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It’s 1977, the firstyear that the Lamas did not spend Losar at Kopan, celebrating it instead with forty students at Geshe Sopa’s house in Wisconsin. USA. On March 3, lama Yeshe held a Question and answer session before leaving for Southern California where a course was to begin the very next day. There was no rest, no pause. Travel was expensive, and there were people everywhere depending on him. In turn, Lama Yeshe depended on Peter Kedge to keep the show on the road. Adele Hulse’s recounting of the life and times of Lama Thubten Yeshe continues …
One hundred people enrolled in Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s two-week lam-rim course at the Institute for Mental Physics in Yucca Valley, east of Los Angeles. Lama Yeshe gave a couple of talks Among those meeting him for the first time was Jacie Keeley.
“He looked very sick, all soft and squishy, and his skin was a yellow-grey putty color,” said Jacie. “This grey little man walked into the big room, climbed up on this huge throne and sat in meditation. By the time he spoke he was big, golden, and powerful. I was impressed. I wore dark glasses to every talk Lama gave because I cried through every one. On my twenty-eighth birthday I went to Lama, told him I wanted to follow the Bodhisattva path and was willing to help him in any way. I was absolutely hooked.”
It was also Janet Brooke’s first course. “I was raised a Mormon and was ultra-Christian in outlook. At first, everything the Lamas said reinforced my heartfelt beliefs, but one morning Rinpoche was talking about taking responsibility for ourselves rather than leaving it all to God. Suddenly I felt very confused, started crying and left the room. After attending a group interview with Lama Yeshe I realized it was merely a matter of terminology, and at the end of the course felt perfectly comfortable about taking refuge,” said Janet.
Listening to the lam-rim teachings and just being with the Lamas changed some people’s lives. One man put his will in order before coming to the course, and found many other students had done the same, sensing that their lives would change forever. During this course someone took a video of the Lamas walking up the trail to the gompa. A great hawk circled above them landing on a branch just beside Lama Yeshe. He walked right over to it and held up his hand. The bird didn’t move a muscle. “Power and magic!” exclaimed the devotees of [Mesoamerican shaman] Carlos Casteneda.
The second half of the month in Yucca Valley was devoted to a Vajrapani retreat for which one hundred and forty enrolled. Lama Yeshe delayed the initiation by one day for the sake of a student who was late. …
Lama Thubten Yeshe is remembered by students in Australia and England as a master chef, a linguist – and a psychologist. Lama Zopa Rinpoche makes a memorable impact on a student. Adele Hulse’s tales of the life and times of Lama Yeshe continue …
In July 1977 Lama Yeshe flew to Melbourne, where he and Peter Kedge were guests of Bea Ribush, Nick and Dorian Ribush’s mother. Bonnie Rothenberg (Ven. Konchog Donma) had moved Tara House into a large rented bungalow, and Dorian Ribush opened an organic food shop nearby. This was the very first shopfront business to operate on behalf of a center anywhere, and although some students worked very hard to make it a success, it lasted just one year. However, in that time it provided food for Tara House, half the costs of a large Shakyamuni Buddha statue, and paid for some solid antique library furniture for the center.
There was time for another meeting with Tibetologist David Templeman, this time at his house. “When Lama said he wanted to visit, I asked what we would do,” said David. “He said: ‘Oh, we’ll sit, talk, cook and make some tea,’ which was all we ever did. Lama was very helpful with my Tibetan language, going through texts meticulously with me. His pronunciation was just superb. He treated my efforts at classical Tibetan with great dignity and respect, and never glossed over anything.
“When we left the kitchen we walked into my little study where I had a collection of Buddhist statues, mostly unremarkable except for one that I had always treasured. It is just a misshapen lump of bronze about two inches high, but there is a shape to it, and with half an eye you can just make out Green Tara. I bought it in Nepal in 1969 after seeing it in a shop many times. Lama walked past my bookshelves and suddenly stopped in front of this statue. He immediately threw back his zen and prostrated on the floor many times. Then he said: ‘This is a very ancient and beautiful statue of Tara. You must always treasure it.’ And of course I always have, but it was as though the statue had called out and spoken to him,” said David. …
The saga of the life and times of Lama Thubten Yeshe continues. Compiled by Adele Hulse.
