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Childhood Buddhas

20 Sep


Just a few days ago, I was with Rinpoche sitting in front of his Manjushri altar. As the picture above shows, the dominating icon is this large wooden statue of Manjushri with a thousand arms fanning out around him in a complete circle. There were of course various other smaller forms of Manjushri and exotic Tantric imagery sitting amidst neatly arranged silver bowls and electric candles on crystal stands. The altar is always replete with flowers and various other offerings by many devoted students from across Kechara and the world over.

It was just Bryan, Joy, myself and Seng Piow in the room with Rinpoche. Rinpoche was in the midst of rearranging the offerings so everything is perfectly symmetrical. He told us that he wanted his altar perfect for Manjushri. Somehow, the conversation drifted to iconography and he asked us what we thought were his most favourite aspect of iconography. It was really late and I remember saying, “Something between Yamantaka and Heruka.” In the end, it was Seng Piow who nailed it when he said Manjushri’s sword. He said Manjushri’s sword and book was once the emblem of Rinpoche’s previous centre. With that, Rinpoche replied that it was indeed an old logo that Rinpoche had Irene register with the ROS for the old centre that Rinpoche used to managed in Malaysia prior to the formation of Kechara.

Then, Rinpoche turned to look at Manjushri and said that when he was young living in America, every Kalmyk family in New Jersey had a shrine. They would have various Buddhist icons on it. At home, he was not allowed to display any signs of devotion at his family shine but when his mother (foster) took him to his aunt’s for a visit, she would be too busy to mind him. So, he was able to spend quite a bit of time praying and admiring a beautiful 4-armed Chenrezig picture on the shrine. That image of Chenrezig was the most beautiful to Rinpoche but he has not seen it since. When he was young, he loved Chenrezig/ Avalokitehsvara a lot and would do a lot of meditations and rather complex visualisations on Chenrezig to invoke his compassion.

However, Rinpoche explained that he always had Manjushri in a very special place in his heart. He would recite Manjushri’s Gangloma praise daily and he would recite thousands of Manjushri’s mantras every day for practice. In the local temple that he went, he would make the normal beeline beginning with the Dalai Lama’s throne, the various Buddhas and he would make an extended prostration to Manjushri. At that time, he kept a beautiful picture of Manjushri with him all the time. This Manjushri was from a Dharma center in England that he had a student reproduce on canvas recently. The following picture of Manjushri is a faithful reproduction of this original one that he kept in his childhood.


Rinpoche loved this picture of Manjushri so much that he would sleep with the picture. He placed the picture on his heart and he covered it with his blanket. At that time, his foster parents had deep issues that was affecting his mother’s sanity. Although an affectionate and generous woman, she quickly degenerated into schizophrenia with many bouts of violent abuse and destructive behaviour particularly directed at him. This coupled with his parents disapproval of his innate spirituality that left him to languish in despair. He had prayed to Manjushri and with Manjushri by his heart, he downed pills. Fortunate for all us, Rinpoche didn’t die. So it seems that Manjushri was the main object of refuge and prayer in times of despair and difficulty. Since childhood, he had always kept an image of Manjushri near him till this day.

I have various other such childhood stories of Tsem Rinpoche  in Tales My Lama Told Me.~


The Goddess of the White Parasol

19 Aug


This is the Sitatapatra statue that just arrived in Kechara Forest Retreat. Photo courtesy of Martin Chow.

This magnificent 8-feet wood-carved statue of White Umbrella or Dukkar has recently just arrived at Kechara Forest Retreat. She is placed at the Dukkar apartments (aptly named Dukkar after this grand deity) within KFR where volunteers and those working in KFR reside. She provides powerful protection against negative entities and interferences and that’s why I recite her powerful mantra daily. Her image would gather her sacred energy to provide power protection for those living in the apartment and beyond. I found a writeup that I wrote a while ago on her and I would like to share it here in celebration of her arrival at KFR…

Sitatapatra (Sanskrit) or Dukkar (Tibetan) is regarded as the female counterpart of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion. Just like him, Sitatapatra appears in many forms but her more common emanations are the one with two arms and the one with thousand arms.

