Well I was in India for 6 months staying with a swami. My visa ran out and I aimed at going to Nepal and coming back to India. When I said goodbye to the swami he said: beware of Tantrics. I didn't think about it and I didn't know until years later that I had come to a place full of Tantrics and totally fell for them.
I was staying in Bodhanath, and I saw this little hill out in the valley and it called me.
I went up there one late afternoon, after a trip and I went up and saw the sun go down and saw the old house, but I didn't meet anybody. Then later I met Bhagavan Das in the mountains and he said I should visit him. He told me about where he was staying and I realized that it was the little hill that I had visited. I went to see him but he had left and I met Zena. She roped me in right away. She asked what my plans were and when I said I was going to India she said: "Oh, its really horrible in India in the rainy season and you should stay here" - “I don’t have any money and my visa is running out” I said. “I’ll help you, you can stay here, I’ll help you with money, and I’ll help you get a new visa” she said. So, that sounded good to me. At that time the lamas were not there. There were only a few hippies and Zena. I was 44 and it was 1969.
So, I moved up Kopan, the room that Zena had told me I would get was not ready, something was being done to it, and she said I could stay a short while with Michael. He was a friend of Zena and he was detoxing himself and doing a retreat. He was silent, but when I came to the room to stay with him he kind of used me as his voice. He wrote little papers to me saying “Can you tell them I don’t want potatoes," and one thing after the other, and it kind of drove me crazy. It was very different from what I had expected and I remembered that the Buddha had said if you cannot stay with demons you will never get enlightened. So I said OK, this is not even as bad as demons. So I stayed. When it lasted almost a week I went to Zena and said, you must get me a room for myself, because I cant do this anymore and after that I had this wonderful room. So, that’s the story about how I got there.
Then the lamas came and it was just fantastic because they were there with us. You could talk to them whenever you needed to. There was not that many people around. Lama Zopa was giving teachings once a week in English but his English was not very good at that time and it was very hard to understand. It was a very literal translation without the words really hanging together, but I went anyway because I felt Zena wanted that, but I had a hard time relating it to my life you know? So, it was more when Lama Yeshe started giving teachings on Sunday in English that it became clear to me that it did concern me. yeah...
How long were you at Kopan?
I was there form the summer of 1970 to January 1973. The last rainy season I was up in the mountains at Lawudo, but I had my place at Kopan.
What are some of your best memories form Kopan?
--> Lama Yeshe said: “Oh, meditation, very good, very good”. I think she meditated for two weeks and then keeled over exhausted. Her father came at that time and brought her home. Later she wrote a letter to Lama, thanked him, and said it was great to go through that and not be stopped. It was always like that. I had all these ideas, you know? Western ideas about what was good and what was bad, right and wrong. It always turned out that I didn't know what I was believing.Lama Yeshe said: “Oh, meditation, very good, very good”. I think she meditated for two weeks and then keeled over exhausted. Her father came at that time and brought her home. Later she wrote a letter to Lama, thanked him, and said it was great to go through that and not be stopped. It was always like that. I had all these ideas, you know? Western ideas about what was good and what was bad, right and wrong. It always turned out that I didn't know what I was believing.
How did you get your nickname from Lama Yeshe?
It was actually Zena, she would introduce me, I was in sadhu clothes when I first came. I was a sadhu, so she always introduced me as “our babaji, this is our babaji” and so the lamas called me Babaji, everyone called me Babaji.
Were you one of the first students?
I came about a year after the center had started. There was a small group that was there before me but I usually come like that, not at the very beginning of something but a little later. I came also to Vajrapani a year after they started.
In Vajrapani were you Lamas attendant?
In ‘83 when he came to a rented house down in Freedom, for 3 months I was his assistant, driver (although he liked to drive himself), and personal chef.
What did you do at Vajrapani?
What did I do at Vajrapani? I was the resident artist you could say. I was helping with building.
When we built I was the architect. Together with John Jackson who was a pro builder. We designed the main building together and I did a lot of the carvings and I painted thangkas. When the other people built their houses I usually helped with the architecture too.
