Lama Zopa on his birthday. And the Abbot of Kopan on the left (sitting).
Tibetans waiting to greet Lama Zopa
Stupas in the garden
Lama Zopa on his birthday. And the Abbot of Kopan on the left (sitting).
Tibetans waiting to greet Lama Zopa
Stupas in the garden
I thought I might describe Kopan Monastery and the hill that it sits on. I was going to ask you to close your eyes and try to imagine this special place as I described it but after thinking about it, that wouldn’t work so well since you need to be able to read this. So just close one eye and read with the other one.
Kopan was started in the late 60”s. The hippie’s that were traveling around India, Nepal and the rest of Asia had a lot to do with it’s inception. They were seeking alternate ways of life, living and different spiritual paths. In Nepal they came across Tibetan Buddhism. There were many Tibetan Lamas and Tibetans in the area because when the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1959, Nepal was one of the closest countries they could flee to. Although they had to cross the Himalayas to get here and many didn’t make it. Many did make it and some made Nepal their home. I will abbreviate the story of Kopan but in general it goes like this: Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa met in a camp for refugees in India. After they left the camp they met a wealthy Russian woman that wanted to help them build a place where they could teach westerners Tibetan Buddhism. They found a place on a hill overlooking the Kathmandu Valley on one side and another valley on the other side. It used to be where the astronomer for the king had a small house and telescope. They purchased the land and that was the beginning of Kopan.
My first time here was in 2001. But only for a few days as I was on a month long trip exploring Nepal. Since then many improvements have been made to the accommodations for westerners. Back then there were a few rooms that had instant hot water. All of the rest had solar hot water. Which was warm for only one or two people. Now almost all of the rooms have instant hot water. They have also just finished a new block of rooms for the younger monks. The building they were in has been falling apart and is due to be torn down and replaced soon.
The hill Kopan sits on is very peaceful and quiet. The only noise you here from the valley below is an occasional bus horn and sometimes Hindu music and what sounds like a marching band. But it also on the flight path for the airport. So depending on which way the wind is blowing you either get the sound from the planes landing or taking off. There are trees all around the perimeter and a beautiful stupa garden behind the main Gompa. I have posted photos of the 2 stupas in the past. They are both very elaborate and both were built from funds donated by students of Lama Conchok and Lama Lhundrup whose relics are in the stupas. There is a Chenrezig fountain that sits in front of the large stupa but it never seems to be on. There are also many beautiful flowers that have been planted and always seem to be in bloom. There are Magpies, Blue Jays, Pigeons and other small birds happily singing away. And in the early morning and at sunset you can see birds of prey flying overhead on their way to hunt and returning in the evening.
The road from the valley passes the Nunnery and winds it way around the hill to the top where Kopan sits. It isn’t the tallest hill around but has a good view of the valleys below and is usually above the smog below. There is a small Leper Colony just below Kopan but it is gated and I have never seen any of the residents. The monastery is an active place of learning. Meaning there are over 300 monks here studying Buddhism, Math, Social Science and Chemistry. Some of the monks study here then go to southern India for further studies. After teachings in India some return to Kopan to teach here and others go to either various centers to teach or to do long retreats. In the evenings you can sometimes see the monks debating, which looks like they are fighting but they are challenging each other to produce the right answer and to back it up with the reasons why they think it is the correct answer.. You can also here them memorizing texts out loud and chanting mantras. The chant master came for a talk last night and demonstrated what the deep bass chanting sounded like. It was amazing and hard to believe that the sound was coming from him.
Many people come here during the year to do retreats on their own. And as long as the November Course isn’t going on, there are plenty of rooms and the price is right.
I hope this gives you a little glimpse into my version of Kopan.
Sunset over the Kathmandu Valley
This stupa is over 2000 years old and is referred to as the “Wish fullfilling stupa” by the Tibetans.
Singapore Airport has to be one of the most well thought out and beautiful in the world. This photo is one of many gardens in the terminals. They also have a Sunflower garden, a cactus garden and a butterfly garden. Free wifi, a small free theater and a transit hotel onsite so you do not need to leave the airport if you have a long layover.
I have been at Kopan for 10 days now and have tried numerous times to connect to the Internet without any luck. So it looks like I will not be able to post any photos at this time. It has taken me days just to upload this post.
I thought I might give those of you who have asked in the past, a typical day here at Kopan.
5:30am: Full body prostrations to the 35 Buddhas (optional)
6:00am: Tea (in the dinning hall)
6:30am: Morning meditation (concentration meditation)
7:30am: Breakfast (usually porridge)
9:00am: Teachings on the Lam Rim text (The Graduated Path to Enlightenment by Lama Tsong Kapa, 11th century)
11:30am: Lunch (in the dinning hall. Vegetarian and always good. This is the main meal of the day. Usually rice, cooked vegetables – cauliflower, broccoli, tofu, beans, etc. Bread or Chapattis, raw green vegetables and a banana or apple.
