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Here you will find articles on an ambitious plan to travel from Singapore to Morocco overland, i.e. without flying.

I will use buses and trains to travel through South East Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Europe.

Read about The Plan So Far.

One Month of Meditation at Kopan Monastery

Written by Joshua Fuglsang on .

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AsiaKopanNepal
Nuns in the Cafeteria
Nuns in the Cafeteria - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

Introduction

From No­vem­ber 14 to De­cem­ber 14 2017 I par­tic­i­pat­ed in a month long med­i­ta­tion course at Kopan Monastery in Kath­man­du, Nepal.

The course fo­cused on two key top­ics: Ti­betan Bud­dhism and Med­i­ta­tion. It fol­lowed a strict sched­ule of class­es, dis­cus­sions, and med­i­ta­tion ses­sions that start­ed at 5:30am in the morn­ing and fin­ished at 9:00pm at night, and some­times lat­er.

Be­fore I start I need to say that I de­vel­oped Pneu­mo­nia quite se­ri­ous­ly dur­ing the course and didn’t par­tic­i­pate ful­ly due to time spent in the hos­pi­tal and time spent re­cov­er­ing.

I won’t dis­cuss the con­tents of the lec­tures them­selves as it would be opin­ion based and would lead to a very long ar­ti­cle, rather I will fo­cus on the ex­pe­ri­ence of at­tend­ing the re­treat. If you are look­ing for an in­tro­duc­tion to Ti­betan Bud­dhism then I rec­om­mend read­ing Wis­dom En­er­gy from Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa, it is an easy-to-read book that cov­ers a lot of the con­tent which was pre­sent­ed in the course.

I will quick­ly men­tion the cour­ses at­ten­dance rules; you must turn in all elec­tron­ic de­vices on the first day of the re­treat, you are not al­lowed to talk be­tween 9pm and mid­day the fol­low­ing day, and you are not al­lowed to read non-Dhar­ma ma­te­ri­al. There are sev­er­al oth­er course rules, but these were the most im­pact­ful. How­ev­er, many peo­ple broke a va­ri­ety of these rules; it would be hard to find any­one that strict­ly fol­lowed all of them. For the si­lence rule in par­tic­u­lar, even if you want­ed to re­main silent it was of­ten a chal­lenge as peo­ple would speak di­rect­ly to you or a group would start a chat­ting in your room or dorm.

I will com­pile a Flickr pho­to al­bum tak­en around the Monastery soon.

Kopan Monastery

Kopan Entrance
Pho­to of the monastery en­trance and main gom­pa - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

To start I’ll dis­cuss the venue it­self. The monastery was es­tab­lished in the late 1960’s by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rin­poche on a hill at the edge of Kath­man­du. It is im­mac­u­late­ly main­tained and is an ab­so­lute­ly beau­ti­ful set­ting to study in. It fea­tures the main gom­pa, a stu­pa gar­den, a school for the young monks, and var­i­ous ac­com­mo­da­tion build­ings.

All the ses­sions for the course were con­duct­ed in the main gom­pa; a beau­ti­ful airy build­ing with wood­en floors and Bud­dhist art dec­o­rat­ing the walls. Be­ing able to med­i­tate in such a tran­quil build­ing is one of the main rea­sons to come to a such a course; a sim­i­lar set­ting is hard to im­pos­si­ble to find in ev­ery­day life and is high­ly con­ducive to the task of med­i­tat­ing.

Stupa garden
Pho­to of the stu­pa gar­den - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

The stu­pa gar­den fea­tures two or­nate­ly dec­o­rat­ed stu­pas, which were of­ten lit up at night. You could spend your af­ter­noons re­lax­ing in the peace­ful gar­den con­tem­plat­ing the top­ics cov­ered through­out the day or chat with the oth­er course par­tic­i­pants.

Dorm room
Pho­to of my dorm room - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

There were a range of ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions to choose from, rang­ing from a bed in a dor­mi­to­ry to pri­vate rooms with their own bath­rooms. I stayed in the dorm as it was in­clud­ed in the base price of the re­treat; $510 US. I thor­ough­ly en­joyed stay­ing in the dorm, ev­ery­one who shared it with me were high­ly re­spect­ful of each an­oth­er and here I could meet some new peo­ple.

For our meals, break­fast usu­al­ly con­sist­ed of por­ridge, ce­re­al, and a slice of bread (or naan) with home­made peanut-but­ter smeared over it. For lunch we had dhal bhat, em­bel­lished with soups and fruit. And fi­nal­ly din­ner typ­i­cal­ly con­sist­ed of soup and bread; the soup was of­ten pota­to soup, noo­dle soup with lo­cal veg­es, or to­fu soup. There was no re­stric­tion on the vol­ume of food that you could eat, which of­ten meant you would see plates piled with moun­tains of food; how­ev­er, this is not rec­om­mend­ed due to the amount of time spent sit­ting. In ad­di­tion to the three set meal times we al­so had morn­ing tea and af­ter­noon tea. The food gen­er­al­ly was pret­ty good, how­ev­er to­wards the end of the re­treat I be­gan to wish for some va­ri­ety. The meals were cooked in bulk for 600 peo­ple, there­fore don’t ex­pect restau­rant qual­i­ty meals.

At the out­set the course sched­ule may look quite strict, how­ev­er there is quite a lot of time be­tween ses­sions and af­ter meals where you can carve out your own rou­tine; of­ten you would see peo­ple prac­tic­ing roof-top yo­ga, for ex­am­ple.

