The silence of winter makes retreat this time of year a true joy. The community is transitioning into Chenrezig Hall for much of its daily activities, and this intimate Tara retreat was great trial run of new systems and procedures. Ten residents and guests took part in the 2-week retreat, bringing a wonderful sincerity and eagerness to enjoy this time with Green Tara.
Venerable Chodron in Asia 2013: Part II – December 2013
After teaching in Malaysia and Singapore, Venerables. Chodron, Jigme, and Damcho continued their tour with a visit to Indonesia, where the Karaniya Foundation, along with Ekayana Buddhist Centre, hosted a weekend retreat and Dharma talks in Bandung and Jakarta. The nuns returned to Singapore for a special event at Poh Ming Tse temple: a joint book launch to introduce Don’t Believe Everything You Think by Venerable Chodron and Like Milk and Water Mixed by Bhante S. Dhammika.
Venerable Chodron’s Singapore connections stretch back over 25 years, and her Dharma friends and students have been enthusiastic supporters of the Sravasti Abbey since the beginning. This leg of the journey culminated with a surprise celebration, hosted by Friends of Sravasti Abbey – Singapore (FOSA-S), in honor of the Abbey’s 10th Birthday.
With Chenrezig Hall nearly completed, the Abbey community rejoiced to offer the spacious, light-filled dining area to our friends on Sharing the Dharma Day. Many of our guests that day had contributed their time and resources to make Chenrezig Hall a reality, and they relished the occasion.
Our second big Chenrezig Hall moving day focused on setting up the new commercial kitchen. With help from a number of friends, the community moved the large appliances, the rest of the foodstuffs, and boxes of dishes, towels, and cleaning supplies.
The community is adapting to new ways of cooking and washing dishes, required by law that a commercial kitchen demands. With patience, understanding, and a good deal of humor we are making it a powerful practice for our minds.
Venerable Chodron left before Thanksgiving for an extended Asian teaching trip, bringing along Venerable Damcho as her assistant. After a brief rest in Singapore, they headed to Malaysia for public talks and teachings, then returned to Singapore for a nine-day tour. Venerable Jigme flew over to join them for the last few days of the Singapore segement. From there they head to Indonesia, back to Singapore, then on to to India. Here are photos from the first two weeks.
The Abbey community recognizes the power of purification to remove obstacles to understanding the Dharma. Five of our friends joined us in a weekend retreat with Chenrezig called Nyung Ne. It is a powerful practice that includes many prostrations, praises, mantra recitations, meditations on emptiness and voluntary fasting. It was an amazing weekend and all of us felt our practice deepen as a result.
After 3 months of residing in a wooden crate from China to acclimate herself to the Abbey’s drier climate, the our beautiful Yin has finally been placed on her home base in the entryway to Chenrezig Hall. So how do you move a 320 pound statue? You do so very slowly and carefully with lots of help from friends, here how we did it.
After 14 months of construction, the completion of Chenrezig Hall is now in sight. With a few items left to finish before final inspection, the community got the green light to begin moving in the furniture and kitchen supplies. With over 16 of our friends helping through the weekend, dozens of boxes got packed and furniture was moved. There was lots of laughter and joyous effort, mading the undertaking lots of fun. We are deeply grateful for the help and support.
The Abbey community has a rare opportunity to integrate the Dharma into every part of our lives and share that experience wherever we go. No matter what we are doing, by setting a bodhicitta motivation and keeping a joyful mind, the Buddha’s teachings can come alive in our hearts.
Over the years, we have developed a relationship with the nuns from Gebchak Gompa in eastern Tibet. When we heard they were building a new prayer hall at the same time we were building Chenrezig Hall, we sent them a donation and our good wishes that they build the prayer hall with a strong foundation and walls so that it would last a long time, the same as we were doing with Chenrezig Hall.
This year one of our friends went to visit them and took along an Abbey brochure, some of our deity cards, and photos of the Abbey community. The Gechak nuns were featured as the mother monastery in the documentary film Blessings.
