The class started strong with some powerful statements & questions.
Time to leave my hotel room in KathmanduI to head to what will be my home for the next 10 days.
My friend from Nepal, Sandesh, was picking me up with his motorbike. I heard him pulling up at the hotel entrance. Having my heavy backpack on my shoulder I am slowly going downstair from my fourth floor to meet him. It is early afternoon and he offered to drive me to Kopan Monastery. I felt a little anxious. Part of me felt like I was going to be ‘stock’ in that Monastery for 10 days. 10 days! I thought to myself why do I constantly do that? Why could I have not sign up for the 5 or 7 day retreat-course instead. ‘You always have to go all-in hey Val?’ I thought to myself while we were driving away from the hotel.
The monastery was only a few kilometers away but it took us a bit to get to our destination due to the winding and narrow roads of Kathmandu. Within 45 minutes we were going up the last steep incline that would be bringing us to the gate of the monastery. Sandesh pulled over and said something in Nepali and the guard let us in. The monastery is still part of Kathmandu but is up in the hill overlooking the city. (I quickly learn here in Kathmandu that you don’t refer to the surrounding area as the mountains. No! Locals will look at you funny. Surrounding the city are hills. When you refer to the mountains you actually refer to the real mountains! haha the Himalaya’s). The monastery was a bit higher in altitude and I was hoping to escape some of the dust and pollution that is sadly a daily problem in Kathmandu.
Arriving to Kopan Monastery was a little intimidating. Students from all ages were standing in line and filling out forms. It felt a little bit like your first day of school we were just a bit older aging from young twenties to maybe sixties. You had to make the line to complete your payment (because Kopan allows you to withdraw from the course until two weeks prior to the course start which is convenient when you are travelling and unsure of your itinerary). 150 US$ for 10 days including food and accomodation. Ten days where I would not have to worry where I would be eating and not worrying about getting sick because of the food (because Kathmandu as some good restaurants but also some other places where let just say hygiene is not the same standard as back home). Ten days where I will have access to a place to refill my water bottle from a trusted source of clean water. I was happy. It’s funny how it can take energy to fill out your basic needs. Things I took for granted at home.
I made the line like the other students. A monk that seemed to have been reassigned to administrative duties was answering the phone while another one was taking care of the payment. Another monk came and gave me a bag where I could put any valuables (most people put their wallet and passport there) and mostly my lovely friend; my cellphone! No electronic, no music, no internet and no outside communication for the next 10 days.
(So expect less pictures in these articles for the reason that I had to leave my cell phone at the front desk. But … as you will read later in future post you will understand how I got to take some pictures!).
THE COURSE DESCRIPTION
I had sign up for the 10 day Discover Buddhism course. This course is based on the Lam Rim which are the stages for the path to enlightenment as taught by Buddha (I sound very knowledgeable here but this is what the website said as a description! haha I am very new to all those terms like Lam Rim).
A 10 day course where we are going to be introduce the fundamental principles of Tibetan Buddhism and we would explore different type of meditation. We would finish the course with a two day silent retreat. This course was considered the first stepping stone towards attending intermediate and advanced course.
Although friends had suggested me to take a private room as these courses can get pretty intense I had decided to share a room with 4 other females. That way I would be meeting some people. A girl from Argentina was my roomate.
I had the time to bring my stuff to my room and do a quick walk around that we had to present ourselves to the meditation room.
An amazing room struck me as I walked in. Someone said something to me as I walked in and I could not hear them because the first impression of that room was so powerful and colorful. ‘Take your slippers off I finally heard’. I totally forgot to leave my sandals at the door at the front step. I walked in again, bare feet this time, and sat on a meditation cushion and waited. We must have been around 100 participants.
A ‘female monk’ walked-in and walked to the front of the room and sat down on a meditation cushion that was slighlty elevated from the floor so everyone could see her. Everyone became quiet. Her head was shaved and she was wearing an orange robe.
THE COURSE STARTED STRONG
She introduced herself as an ‘Anie’ (I hope I have the spelling right). That was how we could refer to her. The term monk was reserve for man. You could call her Anie or Anie followed by her first name, in her case Anie Karen.
She had this teacher vibe to her. A teacher that you don’t want to disturb, that is somewhat strict but when asked is surprisingly receptive and sweet when answering. She was from the west but had been a Buddhist for over 20 years. Her accent was nice and clear. After a brief introduction of herself she said:
MEDITATION IS TO CONTROL THE MIND SO IT DOESN’T CONTROL YOU.
Wow what a start. I thought I am at the right place. Although 10 days maybe be long for my mind to learn and focus it is short considering how much I have to learn. I am a baby when it comes to meditation.
WHAT IS MEDITATION she asked?
I was very curious to hear her definition.
After a few students attempted to answer she said:
TO BE ABLE TO BE AWARE OF THE MIND AND FOCUS IT’S ATTENTION WHERE WE WANT IT
She than asked: WHY ARE YOU HERE AT KOPAN MONASTERY?
I thought to myself to learn about buddhism and meditation. But for the first time I suddenly found that answer a little… shallow. Not sure why. It was like it just hit me all of a sudden and I felt a bit of anxiety. Why am I here? Why am I here in Nepal in the first place? I did not even know the answer to that. Why did I sold my house and belongings before coming here? I felt my mind wanted answers for many things I had recently done. I had followed a flow for the past weeks and now that I was sitting down on my meditation cushion I had to face those questions that my mind had patiently waited for me to answer.
I believe that is why many people have a hard time to sit or even slow down to attempt to meditate. It is hard because part of you knows that you are secretly running away from some important questions. When you finally slow down and stop, like for example when you try to go to bed, than the questions come up again in your mind keeping you awake at night.
Anie Karen continue talking. I still had not put my finger on why I was here. She than said: WHAT IS YOUR REAL MOTIVATION FOR BEING HERE? And she paused and looked at us.
I self-reflected. Was learning meditation and buddhism my real motivation? I think so. I mean I thought so but saying that in my head it suddenly did not feel as true as I thought. Almost like part of me was not believing myself. Like if I could go deeper in my answer. Why did I want to learn meditation and buddhism?
Anie than said: ONCE YOU FIND YOUR REAL MOTIVATION THAN EVERYTHING IS ACHIEVABLE.
She than went on about explaining the physical posture of meditation.
Just before closing that short interaction we would have with her she finish my ending it this: WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?
She than answered her own question: FOR THE BENEFIT OF OTHERS.
We all join our hands in a prayer position and did an OM signing chant together and she got up and walked out of the room.
Now for a first impression that was something. Short and to the point I thought. This is going to be great I thought. Hard at times but great. I felt I was exactly where I was suppose to be. I just did not figure out why I was here yet but it would come.