Most of the folks that visit the Abbey are wonderful with sincere intentions and kind hearts. This is no more evident than when the young adults come for a week to explore Buddhism together. For the 12th year, Sravasti Abbey was nourished and invigorated by a group of 19-28 year olds who are kind, joyful, hard-working, and wish to contribute to peace in the world. We are reassured that the world will be in good hands with these young seekers of truth.
Vens. Semkye and Jampa attended the 15th Sakyadhita International Conference on Buddhist Women in Hong Kong, joining 700-900 Buddhist lay and monastic women from around the world. The conference included a week of presentations, workshops, meditation, practice and cultural events. It was empowering to be in the presence of such bright, enthusiastic, inspiring women who live the Dharma so fully. Ven. Jampa shares about the conference in this post. See Olivier Adam’s beautiful conference photos here.
A crowd of earnest practitioners meditated together for the one-week White Tara Retreat. Ven. Chodron gave teachings on “The Eight Dangers,” a beautiful poem by the First Dalai Lama, as well as on the practice. White Tara’s specialty is to increase long-life, merit, and wisdom, all qualities we need to help us progress along the path.
Venerables Losang and Pende, Hsiao Yin, and Christina attended a special visit by Jangtse Choje Rinpoche—soon to be the new Ganden Tripa—at Maitripa College in Portland June 22-24. Rinpoche led a refuge ceremony Friday evening and a Vajrasattva empowerment and tsog Saturday afternoon.
Dagri Rinpoche returned to Sravasti Abbey for a second visit, blessing the community and guests with eight days of teaching and Amitabha and White Tara empowerments. The great joy embodied by Rinpoche was contagious, as he delivered a most powerful teaching: understanding dependent origination is the real path to firm and profound peace of mind.
With great rejoicing the Abbey community and friends far and wide celebrate the actual start of the construction of Prajna House, the new residence for Ven. Chodron and future abbesses and abbots of Sravasti Abbey. As with all buildings, the preliminary steps of concrete work are not very exciting but they are crucial. The first pouring of concrete lays a straight and level foundation on which all other elements of the building depend. It is a great example of a dependent arising to watch Prajna House unfold.
As the Abbey Dharma season of programs and retreats unfolds, the community takes time to notice the small beautiful examples of the fleeting nature of life. The garden, forest, and yes, even the guests arise and cease due to causes and conditions. They last only a while and then are gone. Deepening our understanding of impermanence grows our gratitude for what we have in the ever-changing present moment and impels us to use this time for awakening.
Offering Service Saturday
A hardy crew converged on the Abbey garden and forest during our monthly offering service Saturday. The Abbey’s first harvest of bok choy and arugula came to the kitchen. In the forest, we hauled out trailer-loads of new firewood and brought dead, woody material to the burn pile. The joyous effort was contagious as we worked together in harmony.
The Abbey’s forests, meadows and wetlands are precious reminders of what we are asked to care for here on Earth. The Abbey community’s long-term vision includes our commitment to wise, kind, and respectful care of the property for centuries to come.
Some areas in the section of Abbey property called Tara’s Refuge are especially unique and fragile microclimates. Because of this, they were protected from the massive logging that took place throughout the Northwest over the last 100 years. In our explorations around the Refuge, we have found places that feel sacred, where the water runs clear and the trees grow tall and undisturbed. Here is one of those sacred places.
For the 6th year in a row Ven. Chodron skillfully unpacks His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s extraordinary book, How to See Yourself as You Really Are. Although the teachings on emptiness are difficult to understand, the retreatants were fully engaged and inspired. Many participants said how this weekend deepened their commitment to study the wisdom side of the path.
The excavation for Prajna House is about to begin and the Abbey community and friends took time to bless the land. An altar was set up, incense was lit and the group chanted Tara’s mantra as they circumambulated around the site. May many beings benefit from this new home and may the Dharma spread far and wide through the books write.
Visitors sometime say that Sravasti Abbey is a pure land on Earth. A rainy spring has given way to a lush profusion of stunning greenery and fragrant flowers that inspires us to make offerings to the Three Jewels. The community continues to learn and grow, to share the Dharma, and to take care of this spiritual home of all living beings.
Dr. Jan Willis, a Dharma friend of Ven. Chodron’s for many decades, made her first trip to the Abbey. She brought her remarkable Dharma joy and delighted us with amazing stories of her teacher, Lama Yeshe’s great compassion and kindness. She also offered heart-felt advice on how to bring renunciation, bodhicitta, and wisdom more alive in our daily practice. We enthusiastically invited Professor Willis to return many times.
Ven. Chodron ended her European tour with a week near Moscow, hosted by Ven. Tenzin, Ven. Tenpa, and the Friends of Sravasti Abbey-Russia. The public talks on karma were well-attended and she enjoyed leading the retreat on Amitabha, Buddha of Infinite Light. She talks about her time in Russia on this Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner video.
Ven. Tsepal traveled to Mexico at the invitation of the Centro Khamlungpa and the Langri Tangpa Study Group. She gave a full program of teachings in both centers, including two weekend retreats: the Four Establishments of Mindfulness in Guadalajara and Working with Destructive Emotions in Veracruz. Hear some of the talks—in English with Spanish translation—here.
Abbey monastics finished up our final “snows retreat” rites with the yearly kathina ceremony, where the lay community offers a “robe of merit” to the sangha. Long-term friend and supporter Ken Mondal offered the robe on behalf of all friends of Sravasti Abbey. A joyful group processed from Chenrezig Hall to the Meditation Hall, where Ven. Tarpa received the robe on behalf of the fully ordained bhikshuni sangha. Then, in a private ceremony, the sangha awarded the “robe of merit” to Ven. Semkye.
Germany was the next stop on Ven. Chodron’s European teaching tour. She returned to Tibethaus-Frankfurt (Tibet House) for a public talk and weekend workshop on Good Karma: How to Create the Causes for Happiness and Avoid the Causes of Suffering, referring to her book of the same title. It was a joyful reunion of new and old friends joined together to discover how to apply the thought-training teachings in daily life.
Thirty-five people gathered for this community-led retreat to explore compassion: what it is, how to develop it, and how to work with our inner obstacles. Many came because of the retreat’s title and quite a few were new to Buddhism. Vens. Chonyi and Samten gave the talks, while other Abbey monastics led meditations and group discussion. The whole community harmoniously offered the Dharma together, and the receptive guests responded warmly. We left with more tools and a greater commitment to develop the precious mind of compassion.
Ven. Chodron’s spring teaching tour took her first to the East Coast, where she spent a week with students and faculty of Smith College, then proceeded to the Kurukulla Center near Boston for a weekend of teachings. From there she traveled to Pomaia, Italy and Istituto Lama Tsongkhapa.
Founded by her teachers Lama Yeshe and Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche in 1977, the institute offers in-depth study programs of Buddhist philosophy and psychology. Ven. Chodron directed the center’s spiritual program in its early days. During her warmly welcomed return, she gave teachings to the resident sangha as well as talks and workshops for the general public. Next stop: Frankfurt.
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.