Wisdom #1 – 1983
Lama Yeshe emerged from his plane in Lhasa last September and for the first time in 23 years breathed the crisp mountain air of Tibet. Traveling alone and in lay clothes, for Lama it was as much a journey of the heart as one of curiosity: what remained of his cultural and religious heritage? Of the thousands of temples and monasteries for which Tibet is famous? Of Sera Je Monastic University where he had spent most of his life? What of his family and the many relatives he’d not seen since his hurried departure in 1959? And what of his fellow Tibetans: did they still possess their characteristic warm spontaneity and strong Buddhist faith?
Lama checked into the solitary tourist hotel in Lhasa and immediately sent a message to his family a hundred miles away, who had no idea of his planned visit. No sooner had it been dispatched and Lama begun to unpack than a knock at the door brought him face to face with one of his brothers. “Karmic communication!” Lama says mysteriously.
The journey to his family and village birthplace took only a few hours; previously it had been a several-day, arduous journey on horseback. Lama’s family was overwhelmed to see him. Brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and scores of nephews and nieces he’d never met. There was much laughter and joy – and tears. “So many tears,” Lama said.
Many things had changed radically, yet much was unchanged. The trees and mountains; the ways and dress of his village people; the same old houses – and the same old cloth hanging from the ceiling, unchanged since his childhood!
Word spread quickly that Lama Yeshe had arrived and a steady stream of village people came to talk and receive his blessing. They had heard of his Dharma work in the West and were keen to express their gratitude. There is great joy among the people in Tibet that the Dharma is spreading beyond their land, and anyone teaching Dharma, especially fellow countrymen, always attract wide attention. Lama Yeshe laughingly remarked that the sleeves of his shirt were always grubby from being touched so often.
After a week with his family, Lama visited the site of Sera Je, outside Lhasa, where he’d spend 18 of his 23 years in Tibet. Once a vast complex of buildings that housed thousands of monks, now only a few scattered houses and some old monks remain. These great changes indicate the real changes in Tibet: the destruction of the monasteries is the destruction of the heart of the country. At Sera, as at the few remaining monasteries, there are no more teachings or public pujas, no more debate. The old monks still have enormous faith and dedication, “but Sera is a dead monastery,” Lama said sadly.
He was able to locate the spot – now an open space – where his room had once been, and spent time meditating there with the sunshine overhead in place of the stone ceiling.
Back in Lhasa, Lama spent time with his family. They picnicked in the gardens of Norbulingka, traditionally the summer residence of the Dalai Lama.
Norbulingka, “The Jeweled Park,” was built in the 18th century by the Seventh Dalai Lama. Each successive Dalai Lama, including Tenzin Gyatso the present Dalai Lama, has had a small palace added to the original building. The entire palace stands within a large and extraordinarily beautiful walled garden where varieties of fruits, flowers and vegetables once flourished and peacocks and deer wandered amongst the poplars and willows and ornamental lakes. The garden still remains and after being closed for years is now used as a public park.
Perhaps the highlight of Lama Yeshe’s three-week stay in his homeland was his visit to the Jokhang Temple, considered the holiest place in Tibet. Stripped of its former splendor, it still houses some exquisite religious paintings and the famous Jokhang Buddha, the first statue of Buddha in Tibet.
It was here, at the Jokhang, the day before his departure from Tibet, that Lama decided to offer a puja for the flourishing of the Dharma and the welfare of all sentient beings. A handful of Jokhang monks helped to prepare the butter lamps and “thousand best tormas.” Also assisting were Sherpa Tulku, known to many Westerners for his work in Dharamsala, and Lhundrup Tenzin, brother of Yangsi Rinpoche and Tsen-la, who attended Lama during his stay in Tibet.
The news of the puja spread quickly and created enormous excitement among the local people. Public religious ceremonies are forbidden, yet 500 people came and participated at this Heruka Guru Puja, probably the first puja to be held there since 1959.
A handful of participants were Westerners – students, it turned out, of Lama Yeshe who happened to be in Tibet at the time, two of them teaching English in Lhasa. “My karma with you people is too much!” Lama told us afterward. Also at the puja were many of the local Chinese – bemused and curious onlookers.
This powerful and moving event was a fitting close to Lama Yeshe’s visit. As he said, he wanted to go “as a tourist and see my family before I die.” Lama wants to go again – hopefully accompanied by a group of his Western students, and hopefully in the not too distant future.Tags: fpmt history, lama yeshe, refugee, tibet