Monday, April 12, 2010

One Month Meditation Course at Kopan Monastery in Nepal

Kopan Monastery
Me at Kopan Monastery
Four years ago I had the opportunity to do the Annual November One Month Meditation Course at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was really an amazing experience, basically a dream made true. Since the first time that I saw the movie Little Buddha I dreamed to one day have the opportunity to live in a Buddhist Monastery for at least little while and to visit the Big Stupa in Boudhanath. This One Month Meditation Course gave me the opportunity to accomplish both dreams.


Anybody can do this course, even if you don't know anything about meditation or Buddhism, and it's specially useful for people who is interested in meditation according to the Buddhist tradition and who is looking for a structured teaching that can be followed step by step to bring a transformation into one's life. If you are planning to visit Kathmandu in November then you should definitely consider to give it a try.

The November course is not an intensive meditation retreat where you would sit for long periods of time observing your breath or practicing any other specific concentration or meditation technique like on the Vipassana retreat. It's more like a study program where you receive daily lectures on a specific part of the Buddhist teachings and where you will practice analytical meditations (contemplation) on the subjects covered during these lectures.


About the November One Month Meditation Course


The one month meditation course is based on the teachings of Lama Tsong Khapa, "The Graduated Path to Enlightenment" (which is based on the Lam Rim teachings). This teaching is basically a summary of all the teachings of Sakhyamuni Buddha and organized in a step by step process to be followed in order to attain enlightenment.

"The course will cover many important topics such as, to name just a few, the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the Four Noble Truths, Conventional and Ultimate Truth, Twelve Links of Dependent Origination, Bodhicitta and the Six Perfections. Additionally important topics such as the nature of mind, consciousness and buddha nature will be introduced. There is also a section on thought transformation so as to learn how to deal better with problems in daily life." From Kopan website

The course is normally given by a western monk that has been appointed by Lama Zopa Rimpoche, the director and founder of Kopan Monastery. Maybe you'll say "what!? a western monk?" but this is nothing to worry about, these teachers have been monks for many years, they are really dedicated and devoted to their Buddhist practices and they have usually studied directly with Lama Zopa Rimpoche.

It's actually a good thing to have a western monk as a teacher since he/she will be able to understand the idiosyncrasies of the western students and will be able to explain in clear English the teachings from a western point of view.

The days normally begin with the prostrations, prayers and a short breath meditation before the actual lecture starts.


Buddhist rituals

There were lots of rituals and prayers at the beginning of each day, specially when taking the 8 Mahayana Precepts during the last two weeks of the course. I think this is very important for you to be aware of so you know what to expect. Buddhist rituals can be very similar to the Catholic rituals so this might be a bit shocking, specially if you have once attended to a seminar/talk giving by a Buddhist Lama in your own country.

In such events you normally go and just listen to practical teachings giving by a respected and well known Lama, but in the monastery during the One Month Course you will be more engaged in the Buddhist practices like if you would have actually become a Buddhist.

This was actually the reason why my roommate from Mexico left during the first week. He was not happy with the Catholic rituals and then coming to the monastery and experiencing all these rituals was certainly not what he was expecting. But please know that you don't need to become a Buddhist to follow the course, not at all, just keep an open mind and enjoy the experience. You can take refuge (taking Buddhist vows) if you wish to at the end of the course though.


Buddhist Meditation

The meditation sessions during this course are not intense. They are mainly analytical meditations which last about 20 to 30 minutes. The meditations are guided by the teacher and are based on the subjects covered during the lectures, e.g. karma, death, compassion and emptiness.

I also wrote in my old blog about my personal experience in Kopan right after finishing the One Month Meditation Course. You can read about it next.


30 days in Kopan - November 2005


One month in a Buddhist monastery!!! What can I say… It was an amazing experience, I enjoyed every single second in this place, but I don’t think I would do the same course again. Some people were taking the same course already for four times!!! Wow.


Daily schedule in Kopan

We had a very tight daily schedule starting with a guided meditation at 6 in the morning. At 7 breakfast, I really liked it but every day was almost the same, porridge and chapattis with peanut butter, ohhh but this peanut butter was really good, I got so addicted to it.