Geshe Thupten Dorje, who has been in the U.S. for 20 years and teaches at the University of Arkansas, visited the Abbey recently to teach on the Seven Point Mind Training. His down-to-earth style and humor were greatly appreciated by all. He also told us that it was very helpful for him to spend some time with a sangha community.
Chenrezig Hall has turned a corner as most of the large installation components have been completed. While most of the Alpha & Omega crew has moved on to a new construction site elsewhere, some of the crew is finishing up the punch list of details that are a normal part of building.
Statue pedestal, doorknobs and stops, outside block walls and grading, handrails and gas ranges are among the many details being taken care of as the autumn colors and light surround the new hall. It’s a gem of a building without a doubt and will enhance our ability to share the Dharma with all of you.
Summer ended with a week of rain and then the brilliance of autumn arrived with clear blue skies, fresh air, and the comings and goings of a Dharma-filled summer began to ebb. Visitors who have come the past few weeks have brought their practice, skills, and gentle enthusiasm to the community. Another exquisite Buddha arrived home safe and sound as well. We are all fortunate indeed.
Ten years, ten monastics. Yes it’s true. Right after celebrating the Abbey’s 10th birthday, we welcomed our 10th sangha member. Ruby Xuequn Pan, who has been an Abbey resident since January of this year, received her novice and training vows from the bhikshuni sangha in a beautiful ceremony, thus becoming Venerable Thubten Damcho. May the sangha continue to grow to help the Dharma flourish in the world.
The Chenrezig retreat brings wonderful energy to the Abbey each year as an increasing number of people attend the week-long program. This year nearly 3-dozen practitioners took part in the silent retreat, connecting deeply with their practice and the powerful teachings on the sadhana that Venerable Chodron gave. Many reaffirmed their connection to Chenrezig and their aspiration to become just like him.
Although the sentient beings that live at the Abbey have not moved into Chenrezig Hall yet, the holy beings are arriving and making themselves right at home. The second of 4 Buddha statues to grace the hall arrived during the Chenrezig retreat and was immediately unpacked and moved to its home on the second floor. Many offerings of food, flowers, katas, and praise were made to Kuan Yin, the Buddha of Compassion. May the Buddhas always abide at Sravasti Abbey and lead all beings to full awakening.
Venerable Chodron met Dagri Rinpoche many years ago and wished for all of us to meet this wonderful teacher. After we made a number of requests, Rinpoche’s busy schedule allowed him the opportunity to come to the Abbey and give the 1,000-armed Chenrezig initiation and teaching on the practice. Before leaving, Dagri Rinpoche kindly led the first puja in Chenrezig Hall and consecrated the building as well as the new Kuan Yin statue and prayer wheels. It was a most amazing weekend. May he live long and return many times to teach the Dharma. Following the weekend with Rinpoche, we did a week-long retreat on Chenrezig.
After a beautiful dry, hot summer, autumn is making its presence felt at the Abbey. The welcomed rains have begun and the harvesting, organizing, and sharing the Dharma bring a sense of purpose and joy to those who live and visit the Abbey. A wonderful day at a friend’s lake house gives the community a much-appreciated day of rest and quiet.
For the 4th year in a row, the Abbey community and guests spent 3 days focusing on the image of the Buddha and cultivating concentration. Ven. Chodron taught on the five hindrances and how to counteract them, and encouraged us to be patient and to practice consistently by sitting daily.
It’s been a year since Alpha and Omega Construction began to build Chenrezig Hall. The task now in the next month is to complete the remaining items: concrete stoops, drain field, retaining walls, and platform lift to name a few. Every day matters as summer turns into fall and the days get shorter. The community—and also the construction crew—is eager to finish the building.
The search for a beautiful statue of Kuan Yin—as Chenrezig is known in China—to grace the entryway of Chenrezig Hall has ended. A Singaporean friend who works in China was tremendous help in arranging for this magnificent cypress wood statue to come to the US. May all beings benefit by her presence at the Abbey.
