In October 2019 I spent two lovely weeks in Nepal, a few days in Kathmandu and 7 wonderful days at the Buddhist Kopan Monastery, on the outskirts of the city https://kopanmonastery.com/ Let me tell you about my adventures on this article and how it all went about
Day 1 - Hiking to the Chandragiri
Before visiting Kathmandu, I had already arranged one day hiking to the Chandagiri mountain, 2,500 metres, a "hill" as the local call it because it has no snow. I paid (not in advanced) 120 dollars for this day trip, and I booked through the agency advertised on this link: https://www.himalayastrek.com/chandragiri-day-hiking/ Unfortunately, the description of the trip has nothing to do with reality. On the day of the event, the driver and the guide (Krishna, a great man) pick me up from my Hotel The Doors at 7am (I wouldn't recommended the hotel, spiders in the room and a flock of pigeons chanting at 4am), then we drove out of Kathmandu.... kind of... they didn't know the way to the Chandagiri mountain so they had to ask. It was about a year since they last did the trip and they had forgotten the route to get there. As it normally happens in Asia, you don't get what is advertised on the paper, the "asian way" delivers with best efforts and 'as if'. I did enjoy the hiking anyway, even though we never got even close to the Hattiban Resort as published on the trip's advert. I've got to see stunning view of the Kathmandu Valley and the Himalayas Mountain Range in the background, enjoy the pictures I selected below:
Kopan Monastery - 7 days retreat
This was the whole purpose and the objective of this trip to Nepal: stay 7 days in a Buddhist Monastery without phone or Internet, just you and your mind, and the teaching and guides they'll give you to know yourself better. I absolutely loved it, and strongly recommend to anyone to do a similar thing, a guided retreat where you can explore and understand more about how really your mind work, meditation is the key of course! At Kopan I did the introductory course "Tools for Happiness", though when I booked the course back in February 2019 it was called "Introduction to Buddhism", the principles and teachings were basically the same. We spent almost 3 days in what is called Vipassana meditation, where you do not talking and not writing or reading, just watching your mind. We were also so lucky that, during our stay, the lama Ling Rinpoche visited us. Apparently he is the second in command of the Buddhism faith just after the Dalai Lama. His visit was totally unexpected as it the customs of the Buddhists: whenever they feel like going to a place they just go, they don't have an agenda like we westerners do, not even for high monks profiles like Ling Rinpoche, a 24 hours notice is enough. In a way (many ways) he's right, they are all right... death will catch you mostly without warning, so why are you stressing out compiling an agenda of activities to do when you don't even know if you're gonna life tomorrow? Just do it
The food at Kopan was absolutely delicious, we had gruel in the morning with a scrumptious peanut butter, which generated so much attachment among all of us. Then, at lunch time, we had rice every day together with a nutritious mixes of vegetables, broccoli, potatoes, etc with your choice of naan, dosa or bhature bread. The evening meal was slightly less heavy than the lunch, but definitely still with body, substance and taste. Nothing was spice. We all loved the food, and I think that one of the major contributors to our appreciation (apart from the fact that the food itself was delicious) was due to the breakfast and lunches being eating in total silence, while dinner was taking, just like breakfast, after a long meditation, so your mind was always at easy when eating and ready to engage with the flavours
I brought with me a sleeping bag, and stayed in a doom with 7 more chaps. Woke up every day at 6am to shower and do my morning Tai Chi. The day started at 06:45 in the Meditation Hall (called Gompa in Tibetan) with a long 45' meditation session with David Marks, one of our instructors, who fell in love with Buddhism while travelling in India 35 years ago. The first few days it was an absolute agony for me, as I still had laces on my legs from the Chandragiri hiking, but there after I absolutely loved these long meditations. Then we had breakfast at 7:30 and teaching with Carla in the Gompa (meditation hall) until lunch time, which was at 11:30. Right after lunch we could start chatting to the other 140 people from all over the world who were attending the course too, and it was great to open your dialogue to people who actually feel the same concerns and spirit aspirations as you
Thanks to our teacher, Carla, we learnt about Anger, Attachment, Aversion, Karma, Fear, Patience, Motivation, Ego, Ignorance, Compassion, Equanimity, Meditation, Kindness, Love.... and Wisdom. Here some pics I've selected from the days:
And here some random notes that I took on my journal during my stay, take it all with pinch of salt or sugar! haha
- We don't exist in the way we think we do. Meditate is to become familiar with your mind, to see how your mind moves, for the purpose of transforming it. Make your determination to have peace of mind. On your 1st session of meditation focus on the breathing, imagine you are hearing water and see it flow. On the 2nd session focus on the energy flow of the nose, you're required to focus. In the 3rd session imagine your body is empty and hollow, inhale white light... exhale black smoke.