Her name translates to ‘White Victory Parasol’, which is a reflection of the powerful protection that she offers to practitioners. According to the Sitatapatra Sutra, she emerged from the sacred crown protrusion of Buddha Shakyamuni’s head while he was at Trayastrimsa heaven. The Buddha pronounced her role to “completely cut asunder all malignant demons and all spells of others and to turn aside all enemies, dangers and hatred.“ Her benign and beautiful form belies her ferocious protective nature, as she is a “fierce, terrifying goddess, garlanded by flames, a pulverizer of enemies and demons.“ She emanated from the Buddha’s crown protrusion called the Ushnisha, which is a direct manifestation of his Enlightenment.


Sitatapatra’s more elaborate form with a thousand faces, hands and legs.

Her elaborate form with a thousand arms, has skin that is white in colour like the moon. This form does not have just a thousand arms but a thousand faces and legs too. On each palm and sole of each foot, Sitatapatra has eyes that watches and protects all sentient beings. She holds onto an assortment of implements like Dharma wheels, vajras, jewels, lotuses, double vajras, bows, swords, lassos and vajra hooks. But her principle implement is a white parasol that symbolizes victory over death, demons and negativities. Her thousand feet trample upon gods, demigods, ghosts, demons, humans, animals and all manner of obstructive beings.


Sitatapatra’s simplified form with only two arms. 

Sitatapatra’s simplified form is white in colour and is depicted with two arms. Her left hand holds a white parasol to her heart while her right hand extends downwards, holding a Dharma wheel. Like many other Buddhist deities, she is crowned and decked with the six ornaments of a Bodhisattva.

Dukkar’s special protection is the pacification of black spells. Her practice brings great blessings and protection. It cures illnesses and pacifies harmful spirits and black magic. It stops all evil forces, and is very effective for purifying the karma of being wrongly accused such as in arguments or legal cases. All these threats are eliminated by her power, which is like a sharp diamond sword. Dukkar protects practitioners and helps them avoid obstacles.

Her short sacred mantra is OM SITA TAPA TREY HUM PHET.

Mental Note to be Grateful Always

6 Aug

gratitudeIt’s been awhile since I last posted on this blog and I just received a wonderful sharing by Rinpoche just the other day. Rinpoche had been sharing a lot lately about gratitude on social media and he explained what dawned on him recently. He noticed that friends and students who transform and take on more responsibilities for others always do it because they have a sense of gratitude either for themselves or for the Dharma. This is in sharp contrast to some students who rarely profess gratitude and hence, their minds go up and down and always have doubts about the Dharma and often have thoughts of leaving the Dharma.

Rinpoche further explained that this does not just apply to the Dharma as it also applies to the secular world. You will always hear people who have succeeded always attributing it to a supporting loved one, parent or teacher. Whatever it is, this does not take away from the fact that gratitude is one of the cornerstone practices of Mahayana Buddhism. Rinpoche explained that one would need to develop a deep sense of gratitude for all mother sentient beings in order to develop real compassion. Rinpoche revealed that one of the greatest Buddhist classics that affected him deeply when he was younger was the Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life or Bodhicharyavatara by Shantideva. The author Shantideva based his entire treatise on developing the highest wisdoms and realisations based upon the foundation of developing deep gratitude for all beings for having been our mothers before one lifetime or another.

I went to be bed thinking and realising how blessed my life is for having everything I really needed to be a deep practitioner (although I am not one yet). I have good parents, good friends and a great spiritual friend like Rinpoche. There were close to no real obstacles except self-created ones. There’s just a lot to be thanked for and I just regret not being able to share this with some people who have decided that they needed to walk away. Gratitude is indeed a powerful way to develop spiritually.

Making Yellow Hats

6 Jul


Stephen Tang, a student of Zasep Rinpoche

Recently, I got in touch with a young student of Zasep Rinpoche in Toronto over Facebook. His name is Stephen Tang and we were just talking over Facebook chat and out of the blue one day, he said he would like to offer little Lama Tsongkhapa hats onto the statues at Gaden Choling**, Zasep Rinpoche’s center in Toronto and he asked me where he can get it done. I told him that he could get it done in one of the those little tailors within the Tibetan community in India or Nepal or he can get it done with Kechara Saraswati Arts (KSA), the arts department of Kechara. They have a tailor in the department that can can sew up traditional silk brocade thangkas, yellow Lama Tsongkhapa hats and so forth. They even have artists that can paint the detail on the faces of Buddha statues and much more.

