Big Love, the long-awaited authorized biography of Lama Yeshe written by Adele Hulse, provides an intimate portrait of FPMT’s founder. This excerpt is taken from the chapter chronicling the 1982 Enlightened Experience Celebration
Bodhgaya: The beggars’ banquet
Beggars are a feature of every major gathering in Bodhgaya. They turn up in droves and sit 24-hours-a-day in designated positions along the outside wall of the stupa, displaying leprous or broken limbs and sick children to all who pass. Before dawn they appear as rows of grey lumps under ragged covers, but at the approach of a Westerner a low moan rises and hands are slowly outstretched. Competition between them is fierce. Local touts sell bags of small coins that many people just throw into the air in handfuls, letting the beggars scrabble for them in the dust.
One day a passing student noticed their professionally wretched faces wreathed with smiles and rare laughter shining from their eyes as they gathered around a figure in their midst. “I had never seen them look happy before. I went over and there was Lama Yeshe performing a pantomime invitation to attend a banquet he was putting on, just for them. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like a rich Westerner anymore and they weren’t relating to me as beggars either. For a moment we were all just people.”
This beggars’ banquet, which took place on February 10,  had never been held before in Bodhgaya, but it became an annual event. Lama Yeshe handed the job to Merry Colony. Huge quantities of food and salads were prepared in large new plastic bins down at the Tourist Bungalow. Merry was just about to send it all to the banquet site, the park behind the stupa, when black rain clouds suddenly appeared from every direction.
Merry described what happened. “I went running to Lama’s room and said, ‘Lama, Lama, there’s a big storm coming!’ ‘No problem,’ said Lama. ‘You go. Take my Hayagriva pill. Burn the pill so there is smoke and then no problem.’ So I took a can of coals and burnt the pill, but the clouds didn’t move. I ran back to Lama, practically in tears, and said that nothing was happening. ‘You don’t trust my pill, dear?’ he said. Then he came outside and looked at the clouds. He just looked at them … and they turned about face and rolled away, as far as the eye could see. The sky turned bright blue. We fed over 2,000 beggars and our picnic was a huge success.”
Lama Yeshe gave Merry several challenging tasks in Bodhgaya, such as 24-hours notice to arrange 1,000 tormas under the bodhi tree as an offering dedicated to Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.
The Maitreya statue
Lama Yeshe was sitting with Merry Colony in a rickshaw one day, gesturing with his hands and speaking to her in a calm comfortable voice. Ten years later, again in Bodhgaya, Merry recalled that very moment in her personal journal: “Riding from the Tourist Bungalow to the stupa, squeezed up against Lama Yeshe in a rickshaw, myself preoccupied by the discomfort of the vehicle, Lama, motioning freely and unrestricted across the fields, said, ‘We should make giant Maitreya Buddha. People can go inside and learn life story of Guru Shakyamuni and meditation place. Big one that can talk to people. This is my idea. Don’t you think fantastic?’”
Over the years Lama Yeshe seemed to have a strong affinity for Maitreya Buddha, also evidenced by his oft-expressed wish to teach all five treatises of Maitreya. During his lifetime, however, he only completed teaching two of the five: Discriminating Between the Relative and the Ultimate (Chö dang chö nyi nam che) and Discriminating Between the Middle and the Extremes (U ta nam che).
Lama Yeshe also spoke with Jacie Keeley about this statue. “Because of the way Lama explained it to me, I figured it was supposed to have an effect similar to Mount Rushmore, where the faces of several past presidents of the United States are carved into rock on a mountainside in the Dakota mountains,” she said. “Lama wanted something to draw Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike to Bodhgaya. He also wanted the project to generate as much publicity as possible, even in its construction stages. ‘Even going to Bodhgaya is a blessing, a purification; it is so special, so holy,’ Lama told me,” said Jacie. “The statue was to be so many stories high and Lama wanted a revolving restaurant at the top, in the crown chakra. The bottom chakra was to be the gift shop, the library would be in another chakra and Maitreya was supposed to speak and give teachings. Lama wanted water around the base so fish could create merit by circumambulating.”
“Lama was always just too big for all of us,” said Peter Kedge. “Just when you thought you could understand what it was Lama wanted, what he was trying to do, he’d say something else. Then you would catch a glimpse, showing that he was already way beyond what you felt you had just got a handle on. He was always a whole level ahead of all of us, all the time. There were no bounds to Lama. He often said that nobody could put him in a box. When he spoke to us about the Maitreya statue I was reminded of the time he told me he was a Dharma king.”
Six months later Lama Yeshe spoke to Lama Zopa Rinpoche for the first time about his vision for this statue, a project which would eventually engage an enormous amount of Rinpoche’s time and energy.