Boudha’s Western community is well established, though to become a part of it you need either an introduction or a lot of time, since serious Western students of dharma tend to regard tourists as spiritual interference. But as those in the know say, if you’re ready you will find a teacher here. Some will go on to warn enthusiastic newcomers that there are good teachers and bad, and Buddhism is big business in Boudha. Still, many Westerners rate it as the best place in the world to study Tibetan Buddhism. All four sects are well represented, and the main alternative, Dharamsala in India, arguably has a politically rather than spiritually charged atmosphere.
A good way to start is to stay at a gompa guesthouse (most monasteries operate them, and they are open to all), to check restaurant or guesthouse notice boards, or to sample some of the alternative treatments on offer everywhere – from massage to Tibetan medicine. You could also go straight to a monastery: puja ceremonies are open to all, and most rinpoches (or “respected teachers”) at Boudha give occasional open talks – with or without English translation. Many also agree to one-on-one meetings to those who show a keen interest.
Some monasteries are particularly oriented towards Westerners; the following are worth checking out. Note that some of the more popular, better-funded monasteries operate grander satellite institutes in the countryside.
Teaching Gompa in Boudha
Jamchen Lhakhang Gompa The Sakya school is represented at Boudha by this monastery, headed by the English-speaking Shabdrung Ngawang Kyenrab Rinchen Paljor; the monastery sponsors the Boudha-based International Buddhist Academy (w internationalbuddhistacademy.org), which offers an annual ten-day retreat in September, and four- and eight-week Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan-language courses.
Shechen Gompa w shechen.org. The death in 1991 of the revered Dilgo Khyentse of Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling, the “Bhutanese Monastery”, left a large gap, but it is being filled by his grandson, the current abbot, Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, who teaches courses in English.
Shedrub Ling Gompa (aka the “The White Monastery”) w shedrub.org. Perennially popular among the dharma set, the Ka Nying Shedrub Ling Gompa holds a regular Saturday morning talk in English, and every November, the English-speaking abbot Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche runs ten-day seminars. The monastery is affiliated to Kathmandu University for longer degree programmes.
Shelkar Chode Gompa 400m west of the stupa, facing the Hyatt Regency Hotel; w lamawangdu.org. Lama Tsering Wangdu Rinpoche holds open sessions most mornings from 7.30–11am; visitors can also attend the remarkable Chöd ritual, a tantric, symbolic offering of the body performed on the 10th and 25th of the Tibetan month.
Thrangu Tashi Choeling Gompa w rinpoche.com. Thrangu Rinpoche attracts many Western students, though usually to his grand-scale temple and teaching complex at Namobuddha, rather than this relatively modest monastery in Boudha itself.
Teaching Gompa around Boudha
Kopan Monastery 3km north of Boudha w kopan-monastery.com. One of the most welcoming monasteries to Westerners, with a full schedule of courses and teachings, including daily teachings at 10am, seven- and ten-day residential courses aimed at beginners, and a well-regarded month-long intensive course in November.
Pulahari Gompa Further along the ridge from Kopan w jamgonkongtrul.org. A major centre for long-term Western Buddhists, with frequent ten-day programmes.