(The link to Kechara Saraswati Arts - )

He was told that he needed to get Zasep Rinpoche’s permission regarding this matter. Finally, word came back that Zasep Rinpoche himself allows and approves of this. Thus began to process of getting the right measurements for this and boy, did he got me a very comprehension measurement of the statues. Then the tailor got to work and voila. The hat was ready. We went back and forth on this matter and finally the hats was sewn up and shipped to the Canada. He received it and offered onto the statue just a few days ago. Just before sending the hats, I messaged him to give him advice on how to offer the hats so the proper aspiration is generated on such an auspicious offering:-

When you offer the hats, make sure you offer incense and make a prayer to Lama Tsongkhapa and his two son that you will gain his wisdom to be of benefit to others and to always meet authentic spiritual guides and to have authentic Guru devotion. Recite Migtsema and/or Lama Tsongkhapa’s dedication. Make sure you do this. It will be very good for you.”


Upon my request, I told him to take a picture of the altar with the Lama Tsongkhapa statues to see if the hats fit and it does fit perfectly!

** I do recall that Tsem Rinpoche had offered a Setrap statue to their center a few years back. Recently, Stephen Tang told me that Zasep Rinpoche proudly showed the statue to his students after a recent Vajrasattva retreat.

What is the Dharma?

2 Jul

I am in the mood to write about something deep and I thought about this topic for awhile. It is so fundamental yet it is clearly misunderstood by most people, from casual observers to practitioners who are in it for years. As Rinpoche put it very succinctly, ‘You may be in the Dharma but is the Dharma in you.” Before we go any deeper, I would like to express that I am in no way an authority on this subject manner. What I am sharing is strictly a sharing  of what I know combined with personal experience and observation of those around me. You are welcomed to throw in any question or debate with me on this matter if you don’t agree.

So, let us explore the textbook meaning of Dharma. Dharma is often defined as ‘right conduct’. I find that a little stunted but I have also read excellent definitions like ‘protection from suffering’. Perhaps, if we marry both definitions, it become the ‘right conduct to protect one from suffering’. Now, I think it pretty much nails the intent that the Buddha had when he started teaching. I know Rinpoche had talked about Hindu Dharma, Christian Dharma and Buddhist Dharma so what are all these? I think he meant them to be various religious traditions and disciplines that leads one to alleviate suffering. I am Buddhist and what I am sharing is mainly within the scope of the Buddhist tradition.


Now, you see various people embrace the Dharma for a variety of reasons and not all of them are Dharmic in the beginning. I have heard of people joining Kechara for pujas because it helps them alleviate their immediate problem, ie companionship (boyfriend/ girlfriend), career and financial issues, marital issues, supernatural hauntings and problems and so on and so on. I know this does tie in with what I said earlier about protection from suffering but when some people get the problems solved, that’s it. By doing that, they miss the point and they don’t explore the Dharma enough to see its great potential to benefit us long-term. This is not right or wrong but they miss out on the Dharma’s potential to benefit us long term.

Some intellectuals understand and appreciate the Dharma but prefer to practice on their own and not be ‘entrapped’ by dogma or false idealism of religion. That’s just too bad because honestly, are we really deluding ourselves by thinking that we can get ahead spiritually by practicing on our own? I know the Buddha had done that but do we have what it takes to become like the Buddha. Even the Buddha had teachers that led him to a certain extent. Do we have a measure or yardstick to determine any sort of spiritual progress? Hence, sticking with a set method that was established by great masters who had engaged in the practices that has brought about a certain result from the practice. We are talking about a tried and tested lineage and practice. The Dharma had 2500 or so years of great practitioners and enlightened masters arising from it. Hence, in our tradition, the lineage of any teachings is very important to understand because the knowledge of it provides confidence and reassurance of the authenticity of the teachings and results if they were put into practice.

Then, there are those that have embraced the Dharma and after encountering certain issues along the way, gave up on the Dharma.The reasons can be many but it is usually boils down to only a few. One of them is because of the idealistic view of how some people in the Dharma should behave or not behave in the center. Instead of using the teachings to contemplate on ourselves, some use it to evaluate others. The usual targets are those that have been in the Dharma for many years and had not yet transformed. Instead of getting disheartened by them, we should be encouraged by such practitioners because our personal practice is between you and the Lama/guru or Buddha. It has never really been about these people and why do we use them to give up our practice.

