by Thubten Chonyi
Small town Newport, Washington was the send-off point for this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree, which is displayed annually at the Capitol building in Washington D.C. Newport is also home to Sravasti Abbey, a Buddhist monastery in the Tibetan tradition, and on November 1 the resident monastics used the tree launching to send a special blessing to the American government and its people.
Each year the US Forest Service helps to select a massive tree for the Capitol building’s west lawn. This year’s 88-foot Engelmann spruce came from the Colville National Forest near Newport. A flatbed truck will haul the tree over 5000 miles through eleven states and more than 20 public presentations on its journey from Washington State to Washington D.C.
Newport marked the Capitol Christmas Tree’s first public appearance with a daylong festival, and Sravasti Abbey founder and abbess, Venerable Thubten Chodron, couldn’t resist the opportunity to use the tree to send a different kind of message to Washington.
“With the nation so fractured and the government so fractious, we wanted to send the energy of compassion to spread throughout the government, the country and the world,” Ven. Chodron said.
Seven monastics from the Abbey joined Newport residents in cheering the tree as it rolled into town. Then they gathered near the tree truck to give a blessing. Invoking Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion, they chanted the mantra of compassion, om mani padme hum,and visualized every needle on the tree as a small Chenrezig radiating rays of compassion throughout the Congress, the Supreme Court, the White House, and then to all people everywhere. At the end, they dedicated the positive energy from the activity: “May anyone who sees, hears, remembers, touches or talks about this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree be filled with compassion and have the thought to benefit others. May all government officials work harmoniously together and serve the people with compassion.” They also chanted “Star Spangled Compassion” with dedication verses from Shantideva.
When he flipped the switch to light the 1985 Capitol Christmas Tree, then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill said in his address that the tree was “the people’s tree, the emblem of peace for the nation and the world.” By their action, the Buddhist monastics of Sravasti Abbey aspire to bolster that message, supporting peace among all peoples, groups, and nations.