Tenzin Ludup attendend the November Course at Kopan Monastery in Nepal 2011.
My name is Tenzin. I was born in Nepal to a third generation Tibetan family in exile. I currently live in America while the rest of my family is scattered between Nepal, India and America. The November Course at Kopan Monastery has always played an important part in my family’s religious life. All five of my siblings have attended the one-month lam-rim meditation course or other courses offered at Kopan Monastery.
Even though I’m a Tibetan and born a Buddhist, I have never truly understood or practiced my own religion until now. Living in the West, I had never managed to take time off to learn and practice the Dharma. I’ve always had respect for my religion and its teachers, but somehow it never really interested me enough to learn about it. This is probably due to the fact that I was born into it. I simply followed my family’s wishes when it came to matters of religion. Now I understand that I was just going with the flow of things without fully understanding the meaning of what I was doing.
I think this lack of understanding is very common among the younger generations of Tibetans, especially those in exile in the West. This seems to be especially true of my friends. We are just so immersed in our own lives in the West with its Western point of view that emphasizes materialistic happiness and lifestyles. Looking back now, my life was totally void of any spirituality.
The November Course was my mother’s way of introducing formal Buddhism into my life. She had done the same with my other siblings. Her idea was to introduce us to Buddhism through this course and then leave it up to us to decide for ourselves if it was something that we wanted to pursue further.
I have always been somewhat interested in attending this course but I did not know what to expect at all. Before I left for Nepal, I was constantly asked by my friends why I was attending this course and what I expected to get from it. I had no idea at the time and no particular answers for them. I went with no expectations even though the course title was “A Life Changing Event”! I did tell my friends that I would definitely get back to them with some answers.
On my first day at Kopan, I looked into my room and wondered how I was going make it through the month. I was to stay in a small basic dormitory room with three other students, and my bed was in the middle with hardly any space around it. I even complained about the accommodations to my mom, who was with me, like a spoiled son. She softly reminded me that I was not there on holiday and definitely shouldn’t be expecting any resort accommodations. As she was leaving, she whispered that this would be one of my life’s greatest gifts and asked me to embrace it. At that time I didn’t think much about that, but now I understand. I can never thank her enough for introducing the Dharma to my life.
My days at Kopan started off at 5 a.m. with optional prostrations and morning meditation. The prostrations are supposed to cleanse you from the negative karma accumulated in this and other past lives. Without doubt, I knew I had a lot of cleansing to do just from this life, so I promised myself not to miss a single day of prostrations, even though they were optional. There were times when I was sorely tempted to skip a few sessions because I just wanted to sleep a little bit longer and avoid the freezing morning cold. But with total determination I just about managed to keep my side of the promise.
For me, beginning with early morning prostrations helped me start my day by establishing a clear goal for the day. I had honestly never set any motivation like this before in my life. It literally made me take each day at a time. Another of the memorable morning experiences was being told everyday how lucky you were to be alive this day, reminding us that our lives were vulnerable and that death was certain. Being reminded of dying every morning was extremely powerful because it made me focus on the present and to make the best out of it. Like most people, I took living for granted.
The two sessions of teachings everyday reinforced many of my beliefs and helped me further understand the meaning behind the topics covered in the lam-rim. The lam-rim is the graduated path to enlightenment and was our course topic for the entire month. I had been aware of the lam-rim but never really understood it. Our teacher, Ven. Dhondup, an Australian monk for over 35 years, was experienced, precise and very easy to understand. Before this, I had never really experienced Dharma teachings in English. It was much easier to understand compared to hearing the teachings in Tibetan, perhaps because I am more comfortable in English than Tibetan in relation to understanding complex things such as the Dharma.
Some of the life experiences and analogies provided by the teacher in relation to the topics were extremely easy to understand and relate to. My favorites were of Ven. Dhondup’s life experiences with Lama Zopa Rinpoche during his time as his attendant. The question and answer sessions that followed at the end of each teaching were intriguing, too. There were about 260 students from 40 different countries, all with different backgrounds and different levels of knowledge about the Dharma. This was an extremely unique experience! Some of the questions I could relate to and some I couldn’t, but most were really thought provoking. The group discussions were extremely helpful because they aided my comprehension of the teachings and questions in that day’s lessons. Each discussion group had 10-13 people and provided an opportunity for all to have a say on the day’s questions.
The meditation sessions were twice a day and were taught by Ven. Amy, an American nun for over 10 years. It was, by far, the single most difficult thing that I experienced during my time at Kopan. The idea of meditation was completely new to me. I clearly remember the first session when a million things were flying across my mind all at once while I was trying to do single-pointed concentration meditation. Needless to say, I could only last a few seconds, but what I learned over time was that with time and practice, I could improve. Towards the end of the course I could meditate an impressive five minutes by my standards! That limited success would have been impossible without the help and guidance from Ven. Amy. I did find analytical meditation a bit easier. I still find it very challenging to meditate. I certainly never thought our minds could be so complex!
Like the teachings and meditations, my other experiences at Kopan Monastery were really wonderful. I met some of the nicest people, from all over the world, and I will always cherish them. I was always keen to ask about their experiences and their perspective on Buddhism. Although I did have some objections in the beginning to my accommodations, I can now honestly say I couldn’t have wished for any nicer roommates than the ones I had. I now believe it was karma. I can’t help but mention the cold showers some of us had to endure, but looking back, it was all such a truly memorable experience that I’m glad to have experienced every bit of it.
Because I could speak Tibetan, I got to know some of the monks at Kopan. That was an incredible experience because I was constantly sharing ideas and topics with them that we had covered in that day’s teachings. It gave me an opportunity to know more about their respective lives. It would be fair to say some of them were even more inquisitive than me and wanted to find out the topics we were covering in our class.
I must mention the food at Kopan Monastery. The food is vegetarian but was always excellent! It amazes me that the kitchen team prepared food for us and the monks (about 600-700 people) three meals a day and yet never compromised the quality of the food. I guess it was a massive logistical operation and I’m most thankful to the kitchen staff.
I would like to think my overall Kopan experience has transformed my thoughts, feelings and actions. It has certainly made me more aware of myself, my religion and my practice. It has definitely turned my wheel of Dharma. I would love to say it has totally changed me for the better, but I’m not as naïve as I used to be. I know change is gradual and requires patience. I know to study and implement the teachings is a completely different proposition now that I’m back in the West, but I am determined to keep practicing as much as I can in my everyday life. I’m also more aware of my life as a lay person with regards to my duties and responsibilities. I figure it’s all about trying to find the right balance in my life.
Coming back to the questions my friends posed about my expectations from this course, I have to say it’s up to them to notice if I’ve benefited or not. It’ll be interesting to hear what they have to say!
Born in Nepal, Tenzin Ludup now lives in Portland, Oregon, USA. He received a BA degree in 2006 from Portland State University. He currently helps with his family’s retail rug business.
You can learn more about the November Course at Kopan Monastery online.Tags: kopan courses, your words