And then I finally did it. I had been thinking about this idea for quite a while. The November course at Kopan monastery. One month in a monastery in Nepal. Sounds exciting? boring? crazy? weird? Well, I came across all sorts of facial expression when I talked to people about my plan – including my own in the mirror, sometimes.
Now, some people asked me: Why? Why do you want to do this?
I guess, as with so many other things in life, this was something that slowly developed. A process, a journey – a journey each and everyone of us is on – a journey which is different for every single being. A journey we so often are not aware of.
When did my journey, well this particular journey start? Although I have had a keen interest in Buddhist philosophy and philosophy in general for many years, a big turning point in my life was the year 2012. A year that turned out to be completely different to what I had expected it to be. After a very difficult year in China, where grey skies, concrete, materialism, pollution, anonymity, the lack of nature, paired with a failed relationship and a major heartache seriously challenged me and my sanity, I was in urgent need of some healing and change. The tricky thing was: I had no idea how to get myself out of this mess. I tried the good old ‘sex, drugs and rock & roll therapy – and although it seemed like a good strategy at first it, at the same time, seemed to only widen the black hole inside of me. However, and here I would like to quote Steve Jobs: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward: you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to have trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.” And even though that time there was no way to connect the dots and I was left in this, what I then believed hopeless situation, it was the start of the most amazing journey of my life. And this journey started with something we would probably not believe to be the start of an amazing journey: despair, hopelessness, depression. I did not have the energy to get out of bed, I was standing on the edge of a big black hole that was about to swallow me. There was only one thing I could do to save myself. I needed to leave. And although I had no idea why, I knew I had to go to Nepal. After a dramatic escape from China (it sounds dramatic and it actually was dramatic), I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal. I had no hotel arranged, I did not even know what currency they were using. But it did not matter, I could immediately sense I was in the right place. The first month I did nothing really apart from regaining my health and my sanity, the second month I went hiking in the Himalayas – and it is true, nature is the best therapist! And the third month, yes, the third month I found a beautiful monastery on a hill in the outskirts of Kathmandu, called Kopan.
Sometimes in life we have these life changing times. Often it seems they are linked to what we perceive as a negative experience – quite often a traumatic experience where our little worlds collapse and we are left with nothing but rubble – these are usually the interesting times in peoples’ lives, the times when true change can happen. You could almost put it like: You have to have a breakdown to have a breakthrough. A hole is ripped into the wall and when you only dare to look through this hole you might see a completely different world outside. Unfortunately, it seems these experiences need to be painful in order to work. Well, I am sure a more gentle path is also out there, but the painful one is certainly a very efficient one. And for me being raised in Germany, I just had to go for the efficient solution ;). Obviously, it needs to be added that after such a breakthrough you will not live in this kind of nirvana/paradise/constant state of happiness or whatever you want to call it, where there are no difficulties any longer, no. But you will certainly realise changes in your life and even more importantly in your way of thinking. Actually, the best way to describe it: you become more real!
Anyway, back to Kopan. So after spending around 2 weeks in the monastery in 2012 listening for the first time to some Buddhist teachings and concepts, my first proper encounter with meditation and meeting some very inspiring people, I was sure of at least one thing, that this was something I wanted to explore further – because it just felt so right. After finishing the course, I went to Dharamsala/India where I was lucky enough to immerse myself for 10 months in a world where the concepts I had heard about at Kopan where actually practised in daily life – well, most of the time – real life is obviously different to the sheltered environment of a monastery. But all of this is another story.
Ever since I left India in 2013 I knew I wanted to go back to Kopan to do the one month retreat course. However, there is only one of these courses every year, every November – and it usually books out quickly. But in 2015 I knew it was the time for me to go. The circumstances where good: I had time and some cash to afford the flight (the course is actually quite cheap, you pretty much only pay for accommodation and food) and again, I felt a bit lost about how to continue my journey. Every year they open registration on a particular summer day at midnight (Nepal time). As I was in China that time, I set my alarm for 2:00am (Chinese time) to really make sure I get on the course. And it worked out: My registration no. was 4 – out of around 250.
Now, I quickly want to introduce Kopan before I go on to tell you about my personal Kopan experience – and also tell you about some of the concepts I learnt on this journey. These days I firmly believe that training your mind is the key ingredient to almost every difficulties out there. As HH Dalai Lama says: Inner peace will lead to outer peace.
After fleeing Tibet in 1959, two lamas Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche (lama stands for teacher of the Dharma) met in an Indian refugee camp where they decided to built a monastery. They were able to purchase some land and started building the first temple in 1971/1972. The first monthly course for foreigners was being held as early as 1971 where 25 people joined – that time the students and teachers were still sleeping on straw mats and completely relying on spring water. By 1973 already 200 foreign students were attending the course – many of them hippies, who were disillusioned with the increasing materialistic outlook in the West and were looking for meaning in their life (…sounds familiar to me…). Ever since then Kopan monastery has attracted people from all over the world who would like to immerse themselves in this magical monastic world. Today Kopan also is the home of 380 monks and 360 nuns who come from all areas of Nepal and Tibet with ages ranging from seven to seventy plus.
So after a few weeks in Germany, which I spent sorting out a new job, becoming disillusioned by reading the news, going on more or less meaningless Tinder dates, I was so ready for Kopan. And on 12 November I boarded the plane to India – and Kathmandu.
To be continued…