Back in Bodhanath I decided to go and see Bhagawan Dass, but when I came to Kopan he was not home. I was about to leave when a tall handsome American woman with a crew cut and dressed in Tibetan robes called me back.
“I am Zina,” she said, “but you can call me mother! What are your plans?”
“I am soon going back to India,” I said.
“That is not a good idea,” she said. “The rainy season is unbearable, it is too hot. You should stay here, the monsoon is very pleasant here.”
“But my visa is running out.”
“I can help you with a visa.”
“But I have no money.”
“I can help you with money, and you can stay here for free. I’ll give you a room and money every month.”
She took me round to the secluded south side of the house and showed me a large airy room. “This is the best room, it just needs to be cleaned, then you can stay here. And you can meet the Lamas; they are not here now, but they are coming soon.”
This is how I came to stay at Kopan.
When I arrived a week later my room was not yet ready and Zina asked me I if I would mind sharing a room with Michael a few days. “Michael is in silence,” she said, “and it will only be a couple of days anyway!”
Michael Hollingshead, a baldish and bearded hippie about my age, was actually trying to kick a heroin habit, and he was not ready to be silent. From the moment I became his roommate he made use of my voice; he was constantly writing notes asking me to tell the cook this and ask Zina that. When I came back from a trip to Katmandu, quite exhausted, he had spread his papers all over the room, and there was hardly space to sit down, let alone to rest. The days passed without my room being ready, and I was about to give up, but I had read a word by the Buddha: “If you are not able to live with demons, you cannot find enlightenment.” Finally after five days I lost my patience and called on Zina: “Michael is driving me crazy, you have to get my room ready tomorrow.” Michael was angry that I had complained, but at least that made him stop writing notes, and the following day I got my room and peace was restored.
The rainy season went by quietly. The weather was pleasant; it didn’t rain too much, often just a short violent storm late in the afternoon that left the air fresh and balmy. Zina gave me small artistic jobs to do for her, and it felt good to finally settle down. I started sewing handbags with embroidery in Tibetan style to sell. The promised money from Zina did not always show up, but with board and lodging free I didn’t need much.
When the rains stopped the lamas arrived. Geshe Thubten Yeshe and Thubten Zopa Rimpoche, as they were introduced by Mother Zina - whom nobody ever called Mother. She liked to give names. She referred to me as ‘our Babaji’, and Babaji became my name. On Thubten Yeshe she conferred the title of Geshe though he had not actually taken the Geshe degree, which is like a doctorate. He was 35 years old, and at first he just seemed to be another extremely friendly Tibetan, as all the ones I had met on my trek had been. Thubten Zopa was young and good-looking and his whinnying laughter sounded ever so often. We all had our meals together, and I soon came to feel very comfortable with Thubten Yeshe whose down-to-earth manner fitted well with my Taurean nature.