Snow came to the Abbey in a big way, and we lost power for about 50 hours, but everyone stayed cheerful and adapted to the many changes necessary due to the weather. December brought wonderful opportunities for offering service and offering kindness as we did our best to stay warm physically and in our hearts.
For over 20 years, Ven. Chodron has been teaching the Dharma in Singapore. Many of the same students and friends return every year to hear her teach. A number of them take time out of their busy lives to offer lunch or tea to continue to make a personal heart connection to her. Other students support her visit by volunteering to help in the myriad ways necessary to organize the teachings. It is inspiring to be with such sincere and enthusiastic practitioners.
December’s Sharing the Dharma Day brought a lovely crowd up the road to visit the Abbey. We shared a wonderful day with meditation, a teaching on developing far-reaching wisdom from Ven. Tarpa, a delicious lunch (as always), and a thoughtful, very relevant discussion led by Ven. Jigme. Many new guests were here, including several children, who dived right into the program.
On December 5 we offered lights to commemorate two occasions: Lama Tsongkapa Day and the third anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Throughout our daylong event, we examined the epidemic of gun violence in the light of Tsongkhapa’s brilliant teachings on cultivating wisdom fueled by compassion, strengthening our resolve to follow his example to benefit all beings.
Abbey residents joined with about 250 activists in Spokane to bring attention to climate change issues voicing support for a global plan to move to 100% clean energy. On the day before world leaders met to begin the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, we were happy to add our perspective. Ven. Jampa took the podium on behalf of the Abbey. Follow along with her talk as you look at each photo.
Power Out! A ferocious storm, bringing winds up to 70 mph, snapped trees and doused the power throughout the region. The Abbey lost electricity for 50 hours—much less than some of our friends in Spokane! Everyone took the dark and cold cheerfully, and we continued our activities as usual. We marveled and rejoiced when, at the end of our monthly Tara puja, the lights flashed and were on again. We are grateful to the hard-working Pend Oreille County PUD crews that worked around the clock to care for everyone.
November began with a flurry of Dharma activities. Our final Offering Service Saturday of the year was followed the next day by Sharing the Dharma Day, and the Buddhism course started on Tuesday. We rejoiced in the sincerity and effort of all the guests and a lot of things got accomplished.
The resident community supported Ven. Chodron throughout her work on Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions, co-written with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Most of us had read portions of the book before it was published and were eager to learn more. Ven. Chodron generously accepted our request for teachings, beginning with a 2-week course in November. We delved deeply into the first 5 chapters, from the Origin and Spread of the Buddha’s Doctrine, through refuge, the four truths, and ending with the first two of the three higher trainings: ethical conduct and concentration. The course will continue in 2016.
The Abbey was excited to host 38 students—sophomores to seniors—from the cultural anthropology class of Sandpoint High School in Idaho. In their half-day visit, the students received teachings from our Abbess, Ven. Chodron, and a thorough introduction to a Buddhist Meditation Hall. They accompanied Ven. Jampa for a walk in the forest, and all the guests and resident monastics connected together over lunch. A final Q & A ended the Buddhist excursion. Here are some of the memories made that day.
After many years of attending and benefitting from the Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering, the Abbey was happy to be able to host this 21st event. Nuns and monks from Theravada, Soto Zen, Korean, Chinese, and Tibetan traditions joined to explore this year’s theme: The Joys and Challenges of Monastic Life. There were many formal and informal discussions and the group performed a very special blessing for the new land addition to Sravasti Abbey.
Ven. Chodron and the monastic community have a long-term vision for Sravasti Abbey—we expect it to grow and spread the Dharma for hundreds of years. With that view in mind, we recently purchased an adjacent 57.23-acre property.
The property is mostly meadows and forest and includes a small house, a stream, and a pond. Along with rolling hills, it has several acres of build-able land.
With the help of John, our kind and incredibly skillful realtor, we were able to close the deal during the Green Tara retreat and did the first of many land-blessing ceremonies. Watch the video of the signing and hear people’s aspirations.
There’s much work to restore the land and buildings for the new property, named Tara’s Creek. Volunteers are welcomed to come help!