Fi­nal­ly I want to men­tion sick­ness; for this course 250 peo­ple came to­geth­er from all over the world, and we all shared the same cut­lery and plates and sat in the same room to­geth­er for most of the day, there­fore sick­ness was a bit of a prob­lem. A cold went through the co­hort of stu­dents and I be­lieve most peo­ple be­came sick to a cer­tain de­gree. Af­ter speak­ing to par­tic­i­pants that at­tend­ed pre­vi­ous years this seems to be a usu­al oc­cur­rence.

Meditations

The med­i­ta­tions were the main rea­son why I want­ed to at­tend the re­treat; I want­ed to learn to be­come more re­flec­tive in my life and to find new ways to think deeply on dif­fer­ent top­ics.

The course it­self taught two types of med­i­ta­tions; con­cen­tra­tion, or sin­gle-point­ed med­i­ta­tion, and an­a­lyt­i­cal, or con­tem­pla­tive, med­i­ta­tion.

Con­cen­tra­tion med­i­ta­tion aims to de­vel­op fo­cus in the mind; its goal is to en­able con­trol and thought mon­i­tor­ing, for by do­ing so you can bet­ter di­rect your at­ten­tion to what is im­por­tant in your life. If you have no con­trol over your thoughts and you act up­on ev­ery­thing that floats through your mind then you are es­sen­tial­ly held hostage to them. If you can mon­i­tor your thoughts and con­sid­er the im­pli­ca­tions of each one then you can bet­ter con­trol your ac­tions, you can dis­card thoughts that you dis­cov­er to be harm­ful and act up­on the ones that you con­sid­er to be ben­e­fi­cial. The pri­ma­ry con­cen­tra­tion med­i­ta­tion that we prac­ticed was a breadth med­i­ta­tion where we had to fo­cus ex­clu­sive­ly on our breadth and if any thoughts arose we would dis­card them im­me­di­ate­ly.

An­a­lyt­i­cal med­i­ta­tion aims to get the mind to con­sid­er a sin­gle sub­ject from as many dif­fer­ent an­gles as pos­si­ble to help bet­ter un­der­stand the sub­ject and to more clear­ly de­fine opin­ions to­wards it. For me this type of med­i­ta­tion helps with al­le­vi­at­ing in­de­ci­sion and doubt; as you can more clear­ly gen­er­ate opin­ions us­ing the in­for­ma­tion that you have avail­able. I al­so be­lieve that it is a use­ful tool for de­ci­sion mak­ing as you can think on a sub­ject deeply, form an opin­ion about it, then ar­rive at a well-con­sid­ered out­come.

There were many guid­ed med­i­ta­tions through­out the course that were high­ly pro­found to me; they got me to ques­tion dif­fer­ent as­pects of my life and to con­sid­er things that I wouldn’t nor­mal­ly have thought about, or to con­sid­er sub­jects in dif­fer­ent lights; such as death, the ev­er-chang­ing na­ture of life, and at­tach­ment to peo­ple and phys­i­cal ob­jects.

I would like to one day fur­ther de­vel­op my med­i­ta­tion skills, as med­i­ta­tion can be quite ben­e­fi­cial to your life. Many peo­ple in the course had pre­vi­ous­ly at­tend­ed Vipas­sana cour­ses, which I too would like to at­tend in the fu­ture.

The People

Daily discussion group
Dis­cus­sion group hav­ing lunch in fi­nal days - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

One of the most amaz­ing el­e­ments of the course were the peo­ple. The age group var­ied quite a lot; there were peo­ple from 20 all the way up to 80, how­ev­er gen­er­al­ly speak­ing it was a younger crowd. Dur­ing my time there I don’t think I met a sin­gle un­kind per­son; ev­ery­one was ex­treme­ly car­ing and eth­i­cal­ly mind­ed. They were all search­ing for ways in or­der to bring hap­pi­ness to them­selves and to the peo­ple around them. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more gen­uine group of peo­ple in one place any­where. At the start of the course there were 250 peo­ple in to­tal, though by the end the count was clos­er to 200.

At the start of the course we were as­signed a group where we spent one hour each day dis­cussing the day’s top­ics. The dis­cus­sion groups were a re­al­ly nice ini­tia­tive of the course and through it a lot of new friend­ships were formed, it al­so helped us to bet­ter come to grips with the in­for­ma­tion be­ing pre­sent­ed. My dis­cus­sion group was very kind to me dur­ing my time of sick­ness; they helped me to get through the or­deal with rel­a­tive ease.

Fi­nal­ly I shared a dor­mi­to­ry with a fan­tas­tic set of guys, they gave me a lot of ideas about my trip ahead as there were a few ex­pe­ri­enced trav­ellers amongst them. We spent many a night to­geth­er dis­cussing Bud­dhism and nu­mer­ous oth­er top­ics.

Fin!

In the end I was hap­py with my time spent at the Kopan re­treat, de­spite the fact that I was ill and missed so much of it. It gave me some use­ful tools through which I can con­sid­er the world, in­tro­duced me to Ti­betan Bud­dhism, and gave me some new friend­ships which I be­lieve I will car­ry for a long time in to the fu­ture.

An­oth­er stu­dent of this year’s course has writ­ten an ar­ti­cle about her ex­pe­ri­ence at Kopan, which you can read here.

Tags

AsiaKopanNepal

About

Here you will find articles on an ambitious plan to travel from Singapore to Morocco overland, i.e. without flying.

I will use buses and trains to travel through South East Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Europe.

Read about The Plan So Far.