The Lamas arrived back at Kopan for the tenth November Course, for which one hundred and eighty students from fourteen different countries had enrolled. The big tent was relocated a little lower down the hill and built into an earth wall. It was a slightly more solid structure than before, but still basically hessian, scrap wood and sheets of tin. It provided no protection against the cold Himalayan winter. There was also the usual army of hungry fleas to contend with. Two recently installed electric pumps delivered water to the top of the hill, though the toilets were still open trenches.
Tom Szymansky was a psychology graduate with five years of clinical experience. His first encounter with Lama Yeshe was to observe him giving one of the Mount Everest Center (MEC) boys a thorough hiding. “He was smacking him hard with his open hand and the kid was crying and yelling out. I didn’t know who he was and walked over. He spoke to me so kindly: ‘Oh, hello dear.’ Then turned angrily back to the boy, whacked him again, then turned back to me. With utter gentleness he said: ‘He stole from the gompa. If I don’t do this now he will suffer worse later.’ Whack! I was absolutely stunned. I had never seen anybody switch like that from utter wrath to absolute gentleness. He finished beating the boy and sent him off. He said he hoped the experience had not disturbed my mind, but it was necessary. Then he went away. Later I found out that was Lama Yeshe,” said Tom.
Tom soon began skipping some of Lama Zopa’s lectures. ”You not in the session?” queried Lama Yeshe, finding him sitting alone one day. “He started talking to me about mundane things, gardening and such, in very ordinary words. There was nothing you could pick but they had the effect of making me realize these strange things Rinpoche was talking about were also everyday things; that the Dharma was a down-to-earth everyday thing in itself. As soon as my mind grasped that, Lama was gone,” said Tom.
In 1974, FPMT founders Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche were continuing to teach Kopan meditation courses at the request of their Western students. The courses, which are still offered annually, exposed students to their unique and experiential understanding of lam-rim. It also gave attendees the opportunity to see the special relationship Lama and Rinpoche had as guru and disciple.
Adele Hulse records some of the stories of the 1974 Kopan courses in Big Love, the forthcoming biography of FPMT founder Lama Yeshe. Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive will publish Big Love later this year and has been sharing excerpts from the book on their Big Love blog. The following is from a recent post:
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.
One of FPMT founders Lama Yeshe’s and Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s earliest projects was to support and educate the monks of Mount Everest Centre, a group of local boys from Lawudo, Nepal, that later moved down from the high Himalayas to Kopan in the early 1970s, impelled by the harsh climate. Others would later join this group, such as the Western boy Michael Losang Yeshe, who asked to stay at Kopan when he was six.
Adele Hulse records some of Michael’s and his peer’s experiences at Kopan in Big Love, the forthcoming biography of FPMT founder Lama Yeshe. Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive will publish Big Love later this year and has been sharing excerpts from the book on their Big Love blog. The following is from a recent post:
By 1974 Michael Losang Yeshe, then nine, had spent almost half his life at Kopan. Olivia, his mother, now lived in Japan. One day Michael received a parcel from her. “Lama Yeshe heard about it and came to my room,” said Michael. “‘Where is the parcel?’ he asked. ‘Open it.’ He looked inside and handed me a set of colored pencils. ‘These colors, these are for everyone, not just you.’ He pulled out a shirt and underwear. ‘These you can wear.’ Then he saw the fancy Mickey Mouse watch. ‘You’re too young for a watch; you don’t know how to tell time. This for me. I keep for you.’ If I had kept it, I would only have lost it, or traded it for comics or something a few days later. He never did give it back,” said Michael.
Very occasionally the boys were given cash offerings at pujas. When Michael’s father, Yorgo, married a Nepali woman and moved to Kathmandu, he sponsored a big puja at his house. All the boys there received 100 rupees each. When they returned to Kopan Lama took all the rupees from them. They didn’t need money – Kopan did. Yorgo also donated buffaloes to Kopan so the monastery wouldn’t have to buy milk, and he often drove Lama around town on errands.
Lama Yeshe could shift at the drop of a hat from acting the clown to being extremely wrathful. Every inch the abbot, he would walk up and down the rows of small boys in the gompa, making sure they paid attention and not hesitating to discipline them with judicious use of his heavy mala where required.
