Sunday, December 14, 2014

Nepal Adventure: Kopan Monastery November course

I finished the 45th annual November course at Kopan Monastery four days ago, on December 11. It was an intense month – physically, intellectually, and emotionally – but I did it. I finished the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT)’s longest running course.

I think Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the founders of FPMT and Kopan Monastery, were two of the first Tibetan Buddhist monks to teach westerners, formally beginning with the first November course offered in 1971 at the site of what was to become Kopan Monastery.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe. Photo from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.
The teacher of this year’s November course, Venerable Thubten Gyatso, is a monk from Australia who took the November course himself in the mid 1970’s. He then became a lifelong student of his November course teachers, Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and then an ordained monk. He first taught the November course in 1979. In 1999, Lama Zopa Rinpoche sent him to Mongolia to help revive Buddhism, in keeping with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s wishes. Most recently, Venerable Gyatso has spent the past 20 years establishing a monastery in Australia. He also teaches the November course when requested to do so by his teacher, Lama Zopa Rinpoche. (His other teacher and founder of FPMT, Kopan Monastery, and the November course, Lama Yeshe passed away in 1984.)

Venerable Gyatso.
Venerable Gyatso told us stories about Lama Yeshe, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and the first years of the November course, when the students – mostly hippies from the west – slept on bamboo mats infested with insects, underneath roofs that leaked in the rain, and ate meals prepared in a small primitive kitchen. Students from those years went back to their respective western countries and organized monks and translators to come teach their friends in the west. They also established FPMT centers around the world, and some, like Venerable Gyatso, became ordained monks and nuns. This contributed to the spread of Tibetan Buddhism in the west.

A Kopan Monastery employee who has been working here since 1986 told me new buildings are added to Kopan Monastery each year. As I mentioned in my last post, the dormitory building I am living in opened just this fall. Another new dormitory building is under construction. The monastery is maintained by a team of 40 workers, mostly Nepali, and is home to four dogs, two cats, and a rescued, disabled cow named Christmas. Current students can take advantage of the following amenities, all located in and run by the monastery: a (hand washed) laundry service, library, restaurant, convenience store, gift and book shop, internet café, health clinic, and solar heated showers. Things have changed a lot since Venerable Gyatso, his then-girlfriend, brothers, and one of our other teachers, a Swedish nun named Ani Karin took the November course in the 1970’s.

Kopan Monastery after Lama Zopa Rinpoche had arrived ("Welcome Home" was for him).
Although I did not talk much during the course and therefore met few people, it was interesting to see where my fellow students came from, and how they found out about the November course. Some of the students participate in FPMT centers near their homes, some have taken the November course before – one woman took it in 1985 and 1986 but hadn’t been back until this year’s course - while 50 students had never taken a Buddhism course before, and had heard about the November course in the Lonely Planet travel guide, from fellow travelers, or friends who had taken the course in years past. We started with approximately 280 students representing 30+ countries. About 265 students finished the course.

The course ran in accordance with the schedule I published in my last blog post up until Thanksgiving Day, November 27, when Lama Zopa Rinpoche arrived at Kopan to teach.

My day started at 4:50am, when the Kopan monks would ring the bell that starts their days. I would go to the gompa/temple/teaching hall where all of our classes took place in time for our 6:30am meditation, led by Israeli monk Venerable Tingyal. After one hour of meditation we had breakfast, followed by a small break that I would use to get some exercise, read, take a nap, and/or hang my damp clothes out to continue drying in the mid-day sun. We then had 2 hours of class with Venerable Gyatso, broken up by a 10 minute break to use the bathroom/have tea/bask in the sun outside of the gompa. After eating our largest meal of the day (lunch) we had another break, during which I would hopefully have time to complete two of the following activities: take a hopefully warm water shower, hand wash my socks and underwear (not accepted by the laundry service), nap, or read. We then had Discussion Group for an hour, followed by a 30 minute break during which I would bring my laundry inside before the sun set while we were in our afternoon class, and any clothes left outside would get wet again, in the cold afternoon/night air. We then had another 1.5 hours of class taught by Venerable Gyatso, a continuation of the morning’s session. We then had an hour tea break, followed by an hour long meditation session led by Venerable Tingyal, then dinner (usually a vegetable noodle soup and bread) followed by 45 minute evening session led by Ani Karin, the Swedish nun who took the course in the 1970’s. Technically, lights were out at 10pm but the women in my dorm room and I tumbled into bed almost every night as quickly as possible after the evening session had ended. Even with the breaks, it was a long day.

