One of the three main rituals that Buddhist monastics perform is the annual varsa, or rains retreat. We refer to it as the “snows retreat” at the Abbey since we enter varsa during the winter. During this three-month period, we focus on cultivating our mind and stay within the bounds of the monastery. Our winter varsa overlaps with, but is different from, our annual winter meditation retreat.
The Abbey offered a two-and-a-half week training course for siksamanas, anagarikas, and two lay men (upasikas) who are seriously considering ordination. The training consisted of teachings on the siksamana precepts, discussion groups on monastic life, photo and video presentations on community life, rituals, chanting, and lots of fun.
Ven. Sangye Khadro finished up a three-part series of weekend retreats entitled Know Your Mind, which covered the important study of mind and mental factors. Each retreat provided new insight into the mind’s capacity for transformation. The most recent retreat focused mainly on the six root afflictions and 20 auxilliary non-virtuous mental factors. Teachings and meditations from all three retreats are slowly being added to the Abbey’s YouTube channel. The series starts here.
As we approach the winter season, Abbey residents and and a few long-term guests enjoy the cooler temperatures, colorful forests and fields, shifting skies, and our first snow fall. We continue to offer service in the garden, kitchen, forest, the video department, and all the other places where we practice and share the Dharma.
Lately, the Abbey community has enjoyed many opportunities to put our compassion into action. We received in-depth teachings on Lama Tsongkhapa’s classic Illumination of the Thought with Geshe Yeshi Lhundup of Drepung Monastery. We’ve also done a lot of outdoor work in the magnificent autumn weather, performed pujas, led online meditations, and much more.
Residents and guests had another amazing opportunity to receive teachings from esteemed Dharma master Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe. This year, in the fourth year of teaching on this text, Geshe-la completed Chapter 2 of Pramanavarttika by master Dharmakirti. Many students joined the teachings on YouTube. Time and again Dharmakhirti and Geshe la outlined reasonings to show that the wisdom realizing selflessness offers the only way to attain liberation. Now it is up to us to meditate upon it again and again.
The community looks forward to Geshe Dadul Namgyal’s insightful (and fun!) teachings each year. Though he was unable to be here in person, we met via Zoom. Over six days, Geshe la delivered profound teachings on Ven. Lobsang Tayang’s “108 Verses Praising Great Compassion called a Precious Crystal Rosary,” leading us to a deeper appreciation and understanding of great compassion.
Offering service to the Three Jewels in different ways is an essential part of everyday life at Sravasti Abbey. We clean the surrounding forest of overgrowth to protect it from fire and to support its health. We grow vegetables in our community garden, take care of the property’s infrastructure, and much more.
Exploring Monastic Life is our annual program for Dharma practitioners wishing to explore monastic life. A daily schedule of meditations, teachings, discussions, and offering service provides participants the opportunity to discover their deepest aspirations and share them with others. This year, people participated both in-person and online.
Ordination days are some of the most joyous times at the Abbey. On August 11, Venerable Thubten Chodron and the bhikshuni sangha ordained anagarika Nicole as Ven. Thubten Rinchen and Andrea from the Dharmadatta Nuns’ Community as Ven. Thubten Trinley. In addition, Stacy, Stephen, and Munsel (aka Sydney) took the eight precepts to begin their anagarika training. The ordination marked the end of this year’s Exploring Monastic Life retreat and gave participants a chance to witness this rare and meritorious event.
Reverend Gen Heywood, pastor of the Veradale United Church of Christ and founder of Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience of Eastern Washington and North Idaho, is a close friend who visits us to photograph special events and daily Abbey life. She recently visited and took photos for a photojournalism article she is writing on spiritual communities. All photos courtesy Gen Heywood Photography.
This month we welcomed many Dharma friends that we hadn’t seen since before Covid the lockdowns began. They brought lots of joy and support to help reorganize and clean out an office, stack firewood, and nourish flowers. We also reviewed our fire safety plan and supported Ven. Semkye with spreading the ashes of her dear sister Jane, who died three years ago. We thank all our volunteers for their immense kindness and support!
The Medicine Buddha is a healer whose Dharma medicine addresses the root cause of suffering. We turn to Medicine Buddha when we are sick and when loved ones are ill or dying. This July, we had the opportunity to focus on the Medicine Buddha practice for one week to support the healing of others and ourselves. Ven. Chodron also continued giving commentary on Nagarjuna’s “Letter to a Friend,” containing advice to a king on how to improve his Dharma practice.
The community was thrilled to reopen the Abbey’s doors by celebrating a “hybrid” Sharing the Dharma Day in July. About 20 participants joined us in person and many others online via Vimeo Livestream and Zoom. Chenrezig Hall was full of joy as we reconnected with our friends and discussed the Dharma face-to-face.
In the beginning, Sravasti Abbey had only four buildings—Ananda Hall, a garage (converted into a Meditation Hall), a barn, and a small log garden shed. With a little work, the shed soon became a meditation cabin. It’s been the site for many personal retreats and preliminary practices, and has occasionally served as a bedroom. But now it’s gone, having been removed to make space for a new home for our teacher Venerable Sangye Khadro. We gave the cabin to a neighbor down the road, who stopped by with his family and friends to dismantle it.
June has given us lots of opportunities to benefit our environment and serve all the beings that share our land. We finished building a woodshed, hosted an Exploring Buddhism course for young adults, received teachings on the mind, and did many other fun things.
For our annual Memorial Day Retreat, Ven. Chodron began teaching from Good Karma, her commentary on “The Wheel of Sharp Weapons” by Master Dharmarakshita. He wrote these verses on how to create the causes for happiness and avoid creating the causes for suffering centuries ago, but they are still applicable today.
The forests, meadows, and trails surrounding the Abbey are blooming with fresh flowers, green leaves, and tender needles. Stopping to look at the ground reveals a variety of wildflowers that are show-stoppingly beautiful, making our walks a feast of offerings to the buddhas and bodhisattvas.
In this five-day course, Venerable Chodron’s began teaching the third volume in the Library of Wisdom and Compassion series co-authored with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. About 100 participants joined, including residents and online listeners. Ven. Chodron did not shy away from presenting the reality of samsara by teaching us about the Four Truths of the Aryas. She will continue teaching from this volume on Friday nights. Go here to find the live and archived teachings.