Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Tibetan’

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.

Advertisements

The Third Kopan Meditation Course

Third Kopan Meditation Course, Lama Yeshe, 1972From 1972: Unsurpassed Dharma Land of Enlightenment by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

In November 1972 Zopa Rinpoche taught his third meditation course. Around fifty people attended, including Massimo Corona and his brother Luca, Piero and Claudio, Paula Koolkin, and Peter Kedge. Advertising flyers appeared in Kathmandu cafes such as the Camp Hotel, where Marcel Bertels, a serious Dutch lad from a conservative Catholic family, had just met a French-Canadian, Nicole Couture. They both decided to do “the course,” as it was now called.

An Australian couple—Nick Ribush, a doctor, and Marie Obst, a nurse—also heard about the course and went up to Kopan to check things out. On the notice board they found advertisements for Lama Zopa’s month-long course, costing 300 rupees, as well as the Burmese teacher Goenka’s ten-day vipassana meditation course, for 100 rupees. “Let’s do the short one,” said Marie. After a full Catholic upbringing she was more interested in shedding religion than acquiring an alternative one. But Nick was “looking” and they booked into the longer one.

Twenty-six-year-old law graduate Helly Pelaez, the only child of a prominent Spanish cardiologist from Granada, was definitely looking. Running into Steve Malasky and his mother in Amala’s, Boudhanath’s only restaurant, she heard about the course and subsequently attended an early group interview with Lama Yeshe. “Why do you want to do the course?” Lama asked.

“I said I didn’t know if I could even do it,” said Helly. “According to him, everybody could, even animals. I thought him strange and was glad he wasn’t the one teaching.

“While I was walking back down to my room in Boudha, I started to feel funny, like someone was with me in my mind, working on it, stronger and stronger. Back in my room I then spent the two most horrible days of my life. I cried non-stop. The fact is I’d had lots of fights with my parents and led a very unstable life. Coming to India was a last resort for me. I had decided that if this course didn’t change things for me, I was going to kill myself. A week before it began, I moved up to Kopan. Lama Yeshe had gone to Dharamsala and I thought, ‘Good, I don’t want to see him.’”

Nick, Marie, Helly, and an English girl, Suzanne Lee, walked up to Kopan together. On the way they encountered Anila Ann—bald, robes tied round her long skinny flanks, working like a ditch digger at a trouble spot in the road. From the hill they were able to look down into a magical valley carved into terraced rice paddies with two-storey ochre colored houses hedged with roses. Chickens clucked in attics, chilies dried on roofs and were laid out in neatly swept forecourts. Dogs barked incessantly and children called across the fields: “Babuuuuuuuuuu! Didiiiiiiiiiii!” Hindu puja bells tinkled, incense wafted on the air, and old men puffed on bidis (hand-rolled Indian clove cigarettes) in the shade of ancient trees. Winding through this scene ran a rutted dirt road that became a rough track, from which branched little paths like rivulets, some of which led to the top of Kopan hill.

Here they came, the fortunate traveling children of the world’s middle classes, toting their backpacks, super down sleeping bags, toilet paper, and patented antibiotic medicines. They carried copies of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, Baba Ram Dass’s Be Here Now, and well-thumbed copies of Lama Govinda’s The Way of the White Clouds. The Kopan course was becoming the place to be even though Kopan had no electricity and all the monastery’s water had to be carried up the hill from a spring 150 feet below the gompa in two big Nepali biscuit tins dangling from a yoke balanced across the coolies’ shoulders. The chief water carrier was a cheery Nepali, Bir Bahadur.

Hashish was still legal in Nepal, but while some occasionally slipped down the hill for a chillum or two, most did the course straight, beginning to end. Blotting paper tabs of LSD were carefully tucked away.

Everyone was given a copy of the cyclostyled notes that Massimo Corona, Anila Ann, and others had prepared from the first two courses. These were now neatly arranged into a folder and given an extensive title similar in length to those of the traditional Sanskrit and Tibetan scriptures: The Wish-Fulfilling Golden Sun of the Mahayana Thought Training: Directing in the Shortcut Path to Enlightenment. This was one of the first lam-rim (or “stages of the path”) teachings to appear in English.