Venerable Gyatso taught us the basics of the Lam-Rim (the graduated path to Enlightenment) which is a summary of all of the current buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings. In class, we followed and referenced two of the books that we’d received at the start of the course: The Extended Lam-Rim Outlines: Beginner’s Mediation Guide, compiled by Karin Valham, as well as the book written by Venerable Gyatso, The World And Ourselves: Buddhist Psychology, which elaborates upon the Lam-Rim Outlines. The third book we received, Kopan Prayer Book, was used at the beginning and end of every class, when we recited prayers together, and often during Ani Karin’s evening sessions, during which she would either tell us stories, or have us do prayers to the bodhisattva Tara, or a negative karma purification practice called Vajrasattva.

We spent three days studying the Hell Realms, Death and the Dying Process, and Karma (negative and positive Karma). At this point, I started viewing the course as a marathon. We were all running the race with the shared goal of finishing the course, but had to make our own adjustments to get there. I went looking through the library for books about the history of Tibet, and retreated into those books at every possible opportunity. My favorites – which I would recommend – are The Search for the Panchen Lama, and a book about Lama Zopa Rinpoche and the history of the November course called The Lawudo Lama.

Our Discussion Group time was also a highlight of the day. We were randomly assigned to Discussion Groups of about 10 students each, with each group led by a returning student. Our Discussion Group, #16 was led by Nita from Byron Bay, Australia, and included Dennis from Long Island, NY, Keith from Sydney, Australia, Matt from Canada, Sarah from Denmark, Alana from Australia, Andy from England, Jill from Massachusetts, Zach from Canada, Lobsang, a Nepali monk who studies at Kopan, and myself. We were meant to be a support group for each other, and I think we greatly accomplished that task, discussing the teachings and our reactions to them, as well as books and documentaries we would recommend to each other, during our daily sessions, sitting in a circle, on yoga mats borrowed from the reception office, in a comfortable spot on the grounds of Kopan.

Our Discussion Group. Top from left: Zach, Matt, me, Sarah. Middle from left: Keith, Jill, Nita. Bottom from left: Andy, Alana, Lobsang, Dennis.
It seemed there were many students from the US, Canada, and Australia, as reflected by the members of our group. Some students served as translators, simultaneously translating the teachings, which were given in English, into Spanish and French for their peers in the course, who would tune in to listen to the translations using FM radios and headphones. One student who sat near me in the gompa always had an English dictionary next to her seat, presumably to help her better understand the teachings.

We took a break from the teachings on November 26, to visit Enlightenment for Animals, the animal rescue center associated with Lama Zopa Rinpoche. The center is located on a beautiful piece of property in the forest, on a hillside, overlooking Kathmandu Valley, just a 10 minute walk away from Kopan Monastery. It is a new location – the rescued goats that live there were moved to that location a year ago from their previous home, on what I think was the grounds of Kopan Monastery.

Approximately 60 goats who have been bought from Nepali butchers by Lama Zopa Rinpoche are now living their lives in great comfort at Enlightenment for Animals, cared for by Pemba, who has been working for the organization for the past 5+ years, and a team of Buddhist local caretakers who live at the center. There are stupas on the center’s grounds. One of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s senior students, a geshe (highest degree you can achieve in monastic studies) who helps run Kopan Monastery, gave us a tour of the center. We also go to lead the goats around the stupas, enticing them with branches of leaves they enjoy eating. Check out for a YouTube video of the tour. Olivia, who is Canadian, filmed it and said she will eventually put it on her YouTube channel.

Circumambulating the stupas with the goats at Enlightenment for Animals.
I am deeply touched by Lama Zopa’s commitment to alleviating the suffering of every sentient being. I loved hearing the stories about him, told to us by Venerable Gyatso and Ani Karin. Two nights prior to our visit to Enlightenment for Animals, Ani Karin dedicated her entire evening session to teaching us about Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s work benefiting animals.

