Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Walk to Kopan Monastery

"While at Kopan Monastery Please Refrain From Killing, Stealing, Lying, Sexual Conduct, Intoxicants Including Tobacco. Thank You."

This sign, which greets you upon arrival to Kopan Monastery, is what I most remember about my last visit there in 2008. Claudine and I decided to return again this Saturday, making it the destination of one of our long walks. Considering the rules, I knew to expect a visit to a safe, truthful, chaste, and sober place, but I wasn't expecting such a peaceful retreat. After many weeks roaming the often-chaotic streets of this city, Kopan Monastery provided a much-needed refuge from the honking vehicle horn that is Kathmandu.

Perched on a hill northeast of the city, Kopan is literally above the fray.

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(Kopan Monastery, the yellow complex on the hill in the distance)

As the sun set over the Valley, we arrived at the monastery. We walked the grounds as the sound of chanting monks wafted in the air, coupling with incense in the breeze.

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At the very top of the hill, there is an open space with sweeping views. From there you can see the Valley and its surrounding hills (and mountains on a clear day), as well as monks meditating, bearded hippies knitting (yes, seriously), and a freaky yoga savant downward dogging like it's nobody's business.

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We stumbled upon one monk sitting for his portrait. Clearly it was a big deal, judging by the reaction of his fellow monks. I remember picture day at school being pretty awesome, too. The results? Not always so awesome.

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I respect the simple backdrop. My mom always opted for the "traditional blue" for my school photos, even if the flashy lazer background was de rigueur. The monks seem wise enough to avoid tampering with simplicity. Who knew my mom was so zen?

When evening puja concluded, monks filed out of the prayer hall.

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My early birthday wish is that it becomes socially acceptable for laymen to wear those robes in public. Would it be sacrilegious to secure a set for home use?

The longer we lingered at the monastery, the more relaxed we became. It seemed like the kind of place one could contemplate and discover the true meaning of life. Maybe that's because it's actually inscribed on the wall here:

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I'm in no position to confirm or deny the words of His Holiness, but I like what he has to say. Obeying (most of) the rules of Kopan Monastery inside and outside its confines can't be a bad start.

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