Cold weather is here and the Abbey organized its annual firewood-stocking day to fill up the Ananda Hall furnace room with logs for the winter. We usually are supported by a small army of local volunteers, but this year due to COVID had to rely on nun-power and just a few friends for support.
The Abbey community has been swept up in many virtuous activities, including a long-life puja for our precious teacher Venerable Chodron on her birthday, followed by four days of philosophical teachings by Geshe Dadul Namgyal.
We hosted this year’s Labor Day weekend Concentration Retreat online. The retreat turned out to be a good lesson in impermanence when we lost power during the final teaching and a 700-acre brush fire sprang up eight miles away. Preparing to evacuate just hours after our silent retreat ended was a strong test of our concentration and also our refuge in the Three Jewels. Fortunately, the fire was contained, we didn’t have to evacuate, and line workers restored power after 9 hours. Many thanks to the kind people who take care of all the citizens with such dedication!
The Abbey community bows to all our supporters, who basically keep us alive. We recently received lots of food offerings from local friends, as well as from Friends of Sravasti Abbey Singapore, which offered food for 8 weeks! We also harvested homegrown fruits and vegetables to supplement these offerings.
Exploring Monastic Life (EML) is one of the Abbey’s signature programs, offered annually since 2005. EML is a chance for aspiring monastics to examine the nitty-gritty details of what monastic life is all about. Living with the community is a key part of the annual training. This year, however, we could only open our doors via online platforms. We are happily surprised by how well it worked, with 24 sincere participants joining from all over the world!
Abbey nuns continued to bring peace into a chaotic world affected by the ongoing coronavirus. We offered online teachings, rituals, discussion groups, meditations, and prayers. We also maintained the Abbey’s infrastructure, websites, prison outreach project, and more. None of this would be possible without the support we receive from our sponsors and volunteers.
Nearly 200 participants joined the Abbey community for two wonderful days of meditations, discussions, and teachings by Venerable Chodron on the topic of forgiveness. The retreat provided everyone with an important opportunity for self-acceptance, letting go, and connection.
In addition to offering tons of teachings online, Abbey residents continue with our daily offering service. We are grateful when guests occasionally show up – equipped with masks and keeping distance, of course – to mow our forest paths, help us with recycling, and offer homemade bread. We dedicate all this merit for the healing and well-being of all sentient beings around the world.
Ven. Sangye Khadro led the Abbey’s first online one-week retreat on the Green Tara practice and the chapter on emptiness in “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life” by 8th century Buddhist master Shantideva. Seventy-two registered online retreatants, hundreds more Livesteam viewers, and 17 residents participated in five sessions of meditation, teachings, and discussion groups each day.
During the summer months, our daily activities vary from offering teachings and prayer ceremonies to tending the lawn, painting, growing vegetables, and facilitating our online study program. We are so grateful for all the donations and food offerings that allow us to continue our work to benefit all sentient beings.
This year’s shutdown has helped us explore new ways of connecting, such as offering our annual Young Adult Week via Zoom. About 28 young adults aged 18-29 from many different countries attended the course. Ven. Chodron enjoyed giving lots of advice to our young friends based on her 40+ years of Dharma experience. Abbey nuns also listened in discussion groups, led meditations, and responded to questions from the participants.
This year, Ven. Chodron finished How to See Yourself as You Really Are by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which she began teaching in 2012. We missed our friends joining us on Abbey grounds but were delighted to have nearly 70 participants in the livestreamed teachings, meditations, and Zoom discussions. Everyone benefited from connecting with each other as stay at home orders continued.
For the first time, the Abbey is experiencing an extended period without guests. We are practicing joyous effort and fortitude as we tend to the buildings, environment, animals, and each other with kindness and care. Abbey friends come by occasionally to offer food or supplies, keeping good distance, of course! See for yourself:
Jay Garfield, Chair of the Philosophy Department at Smith College (among many academic honors) is fascinated with the Yogacara School, an ancient Indian system of Buddhist philosophy. With tremendous enthusiasm and lots of heart, he taught the Abbey community and about 100 online viewers for nine days over Zoom. The course introduced us to three important early Buddhist texts and got our heads spinning as we examined the profound topic of emptiness from a different perspective. See the whole playlist.