We heard stories of how he used to keep lice and fleas in his right sock, so that they would have something to feed on. Also, one night his attendant, Roger woke up in their hotel room in Lumbini, Nepal to find Lama Zopa had exposed the bare skin of his back, so that the mosquitoes who were flying into their room through the open window could feed on his blood. Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s back was black, because it was completely covered in mosquitoes. Lama Zopa Rinpoche also used to feed a mouse that slept underneath his bed at Kopan, and has been found feeding the ants tea from his tea cup. He used to have a black female dog that lived at Kopan Monastery. When the dog had a litter of puppies one time, Lama Zopa held each puppy up before a holy statue, and moved the puppies’ legs in prostrations. He made each person who adopted one of the puppies promise to recite mantras for the puppies. Lama Zopa Rinpoche often talks about the dear ants.

Ani Karin also told us about Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s efforts to save 100+ yaks from being butchered in a Nepali village that could no longer care for the yaks. Lama Zopa Rinpoche bought the yaks for approximately $100 each, and re-homed the yaks in another village where the villagers could take care of them. My friend Yonten is from that village. I think this story may be relayed in the film 108 Yaks, which I heard I can watch on YouTube. There are many free resources about how to be of benefit to animals on the FPMT website. There is also a book and a CD (and digital download) about this topic for sale in the FPMT online store.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche arrived at Kopan at about 1:30pm on November 27, Thanksgiving Day. The monastery’s students (Nepali and Tibetan boys and young men from Nepal, Tibet, and India) had prepared Kopan Monastery under the close watch of their teachers (senior monks) in advance of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s arrival. The driveway had been painted with auspicious signs, a banner hung up across the driveway just inside of the monastery’s front gates, and potted flowers set up alongside the walkway to the gompa’s front doors. Inside the gompa, Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s throne had been set up at the head of the gompa, and colored lights were now flashing around the statues of Buddha and Lama Tsongkhapa that are set at the very front of the gompa, behind Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s throne and the seat our other teachers use when they give teachings.

All of the western, Nepali, and Tibetan students lined up on the road below the monastery’s front gates, and inside of the gates leading all the way up to the gompa’s front steps, to receive Lama Zopa Rinpoche when he arrived at the monastery by small SUV. The Nepali and Tibetan students played traditional monastic instruments, and wore traditional accessories, while they led Lama Zopa Rinpoche from his car door to the gompa. Everyone else quietly stood with scarves that are printed with Tibetan letters and auspicious symbols, and offered them to Lama Zopa Rinpoche as he passed by on his way to the gompa. He stopped and blessed everyone, one by one on his way to the gompa. After making prayers privately inside of the gompa, he retired to his apartment located on the top floor of the gompa.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche arrives at Kopan Monastery. He is underneath the yellow parasol.
That evening, after Ani Karin’s 8:00pm session, I stood around outside of the gompa to watch the monastery’s students practice debating. Lama Zopa Rinpoche was there, watching as well. The handful of western students and I that were standing there then silently followed him as he walked up the hill behind the gompa to visit the two stupas in the stupa garden behind the gompa. He paused in front of the smaller stupa, and gave us an impromptu teaching. It was amazing.

In addition to our change in schedule when Lama Zopa Rinpoche arrived at Kopan, our meal schedule also changed on November 29, when we began 10 consecutive days of taking the Eight Mahayana Precepts. We took the precepts each morning before sunrise (at 5:30am) in a ceremony led on the first day by the abbot of Kopan Monastery, Khen Rinpoche, and then by our meditation teacher, Venerable Tingyal. We took the vows not to kill, lie, steal, engage in sexual activity, take intoxicants, sit on high beds with pride, wear jewelry or perfume (including scented deodorant), taking more than one meal a day (a big lunch), sing, dance, or play music. It is a practice in abstaining from unwholesome activities, and is the basis for developing the positive qualities we were learning about from Venerable Gyatso during class time. We were required to take them, as part of our participation in the course. It was also an opportunity to purify our negative karma.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche began teaching us daily, in sessions that lasted for a minimum of two hours each, beginning on November 29 and ending on December 9. Some of his western students who were not in the November course joined us for those teachings, which was nice – so much love, admiration, and respect for Lama Zopa Rinpoche. A large white screen had been suspended from the side walls, above his head. It was used to clarify his teachings, which were given in English. A Canadian nun, Ani Joan would type his words in English, as he spoke them so that if Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s accent was a little difficult to understand, students could read what he was saying in text, on the big screen hanging above his head. Ani Joan also spoke to us one night during Ani Karin’s teaching time, to share her story with us, explain her work for the FPMT, and to tell us about guru pujas. It was great to have her with us.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching in the gompa.
During one of his first teachings, Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave us the essence of the November course:

“The essence of the Kopan course if somebody asks you. The essence of the Kopan course is to practice good heart, to not harm numberless other living beings, and to benefit them, to bring happiness, temporary and ultimate happiness, to bring happiness to others, that is the essence of the course. You want happiness and don’t want suffering, exactly the same as other sentient beings, mosquitoes, ants, insects, rats, spiders, snakes, chickens, fish, all want happiness and don’t want suffering.”

