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Kopan Monastery, One Month Meditation Retreat
Travel Report, 2003

By Sheldon Gelowitz (including pictures)
SK, Canada

Where to begin.... mmmmmmm. I guess from the start. :) Flew out of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada on Nov. 5th at 7:30 AM. From there Calgary, AB, to Vancouver, BC, got a direct flight to LA would of had to stop in Seattle, then to Taipei, to Bangkok, then final stop Kathmandu. It took 35+ hours with some delays but got there on Nov 7th, late evening. Had to find a hotel because it was too late to head up to Kopan.

The next morning, off to the monastery. Got a taxis from the hotel. The taxis driver knows how to drive. Narrow roads and driving anywhere and at any speeds. Boy an exciting trip up to Kopan. We slowly started to climb upwards to the monastery. It was like I was arriving at a castle on a hill. The monastery was enclosed with 6ft walls around the grounds. At the entrances gate; 8 to 10 ft tall; there was a security guard waiting patiently for new arrives. I stepped into Kopan..... there were people everywhere... monks, nuns, lay people. All buzzing with excitiment! I arrived around 10:30 AM and the course start at 5:00 PM so I had some time to go hunting around.

At 5PM we all assembled at the Chenrezig Gompa... our retreat gompa (teaching/medatition hall.) Beautiful building. With many statues including a 8 or 10 ft Buddha in the centre. Many thangkas, many many water bowl offerings. We met Venerable Karin Valham first. She has been a nun for 25 or 28 years. A beautiful person. She gave us the low down on the course. Ani Karin was kind of like the mother of all the students. You could go and ask her anything.

The course schedule included no breaks i.e. no weekends off. We started bright an early at 5:30 AM doing prostration to the 35 Buddhas (purification.) I did not do this in the mornings because it was too fast for me so, I circled the Enlightenment Stupa in the gardens. At 6AM morning tea - 6:30 AM morning medatition with Ani Karin - 7:30 AM breakfast - 8:00 AM Karma Yoga which is basically practising mindfullness but benefitting others i.e. by cleaning the grounds or helping with dishes or doing yoga etc. I was the clean up guy for the grounds! :o)

Then at 9AM teachings with Venerable Antonio Satto from Italy. Ven. Antonio split the group up, where males on the left side and females on the right. He thought it would be best to actually teach abit and medatited the rest of the time. We spend 98% of the time training on mindfullness. Hard as you can believe but an excellent practice. At 11:30 AM lunch and then free till 2PM. I would go back to my room after lunch and have an one hour sleep then go to the garden and medatited till 2PM. At 2PM we would have group discussions on the teachings... LamRim or we went to see Lama Konchog Relics (Lama died two years ago and when they removed his ashes there where relics.... crystalized tongue, part of his heart, skull, perfectly round balls.... this would say by other lamas that he was a realized being.... awaken being... enlightened.)

Then at 3PM a break - 3:30 PM teachings with Ven. Antonio - 5:00 PM tea :o) - 6PM guided medatition with Venerable Matthew. He was an American in this mid 20's or so. A soft, kind, gentle voiced person that made medatition even more enjoyable. At the beginnng of the course I would be so tired by the started of Ven. Matthew session that I would basically fall asleep on my cushion. So, thats why I sleep the one hour after lunch! :o) His sessions included medatitions on loving kindness, compassion, TongLen etc. Sometimes he would just read from a book of poems the 7th Dalai Lama wrote. *Wonderful* 7:00 PM Dinner- The food at Kopan was excellent. Great!!!

Once we were done dinner some evenings the monks would be outside chanting. Some of us would gather and listen.... Just the chanting mixed with the low voices of some monks put you in a calm focused place. At 8:00PM our final evening session where either Ani Karin would come or Ven. Antonio for question and answer or even teach.

We had some surprise throughout the month too. Like a teaching with Ven. Robina Courtin- what a powerhouse- straight forward and tells it has it is. She taugh us about the 4 Noble Truths, an overview on buddhism, and her work with prisoners. One or twice we had Geshe Yum Yum visit us because Ven. Antonio was sick. Powerful, gentle, funny, and silly!! He taught us about the special human rebirth... Wow... Just Wow!! lol

We finally had two teachings from Lama Lhundrup the abbot of Kopan. He had an operation which put him out of "services" for abit. Wonderful person and a benefit for others for sure! By 9 or 9:30 we were done for the day and off to bed!!! ;)

I should mention about mindfulness and silence. It was basically demanded that we all be silent from wake up to at less after lunch but it was encouaged that we keep it all the time. It was of benefit because you slowed down the constant talking in the mind. You could slow it down where you could be present. Being present is the only way, it gives you peace of mind... to be aware right now. When you focused on the breathing you become aware of your surroundings; inner and outer. You begin to let go of your past and future ideas that you hold so dear. The past is the past and the future has no grounds to walk on. Nothing to hold onto but the present moment!!

