Lama letters

From the Dr. Ajari book project file…

Over the weekend I spoke with Sister Mandarava, who has been a student of Dr. Ajari’s since 1969. She and Sister Nairatma were the only students still living with Dr. Ajari when he died in 1993, and they were left with all of his belongings, including what Mandarava dubbed “the lama letters.”

I’ve heard plenty of stories about Dr. Ajari’s support — monetary and otherwise — of various Tibetan Buddhist lamas who came to the San Fransisco area in the 1960′s and ’70s. But the stories vary, and I don’t have much in the way of specifics. However, the sisters have boxes of letters from various lamas thanking Dr. Ajari and his Order for various good deeds. These lama letters will serve as hard facts to accompany the stories his students tell from memory.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Mandarava, like every other student of Dr. Ajari’s I’ve spoken with, said Dr. Ajari’s history before he arrived in the U.S. is the stuff of myth and legend, even his family history and education. Ouch. I’ve known all along that this would be tough information to track down, but I’d hoped that the sisters might have something concrete, some tidbit that would at least give me direction. But it looks like I’m on my own researching Dr. Ajari’s supposed medical school education, his supposed time in the Royal Air Force and his supposed assistance in the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet.

At least everyone can confirm his penchant for using his larger-than-life stories to teach even larger points about dharma.

4 thoughts on “Lama letters

  1. Jenn – Do you have any good photos of Dr Ajari? If so, you should post them. I have only seen a couple of photos, from the internet and Mansur Johnson’s book. I know your project is long-term, but I really look forward to it!

  2. I have a few, and I’ll try to post them in the next few days. Sister Mandarava told me Dr. Ajari didn’t like having his picture taken, so she was surprised at how many photographs she found after he died. I’m looking forward to seeing her album some day.

  3. In 1976, I was reading on a high trail of Mt Diablo, east of San Francisco, when Dr. Ajari, who introduced himself to me as Neville Warwick, approached me fully robed. It was a little disconcerting to suddenly meet a monk along this desolate mountainside. Behind him, at a respectful distance of about twenty feet, were six or seven monks, also in robes that remained where they were.
    He asked what I was reading, and I showed him the book…”The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation”, by Evans-Wentz.
    He told me he knew the author and his translator, and we had a prolonged discussion about the content while his entourage waited.
    His views of the material were insightful and remarkably appropriate to the spirit of the book. We exchanged cards, but I never saw him again.
    It was the spark of two disparate souls on the same path.

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