Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Buddhist Philosophy to Learn How to overcome disturbing emotions

Stupa at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu

I recently completed two courses in Buddhist Philosophy to learn how to overcome disturbing emotions: the five days "Overcoming Disturbing Emotions" course and the 10 days "Mind Training - Cutting the Root of Disturbing Emotions" course. After three months teaching yoga in Boudhanath, from April till June 2013, it was time to change the routine and taking these courses at beautiful Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu was a good way to end my last month in Nepal.

This was actually my second time at Kopan monastery. The first time that I stayed at Kopan was about seven years ago on my first trip to Nepal. At that time I joined the famous "One Month Meditation Course" also called "One Month Lam Rim Meditation Course" which is held every November. That was definitely a great experience.

I really enjoyed my time at Kopan. I met many wonderful people and made some great new friends and of course I learned a lot from these two courses. I got a better understanding of Buddhism and once more it became very clear to me that although Buddhism offers a great philosophy of life and I definitely want to learn more from it, it is not really my path. My path without doubt is yoga, it suits my temperament and deep beliefs. By yoga I don't mean only the physical yoga postures or asanas but mainly the practical philosophy and scientific meditation techniques.

5 Days Course at Kopan Monastery in Nepal
Group photo during the 5 days course at Kopan

Mind Training Course at Kopan Monastery in Nepal
Group photo during the Mind Training Course at Kopan

It was also really nice to once more enjoy the delicious food at Kopan monastery and especially the home made peanut butter, it's soooo good!

Buddhist Philosophy courses at Kopan

If you ask me "do these Buddhist philosophy courses really help to overcome disturbing emotions?" my answer would be yes but not straight away, it takes time and practice. Buddhist philosophy, similarly to yoga philosophy, give us the wisdom to understand the true nature of reality and by having this broad view in mind it can help to put life problems in perspective. Understanding how the ego, the identification with the body and mind, and attachment create problems for ourselves and for others can help us to make smarter choices in our daily lives and to have better responses to different life situations.

The courses were given by Ven Tenzin Chonyi, a lovely Buddhist nun from Australia who is a retired psychotherapist, and with the assistance of David Marks who was a monk for more than 30 years but who now chooses to wear no robes. You can see them both in the second group photo above. Ven Tenzin Chonyi is also the author of a book called Enough!: A Buddhist Approach to Finding Release from Addictive Patterns

They are both excellent teachers. Chonyi has a remarkable ability to answer any question according to the Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist tradition, without taking even a second to think. David was guiding the morning and evening meditation and he was also helping with some of the Q&A sessions. He is also really good at answering questions giving lengthy explanations based on different Buddhist traditions.

Geshe Thubten Sherab at Kopan Monastery
Geshe Thubten Sherab
We also had the opportunity to have Geshe Thubten Sherab for a couple of Q&A sessions. He is the Head Master of Kopan Monastery and has been a monk basically all his life. He has an amazing sense of humor and although he is very experienced and knowledgeable in the Tibetan Buddhism tradition he is really humble; everybody loves him. And we were lucky enough to receive from him the oral transmission to the Heart Sutra, the essence of the Buddhist philosophy on emptiness, after a request from our side. You can read more about Geshe Sherab in this article published by the Mandala magazine: The Master from the New Generation – Geshe Thubten Sherab.

I think what I enjoyed the most from both courses were these Q&A sessions and the group discussions. I just asked a couple of questions during both courses, but there were tons of really good questions made by the other guys doing the course. The answers would help us all to gain more clarity about the subjects that we were studying, and from time to time of course we would discuss about subjects not directly related to the course.

Another thing that I liked about these courses is that they were focused more on the teachings than on the rituals. When I did the "One Month Meditation Course" I was surprised by all the Buddhist rituals. So I actually enjoyed a lot more the 10 days "Mind Training - Cutting the Root of Disturbing Emotions" course because it was more practical (although some people might disagree) and because we were able to go deeper in the subjects that we were studying. We spend a good amount of time discussing about "emptiness" which is my favorite teaching from the Buddhist tradition.

Overcoming Disturbing Emotions

The five days course "Overcoming Disturbing Emotions" was an introduction to the ten days course "Mind Training - cutting the root of disturbing emotions".

I wasn't able to identify a structure on the course. We talked about many different subjects like the power of habits, karma, wisdom, compassion, the mind, the self but the main emphasis was on recognizing the ego and attachment as the source of all disturbing emotions.

We used the book "Ego, Attachment and Liberation" which is a transcript of the same course given by Lama Yeshe, one of the founders of Kopan Monastery. It's a really good book and I can totally recommend you to read it. The books are free and are included as part of the course material but you can find it in Kindle for just 0.99 cents using the link below.