And when we built the stupa, Lama Yeshes’ stup, a I was the director of the decoration.
So how did you get in contact with Osel?
When he came first to Santa Cruz, he stayed with Pam and Karuna, he always stayed with them and he told them he wanted to drum. They knew I was a drummer so they called me up and said, there's a young man here who wants to drum. They didn't say who it was at first but then I asked, is it Lama Osel and they said yes, but he doesn't want any lama trip put on him, so don't talk about that. Then he came and we were drumming with a group of my friends and afterward he came home with me and I started showing him all the pictures from the three months were I was Lamas assistant and I think in a way that I made him understand how much of a hippie Lama Yeshe was himself and in a way to understand that he could be himself and still nobody would think that he wasn't also Lama Yeshe. If you see what I mean?
So you're going to get 2000 words out of this?
Well, do you have any other stories that come to mind?
Stories that come to mind? Hmm [long pause]. No! [laughs]
What about how you got to Asia in the first place?
Oh yeah, I stayed with a friend in Copenhagen and it was ‘69 and I actually stayed in that place from ‘67 and suddenly the hippie thing happened in Denmark and we were all there, it was like a lot of people from other periods of my life suddenly came back together in my life and new people were there too and they were all into going to India, so they were all saying, you must go to India, and people came back from India and said you must go, so I was set to go, I was just waiting to find company that would be good to go with. That came together in ‘69 with two women with a little boy that was 10 months old and two guys that were musicians so we were a group of six and we went overland through Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. It was amazing, it was not very far from the time when that became impossible. Then in India, I ended up with this swami in Delhi who had many Danish disciples. When I met Lama Yeshe I didn’t want to go back to India. I was totally happy staying in Kopan.
Can you tell me the story of saving the baby's life on the way to India?
[laughs] I don't know, yeah, he got diarrhea and he was only ten months old and couldn't hold in anything. He started looking really sick, I got scared, I saw him one evening and he was almost blue, so pale, and weak. I remembered I had heard that chewing the food could be helpful, so I asked his mother about me chewing the food and she said it was OK. In the morning I came in the room where he was lying and I cut a piece of bread and he started screaming. I chewed some and gave it to him and he just stopped screaming and ate it and then started screaming again and I just continued feeding him. From that moment he turned around and in two days he was fine. I don't know if I saved his life, but it did definitely turn the sickness around.
Can you tell me bout the time you met His Holiness the Dalia Lama?
I went to several of his teaching and one time we had a short moment. Just a handshake. At Vajrapani he came and gave teachings and I was asked to cook for him. I said if I cook then I serve also and they said, yeah, OK. He was over in the little gompa in a room there. When I came there, he was standing outside talking to somebody and I didn't know if I should come and push my way in, but he immediately noticed us and said, “come, come”. Then when I served he took so much rice I thought: “I hope there's enough for everyone”, and he looked up and said “Too much?” Like he read my mind. And I said: “No, no, no, you can take as much as you want.” Then the Vajrapani people came to the gompa to meet with HH and ask how to best serve the Dharma. and I was there also. I wasn't saying anything because I was not so much part of the organization, but when he got up to leave he passed by me and took my hands and put his forehead to my forehead and I just felt that he could read my heart that he could read my devotion to him.
I think that is good. Thank you.
Yeah? you think you can get something out of that?
When we were up in Lawudo I felt I was ripe to become a monk, so I went to Lama Yeshe and asked if he would ordain me and he said, “better wait!” [laughs] he was always very short. He would say these things and they would be so deep, so full of knowledge; I mean he knew me better than I knew myself. [laughs] He knew that is was not my moment to become a monk and he said it just so... “better wait!” didn’t say no or anything.
It was the same when I first came to Vajrapani. Lama Yeshe was visiting and he asked me, what are your plans? And I said, oh well, I’ll stay the summer here and he said: “So short?” That was all that he said and it made me realize: of course, why would I only stay the summer? And I stayed 13 years! It was like he knew that I should stay and with just one word he could put things in place, you know?
Thank you for telling me these stories.
You're welcome, I hope its good enough.