A monastery in the tradition of

Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism on Kopan Hill

Kopan Monastery

Simply north of the ancient Buddhist town of Boudhanath is the Kopan hill, which rises up out of the terraced fields of the Kathmandu valley and is visible for miles. Dominated by a magnificent bodhi tree, it was once the home of the astrologer to the king of Nepal. This same hill is now the home of Kopan Monastery, a monastery in the tradition of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism under the instruction of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Its name comes from the name of the hill on which it was built. The air is clean and the view across the valley is magical.

Kopan Monastery was founded by Lama Thubten Yeshe who died in 1984. Interestingly, a small Spanish boy named Osel Torres became his successor after he was declared a reincarnation of the great Lama. However, the reincarnation does not live in Kopan anymore.

It is the home of 360 monks, lamas, teachers and workers. The monks are from all areas of Nepal and Tibet with ages from seven to sixty years old. They have devoted their lives to the study and practice of the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, with special emphasis on the teachings of Lama Tsong Khapa, the founder of the Gelug Lineage.

Kopan Monastery is committed to helping all beings develop their full potential of infinite wisdom and compassion as taught by our founder, Lama Thubten Yeshe, and spiritual director Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Visitors from all over the world have come here to attend courses and enjoy the spiritual atmosphere of the place for study and practice.

Kopan Monastery is affiliated with the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an organization aimed for the transmission of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and values worldwide through teaching, meditation, and community service. FPMT provides integrated education through which people's minds and hearts can be transformed into their highest level for the benefit of others, inspired by an attitude of universal compassion.

The spiritual program at Kopan offers introductory level courses in what is known as the Discover Buddhism series, dealing with the basic principles of Tibetan Buddhism and meditation. The series known as the Next Step series, leads on to a deeper exploration of these principles.


Kopan Monastery


There are three main routes to Kopan Monastery. The most enjoyable walk is from Boudha. Walking from the east side of the stupa, the road goes through Phulbari and meets the road coming from Chuchepati. Then it’s downhill and the monastery comes into view. You then climb up towards it. The other route is through Chabahil turning left at Chuchepati where one can see a statue of Pasang Lhamu, the first Nepali female to climb Everest. The third route follows the Ring Road after Chabahil and goes past the Gopi Krishna Radha Cinema Hall. There are buses up to the base of the hill on top of which the monastery is perched. Taxis can be hired from the city. Other alternatives are to hire a motorcycle, mountain bike or just simply walk all the way.

History of Kopan Monastery

In 1959, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe met in the Indian refugee camp of Buxa Duar and came to Nepal in 1968 with their first disciple, Zina Rachevsky. They first resided near Boudhanath stupa, a few miles east of Kathmandu.

After a couple of years, however, they were able to purchase and move to an old house with a small amount of land on top of the Kopan hill that used to belong to the astrologer to the king of Nepal. The first temple was constructed in 1971 -72, funded almost completly by the lama's increasing number of Western disciples.

The first monks joined soon after the land was purchased. They were mostly young boys from the Solu Khumbu and Manang area of Nepal. Many of them were sent to the new, budding monastery by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who was at that time re-establishing the Lawudo Retreat Center, a please where he meditated in his previous life.

Foreigners, disillusioned with the increased materialist outlook in the West, and looking for meaning in their life kept flocking to Kopan to attend the teachings of the lamas. Many of them took ordination vows, and stayed as a small western sangha community at Kopan under the supervision of Lama Yeshe, till they were forced to leave Nepal due to a change in Nepal's visa regulations in 1985.

Over the next 30 years Kopan developed and grew into one of the biggest Gelug monasteries in Nepal with 380 monk and 360 nuns, and an extensive program of Buddhist courses for foreigners. The one-month course first taught in 1971 became an annual event and is till happening now, with more than 250 people attending every year.


Yong monks in Kopan Monastery


Education program of Kopan Monastery

Buddhist Philosophy, Debate, and Tantric studies are the main subjects of the monastic education program. These studies usually start after completing class five of the school education. They are complemented by Lam Rim teachings and instructions on personal practice, oral transmissions of mantras, and advice on how to develop the mind. The aim is the development of human qualities such as humility, discipline, mutual understanding, co-operation, patience and compassion. This encourages the students to be better human beings with a good heart and wisdom. They become responsible citizens of the planet we live on, who have all the qualifications to serve others. 

Courses deal with Mind Training, Karma, Death and Dying, Bodhicitta, and more. There are 5-day and 10-day courses and a month-long course on meditation. There are also short courses on Tibetan medicine, Thangka painting and the very popular 10-day residential courses in Buddhist psychology and philosophy. Courses vary in length and some students spend months at the monastery devoted to their studies. In the past many were housed in tents due to lack of space but now there are enough rooms to accommodate them.

Kopan has become famous for teaching Buddhism to visiting Western foreigners. The first of what would become annual month-long (November-December) meditation courses was held in 1971. These courses generally combine traditional Lam Rim teachings with informal discussion, several periods of guided meditation, and a vegetarian diet.


Course of Kopan Monastery


Things to do in Kopan Monastery

Walk in the complex and enjoy its charm, including natural and architectural beauty. When you visit the main temple, you can see the paintings of the four Dharma Kings of Tibet. Admire the 20-foot (6 meter) statue of Lama Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Rotate the prayer wheel as you circle the eight Buddha pagodas of Enlightenment.

Adore the Tibetan architecture of the meditation hall of the temple, where there are teaching activities every day. Listen to morning prayer at the Lama Tsong Khapa Gompa and pay a visit to the Tantric school where monks are studying. On the top floor there is a shrine with the remains of an important teacher. Turn the prayer wheel of the monastery, and then step into the prayer wheel house to see its paintings.

Visitors can plan to explore the picturesque and peaceful monastery for a few hours, do a rest or join one of the courses. The monastery campus is open to all. However, in order to avoid disturbing students and monks, a general code of conduct needs to be maintained. There is a cafe where visitors can enjoy a simple and healthy vegetarian meal and then stroll in the monastery garden. Welcome to witness peace, even if only for one hour.