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Big Love Excerpt
Big Love, the long-awaited authorized biography of Lama Yeshe, provides an intimate portrait of not only FPMT’s founder, but of the earliest students that placed their trust in him. This excerpt is taken from the chapter chronicling Lama Yeshe’s activity during 1975 – a year marked by extensive activity throughout the world, including the first courses offered by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Australia.
By Adele Hulse
The Dromana course
… A camper trailer – what the British call a “caravan” – had been rented for Lama and it was there that Adrian Feldmann had his first private interview with Lama Yeshe. “I sat down beside him on the bed and told him that I had taken refuge and wanted my life to be as close to the Dharma as possible. I saw two ways of doing that. One was to become a monk; the other was to live with someone, share Dharma, and develop with them. I was hoping he’d recommend the second option, but all he did was roll around on the bed laughing. When he stopped he said, ‘Possible, dear, but very difficult. Instead of one crazy mind you have two, three, four crazy minds, plus all the problems of food and education.’
“‘So what about ordination,’ I asked. Again he rolled around the bed laughing, then sat up. He glanced at the sky with a shrug and said, ‘Practice Dharma twenty-four hours a day.’ I knew this was the real answer to my question and felt this iron hand grip my heart as I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to be a monk.’” [Adrian Feldmann is now Ven. Thubten Gyatso.]
Back at Bea Ribush’s Lama Yeshe made himself at home. He watched TV, played with Bea’s little poodle, Bobik, and did some cooking. He telephoned Tibetologist David Templeman and once again invited him to tea.
“I only had some very low-grade Tibetan tea that time, but I brought it,” said David. “We sat in front of the TV with a huge pile of cakes and watched the coverage of the chaos taking place at the end of the Vietnam War. Lama was not agitated as we watched people fleeing for their lives, but sitting beside him I noticed him becoming warmer and warmer – more than warm. It was like sitting next to a furnace. He didn’t try to hold back the tears and neither did I. Then he turned to me and said in English, ‘Now they are refugees, just like me. Now they will have big sufferings.’ I got the impression he was right in there with them, that he was one of them, going through every second of their pain. It was a very strong experience.”
The first course at Chenrezig Institute
Lama Yeshe gave two lectures in Brisbane before arriving at Chenrezig Institute in time for a month-long course, the second such meditation course held outside Nepal. One hundred and twenty people had enrolled for it. Anila Ann [Anila Ann McNeil] and her team had all but finished building the gompa on that steep empty land at Eudlo. The work had been done mainly by volunteers, qualified trades people turning up just in the nick of time and seemingly out of the blue. Ann had raised the money to pay for every plank and nail, though she was still living in the old shed.
Once again caravans were hired for the lamas and Mummy Max [Ven. Max Mathews], who was not impressed. “I said to Lama, ‘Oh God, Lama, what karma you have! These camper trailers, no roads, no nothing.’ ‘It’s not for me, it’s for them,’ he told me,” recalled Max.
Lama had a big vision for this center. In 1974 he had told them, “Think big! Think big!” That year, a horse called Think Big had won the world-famous Melbourne Cup. In 1975 Think Big won the cup again. No one had thought to place a bet.
The course ran from May 5 to June 1. Mummy Max did not attend. Nor did Kathy Vichta, with whom Lama Yeshe spent some time cooking. “He showed me how to save time by squashing things with your hand instead of cutting them up. It worked just as well. He made a casserole one day by opening cans and just squashing the contents into bowls and saying mantras over them. Lama always said mantras while he cooked. He put so much physical energy into mundane stuff, like it was a really important part of his life,” said Kathy.
Lama’s students presented him with an electric razor, despite the fact that he had only about twenty whiskers. He preferred the Tibetan method of plucking them out with a small engraved brass clip during quiet breakfasts with Mummy Max.
Cameras always appeared when Lama Yeshe was around. Everyone loved new photos of him – dancing on the beach, sitting in meditation, laughing, playing. With the idea of commissioning a statue of Lama, Max arranged for a series of shots taken just of his head, from every angle. He posed for these graciously and without any self-consciousness.
Pete Northend and Colin Crosbie worked hard on the new building but Lama Yeshe wanted his wild-partying, hard-drinking shing-zö [carpenter] to enter a thirteen-year retreat. “I just couldn’t do it,” said Pete. “No way!”
Meanwhile, Electric Roger [Roger Kunsang was an electrician and brought electricity to Kopan in 1974] was thinking of becoming a monk. “I spoke to Lama Yeshe about it in Sydney. He said that I should check up whether I could renounce everything, even food. He said if I wasn’t ready to do that I could start up a center in Sydney. When I got to Chenrezig, I had an interview with him in the gompa. He was sitting alone in the middle of the room. I knew I was supposed to prostrate to him, but I still couldn’t bow down to a person. So I turned and prostrated to the altar instead. When I told him I wanted to take robes he just said, ‘Now or at Kopan?’ I said I’d come to Kopan.”
Adèle Hulse is an Australian journalist, a long-time student of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Big Love is to be published by the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive in 2011.
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Mandala Publications is the official publication of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an international charitable organization founded by two Tibetan Buddhist masters, Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-1984) and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. FPMT is a vibrant international community, with a network of 160 affiliate centers, projects and services, and members in more than 30 countries.
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