He talked a lot, during his teachings about the purpose of our lives – to ease the suffering of sentient beings – and about the relationship between our karma and the kinds of rebirths we experience as a result of the karma we have, and are always creating for ourselves through our own minds. For a much better explanation, I can recommend his book, published by Wisdom publications called Transforming Problems into Happiness. Or just check out the FPMT website, the Lama Yeshe Wisdom archives website (google it) where you can download books by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche for free, or search YouTube for videos of their teachings.

The monks wrote inspirational quotes from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama or Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the blackboard that hangs outside of the Reception Office doorway each morning. I love this one.
In addition to teachings by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Venerable Gyatso, meditation sessions by Venerable Tingyal, and evening sessions by Ani Karin, and the talk given to us by Ani Karin, we also had a Q&A session with the Kopan abbot, Khen Rinpoche who spends several months of each year teaching at the FPMT Center in Singapore.

On November 14, I also got to visit and receive blessings from a sand mandala that the monks had created before it was destroyed and then watched the puja that followed, outside on the plaza outside of the gompa.

Monks performing a puja (prayers) on the day that the sand mandala was destroyed.
On November 21, we visited the relics of two powerful Tibetan Buddhist teachers’ bodies one afternoon, with our Discussion Group. That night we watched the documentary “The Unmistaken Child” and then got to interact with the two main subjects of the film - Geshe Lama Konchog and his student Tenzin Zopa - at Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s guru puja on the last day of the course, which was amazing.

Tenzin Phuntsok Rinpoche and Tenzin Zopa with adoring students from the November course, following Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Long Life Puja. Tenzin Phuntsok Rinpoche is the young lama to the left, with the yellow flowers. Tenzin Zopa who found the reincarnation of his teacher (the young lama) is the taller monk on the right.
Late at night on December 1, I got to sit outside of the gompa while the monks performed a Guru Puja for Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and was included in the puja – the monks brought the handful of western students sitting outside of the gompa doorway mats to sit on, and gave us tsog, blessed food that had been offered to the Buddha and was then given out to all of the monks in the gompa. It was amazing to see Lama Zopa Rinpoche in a different setting – sitting stoically on his throne in front of his monks at his monastery in his home country of Nepal, silently swaying to the prayers the monks were chanting, and occasionally speaking to them in Tibetan. I feel very fortunate to be welcomed here at Kopan.

I also got to watch and hear the monastery’s students study and recite prayers daily, and learn about the monastery from conversations with the monk who joined our Discussion Group, Lobsang, and my friend Yonten. It was amazing to be allowed to stay at the monastery for over a month.

We celebrated Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Birthday with him on December 3, during his teaching by singing “Happy Birthday” to him as he was exiting the gompa. He turned to us and said “Happy Birthday to YOU” after having explained during his teaching that his birthday is not a significant day for him, although he knows that in the west a baby’s first birthday is a very big deal. We also had homemade cupcakes with lunch that day, for Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Birthday.

On December 7, Lama Zopa Rinpoche performed the refuge ceremony and gave the five precepts to any students wanted to take them. Ninety people signed up to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha for the remainder of their lives, which involves some daily practices. I took refuge and the precepts when His Holiness the Dalai Lama had offered them in January at the conclusion of his 10 day teaching in south India, so I did not take them from Lama Zopa Rinpoche. I stayed to watch the beautiful ceremony, though – one of the most memorable events of the course.

Venerable Gyatso gave his last teaching to us on the morning of December 9. He said “The Kopan course begins on Thursday, the day you leave …” The essence of Tibetan Buddhism, as I understand it, is training the mind, because everything we experience was created by the mind. His last few teachings were about how to train the mind, which is a practice called lo jong. I took a fantastic seven day course solely on this topic at the Root Institute this past January, and blogged about the course here. So now that the course is over, we need to put the teachings into practice in our daily lives.

