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Kopan Monastery retreat in Kathmandu

One month retreat (18th Nov to 18th Dec 2009)… in the renowned monastery named Kopan… Tibetan Bouddhism classes (in English) with about 230 students… all, we were gathering to share those teachings… beginners, confirmed, curious seeking for their self, we all have lived our own rich experience…!

Planning 05h30 – 06h00 : prostrations (option) 06h00 – 06h30 : tea 06h30 – 07h30 : meditation 07h30 – 08h00 : breakfast 08h00 – 09h00 : karma yoga (cleaning, tidying etc…) 09h00 – 11h30 : bouddhist teachings 11h30 – 12h30 : lunch 12h30 – 14h00 : break 14h00 – 15h00 : discussion group 15h00 – 17h00 : bouddhist teachings 17h00 – 18h00 : tea 18h00 – 19h00 : meditation 19h00 – 20h00 : dinner 20h00 – 21h00 : teachings or meditation

When I arrived at the monastery, I thought I would be totally isolated from the world, from people, from everything… I found myself with 230 others students from all around the world & a place with more than 360 monks (children & adults) ! A place full of warm & sweet vibes, where everyone gives its best, where one try to put one’s flaws aside & learn to live in “community”…

Before arriving, I bought everything i could have the use of, I was afraid to run out of soap, handkerchief, washing powder… & in there, I found a shop with all the toilet case and even cakes, potato chips, chocolate bar, drinks, candies… & on top of that, a coffee shop !

I thought I was going to eat “less” but the cafeteria dishes were so so delicious & it was possible to have more if you’d still be hungry. Fruits & vegetables of the season, I ate organic & veggie food during my whole journey in Nepal… I felt my body found it really healthy… During this month, i’ve decided to eat only what the monastery offered me, nothing more… I’ve never got starving & no deficiency, my body said thanks to me for this really healthy food…

I thought I won’t “be allowed” to read & write… but since the first day, the monastery gave us teachings & prayers books for our learning. At the monastery entrance, there were not only a library but a books shop & souvenirs shop, one could spend hours strolling between all these books & spiritual items. My diary was then the confident of my days in this place out of time & of my evolution in the most magical environment…

Every day, we should not talk from the morning awakening until 12h30 (after lunch). Sometimes, it was the whole day… I have to recognize that these moments of silence make me feel really good! The aim wasn’t ‘not to talk’ but ‘not to communicate’, just remain with “your Self”…

Bouddhism, it’s not a philosophy, it’s a real religion composed of its prayers, its rituals, its beliefs… I didn’t know there was so much to learn, to practise… I was totally immersed in this Buddhist veil… I wanted to do this retreat 100% to know if I’d like to take refuge in Buddha or not, if in my bad times, I’d like to take refuge in Buddha & ask for his help. Therefore, I followed scrupulously, seriously & with concentration all the rules, teachings & prayers… I was convinced by most of the teachings (but my Heart beats around Mother Nature)… I think that Buddhism helps you to question yourself & having Buddha as a guide cannot be harmful… Quite the contrary, all the teachings help one to improve his future… in this life & the other one (if you believe in reincarnation)… Buddhist concepts can be totally followed even if one is not Buddhist, the important is to accomplish good actions every day. Nevertheless, to reach enlightenment, one has to put all his faith in Buddha… To sum up, if you make good actions & you don’t follow Buddha, you cannot reach the great enlightenment… But think positive & accomplish good actions, it’s already a good start…!

I’m not going to sum up the teachings because I’m unable to do that & it would be totally incomplete : in 1 month teachings, I’ve only have learnt a small part of what Buddha wanted us to understand, one have to immerse himself in this universe to feel & discover Buddhism & its beneficial effects… If your Heart feels it, just do it…! ;)

I had no idea about what i was going to do… I discovered a huge hall for meditation & teachings called Gompa (Gom = meditate – Pa = place)

How can you do for not becoming completely soaked with Buddhism in a place like this one : Buddhas statues, lamas, pictures, paintings, frescos… a warm place to learn serenely, at the best conditions…

One « master », many « masters », many subjects…

He was called Venerable Thubten Dondrub : strong character monk, franc & the example of humility… He taught us Tibetan Buddhism. I like him, each class was for me a new lesson of Life ! The most memorable teaching was probably the one he taught about relation between Mother-Child, I think that half of the students were crying as we’ve all seen our own experience in his talks…

His intendant that gave us “analytic” meditation class (about the teachings of the moment), I don’t remember his name (shame on me!) ; an Israeli monk really nice & with a lot of humour. One day, at the beginning of a meditation, the entire room burst of laughter ; I don’t really remember why but I felt so good to weep with laughter ! What a monk !

