My Experience of 10 day “Introduction to Buddhism” course in Kopan Monastery
If you feel you are in search of answers, going through some difficulty, have a specific situation you struggle to find meaning for, are religious, spiritual, believe in karma any of the ‘woo-woo-things’ or even none of the above (you can be perfectly content and successful) – I can tell you a community which will open their home for you, take you with open arms, feed you amazing food and teach you a thing or two about life and you.
And so I returned from a 10 day “Introduction to Buddhism” course in Kopan Monastery Kathmandu, Nepal. I “locked” myself away from people (or so I thought, there was about 150 of us!) because I am interested in all religions (Buddhism in particular) and wanted to learn to meditate from the best.
So did I? Truthfully, I feel I have really good basics now (I am sure you will agree one cannot reach Nirvana in 10 days). I’ll need to continue making time for my meditation regularly to be able to observe tangible results. For those who do not know the benefits of meditation I highly recommend doing your own research. That will also assert you that it is not just some sect-like, mysterious indulgence that only those religious of us perform. Meditation nowadays is actually a very well researched topic and it’s processes well understood by the scientists to prove improved memory and concentration, stress relief and considerably improved life quality. Used well, meditation can act as an antidote for depression (goodbye prozac!).
You Need to Do the Work
Day 7 was a breaking point for me. I pinned the yellow ribbon on me at the beginning of the week (you can chose to wear a yellow ribbon which signifies your wish not to be approached for a conversation if you feel you need to do some thinking), and midday Tuesday already felt very down. I felt like calling Saule and asking him to pick me up as I didn’t want to continue the course. It just felt like an overdose of information, too much analysis on the feelings and the deeds. A bit too much weight on the shoulders. Not talking or otherwise interacting with people made all the thoughts and emotions bubble up to the surface. I wanted to sit through it and be brave and just feel it, but instead I took off the ribbon and went to a coffee shop to get some distractions. And it worked. The rest of the day went through unnoticed chatting, laughing and sharing. Thats the thing with these silent retreats – you have to be ready to face your deepest darkest emotions. As we meditated on death and anger and attachments, your body shows you how anxious you still are, how hurt, how unforgiving, how much you still need to work on your thoughts, kindness and forgiveness.
Day 9 and Day 10 were dedicated for the silent retreat where everyone kept silence and had no other means of communication (not even an eye contact). The entire day is divided into multiple sessions of meditation morning through evening. And here we go again with the emotions. This time I did not have a choice to ditch this and go talk to someone to distract the feelings. This time I sat and felt. And I was patient with myself. And learnt to be patient with others. And have been learning and growing throughout. That’s why I had come here after-all.
Am I a Buddhist now?
My answer is: I am everything, really (just like I was before). Buddhism does not ask you to believe in Buddhas’ teachings unconditionally and have faith blindly. It asks you to take a concept and analyse, much like science does with its hypothesis and experiments. There are some ‘woo-woo’ stories in Buddhism too, but you don’t need to believe them if it feels unrealistic or alien for you. You can still meditate and gather knowledge of the world. From all religions or beliefs. Buddha is not a God and therefore did not ask to follow only his teachings. Although, you must do good in the world, because Karma is “watching you”.
What about the monks ant the teeny tiny monklets then? They wake up 4-5am to start their day (the chants were my alarm for the week). Poor families, local families, families around the Everest region send their 8-9 year-old children to study. Not all of them become ordained monks as they have a choice to leave at the age of 18-20. It is a kind of privilege and good Karma if your child becomes a monk/nun. Kopan is very proud to provide the children with really good quality of education (the local schools cannot compare to the level of education one can get at Kopan). Children study language, history, sciences alongside their Tibetan language, philosophy and Dharma.
Anyone can support childs’ education by donations. For only $1 per day a Nepali child can have a future! And it is not just one child – the entire family of that child can then remove themselves from poverty. Another way to earn Karma ‘points’ for yourself is to come to volunteer. Kopan and other monasteries (not only in Nepal, but throughout the world) are constantly looking for an extra pair of hands and brain (teachers). So please consider a possibility to give back something to the society and to those who most probably need it the most.
It was actually unbelievable how many different kind and bright people from all over the world made arrangements to come to this unbelievably crazy and beautiful country to learn more about Buddhism and learn to meditate. I met amazing people: a Portuguese lady living in Spain who works in the same field I do, a Spanish guy living in Belgium who came to teach monklets science, Brazilian guy gave me tips on how to get to Machu Picchu, a woman from Peru recommended to spend my New Years in Rio de Janeiro as nothing compares to the party they throw, Indian paediatrician gave consultation on the benefits of the keto diet, Argentinian pilot invited to stay with him in Warsaw and Jacarta if we ever get there, a professional mountain climber recommended best hikes in the Himalayas, doctor from Poland, a nurse from Australia, astronomy student from San Francisco, personal trainers, business owners, salesmen, grandparents, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, French, Danish, Swiss, German, Singaporean, British, N.Irish, Scottish, Austrian, Hungarian.. the whole world seemed to be in Kopan and meditating.
What other cool things did I get to do in those 10 days?
Every morning I was practicing my yoga with a spectacular view of a neighbouring monastery. We went to check out how the nuns are producing the scents to be shipped across the world, observed monks debate (a type of mind analysis), watched a documentary on reincarnation of Tibetan Lama. We gathered in the garden to light up about a million candles and stood there taking in all the goodness of the entire week.
I had a 1on1 session with our teacher Geshe to go over some questions that I had and braved myself to actually ask him if he is really happy. He said he is more happy than his married friends – ‘I am free’ – he added. Mindblowing! A monk who has more than 200 vows feels free. How come we westerners most of the time are so stuck and tied down to one place or one job or one theory or one religion or one person or one opinion or one particular attitude.
One profound thing that I learned is: let go. So thats the answer for you, just stop being so attached and obsessed. Let go and appreciate what you have. Because, oh boy, are we privileged and do have more than we will ever need!!
All in all, I cannot recommend this meditation course enough (or any course in Kopan for that matter). 10 days of my life spent keeping still, hearing (and assessing) my thoughts in my head, reflecting, breathing. 10 days: just you (you can chose to wear a yellow ribbon anytime you want), some 150 souls, eat, sleep, study and meditation. Absolute Bliss. I so much enjoyed the precious time, I did not get a chance to miss anyone.