Then, there are those that have developed an opinion of the lama/guru based on rumors of mere physical appearance. Some people have fixed notions of how a Guru should behave or not behave and the Lama will act in ways to benefit us and sometimes we may not understand  from our perspective. I am not saying that the Lama can act in whatever way he wants and get away by saying it is for the benefit of the practitioner. Sometimes, we have to understand the intention of the lama by viewing the whole issue from a bigger perspective. We can do this by listening to his teachings and talking to senior students about why the lama behave in such a such a way. How the lama operate is based on what benefits us whether we understand it or not. Hence, when we have doubts, it would be good to investigate why the lama behave in this manner by talking to senior students instead of holding on to our view of things.

That should suffice for now. Those are what I have observed and I thought I share it that perhaps it might benefit somebody out there whose is struggling with the meaning of Dharma and Dharma practice. All feedback is welcomed.

Deep stuff – Associating/Disassociating our body with our mind…

18 Jun

Tsem Rinpoche came over to Manjushri Hill (my office) and did some stuff with a few of us here. Then he shared an amazing Dharma talk with us. It was quite an extensive teaching on associating our mind with our bodies that creates our suffering. Rinpoche began by uttering something really profound, he said that to have depression is not very much different from being extremely happy. They are basically two sides of the same coin and if we are extremely happy, we can equally be extremely unhappy or depressed and vice-versa. Our suffering comes when our minds continually flip back and forth, back and forth like a pendulum. The extremities of our emotional flipping shows how strong our attachment or ego is.


Then Rinpoche delved deeper into why our minds are so flippant and he landed his point squarely on the statement that we associate our body with our mind. All us are fixated one way or another upon labels and names we or others call ourselves. I am a man and that’s why I am like that. I am a woman and that’s why I feel this way. I am gay and that’s why my lifestyle is like that. I am lazy… I am quick-tempered…so on and so on. Intellectually, we know our minds and bodies are separate entities but our behavior and habituations reflect otherwise. We are engrossed by labels that we impose upon ourselves and that is why over years, our habituations grow stronger, we suffer, become unhappy because we suffer the consequences and we take similar patterns into future lives. Rinpoche said that whatever we do gets imprinted into our subtle mind and our subtle mind according to Tantra, resides on the central channel that runs from the crown of head to the tip of our secret organ.


When we die, our gross mind dissolves and only the subtle mind remains and that will be the one that gets ejected out of the body at death. If you die thinking of our Lama, yidam or protector, your subtle mind will rise and exit through the crown of our heads. That means you will take a good rebirth by the positive throwing karma of that last virtuous thought, which awakens the store of merit that have been accumulated throughout that lifetime. Hence, one should always remember the kindness of our Lama and be loyal, listen to his advice and always strive to put into practice the advice and teachings he has given because that would help us at the time of death. On the other hand, if we die worrying about our family, our money, assets and so forth, the subtle mind will descend downwards and exit through the lower regions. That means that person would take a lower rebirth. Apparently, when we die, we go though a process that corresponds to the dissolution of the 4 elements. Fire – sight, wind – sound, water – taste and earth – tactile feeling. It goes in that order and if we encounter sudden deaths like in an accident, we still go through this process except that it will be faster.

Therefore, in order to avoid suffering, do we stop ourselves for feeling? No, that is not possible. It would be better to understand the source of our suffering and that is our association of our mind and body. It is this view that makes our minds go up and down and it is this view that holds us tight to a limited vision of how we view ourselves and the world around us. Ultimately, our salvation lies in changing our view towards a larger more expansive view of the Dharma. There are those that have an open, larger and more expansive view who practice the Tantras and at death and the bardo, do not see their future parents as just copulating organs but a sacred vision of Heruka and Vajrayogini or Yamantaka and Rolungma or Guhyasamaja and consort or any yidam of the higher Tantras. That means that these great beings have developed control over their death and rebirth. Thus, Rinpoche enjoins us to change our view and experience the same fruit.


The Buddha and His Enemy

11 Jun


Devadatta attempts to assassinate the Buddha

The following is my comments after watching the video of Prof. Donald S Lopez explaining about Devadatta in Tsem Rinpoche’s blog:-

In this video, Professor Donald S Lopez tells a clear and vivid story of the Buddha and his infamous nemesis, Devadatta from the Dhammapada Sutta – a collected sayings of the Buddha. I found it amazing that someone so close to the Buddha could still be so hateful of him. Perhaps, the wrong views and negative karma was so strong that Devadatta felt compelled to act in ways that earned his position as one of the most heinous person in all of Buddhism.

