How was Vajrapani created?
Who are the great teachers who made Vajrapani so special?
A Manifestation of Faith
When China invaded Tibet in 1959, they killed millions of Tibetans and destroyed thousands of Monasteries. Many Tibetans fled the genocide by making the perilous journey to India, crossing the highest mountains in the world, the Himalayas. Among the many refugees were Buddhist monks and nuns, two of whom were Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
At the same time, there was a lot of social upheaval taking place in America as well.
The Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War were causing many youth to question the culture in which they were raised. Some even left it behind in search of something better.
In the refugee camps of northern India, some of these young traveling American youths met Tibetan Buddhist teachers for the first time. Inspired by their profound insights, bubbling joy and bottomless compassion, droves of Western students soon began to gather around teachers such as Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
The first American course with Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche was held at Lake Arrowhead in California in 1975. During the retreat, Lama was asked what would be a good name for a center in California. Lama immediately said "Vajrapani Institute for Wisdom Culture."
After the course, Vajrapani slowly began to develop with other California courses being given in Venice and Santa Barbara. In 1977, in the desert of southern California, Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave their second month-long course at a place called Yucca Valley.
Inspired by the Lamas and the Yucca Valley teachings, students organized to have 30 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains donated for a center. Vajrapani Institute was born.
Students soon began to arrive, beginning the work of creating this thriving center with only the clothes on their back and their faith in the Lama’s. In Volkswagens and Mobile Homes, people came with their families to live in Tipis and shacks made of carpet remnants. Eventually they even built small houses by hand on the steep terrain.
Cooking on wood stoves and washing in the creek, Lama Yeshe called them the “bushy people.” They certainly were. Eventually enough money was raised to purchase a sawmill to mill their own lumber and slowly began the work of building the center by hand. Because the men also worked at construction jobs in town to pay the bills, it was a slow process.
In those early days, Vajrapani was a community of dharma brothers and sisters with their families. The Brooke’s and Jackson’s had babies born on the land and all the families with children shared the responsibility of chauffeuring them to school each day. They endured a hard life in the temperate redwood rain forest for the sake of their dreams. But it was also a sweet time with many wonderful memories.
One of the early pioneer’s Elaine Jackson recalls that time:
“One day, during Lama’s visit, we had a picnic at the beach with our resident teacher Geshe Lobsang Gyatso and our precious Lama Yeshe. Lama wore a long red caftan over a pair of yellow swim trunks. Although he did not know how to swim, he was keen to “ride the waves.” Surrounded by a group of nervous students, Lama climbed onto an air mattress and rolled around in the white water at the edge of the shore. So much laughter ensued. It was a magical day.“
"I recently heard a story from a former monk who was a disciple of the most highly revered Master Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. In the 1970’s, Lama requested Zong Rinpoche to come to California to teach his “bushy people” and Rinpoche agreed. Afterwards, back in India, Rinpoche told the story of his California visit to a large gathering of monks in his monastery during an offering ceremony. My friend, the former monk, was in that gathering. Rinpoche told them, “Thubten Yeshe has these students living in the redwoods who are trying to practice Dharma.” After describing the tipi dwellings, the trails, and the big trees, Rinpoche said, “They are sincere and I think they will find the path.”
By 1983, they had obtained the now 75 acres of land and finished building the gompa, complete with a commercial kitchen, dining room, offices, and library.
In 1984, Lama Yeshe came back to Vajrapani Institute one last time, to leave his body behind.
It was surreal for everyone involved as the cremation site was prepared, pujas were recited, and 175 students arrived from around the world. Lama’s holy body was driven in a procession up the road to the ridge where the cremation took place. The depth of sadness was palpable. It was a day no one will ever forget and a loss that will always be mourned.
At the death and cremation of Lama Yeshe, construction of his “Enlightenment Stupa” began and was completed in a few years.
In 1986, hundreds of students gathered to greet the reincarnation of Lama, the now two-year old Lama Osel, who arrived to preside over the consecration of the stupa with the precious Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lati Rinpoche. In many ways, Lama Osel showed that He was no ordinary two year old as he toured Vajrapani and seemed completely at home.
In 1994, after a large earthquake in 1989, State relief money helped them complete six new retreat cabins and a bathhouse on the ridge near Lama Yeshe’s cremation site.
Recently in 2010, old students and new students alike gathered to see the completion of Lama Yeshe’s cremation Stupa, constructed on the site of his cremation.
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Because Vajrapani was one of the first Tibetan Buddhist Dharma centers in America, it had the privilege of hosting some of the greatest Masters who survived the Chinese invasion. These included multiple visits by Masters such as:
- His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama
- His Holiness Zong Rinpoche
- Lama Thubten Yeshe
- Lama Zopa Rinpoche
- Deshung Rinpoche
- Sogyal Rinpoche
- Tara Rinpoche
- Lati Rinpoche
- Geshe Nawang Dhargye
- Zasep Tulku
- Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche
- Geshe Sopa
- Geshe Gyeltsen
- Lama Kunga
- Jetsun Kuchula
- Choden Rinpoche
While many of these great teachers are no longer with us, many of them are and continue to visit Vajrapani to this day. The blessings that each of them leave behind are felt by all who come to visit our sacred and tranquil land.
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