Far-Reaching Fortitude, Far-Reaching Dharma
A message from founder and abbess Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron
Together with you and the rest of the world, Sravasti Abbey has navigated two years of the pandemic. We have spent the time practicing deeply and growing our fortitude, the ability to remain calm and undisturbed in the face of difficulties. It’s an essential quality for bodhisattvas on the spiritual path.
Although 2021 gave us many opportunities to practice fortitude, we have had a joyful year. We were able to share the Dharma far and wide, deepen our individual practice, and strengthen and develop the monastic community. With your support—coming every day in so many ways—we all worked together to create peace in a chaotic world.
Strengthening the sangha
The Abbey’s primary mission is to support a flourishing monastic community that will, in turn, preserve the Dharma for future generations and benefit all of society. The Buddha said that he established monastic precepts so that the Dharma will last forever. While living these precepts is the foundation of all we do, 2021 brought two special opportunities to deepen our monastic practice.
In March we enjoyed six days of Dharma talks by Venerable Master Heng-Ching Shih, who taught us from Taiwan over Zoom. Supported by senior nuns from PuYi Nunnery, she covered topics concerning how to ordain and train monastics, and how Buddhist monasteries and temples are organized in Taiwan.
In December we held an intensive three-week course that focused on the siksamana trainings, the guidelines for nuns in training between novice and bhikshuni (full) ordination. Four guest nuns, our own six siksamanas, the three anagarikas trainees, and two upasakas listened to talks by the Abbey’s fully ordained monastics. Supported by our lay guests, the program was a rich experience of maturing the sangha.
The sangha continues to grow at the Abbey. We now have 12 bhikṣuṇīs, 1 bhikṣu, 6 siksamanas, 3 anagarikas (8 precept holders), and people interested in ordination. Twenty people attended our annual Exploring Monastic Life program (EML) this year—some in person; the rest joined online from Europe, Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, and elsewhere. It is by your kindness that the sangha grows at Sravasti Abbey, and we are grateful.
Opening, Closing, and Sharing the Dharma
To maintain the health of our community, the Abbey was closed most of the year. We were joyfully able to open the doors for some guests for a few weeks in the summer, and then had to close them again as coronavirus infections re-surged.
Yet, through the power of the Internet, Abbey monastics shared the Dharma to more places than we could have visited in person. Groups in 14 countries—including Australia, Brazil, France, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, France, Russia and Ukraine, Singapore, and Spain, as well as the US—invited Abbey monastics to give Dharma talks and teachings.
Plus, we offered all of our usual Abbey programs—Sharing the Dharma Day, weekend and week-long retreats, Exploring Buddhism for Young Adults, Exploring Monastic Life, and so on–online.
Zoom Brought the Dharma to Us
We were very fortunate to hear the Dharma from accomplished teachers on important major texts. At 91, Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe is a living treasure of the Dharma and an esteemed scholar and professor emeritus at Central University of Tibetan Studies in India. He was so intent on finishing his commentary on chapter 2 of Dharmakirti’s Pramanavarttika that he extended his course beyond the scheduled time! His teaching on this text is on our YouTube channel.
We also heard teachings from Geshe Dadul Namgyal and Geshe Yeshe Lhundup, and continued our weekly classes with Dr. Jeffrey Hopkins. I continued to share weekly teachings from Shantideva’s Engaging in the Bodhisattvas’ Deeds as well as from Samsara, Nirvana, and Buddha Nature, volume 3 of the Library of Wisdom and Compassion that His Holiness the Dalai Lama and I co-authored.
Living with Nature
Wild fires came close to the Abbey over the summer, and the extended drought and unusually high temperatures are signs of climate change. We upgraded our fire evacuation plans and ran a couple of drills to be ready if necessary. Fortunately, rains came in October and fire danger subsided for another year.
Once residents were fully vaccinated, we welcomed vaccinated guests to help us work outdoors. Over several months, many people moved dead wood out of the forest, stocked the woodpile for winter, and burned the slash when it was safe to do so. Oddly enough, the drought seemed to especially sweeten the plums, apples, and pears in the Abbey orchards, which we shared with the deer and bears that came to harvest what they could.
The Buddha Hall
The Buddha Hall construction team has moved step by step to build our new temple. We had to postpone construction in 2020 when the pandemic struck. Then, with the arrival of a safe vaccine, we enthusiastically launched an effort to start construction in the summer 2021, only to see the possibilities dim as we met with permit requirements and delays, some of it affected by Covid. Your overwhelming support for the Buddha Hall project has helped ensure that we can start as soon as conditions are right—hopefully in the late spring of 2022. Read more about the Buddha Hall on the inside pages.
Writing and reaching out
Personally, I’ve continued to focus on writing and editing the Library of Wisdom and Compassion, the book series co-authored with His Holiness the Dalai Lama that lays out the entire path to awakening. Volume 6, Courageous Compassion, came out in April. Volume 7, Searching for the Self will come out in spring 2022. The Abbey also published a delightful children’s book by Albert Ramos, a Buddhist behind bars with whom I’ve corresponded for 10 years. Gavin Discovers the Secret of Happiness is our first children’s book, and a wonderful testament to the power of the Dharma to transform minds, even those with a life sentence in prison.
People in prison have been particularly affected by Covid-19 and our prison Dharma program has continued to support all who ask for help. Two nuns are on the board of Youth Emergency Services in Newport, and we have joined Buddhist Global Relief’s efforts to feed the hungry. We also support nuns’ communities in India.
There’s so much more to share, reflected in the photos and stats in the following pages. All the good the Abbey has done and will do is completely dependent on your kindness and generosity. You play an active role in sharing and spreading the Dharma, by your personal practice as well as your support.
Fortitude is only one of the qualities we seek to develop on the bodhisattva path. Meeting our challenges with wisdom, compassion, and an open heart strengthens our ethical conduct, generosity, concentration, joyous effort, and wisdom, thus making our lives meaningful as we benefit others.
Thank you for being part of this. Thank you for joining Sravasti Abbey to create peace in a chaotic world.
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron
See photos, anecdotes, and more outreach statistics on our Annual Report page.