- Don't follow the narrative of your mind, and you can't do it part-time, please be focus and do it full time! Karma doesn't produce judgement, it is purely cause and effect; we are keen to accept good karma (I won the lottery) but not so good to accept bad one. "Might you be free of yourself" is what a driver says to another in Kathmandu when they cut each other. Can we mathematically prove Karma? Why are all we very repelling (chemical reaction) instead of nursing silence? Always check your motivation, is it your ego the one pushing you to speak? Be determine and be vigilant about your words, actions and thoughts.
- Intention is the key. Many things influence our perception (senses, education, genetics, emotions, nutrition, etc) meaning our reality, our version of reality, is blurred.
- What is the difference between intention and motivation? "Intention comes from inside and is very emotional. Motivation is more rational and needs goals, rewards and expectations"
- How does judgement influence our thoughts, words and behaviours? "the line shopping in the supermarket, seeing the items the person has in front of you in the rail-tray, don't be judgemental!" "I was on a trekking to Base Camp Everest with a group of 10/12 people, and one guy was always ahead of us, making life difficult for us and the guide. Why this guy is trying to show off that he's better trekker than all of us? I thought he was arrogant and did not get on with him at all in the days we were trekking. Then, days after, on the flight back from Lukla to Kathmandu, I happens to be behind the man on the security checking, and he asked the security guards if he could please carry the ashes of his father with him to pass the security checking.... omg, this man was ahead all the time during the trekking because he wanted to spread some of the ashes of his father in silence and solitude. Don't be judgemental!". Because we need certainty, we make a quick judgement to dissipate uncertainty, but be aware of that!
- Bring to your mind something material/sense/pleasure related, why did it bring happiness? What will you feel if you cannot longer have that thing? "Attachments are positive too, but remember that you eventually will need to detach from your body too". "You ensure the contents of your house, but you never have insurance on your rubbish, the black bags that you put in the bin. Why? You're never attached to them"."Detachment is NOT the way, that means indifference; when you remove attachment you should not created detachment to those objects". "Pleasure = a temporarily reduction of our dissatisfaction"
- Why are we so rigid and inflexible about things and relaxed about others? "Expectations, when your believes get challenged you become very rigid and inflexible. You could have good principles, but don't try to impose them to others". "What's the worst that can happen? You might die, but you're going to die anyway"."Fear is mostly learn, they're the projections of our minds". "Take yourself out of the comfort zone, don't be afraid and don't set limits on yourself". Death is going to happen, don't be afraid. On one spectrum of the EGO you have Arrogance, in the opposite side you have Low-Self-Esteem.
- If you're friends of only your friends, what do you gain? what do you contribute to the Cosmos? Be mindful of your thoughts and cultivate good tendencies (patience, motivation, kindness, etc) so that they are projected to future lives. When you trap your finger with the door, that's not karma, karma comes from 'how' you react to that event. To develop kindness the first thing you have to do is to throw the whip away, stop punishing people, things and yourself.
- Keep meditating to become intimate with your mind and your ego, do it to get the capacity to transform your mind. Don't engage with bad thoughts, "don't go there". All the sentinels beings experience suffering to some point and in some manner. When your legs ache, move your mind away from it, the pain might still be there but the suffering of the mind will be gone, don't dwelt on it. The problem is not the 'thing', the problem is the attachment/repulsion to the 'thing'.
- Any relationship should be aimed to REDUCE the suffering of both partners. Separate the behaviour from the conscience, from the "Buddha Nature": every person has that tiny spark of pure light quality that makes then human. We give our love to people who help us and deny our love to those who don't; when we offer love we should offer it unconditionally. Whatever you do, you are always conditioned, so we have to create the causes and conditions for things to change. When you say to someone "I love you"... are you expecting an "I love you too" in return? Wrong. Everything is interpretation, and is never the external experience what counts, but the creation of your mind.