The popular view that Buddhism was not really a religion was somewhat undermined by Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s monastic demeanor and the fact that quite a few prayers were recited, regularly. Nevertheless, the principles of lam-rim are universal and adjustable to any society at any time. This is, perhaps, their most magical and fascinating characteristic.
Zopa Rinpoche’s teaching plan during this course was to concentrate on the hell realms. On and on, day after day there was talk of hell realms and still more hell realms, all in Rinpoche’s halting English, punctuated by frequent pauses and long silences. It is no coincidence that Rinpoche’s name, zopa, means patience.

Most of the students present did not realize that during those long silences Rinpoche meditated deeply. When he did speak, to the untrained ear Rinpoche sounded as though he were simply repeating himself. In actuality, each time he addressed his subject matter, he did so from a slightly different angle, thereby allowing his listeners to enter more and more deeply into the experience he was describing. Westerners were used to receiving information in a more linear fashion and they were often looking for something pre-packaged, some spiritual insight they could swallow whole. Rinpoche’s style required them to stop, listen, and turn over in their minds what they were hearing. Those who related to Rinpoche’s teachings as if they were listening to a university lecturer could easily become frustrated by his seemingly endless repetitions. However, those who followed what he was saying as if they were being led through a guided meditation—which, in fact, they were—found his style of teaching remarkably effective for their minds and often deeply moving.

A few students escaped the course on a full moon night to attend the legendary acid parties at Swayambhu. One New Yorker returned the next day literally trembling, having experienced hell realms during his trip in all the vivid detail that Lama Zopa had just spent several days describing.

Some who attended were irritated by the course, others inspired. Marcel Bertels took to it like a duck to water and was soon meditating even during the session breaks. College graduates happily prostrated themselves over and over and chanted mantras as if they had been saying them all their lives. The more excitable claimed they saw lights and had visions. Maybe they did. During the breaks, everyone except Marcel chatted and gossiped. During the lectures that followed, Zopa Rinpoche would tell them what they had been talking about. They were convinced he was clairvoyant. The whole experience felt very close, magical, and powerful.

Once again Lama Yeshe returned quietly to Kopan sometime around the middle of the meditation course. None of the new students even knew he existed, until one day Anila Ann asked Nick Ribush if he would attend to his leg. A cut had become infected. “I was told that he had a heart problem, so I thought it best to give him a penicillin shot,” said Nick. “However, I hadn’t tightened the syringe properly and the stuff shot out all over the place. ‘It’s okay, dear,’ he told me, ‘maybe we try again tomorrow.’ So they got more penicillin and I gave him the shot, then visited every day to change the dressings.” From then on everyone called him Dr. Nick.

Lama Zopa had been telling everyone that it was harder for a woman to become enlightened than for a man, which upset all the women. Marie asked Nick to seek Lama Yeshe’s opinion. When they came to learn that he’d told Nick, “Of course women can get enlightened!” Lama Yeshe instantly became their hero. As it turns out, this disagreement between the lamas was more apparent than real. In talking about the additional difficulties women faced in becoming enlightened, Lama Zopa was addressing in part the unfortunate, but very real, obstacles that women—especially those in patriarchal societies—must overcome if they dare to defy cultural expectations in their desire to pursue a solitary life of contemplation. Lama Yeshe addressed the issue from a different perspective. His response—that men and women had the same spiritual capacity—focused on the fact that everyone, whether male or female, equally possesses buddha-nature: the potential to achieve full enlightenment. From this point of view, there is absolutely no difference between the sexes.

At the very end of the course, Lama Yeshe gave a talk. By this time many students had heard of him, although few had seen him. It didn’t take long to work out that here was the real power behind Kopan. Before actually conferring refuge and lay precepts, Lama Yeshe spoke to the course students about the meaning of taking refuge and committing to taking any number of the five lay precepts. While he spoke, Rinpoche sat in the back of the room writing out “refuge names” in Tibetan. At the end of the refuge ceremony, Marie received the name Yeshe Khadro, and this is what she was mainly called for the rest of her life, especially by her Dharma brothers and sisters. As for Nick, he received the name Thubten Zopa, but out of his great respect for Rinpoche, he never used it. In any case, everyone was already calling him Dr. Nick, so Dr. Nick he remained. Both were very happy they had chosen to do the long course.

