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Zina Rachevsky Dies

Zina and her daughter RheaFrom 1973: First Steps First Students by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Khumjung, where Rinpoche had sent me to find Gomchen-la, is in the last wave of mountains before Mount Everest,” Chötak recalled. “During the monsoon the mornings are usually clear, but then it rains solidly for the rest of the day. But the first three days I was there it rained non-stop. When the sun broke through, there was a huge rainbow in front of an extraordinary sunset of glowing fire. I fed two crows there and they ‘talked’ to me. Whenever someone was coming along the path, they’d land on my roof with a big thud to let me know. They were right every time.

“One day the crows started making a big fuss on the roof. I looked down the valley and in the distance I could see Trulshik Rinpoche coming along with his entourage. The Sherpas burnt piles of fragrant juniper along the way and you could hear his deep puja voice reverberating for miles. When he arrived, his attendant told me that I had to speak to him. By then I could speak just enough Tibetan to get by.

“Rinpoche took me by the arm and told me that a runner had come up from Thubten Chöling to Tengboché to tell him that Zina had died three days ago. He said that he had known she was dead before the runner came. He told me that as he was getting up on the first morning of those three days of endless rain, he was meant to read the text for that day but then changed his plans and decided to meditate instead. He said to me, ‘I stayed in my room and meditated all that day, all that night, all the next day and night, and all the next day as well. At sunset on the third day I stopped.’

“Then he looked me in the eye and told me that he had done powa for Zina and transferred her consciousness. He said that the signs were good, the sky auspicious and the weather had broken to reveal double rainbows. However, he was worried about Rhea, who was still at Thubten Chöling. He said she was a very special girl and he wanted me to get down to Thubten Chöling as soon as possible before they sent someone to take her away.

“Zina had died just at the time of that incredible sunset—pink-tinged neon turquoise over white snow peaks. I’ll never forget that sunset. Trulshik Rinpoche said Lama Yeshe had told him that Zina would die soon and that she was the cooperative cause for the existence of Kopan and his whole trip of teaching Westerners.

“I ran all the way down to Thubten Chöling, all night along the black, narrow paths. I even hired a Sherpa to carry my pack. It took me two and a half days, but I didn’t get there in time. I walked into Junbesi the day after Zina had been cremated. Trulshik Rinpoche didn’t want to kidnap Rhea, he just wanted to see her and talk to her guardian. Conrad Rooks, Zina’s ex-husband, was in Kathmandu, having recently finished making the movie Siddhartha, so he came up and took her away. Mummy Max had passed him a message that had been sent to Kopan saying that Zina was seriously ill. She was dead by the time he arrived.”

There were all sorts of rumors as to the cause of Zina’s death. Apparently her stomach had swollen up like a basketball. She had had terrible cramps and was no longer able to fold her legs but had sat with them stretched out in front while she continued reciting mantras until she died. Some said her illness lasted five days and that on the morning of the fifth day she had sat up, announced she was going to die and then resumed saying mantras. Then there were rumors that she had been poisoned by a primitive Sherpa tribe that believed it was possible to take over another person’s power by killing them. Apparently the previous incarnation of the young Kopan tulku Gelek Gyatso, who had lived in the Junbesi area of Solu, was thought to have died that way. Others said that she had inadvertently poisoned herself by mistaking a local poisonous bulb for garlic; that she had died of amoebic dysentery; that she had died from eating another poisonous plant, datura; that she had died from untreated appendicitis.

Clive Giboire was in his Kathmandu apartment when General Kiran, who’d rented his house to Zina’s mother, telephoned on an army radio. “He told me he had been radioed from Solu with the news that Zina was dead. He didn’t know who to contact so he called me,” said Clive. At the time Harriet, Zina’s mother, was in New York with Rhea’s Aunt Louise.

“Zina’s death was very traumatic for Rhea, who went to the United States soon afterward. All her grandmother’s family were devout Catholics, so she was subsequently raised a Catholic. Years later she showed a friend of mine a charming little storybook that her mother had written and drawn for her. But she was not prepared to talk about her mother’s death at all. She isn’t at all involved with Buddhist things.”

Rhea and some nuns were present when Zina’s head nodded forward and her consciousness left her body. It was said later that Rhea told Clive Giboire, “Mummy sat back and stopped counting prayers.” She had just turned eight years old.

Piero Cerri was with Lama Yeshe in Tushita Retreat Centre when Lama said to him, “Zina is dying now.” Lama went immediately into meditation. He told Piero later that he had transferred Zina’s consciousness to Vajrayogini’s pure land.

Less than a year after her death Tom Laird, who had visited Zina in April together with his friend Mimi, was back at Thubten Chöling and asked Trulshik Rinpoche what had happened to Zina. “This time there was a translator,” said Tom. “He told us that Zina had had ‘a very good death,’ that she had died in meditation and that her daughter had been there and had lit her funeral pyre. I also heard that a doctor at the Hillary Hospital at Paphlu had tested her fecal matter and said that she had died of cholera. Indeed, there had been a cholera outbreak in that valley during that summer and several people had died.”