YouTube Preview Image

In his lecture, Prof Donald explains how Devadatta attempted to assassinate the Buddha and what I found interesting was the fact that he only came to show his true colors when the Buddha turned 72. In front of an assembly of monks, Devadatta requested that the Buddha retire because he was old and that Devadatta himself would take over. Needless to say, the Buddha refused all of his requests and that angered Devadatta. Before that, Devadatta was described as a devoted monk and follower of the Buddha for decades. This is a reflection of how certain students who have superficial faith in the lama and when they are challenged or put into position where they have to perform or transform, they developed wrong views of the lama and reject what the lama had done for them for many years. It’s particularly sad especially because the student had been in the Dharma for so long but did not practice at all.

As his anger arose, he quickly devised various schemes to avenge his rejection. He attempted to assassinate the Buddha on 3 attempts but failed at each attempt and he even tried to create dissension within the community of monks. He demanded that the Buddha and the community of monks should abide by 5 rules and they are:

1. that monks should dwell all their lives in the forest,
2. that they should accept no invitations to meals, but live entirely on alms obtained by begging,
3. that they should wear only robes made of discarded rags and accept no robes from the laity,
4. that they should dwell at the foot of a tree and not under a roof,
5. that they should abstain completely from fish and flesh.

However, the Buddha refused to make any of these practices obligatory except for the last rule. I found this to be interesting because not only do some students reject the lama and develop wrong views, many deliberately try to influence others and clearly, Devadatta devised these rules to create dissension out of spite. Many of the monks left the Buddha because they felt the Buddha was living luxuriously by not abiding by these ascetic practices. Hence, we are discouraged from associating with those who have developed wrong views of our lama and this is not to sideline them but to allow them space to think things through. This is especially important for us when our minds and opinion of our lama goes up and down all the time. If we cannot influence them positively, it is better that we leave them alone lest we ourselves are adversely influenced.

The later part of the narrative tells of how Devadatta was swallowed up by the earth and he literally descended into Avichi, the hell of uninterrupted suffering. There in Avichi, Devadetta was subjected to the full force of his karma. What Devadatta did of injuring a Buddha, causing schism within the community of monk, influencing Prince Ajatashatru to kill his father and apparently killing an Arhat constitutes some of the most heinous crimes that one can commit. It is said that if one commits any of these heinous sins, one would take rebirth directly in Avichi without experiencing Bardo. The karma is particularly heavy and this story is often told as a cautionary tale for us to watch our actions and particular our speech so as to never create doubts and misunderstanding within the spiritual community we live and practice and more importantly, between other students and the lama.

In all of his clairvoyance, I am sure that the Buddha foresaw that Devadatta would commit these heinous crimes and he still acted in a way that caused him to react in this manner because I felt that the Buddha was really considering Devadatta for the position but he needed to ensure Devadatta was sincere and suitable to take over. Therefore, I felt that the Buddha was probably trying to gauge him better by refusing him. Sadly, it is clear now that Devadatta was not ready to take over the Buddha’s position and that he would turn on the Buddha just like that shows how he regarded the Buddha all these years. Perhaps, Devadetta had been harboring a deep-seated jealousy of the Buddha and had not expressed it until it was provoked. Whatever it is, his story is perhaps one of the most famous Buddhist tales forewarning of the terrible consequences of creating dissension within any spiritual community.

Why is Tsem Rinpoche so kind to animals?

31 May

Caring for animals is linked to the Buddhist teaching on compassion. It is obviously a physical expression of compassion and one of the noblest because unlike humans, animals are basically unable to reciprocate kindness. And that’s one of the reasons why Tsem Rinpoche encourages people like me – a typical self-absorbed, self-centered modern individual to take care of a pet like my housemate’s Schnauzer, Zamkar. Taking care of animals does not necessarily mean one is spiritually evolved but it is a tool to help one create that sort of mindset of giving and caring for others with no or less of an agenda.