2:00pm: Discussion group for 1 hour.
3:30pm: Teachings on the Lam Rim text.
5:00pm: Tea break.
6:00pm: Analytical meditation on the Lam Rim text.
7:00pm: Dinner (usually vegetarian soup with bread or Chapattis). We did get a roll with a slice of cheese on it once. No mayo, no mustard, no pickles. Nothing but bread and cheese.
8:00pm: Guided meditation on various subjects, mantras and on different Buddhas.
9:00pm: End of last session.
10:00pm: Lights out.
There are no days off. We will keep this schedule for most of the course but during the last 9 or ten days, the schedule gets longer because we have to take purification vows (Precepts) before the sun rises.
There are 250 westerners from all over the world here. From the ages of 18 to 72. The only time you know that there are that many people here, are at mealtimes and in the Gompa (where the teachings take place). Speaking of meals, the cooks here prepare food for us and for around 350 monks everyday!
There is a nun teaching the course this year, Venerable Alisa Cameron, which doesn’t happen very often. The last time a nun taught was in 2008 I think. Although they teach the same material as do the other teachers, there seems to be something special when a nun teaches (in my opinion).
Most people seem to be enjoying the course so far. Although many people have colds or the flu and it appears to be spreading. So they aren’t enjoying the course so much at the moment. The spreading of germs may have something to do with the drying towels they have at the place you pick up your plate or bowl. Hundreds of people touch these towels and then rub them on their dishes! What are they thinking? Obviously they are not. I don’t touch those towels and try not to even look at them for fear of catching a cold.
I haven’t taken many photos and if I have, they are similar to my photos from last year here. But I will keep trying to upload some.
Off to more meditation and teachings, so bye for now.
Those of you who know I am in Scotland at the moment may be wondering what I have been doing for the last couple of weeks. Well I will tell you. The first three to four days I was getting over jet lag. Then I had a bad attack of Gout. Which I am just now getting over. 9 days and counting! For those of you who have never had Gout, be thankful. It is very painful and will keep you off your feet the whole time (if you get it at your big toe, where mine starts).
I was able to take a few photos yesterday. They are below.
The lane that takes you to Maris’s house.
Next door neighbor.
Okay guys and gals at work. Take a look at this SLOW. They don’t use stencils here. At least not in this area. This was done by hand. They take the shoe off of the handliner and drag it by hand. Another person keeps the shoe full by pouring plastic from a metal bucket.
Same with this arrow. Done by hand. No stencil. If you are wondering why that arrow is where it is? I will tell you. It is a “time to get back in your proper lane” warning for people that are passing other cars in this area. “Because soon you won’t be able to see around the corner that is coming up.” Also notice the “cats eyes” reflective snow marker that is recessed into the pavement. They use these everywhere. Even in areas that usually don’t see snow.
Country road with windmills in the background.
I spent all of my last full day in Bhutan hiking to “Tigers Nest”. Padmasambhava came from Tibet to Bhutan in the 7th century to bring Buddhism to Bhutan. He meditated in a cave that is marked by a monastery built in the 16th century. It gets it name from the story that Padmasambhava arrived on a flying Tiger to subdue the evil spirits in the area and introduce Buddhism. The site is one that all Buddhists in Bhutan hope to visit at least once in their life. And many people from all over the world come to visit the site.
The hike up took 4 hours and was very steep in many places. The monastery is 2500′ up from the valley floor and clings to a shear cliff. It was built by prisoners to give them the opportunity to generate good karma by helping in building a monastery. The monastery is at 10,800′ and no roads lead to it.
It took me longer than anyone else on the trail to get to the monastery and return. By the end of my hike my hips, knees and back were hurting. And my whole body was worn out. I will sleep well tonight.
Half way to Tigers Nest (in the center of photo).
Tigers Nest video.
The following photos are some I took yesterday. The guys at work might be interested in these.
Typical hand labor camp. All of the hand shoveling, rock retaining wall building and whatever can’t be done with a machine (which appears to be a alot) are done by laborers from India. All of the heavy equipment and truck drivers are from Bhutan.
Road stripers! I had hoped to see how they stripe their roads here and my wish came true. Notice that they do not have on reflective vests, there are no cones at all, no warning signs and no one watching traffic.
They don’t do any pre-layout. They use a rope as a guide and have a rope with knots in it to measure lane widths. I asked them if they had a supply truck and they said yes, somewhere. They do not use any kind of truck striper. They push everything! The road that is under construction is 120 miles long and will be done in sections as it is paved. No hurry-no worries.
Paving crew. Same scenario. No cones, no signs, no vests and no traffic control. But it all seems to work somehow.