Venerable Ani Karin, a nun with the sweetest voice of the world & a bright smile that can knock you over… a woman that radiate nice vibes, it is just impossible to feel any angriness when you see her…

Khenrinpoche Geshe Lhundrup, the monastery abbot. An exceptional being, always smiling & so sweet… He is as small as his heart is big… ! A Love being… He inspires compassion & respect.

& obviously, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the excellent one ! The most enlightened lama I had the chance to meet… He has a special way to teach, I had the impression that he was “taking soundings” in us, that he could read our mind before beginning the class; he never prepares before, he just felt vibes to know how we were this day… & he began… I didn’t have any special “connection” with him as some of the students had… but it’s sure that from him radiates a “light” that inspires respect… It is said that he never sleeps because he has to work hard if he wants to help “Human beings” to reach enlightenment. He gives, gives & gives… tirelessly…

Kopan Monastery, Long Life Puja Ceremonie–2UDGg

& to meet all these monks & people of the monastery who help to make this retreat the best for us… all so nice people… & students, people, cultures from all around the world… One learns to live with each other, to discover the Other… & everyone is so sweet, we are all here to learn about Buddhism, this pacific religion in which Love & Compassion are highlighted… therefore, we all feel good together… every day is a new challenge with yourself, against our own fears, our devils… but all this takes place in a haven of peace, it helps! One learns & one makes progress, & finally you feel you grow up…!

Teachings I particularly remember (these are my own experiences with my own living experience) :

  • All I see, I feel come from me, from my own inner self. Others don’t act on me but it’s myself who acts on others… All I see, I create it by myself ! A person is beautiful because I think she is beautiful. She answers to my own criteria. Maybe you will find her not beautiful at all. A situation is difficult because I find it difficult. If to do a speech in front of a lot of people seems hard to me, maybe for you it would be easy as pie. Therefore, everything depends on me & on the way I see the world.

  • My enemies are my best friends, thanks to them, I will learn more. If I am someone impatient & someone I don’t like knows that & makes me feel angry, it’s with this person that I will practise patience every day, it’s through this person that I will work on this flaw… My friends are often like me, I have good relations with them & when there are problems, they are solved in a soft way… The enemy doesn’t care & needn’t to take it easy, he knows how to make me suffer, he knows how to make me react! The reaction belongs to us: either you brood over things or you work on improving yourself ! ;)

  • Everything appears like a rainbow. Something appears if all the factors are created, otherwise nothing appears. In the same way, joy (happiness, peace…), suffering (jealousy, anger…) need factors to appear & it’s all pass by us, our way to see the world. Nothing exists by itself, only us give life to these feelings. Today, I feel in a good mood & if someone bumps into me, I won’t be upset. The factor “good mood” goes beyond the factor “bump into”. Another day, I could be upset and even fight or worst…

  • I think I am independent from others, a permanent entity, immutable, self-sufficient. However, does the “I” really exist ? We are in fact ignorant; we don’t want to recognize the permanent interconnection between each other. I can breathe the fresh air of the forest because trees exist to create a forest & the oxygen. I can eat what I eat thanks to people who worked for this vegetable to be here right now on my plate. This vegetable was planted by someone, was delivered by someone, was put on display by someone etc… We are always in relation with others, therefore it is impossible to live without them… & to recognize Others is to know how to live in harmony because everyone has its place.