You see, for Rinpoche, caring for animals is not practice but second nature. As far as I recall, Rinpoche had always noticed hungry stray animals and would always try to feed them with some food he hastily bought from 7-Eleven. He is always the first to notice the beggar on the street or the hungry little puppy rummaging through the rubbish pile. Rinpoche had once said that it is very easy to develop compassion for scruffy cute animals but would it be as easy if we knew what they did in their previous lives to create the karma to land them in that situation? Hence, we should have equal patience/compassion for nasty people in our lives because they are creating the karma to take a bad rebirth. Hence, looking at suffering animals is also a reminder of the effects of our negative karma that will definitely come to fruition one day. Perhaps, if we are kind to those already oppressed by negativity, we might be able to inspire these people to change.

Besides his efforts of having huge fish tanks, aviaries and such, Rinpoche always ensures his assistants stock up his cars with dog food and packets of milk. He is very food of feeding the hungry stray dog. He had taught us to recite Medicine Buddha mantras and blow the mantras into the food to bless them. Even when there was no food available, Rinpoche would at least recite mantras aloud to bless them. He taught all his students to do that, especially to the live fishes kept in aquariums at seafood restaurants. There was once, Rinpoche bought out all the live fishes from a seafood restaurant with the purpose to free them into a lake. This practice of ‘ransoming/liberating’ animals is a unique Buddhist practice that if done with proper prayers and motivation, can extend one’s life.

Although Rinpoche cares so much for animals, the fact remains that animals are unable to practice the Dharma and  transform. They can only be blessed with mantras,which will open up in another more conducive lifetime to practice the Dharma. Therefore, Rinpoche takes real good care of his Schnauzers, birds and fishes in his huge aviary and fish tanks. It is Rinpoche’s dream that Kechara Animal Sanctuary would take off to benefit both the animals and the people who take care of them. Rinpoche invests a lot of time, money and effort to ensure they are well-taken cared off and he hopes this will inspire many to do the same. As of writing this, Pastor Susan, an ardent animal lover herself has taken it upon herself to managed this new department and take it off the ground.

The Russian Princess Who Became A Nun

16 May


      Zina Rachevsky as a Hollywood actress in 1953

The legendary Zina Rachevsky was the earliest Western student and patron of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Everything about her including her royal heritage had become legendary. Her family was incredibly wealthy to begin with. Her grandfather established SW Straus & Co. that held loans on a string of buildings across the United States that was worth $150 million dollars in those days.

In 1930, her grandfather passed away and it was also the year that Zina was born. She was a precocious, intelligent and an independent child. She grew up to be a Hollywood actress and gained her reputation as an international socialite. She married Count Bernard d’Harcourt when she was only 18 and then divorced him two years later. At one point, she would be seen with the likes of screen legend Marlon Brando. She would later give birth to a son, Alex by Conrad Rooks, a troubled filmmaker and a daughter, Rhea Rechevsky.

Her apparent royal background was really not what it seems and it was a part of her family lineage that she embraced in order to avoid anti-Semitic backlash considering the other Jewish part of her family line. Her father was the brother-in-law to the Grand Duke Boris, the last of the Russian Romanovs. Her father and his wife, Harriet got married in 1929, about 12 years after the Russian Revolution. It was her family ties with the Grand Duke that Zina assumed her identity as the wild Russian Princess and it became a part of her larger-than-life persona that many still remember her by.

Zina had everything – money, fame, beauty and a string of marriages and relationships but she was deeply unhappy and that triggered her soul-searching. In 1965, Zina came to India and it was in India that she encountered Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa. Before meeting the lamas, she had read about Domo Geshe Rinpoche in Alexander David Neel’s book. To her delight, her guide brought her right to Lama Zopa, who was also known as Domo Rinpoche simply because he was a tulku of Dungkar Gompa. Domo is the name of the area around Dungkar monastery and tulkus of the monastery is traditionally named after the area. Lama Zopa and Lama Yeshe at that time never had any encounters with Westerners and Lama Yeshe was pleasantly surprise to learn that Zina came to them in search of enlightenment. At that time, the Tibetans regarded Westerners as mere spiritual barbarians, unable to perceive the value of the Dharma. Zina with her characteristic intensity shattered that view.