“I was a naughty one,” said Tenzin Dorje Rinpoche, also known as Charok Lama. “I was lazy and he beat me on the shoulders with his big mala or with a stick. The big wooden malas really hurt. Many boys cried when Lama hit. The Western view is that hitting is bad, but Lama’s motivation and his way of hitting were different. Somehow I was always happy after he hit me. Of course, there were some boys who really didn’t want to be in the monastery and who didn’t like Lama either. But Lama always told us to have an open ear, to listen to everyone for a good education. That way we would develop bigger ideas, which are more beneficial.”…
“Back in 1976 Lama Yeshe called me up to his house at Chenrezig Institute in Australia and said: ‘You. You writer. You good understand my language. I want you write por me. You take Chenrezig teaching notes here and make book.’ Lama Yeshe couldn’t say his ‘f’s,’” writes Adele Hulse.
“I spent the next year in a caravan in the mountains rearranging Lama’s ‘language’ into what later became a Wisdom Publications booklet. I loved living alone in the mountains but realized there was more I had to do for Lama, so I moved to Melbourne and began importing books from the Tibetan Library – there were very few Dharma books available in English. This went on for some years and I wondered again about ‘writing por Lama’. How?”
“Whenever I am with a group of people who have experienced extraordinary suffering, the first thing I notice is a lightness in the air,” writes long-time FPMT student Adele Hulse. “… [I]f you spend your time with the suffering, you can’t really lose.”
From Mandala October-November 2006.
BIG LOVE EXCERPT
Big Love, the long-anticipated authorized biography of Lama Yeshe written by Adele Hulse, provides an intimate portrait of FPMT’s founder. This excerpt is a snapshot from the author’s own life and relationship with Lama Yeshe and is another example of how amazing transformation is possible when a strong student meets a loving teacher.
It was in early March 1974 that the lamas returned to Nepal and met the Australian journalist Adele Hulse who, years later, was to author this biography of Lama Yeshe. She had been in Boudha, the area around the monumental stupa located a 40-minute walk from Kopan hill, since before Christmas. “Having spent 11 years in Catholic boarding schools in Australia,” Adele explained, “religion was the last thing on my mind. I wasn’t keen on Californian ‘Boodhists’ jangling their beads and mumbling about their ‘gooroo.’ Then a telegram arrived with the news of my father’s death. Standing outside the Kathmandu post office, I suddenly realized that I too was going to die one day. The words exploded in my brain: ‘He’s dead. You’re next.’ I looked around me at the people in the street and saw that they too would die.
“I returned to the house full of ‘sophisticated’ hippies I hung around with, but now they seemed childish – they just wanted me to smoke opium and forget about it. I didn’t want to forget about it. I yearned to talk to someone sensible and knew the ‘gooroo’ on Kopan hill spoke English. On my way up there, I ran into the English girl everyone said was crazy. I had met her before in a tea shop and she seemed fine to me. She asked me why I was crying, and when I explained, she clapped her hands and said, ‘Perfect! The lamas can do puja for him and transfer his mind into a pure realm.’ What?
“When I arrived at Kopan, Yeshe Khadro took me to Lama Yeshe’s room. ‘Tell me about your father,’ he said. I explained he was a truly wretched war-damaged alcoholic who had singled me out for consistently vicious treatment all my life. ‘You want to help him?’ he asked. I said I did, and that the girl everyone called crazy had said something about pujas and mind transfers but I didn’t believe in such stuff. ‘Doesn’t matter you believe or you don’t believe,’ he said. ‘Fact is, you are his daughter and you want to help. That all we need. But it should happen on a special day, an auspicious day, so we should do later. Now you tell me – can you visualize your father?’ He said ‘bisualize.’ I certainly could – that huge red and purple head, the stink of alcohol, the ever-present threat of abuse and violence.
“So, you should try to see him in the worst suffering aspect, most drunk, most angry, that one. Put that picture in your heart. Then think that through a hole in the crown of your head comes white radiating light from Lord Buddha, comes down through your heart and washes your father, purifying him of all negativities and sufferings. You think you can do that? Good. So you practice that now much as possible and come back in four days, and we’ll do puja. You will need to pay for small offerings. Yeshe Khadro, she will tell you. Okay, dear, goodbye for now,’ he said.
“Considerably cheered, I went to see Yeshe Khadro again. She said that when she told Lama that my father had died and I wanted to see him, he had said, ‘Yes, dear, everything that is born must die.’ That was exactly what I had realized when I had read the telegram. I had met my guru and I wasn’t even looking for one.
“Four days later I came back with some money in white envelopes for the officiating lamas and more to pay for tea and ‘gompa buns,’ as they were called. It all cost very little. The gompa was full of boys and Injis. Lama Lhundrup was umze [chant leader] and Lama Zopa Rinpoche sat on the throne. Lama Yeshe had a big bundle of burning incense in his hand and walked around throughout the ceremony. I thought it was what he always did, because it was my very first puja. I later learned that it was most unusual. While cymbals crashed and the incomprehensible rhythmic chanting went on and on, I just sat and did the ‘bisualization’ thing Lama Yeshe had taught me. I didn’t understand anything, but felt so comfortable there – and afterward so happy and, somehow, useful. I decided to do the course that was coming up, not because I thought Lama Yeshe was nice, not because I wanted to be a Buddhist – I was busy enough trying not to be a Catholic – but because I knew it required mental discipline and would help me decide if there really was anything more exciting in life than LSD and black Nepalese temple ball hashish.
“Over the next two weeks I continued to visualize my father as instructed and noted that he seemed to appear younger, healthier. He was back to looking as he had in his wedding photos. Was I imagining all this? By this time I’d been at the course for a while and discovered that I had almost no powers of concentration. Then one day I couldn’t conjure him up. No matter how hard I ‘bisualized,’ he didn’t come back.
“I never had to seek out Lama Yeshe; he always just appeared in front of me whenever I felt like talking to him. When I told him my powers of concentration had completely deserted me, he looked deeply into my eyes, bumped his forehead against mine and said, ‘Gone now. Reborn.’ So I stopped trying. I didn’t know what to make of it all, but I felt good about my father for the first time in my life.”
By Adèle Hulse
The dawning of a New Year dredges up noble resolutions from the sorriest of humans; they renounce cigarettes, booze, drugs and shoplifting. They promise to stop belting the wife, spend more time with the kids. They fill themselves with promise that the future will be good by taking up a new sport, going back to school, polishing their sales ticket.
So if you have never thought about becoming a Member of Tara Institute, this year might be the time to do it. For $240 a year, you demonstrate that you trust our gurus and wish to join hands with their work.
Tara Institute receives no other funds than through the kindness of the members. Here we are in this enormous building, after launching ourselves into real estate seven years ago with an actual cash deposit of $6,000. Now nearly two hundred people come to Tara Institute every week. You’ve got to admit we are doing something right
And the very best thing to do, the wish-fulfilling gem thing to do, is to grab hold of the guru and don’t let go. Follow his every wish and bring laughter to his face and the benefits will serve every suffering living creature in the universe. Two hundred and forty dollars a year, in advance and payable quarterly but preferably once. It’s less than the cost of joining a health club and works better.
Think about it, if miserliness is gripping your purse strings, if the raging mind says, “Oh, no not now! I’m too busy,” then you might like to play the game of thinking, “Well, this isn’t really New Year, I’m a Buddhist and I believe in Losar (the Tibetan New Year), which is in February.” Then when Losar comes you can dedicate especially well by remembering Lama Yeshe, whose anniversary of passing away falls at that time. That would bring laughter to Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s face. Every year when he gives his talk on Lama at Losar, Rinpoche cries. Throws his robe over his head, gets out his hanky and goes silent. He is our model of how to love the guru.
Geshe Doga has been with us a long time now. He is like our lost father. Our aim is to provide the circumstances whereby he can give the greatest help to the largest number of people. We have come such a long way. We are doing things right. But the more success, the more responsibility. We are developing a strong physical base, not a fragile one, so it requires an enormous flow of money. Interest payments alone are $36,000 quarterly and that’s before I start taking about sproutings and plumbing bills. Incredibly, we’re holding.
What we’re holding is for you.
Making dedication by paying membership seems an especially attractive New Year’s resolution as we enter the last decade of the century. Rinpoche often likens the chances of hearing Dharma in this age to catching the last carriage on the last train just as it pulls out of the station. Maybe you’re thinking your poor house must be renovated. Maybe it does, but just compare that money against just $2,400 for a decade of Dharma.
I have been the Members Representative on the Executive for two years, but have recently resigned due to necessary family business which will make me even more useless than I have been. I would just like to say that there is not a lot that I have done in my life that I feel really quite proud of, but becoming a Member of Tara Institute is one of them.
Reprinted from Tara Institute newsletter
By Adèle Hulse
Around Easter my sister came to stay with my son and me at Tara Institute. She came down from her place in the country, because following a bout of cancer the year before, she was now in uninterrupted pain again. Sure enough another tumor or two were identified, and the long radiation treatment began again. She ended up staying with us for nearly three months.
My sister is a practicing Catholic. She is not interested in becoming a Buddhist, is not an “alternative” person at all. Yet her she was, in an FPMT center at a truly crucial time in her life. Her pain was unremitting and very strong. She took enormous doses of drugs for little effect. Every time she slowly crossed the courtyard gray-faced and wincing, I would spy young residents watching her with numb faces.
“Do you talk to her?” people asked. “What do you mean talk? About death?” I didn’t. To do so felt confrontational, disrespectful, and arrogant. I wondered whether I was failing her and asked Geshe-la: “Should I ‘talk’ to her, Geshe-la? She’s a Catholic – I can’t come out with a whole lot of stuff about colored visions and emptiness, she’d be so embarrassed.” Geshe-la understood completely and assured me there was no need to talk like that. The job was to be kind and give her every comfort possible. What prayers I did were my business.
So after that I took out all the relics I’d hidden in her pillow slips and felt a lot more intelligent and natural. Besides, giving her even the tiniest comfort was a full-time job.
Then we got the news our mother had cancer. An operation was done but her case and age made it incurable. My sister went home and I went up north to my mother. I’m still there.
When I first heard about Mum I went straight to Geshe-la. “It’s natural,” he said. “Death is natural, and you mustn’t worry too much, otherwise you’ll get the same disease. Say Tara mantra.”
How miraculous to have recourse to gurus. I was instantly transported back to a day in March 1974 when I opened a telegram in Kathmandu Post Office informing me that my father had died. All I could think of was “I’m next. As the father dies, so does the child.” I went back to the crowd I knew at Bouddhanath where I was living – hippies and ragers, not Dharma students. I knew well enough there was some big religious scene up at Kopan but it was nothing to do with me. My friends hugged me when I gave my news, offered thick black imported coffee, brandy, smokes. I felt their embarrassed hands around my shoulders and knew I had to get away from them. They couldn’t handle this, and it was not their problem.
Who would listen? Who was actually capable of some wisdom, understanding and real support? I cursed being in such a heathen country. If I’d been in any Western city, I would have made my way to a priest and cried. But there was only this lama, this pagan foreigner on the hill, and I had heard he spoke English. He had to be the Local Rep. There was nowhere else to go.
“What is born must die” were the first words Lama Yeshe said when he heard a girl had come up the hill because her father had died. Those words were exactly what I needed to hear. So simple, intelligent, and accepting. I instantly figured I must be some kind of Buddhist at heart because they washed away all confusion.
Lama scheduled a puja for my father, the first one I had even attended. Bang! Crash! Mumbo-jumbo, white envelopes, khatas and tea, yet I felt incredibly useful and at home. Lama had told me to visualize my father in his most suffering aspect and imagine white light shining through my head onto his face.
“I don’t believe any of this,” I said.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “As long as you, his daughter, wish to help relieve his suffering, that is all we need.”
It’s very nice being invited to write for The Mandala because now I can ask all of you to please pray for my family.
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In my mind, one of the beauties of Buddhism is that it offers us a practical training for our mind. It does not say, ‘Bodhicitta is fantastic because Buddha said so!’ Instead, it gives us the methods for developing such an attitude and we can then see for ourselves whether it works or not, whether it is fantastic or not.
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