Personal I had ups and downs... I would not say everyday was better than the past because it was not. I had difficulties with all the teachings and medatition sessions. But I was calm basically throughout the course. I took one day at a time. I noticed the ups and downs has being just that. I simply saw them araise and fall away but never reacting. Yes, throughout the day it would happen; I would have troubles but you have to focus on your breathing and things would fall into place again. Like I said before it was very tough and tiresome! Focusing, breathing, and visualizing is tough but great benefit.

A little less than half way we took vows for 12 days called 8 Mahayana Precepts. We only ate once a day. As you can tell it brought the mind to a place where it would be much cleared to medatited because you were not focusing on food and such.. It was great to do. I lossed 12 pounds!! I think I will do it once a week or maybe twice a month.

Sorry for being some long winded!! I will keep it short as I can... Maybe...... lol ;o)

Im going to now tell you about Lama Zopa Rinpoche..... ONE WORD.... WOW!!!!!!! It was the last week of the discourse and their was a buzz in the air for sure! All the monks and nuns where showing off their nicely shaven heads.. hehehe The day that Lama Zopa came we basically had the day off. We did have all morning as usually. We got the big new that the Lama was coming at 3:30 PM...

So we all waited at the entrance gate, all 170+ students and all 300 monks who where waiting up stairs at the main gompa. We waited..... and waited... The 15 ft horns were playing and the little monks were playing and being little kids!! lol :) At about 5 PM the Lama made is way up the driveway. Blessing each and everyone of us. All the students give white or cream coloured kata as offering for many teachings. I was smiling from ear to ear!! I was 3 fold back waiting to offer the kata to the Lama. I was abit scared but very calm and know if I didnt offer the kata it was a big deal. Just to see him was enough!!

I was waiting then a path was cleared for me and I was pushed forwards, next in line to offer the kata. I never looked up when I was offering the kata. The Lama gentle offered and gave it back to me. Both his hands touched my cheeks and blessed me 3 times, I think??? My group leader said it was special to be blessed 3 times?? Anyways, for some reason I looked up right after the blessing. Looked straight into his eyes.... His eyes.... the focus.... the compassion.... the the the.... words cant describle it. It was amazing!! Thats all!!

Lama Zopa slowly made it way up the steps to the main gompa and then inside. My roommate came by to chat. I told him I looked into his eyes... he told me I was brave.... After abit I fell apart emotionally. It was powerful... the Lama.... Its hard to explain. What an experience.

Our schedule for the next week was in the air. The mornings stayed the same but our morning medatition was split now. One hour of medatition and one hour of teachings with Ven. Antonio. Lama Zopa Rinpoche came everyday and taught for 2 or 3 hours. We were told that he may and does sometimes go and teach for 5 or 6 hours straight. Lama Zopa taught us about rebirth, karma, emptiness, etc. One session a gentleman ask a question right off the bat and Lama Zopa spend 2 or 3 hours answering this question. At the end of the session Lama Zopa looks at the gentleman and asks him... did I answer your question??? He laughs and we all start to laugh. We also had a wonderful chance everyday to hear a oral transmission - a lung - from a sutra called Golden Light. We didnt finish the transmission but it was amazing anyways. Lama Zopa said even if we dont continue it still creates great merit. Even one word from the Golden Light Sutra will create great merit!

Closer to the end of the course Lama Zopa brought in a goat. Lama Zopa said that they were driving from the airport to kopan. He saw a goat being sold to be killed. Out of his great compassion he bought the goat and gave it a place at Kopan. Plus, he brought the goat to hear some of the Golden Light Sutra (sutras are the teachings from the Buddha.) So the goat could benefit too!! What a man...... I mean what a Bodhisattva!! :o)

I never realized that Lama Zopa does not sleep. He is up 24 hours a day... never sleeping... always benefitting others. 110% compassion for others!! Amazing!!!!!!!!! The end is near!!! ;)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche was so kind to us to make a special ceremory to take refuge and the 5 Precepts. Yes, I did take refuge and I did take all 5 Precepts. I too want to benefit all sentient beings this is my goal!! THE END :O)

Please do not think that Im trying to change you or something. This is false... This is my spiritual path only. You have to find your own path... for you. I give this out of pure compassion for others and not out of pride or such. People asked about my experiences so I must be truthful! ;O)

May whatever positive merits that I have accumulated through writing my own experience's. Benefit all living sentient beings. May I become enlightened for the sake of all others!

If you have questions or doubts or comments please email me and I will try my best to help! Thanks

Sheldon Gelowitz
SK, Canada


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