Sunday, September 8, 2013

What it's like Living in a Buddhist Monastery in Nepal (Kopan)

My Experience Living in a Buddhist Monastery

How you ever dreamed of living in a Buddhist monastery to enjoy some peace and harmony surrounded by Buddhist monks and to have the opportunity to enrich your life with the Buddhist teachings? Well, I had the same dream and it became reality when I visited Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The first time that I stayed at Kopan was in Novemer 2005 for the One Month Meditation Course, more than seven years ago, and last June I was able to come back to Kopan for a couple of short term courses, the "Healing Disturbing Emotions" course and "Mind Training - Cutting the roots of negative emotions". That experience brought me back some wonderful memories from my first stay at Kopan.

Living in a Buddhist monastery: Kopan Monastery

Kopan Monastery was founded by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the recognized reincarnation of the Lawudo Lama who meditated in a cave for about 20 years, and by his master Lama Yeshe.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche Founder of Kopan Monastery

The monastery is located in a hill from where you can have a wonderful view of the Kathmandu valley. The views from the canteen, where they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, are just breathtaking, especially during the winter mornings. Imagine having an astonishing view of the sunrise while you sit in silence enjoying your breakfast

Kathmandu Valley View From Kopan Monastery

There are around 360 monks living in this Buddhist monastery. It is kind of magical to be surrounded by all these monks wearing their robes. The little kids look really cute in their clothes.

Monks Living in Kopan Monastery

It is a wonderful experience to hear them reciting the mantras and sutras early in the morning and during the night.

Buddhist retreats and courses at Kopan Monastery

Doing a Buddhist meditation course at Kopan it's definitely a great experience. Not only you'll be able to learn the basic teachings of Buddhism or even deepen your knowledge and practice but you'll also be able to make some great new friendships with like-minded people. To me, both are really valuable experiences.

Kopan offers many different courses each year, for beginners and for advanced Buddhist practitioners. You can check their website for a detailed list of all their courses:

The most popular course is the "Annual One Month Lam Rim Course" which is held every November. Hundreds of people come from all around the world to join this course. It is ideal for complete beginners but also for advanced practitioners. Some people repeat this course more than once.

The groups in some of the other courses can be much smaller, fifty or even fifteen people, but even if there are hundreds of people Kopan maintains its peace and tranquility since during most part of the day the participants need to maintain silence. And if you really want to enjoy complete peace and tranquility then staying at the monastery in between courses is a great option.

Kopan Monastery accommodation:

You can visit Kopan Monastery at any time but during the courses or retreats, the accommodation is reserved only for the people doing the courses.

They offer different types of accommodation like single rooms, double rooms with attached bathrooms or shared bathrooms and dormitories.  Now they have a brand new building with very comfortable rooms including a kitchen and a fridge.

The other rooms that I've seen are very small and simple but good enough, and most of the bathrooms are Asian style, meaning you need to squat to use the toilets.

My dormitory during the One Month Meditation Course was luckily located next to the gompa where the course was being held.  So I didn't have to walk that long during the cold mornings and I could go there earlier than everybody to do my meditation.

Ohh and the shower.... that was an experience. They have solar panels for the hot water, but honestly.... they hardly worked.

I remember they told us from the beginning of the One Month Course "try not to take showers every day." I don't remember why they told us (probably to save water) but don't worry, during the winter months you certainly won't take showers every day, it will be way too cold.

One of the guys wrote in one of the shower taps "cold" and in the other one "sometimes not so cold!". I wonder if they do it purposely, just to train your mind. There are different showers in different locations around the monastery but as far as I remember they all had the same problem.

The food at Kopan Monastery

Oh, I love the food at Kopan Monastery, it made living in a Buddhist monastery a gratifying experience.

For breakfast, you can have jasmine tea, chai (milk with black tea), milk porridge, muesli, bread ( Tibetan bread and sometimes multigrain bread) jam and homemade peanut butter to get addicted to.

Homemade Peanut Butter Kopan Monastery

For lunch you'll get a delicious vegetarian meal, very varied and well balanced, I believe, including sprouts and one or two fruits, normally an apple and a banana.

For dinner, you'll get the same type of bread as in the breakfast, the peanut butter, and warm soup. Nothing to complain about, unless you need a gluten-free diet.

Lunch at Kopan Monastery

Lunch at Kopan Monastery

If you fall in love with the food you can buy the Kopan Cooking Book where you can even find the recipe for the peanut butter. I bought it but to be honest I've never used it.

When there are no courses going on at the monastery the food tends to be more simple and less varied, so if you enjoy eating as I do then I suggest you plan your visit to Kopan to join one of their courses.

And if you want to get a better taste of the food at Kopan then you can take a look at my friend Dennis Kopp blog: Vegetarian Food at Kopan Monastery

Monastery services:

There is a good library that you can visit during your free time to borrow any book that you might like. It has mainly books about Buddhism though I also found some books about yoga philosophy like the "Bhagavad Gita."

There is a book store full of really good books.  So be prepared, maybe you'll want to buy lots of books there. They will also have some other small things like CDs, DVDs, malas and more.

There is also a restaurant at the monastery but honestly, I don't see why you would like to eat there cause the monastery food is so much better.  But it's nice to go to the restaurant for some tea or ice cream and to hang out with the other students whenever you have free time.

They also have an internet cafe with three or four computers but during the courses, they usually ask you to avoid using the internet so you can focus more on the teachings.

If you need wifi then you can go try one of the small restaurants just outside the monastery. Another option is, if you have a smartphone, to get a Ncell sim card and activate the mobile internet on your phone 24/7.

Weather in Kathmandu:

During winter time, between December and March, it can get pretty cold so you'll need a few layers, a winter hat and even winter socks (you can't use shoes inside the gompas).

A good sleeping bag can be useful but you can also rent a blanket from the reception. Between June and August it's the monsoon season so make sure you bring with you a raincoat or an umbrella.

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How to reach Kopan Monastery

From Boudhanath, you can walk all the way to Kopan in about 40 minutes, but if you are carrying your luggage with you then the best is to take a taxi.

If you are good at bargaining then you could get a taxi for 250 Nepalese rupees. From Thamel it's normally more expensive, probably around 450 rupees. You gotta tell the taxi driver "Kopan Gompa" and they will know that you mean the monastery.  If you say only Kopan the taxi will drive you only to the Kapan village.

You can also take the taxi straight from the airport. According to the Kopan website, a prepaid taxi from the airport to Kopan should be around 750 rupees but I think you could bargain passing the parking lot for perhaps 500 rupees. From the airport to Thamel I have paid 400 rupees.

Kopan Monastery
P.O. Box 817
Kathmandu, Nepal
Phone: +977 14821268
Fax: +977 14820267

You can visit the Kopan Monastery website for more information about the monastery and about the different programs that they offer.

If you want to have the experience of living in a Buddhist monastery and to get immersed in the Buddhist teachings then I can recommend you to visit Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu and to consider doing one or more of the courses available in their yearly program.

I know there are many other monasteries in Nepal, India, Thailand and other Asian countries where you could live and study for some time, but so far I'm only familiar with Kopan.

If you know about any other Buddhist monasteries in Asia where people can live and study then please feel free to share them in the comment section below.


  1. Me and a friend of mine were wanting to do the one month retreat, but I was wondering if they'd allow us to be roommates, or would they normally choose who your roommate would be?

    1. Hi Ashley, I think if you register at the same time they might just put you in the same room, otherwise you can always ask. Of course, only if you are both girls, couples cannot share the same room. I'm not sure though what is the rule for married couples.