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Posts tagged ‘Tibetans’

Building Kopan Gompa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Bodhgaya Teachings

Zina Rachevsky, 1971From 1971: The First Kopan Meditation Course by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

The lamas always attended the Dalai Lama’s Bodhgaya teachings, but this was Zina’s first visit.

Ann and James traveled together, arriving at 3:00 in the morning. Bodhgaya was packed tight with Tibetans, but a Thai monk they met on the train invited them to stay at his temple. They were welcomed and given comfortable bunk beds. Monks and nuns always sleep in their long undershirts, and it simply never occurred to Ann, who was tall and very wiry, that they didn’t realize she was a woman. The lamas were staying at the Tibetan temple. Next morning, Ann and James hurried over there. “Lama,” said Ann, “they think I’m a monk. What am I going to do?” “Listen,” said Lama, “in the eyes of the Buddha there is no male and female; it doesn’t make any difference at all. Bodhgaya is full and there’s no place to stay, so just be quiet and don’t speak.” They returned to the Thai temple, but the following day some friends gave them a big room in the Dak Bungalow. Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche moved in there as well. In the room next door was an aristocratic woman from Darjeeling who had her servants prepare wonderful meals for them all.

Zina stayed at the best address in Bodhgaya, the Tourist Bungalow, which had bathrooms. Baba Ram Dass was paying for her room. He was in town attending a ten-day vipassana meditation course with the Burmese master, S. N. Goenka. Goenka, a layman and the most prominent student of the great master U Ba Khin, taught in English. His Vipassana courses consistently attracted many Westerners interested in learning meditation.

The lamas took their students to hear Kyabjé Trijang Rinpoche. At the time, Trijang Rinpoche was unwell and would teach while lying down. Next, they all received an initiation of the highest yoga tantra diety Yamantaka.

This was followed by a three-week teaching (in Tibetan) from Kyabjé Ling Rinpoche. The Westerners did not understand one word.

All through Ling Rinpoche’s incomprehensible teachings it became more and more apparent to Zina that Zopa Rinpoche needed to teach a course in English. Lama Yeshe always claimed that his own English was not good enough, that only Zopa Rinpoche could deliver such a course. Thinking of Goenka’s success, Zina suggested a ten-day course, but Rinpoche insisted that ten days wasn’t nearly enough time to teach anything and that the whole idea was ridiculous. Consequently, he wasn’t interested.

Bodhgaya was a social hub for the Tibetans. Lama Yeshe ran around meeting all sorts of old friends. At one such reunion he got into a debate and swung his mala so energetically that it broke, showering the crowd with beads. About twenty old friends from Sera were staying at the Tibetan monastery, among them Jampa Gyatso, who had become a full-fledged Lharampa geshe. Lama asked him if he was interested in teaching Westerners. “Not now,” replied Geshe Jampa Gyatso, “but I might consider it in the future.” Geshe Jampa Gyatso later
went to Italy at Lama Yeshe’s behest and became the beloved resident teacher at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa near Pisa, residing there for twenty-seven years until his death in 2007.

Old friends teased Thubten Yeshe about mixing with Westerners, saying his main practice now appeared to be making money from Injis. One day Lama and Zopa Rinpoche produced bread and butter, tomatoes and such and started making sandwiches for themselves. None of the Tibetans had ever seen raw food prepared this way before. “What are you doing?” they asked. “Why won’t you spend money on food now that you are rich?”

The Inji students, eager for teachings in English, were happy to hear that Lama Yeshe had agreed to hold a question-and-answer session at the Tibetan temple. Among those attending were Alex Berzin and his childhood friend, Jon Landaw, both Americans from New Jersey who were in Bodhgaya attending teachings. Alex was one of the very few Westerners who had studied the Tibetan language before coming to India, and during the previous year he had lived in Dalhousie, studying with Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey. Jon had just arrived on his first visit to India and, once the winter had passed, he planned to go to Dalhousie to join his friend in studying with Geshe Dhargyey there. As for Geshe Dhargyey himself, he would soon be appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to become the principal teacher at the new Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala. In 1972 he took up this position at the Library, which would eventually become a major study center for Westerners in India, and held it until 1984. In 1985 Geshe Dhargyey moved to New Zealand, where he resided until he passed away in 1995.

