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Villa Altomont continued…

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“Although Zina was quite serious about developing a spiritual life, she was still pretty hedonistic. Drugs had been a part of her life for a long time. A true child of the 1960s, she had taken LSD with Timothy Leary at his Millbrook estate in New York. Marijuana was a staple in her life. “I don’t know which came first for the Injis,” said Zopa Rinpoche, using the common term among Tibetans for Westerns, “LSD or The Way of the White Clouds.” Once when Zina was going out to buy marijuana, Lama Yeshe confronted her straightaway and told her he didn’t want her to use drugs. Zina suddenly realized that he had known what she was doing all along.

For Zina, life was still a party- hours in the bathroom, choosing jewels to wear, selling jewels or other possessions when funds were low, purchasing more from local craftsmen. She had stacks of matching luggage, closets full of fine linens, dinnerware and decorations. Wherever Zina set up home, it was always a palace.

A princess needs an entourage and Villa Altomont gave the monks their first experience of Injis at play. Soon Lama Yeshe was adding cocktail party mimicry to his comic routines, holding his glass just right, turning self-consciously this way and that. His brilliant acting had everyone in fits of laughter.

Thubten Yeshe had no illusions of Zina; he often hid his face as she strode through the local markets, traffic-stoppingly gorgeous in catsuit and cape, full of her own self-importance, insulting the local people, believing she was the reincarnation of Madame Blavatsky. The monks from Buxa would mutter, “What is this senior monk and great debater doing with this arrogant Inji woman!” Lama Yeshe knew exactly what they thought. Zina was a classically samsaric woman; she was glamorous, famous and beautiful, and she sought pleasure in material things. These had already failed her, but still she tried to squeeze the last drop of pleasure from them. She was not yet ready to recognize that all these things had so far failed to make her happy and could never do so, so she habitually returned to them for further unsatisfactory pleasure. But from Lama Yeshe’s perspective, if Zina could learn Dharma, anyone could. Besides, he could see how unhappy she was.

In the summer of 1967, Nikolaus Dutschke came from Berlin to stay. “He stayed for a few months; the whole time he was writing a novel on a continuous roll of paper,” said Clive Giboire. “Then there was Bhagavan Das, alias Michael Riggs, who helped the lamas with their English, and his friend, a tall thin American called Dharma Dipo. Zina liked socializing, provided it was with the ‘right’ people. I had a birthday party there one time and wanted to invite Mrs. Shaw, who ran the guest house, but that just wasn’t on.”

“Zina and I were in love,” said Nikolaus. “With the lamas there we had a wonderful family life around them. Every day the summerhouse throbbed like a drum as they did their practices there. During that summer Zina and I received a kind of initiation; we left the world of parties and hashish behind. Rhea was with us all the time. Lama Yeshe was the adult among us, even though he was just thirty-two, the same age as me. Zina was four years older. It was amazing how Zopa could translate for us. He was just a teenager!” Zopa Rinpoche was in fact twenty-one, but he was so slight that everyone believed that he was much younger.

“Zina was so unpredictable,” said Nikolaus, “constantly furious, impatient, unjust and outrageous. Lama Zopa was absolutely scared of her. I spent all my time consoling people, assuring them she didn’t really mean to hurt them. I was there for her in any way she needed me. We always had our meals with the lamas, and at night as I wrote, I could hear their little bells and chants coming from the tea house.”

Bhagavan Das was already a famous figure at that time, an American who had become a Hindu guru and dressed like an Indian sadhu. “I came to Darjeeling in the fall of 1967, got off the bus and found Zina’s house. When we greeted each other, she said, “Michael, you have to meet my lamas,” just like you’d say, “You have to meet my dogs.” Their doghouse was a shack with windows. When Lama Yeshe greeted me at the door, I still remember his smile- it lit up the night sky like a sun. Lama Zopa sat in the corner, a skinny kid wrapped in a blanket. Lama Yeshe was his mother and so sweet and kind to him, just like my own grandmother, who had raised me until I was six, when she had been killed.