- Fear is the basis of both attachment and aversion. Despite our "strong tendencies" we still have the power to choose, free will, the energy only becomes bad once it is manifested, so control your thoughts to avoid these manifestations in the mind. Everything that happens to you is related to your actions, so why are you getting angry about it? Attachment exaggerates our likes while aversion exaggerates the negative qualities or aspects of something, we then catastrofied and exaggerates our life crisis. The only difference between an Arachno-Biology and a person who suffers Arachnophobia... is the mind: your own mind created the comfort and the discomfort
- Karma is not punishment, karma is purely cause and effect. You can't be angry 100% of the time, or happy 100% of the time, meaning that those sensations simply "attach" themselves to the nature of the mind, which is pure by nature but can't be polluted, just like the waters on the river. Train how to calm your mind through meditation, the mind of today is caused by the mind of yesterday, be mindful of the turbulence. Do it NOW because the duration of your life is not CERTAIN. Any discomfort is driving by your thinking
- Thoughts are not good or bad, just watch the movements of the mind as you meditate, we have to become familiar with the mind in order to transform it. With what you eat, perceive and wear, recognise the deep contribution that sentient beings are making to your existence. The news only show bad events, where are all those acts of kindness that are happening everyday around the World, without nobody noticing? They don't show on the news. Don't keep fuelling the negativity and practice Love & Kindness, even if you think you are hypocrite, just be aware of this and keep doing it until the Love & Kindness moves from the mind to the heart. You can detect any ego-driving-kindness in your acts when the other person doesn't tell you "thank you" for your good act, how do you feel? was your good act ego-motivated? Accepts EVERYTHING that is giving to you, never stop a gesture of generosity, and RECOGNISE how you are constantly protecting your stuff from others.
- Is this thought helping me or not? If it left this thought take my actions, where will it take me? Thoughts are not a law that we must obey, they are as permanent as water bubbles at the end of a cascade! Recognise them and evaluate whether they contribute to your happiness or not. Identification increases power, so reduce the power of your thoughts by not identifying yourself with them. As soon as you give a history a meaning you're giving it power; "I'm a banana" does not have meaning associated, therefore no power. Don't associate with the thought "I'm upset"; the more you practise, the less you'll engage with them. Words have not value until you give it to them.
- Compassion is not pity, compassion is wanting freedom from suffering for all beings. Immeasurable compassion is equanimity where the love is not conditioned, hence not measurable. Around you there always will be: 1) Someone who judges you good, the way you want. 2) Someone who judges you bad, they way you don't want. 3) Someone who doesn't care at all. You have to love all these 3 people, that is called equanimity; friend, enemy or stranger are all the same. Be aware of the "narrative" that appear on your thoughts, don't focus on negatives thoughts and their narratives, as this will give them power: whatever you cultivate it thrives, son cultivate only love, kindness and compassion
- Act of kindness? When in the queue for coffee, pay the coffee for the 3rd person in the queue, so you don't see (and therefore your ego) their reaction. Every close friend was before a stranger. Don't project your values into another person, for example don't project your western values to a Buddhist monk. Be aware of the ignorance to identify our Buddha Nature. Drugs? Anything that impacts on the clarity of the mind is negative. You also need to accept that some people don't want to be helped, you're not in the World to evangelise, you need to transform your mind
- All phenomena creates and disintegrates; it creates a dualism view between existence and non-existence. We think "I" is independent, solid and autonomous but that's not the case, the "I" is composed of five factors: form, feeling, discrimination (recognition, karma formation), composition factors and consciousness. You do exists as I can see you, but you don't exist in the way I see you. Solid does not exist, everything moves from one state to the next, producing changes every millisecond, your body, building, mountain, flowers, etc, all is moving hence the changing nature of this Universe. A rainbow looks real, but it doesn't exist in the way we see it: there is no solidity, all phenomena is a projection of the mind. Imagine you are looking at your feet, and a butterfly posses on one foot (how beautiful!), then a fly posses on the other foot (how awful!); both feeling are projections of the mind. It is not possible to find our Buddha Nature by perceptions, we have to find it by experience.