Green Tara’s enlightening pervaded the week-long Tara retreat as retreatants listened, studied, and meditated together. Ven. Chodron gave teachings on the Tara practice and began a commentary on beautiful verses by Khunu Lama Rinpoche, “The Precious Lamp in Praise of Bodhicitta.” She quickly dived into the magnificent qualities of the Three Jewels, deepening our practice of refuge. (Videos are here.)
About 20 volunteers joined us for Offering Service Saturday on September 26th. Sarah and Doug, coordinators for the monthly work parties, wrote, “We have it from good sources that what the volunteers teams get done in a day (like the garden and work in the woods) has an exponential effect.” It’s true! Everyone created a lot of merit and had a lot of fun and laughs along the way. Here are some of the images of that wonderful day.
A beautiful autumn day brought out many guests for Sharing the Dharma Day. Ven. Chodron gave an insightful talk on developing fortitude in the face of challenges, Having a Steady Mind, and the afternoon discussion uncovered our personal habits with anger and how we can learn to deal with difficult situations in a different way. In between we enjoyed good Dharma connections, a wonderful meal, and an after-class walk in the forest. Here are some scenes of the day.
It has been seven years since Geshe Dadul Namgyal visited the Abbey, but we have not forgotten his skill and fervor in teaching the Dharma. We met again as dear Dharma friends, and Geshe Dadul’s presentation on Madhyamaka through Metaphors invigorated and inspired us. Guests and residents took advantage of Geshe-la’s generosity by asking as many questions in the break time as we did during the long teaching sessions! He seemed to enjoy his visit as much as we did, and he promised to return to continue teaching this profound topic. Videos of the entire course are here.
Sravasti Abbey celebrated Ven. Chodron’s birthday with an offering chant from the community and a loving missive from the three feline residents: Maitri, Karuna, and Mudita.
From the moment she heard about Sravasti Abbey’s plan to build Chenrezig Hall, stained-glass artist Beverly Brecht offered to create windows for the new building. Her first creation, a magnificent Thousand-armed Chenrezig, is now installed in the dining room, and its presence clearly enhances the peaceful quality of compassion in the space.
A skilled maker of stained glass windows, Bev made the beautiful window of Mahapajapati, the founder of the Bhikshuni Order, that is found in the library in Gotami House, the nuns’ residence hall at the Abbey. She just completed a stained glass window of Thousand-armed Chenrezig that was installed above the altar in the Abbey’s dining room. Follow along with the photos as Bev tells of her experience in making these works of art depicting the holy beings.
About 40 people gathered at the Abbey over Labor Day to deepen their meditative concentration. Ven. Chodron taught about the five hindrances to concentration from wonderful Nagarjuna text translated from the Chinese canon. Although the weather was rainy and cool, we had indoor and outdoor options for walking meditation, and everyone focused well to subdue our minds to support our growing compassion and wisdom.
Here are some of the scenes from retreat.
After a long time of with rains, the skies clouded up for the August 29 Offering Service Saturday. We rejoiced in the rain and brought our efforts indoors. We strung many prayer beads for prisoners, canned peaches, mounted shelves, and got some gardening done between showers. A wonderful day! Thanks to all the volunteers who support the Abbey.
Jay, a recent regular visitor to the Abbey, has shared his Dharma enthusiasm and marvelous cooking skills. He’s also a fantastic event organizer. Jay invited Ven. Chodron, along with most of the Abbey community, to visit his college town of Moscow, Idaho. Literally hundreds of people showed up for the talks, listening respectfully and asking thoughtful questions. Their warmth and Jay’s generosity made quite an impression on the Abbey community.
Abbey activities in August usually take place outdoors in the forest and garden. Although the smoke from August wildfires kept us inside more than usual, there was still plenty to do, and everyone—residents and guests—enjoyed the harmony of sharing the Dharma while offering service.
What a wonderful crowd! Nearly 60 people, including guests in the Exploring Monastic Life (EML) program, gathered to explore advice from Ven. Chodron’s book, Don’t Believe Everything You Think, and to enjoy meditation and a meal together. We also took the opportunity to publicly welcome the newly ordained Ven. Losang to the community. It was a day of much rejoicing.