As amazing as it may seem, this year’s Exploring Monastic Life was the 9th one since the founding of the Abbey. A diverse group of participants spent 2-plus weeks with the community receiving teachings, meditating, offering service and sharing the challenges and joys of living in a monastery.
The profound teachings on the Vinaya and the closeness that comes from such intense personal and interpersonal work is a transformative experience. May there be much clarity in the minds of those who contemplate monastic life now and in the future.
As the days and months go by, the changes in Chenrezig Hall become more apparent as crews of workers descend early in the morning and stay until late afternoon. The skill and expertise of the different crews is amazing, and we are deeply grateful to them all.
Mother nature can be very supportive of our endeavors if we use her wisely and kindly. Geothermal heating and cooling is an undertaking that she supports. Using the earth itself to give us warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer is an energy efficient and respectful use of resources.
After the successful installation and use of geothermal heating in Gotami House, the Abbey community decided to use it in Chenrezig Hall as well. Here’s how it looks.
Two months ago, Venerable Chodron gave a weekend of powerful teachings at the Power of Love retreat. Following on its heels was the recent Power of Compassion retreat.
Fifteen guests joined the Abbey community to hear these profound yet practical teachings that dispelled whatever misconceptions any of us may have had about compassion being a state of passivity or of overwhelm. The group left truly inspired to cultivate this vast and courageous state of mind.
Fire suppression system passed, geo-thermal connected, septic tanks delivered and installed, flooring started—large infrastructure pieces crucial to the completion of Chenrezig Hall are being completed or are in process. The big machines and the noise level can be daunting, but the wonder of this beautiful dependent arising overrides it all.
The exterior faswall block is undergoing a transformation as Gary and his crew begin the labor-intensive process of stuccoing the outside walls of Chenrezig Hall. Three coats are necessary, and half the building now has the first two. The last coat will add the warm brown-colored finishing that will change the way Chenrezig Hall looks and feels.
Many of the elders of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition that trained and studies in Tibet are passing on as the years go by. Only a few are alive and in good enough health to teach. Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe, who lives in Sarnath, India, is in the U.S. right now and recently came to the Abbey to teach the first four chapters of Aryadeva’a Four Hundred Stanzas.
We were very fortunate to have such wonderful teachings from this wise and compassionate teacher and are deeply grateful. May he have a long and healthy life so he can continue to teach all beings the path to awakening.
It has been a Dharma teaching in every way to look at all the causes and conditions. Thousand of parts are are coming together bringing us to the point where we can truly label it all “Chenrezig Hall.” The kindness of so many beings becomes more evident. May many beings benefit from this remarkable endeavor.
Believe it or not, the first young adults came to spend a week sharing and exploring the Buddha’s teachings 8 years ago. This year’s group traveled from Canada, Utah, and Wisconsin to name a few places. They brought with them a great enthusiasm to enjoy the diversity of Abbey life. Daily teachings, group discussions and offering service helped the participants become very close to each other as well as to the community by the end of the week. May they always stay connected to their good hearts and their interest in the Dharma.
It is very unusual for Tibetan nuns to be able to visit the U.S. Recently the Abbey community had the great pleasure and fortune to have 2 of the nuns from Jangchub Choeling Nunnery in South India, Venerable Dawa Chonzom and Venerable Lobsang Choden. They participated in all the community’s activities with wonderful enthusiasm and curiosity.
The Tibetan nuns shared stories about living in the nunnery with over 200 other nuns and their daily schedule that is filled with many hours of study and debate. It was inspiring for the Abbey community to be with the nuns, witnessing the wisdom and joy they have cultivated over more than 20 years of ordained life.
We also welcomed Mexican nun, Venerable Drolma, who lives at Dharmadatta Nunnery in India, American nuns, Venerables. Gache and Kalden, both of whom also live and study abroad.
A building as remarkable and innovative as Chenrezig Hall, with its purpose to benefit all beings, deserves a sign to mark its place in the world. The process of crafting the sign and then mounting the structure for the outside entry way of Chenrezig Hall was exciting.