This is printed on the gompa wall, just outside of the front door, underneath a painting of the Tibetan Buddhism Wheel of Life. The Wheel of Life visually summarizes the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. Ani Karin taught us that each Tibetan Buddhist temple is supposed to have it painted on the wall of the gompa, near the entrance, and that someone is supposed to be on hand at all times to explain the painting to visitors. I often placed my shoes on the shoe rack that sits underneath the Wheel of Life painting outside of the Kopan gompa, before entering the gompa for a teaching. So I reflected upon this often.

“Undertaking this and leaving that,
Enter into the teaching of the Buddha.
Like an elephant in a thatch house,
Destroy the forces of the Lord of Death.
Those who with thorough conscientiousness
Practice this disciplinary doctrine
Will forsake the wheel of birth,
Bringing suffering to an end.”

The Wheel of Life, above the shoe rack outside of the Kopan gompa where we had our classes. A bell is kept on the top shelf next to the shoe sign. We use that bell to call all of the November course students to the gompa for the next session. I volunteered to walk around the monastery grounds, ringing the bell each Sunday during the course.
I have also often recalled something Venerable Gyatso said to us during his first official teaching on the morning of November 12, and will most likely call this to mind many times in the future. For context, Venerable Gyatso was talking about being at Kopan in the early 1970’s, when Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche were just starting to teach westerners. The Dharma is Buddha’s teachings. “In many ways, Lama Yeshe had more faith in us (his western students) then we had in the Dharma.” If Lama Yeshe had this much faith in us, then we can do this.

That afternoon, after a touching farewell teaching by Venerable Gyatso, Lama Zopa Rinpoche offered the Vajrasattva initiation to anyone who was prepared to either do the Vajrasattva practice each night for the rest of their lives, or go on a three month Vajrasattva retreat within the next year. I did not take the initiation, but sat in the gompa to listen to the teaching from Lama Zopa Rinpoche before the initiation began. In addition to the refuge ceremony and the Vajrasattva initiation, Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave us several lungs. A lung is an oral transmission of a mantra or a teaching that has been passed down orally from the Buddha to his students, in an unbroken chain, to the present day. He may give the Medicine Buddha initiation sometime within the next week. I will not take the initiation, but will attend the teachings before the initiation begins, at which point I will have to leave the gompa or be subject to the requirements of having taken the initiation, which I am not prepared to do at this point.

On the last full day of the course, December 10, we went on a pilgrimage to two holy Buddhist sites in Kathmandu, led by Venerable Gyatso. We boarded buses (at least 6 of them were required to transport all of the students around Kathmandu) at the monastery, first visiting the Boudha stupa and doing some prayers and prostrations led by Venerable Gyatso at the stupa.

Our teacher, Venerable Gyatso leading us in prayers and prostrations in front of the Boudha stupa.
We then returned to the monastery for lunch, and then went to Svoyambu stupa, where we first gathered together in Buddha Park with Venerable Gyatso, at the base of three huge, beautiful gold statues – Padmasambova, Shakyamuni Buddha, and Chenrizig – to say prayers together. The monks who served as our guides – including my friends Yonten and Lobsang – then handed us bags of rice. We imagined the rice was wish fulfilling jewels, and tossed into the air as offerings to the buddhas and bodhisattvas while we walked as a group around the hill spinning the long rows of prayer wheels that line the walking paths. We had to be careful not to let the monkeys who aggressively look for edibles grab the bags from us, which was an exciting challenge. I admittedly was unsuccessful at keeping my bag away from the monkeys. We rounded a corner, I saw a monkey, screamed, and threw the bag of rice I had been carrying in my hand towards the monkey who was innocently sitting on the path, probably not even looking in my direction. Basically, I made a monkey happy and felt silly.

Buddha Park. From left to right: Padmasambhava, Shakyamuni Buddha, Chenrizig.
That night, we went into the community center room at Kopan, to watch a slide show and hear another western nun talk about her retreat in Lawudo, where Lama Zopa Rinpoche was born in the 1940’s. It is a remote region in northeast Nepal. One friend from the course told me that she had previously tried to zoom into Lawudo using Google maps, but was unable to find out what the village looked like. Knowing that, I appreciated the slide show and stories even more. We learned that Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s sister maintains the retreat facilities there in Lawudo, and that we can go and stay there. We were given a business card with contact information on it, if we decide to go to Lawudo to do a personal retreat. So cool.

