It is unusual for the Abbey to not be dressed in white by mid December. But this year unseasonably warm weather held off the white cloak until the 28th. A winter storm brought 6 inches and transformed the brown landscape into a winter wonderland. The snow will help the aquifer and the trees in the forest next year.
Venerable Thubten Chodron has a deep connection with Dharma students in Singapore. In December she returned, supported by Venerable Thubten Damcho, to offer teachings in several venues. As always, the kindness of the Singaporeans enveloped both Abbey venerables throughout their stay.
In an email update, Venerable Thubten Damcho shared this story: At the end of the weekend retreat, it was raining heavily. A couple coming for the final session found a little kitten in a drain, almost about to drown, and brought her in. Folks tried to help the kitty dry off and feed her, and they brought her to Venerable Thubten Chodron for a blessing.
Of course, Venerable fell in love with the cat, named her Upekkha (Equanimity), and carried her in a blue blanket into the final session on ignorance, where the kitty rested for the entire time. In the end, a young girl stepped forward to adopt Upekkha and take her home.
“We are so much like this cat,” Venerable Thubten Damcho observed, “drowning in cyclic existence, rescued solely by the compassion of our kind teachers and other sentient beings!”
Sharing the Dharma with so many people in the course of a year is one of the benefits of living at the Abbey. With 2014 coming to an end, the Abbey community opened its hearts and doors to the year’s final Sharing the Dharma Day and hosted a Lama Tsongkhapa Day celebration that included a candlelight vigil and meditation in memory of the victims of gun violence, including the children that died in 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Many people came and many were touched by the ways in which the Buddha teaches us to transform our minds into the qualities of wisdom and compassion.
The Abbey shared Thanksgiving Day with our long-term guests as well as some of the local young people from Youth Emergency Services and their families. The main course was a 38-pound squash, and we also enjoyed many other vegetarian delights. Rachel, one of our young friends, said it was her best Thanksgiving ever.
Venerables Thubten Chodron, Tarpa, Semkye, and Samten—through the kindness and support of many Dharma friends—traveled to New York City to attend His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings on Lama Tsongkhapa’s profound text, Essence of Eloquence. Before the teachings began, Venerable Chodron gave a daylong workshop, hosted by Shantideva Meditation Center, on “Overcoming Obstacles on the Path to Enlightenment” (click to watch the teachings), and Abbey nuns took in some of the city’s Dharma treasures.
Once again, the Abbey community offered the powerful Nyung Ne retreat. It is a beautiful practice to Chenrezig, the Buddha of compassion, that focuses on intense purification of lifetimes of destructive karma. Ten Dharma friends joined the community for a weekend that included prostrations, offerings, and meditations on emptiness.
The joy and lightness one feels after this retreat is remarkable. All of us feel a renewed commitment to our Dharma practice and to developing our capacity for greater compassion in our lives.
There was much joy when the first box of Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions—a brand new book by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Venerable Thubten Chodron arrived at the Abbey. While recently attending teachings in New York, Venerable Thubten Chodron had an opportunity to give a hard-cover copy to His Holiness. You can learn more about the book here. Order from Wisdom Publications or Amazon.
Drawing from Venerable Thubten Chodron’s book, Don’t Believe Everything You Think, November’s Sharing the Dharma Day (SDD) focused on developing love and compassion as an antidote to anger. People from all over the Northwest—and all parts of the world—shared in the aspiration to develop kind hearts and be of benefit to others. Is there a better way to spend a beautiful autumn day?
The Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering brings nuns and monks from the various Buddhist traditions together to discuss topics of mutual interest, fostering wonderful friendships with other monastics and their monasteries. Venerable Thubten Chodron is a founder of the gathering and has attended all but a few over the last 20 years, while other Abbey nuns take turns attending. This year we met at Thich Nhat Han’s Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, CA with Venerables Thubten Chodron, Semkye, Chonyi, and Yeshe representing the Abbey.
Venerable Thubten Chodron visited three West Coast Dharma centers for teachings and retreats. In California she spoke at Land of Medicine Buddha in Soquel, then went on for a weekend retreat at Vajrapani Institute. Set amongst the beautiful redwoods, both centers were founded by her teachers, Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. She later traveled to Portland, Oregon where she taught at Maitripa College.
After a full season of programs, teachings, and the visits of many wonderful guests, it’s a delight to take a community outing. This year we accepted two generous invitations. Sarah and Doug offered a delicious lunch and daylong visit to their lake house on Hayden Lake in Idaho.
Two weeks later, David and Janet hosted a beautiful tour to an ancient cedar grove and spectacular Kootenai Falls in Montana. Both trips gave the sangha a chance to relax together, enjoy the beauty of the region, and appreciate the kind generosity of our Dharma friends.
This year’s week-long retreat compassion combined meditation on Chenrezig—Buddha of Compassion—with teachings from “Parting from the Four Clingings” by Drakpa Gyaltsen. The text clearly outlines the things that keep us in samsara and what liberates us, and Venerable Thubten Chodron’s explanation was powerful. The beautiful weather, wonderful teachings, and sincere retreatants made for an excellent retreat. The teachings are on line here. Come join us next year!
