by Ven. Thubten Kunga

Abbey monastics were in our annual silent retreat when the coronavirus first appeared in January, but news of its spread began to leak through the community. By February, there was a community-wide impulse to do what we could to help. Principally, of course, the Abbey helps by offerings Dharma teachings. By early March, our daily Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talks became focused on helping people work with the issues that have come and keep coming with the growing pandemic. Watch the COVID-19 talk series here. Our retreat has ended, but we are still closed to visitors. However, we’ve found many ways to help.

Nun sews face masks.“My Heart Just Opened Up”

Venerable Yeshe, a skilled seamstress, said her heart told her to help when she heard about the shortage of protective masks that medical workers were facing across the country. She called Georgette, a local Abbey supporter and clothing designer who sewed jackets for all the community members last year. A few days later, Georgette dropped off boxes full of fabric and a mask prototype she obtained from our local Newport Hospital.

Ven. Yeshe got right to work, sewing over 100 colorful cloth masks for medical staff to wear over their paper masks. The process involved sewing together a piece of muslin cloth and cotton cloth, inserting a metal wire as a nose grip, and attaching four ties made from old t-shirts.

Other community members and guests participated in the assembly line. Resident trainee Dekyi, who sewed her own clothes as a teenager, said she hoped that people wearing the masks would remember that, “I’m wearing this mask because I care about others.”

Watch Ven. Samten’s beautiful video of the mask making process below.

Colorful masks for COVID response.Newport Hospital Responds

Ven. Yeshe and team completed 108* masks in just two days. Ven. Jampa dropped them off at Newport Hospital, along with 40 of the community’s N-95 masks, purchased in previous years to protect residents from regional wildfire smoke. Marketing Director Jenny Smith sent an appreciative letter, valuing the masks at over $1,000! She wrote, “During this pandemic we are especially reminded that we live in a remarkable community. The masks are absolutely perfect. Your kindness has truly made a difference and has helped a great deal.”


Connecting in New Ways

To stay connected with our supporters, the Abbey has stepped up its online presence. We created a playlist on YouTube with talks on the COVID crisis and posted a section on our homepage with resources for those affected by the pandemic. We’ve hosted two Sharing the Dharma Days and a Peaceful Living and Dying Retreat online via Vimeo Livestream and Zoom.

The Abbey also joined a partnership of other Buddhist organizations called Dharma Relief, which has raised over half a million dollars and supplied nearly many thousands of quality protective masks to hospitals across the United States.

In addition, the Abbey and individual community members have collectively contributed over to $2,000 to local food banks and charities to help COVID-affected individuals.

Buddha heals earth.May Global Healing Take Place

The Abbey community is thrilled to repay the kindness of Newport Hospital, where we have received such good care over the years, and to have contributed to COVID-19 prevention efforts. The crisis has deepened everyone’s understanding of our interdependence and the need to heal each other and our environment.

Ven. Yeshe is encouraged by the abundant generosity she’s witnessed and hopes those who need support will reach out. She advises, “Believe that there’s a lot of people out there who care and want to help, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

The Abbey’s doors remain closed to guests until further notice, but our hearts remain open to all affected by the virus.

*108 is considered an auspicious number in Buddhism. 

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