In California, Professor Jan Willis fulfilled Lama Yeshe’s desire for an American University ‘experewence’. In the Spring trimester of 1978 he was to teach a course on Tibetan Buddhism at the University of California’s Oakes College, on the Santa Cruz campus. Lama would teach Jan’s class while she was on leave at Wesleyan University.
“We had to get hold of some Tibetan papers to prove Lama really was highly educated,” said Jan. “Everything was very easy to arrange, probably because Lama was so keen to do it. He lived in the student accommodation, and Robbie and Randy Solick lived close by, in the married quarters. Robbie was appointed his official teaching assistant with Jon Landaw acting informally as another assistant. They led discussions and helped students with Buddhist terminology. Lama was to lecture two mornings a week and be available for interviews in his office on Wednesday afternoons.”
… Karuna Cayton’s sister, Lori, enrolled in Lama’s class and moved into the student building directly opposite his apartment. “My thing was always just to sit and watch him,” she said. “The course was held in a big auditorium. Jon Landaw pushed a table up against the blackboard and placed a Tibetan carpet and a cushion on it. Lama came in, climbed up onto the table and sat down.”
He was a hit from the first, and his lectures were packed. The Vajrapani people gate-crashed every one, driving in from their primitive huts and showering in the university gym. They were careful not to act devotionally, which would be inappropriate in a college atmosphere. There were no prostrations, khatas, flowers or incense, but whenever Lama entered the auditorium, always from the back of the room, the whole audience automatically stood as one. No one in America stands for professors, and on the first day the students didn’t even know he was in robes until he got down the front. They just stood, every day.
The course covered the history and development of the various schools of Buddhist thought and the difference between them. Lama’s lectures were always quiet and he took questions at the end. To one student who claimed working for others to gain merit was self-interest, he replied, “I can only work for my own enlightenment.” To those with opposing views he said, “Good, I like debate!”
“He answered every individual question that all one hundred and fifty of us could come up with,” said one of the few students who later took refuge. “Lama Yeshe treated us all as equals, and gave each of us a voice. He also instilled in me the possibility of attaining enlightenment in a single lifetime, because the complete teachings for doing that were all at hand. He could also be outrageous. He related directly with the students, but strictly within the confines of his Vinaya vows. No wine, women and song.”
“One day in a lecture Lama did a little snap of the fingers and twist of the wrist and pointed in my direction, causing the greatest delight I have ever experienced,” said another student. “It was like the floor dropped out from under me, and what was left was this exhilarating joy. Lama Yeshe was known as a populist, but he was really a master of the yogic requirement of ‘super-hiding,’ of never revealing one’s practice or realizations. He was so much more than a sweetie-pie. Outwardly, he taught us lam-rim but secretly, he taught the highest tantric practice to those who could fix their thoughts on him. Superficially, he was a nice Buddhist monk but, inwardly, he was a miracle-making mahasiddha of the first order…”
From Big Love, the forthcoming biography of Lama Yeshe written by Adele Hulse and to be published by the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.big love, fpmt history, lama yeshe