This may be my last post until I get home. I leave for Kathmandu tomorrow. Spend 2 days there. Then start my long journey home.
After 3 days on 120 miles of 1 lane road being converted to 2 lanes, I am glad to be finished with it. The first day we drove the 120 miles at plus or minus 15 miles per hour with numerous stops because of the road being blocked by equipment. The next day we drove half way back on the same road and spent the night at a very nice hotel in the valley where Black Necked Cranes from Tibet nest in the winter. Today we drove the rest of the way back to the city of Paro where the international airport is. That is 240 miles of bumpy, dusty, slow, interesting and awe inspiring road that I would have done differently if I had known. Amazingly they only held us up for ten minutes at a time. All the while widening a road that in places was only 12′ wide and in some places a 1000′ drop on one side and a 1000′ cliff on the other. It was amazing to see how it is done. We only saw 2 mishaps which I only have a photo of one. One was a large earth mover high up on the mountain tipped upside down. I have no info if the operator survived or not. But just looking at where this happened at what could have happened (the thing tumbling all of the way down the mountain) I can only hope he is okay. The other mishap we saw was a forklift upside down in a river.
There is a yellow dot in the middle of this photo that the next photo will explain.
I hope the operator is okay.
These are Black Necked Cranes from Tibet that winter in Bhutan from Oct. to March. They are very endangered. There are only 300 of them left alive. The country of Bhutan has gone to great lengths to protect these birds. There are no above ground power lines in this provence. No one is allowed to fish in the rivers while they are here. No one is allowed to make any loud sounds or to disturb them in any way. While we were here we saw only 12. They mate for life.
Very dangerous cat from Bhutan!
My favorite local beer. $.80 to $2.00 in shop. $1.50 to $3.00 in a hotel.
My drivers car is red and I have named it Red Panda in honor of this beer.
9 year young monk.
Typical building architecture.
The King is 36, the queen is 26. His father is still alive! Some kind of black history no one likes to talk about but the father is still in control.
Moonrise over Paro.
Tomorrow I am off on a 4 hour each way trek to the “Tigers Nest” monastery. Probably the most well known site in Bhutan. And something I am looking forward to seeing if I can make it there and back.
I spent my third day driving to Punakha fromThimphu where I had spent 2 nights. The drive took about 4 hours and was on a nice paved road. So far all of Bhutan that I have seen is mountainous. So you never get to drive to fast which is fine by me. I came for the scenery and the spiritual side of Bhutan and to see the people. It seems that everywhere you go in Bhutan there are “steps!” My guide tells me that it is good for me. “Helps to burn off the calories of beer”! That’s great but what about my knees and back? “No worries you are still young”. Easy to say when you are 28.
108 stupas built on top of 10,000′ high pass to commemorate the last war Bhutan was in.
View of Himalayas from pass.
Now I know why it is named as such. I was in “suspense” as I walked to the middle of this thing.
Me and more steps. Everywhere I go in Bhutan…….steps, steps and more steps! That’s my driver next to me. Anytime he or my guide enter a fort or Royal building, they have to wear a sash over their Bhutanese clothing. It is required of all guides and drivers to keep the custom alive.
Most Bhutanese women dress like this and smile all of the time. Especially when my guide says something to them to get them to smile.
My driver, Tenzin.
My new guide Sonam, who has a cold and bad cough and has given them to me.
Second oldest and second largest fort in Bhutan. Situated between the confluence of two rivers.
Second oldest at night.
They built a temple for this person. Allegedly he was a Buddha in disguise while he was being naughty. It is a site where many people bring their young children and is also considered a fertility site.
I will try to get my sister to smile.
Fog in the valley. 7am on Dec. 12.
My guide had told me that we had 10 hours of driving to do today. I asked him at what time were we leaving? He responded “the usual time 9am”. I replied back that we wouldn’t reach our destination until after 8pm with a lunch break. So we left at 6:30am, my recommended time. The photos to follow is what we endured for at least 8 hours. At a maximum of 15 miles per hour!
This portion of the road hasn’t been widened yet. As was most of it. They have been working on this road for 2 years now and I can only imagine that it is going to take many many more years to complete.
It’s okay, we will wait.
8 hours of this! But at least they are improving the road, unlike Nepal.
Largest fort in Bhutan. Any new king before being crowned, has to spend a year here being trained in kingly things.
This woman is actually doing traffic control. She didn’t get up to stop us. She just put her hand up and soon after, large boulders came crashing down unto the road from an excavator! Good thing the driver was paying attention.
Water powered prayer wheel. These dot all of the roads and are run by the water from small streams.
Downtown Bhumthang. Our stop for the night after our free 10 hour Bhutan massage!
My room for the night after a long bumpy day, equipped with a wood burning stove.
View from my room on the 4th night.