“I loved being in that room with Lama Yeshe. I spoke Hindi like a five-year-old, and he spoke it like a seven-year-old, so we were on the same page. He asked me if I would teach him English, and in return he taught me Tibetan Buddhism. We had tea together every morning for a couple of weeks while he taught me and I taught him. He was so humble. He would always bow to me when I arrived and I would kiss his hands. He was just pure love and devotion, a mahasiddha and rainbow light came out of his teeth.”


Villa Altomont

From 1967: Thubten Yeshe Meets a Russian Princess by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

“After a month of going back and forth to Ghoom, Zina asked the monks if they would come and live with her in Darjeeling. Incredibly, they agreed, transferring themselves and their few belongings to Villa Altomont. They stayed in Zina’s cold, glassed-in summerhouse for nine months. This small outbuilding contained a table, one door, and just enough room on the floor for the monks to sleep, one on either side of the door. Meanwhile, Zina swanned around her sprawling bungalow with a continuous parade of exotic guests. She addressed the monks as “Lama Yeshe” and “Lama Zopa.”

Early every morning a manservant brought tea to the lamas while they did their daily prayers. Zina rose around 8:00 am; the monks were always shocked by how she looked. “When she first came out in her long dressing gown, she looked seventy,” recalled Lama Zopa. “Then she spent two hours in the bathroom. The house only had one bathroom, so we all had to walk through her museum…things to paint and fix her body spread out everywhere. Then at 10:00 am when she came for teachings, she looked twenty, maybe twenty-five. A huge difference!”

Lama Yeshe, the natural clown, would imitate Zina’s face-painting rituals to howls of laughter from Zina and her friends. “Am I okay?” he would say, looking worriedly into an imaginary mirror. Zina had an extensive wardrobe, wonderful jewelry and a collection of wigs. She was fond of dressing up, often changing outfits several times a day.

After breakfast Zina would spend the next hour or two with the monks, who went over texts with her and listened to stories about her remarkable life. After lunch, she would usually go to one of Darjeeling’s two movie houses, while Clive Giboire would help Lama Yeshe with his English. Both monks were absolutely dedicated to learning this language, often breaking out in Americanisms, hippie jargon and modern idioms to the great amusement of their audiences.

Several times a week throughout his nine months at Villa Altomont, Lama Yeshe walked two miles through rain and constant fog to visit two elderly Christian women who were also teaching him English. They had devoted themselves to learning Tibetan in order to teach Tibetans about Christianity. Before class they all sang Christian songs together. Zopa Rinpoche attended these sessions only occasionally. On his feet Lama Yeshe wore thick black rubber sandals made from automobile tires. Most of the Buxa monks wore these as they were very strong and very cheap. There were no cars or buses and the monks had no money, so they walked everywhere.

During this time, Lama Yeshe continued to study grammar and astrology with a well-respected local Sherpa, Ngawang Yonten, who published an astrological calendar every year giving details of planetary movements, the world’s weather and auspicious events through the year. Soon Lama Yeshe was able to build an astrological calendar for a whole year.

Nehnang Pawo Rinpoche, who had first recognized the child Dondrub Dorje as the reincarnation of the abbess, Aché Jampa, was also living in the area, residing at the oldest monastery in Darjeeling. When Lama Yeshe and Zopa Rinpoche went to visit him, they took Zina with them. “His manner reminded me of His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche,” said Zopa Rinpoche later. “While he was talking to us, many flies were flying around the room. As he sat there, he’d stretch out his hand and catch one, then blow on it and let it go.”

Delighted with “her” lamas, Zina sent postcard photographs of Lama Yeshe holding baby Rhea to friends in Europe, including an old friend from Mykonos, Olivia de Haulleville, who was then working for the World Health Organization in Paghman, Afghanistan. “How do you like my babysitter!” wrote Zina. Olivia, who had a son the same age as Rhea, thought, “Oh God, what has Zina done now!”

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