On the last day of the course, December 11, Kopan Monastery organized a very elaborate and beautiful Long Life Puja for Lama Zopa Rinpoche. It was a big community celebration that began at 9am and finished at about 6pm. Tibetan and Nepali families, the nuns from the nearby FPMT nunnery, the monks from Kopan Monastery, the Kopan staff, and Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s western students gathered together to say prayers wishing Lama Zopa Rinpoche a long life, and to stand in long lines to make him offerings of money, carpets, and a lot of other items, some wrapped in gift paper, and receive blessings from him, one at a time. The lines of students moving in front of Lama Zopa’s throne set up in the front of the room went on for hours, while everyone not in line recited prayers in unison. The monks had beautifully decorated the gompa – it was gorgeous. The whole day was fantastic. It was worth coming to Nepal, just simply to participate in the Long Life Puja. It was also great to get to stand in front of Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the throne and receive his blessing, administered the same way he administered blessings when he gave students refuge several nights earlier in the gompa. I had made an offering on behalf of my mom and I for the Long Life Puja, and our names were read aloud during the ceremony, which was also special. It was also special that Lama Zopa Rinpoche remarked during the puja that the puja wasn’t just for him, but for our long lives, too.

Long Life Puja for Lama Zopa Rinpoche in the gompa.
After the ceremonies in the gompa came to a close, we enjoyed a picnic lunch served on the plaza in front of the gompa front gate, along with all of the Tibetan and Nepali guests, monks, and nuns. The clearing in the center of the plaza then turned into a stage, on which monks dressed in beautiful costumes performed a series of traditional Lama Dances, to the delight of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and the other teachers, and all of the guests.

I filmed all but one of the dances, and will eventually put them into one video on YouTube. My channel is Bill Kane, one of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s western students, also professionally shot and filmed all of Lama Zopa’s teachings, and the Long Life Puja. You can find his photos by searching for “Bill Kane” on Facebook. The photos will probably be up in mid-January 2015 because Bill will also be at His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings in south India later this month.

November course students had been trickling out during the last several days of the course, on to new adventures or heading home to their respective countries. Many students left towards the end of the Long Life Puja, and during the Lama Dances, so it was a celebration not just of the long life for Lama Zopa Rinpoche, but also an end of the course that I think it’s fair to say left a big, lasting impact on many people.

That night, members of our Discussion Group – Sarah, Nita, Andy, Alana, Matt, Zach and his girlfriend Amanda who had just returned to Kathmandu from trekking, and I went to a Japanese restaurant for one final group gathering. It was great to spend the last night of the course with fellow students who have become good friends. After dinner we circumambulated the stupa together, before parting ways for our different adventures.

I was glad that I had decided to stay at Kopan for at least a few days following the conclusion of the course. As I mentioned, the course was physically, intellectually, and emotionally overwhelming. It has been good to be able to enjoy the end of the course, get to say goodbye to people, and enjoy spending time with friends who opted to stay on at Kopan for the 10 day silent meditation retreat, and a few friends who are also staying on at Kopan in part, like me because Lama Zopa Rinpoche will be around for another few days before traveling on to India for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings in south India.

I spent my first day after the course ended, Friday, December 12 doing laundry and napping in the sun on the rooftop of my dormitory building, which also serves as a clothes dryer (the Kopan staff hung clothes lines on the roof for our use) and yoga practice spot. That night a young guy from the November course walked into the dining hall with a sick puppy that he had found lying on a pile of bricks in Kathmandu, tucked inside of his jacket.

The following day, Saturday, December 13 I went down to the Boudha stupa to volunteer again for Street Dog Care, at their weekly street dog clinic. It was great to be there again, from 10am – 12 noon, helping the street dogs that live at the stupa, following up on reports from community members and two female western tourists staying at a nearby hotel who were concerned about a sick street dog out in front of their hotel, and treating at least three puppies that were brought to us for inspection and treatment. We were so busy, and there were few volunteers. Two of the volunteers who have been around for a while are leaving Nepal this coming week, so I will not see them again. Once again, it was great to see so many people stopping by the clinic at the stupa to talk with us, make donations, and take photos of our work. This week, I met two women who after making donations told me that they do the same kind of work in Russia. You might think it is sad to work with the street dogs, but actually we are all happy. The female vet who was with us this week smiled while she worked. The dogs are happy to see us (unless they are receiving painful treatments) because we pet and talk with them, giving them love and attention, and many of the dogs just needed treatment for superficial problems like skin, eye, and ear infections that were not painful to treat. One dog, Leo actually seemed to be enjoying my efforts at cleaning out his less infected ear. The vet had to go into the other one … it was quite infected.