Thirty-four retreatants gathered for a Memorial Day weekend of inspiring teachings by Venerable Chodron on His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s book How to See Yourself as You Really Are. Experienced as well as beginning practitioners took in every word as Venerable shared her thoughts on this profound topic. People felt energized afterwards and many are already planning to attend next year’s continuation of the teachings.
As the weather turns warm and sunny and the building progresses, many crews with different skills are working in the hall each day at the same time. Electricity, roofing, plumbing and geothermal elements are being installed, indicating the complexity of this multi-functional building. It is amazing to see all the people and level of expertise each person contributes.
The richness of Abbey life comes in many different forms—practice, community, and growing a flourishing monastic sangha in the West among a few of them. Our guests, who travel from near and far, are one of our treasures that just keeps on giving at all times. We would not be here if it were not for their practice, skills, presence, time and joyous effort. These are just some of the gifts they bring with them.
Buildings are not known for having personalities, but each day Chenrezig Hall takes on a character best described as striking, spacious, and open. The entryways are beginning to look inviting, and the building is looking more at home in the landscape.
It’s a time of making decisions. The community is choosing light fixtures and colors for the interior walls and exterior stucco. We are also deciding on where to place the wiring for the sound system and determining computer cable and phone locations. As you can see, the project is a dependent arising , changing moment by moment, day by day.
Venerable Chodron opened her first teaching by telling us that the love retreat was not about gushy, mushy attachment. We would learn about the clear, equanimous, and compassionate qualities of genuine love. We knew right then that we’d a reality check on our own ideas about love. The teachings and group discussions on equanimity and the difference between love and attachment gave the group much to contemplate during the weekend. Many people told us how much they appreciated the thought-provoking dialogues and meditations.
Venerable Chodron traveled to Mexico in April for several public talks and to teach on Lama Tsongkhapa’s ‘Three Principal Aspects of the Path.” A total of nearly 1000 people attended the teachings—given in English with Spanish interpretation— in Mexico City, Morelia, and Xalapa.
In addition, the lamrim talks were streamed live and viewed at 120 sites in 25 countries. The Mexicans are warm and enthusiastic practitioners, and they joyfully expressed their appreciation for Venerable’s sharing of the Dharma.
As the days get longer, the crews show up at 7am and get right to work. As the plumbers, electricians, and heating crews begin their tasks on the inside of Chenrezig Hall, George’s crew heads outside to place the large beams that will support the deck and roof. After they are installed, the roof can be finished and the large deck built. At the same time, on the far side of the hall, the concrete workers build and pour the last of the cement pedestals for the beams. It has sure been busy!
Now that the basic building structure is done, the more detailed parts for Chenrezig Hall have begun to arrive. We received a delivery of large rough-hewn Douglas fir timbers that will support the decks and hold up the roof over the main entrance, and the many windows came as well. The infrastructure for the geo-thermal is being installed now and much of the basic inside framing is done.
With unseasonable mild temperature and lots of sun, the Abbey gardens are slowly filling with flowers, and many visitors are coming. Some come for a day and others come for longer stays, enriching their practice and the lives of the Abbey community by their enthusiasm and kindness.
Even living at the Abbey, the challenges and obstacles of samsara are constant. The residents have many opportunities to practice fortitude and joyous effort as they grow their capacity to benefit others.
Stained glass artist and Abbey friend Beverly Brecht has began designing a beautiful circular window of Chenrezig that will beam compassion throughout the dining room of Chenrezig Hall. When Bev first heard about the plans for Chenrezig Hall, she immediately offered to create this thousand-armed Chenrezig window as well as two other windows in the upper story.
Everyone loves the beautiful window of Mahaprajapati Gotami in Gotami House. Seeing what a great inspiration the first window has been, Bev is energized to continue offering this wonderful service to the Abbey and the Dharma.
With the exception of a large pile of snow that came down from the barn roof, most of the winter snow has melted. As guests make their way to the Abbey, the community’s calendar of visitors and events fills up. What better opportunity to welcome spring than to welcome friends from near and far.