Special days when we celebrated festivals, memorable days when we felt heavenly beings among us, they were there to help us to “open”… thousands of lights illuminating stupas (monuments sheltering relics & symbolizing the holy spirit of enlightened beings), stars on earth to illuminate us…

At Tsongkhapa festival (on the honour of this holy being who brought Buddhism in Tibet), each of us lit a candle on the top of Bodnath, all the students from the monastery, we repeated prayers, drank milk tea, a VIP ticket because we were the only one allowed to go up there.. It was magically gorgeous…

During the Puja ceremony (offerings) at the monastery, monks & students sang walking around the Stupa & the site. Everyone has colourful lanterns, buildings were illuminated & candles were put everywhere… the ambiance was so sweet accompanied by Buddhist mantras…

Few « Plus » that mark me

  • Definition of the word « love » is the wish for others to be happy (so different from our definition, I let you see by yourself )

  • There is not only one Buddha (I don’t remember how many exactly) before Siddhartha Buddha, though his other name is Sakyamuni Bouddha.

  • Buddhism I practise with my family is called Theravada (Small Vehicle), at Kopan, I learnt Mahayana Buddhism (Great Vehicle). To make it short, Theravada Buddhism stops when the Nirvana is reached. Mahayana goes beyond. After reaching Nirvana, you can reincarnate to help other people to reach enlightenment.

  • At the monastery, there were 2 kids’ reincarnations. One of them is Geshe Lama Konchog reincarnation. I watched the video about how they found the kid, I also saw the boy, it is so impressive how he does so amazing things for his age. Geshe Lama Konchog came back on Earth to help people to get enlightenment. He gave indication about where to find him. I invite you to watch this video to make your own opinion

  • Many people that become Buddhist had a revelation one day in their life. One of them told me that at the age of 8, she wanted a statue of Buddha & asked her mum to buy it; another one told me that he met monks & lamas in the most unlikely places, it was signs…

  • Mantras are very powerful songs that have a really transcendental effects on me ; ;

Few more vocabulary words

Buddha: ‘an awaken one’ ; a person who attained the Mahayana path of no more learning & has thus purified all faults & developed all qualities. This makes a Buddha perfect guide for sentient beings. Only a Buddha can act in the world while remaining in meditative equipoise on cessation.

Buddhism tradition: continuous lineage of Buddha’s teachings in which his realisations are preserved. Most of the most important Tibetan traditions closely related are the Nyingma, Kadam (doesn’t exist separately anymore nowadays), Kogyu, Sakya, Gelug.

Buddhicitta: the mind of enlightenment or the awakening mind; an altruistic consciousness aiming for full enlightenment for the purpose of achieving the benefit of all beings.

Dharma: the teaching of a Buddha; the spiritual teachings & practices that protect one from suffering & lead to nirvana or full enlightenment.

Geshe: in the Gelug order of Tibetan Buddhism, a degree of doctrinal learning gained by a monk who has mastered the five principal themes of logic, perfections, Madhyamika philosophy, Abhidharma (phemenology) & Vinaya (discipline).

Guru (sanskrit) – Lama (Tibetan): spiritual guide, master.

Karma: the mental factor of intention that moves & directs its concomitant mind to the object. Karma makes the mind manifest & has the function of causing it to engage involuntary with virtue, non-virtue or neutral phenomena. There is karma of intention & the intended karma. The karma of intention is the causal karma that initiates an action, and the intended karma is the karma at the time of the action.

Mahayana: ‘Great Vehicle’. The Boddhisattvas way which leads to the complete illumination of Bouddhism.

Nirvana: the unconditional peace that is realized through becoming liberated from cyclic existence.

Rinpoche: title used for incarnated lamas & spiritual masters that means “Precious”.

Samsara: cycling existence of suffering from birth to death, where our mind is controlled by disillusion because of our ignorance of the true nature of reality.

Sangha: community of monks & nuns that are following the Dharma.

Sakyamuni Buddha: from the Sakya clan, Gantama the awaken one. The 4th among the thousand Buddha of the present age, dispenser of the Dharma in India (VI-s BC)

Sutra: a discourse attributed to the historical Buddha Sakyamuni delivered to a general audience of followers of either Hinayana or Mahayana predisposition.

Tantra: a specialized discourse attributed to the historical Buddha, often in the form of tantric divinity, to a select audience of Mahayana followers in which secret, doctrines & practices were taught, leading to the swift attainment of full enlightenment.

Yogi(ni): the one who follows the discipline, the ‘yoga’ of a tantric spiritual way.

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