The Tibetans started spreading Buddhism to the West in the 1960’s. For centuries, the Tibetans had spent time perfecting their understanding of Buddhism and of the mind while living in relatively quiet isolation in the Himalayas. When the Chinese invaded Tibet in the 1950’s, the result was waves of Tibetans fleeing to the neighboring countries like India, Nepal and Bhutan. These waves of refugees brought the Buddhist teachings with them, which helped further the transmission of Buddhism into the west. Before the Tibetans started to flow into the west, the other major Buddhist tradition flowing into the west was primarily Zen Buddhism. Immigrants like the chinese also brought Buddhism with them during the 1800’s, however regarding the early develpment of Buddhism in the west, it was Zen that was primarily the interest of western Buddhist practitioners before the Tibetans came.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe were highly influential Buddhist teachers responsible for bringing Buddhism to the western world. They started an organization called The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayan Tradition, which is know responsible world wide for many Buddhist centers. Lama Yeshe, a very charismatic and knowledgeable Buddhist teacher, explains how he and Lama Zopa started teaching Buddhism in these series of interviews.
The earlier part describes why he decided to teach to westerners, and much had to do with Zina Rachevsky, a russian princess heiress, ex-socialite and ex-actress who would come to the refuge camp and request teachings. I find this story interesting, because it shows that no matter how much social status, money, good looks or fame someone may have, someone will still desperately want to be happy and likely be discontent. This reminds me of a photo I saw of Paris Hilton walking around with a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now. I think its an indication that times and faces can change, but the inner yearnings for peace of mind stay the same.
He also talks about why they decided Buddhism would be beneficial to western people and also how he demonstrates his understanding of the western mind. Many of the things he talked about from this interview many years ago, are still relevent today. I think integrating Buddhism in the west will be a very long process and the responsibility lies with western Buddhists, but process will be worthwile.
Many of Lama Zopa’s and Lama Yeshe’s teachings are also archived on the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.