Thank you Carla for your great teaching, I think that "you are the sharpest tool in the shed". Thanks for the great laughs, the fear of being misunderstood and the environmental collapse vs mental collapse
Kathmandu, a one and once stop only
Some people that I met loved it (typically, all foreigners), but for me and my taste Kathmandu is an absolute distressful city, dirty, noisy, polluted and crowded. Oh yes, you definitely need to see it and then chant the mantra "I have been there, done that", but don't spend more than 3 or 4 days in there, at the most. I spent 3 days in Kathmandu and it was more than enough! I heard a lot about Pokhara, a city East of Kathmandu that apparently is well worth a visit, so I reckon next time I visit Nepal I'll use Kathmandu just to take a flight to Pokhara
The centre of Kathmandu, the tourist area, is called the Thamel, and is total chaos in rush hours and crowded, no sidewalks or curbs so you're sharing the road with bikers, cars and other pedestrians. And the pollution is incredible, at the end of my first day in Kathmandu I found the need of buying one of the famous Asian face mask, the air was so toxic, full of dust and engines exhausts particles
Ahem, on a positive note, the cuisine in Kathmandu is unique, a mixed of Chinese, Indian and Nepali food, wow! And so many hidden and cute places to find within Thamel that is worth exploring. Kathmandu is therefore a must stop in Asia, but certainly not everyone's cup of tea
My deepest gratitude to Restaurant OR2K, in Thamel, for its act of extreme kindness towards the people I shared 7-days with at Kopan: free dinner and drinks for everyone in the group (and we were around 50/60 people) under two conditions: 1) tell to the person next to you a project that you have wanted to do for a long time 2) during the next few days do an act of kindness yourself, expecting nothing in return
I overnight my last couple of nights in Kathmandu in the Yatri spa hotel, expensive but recommended if you want luxury. The massage I had at the spa in there was once of the best I had had. Disappointed at first that my breakfast wasn't included in spite of having paid a premium for the booking, but the again relief that the breakfast was all a continental western buffer... thank you very much, I'll pass! Bring some early momos with the coffee instead! :)
The last thing I saw in Kathmandu before heading back to London was the Swayambhunath Stupa, also called Monkey Temple for the amount of monkeys that populate the area, according to the tradition they are lices from the hair of Buddha himself. Enjoy these last few pictures I selected from that day. The Monkey Temple is an hour walking from Thamel, using Google Maps download an offline copy the Kathmandu on your phone, and walk it, much better than getting a cab
Get your vaccines done ;one of the first things I did was to get the appropriate vaccines for the country, especially given the fact that I was going to spend a few days in a Monastery where one of the rules is "not to kill anything, even small insects", so you better be ready. Head to this link https://travelhealthpro.org.uk/country/159/nepal and see that they list for 'most travellers' three types of vaccinations, which is the ones I had:
- Hepatitis A
You can get an appointment with your local GP and get all these 3 vaccines done at once, but you are like me and can't be bother, you can visit this clinic in London where they'll give you all the required injections https://www.londontravelclinic.co.uk for a 'symbolic' price of £115. The injections come in two shots only, meaning one of the shots contains two vaccines together. More info about vaccines here: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/nepal?s_cid=ncezid-dgmq-travel-single-001
Travel insurance ;don't you dare to board a plane overseas without such an insurance. I got mine from the Post Office https://www.postoffice.co.uk/travel-insurance at the price of £57 (premier cover level) and for a coverage period of two weeks
Visa Rather than online I obtained the visa on arrival: http://www.nepalimmigration.gov.np/page/visa-on-arrival Once in Kathmandu airport arrivals, you need to pay 30 US dollars at the counter on your left hand side, then grab one of the arrival cards and fill in it with your details. Be patience a queue for exit, having ready your passport, of course, and a 1 pic passport size of yourself. Just before you travel, read thoroughly these websites full of great advice:
- UK Government foreign travel advise to Nepal ;https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/nepal
- Getting your visa for Nepal ;https://www.kimkim.com/c/obtaining-your-visa-for-nepal
- General Advice, Dangerous & Annoyances ;https://www.lonelyplanet.com/nepal/safety
- 10 things you should avoid doing in Nepal ;https://mountainplanet.com/10-things-you-should-never-do-in-nepal
- Useful tips too: https://nepalecoadventure.com/nepal-tour/nepal-day-tour/hiking-to-shivapuri/
Currency ;I took 300 dollars with me, and there in Nepal I used the "Himalayan Bank" to change into Nepal Ruppees, but be careful with the shape, age and look of the dollar notes you have with you, there were a bit funny about that, and no matter how many times I tried I could not change some of the dollar notes that I had because they looked old, they had scratch and paint over them or they were from an old series
London, 20th November 2019