This year’s Exploring Monastic Life program attracted sincere and enthusiastic practitioners to join the community in hearing teachings, practicing together, offering service, discussing a range of relevant concerns, and … well, exploring how it is to live as a monastic. Highlights included Ven. Losang’s ordination (photos are here), Ven. Chodron’s exceptional teachings from One Teacher, Many Traditions (teachings are here), and glorious days working together in the forest.
The community is rejoicing at the ordination August 10th of Brian Lawson, who is now Ven. Thubten Losang and the Abbey’s 11th resident monastic.
Brian moved to the Abbey last fall and took anagarika precepts in January. The Vinaya—the monastic code—stipulates that monks must be ordained by monks, so Brian traveled to Seattle, accompanied by Ven. Tarpa, for his ordination.
The Abbey community offers special thanks to Ven. Jendy who made the arrangements, to Fa-Sheng Temple for providing the site and everything necessary for the ritual, to Taiwanese Master Hsin Tien for serving as the Upadaya, to the supporting ordaining monastics, to the Abbey’s Seattle Dharma friends, and to David and Janet who provided transport and support throughout.
Guy Newland’s courses always challenge and inspire Abbey residents and guests, and this year’s teaching on the subtle (to us) distinctions between the Svātantrika and Prasangika philosophical tenet systems followed suit. What joy to be able to deep our wisdom in this way! You can watch the teaching series here.
For many years the Deer Park Buddhist Center in Madison, Wisconsin has offered a summer course of intensive Dharma teachings, which Ven. Chodron has attended many times. This year, Vens. Chonyi and Yeshe went for the month-long commentary on Gelug Mahamudra with Jangtse Choje Rinpoche. The nuns gained much from the teachings and the community rejoices in their opportunity.
Our scheduled teacher for this course on Shantideva’s Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life was unable to come, so the community requested Ven. Chodron to teach in her absence. Ven. Chodron has studied this text for a long time and given many commentaries on it. She offered several beautiful teachings that inspired guests and residents! The teachings are on the Abbey You Tube Channel.
Ven. Jampa and Abbey friends Tracy Morgan and Traci Thrasher spent three days in New York together to join teachings and a long life ceremony with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They were very moved to be with more than 12.000 Tibetans celebrating His Holiness’ 8oth birthday. After New York, they visited the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in New Jersey. It is the oldest Tibetan Buddhist center in the West, founded in 1958 by Geshe Wangyal and continued to this day by his devoted students, Joshua and Diana Cutler. They have been good and supportive friends to Sravasti Abbey.
Summer brings many guests, along with lots of opportunities for offering service. Cherries and berries are ripe, the vegetable garden is producing, and there’s always building maintenance and forest work to do. Along with learning the Dharma, much fun is a part of the experience of being at the Abbey.
Ven. Chodron traveled to Indonesia with Ven. Samten for two weeks of teachings that included a three-day retreat on “The Thirty-seven Practices of Bodhisattvas” in a retreat center outside of Medan. The retreatants made a lovely photo montage video of their Dharma experience.
Ven. Chodron also made a prison visit in Indonesia, and Ven. Samten sent this report, “We visited a prison for women today and Ven. Chodron gave a very touching talk to this group. They asked her to name their newly renovated space and the name is Sravasti Chapel!”
Ven. Chodron was there in Bodh Gaya, India in 1987 for first international gathering of Buddhist women. That historic gathering launched Sakyadhita International (the name means “Daughter of the Buddha”), founded to improve opportunities for women in Buddhist communities. Ven. Chodron was happy to attend the 14th annual conference held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
All photos are by Olivier Adam and used with permission.
June 27 marked the launch of Offering Service Saturdays, a scheduled day each month when volunteers are invited to come “swarm” Abbey projects. Although temperatures passed 100F, nine eager volunteers joined residents and long-term guests to help in the gardens, in the kitchen, and on the website.
We had a wonderful time, did pujas and prayers together, accomplished many tasks, and created tons of merit. Thanks to everyone! The next Offering Service Saturday is July 25. Come on up!