Undaunted by worldwide lockdowns, Ven. Sangye Khadro taught this course over Vimeo Livestream and Zoom to more than 60 registered participants and several hundred casual viewers. She inspired us to make our lives meaningful while we still have them and helped us to prepare for the moment of death.
The winter varsa—monastic retreat—overlaps with our annual winter meditation retreat. This year’s varsa ended about a week after. The Abbey sangha performed the Pravarana and Kathina ceremonies. During Pravarana, the monastics invite feedback from each other after completing varsa. Guests were sadly unable to attend the Kathina ceremony this year, but anagarika Dekyi offered the robe of merit on behalf of all our lay friends.
The Abbey has been following our state’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order since March. Of course our activities to benefit sentient beings continue. However, we do miss the friends and guests who usually join us for retreats, offerings service, and so forth. Please stay in touch via all the programs we’ve moved online. See the Events pages. And wherever you are, may your practice to cultivate love, compassion, and wisdom support you and the people around you.
Our retreat continues with 19 retreatants focusing on the Shakyamuni Buddha practice. Ven. Sangye Khadro has returned from teaching in Israel and Europe. Ven. Donyo, a guest monk from India, has joined us for two weeks. Ven. Jampa has returned from her pilgrimage and spring is in the air. Gathas in the captions are from the “41 Prayers to Cultivate Bodhicitta.”
Ven. Jampa had the chance to join a pilgrimage with monastic and lay practitioners from Tibetan Center-Hamburg, Germany. They visited ancient meditation caves, the three main Gelug monasteries in South India, and Jangchub Choeling Nunnery. They even ran into Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo and her group at one of the caves! Afterwards, she returned to Germany to give talks and lead meditations before returning to the Abbey. She shared these images from her pilgrimage.
The one-month retreatants have departed, but 16 monastics and one anagarika are carrying on for another two months of meditation retreat at the Abbey. Some are continuing to meditate on Shakyamuni Buddha while others are doing deity practices. Ven. Losang is doing retreat elsewhere. All of us use this time to deepen our bodhicitta aspiration to benefit to all sentient beings.
Ven. Thubten Chodron has worked for decades to compile and edit a lifetime of teachings by his Holiness the Dalai Lama. Published as the series entitled The Library of Wisdom and Compassion, Wisdom Publications has released four volumes with more on the way. His Holiness insisted that Ven. Chodron be named as his co-author.
In December, Vens. Chodron and Damcho had a chance to offer Volumes 3 and 4—Samsara, Nirvana, and Buddha Nature and Following in the Buddha’s Footsteps—directly to His Holiness. Rejoice with us in this beautiful collaboration and offering!
At the request of our Dharma friends in Singapore and Malaysia, Sravasti Abbey made offerings and shared a Lama Chopa (Guru Puja) to celebrate the Lunar New Year, known in Singapore as Chinese New Year.
At the end of the puja, we read out the names and dedicated merit towards good health and long life, removing obstacles, and so on as people have requested. May all your spiritual aspirations be fulfilled!
This ceremony marks the Abbey community’s entrance into its seventh varsa, or monastic snows retreat – one of the four rituals required of a fully ordained sangha. The Abbey’s observance of these rituals supports the sustenance of the Dharma in the United States and in the world. Twelve bhikshunis (fully ordained nuns) and four shiksamanas (training nuns) are participating in this year’s varsa.
About 50 participants came together to ring in 2020 with a five-day purification retreat on Vajrasattva. Ven. Tsepal started off the teachings and Ven. Chodron joined in as soon as she arrived (and rested a little) from India. A powerful beginning for the new year!
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