SAT CHIT ANAND
KOPAN MONASTERY, KATHMANDU, NEPAL
How wonderful it would be
if all sentient beings had happiness and the causes of happiness!
May they have happiness and its causes!
How wonderful it would be
if all sentient beings were free from suffering and its causes!
May they be free from suffering and its causes!
LAMA ZOPA RINPOCHE
Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche is spiritual head of Kopan Monastery, and co-founder (with Lama Yeshe) of a worldwide network of Buddhist centers. He is widely respected as a great Bodhisattva, and has thousands of Eastern and Western disciples, both lay and monastic. He travels and teaches extensively around the world, tirelessly engaging in the work of saving sentient beings and guiding them on the Path to Enlightenment. His kindness, compassion and wisdom are enlightened qualities that indicate the greatness of his being.
Kopan is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Nepal. It is large and impressive, with about 200 resident monks, who graciously share their monastery with the many Western students who come here to study Tibetan Buddhism. Kopan is situated on top of Kopan Hill and overlooks the Kathmandu Valley. As you ascend the hill, you have the distinct impression of leaving the mundane world behind, and you arrive at the monastery gates, where the two worlds meet, separated by high walls. We were to spend the next month behind those walls, with virtually no contact with the outside world. We were to live as monastics, and to renounce the temporal pleasures of this world and this life. It was a good opportunity to notice the extent of your attachment to samsara!
LAM RIM PATH TO ENLIGHTENMENT
Listen with clear minds, you fortunate ones,
who direct your minds to the path pleasing to Buddha,
who strive to make good use of leisure and opportunity,
and are not attached to the joys of samsara.
[Lama Tsong Khapa]
Kopan Monastery gives annual one-month courses on classical Tibetan Buddhist teachings known as the LAM RIM PATH TO ENLIGHTENMENT. The Lam Rim is a presentation of the progressive stages of spiritual development, culminating in Enlightenment, the ultimate development of the potential of the mind. A release from suffering and limiting perceptions, the peace and bliss of Enlightenment benefits all beings. Everybody wants liberation, but you cannot attain enlightenment without creating the causes of enlightenment, namely, following a spiritual path. The Lam Rim is the foundation and essence of the Path to Enlightenment. It is the integration of the 84 000 teachings given by the Buddha. It shows how suffering and delusion are gradually transformed into enlightened wisdom.
“Seeds of delusion are dependent on causes and conditions, and may be changed by creating other causes and conditions. This needs continuous effort and diligent practice. The antidote to eliminate ignorance and delusion, and the suffering they cause, is to cultivate wisdom. So we need to learn and practice. Practicing the Path and developing compassion is the best contribution we can make to bring peace to the world. Make the purpose of your life to benefit all sentient beings. This is what gives meaning to life.” [Lama Zopa]
The Lam Rim is a graduated Path to Enlightenment. The SMALL SCOPE (beginners) is designed to free you from the dangers of a bad rebirth and to ensure a good rebirth. One is not merely concerned with this life – one starts contemplating death and the afterlife, and wants to obtain a good rebirth in the next life. The MEDIUM SCOPE (intermediate practitioners) is designed to free you from rebirth in cyclic existence. One is aware of the sufferings of this and future lives, and wants to get out of samsara altogether - one seeks complete liberation from samsara. The GREAT SCOPE (advanced practitioners) is the aspiration to attain Enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, and the altruistic intention to free oneself and others from the sufferings of samsara.
The schedule is very demanding. It started at 05h30 with prostrations, taking of precepts, and early morning meditation. It was cold and dark and the valley was covered in a thick blanket of mist. It required discipline to get out of bed, but was well worth the effort. You felt on top of the world, as you watched the sun dissolve the mist from your high vantage point; and the meditations and purification practices dissolved the mist inside your mind, bringing clarity and heightened awareness.
After breakfast, there is karma yoga (working meditation), and the morning teaching session. The Lam Rim is a systematic teaching and covers topics from guru devotion, taking refuge, different realms of existence, suffering of samsara, causes of suffering including ignorance, delusion, karma, cessation of suffering, the path leading to nirvana, ethics, dependent co-arising, bodhichitta, bodhisattva, emptiness and enlightenment. There is a lot to learn!
After lunch, there is Dharma discussion, and the afternoon teaching session, then tea and a guided meditation. This is followed by dinner, and the evening session, which usually ended at about 21h00, except when Lama Zopa was teaching, then it ended at midnight. Lama Zopa never gets tired – he is definitely connected to the universal source of energy! Attendance at all sessions was mandatory unless you were sick. At the end of the course, we deserved T-shirts with the slogan ‘I survived the Kopan Meditation Course’. Spiritual stamina is necessary!
Participation in the course required strict observance of the course conduct. Noble silence was maintained from the evening meditation session until noon of the following day. We were required to dress properly (no exposed shoulders or legs for the ladies) and not disturb or distract the monks in their studies and practice. We had to observe the 5 basic Buddhist precepts: no killing (including animals, therefore vegetarian food); no stealing; no lying; no sexual activity (men and women were accommodated separately); and no intoxicants (including alcohol, tobacco and drugs). During the last two weeks of the course, we had to observe the 8 Mahayana precepts, which included an additional three: one meal a day which must be eaten before noon; no sitting on high or luxurious seats or sleeping on high or luxurious beds (no chance of this at the monastery); and no perfume, make-up, jewellery, music, singing or dancing. The purpose of taking vows is to purify karma and develop restraint, renunciation and inner discipline.
Through the merits of these virtuous actions
May I quickly attain the state of guru-Buddha
And lead all living beings, without exception,
Into that enlightened state.
What an experience to spend a month in a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. Tibetan Buddhism is rich and exotic, powerful and mysterious. The Tibetan landscape is harsh and barren, so Tibetan culture and religion make up for this. Temples are incredibly ornate, with ceilings and walls hand painted with rich and detailed deities and images depicting different aspects of Tibetan Buddhism. Large Thanka (sacred art) paintings hang from the ceiling, and enormous gold Buddha statues gaze serenely down upon you, making you feel small and humble, yet uplifted by their purity, beauty and serenity.
May the supreme jewel bodhichitta
That has not arisen, arise and grow;
And may that which has arisen not diminish
But increase more and more.
What good karma to attend a full month’s teachings on the precious Dharma! Even with the demanding schedule, lack of privacy, lack of food and lack of sleep, when it ended, you didn’t want it to end! The lamas are light, radiant, joyful beings. They have purified themselves of the gross negative afflictions, and their energy is spacious and free. It is a blessing to be in the company of such beings as their energy uplifts and inspires you.
May the lives of the glorious gurus be long.
My all beings equaling the extent of space have happiness.
May I and others without exception, accumulate merit and purify negativities,
And may we be blessed to quickly attain Buddhahood.
[Dedication prayer, Kopan Prayer Book]
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Photos by Maurice Barker