Ven. Chodron and Ven. Jigme traveled to Australia to receive teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Security was tight, and cameras were not allowed, so Ven. Jigme was only able to catch a few scenic shots of the teachings location.
After the teachings, they passed through Sydney where Ven. Chodron gave Dharma talks, and Ven. Jigme visited our friend Ven. Pema, who trained at the Abbey in 2010. From there, Ven. Chodron headed to Indoensia, while Ven. Jigme journeyed on to visit Brisbane and Chenrezig Institute (CI), a study center founded by one of Ven. Chodron’s teachers, Lama Yeshe.
Sharing the Dharma Day attracted many friends, some coming a few days early or staying late to offer service. Everyone brings something—fruit from their garden, their particular skills & effort, their warmth & enthusiasm … something—which joins with the offerings of residents and guests to create a beautiful and bountiful Dharma community.
The sangha led an intimate group in a heartfelt investigation of compassion—its meaning, the basis upon which we can develop it, our inner obstacles, and the practices to overcome these. Together we acknowledged our aspirations and examined the wiles of the self-centered thought that takes our attention away from others. By focusing on the kindness of others and by reflecting deeply on our common struggles in samsara, we can nurture our sincere wish for all beings to be free of suffering and its causes.
For the fourth Memorial Day in a row, Venerable Chodron taught from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s book, How to See Yourself as You Really Are. This year we focused on the chapters that teach meditative stabilization. The 36 retreatants created much wisdom, many laughs, and a lot of merit.
An Open-Hearted Life: Transformative Methods for Compassionate Living from a Clinical Psychologist and a Buddhist Nun is loaded with practical teachings for bringing compassion into our daily lives.
The Buddhist meditation group at Spokane’s Unitarian Universalist Church has been studying the book for nearly a year and hosted a one-day workshop with the authors, Venerable Chodron and local psychologist Russell Kolts. About 60 people gathered to share and learn. Thanks to all for creating a wonderful community event.
At the end of our varsa—the 3-month monastic retreat—we practice a rite prescribed by the Buddha called pravarana, which means “invitation.” In it, we invite feedback from other monastics about our behavior during the retreat time. It’s a beautiful opportunity to share our realizations during the retreat time, to clear the air if needed, and re-commit ourselves to community harmony going forward.
Our first Sharing the Dharma Day of 2015 drew over 50 people into the Meditation Hall for meditation, teaching, and discussion on the April topic, “Who Am I?” Venerable Tarpa gave the talk, based on Verse 22 of The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas and Venerable Chodron’s commentary in Don’t Believe Everything You Think.
Newcomers and old friends alike plunged right in to examine the dependently arising nature of things. It was great for the community to re-connect with everyone, and our guests were clearly happy to be back at the Abbey again!
The beauty of the Abbey and the good fortune of those who live and visit here cannot be overstated. Everywhere you look the skies are vast, the trees are tall, and the beings come in all shapes and sizes. May all beings create the causes and conditions to have such a glorious place to practice the Dharma and to feel safe and protected.
After three months of retreat—both our annual winter retreat and our monastic varsa or “snows retreat”— the Abbey community and guest retreatants invited our friends to celebrate. We began with a kathina ceremony, where the laity offers requisites to the monastics, which was followed by a vegetarian potluck and the Lama Chopa puja. What a joyous day for all.
After three months of looking at our minds and transforming them with the guidance and inspiration of Yamantaka, Manjusri as well as our kind teacher, Venerable Chodron, the retreatants stepped out for a day of fire pujas, a lunch offering, and a walk in nature. May all beings benefit in some way from our efforts these past three months.
As retreat goes on the days flow into each other with a seamlessness that helps our minds stay focused. Each retreatant’s practice contributes to the simplicity of these days, which supports the environment internally and externally. Retreat time is, indeed, a dependent arising with the purpose of benefiting others.
Local Friends of Sravasti Abbey organized a sit-down Thai dinner and movie night to benefit the Sangha Medical Fund, making a sizable contribution to the fund. Over 100 people came together for an evening of wonderful cuisine, friendship, and to share in the inspiring documentary, Blessings, about nuns in Tibet.