Portrait of Lama Yeshe, Zina Rachevsky and Lama Zopa in 1967

Thus began her involvement with Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa with a long line of endless questions. Her thirst for the Dharma was unquenchable and her faith in Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa was equally unwavering all through the years. In the earlier days, she would also request Lama Yeshe to teach a meditation course but he would refuse, probably due to his limited English vocabulary in those days. So, she turned to Lama Zopa to teach and after pestering him, he finally agreed with Lama Yeshe’s approval of course. At the same time, she brought many Western students to study with them. She returned to America to share what she had learnt and celebrated thanksgiving at Mary Jane “Max” Matthews’ home. Max Matthews or Mummy Max as she became affectionately known would eventually become a key sponsor of the monks and Kopan Monastery. She later became ordained as a nun as well.

In the beginning, it was obvious that Zina was in control. She was extremely thirsty for the Dharma but didn’t know anything about Buddhist traditions and rituals. On one occasion, Max purchased an antique statue and excitedly showed it to the Lamas. Lama Yeshe said that the statue looked pretty good but he wanted to examine the holy items encased within the statue. So, Lama Zopa and Lama Yeshe performed a puja in Max’s bedroom, which was in the basement of the house. The puja was to ritually open the statue and after examining the items within and then another puja was performed to consecrate the statue again.

However, everyone else just went upstairs and started to party away and forgot about the chanting lamas in the basement. Later, they felt an energy emanating from the basement and the soft sounds of the bell and the tapping sound of the damaru wafted through. They went downstairs only to realize that the energy came from the statue. Apparently, the statue was very old and that it contained holy relics of the previous Buddha. Everyone sat in a semi-circle to bask in the holy energy that permeated the room. A deep conversation soon ensued about what everybody wanted to do with their lives. Zina confessed that she had created a lot of bad karma in this life and that she wanted to ‘make up’ by creating a place where people could come, work and study the Dharma with the lamas. That was how the idea for Kopan monastery was born.

Zina would promote her Lamas with whomever she met and even brought a French film crew to Tibet in order to film Lawudo cave in Khumbu. Lawudo was where Lama Yeshe was born and the cave was the place where Lama Zopa’s previous life meditated in. Over time, she bought land and founded Nepal Mahayana Gompa Retreat center that eventually became Kopan Monastery in Nepal. Even as she was devoted to her Lama, she found herself constantly arguing with Max. Although far removed from their familiar environment, one thing remained the same – they were both used to being the center of attention.Some American students were shocked by the manner in which Zina and Max fought for ‘control’ over the lamas that these students would repeatedly reassure the lamas that not all Americans behave in this manner.  In those days, Zina would be over-protective of Lama Yeshe and she would not let anybody meet Lama Yeshe and she would tell visitors that Lama is busy. It seems that she wanted to keep Lama Yeshe all to herself.

But then, some of the visitors were shocked by the manner in which Zina had housed the lamas. At Kopan, Zina stayed in a large bedroom decked with a luxurious white carpet and a leopard-skin bedspread while Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa lived a spartan existence in a tiny little dark room with 2 beds behind the house. However, the Lamas never complained. Generally, people cursed Zina under their breaths because she had little regard for other people’s possessions. However, nobody had the heart to be really angry with Zina because she was still a genuine friend. By and large, she was friends with everybody and yet she was close to nobody.

In 1970, Zina travelled with Lama Yeshe, Lama Zopa and some other western students to be ordained in Dharamsala. The ordination took place at Chopra House, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche’s residence just outside McLeod Ganj. Geshe Rabten presided over the ceremony along with Lama Yeshe, Gen Jampa Wangdu, and two other monks. This was done according to tradition with four monks and an abbot as required for monastic ordination ceremonies.

The first ordination, 1970

A picture of Zina Rachevsky right after ordination. She is in the middle with Geshe Rabten on the right and Lama Yeshe standing right behind him and Zina along with other monks and nuns.


Zina Rachevsky was transformed by her spiritual practice and nunhood. 

Towards her last years of her life, she entered a long solitary retreat and midway through the retreat, Lama Yeshe suddenly decided to meet her.  He hastily made his way to see her and he talked to her extensively. That would be the last time they would meet in this life. Not long after, Zina Rachevsky passed away which some say was from food poisoning and some say from hepatitis but post-mortem tests showed that she had died of cholera.

