Yeshe Drolma was born and raised on a small island in Germany called Wyk auf Foehr, an island that is smaller, even, than Martha’s Vineyard. As a businesswoman in the fashion industry, however, she spent years living in Hong Kong and Japan. While in Asia, she frequently encountered the image of Buddha in her daily life. Co-workers and friends would take her to Buddhist monasteries, and the image of Buddha appeared around the towns and cities that she visited. The images left an imprint in her mind. A “tranquility,” she said, but for many years, it was nothing more than that — a simple impression.
Years later, when Ms. Drolma was living in Germany again, a friend invited her to a Buddhist teaching. Somewhat reluctantly, she agreed. At 41 years old, still enjoying a successful career in fashion, she wasn’t expecting to reach a turning point in her life. But what happened at the teaching amazed her.
“When I listened to [the teaching], it all made sense,” she said. “Sometimes you meet somebody and you think, it feels like I know this person. It was for me like that.”
Ms. Drolma knew she had to investigate the connection she felt. Since she was a teenager, she had been meditating as a way to control and connect to her emotions, but she never had any sort of ties to the Buddhist faith. After meeting Shamar Rinpoche, she decided to dedicate her life to the study and practice of Buddhism. She looks back on her life as a metaphor now, she said.
“[Before], I tried to help others from the outside be beautiful and now it’s shifted [to the inside],” said Ms. Drolma.
After spending 12 years in various retreat situations, under the guidance of Shamar Rinpoche, Ms. Drolma has earned the title of Lama, or teacher. Though she intended on staying in retreat, in 2000, Shamar Rinpoche made a special request of her. He knew Lama Yeshe, as she is now called, was ready to share the Buddha’s teaching with a larger community, so he asked her to come to Martha’s Vineyard to do teachings and lead meditation sessions at Bodhi Path Buddhist Center. He had founded the center earlier that year. Lama Yeshe now spends three months a year living and teaching at the center, which is located in West Tisbury. Shamar Rinpoche died this past June.
Each year, Lama Yeshe picks a theme for her teachings. This year’s theme is Tools for Enlightenment, which she described as Buddha’s advice for how to hold and keep the mind, and how to interact with emotion.
She hopes that from her meditations and teachings, people will learn about mindfulness and how to practice loving kindness towards one’s self and others. Mindfulness, she said, involves training the mind to be aware of what one is thinking, but also learning how to control fear and anger that rise from within.
“This is the best seeing,” she added. “Looking inside, we discover very important information which can turn our life to a wonderful direction.”
Through meditation, Lama Yeshe tries to help people learn to let go of what she calls the “inner chatter” of the brain — the constant thoughts and distractions that arise, making the mind like “a cage full of monkeys that never sit still.”
To accomplish this, she teaches Buddha’s practice of being aware of inhaling and exhaling.
“If we anchor our mind with our breathing it has something to do and it will recognize when all this chatter is distracting us,” she said. “One can count the cycle of breathing to give more emphasis on the job the mind should be doing instead of thinking and thinking and thinking.”
At Bodhi Path, Lama Yeshe leads meditations from 6 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 10 to 11 a.m. on Sundays. Everyone is welcome at the sessions and all meditations and teachings are free of charge, though donations are welcome. Lama Yeshe said she loves when people return for more than one session — even if years apart — but she embraces new visitors just as fondly.
Lama Yeshe will be on Martha’s Vineyard until late September, when she will return to Germany to teach for a few months before returning to Martha’s Vineyard again for a month in the spring. But even when Lama Yeshe is not in residence, Bodhi Path still thrives. The center is run year round with the help of volunteer coordinators Barbara Dacey and Sharon Gamsby.
“This is the great thing about the Island,” said Lama Yeshe. “I always say they are waterproof. They come shine or rain or hurricane.”
Bodhi Path also hosts several guest teachers throughout the year, in both summer and winter. This weekend, Bodhi Path is hosting a special guest, Karma Trinlay Rinpoche, the first Western teacher to have received both the full Tibetan Buddhist traditional training and a complete Western Philosophy education. Trinlay Rinpoche will teach on Saturday, August 23, from 10 to 12 p.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. and again on Sunday, August 24, from 10 to 12 p.m.
Like Lama Yeshe’s sessions, Trinlay Rinpoche’s sessions will also be free and open to all.
Bodhi Path is located at 21 Laurand Drive in West Tisbury. For directions and more information, visit bodhipath.org/marthasvineyard.