Jon was immediately overcome by his first sight of Lama Yeshe. “As soon as he walked into the room, smiling that wonderful smile of his, I experienced something I had never felt before,” Jon happily recalled. “It was as if iron filings filled my heart and Lama was a powerful electro-magnet that brought them to life, causing them to churn about and rearrange themselves. He was different from anyone I had ever met before and I liked him immediately. Although he appeared to be someone who had transcended the ordinary, he wasn’t at all otherworldly; instead, he was very human and I felt I could trust him completely. To say that his English was poor would be generous; in fact, it was very ‘broken,’ as he himself said, but I had never met anyone who could communicate so wonderfully. When he spoke about developing a ‘warm peeling,’ I did not understand his words at first. However, I soon realized he was talking about the ‘warm feeling’ that was growing within me at that very moment. Besides being so warm and clear, Lama was also very humorous. This endeared him to me immediately.”

Lame Yeshe, Lama Zopa and the Injis

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

Titles are something of a feature in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Zina and her friends had always called Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche “Lama Yeshe” and “Lama Zopa.” The Westerners who gathered around them did the same, though they also called Lama Zopa by his title, “Rinpoche.” To Tibetans, however, they were still Thubten Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche. As neither monk had received a geshe degree, one title by which they were not addressed was “Geshe-la,” though a few people did refer to Lama Yeshe this way.

Zina ran the house. She was “mother.” Most days at Kopan passed with just Zina, Jan, Robbie, Randy and Piero sitting around talking with the lamas when they were not doing their practices. Lama Yeshe began giving classes twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays. A daily schedule was posted outside his room indicating when he was free for interviews, which were translated by Rinpoche. Piero Cerri put his name down for every day of the week.

Staying at Kopan wasn’t all sweetness and light. Piero bravely produced daily lists of his meditation problems while Jan and Randy fought—often. Lama Yeshe would calm everyone down over and over again.

Everyone who met the two lamas noticed the differences between them. Rinpoche was the impossibly thin ascetic who took forever to bless his food and then ate next to nothing. He happily allowed mosquitoes to bite him as he sat in endless meditation. On the other hand Lama Yeshe was exuberant. He ate heartily, enjoyed everything, and engaged everyone in conversations ranging from gardening to physics. He never appeared to study the texts he knew so well, though people noticed that the lamas’ lights were generally left on all night long.

Both monks had outrageously infectious laughs—waterfalls of unrestrained joy breaking out all over the silent hill late at night as the Injis sat meditating with their sore knees and aching legs, full of their daily miseries. Everyone figured that if the lamas could laugh like that, well, there had to be something to this Buddhadharma.

Lama Yeshe told his students that he had been entrusted with Zopa Rinpoche’s education and care. Sometimes he would interrupt his ascetic student’s meditations, pointing at him and saying, “You’re going to have to teach!” Zopa Rinpoche would beg off, saying nervously, “Please, Lama, no!” This made Lama Yeshe rock with laughter.

Thubten Yeshe had all the time in the world for the crazy Injis and was full of boundless energy for anyone who needed him. When he had time, he still ran around Kathmandu and hung out with Jampa Trinley’s young family.

The psychedelic-loving Injis were fascinated by the lamas and loved to relate details of their wild drug experiences, hoping to coax the monks into talking about their own “magic.”

But on this subject, the lamas remained disappointingly silent. Everyone thought they could read others’ minds like a book but that they just wouldn’t say so. Once Randy said, “Come on, Lama, astral traveling and all this stuff can’t really be true!” Lama Yeshe gave his usual teasing reply: “Everything is possible, dear.”

 

 

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