Lama Zopa said Zina knew she was going to die, that the signs in the weather during her cremation were very good, and that Trulshik Rinpoche had said she was in Vajrayogini’s pure land. Some time after this Zopa Rinpoche asked Zong Rinpoche where Zina had taken rebirth; Zong Rinpoche also said that Zina had been reborn in a pure land.

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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.”

Sherpas, Zopa Rinpoche and the Lawudo Lama

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

“The Sherpas (Tibetan:shar pa, from shar “east” + pa “people”) are an ethnic group who live in the high mountain region of the eastern Himalayas. According to the Sherpas themselves, however, sherpa actually refers to all Tibetans, i.e., all “people from the east.” About 3,000 of the more than 10,000 Sherpas in Nepal reside in the Solu Khumbu valley, the entryway to Mount Everest from the southwest. However, some live farther west in the high Rolwaling Valley and in the Langtang-Helambu region directly north of Kathmandu. Sherpas have their own language, which resembles a dialect of Tibetan. Most Sherpas are Tibetan Buddhists of the Nyingma sect.

The term sherpa is also used to refer to local mountain people, men and also women, who work as guides and porters for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas. They are highly regarded as elite mountaineers and experts in their local geography. Historically Sherpas were traders; even today, yak trains carry various goods and food items across the Nangpa La pass to Tibet, returning with salt and wool.

The Sherpas grow or raise most of their food by herding yaks and planting potatoes. Yaks provide wool for clothing, leather for shoes, dung for fuel and fertilizer, milk, butter, cheese and meat. Potatoes, which grow at altitudes up to 14,000 feet, provide the Sherpas with their dietary staple: the main food eaten is Sherpa stew, shakpa, a meat- and potato-based stew with some vegetables mixed in. The typical Nepali fare of rice with lentils, called dhal bhaat, is also a common meal among Sherpas. Tea is the drink of choice, served in big thermoses, with plenty of milk and either sugar or salt and butter already added. Each household brews its own chang, which is a thick, rice- or barley-based beer.

Sherpa hospitality is legendary. Trekkers hiking along the paths into the mountains can stop for tea, or a meal, or an overnight stay at any Sherpa’s house, even the poorest, and be welcomed openly with kindness; no one is ever turned away from the door.

Every twelve years the Sherpa people of Solu Khumbu traveled from their mountain homes down to Kathmandu for a traditional pilgrimage tour of the holy Buddhist sites there. In the early spring of 1969 Zopa Rinpoche’s mother and other family members embarked on this pilgrimage, traveling to Kathmandu together with their friends and neighbors. But Zopa Rinpoche’s relatives had an even more compelling reason to head to Kathmandu that spring. They intended to beg Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the incarnation of the previous Lawudo Lama who had died in March 1945, to come back home to Solu Khumbu.

Dawa Chötar, the little boy who would eventually be ordained as Thubten Zopa, was born in the small town of Thangmé, just below the village of Lawudo, on 3 December 1945. His father had died when he was only two, leaving his impoverished mother with four children to raise, one of whom had died at the age of nine. He had an older brother, Sangye, and an older sister, Ngawang Samten. They dressed in rags and had little to eat. When he was barely able to walk, Dawa Chötar began trying to make his way up the mountain to Lawudo, a two-hour trek across a river and straight up the mountainside. He insisted that the cave up there was his home. He played at giving initiations and could name, apparently from memory, all the benefactors of the Lawudo Lama.

The Lawudo Lama had been a married salt trader with a son and a daughter. Married lamas are common in the Nyingma tradition, to which he belonged. He had decided to spend his life in retreat in a cave once used to store radishes. As he was digging it out, he discovered a beautiful space marked with sacred signs. But just as he was about to move into the cave, he was struck with paralysis. Later, he declared his disease a special blessing because it meant he could meditate undisturbed, having been rendered useless for anything else. So for thirteen years he sat in meditation on a stone seat in this cave, his hair left uncut and dressed always in an old white fur coat and a pair of big round earrings. It is said that during his cremation rainbow clouds filled the sky, flower-shaped snowflakes fell, and the air was filled with music.

Three years later a two-year old boy from one of the poorest families in the area began insisting he was the Lawudo Lama’s reincarnation. His relatives were embarrassed, but one night the late Lama’s daughter, Karzang, secretly visited the boy’s home with articles that had belonged to her father. Little Dawa Chötar identified them immediately. He was then subjected to public examinations; he passed every test and was officially recognized. When he was four years old, an uncle took him to Rolwaling Monastery, which was two days’ hard walk from Thangmé. The boy, now called Ang Gyältsen, spent seven years there, before his uncles took him to Tibet, where he was ordained at Domo Geshe Rinpoche’s Dungkar Monastery in Phag-ri. Not long after that, it was 1959 and he had to escape to India.”

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