Conducive circumstances are important when practicing the Dharma in that we have no major obstacles to hearing, thinking, and meditating. They also apply to construction projects. In this light, spring is providing welcomed sunny days for the Chenrezig Hall crew.
With the weather slowly warming up and the days getting longer, the Alpha & Omega construction crew is making headway on getting the roof onto Chenrezig Hall. As you can see the roof is an amazing network of complicated truss placement that will give the hall a unique look. The crew is placing the sheeting over the trusses now, and a roofing company has begun to prepare the sheeting for metal and composite roof materials in the future.
After seven weeks in silence, it is crucial to re-enter daily life easily and slowly. Like the early spring and the first flowers, our minds need time to adjust to the activity that will come. We also say goodbye to some of our fellow retreatants and prepare to welcome guests.
After 7 weeks in silent retreat, the Abbey community and 4 guest retreatants welcomed friends to celebrate the completion of the retreat. A glorious sunny day added to the joy and sharing as we did a beautiful puja, potluck, gift exchange, and chanting. It became apparent how deeply connected and interdependent we all are. May we continue to guide and support each other and every living being along the path.
The Buddha taught that things exist by being merely labeled, but where is the point when something is worthy of a particular label? That point came for many of the Abbey residents as the roof trusses were placed. Chenrezig Hall is becoming a building! See for yourself.
As Winter Retreat continues, our minds grow more quiet, giving us ample opportunity to watch the Abbey’s daily fluctuations with a joyful mind. Some of our retreatants said goodbye with the conclusions of the first segment of The Four Establishments of Mindfulness Retreat, and we rejoiced at the return of Venerable Semkye and Venerable Chonyi from their trip to India.
If Buddhists want to deepen their practice of the Dharma, a journey to India visiting the sacred sites of the Buddha’s life can fuel that aspiration. Venerable Semkye and Venerable Chonyi spent nearly a month on pilgrimage with a group from the Deer Park Buddhist Center in Wisconsin.
They visited Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first teaching; Bodhgaya where he attained awakening; Lumbini, where he was born; Kushinagar, where he passed into parinirvana; Sravasti, where he gave many teachings; and several other sites between. The pilgrims found many opportunities for purification, making offerings, rejoicing, and deepening their bodhicitta aspirations.
The opportunity to do retreat is very precious and rare. This year guests had the choice of coming for a 26-day or 7 week retreat. Each day is filled with the endless opportunities to create merit, purify, and deepen our understanding of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness.
Just before the winter retreat started, the Abbey invited guests and retreatants who arrived a few days early to learn to make “zung”—paper filled with mantras rolled into cylinders. These are then put inside Buddhist statues.
Ruby Xuequn Pan had the good fortune of being born and raised in Singapore, a country that Venerable Thubten Chodron has continued to return to teach in annually since her post there as a resident teacher in the late 1980’s. Ruby attended one of those teachings in 2008 and made a strong connection with the Dharma and Venerable Chodron.
Dani Miertz’ heartfelt aspiration to ordain as a Buddhist nun came to fruition on January 19, 2013. She received the Sramanerika and Siksamana ordinations from her preceptor, Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron and her Acharya, Bhikshuni Jendy Shih. Bhikshunis Venerable Jenying and Venerable Jienshen, assisted with the ceremony, and Venerable Tarpa was Dani’s guide.
Venerables Chodron, Jigme, Samten and Ruby enjoyed their visit to Sera, Gaden, and Drepung Monasteries during their stay in India. For Venerable Chodron it was a time for seeing her teachers and many old Dharma friends. For the others, it was a time to learn about Tibetan Buddhism in the Tibetan community.
Over the New Year the Abbey welcomed new and old friends to participate in a Vajrasattva Retreat. Vajrasattva helps us to start the new year with a fresh attitude.With Teaching from Venerable Chodron twice daily and lots of meditation, all the retreatants supported a harmonious environment conducive for developing our minds.
As we experience the changing of late fall into winter, the Abbey reflects on the value of community life. Our community has been fluctuating as some go off to listen to teachings in India, while others return home from pilgrimage. As we all see one another come and go, we joyfully reflect on impermanence.