Lama Yeshe’s thoughts about the Spiritual Teacher

Portrait of Lama Yeshe, 1971From 1971: The First Kopan Meditation Course  by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Q: What is your definition of a guru?

Lama Yeshe: A guru is a person who can really show you the true nature of your mind and who knows the perfect remedies for your psychological problems. Someone who doesn’t know his own mind can never know others’ minds and therefore cannot be a guru. Such a person can never solve other people’s problems. You have to be extremely careful before taking someone on as a guru; there are many impostors around. Westerners are sometimes too trusting. Someone comes along, “I’m a lama, I’m a yogi; I can give you knowledge,” and earnest young Westerners think, “I’m sure he can teach me something. I’m going to follow him.” This can really get you into trouble. I’ve heard of many cases of people being taken in by charlatans. Westerners tend to believe too easily. Eastern people are much more skeptical. Take your time; relax; check up.

Q: Why do we need a teacher?

Lama Yeshe: Why do you need an English teacher? For communication. It’s the same thing with enlightenment. Enlightenment is also communication. Even for mundane activities like shopping we need to learn the language so that we can communicate with the shopkeepers. If we need teachers for that, of course we need someone to guide us along a path that deals with so many unknowns like past and future lives and deep levels of consciousness. These are entirely new experiences; you don’t know where you’re going or what’s happening. You need someone to make sure you’re on the right track and not hallucinating.

Q: How can we recognize the right teacher?

Lama Yeshe: You can recognize your teacher through using your own wisdom and not just following someone blindly. Investigate potential teachers as much as you possibly can. “Is this the right teacher for me or not?” Check deeply before you follow any teacher’s advice. In Tibetan we have an admonition not to take a teacher like a dog seizes a piece of meat. If you give a hungry dog a piece of meat he’ll just gobble it up without hesitation. It is crucial that you examine possible spiritual leaders, teachers, gurus or whatever you call them very, very carefully before accepting their guidance. Remember what I said before about misconceptions and polluted doctrines being more dangerous than drugs? If you follow the misconceptions of a false spiritual guide it can have a disastrous effect on you and cause you to waste not only this life but many others as well. Instead of helping you, it can bring you great harm. Please, be very wise in choosing your spiritual teacher.”

Lama Yeshe tests Jan Willis

Geshe Rabten and Lama Yeshe, 1970From 1970: The First Group Ordination by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

Jan Willis had a calculating, trained, academic mind. Other people were clearly besotted with Lama Yeshe, but she wondered if there might not be other lamas who were even better. One day Lama Yeshe told Jan to take the next level of her teachings (calm abiding, or shine practice) with Geshe Rabten in Dharamsala. “He is a very wise teacher; he is wisdom incarnate,” Lama told Jan. “You shouldn’t have any trouble because you can speak Hindi and travel easily. You go straight there, now.”

But Jan did not go straight there; she dallied awhile in Varanasi. When she finally arrived in Dharamsala, Geshe Rabten turned his big powerful face toward her, pointed his finger, and began to yell. “He was like a mountain on fire,” said Jan. She understood enough of what he said to realize that he was accusing her of not doing exactly what Lama Yeshe had ordered—that is, coming directly to Dharamsala. “He didn’t want to know my name or hear my story. He just wanted me to know I was there to study, had arrived late, and this was serious. I fell totally in love with him.”

Six weeks later, walking up Kopan hill at dusk, Jan Willis looked up to see Thubten Yeshe looking down at her, a disgusted expression on his face. Having made eye contact he turned and went into his room. “I felt bad as I entered,” she said. “I was about to make the usual respectful three prostrations when Lama turned and threw another dreadful tirade in Tibetan at me. Suddenly it struck me that there was absolutely no difference between these lamas, that they had exactly the same things to teach, and that Lama had sent me on this long trip just to find this out, to prove to me that with my critical judgmental mind maybe I was not so smart after all. My arrogance just crumbled. I fell forward on all fours, crying and begging him to please accept me as his disciple and to forgive me for measuring him against Geshe Rabten. That moment sealed my relationship with Lama Yeshe. I saw that his wisdom was as vast as his compassion.”

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.”

%d bloggers like this: