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Lama Zopa’s story of meeting Lama Yeshe
In a talk to Western monks and nuns in Dharamsala, May 1982, Lama Zopa spoke about
his first meeting with Lama.
Maybe I will tell you the story of how I met Lama Yeshe. It’s a very funny story. After my two alphabet teachers I was taught by the abbot who granted me getsul ordination. He passed away at the same time as the Chinese invaded Tibet. Following him, I was taught by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, whose kindness is responsible for whatever interest in meditation practice I now have.
At Buxa, Geshe Rabten taught on shunyata and samatha meditation, and even though I was very small I was interested. I tried to do samatha meditation on my bed after the mosquito net was put on it. I used to meditate on the silver cover of my Tibetan tea bowl, even though I didn’t know how. When they brought me from Tibet to India I tried to meditate one-pointedly. I fell down! I don’t know what happened; my whole body fell completely. It happened several times and eventually I gave up. Anyway, in that house there might have been a small impression from a past life. So that is how I have some interest in lam rim, more than in meditation practice.
Originally by the kindness of Geshe Rabten, I recognized my root guru. Anyway, after this Geshe Rabten was very busy and sent me to another teacher from Kham whose name was also Yeshe. From this teacher I received the meditation and visualization on Ganden Lha Gyama, the kindness of mother sentient beings from the part of the Prajnaparamita scriptures dealing with that subject. There was no text so my teacher Yeshe had to say it by heart. I hadn’t learned Tibetan writing in Tibet, just studied it myself so that I could read, and so I copied everything down. Then this teacher Yeshe wanted to lead a different life, so he left Buxa to wander around and stay in different places in India.
Then Geshe Rabten had me taught by another geshe who is not here now, and teachings from a Tibetan monk, Geshe Thubten. I was happy to have teachings from the geshe, but somehow I was reluctant to go and receive teachings from Lama Yeshe.
There was a monk in my class who most people know as Chomphel—he was Kopan’s cook for many years. Along with Lama Pasang and other Tibetan monks, he was taking teachings from Lama Yeshe. At that stage I was only receiving teachings from Geshe Rabten and then only when he wasn’t busy, as he had many disciples and had to teach many different texts to different classes.
At that time Chomphel used to be the leader of my class and he kept pushing me to go and take teachings from Lama Yeshe. He used to go outside for a walk, for relaxation, and one day we started to walk outside the camp, but I didn’t take anything; I had no offering. When we came to the mango tree where there used to be seats, I said “I want to go back,” but he pushed, so I went a little bit further.
It is clear that all happiness of the past
present and future depends on the guru.
I stopped again and again, saying, “No, I don’t want to go,” but he kept pushing me. It was quite far to where Lama Yeshe lived on the mountain, about half an hour or an hour’s walk, depending on how fast you walked.
Even when we reached the hut I wanted to retreat. I had brought no offerings, which was partly the reason for wanting to go back. When you first make contact with the guru it is very important to perform the offerings correctly. How many teachings you receive depends on that. So much depends on that, as you know from the stories of Milarepa. For this reason I didn’t receive many teachings at Buxa.
Chomphel had brought a bowl with some rice and a few rupees, together with a very poor, old offering scarf. He went in first to ask if Lama Yeshe would receive me. I think Lama Yeshe asked, “Have you received permission from Geshe Rabten?” and he replied “Yes.”
I had asked Geshe Rabten which teacher I should go to for teachings, but he didn’t say which one. He was a very skillful teacher, knowing exactly what was best for the disciple. I could feel what he had in mind and he said it didn’t matter what one learned.
On my first day I sat on the same bed as Lama Yeshe because of having the name “incarnate,” something like that, and the others sat on the floor. The teaching was about cause and effect. I didn’t understand anything at all—I think because I went with a bad motivation. I thought, why couldn’t Lama Yeshe teach more slowly? Although the others could understand, I couldn’t.
Then on the second day I could understand a little better. I think that’s because I had been guided by Lama Yeshe in many lifetimes, just as you have. So, even though I had no strong wish, there was a strong force, karma, between Lama Yeshe and myself. So you see, there was definitely contact in past lives. He hasn’t only helped and guided me in this life, but he planted seeds in my mind in many past lifetimes. I think you can see in this clearly why all the happiness of the past, present and future depends on the guru.
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