Building the Sangha, Building Fortitude

Rejoice in all the Dharma activities you helped to support last year!

The web version of our 2023 annual report is now available! It includes a message from Abbess Ven. Thubten Chodron (reproduced below) and highlights from the year.

To protect our donor’s privacy, their names, along with the 2023 financial report, are not included.

Samten Regan and Venerable Thubten Tsultrim connect before the procession to the Hall.

A Message From Founder & Abbess, Venerable Thubten Chodron

Sravasti Abbey’s 20th anniversary was cause for celebration, yet 2023 gave us little time to bask in the achievement.

The year overflowed with activity: more ordinations than ever in one year, opportunities to exchange with ordained sangha around the world, meeting obstacles including the death of resident and teacher Geshe Dadul Namgyal, and the ongoing construction of the Buddha Hall. It was quite a year.

Building Sangha

The Abbey’s primary mission is to support, train, and grow a flourishing monastic community so that Buddha’s wisdom on nonviolence, love, and compassion are preserved and shared with the world.

In 2023 we had abundant opportunities to cultivate and collaborate with sangha in this altruistic venture.

Brothers smile on deck.

At our founding in 2003, I was the only monastic until Ven. Tarpa ordained in 2006. Ordinations followed steadily at about one a year for a long time. However, 2023 saw six ordinations—two new monks, Venerables Thubten Gyatso and Thubten Konchog; and two new nuns, Venerables Thubten Puntsok and Thubten Pelgye. All are Abbeyresidents, bringing our monastic community to 23.

Also, Ven. Karya from the Dharmadatta Nuns Community, who took novice precepts with us two years ago, returned to receive the siksamana trainings. On top of that, Ven. Pema took bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan.

Ven. Samten led a workshop about Abbey monastic training for the 18th Sakyadhita International Conference in Korea, and three Abbey nuns took leading roles in the International Bhikshuni Varsa at the original Shravasti in India. They shared about the rites and responsibilities of a bhikshuni sangha with 137 nuns from 10 countries. About 40 of them had received full ordination in Bhutan in 2022.

At year’s end, along with Venerables Damcho and Konchog, I joined 2,000 monastics at the three-day International Sangha Forum in Bodh Gaya, India. His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave the opening address on “Bridging Traditions, Embracing Modernity: A Dialogue on the Buddha’s Teaching in Today’s World.” I was honored to speak to this distinguished assembly.

All these experiences affirmed Sravasti Abbey’s vital role in sharing the Dharma in the 21st century and preserving it for future generations. This is what you generously support.

Sharing the Dharma

We offered 13 retreats and courses at the Abbey and gave over 100 talks or courses to outside groups, both in person and online. The list is too long to publish, but highlightsare in the online report version here. I was especially pleased to end the year with a long teaching trip that began in Seattle and included talks in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, and India. The dedication of Friends of Sravasti Abbey in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia especially amazes and humbles us.

Brothers smile on deck.

Our in-house weekly teachings continued as Ven. Sangye Khadro, Geshe Dadul Namgyal, and I taught from several different texts. A special treasure was Geshe la’s thorough and detailed talks on the first 21verses of Chapter 9 of Shantideva’s Engaging in the Bodhisattva’s Deeds. Meanwhile,

Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe’s precious commentary on The Rice Seedling Sūtra and The Diamond Sūtra (hosted by Jewel Heart) nourished us. Like all Abbey teachings, these are freely available on our YouTube channel. We also met weekly with Professor Jeffrey Hopkins for most of the year.

Wisdom Publications released Appearing and Empty, Volume 9 in The Library of Wisdom and Compassion, in October while I was working on the text of Volume 10, Vajrayāna and the Culmination of the Path, which will be the final book in the series.

This decades-long collaboration with His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been indescribably rich. We trust these books will benefit Dharma students far into the future. I was happy to offer Volume 9, the third of three volumes on the profound view of emptiness and dependent arising, in person to His Holiness in December.

Building Fortitude

The Abbey community also faced challenges in 2023. Due to a forest fire raging two miles from our buildings, the community evacuated in a moment’s notice. We are incredibly grateful to our supporters for, on the spur of the moment, housing 23 people and four cats for a week until the sheriff gave us the all clear to return.

Thankfully, the Abbey didn’t suffer any damage. Unfortunately, many of our neighbors lost their homes.

Then, about two weeks later, everyone except two people came down with Covid within a 24-hour period. Again, our supporters came to the rescue, preparing nutritious and delicious meals for the entire community.

man kneels before nun offering a gift

After many years of annual teachings, and visits that grew longer and longer, Geshe Dadul Namgyal officially joined our community in late 2022 upon retirement from Emory University.

Bringing a Lharam Geshe’s precise knowledge, his own vast wisdom, his gift with Tibetan and English languages, ardent practice, whimsical humor and pure Dharma joy, we welcomed him wholeheartedly.

His sudden disappearance in November and his death pronouncement at the new year have affected our community in a way that we have yet to fully grasp. At the same time, his legacy continues to teach and inspire us.

We rejoice in the astonishing accomplishments and merit he created in this life and pray to meet him and receive the nectar of his teachings again in the future.

Building the Buddha Hall

Through it all—hundreds of guests, countless hours of meditation practice, wildfire smoke, our wonderful anniversary celebration, interfaith dialogues, prison work, scores of Search & Rescue volunteers swarming the property, forest maintenance—the Buddha Hall construction teams were at work. There’s a Buddha Hall report on page 5 in the annual report. You can see it here. We hope to rejoice in the final result of these labors in 2024.

man kneels before nun offering a gift

Your gifts and prayers

Teachings on impermanence and dependent arising tell us that one moment passes seamlessly to the next as appearances arise in dependence on myriad conditions that are also momentary. That means nothing comes without a cause, and even as it appears, its results are already changing.

In truth, there’s no tidy, discrete package containing the contents of any single year.

Still, your gifts, prayers, course attendance, personal practice, volunteer hours, good wishes, and love came together as critical conditions for the Abbey’s activities in 2023 and for the very existence of the Abbey.

After twenty years, we’re still creating peace in a chaotic world and welcome you to join us in this meaningful endeavor. Thank you for your good heart and your support.

Together, we will keep the light of the Dharma alive in our own hearts and, therefore, in the world for the benefit of all.