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As the warmth of summer seeps into our bones, may our minds relax and appreciate the beauty of nature around us. May we do whatever we can to preserve our environment and to protect all the beings—human, animal and otherwise—that we share it with. May the Dharma grow within us and beautify our minds just like the wild flowers grow in a meadow and beautify the environment.

Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

Young Adults Explore Buddhism

Eight wonderful young people attended the annual, week-long program for young adults this year. The program consists of meditation, teachings, discussions, and offering service.

The topics for teachings and discussion groups are left open so that participants can shape the program according to their interests. This year we investigated together topics such as friendship, forgiveness, the kindness of others, how our minds create our experience, the meaning of living a successful life, competition, the effects of technology, and more.

This group was especially open and they bonded well, supporting each other and listening deeply. The afternoon offering service times saw everyone happily working in the forest, and one evening we took a walk in the forest at dusk.

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Chenrezig Hall

If you thought the video about making the Chenrezig Hall sign was amazing, take a look at this one where the crew is putting the sign up! The entire community was out there rooting for the crew during this difficult process, and we all rejoiced to see “merely-labeled Chenrezig Hall” become a bit more real.

The dry wallers are going to it; George’s crew finished the eaves, and the roofers completed the roof. The “crowning jewel” is a huge air exchange system on the roof, required by the building code, for our kitchen. It’s unsightly, but since there’s no choice about whether or not to have it, we decided it was “just perfect” and “just what we always wanted.”

Meanwhile the rest of the building is gorgeous. They’ve been drilling holes for the pipes for the geothermal heating/AC system, and there’s currently a big ditch in front of the building where they’re putting the manifold that will connect the external pipes with the system inside the Hall. Excavating for the septic system has begun; the tanks will be installed soon, followed by digging the drain field. The stucco work has begun, the soffits are going in, and the upstairs is painted.

Yesterday, the fire marshal approved the fire suppression system, and the lunchtime announcement drew cheers from the community. Later, when I mentioned our glee to George and the construction crew, George exclaimed, “So that’s what it was! We knew we’d never heard that chant before!”

Bev continues making the stained glass window of 1000-armed Chenrezig for the dining room. She writes, “I am so honored to have this incredible opportunity to make a lasting contribution to the Abbey. The thought that my work will inspire generations of people I will never even know is, for me, the most meaningful practice of generosity I could possible ever have.” Take a look at her 1-minute video showing the layout of Chenrezig’s jeweled ornaments.

While Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe was at the Abbey, he did a blessing of Chenrezig Hall. We set up an altar outside the building in the work area, near the stucco machine and the machine drilling the geothermal tubes. Geshela invoked and made offerings to all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas—especially to Chenrezig, Manjushri, and Vajrapani—during the blessing. We were surprised to see rainbow colored light shining down in several of the photos taken at the conclusion of the blessing. Quite remarkable. It was like the rainbow bodies of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas came to Chenrezig Hall.

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Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Stanzas with Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe

Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe’s week-long course on the first four chapters of Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Stanzas challenged some of our deeply rooted misconceptions.

Aryadeva was one of Nagarjuna’s disciples, and this book is a real powerhouse of Dharma. These four chapters deal with correcting the four mistaken conceptions: 1) thinking that impermanent things are permanent and durable, 2) thinking that things that are by nature unsatisfactory bring real pleasure, 3) thinking that things that are unclean (the body) are pure, and 4) thinking that what lacks a self has one. These teachings are just what we need to rattle our wrong conception mind and turn it towards a more realistic viewpoint.

Geshela is 84 years old and going strong. Mentally alert, he taught four hours a day and often saw students individually after that. Joshua Cutler from Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center did a wonderful job translating the teachings, and Geshela’s gentle manner yet astute wisdom captivated the 28 people who attended. All his teachings are online for you to watch. Read his parting advice to the Abbey community.

I gave talks on the first four chapters of Four Hundred Stanzas in preparation for Geshela’s visit and will continue with the next four chapters as well. These are streamed live on Thursdays at 6 p.m. Pacific Time.