During her last moments, her stomach was said to have swelled up like a basketball and she had terrible cramps in her legs that prevented her from folding her legs. So, she sat there with her legs stretched out while reciting mantras until she died. While Zina was dying, a close student informed Lama Yeshe. He immediately entered into meditation and after awhile, he came out of meditation and told the student that he had performed mind transference (Powa) and sent Zina Rachevsky to Kechara Paradise – Buddha Vajrayogini’s pure realm. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche later confirmed this and Trulshik Rinpoche also said that she had “a good death.”

In the Buddhist tradition, the manner in which she passed away was auspicious because she spent her final moments in deep spiritual practice. She led her life to the fullest from her Hollywood days to renouncing everything when she met Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa. She studied extensively, sponsored her Lama, established a whole monastery and brought many students to her Lama. Apparently, she had taken rebirth as a French boy and was recognized by Sakya Trizin Rinpoche to be her reincarnation. Zina’s story serves as a great inspiration for her generosity, perseverance and her genuine thirst for the Dharma. This goes to show that anybody from any part of the world can just take a leap of faith and go all the way with the Lama’s teachings and building projects.


Reincarnation: The Spanish Boy Whose Destiny was to be a Tibetan Lama by Vicki Mackenzie, Wisdom Publications 1996

Why does Tsem Rinpoche have a ladrang?

1 May


Audience room of Tsem Ladrang.

One of the most commonly asked questions when I am explaining about Tsem Rinpoche and Kechara is the question what is a ladrang? Well, the standard answer is that a ladrang is basically the Guru’s residence. However, it is not just the place from which the Guru lives, it is also his private office. In the case of Tsem Rinpoche, he runs the entire Kechara organisation from the ladrang. In the Tibetan tradition, a lama’s ladrang is run by many changsos or liaisons. Likewise, Tsem Rinpoche has many liaisons that run the ladrang and the rest of the Kechara organisation.

Therefore, a ladrang in the Tibetan tradition has got to be big and impressive with different rooms catering to different aspects of Rinpoche’s works and teachings. This is not for the lama per se but to cater to the expanding works of the Lama. Besides the living quarters of the Lama, the ladrang would have a main altar to a particular Buddha like Vajrayogini or even a statue of Lama’s previous life (besides other smaller shrines and altars). Abundant traditional offerings of water, light (candles), incense and flowers are offered on the altar to the 3 jewels. The purpose is for the collection of merit to fuel the spiritual and material growth of the organisation and various projects of the lama. An altar to the previous life of the lama creates the causes for the Lama’s previous life to come to fruition in this life. Besides these, the Lama receives numerous offerings from many students and friends and these offerings are placed on the altar to be offered to the 3 Jewels before it is stored away or used.  This is to generate merits for the giver of these offerings. The ladrang is meant to be a place where one collects tremendous merits and therefore, students, friends and those who enter the ladrang can make an offering at the altar.

Besides the altar, a ladrang would have an audience room where the lama meets guests, students and friends in an formal setting for a teaching or a puja. This would be the setting and place from which the lama turns the wheel of Dharma by skillfully weaving the Buddha’s teachings and personal advice and instructions to benefit many. However, in keeping with the times, the ladrang’s dining hall,  kitchen and living room also serves a similar purpose. Rinpoche or his liaisons would host formal and informal meetings and dinners/lunches with various people to enroll them towards the lama’s vision and teachings. On top of that, Tsem Rinpoche is very fond of giving gifts to people so much so that he has a whole gift room in his ladrang. For Tsem Rinpoche, giving a gift to someone is always done with a lot of love and care. Everything is put together with the person in mind and Rinpoche would always utter a few mantras or prayers toensure that whatever gift he gives will open up their hearts and minds towards the Dharma.

Besides rooms meant for people, Rinpoche also have rooms and spaces for animals in his ladrang. Tsem Ladrang is designed to accomodate his beloved yogi, a salt and pepper Schnauzer along with his other Schnauzer friends. Rinpoche’s ladrang also has an aviary, fish pond and so forth. Rinpoche always love animals and he does his best to instill that sort of love in his students and friends. The idea is to develop care for beings that are unable to say thank you or reciprocate kindness and that’s one step forward in developing real compassion for others.

These are just some aspects of the ladrang but I hope what I have written here gives an overall understanding of the purpose and function of the ladrang. The ladrang is really like the command center of the Lama’s world. For students and friends, the ladrang is a place of generating merit for the organisation and is also the place from which the direction of the organisation is charted.