A few days back in the big city, and oh to be off the hiking circuit menu (toast, bread, pancakes, soups made out of powdered concentrate, etc. in other words, easy to transport and easy to make food) into the world of 'real' food (espresso! Indian food! real dal bhat!) was a treat.
Within what felt like moments, I was off again in a taxi, this time headed up towards Kopan Monastery, north of the ancient Buddhist town of Boudhanath. Kopan is situated to the northeast of Kathmandu proper, but still within the ring of hills which surround Kathmandu and the rest of the villages in the Valley. Perched high on a lush forested hill, the saffron and garnet buildings of the monastery rise up out of the terraced fields and villages overlooking the entire valley below.
The monastery was started in the 70's, by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the reincarnation of the Lawudo Lama, a yogi of the tiny hamlet of Lawudo who fulfilled the promise of the previous Lawudo Lama to start a monastic school for the local children. Twenty five monks moved down from the mountain to Kopan in 1971, and now the monastery houses nearly 400 Tibetan and Nepali monks, and 400 nuns at the neighboring nunnery.
And, on October 15th, a group of students looking to explore Tibetan Buddhism. A sunny and humorous monk checked me in, and I was taken to my single room, next to the Gompa where most of the teachings were to be held. Awake at 5:30am and heading for morning tea by 6am...sitting on the balcony with steaming milk chai in hand, listening to the chanting of the monks and prayer wheels, watching the sun edge its way over the eastern hills and distant Himalayan peaks to steam light onto the waking valley below...well, it must be one of my favorite ways I've started my day.
The rest of the days were filled with many MANY discussions, exploring general Buddhist philosophy and Tantric Buddhism, lectures by resident Lamas and Geshes (the latter equivalent to our PhD, though Geshe requires at least 25 years of training!), study groups with monks, and morning and evening meditations and mantra recitations.
What a beautiful experience! Many enormously thought provoking, though nowhere near conclusive, discussions on the nature of self and true nature of mind. Incredibly eye-opening and useful in examining our/myself and how we create suffering in our lives through clinging to ego, and I'll need more time to integrate everything presented, before I'm off to learn and challenge myself more and more.
The eleven days culminated in a final two day silent meditation retreat, which was only disappointing (alert! attachment! or is that aversion?....) because it halted conversations with the monks. What genuine, warm, compassionate and delightfully hilarious people! We were constantly recounting stories about our discussion groups...one student kept persistently asking "How long do I need to meditate to become enlightened? 20 minutes? 2 minutes? 1 minute? 1 hour?". Completely deadpan, the monk solemnly turns to us and says "As short as possible", and this tinkly laughter breaks out of him, and humor spreads all over his cheeks. Lovely.
Unfortunate side note on pics (or 'I knew dumping my photos on my iPod was too good to be true'): it turns out that Mac-formatted iPods (mine) can't be recognized on PCs (every computer in these internet cafes). Which means that all my previous photos sitting on my 'handy' iPod harddrive (including, unfortunately, trekking) are not accessible until I'm back in the US at a Mac to upload. Will work on getting current photos uploaded from now on.