The Unitarian Universalist Church in Spokane offered the space for the event. Many thanks to Tracy Morgan, Coeur d’Alene Dharma Friends, and all the volunteers who made this rewarding event possible, including Kuni’s Thai cooking team! The community is touched by your care, and we appreciate your support.
When doing a deity retreat, one of the suggested practices is to view your external environment as a mandala or the abode of a fully awakened one. Cheng Cheng Ong, who is from Singapore and here for the 3-month retreat, shares with us her photo images of the Sravasti Abbey Pureland.
It doesn’t happen often, but this year the lunar new year on both the Chinese and Tibetan calendars fell on the same day. The Abbey’s annual tradition is to do a Tara Puja for our Singapore friends and supporters. At the puja we dedicate all the merit for people who have specifically asked for prayers for harmony in relationships, fortunate rebirth, long life and good health as well as removing obstacles.
With a lot of joy the Abbey retreatants made many offerings on their behalf and with their help. We also made prayers and dedications that there may be a mutually respectful and trusting relationship between the people and the governments of China and Tibet.
Several years ago our good friend, stained glass artist Bev Brecht, created the beautiful stained glass window of Mahaprajapati Gotami that’s in the Gotami Library.
Now she is working on a portrait of Chenrezig in glass for the circular window in Chenrezig Hall’s dining room.
Impermanence is imperceptible through most of our days, but with big events it becomes more apparent. It seems like just yesterday that the one-month Manjushri retreat began. Now, already, it has ended. The closing rituals and practices captured the joy and deep gratitude of the participants and they promised to continue the practice at home. We all rejoice at the amazing merit they have created, and wish them to be well, happy, and to become Buddhas quickly.
As Venerable Chodron continually reminds us, the daily retreat schedule doesn’t change much, so how we experience those days depends totally on our minds. We can experience them with joy and loving kindness or complaint and misery. Let’s see how some of our Dharma friends on retreat are doing so far.
As the Buddha has taught, we must not only cultivate much virtuous karma individually in order to create the causes for awakening, it is also equally important that we take care to create virtuous collective karma with others. Doing retreat as a group is a powerful way to create that. With much rejoicing in our hearts, it is our pleasure to introduce the 2015 Manjushri-Yamantaka retreatants who are creating some wonderful virtuous karma together this winter. And they have come from near and far.
For the 12th year in a row, the community at Sravasti Abbey and a number of guests will spend three months in silent retreat to deepen their practice and transform their minds. Two separate retreats are going on simultaneously as 14 participants, including some of the sangha, will do Manjusri retreat in the Meditation Hall, while nine people, including five Abbey monastics, will do the Yamantaka practice in Shanti Cabin. May all beings benefit from our efforts!
Almost every year for decades now, Venerable Chodron has made a yearly visit to Singapore to teach the Dharma and inspire others to practice in their daily lives. We would like to share some of those moments from her recent trip. The faith and enthusiasm for the Buddha’s teachings in Singapore inspire all of us at the Abbey and, hopefully, will inspire you as well.
As the community ties up loose ends before the 3-month winter retreat, guests continue to visit and offer their practice and joyous effort. We encourage each other to integrate our bodhicitta motivation into whatever we are doing and delight in the harmony and joy.
New Year’s can be a time of renewal and commitment to making our life more meaningful and our minds more virtuous. This year the Abbey community and eight guests began 2015 with a 3-day Vajrasattva retreat. Focusing on purification as well as touching our amazing potential to grow our virtuous qualities gave the group a sense of purpose for the upcoming year. The retreat ended on an inspiring and joyful note.
To be considered a fully functioning sangha, a monastic community of four or more fully ordained monks or nuns must engage in three important ceremonies laid out by the Buddha: posadha (twice monthly confession and restoration of precepts), varsa (three-month rains retreat), and pravarana (the ceremony to end the varsa).
The Abbey community has been doing posadha for three years. Now, for the second year, the Abbey community has entered into varsa. In this part of the world, winter is a better retreat time, so we’re actually doing a “snows retreat,” which was allowed by the Buddha too. Pravarana will take place in April.
The monastic community here deeply feels how precious this opportunity is, and we dedicate all the merit to the spreading of the Dharma in the West and the world.