When things don’t go your way, what do you do? That was the topic of this month’s Sharing the Dharma Day. Venerable Thubten Chodron’s talk inspired us to leave the “pity party” and practice like a bodhisattva by following the advice of Togmay Zangpo: “Without discouragement take on the pain of all living beings.”
Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe returned to the Abbey to continue teachings on Aryadeva’s 400 Stanzas on the Middle Way. Geshe-la is a brilliant scholar, and he illuminated these wise verses in a way that everyone could understand. Joshua Cutler was his excellent English-language interpreter. We’ve already made our request: Please Geshe-la, return next year to teach us more on this extraordinary Mahayana text!
Sravasti Abbey recently had the honor of hosting H.E. Dagmo Kusho who, for four days, taught on a variety of subjects: refuge, “The King of Prayers,” Manjushri practice, and the sur (aroma offering) practice. She delighted us with her humor, devotion, and practical wisdom.
Recently the Abbey held a weekend retreat where Venerable Chodron taught on the 4 Noble Truths (The 4 Truths of the Aryas). During the teachings, meditations, and discussions, all of us enjoyed the wisdom and enthusiasm of Ven. Chodron, the sangha and each other.
With summer officially here, the Abbey is teeming with Dharma activities, and guests arrive almost daily to spend time with the community. Whether working in the garden, visiting with guests, or meditating on the teachings, the opportunity to cultivate a compassionate and wise heart is always present.
The Abbey was delighted when six teens and the office manager from Youth Emergency Services, a local organization that supports homeless teens, came to the Abbey for a day of offering service. As soon as they arrived, we all jumped into the old Chevy and headed to the forest to load firewood and transplant baby cedar trees.
There was some tree hugging as well as running down our beautiful meadow with lots of laughter and kinship. The kids have much courage and determination to face many of life’s challenges and still smile and hope for the future. The Abbey community is very inspired and wants to make this a yearly event that benefits everyone.
The forest in many ways is analogous to our minds. Left unattended or unwisely managed, it can become a dark tangle of unhealthy conditions that can bring serious problems in the future. Working in the Abbey forest helps us to create healthy conditions conducive for long-term growth not only for the forest but also for our bodies and minds.
Professor Guy Newland, one of Tibetan Buddhism’s pre-eminent Western scholars and translators, recently spent time at the Abbey. In many different venues, with a variety of audiences, Guy adjusted his talks to resonate with his audiences in a very skillful way. The fundamental thread through all of them was by having a wise and compassionate heart we can indeed affect positive change in our own lives and by extension the world.
It seems like only yesterday that the Abbey community decided to build the much-needed Chenrezig Hall to accommodate the increasing number of guests. Now, almost 2 years later, the hall is functioning as a multi–purpose facility to support the sharing of the Dharma.
Over 70 guests and community gathered to bless and consecrate Chenrezig Hall, to make offerings, and to share in a potluck lunch. May all beings benefit from all the virtue created at the Abbey now and in the future.
For over 25 years Venerable Thubten Chodron has been the spiritual mentor of many Singaporean students. After she started the Abbey, they continued to serve their teacher in many ways that include financial support and dedicated practice. Four families—including six children—traveled from Asia to help consecrate Chenrezig Hall and spend time with the community. It was a precious time of great joy, practice, and sharing as they enjoyed seeing in person the fruits of their support.
The 9th annual Young Adults Explore Buddhism drew seven people between the ages of 21 and 27 to spend the week receiving teachings, gathering for group discussions with Venerable Thubten Chodron, offering service, and participating in the Abbey’s community life.
During the weeklong program they shared their good hearts, amazing willingness, flexibility, and curiosity about the Dharma. The Abbey community feels very nourished and touched by their presence.
Once they were hollow inside, but now after months of preparation, the Abbey’s beautiful Kuan Yin and other statues were filled and consecrated this past week.
During the day it took to fill them, the community and friends chanted mantras and imagined each of the statues being filled with the wisdom, compassion and skillful means of all the Buddhas.
For the third year in a row, Venerable Thubten Chodron gave teachings on His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s book How to See Yourself as You Really Are. About 35 people attended the 3-day course and the attendees were very focused and enthusiastic. Offering service opportunities gave many a chance to get some exercise and help out in the garden. Venerable Thubten Chodron’s commentary will continue next year and many are eager to return.
Practicing the Dharma in order to transform our minds into joy and courage can be hard work, but the benefits to ourselves and to others are enormous. After a while the joy remains for longer periods of time as we integrate the Buddha’s teachings into our lives. With joy the practice deepens and our interactions with everyone we meet are imbued with our goodwill.
Spring is an impermanent phenomenon just like any other thing in our world. As the days grow longer and brighter, the changing moment-by-moment beauty is almost perceptible as the flowers blossom, the birds build their nests, and the grass grows. May all beings have the opportunity to dwell in such a Pure Land.