"When you achieve mental equilibrium beyond the two extremes of attachment and hatred, your inner nature is even and peaceful instead of conflicted. The experience of inner equality also gives you a vision of beauty when you look at the outside world." Ego, Attachment and Liberation - Lama Yeshe

Basically we learned to use visualizations to train ourselves in changing the responses that certain situations trigger on us. For instance, if you have a phobia to an insect you can try to visualize yourself in a situation where you might experience this phobia, identifying your emotional and physical responses. Then you can and try to change your emotional response by focusing on a different emotion or feeling like peace, calmness and serenity. This simple exercise can really help to reduce your phobia or fears next time that you are confronted with a similar situation.

Another technique was to change our perceptions of problems by trying to see them as tools to develop good virtues. The point is that without problems we wouldn't be able to find out which are our weaknesses and where we need to work on, so we can actually feel grateful for the problems that we have because they give us a great opportunity for personal growth.

Mind Training - cutting the root of disturbing emotions

The "Mind Training - cutting the root of disturbing emotions" course was more interesting, more structured and deeper. After we finished the first course Chonyi warned us by saying that the second course would be very deep and intense.

I said to myself "hmmm, how intense can it be? It's just a simple Buddhist course". But I was wrong, it was intense indeed because the course challenged peoples believes and also because we had to reflect a lot and get in touch with past hurts or traumas. There was a lot to think about.

During some of the guided meditations like the meditation on death and the meditation on compassion many people felt some strong emotional reactions. You can read my post "Reflections on Suffering, Compassion and Karma" to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

The course was based on a text called "The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation". The idea is to contemplate on this verses to develop a different mental attitude like compassion, humbleness and wisdom towards different challenging situations. I'm planning to write more about these eight verses in my next blog post.

For this course we used another excellent book that I can suggest you get right away called "Virtue and Reality" based on previous talks given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the other founder of Kopan Monastery. This books talks mainly about compassion and emptiness. You can also find this book in kindle for 0.99 cents using the link below.

"If all sentient beings get angry at you and harm you or even kill you, you are just one person. But if that one person, you, doesn't practice compassion, the good heart, numberless other sentient beings are at risk of being harmed by you - there's the great risk that the one person, you, will harm numberless others. Therefore, whether other people practice compassion or not, first you should do so. Develop the good heart." Virtue and Reality - Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Course rules

The courses at Kopan are given in a retreat environment so we were requested to keep silence everyday starting after the evening program and until the next day after lunch. We also had to avoid any contact with the outside world so they asked us not to use the small internet cafe at the monastery.

I had no problem with no using the internet, even though I could easily access the internet on my phone, but I have to be honest, I didn't feel like keeping the silence. I had spent four months in Nepal all by myself so I already had had plenty of silence, I actually needed to talk so I decided that if somebody felt like braking the rules and talk I would definitely be up for it, and luckily I did find such friends.

Course Schedule

The schedule for both courses were exactly the same

06:00 Morning bell
06:00 Tea in the dining room
06:45 Meditation
07:30 Breakfast
09:30 Teachings and meditation with break
11:30 Lunch

14:00 Discussion group
15:00 Break
15:30 Teaching & meditation with break
17:00 Tea
17:45 Meditation
18:30 Dinner
19:45 Evening session

Suggested further reading

I suggest you read my friend Dennis Kopp's blog "See The World In My Eyes" to get more information about these courses and to get a different perspective. I met Dennis at Kopan Monastery and we became good friends. He has been traveling all around the world for the last three years and he's been blogging about his travels and experiences in his blog.

He wrote in more detail about the different topics that we covered during these two courses and about the main teachings that we learned:

Related blog posts:

You can find more information about Kopan Monastery here: Living in a Buddhist monastery: Kopan Monastery

If you have the opportunity to visit Nepal and if you are interested to learn how to overcome disturbing emotions or just to deal better with life problems then I would definitely recommend you to visit Kopan Monastery and join some of the Buddhist Philosophy courses, it might be a life changing experience. I can recommend the five days "Overcoming Disturbing Emotions" course and/or the 10 days "Mind Training - Cutting the Root of Disturbing Emotions" course or any other course that is available when you are visiting Kopan monastery.


  1. I too have been attracted to Buddhist teachings but always find myself more into Yoga philosophy than Buddhist.

    The technique u mentioned of replacing fear with a good emotion... I can't remember but I think I've seen it somewhere on TV maybe. a man scared of snakes was able to stay in a room with a snake all alone after he had replaced his fear.

    I'm just soo happy to read your experiences... It inspires me lot n adds one more place to visit on my lists... :)

    Thanks for the extensive reading suggestions...

  2. Hi Anisha, yeah I have the same problem, yoga philosophy is more appealing to me but there is always so much to learn from all the different traditions. I read another article by Dennis about two different Buddhist traditions, Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, and it makes me think of how different they can be and how much there is to learn. But it would take way too long to explore them all so better to focus on one path like the gurus recommend :-)

    Thank you for your kind comment, I'm happy to know that you feel inspired by reading my blog :-)