The Abbey community is now out of winter retreat, and Dharma activities for 2017 have begun. Sharing the Dharma locally, bidding farewell to a Dharma brother, and training in compassionate communication give Abbey residents opportunities to practice and integrate the Buddha’s teaching in their own minds.
The Abbey community celebrated the end of our winter “snows” retreat (Varsa) with an important ceremony called Pravarana. During the three-month silent retreat, the community focuses inward on our practice and refrains from giving any feedback or admonishment to one another. At the closing ceremony of Pravarana, we each invite the community to give feedback so that we may understand how best to improve our ability to keep precepts and support the harmony of the sangha. It is a beautiful and clarifying rite that brings us closer to each other and to our monastic life.
The first Sharing the Dharma Day of 2017 joyfully celebrated the completion of the Abbey’s Winter Retreat. Over 60 people joined the sangha as we all listened to the Dharma, participated in a Lama Chopa offering ceremony, made offerings, and gave gifts to our kind and generous supporters. Friendship and connection marked this glorious beginning of our 2017 event schedule. Now we look forward to welcoming you all for retreats, events, teachings, and service.
The 14th member of the Sravasti Abbey sangha was ordained on March 31. Alicia Blanco became Venerable Thubten Nyima as the Abbey bhikshuni sangha, along with two Chinese bhikshuni elders, gave the ordination. At the same time, Rebecca took the anagarika precepts. A group of local lay friends gathered with the Abbey community to celebrate the growing of the sangha in the West.
Rebecca, who is from Australia, returned to the Abbey after visiting last winter and requested anagarika training. Her anagarika ordination was March 31, coinciding with Alicia’s novice and shiksamana ordination. The anagarika training will give Rebecca time, structure, and support to consider the possibility of monastic ordination. The training period will help her grow her compassion and wisdom as well.
In retreat, life gets simple; the schedule dictates simplicity as does the environment and practice. The senses are more restrained, so we can see the more subtle nuances that life brings. It is all fleeting, subject to change, unsatisfactory even in its fleeting beauty, and there is no inherently existent life there to grasp.
The Abbey community, along with two long-term guests, continue the winter retreat using the precious time and opportunity to go deeply into the Dharma. The environment, winter stillness, and the schedule help support all aspects of our practice. Along with the retreat, being in Varsa helps us to be extra vigilant about watching our own minds to relinquish judgments and criticism. This helps to set our motivations and focus firmly in bodhicitta and emptiness.
As the Buddha taught, all things that come together must separate. And so the one- month retreatants bid the Abbey and the community farewell. We spent their last day here rejoicing in all the merit we accumulated as a group of sincere practitioners. We dedicate all of it for the full awakening of every living being. Until we meet again, friends, many bows and blessings to you all. What a pleasure and delight to have you with us.
Participants in this year’s 1-one-month winter retreat comprise a wonderful group of sincere and enthusiastic practitioners. They come from all over and have jumped in with both feet. In addition to meditating in five sessions daily, they shovel tons of snow and clean piles of dishes, Then they show up at every session with high intentions and deep focus on study and reflection. On the other hand, some beings on the Abbey property prefer staying outside to meditation practice.
The one-month Lama Tsongkhapa-4 Establishments of Mindfulness Retreat has begun with 26 people participating. The days flow into each other like a moving stream, with five sessions of meditation, one study session, and lots of opportunities to offer service through shoveling snow and meal cleanup. May our endeavors benefit all beings.
The Abbey celebrated Chinese New Year, as we do each year, with a Lama Chopa Puja, especially dedicating the merit for our Dharma friends in Singapore. We also welcomed a new nun to the community. Long-time guest Ven. Phuong Thien requested admission to the community, asking for a new name and taking Ven. Chodron as her abbess and spiritual mentor. With a lovely, simple ceremony, she became Ven. Thubten Pende and received Tibetan robes. We rejoice in the merit-making and welcome our new nun.
Several Abbey community members and guests joined with 8000 others at the Spokane Women’s March. With our robes, we stand out in the crowd, and many stopped us to appreciate the monastic presence there. Ven. Semkye and Ven. Chonyi each shared their impressions on Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner.
The Abbey community entered our fourth varsa, the three-month “snows retreat,” by enacting beautiful ancient ceremonies. Varsa is one of the three major activities a fully ordained sangha has the power and opportunity to do. We also welcomed Ven. Heng Cheng and Ven. Tien Chang from Taiwan for teachings on the Vinaya, the monastic code of practice in ethics. For nine days, Ven Heng Cheng inspired and encouraged us to learn and understand Buddha’s guidance for how to develop a compassionate monastic mind. We hope both nuns will return again and again to guide and teach us in the future.
As we turn the corner into 2017, the Abbey community stays close to home with several long and short-term guests, including a lunch visit with our local sheriff and deputies. Dharma conversations fill the day as we offer service and tie up loose ends before the winter retreat begins. May we stay focused and reflective during this quieter wintertime.
Vajrasattva Retreat 2017 The 2017 Vajrasattva Retreat brought 52 participants to bring in the new year. It was easy to imagine countless sparkling white Vajrasattvas floating from the sky as a winter storm brought eight inches of snow. There was a strong sense of closeness and friendship as we listened to teachings on purification. The group shared enthusiasm and open-heartedness for the practice and for living cozily in community together.