Recently nine of our friends traveled up to the Abbey to deliver and assemble new bed frames for the guests who will visit us this summer. Meanwhile, other friends were busy cleaning statues and rolling mantras for our statue filling at the end of May. Offering service with such kind and enthusiastic folks is a lot of fun!
The Buddhist monastic communities in the West are young compared to the sangha communities of Asia, and support and encouragement among us is important during this crucial time. Recently, Sravasti Abbey and Abhayagiri Monastery, a community of Theravada monks, exchanged visits when we helped to plant trees at the Old Gold Mine (OGM) hermitage in north-central Washington. The next day, some of the monks and their lay friends visited the Abbey and took a tour of our facilities.
For nearly 2600 years Buddhist monastic communities have marked the end of the annual rains retreat (or snows retreat) with a beautiful ceremony—the kathina—in which lay supporters offer robes and other gifts to the Sangha. This year, Sravasti Abbey celebrated this ancient tradition for the first time.
This act of giving the kathina symbolizes the interdependence of the Sangha and the lay community: the Sangha share the Dharma to benefit others, and the laity sustain the Sangha by offering the four requisites for life—food, clothing, medicine, and shelter.
The day was filled with heart-felt sharing and a deep sense of gratitude.
Impermanence is the nature of our world, and when the Earth wakes up from winter, the moment-by-moment changes are almost perceptible. The plants, trees, and grasses seem to be growing right before your eyes. In order not to get attached to the fresh beauty of spring, we imagine offering it all to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas in all the ten directions.
The Abbey monastic community completed our first three-month varsa retreat with our first pravarana, establishing the third of three monastic rites required to qualify as a fully functioning sangha community.
During the varsa there is great emphasis on community harmony, so we deliberately suspend the usual sangha practices of helping each other by admonishing faults. Pravarana means “invitation,” and this end-of-retreat ritual re-opens the door and invites feedback from others. Everyone has a chance to confess and clear up any old business beforehand—a beautiful process of building trust and cohesion in the community.
Abbey monastics were moved to enact the rituals practiced since the Buddha’s time and inspired to establish them—in English—for contemporary Western monastics.
A bright Sunday in April offered the perfect climate for a morning of Sharing the Dharma Day and an afternoon Lama Chopa puja to mark the end of the winter retreat. More than 65 people gathered in Chenrezig Hall for the morning activities and a sizeable group stayed for the beautiful puja.
With much happiness we shared the Dharma together, acknowledged the oceans of kindness that made the retreat possible, and joyfully dedicated the merit. Thanks especially to everyone—cooks, transcribers, people who offered food, web teams, admin volunteers, drivers, Retreatants from Afar, and more—whose efforts combined to create this winter retreat.
Sravasti Abbey opens its doors and its hearts to all who want to share the Buddha‘s teachings. Either at home or away the Abbey community engages with many people that are curious as well as inspired by the Dharma. And these connections happen in many ways, as you will see.
As we deepen our practice during this most fortunate time of winter retreat, the kindness and generosity of many people continues to flow. The support of our friends from all over the world comes in the form of material goods, food, time, financial support as well as beautiful items made by hand with much love and care.
This inspires us to return that generosity through our Dharma practice, so that by developing wisdom and compassion we may share the path to happiness with others.
During retreat, we have a continuous opportunity to create virtue due to the lack of worldly distractions. As long as we remember our bodhicitta motivation, the simplest, most mundane activities as well as specific Dharma activities take on a whole new significance. Due to doing many meditation sessions each day, if we don’t quite succeed in our cultivating the altruistic intention at this moment, we can try again in the next session. In this way, we keep reconnecting to our deepest wish.
Despite the unusually mild and unsettled winter weather here at the Abbey, it still appears as Vajrasattva’s Pure Land. The mind expands and the heart opens as we imagine each snowflake is a miniature Vajrasattva. So close your eyes and imagine yourself here with us in this glorious place.
After a very busy year of building and offering many events and teachings, the Abbey community, along with nine guests, has settled into winter retreat with Vajrasattva, the Buddha of purification. The days are filled with the Dharma and everyone is taking the opportunity to become friends with themselves and explore their own minds and hearts in order to develop bodhicitta as well as wisdom.
To be considered a Central Land, it’s necessary for a sangha of four or more fully ordained monks or nuns to live in a place, and this sangha should engage in 3 important ceremonies laid out by the Buddha: Posadha (twice monthly confession), Varsa (the 3-month rains retreat), and Pravarana (the ceremony ending the 3-month rains retreat).
Until this month, the bhikshuni sangha at the Abbey has only been able to do the Posadha. But due to the extraordinary kindness of two Taiwanese bhikshuni elders who traveled all the way here to teach us the other two ceremonies, we will now be able to do all three, making eastern Washington State a Central Land. The community performed the Posadha and entered into the Varsa (here it’s called “the snows retreat”).
In 3 months we will celebrate Pravarana, which ends the 3-month winter retreat. The Abbey monastics are the first Tibetan Buddhist bhikshuni sangha to do this in the U.S. We rejoice at this important event that will help strengthen the Dharma as well as the sangha in the West.