At 9 we had the first lecture of the days and at 11h30 lunch time. Of course only veg. I think the lunch was the best time of the day, hmm I really enjoyed that food, I’m gonna miss it.

Discussion group for the course
My discussion group at Kopan
At 2pm group discussion for one hour to talk about anything related to the teachings, like doubts, concerns, disagreements, etc. My group discussion was great. We enjoyed our time together and once more it was sad to say good bye in the last day.





Meditation course teacher
Our Teacher - Venerable George
At 3:30pm more teachings till 5pm. I like the teacher, Venerable George, an American who has been a Buddhist monk for about 30 years I think.

After the afternoon class one hour break and another guided meditation at 6pm. At 7pm dinner, which was basically soup and chapatti with peanut butter, hmmm.

At 9pm another one hour guided meditation but I attended to this one only the first night, I rather liked to read books at that time.


Life in Kopan

Young monks at Kopan MonasteryIn Kopan there are around 360 monks from Tibet and Nepal. It was great to hear them reciting the mantras and sutras early in the morning and during the night, sometimes I felt almost like if I were in a trance. It was also nice to be surrounded by all this monks wearing their red robes. The little kids look really cute with their clothes. They study really hard all day long.

In the course there were around 300 foreigners from all around the world but many people left in the first week so I think at the end we were around 200 or 250. Still that’s a lot of people compared to the Root Institute in Bodhgaya with just 40 students.

Kopan One Month Course - November 2005 Group

During the day we had to maintain silence until lunch and since we were so busy during the day the only real time that we had to get to know each other was at dinner, but it was great anyway.

The worst thing about living in Kopan was the shower. They have solar system for hot water but even though it was always very sunny the damn water was always cold. I hated it! It was really painful but at least I didn’t need to take showers everyday ha ha, and the toilet… well you know, Indian stile.


Kopan Monastery Restaurant

There is also a restaurant but during the One Month Course the restaurant is mainly available to visitors. You can still eat at the restaurant if you want to but then you need to pay for the food, and the monastery food is actually so much better.

The program includes a 10 days fasting (only one meal a day) in accordance with the 8 Mahayana Precepts. If you really want to escape the 10 days fasting then you can sneak into this restaurant. I knew at least one guy that was doing that, but please note that when you register for the course you are committing yourself to follow all the classes and the complete program including the 10 days fasting. Fasting is actually very beneficial for the health and helps a lot in meditation.


Weather in Kathmandu:

Though cold, especially by the end of the course, you will have lots of very sunny days. I actually don't remember any cloudy or rainy days, it was always sunny and beautiful. When you are sitting outside if you find a spot under the sun you'll be very warm and won't need a sweater but if you are in the shade it will get a bit cold. You will normally be alternating between the sun and the shade because the sun can be quite strong.

Pros:

  • You'll meet like minded people from different parts of the world
  • Very good vegetarian food
  • Living between real monks and experiencing their lifestyle.
  • And of course learning the "Direct Path to Enlightenment"


Cons:

  • The cold showers
  • The 10 day fasting if you are addicted to food and you really don't want to do it, but it is part of the program so you rather get prepare for it.
  • No time left in the program to do some physical exercises. When I was there one of the students was giving Ashtanga Yoga classes but 15 minutes after lunch which is not the best for yoga or any type of exercises. If they would delay the lunch for at least half an hour it would be much better. On the other hand you can do the prostrations in the morning, I think they can be a very complete exercise for the body and mind.

Related Blog Posts:

For more information about Kopan Monastery you can read Living in a Buddhist Monastery: Kopan Monastery. You can visit the Kopan Monastery website for detailed information about the November One Month Meditation Course and any other program.

If you ever thought about living in a Buddhist monastery at least for a little while then I think the Annual November One Month Meditation Course in Kathmandu, Nepal is an excellent option. Not only you'll be able to experience the life in a Buddhist monastery like Kopan Monastery, but you will also have the opportunity to learn the teachings of Buddha and possibly transform your own life.


1 comment:

  1. Having been buddhist for over 20 years of my life (Kagyu lineage) I have a slight concern with the use of rituals.
    Rituals can be repeated and learned which leads to mimickry, which can be attached to by the ego which implies that the ego is not defeated in this meditation.
    I would like to know how enlightenment is achieved if the ego is not first eschewed?

    ReplyDelete