We had a lovely Turning the Dharma Wheel Day, the anniversary of the Buddha’s first teaching. The group took the Eight Mahayana Precepts in the morning, listened to Geshela’s wonderful teachings and discussed them in the day, and in the evening gathered to offer tsog. The tsog ceremony was especially rich because so many long-time student were present. We put our hearts into taking refuge in the Three Jewels and making offerings to them, as well as reviewing the entire stages of the path. We finished the day rejoicing in our own and others’ merit and dedicated it for the awakening of all sentient beings.

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Sharing the Dharma Day & Book Reading

July’s Sharing the Dharma Day was especially well attended, with fifty people in the Meditation Hall. The topic of the Dharma talk from Don’t Believe Everything You Think was on “bad friends,” which sparked a lot of discussion and contemplation as all of us reflected on our friendships.

In the afternoon, small discussion groups gathered in the garden to discuss questions such as: What attracts us to certain people? What qualities do we look for in people before becoming friends with them? How can we be a better friend to others?

I did another book reading for Don’t Believe Everything You Think , this time in our small town (one stoplight) of Newport. 23 people attended. Like the two readings before it, this was a fund raiser for YES (Youth Emergency Services) of Pend Oreille County, a local organization that helps homeless teens. The audience listened very intently as I spoke about healing anger and read some of the true stories that are included in the book. A stimulating discussion followed, and you could almost hear people thinking, “I need to do something about my anger. My anger doesn’t protect me, it harms me.”

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The Power of Compassion Retreat

While some people like longer retreats and courses, others—especially newcomers to Buddhism—prefer short, weekend retreats. A nice combination of old and new students attended the weekend contemplating the power of compassion and how to develop wise compassion for themselves and others. This compassion doesn’t go to the extreme of personal distress, where we get upset by seeing others suffer, and it also avoids the extreme of mistakenly thinking that compassion entails doing whatever others want.

Among other topics, we discussed “What does helping someone really mean?” and “How do we remain connected in kindness with others when we cannot help them directly?” Watch the teachings here.

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More News

Venerable Tarpa is attending month-long teachings by Jangtse Choje Rinpoche on the insight chapter of Je Tsongkhapa’s Middle Length Lamrim at Deer Park outside of Madison, Wisconsin. This is a well-deserved break from overseeing the construction of Chenrezig Hall. Venerable Tsultrim is taking over in her absence. As a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer, she’s doing a great job liaising with the contractor and subs.

We enjoyed the visit of Christine from the UK who came to interview me for a book that she’s doing on Buddhist nuns. After a touching go-around in which people expressed so many positive thoughts and loving feelings, we said goodbye to Venerable Drolma, who had spent a month with us. We welcomed Atenea from Mexico, who did the winter retreat with us a couple of years ago, and Trinh, originally from Vietnam, stayed with us for a month.

Jesse from Montana and his father-in-law also spent a weekend with us, and WWOO-fer Kelly spent two weeks helping in the garden and forest. Dan from North Carolina is visiting now. These are just a few of the many people that have spent time learning the Dharma, meditating, and enjoying the Abbey with us this month.

One of our friends is working with the local Rotary Club to help the people of East Africa, especially the Maasai. You’ll remember that she arranged for a group of Maasai to visit the Abbey a few years ago, and we had a great connection. One of the programs she is especially interested in is finding help for Grandmothers Raising Orphans.

Venerable Samten wrote about the visit by four Abbey nuns to Airways Heights Correctional Facility, and Venerable Jigme spoke about it on Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner. The men expressed their faith in and gratitude for the Dharma in heartfelt ways.

A lovely interfaith book, A World of Prayer by Rosalind Bradley, was published recently. In it spiritual leaders, activists, and humanitarians share their favorite prayers. Both H.H. the Dalai Lama and I shared verses by Shantideva. Is that a coincidence?

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