This article is the follow-up to my article “The ‘November Course’ at Kopan Monastery is so completely different“.
Lesson 1: Modesty and Acceptance
The schedule is full every day, starting with ritual prostrations at 5:30 am, analytical meditations and lessons during the day, and the last meditation session until 9 pm. Despite the many breaks in between, I am often tired and feel overstrained by all the input. My nights are interrupted as I share a large shared room with eleven other women.
I have little privacy and just a little sleep. Still, I kind of function during the day. The bathroom, which I share with at least twenty other people, is often occupied and sometimes the water is only lukewarm to cold. The conditions are modest and I accept the compromises I am making here. But this is not so easy, because every day is different with many ups and downs.
But after some time, I start to feel real acceptance and no longer insist on all the amenities I would like to have. The feeling of acceptance and modesty is something wonderful and makes me open and receptive.
Lesson 2: Throwing expectations, pride, and skepticism overboard
Despite certain expectations, I would like to get involved in what is to come. However, I quickly reach my limits and realise that I have unexpected biases that I hadn’t been aware of before. This begins with the ritual bows every morning at 5:30 am. Here you bow at least 35 times to 35 different confession Buddhas to purge yourself of accumulated negative karma.
Skepticism and discomfort arise within me and I wonder if the daily ritual of bowing can really cleanse me of negative actions. But I know that the main thing is to practise modesty and to lower one’s ego a little.
Ritual bows are definitely a good exercise: a room full of people who throw themselves on their knees countless times in front of an oversized Buddha statue, leaving their skeptical and proud ego outside the door. When I bow to all kinds of Buddhas whose meaning I don’t know, I can create my own meaning in my mind and give it a meaning.
I bow to life as a whole that holds so many paths for me. I bow to the creation and the divine – the Buddha nature – and realise how I am a small grain of sand among trillions of others on the beach of life.
Lesson 3: Recognising your own level of experience and starting where you are
Despite my good intentions, after only a few days I no longer go to the morning bows. I realise that I’m not ready to find my own meaning. In addition to the prayers, we recite meditations, the bows are still a step too far for me. I feel strange and overwhelmed.
I decide to be honest with myself and continue to work on the basics: meditation and philosophy. I want to give my mind some space and not build too much resistance that could ultimately drive me away from Buddhism. That would be too bad considering all the life-changing potential I have found here.
I get to know many people and see that I am not the only one who experiences skepticism and resistance. We all came here with our very personal intentions and find our own ways with what we have learned.
Lesson 4: Working on the Self Needs Time to Thrive
And then there’s the karma issue. In Buddhism, it is important to produce good karma during one’s lifetime and thus to receive a good rebirth in the next life. The intention behind this is to develop one’s own consciousness spiritually over numerous lives, to attain enlightenment and then to be able to lead other living beings to enlightenment. The necessary karma is created by pure actions not motivated by the ego.
The frustrating news is, it’s damn easy to produce bad karma! If one accumulates negative karma for the most part, then, according to Buddhist teachings, this promises a rebirth in the lower spheres of life, which include animals and creatures from hell.
But it doesn’t only need serious acts of violence to produce bad karma: even small actions, such as talking badly about others to make you look better yourself or to place your own needs above those of others in a selfish way are enough. The list is long. Everything leaves imprints in the stream of consciousness that reincarnates into the next life after death.
As I have a lot of reflection time, I inevitably sum up my own karma account during the course, noticing with shock that all those years of unconsciousness and carelessness don’t go by without a trace. I wonder in what form all the selfishly motivated actions will pay off. Behind many was the drive of the ego. And as we repeatedly hear during the course, we accumulate an enormous amount of negative karma.
I’m worried about my rebirth without knowing if I even believe in rebirth. The time here in the monastery is so intense and many of the teachings so clear and accessible that the concept of karma and rebirth is increasingly taking form for me. Every day I ask myself: How can I create all the good karma to make up for the bad? And here, too, the motto is once again: relax and accept. And to be thankful that I can work on becoming a better and more conscious person in the future.
The course at Kopan Monastery showed me that everything you aim to integrate into your life takes some time to prosper. After this intensive time, you don’t know what you actually learned and can take away with you. It may take weeks, months or years for the meaning behind it to reveal itself to the mind. I have faced some personal hurdles that I will report on in the next part of this series but very quickly noticed small, positive changes: I appreciate life more and learn to separate useful from useless thoughts and to act wisely in everyday life.
Translation German-English: Anna Dichen
|02_Essenssaal Kopan-||Lisa Dau||CC BY-SA 4.0|
|03_Blick von Kopan am frühen Morgen-||Lisa Dau||CC BY-SA 4.0|
|01_Blick in den großen Dorm-||Lisa Dau||CC BY-SA 4.0|
|04_Offerings am Lama Tsongkhapa Tag-||Lisa Dau||CC BY-SA 4.0|