Street Dog Care clinic at the Boudha stupa on Saturday morning.
One of the puppies brought to us for treatment was the puppy found by the young guy from my course. He and another student from the course, Vera came by with the puppy. Vera fed the street dogs that live outside of the Kopan Monastery gates daily during the course. She volunteers with a cat rescue organization in Los Angeles. Jasmin, from Street Dog Care referred the young man and Vera to a local veterinarian, and recommended the puppy be tested for distemper and parvo. Sadly, while the puppy tested negative for distemper, he tested positive for parvo and was put to sleep.

The guy from the November course with the puppy.
In keeping with Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Venerable Gyatso’s advice on how to benefit pets, the young guy had circumambulated the stupa with the puppy on Friday when he found the puppy, and then again when he brought the puppy to Street Dog Care. He also said mantras after leaving the vet’s office. I am recalling Luckypuppy and Tenzin Palmo’s words, and am hoping for a good rebirth for this puppy, given how much love and care went to him at the end of his short life. It is a comfort to me that he spent the last night of his life sleeping on a towel with the young guy, safe and hopefully comfortable, in the blessed place that is Kopan Monastery. Please include him in your prayers.

I checked my email for the first time after we closed the Street Dog Care clinic at the stupa, and then spent the rest of the day relaxing at Kopan. It started raining that night - for the first time since I reached Nepal on November 5. (We are not yet in the rainy/monsoon season.)

It was raining yesterday morning when I woke up, on my Birthday. I started working on this blog post, and then walked down the hill with my friend Yonten, a monk who works in the Kopan Monastery office, to meet up with our friend Gilad. We all know each other from the Root Institute in Bodhgaya, India. Yonten and Gilad worked there together, and I became friends with them while staying at the Root earlier this year. Gilad showed me his apartment building, and then we went to a nearby Nepali restaurant for lunch. I had lo mein and steamed vegetable momos, one of my favorite food discoveries in India. It was fun to get together.

Yonten, me, and Gilad after lunch at the restaurant.
Yonten and I went back up to Kopan after lunch. Yonten had to go to work in the Reception office. I wanted to attend a teaching I was hoping Lama Zopa Rinpoche would give before giving the Medicine Buddha empowerment, which was scheduled for 3pm. Unfortunately the empowerment was cancelled.
It was still raining, and my Birthday was a cold, dreary day so I decided to spend the rest of the day hanging out in my bed, finishing this blog post and picking photos to post along with this text. It was good to process my experiences this past month by writing this post. I hope I can now move forward, and put the teachings into practice as instructed by our teacher, Venerable Gyatso. As for my Birthday, I figure that since while in Nepal I am approximately 10.5 hours ahead of the city of my birth, that today in Nepal (December 15) is technically my Birthday. I can continue celebrating my birthday today, by visiting the stupa in the morning. Right? Right.

I leave Nepal for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings in South India this coming Sunday, December 20. It will be a fun flight – it seems like there are a handful of westerns I know who will be on the same flights from Nepal to Delhi, and then Delhi to Bangalore. I plan to write and post again before departing Kathmandu for Delhi.


  1. Thank you for your post. I plan to attend November course this year. With you also was my friend from Australia, Vanessa, we were together in Kopan in October discover Buddhism course.

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed my post about last year's November course. I hope you make it back to Kopan for this year's course. It is amazing. So cool that you know Vanessa, too:)

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I did the course in 2001, it was a life changing experience.

    1. Thanks for your nice note. I am glad that you also got to do the November course:)

  3. Thank you for the description. will try the 10 days course first :)

  4. I am glad you enjoyed reading about Kopan and the November Course. I am sure you would enjoy the 10 day Introduction to Buddhism course. Enjoy if/when you make it. That 10 day course is also offered at Kopan's sister centers in India - the Root Institute in Bodhgaya and Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamsala.

  5. Nicole, very much enjoyed this. I will be attending in November. I will look for the street dog clinic too. Friends in San Salvador adopted 8. They were my roommates last year. Thank you.

    1. Enjoy the course this year. I am happy for you. Please do look for Street Dog Care - they do such great work in the community.


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