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Photo by Scott Diekema, Nepal Semester.

Let’s Sit a Little

Thursday, October 24 2019

Ananda Treehouse, Boudha

Kopan Retreat Reflection

I have spent the past seven days in retreat at Kopan Monastery, perched on an immense hillside overlooking the Kathmandu valley. The retreat provided an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism in both its philosophical and practical components. My days started at 6:15, when I would get up, brush my teeth, wash my face, do a quick stretch and walk to the Gungpa (meditation hall) with a cup of piping hot tea for our first meditation. Beginning the day with forty five minutes of silent meditation offered my mind great peace. It feels good to sit with myself at the opening of the day, when my mind is similarly just beginning to wake up. This time allowed me to experience myself, to recognize how my body felt and the quality of my thoughts. And this all before breakfast…

By the end of the morning sit, having long finished my first cup of tea, I would move from the Gangpa to the dining hall, where I would serve myself a steaming bowl of oatmeal porridge and peanut butter with the day’s second cup of tea. The monastery observes daily silence from 10:00 pm until after lunch the following day. In this quiet, early mornings were long drawn out and always helped me to stay in my practice, following each breath in and out, staying present with my body and mind. The remainder of the day would be spent either listening to the Buddha Dharma, eating, meditating, or chatting with the vast conglomerate of retreatants from across the world.

While I could continue to outline the doings of my day to day experience at the retreat, the most meaningful part of my time at Kopan was the moment to moment presence and feeling tones within the schedule. Sitting on the floor for most of the hours in the day gave me lots of time to notice my experience. However, I would be lying if I said it was completely easy. Many times my back would start to ache fifteen or twenty minutes in to what would be a two or three hour class. On the second day my commitment to sit with good posture strongly solidified. I felt that I wanted to take advantage of my time and get the most out of the retreat. I came to realize that getting the most out of the retreat for myself was not to try and find some profound intellectual understanding of things but more simply to commit to a good posture, to strengthen my back, to cultivate my sense of being. This started as a very solitary practice, but as I sat in the Gangpa with the rest of the retreatants I came to feel a deep sense of connection. Hours of sitting in relative silence together quickly cultivated a strong bond amongst the group. By dinner the second night the dining hall rung with jubilant conversation, the gardens and walking paths hummed with songs from the Earth over and what was a group of random travelers had turned into a collective mind, striving to gain insight into life itself and do our part to make a better world. Without sharing a word I felt connected to many of these people, and with those to whom I spoke I found a kindred spirit of exploration and kindness, as well as a huge variety of life experience and humbling stories.

During the last group gathering of the retreat the we broke the silence of meditation in a devotional tune. The whole group of one hundred and twenty people sent forth one voice, echoing the short Chenrezig Mantra, Aum Mane Padme Hum, up to the ceiling and out of the windows. In this song, this one voice, I felt that we were living the Dharma, that we were living international love and kindness lacking any discrimination to race or gender or sexual orientation or perceived spiritual prowess. I felt in myself and in my peers an honest heart and a hopeful mind. I felt the synthesis of the seven days and knew that all was not for nothing.