I thought I was like this but now I see I’m like that.”

Ordination is like a test. For example, perhaps we have no idea and always think, “I am perfect, pure; I don’t tell lies,” but when we put ourselves into a situation where we are always aware, we realize that our negative mind is very much involved in what we are doing. When we lie, we are trying to change another’s mental attitude. Although we don’t say the words, “I am always right,” our mental attitude says that we are. Until we can trust ourselves there is no truth at all. For example, we can have an experience, a flash, in meditation, but that doesn’t mean we have found the truth.

Also, keeping precepts is basic, fundamental to samadhi meditation because when we live in ordination our body, speech and mind are already in a positive, relaxed atmosphere. Out of this basic atmosphere we can guide our mind into the peaceful path of liberation. If somebody is agitating us all the time, it’s an impossible situation for developing control. Therefore, cut the agitated situation and create the atmosphere you want.

I’m not pushing people to take ordination; pushing people is not the Buddhist way. We don’t care if people become Buddhists or not. But those who want to should understand why and how. If you don’t want to take precepts then it’s better that you don’t.

The First Group Ordination

The first ordination, 1970From 1970: The First Group Ordination written by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

From the Lama Yeshe’s teachings to his monks and nuns:

The reason we are unhappy is because we have extreme craving for sense objects, samsaric objects, and we grasp at them. We are seeking to solve our problems but we are not seeking in the right place. The right place is our own ego grasping; we have to loosen that tightness, that’s all.

According to the Buddhist point of view, monks and nuns are supposed to hold renunciation vows. The meaning of monks and nuns renouncing the world is that they have less craving for and grasping at sense objects. But you cannot say that they have already given up samsara, because monks and nuns still have stomachs! The thing is…the English word “renounce” is linguistically tricky. You can say that monks and nuns renounce their stomachs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they actually throw their stomachs away.

So, I want you to understand that renouncing sensory pleasure doesn’t mean throwing nice things away. Even if you do, it doesn’t mean you have renounced them. Renunciation is a totally inner experience.

Renunciation of samsara does not mean you throw samsara away because your body and your nose are samsara. How can you throw your nose away? Your mind and body are samsara—well, at least mine are. So I cannot throw them away. Therefore, renunciation means less craving; it means being more reasonable instead of putting too much psychological pressure on yourself and acting crazy.

The important point for us to know, then, is that we should have less grasping at sense pleasures, because most of the time our grasping at and craving desire for worldly pleasure does not give us satisfaction. That is the main point. It leads to more dissatisfaction and to psychologically crazier reactions. That is the main point.

 

Both Kopan and Rana House were in chaos as the lamas, Zina, and the four students to be ordained organized their robes and gifts for the officiating monks. Lama Yeshe came back from Kathmandu with a huge stack of texts for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, including one particularly wide handwritten text containing many illustrations. The others were printed from woodblocks. He asked Ann to find suitcases to put them in.

At Kathmandu airport the customs officers were constantly on the lookout for antiques, which could not leave the country. The illustrated text was packed into a round case on its own, and Ann was nervous when they asked to see inside. “Okay, let me open it for you,” she suggested and swiftly turned to a page with no illustrations. “Max and Lama had both wandered off and disappeared at the end of the customs hall. Lama was spinning his mala so fast I knew he was up to something. The customs official looked at the page for a long moment, then said we could go through. When I joined the others, I could hardly breathe,” said Ann.

From Delhi, Zina, Sylvia, James and Zopa Rinpoche traveled to Dharamsala by train.

Max had arranged for herself, Lama Yeshe and Ann to fly, but they were grounded in Delhi due to a strike. It was late at night. A taxi driver at the airport approached Max and begged her to let him take them to Dharamsala—he remembered her from a trip to the Taj Mahal three years earlier. Even Delhi could be a small town, especially with regard to foreigners who tipped well. In the middle of the night they came to a state border barred by a gate and a sleeping sentry who could not be roused. “You must know some way around this,” Lama encouraged the driver, who then drove off the road and crossed the river below via boards and little islands.

Arriving in Dharamsala they took rooms at the local government guesthouse. These are called Dak Bungalows, or Dak Guesthouses, and can be found all over India. They were about to go and have breakfast when the Injis expressed some concerns about their unlockable doors. Padlocks were a necessity, and they hadn’t brought any. “This will do it,” said Lama Yeshe, wrapping his mala around the doorknob. “No one will have the nerve to take that off.” Later that day they moved into the famously seedy Hotel Kailash in McLeod Ganj, the village above Dharamsala—much to the visible disgust of the local monks. “Well, if you don’t like me being here, then you give me a better place,” Lama Yeshe told them. They shuffled away. Everyone in Dharamsala was on the thin edge of poverty, and they didn’t have a better place to offer.

Lama Yeshe organized everything. On the eve of the big day, Lama brought his students to an interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, seeking his approval and blessing. The next day, 16 December 1970, the ordination took place at Chopra House, Kyabjé Ling Rinpoche’s residence located on a hill just outside McLeod Ganj. Geshe Rabten presided as he had promised, along with Lama Yeshe, Gen Jampa Wangdu, and two other monks. Traditionally, four monks and an abbot are required for monastic ordination ceremonies.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche did not attend. The four Westerners received a short lecture in English on the vows they were about to take, but the ceremony itself was in Tibetan. They were instructed not to speak or ask questions. Whenever a response was required, Lama answered on their behalf. Afterward, everyone posed for photos.

 

 

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