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Rain, snow, and sunny blue skies cycle through the days. The brilliant colors of fall quickly faded once the rains began, and the shortened days of winter help us focus inward. With less external activity, we can observe our moods—capricious as the weather—and train in cultivating a happy mind, whatever the outside circumstances.

Throughout this holiday season, may the lights of wisdom and compassion grow in our hearts, enabling us to spread our kindness everywhere.

Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

Nuns’ Travels

Venerable Chodron is now in India and had the good fortune to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings on Nagarjuna’sTreatise on the Middle Way. Many of His Holiness’ teachings are available streamed live or archived. Check them out.

She was also invited to give talks at Tushita Retreat Centre in Dharamsala, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre in Delhi, and Choekor Sum Ling, a Dharma center in Bangalore.

While in India, Venerable Chodron has been able to visit two of her teachers, Khensur Jampa Tegchok Rinpoche and Geshe Sonam Rinchen, both of whom are now in their 80s. She also visited the new incarnations of two of her teachers, Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche and Zong Rinpoche, who are now in their 20s. It’s interesting knowing someone over multiple lives!

Venerables Jigme and Samten recently arrived in India, and together with Venerable Chodron, they will attend H.H. the Dalai Lama’s two-week Lamrim teachings at Gaden and Drepung Monasteries in South India, which are being streamed live each day. This is an extraordinary event with thousands of people from around the world gathering to listen to the precious Dharma.

Many of you were happy to hear about the meeting Venerable Chodron attended regarding the possibility of establishing the bhiksunī (full ordination) lineage for women in the Tibetan tradition. She reported that ten monks have been doing the research in Dharmasala under the auspices of the Tibetan Government-In-Exile’s Department of Religion and Culture. The scholar-monks decided to rely solely on the original Vinaya texts and the Indian commentaries for their research, and after three months, they are now writing their report.

Venerable Jampa Tsedroen and Venerable Chodron shared their own Vinaya research with them for two and a half days. The presentations went very well, and Venerable Jampa’s PowerPoint presentation, which was jam-packed with useful information for them, stimulated a lot of discussion. The mood in the formal meetings was very friendly, and the nuns had informal discussions with the Vinaya monks during meal times as well. Some senior Tibetan nuns also attended the presentations and were encouraged by the progress the Vinaya monks are making in their research. Venerable Jampa and Venerable Chodron were able to meet the Minister (Kalon) of Religion and Culture, and the secretary and under-secretary also attended their presentation.

In the next days Venerables Chodron and Jampa visited the annual multi-nunnery one-month winter debate sessions, this year held at Jamyang Choling Nunnery. They were delighted to see around 300 nuns debating with each other, with their teachers enthusiastically encouraging them and sometimes debating with them.

Due to HH the Dalai Lama’s kindness, the education of Tibetan nuns has improved dramatically over the years, and in May of next year, 28 of them will take exams to become Geshe-mas (the female counterpart of Geshes). This is a huge step forward, which is due not only to the nuns’ enthusiastic study, but also to the efforts of the Tibetan Nuns Project. TNP has done much to establish new nunneries with excellent education programs and to improve the facilities and programs in the already established nunneries in India.

Closer to home, we told you last month about Venerables Semkye, Chonyi, Jigme, and Yeshe attending the 17th Annual Monastic Gathering at Thich Nhat Hanh’s Deer Park Monastery in California. These photos are now on the web.

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Chenrezig Hall

The building is moving along quickly , and we are surprised every day at the progress. George Weaver’s crew is very experienced and can work around most any weather situation that comes their way—and they’ve had a lot of variety to deal with. Only drenching rain seems to stop them.

This week there was a window of opportunity weather-wise to finish up the concrete slab and, later, the concrete piers outside the building that will support the deck and main entry columns. Venerable Samten’s short video captures the weather changes and the care the team has taken as they complete the foundation. Now the crew is waiting for the arrival of some steel beams—one of them weighs 2000 pounds!—to support the entire second story.

In the meantime they are framing the downstairs interior walls on the slab, and we can begin to get a sense of the size of the rooms. Right now we can identify the chapel, work-yoga room, admin room, main entrance vestibule, guest bedrooms, and media room. As framing moves along pretty fast, this will change daily with more rooms taking shape. Long floor joists and more stacks of Faswall have arrived at the Abbey, in readiness for the next phase of building. George and his crew plan to work straight through the winter, and we’ll keep supplying them with hot chocolate to make their work warmer.

In October we announced the wonderful $100,000 Compassion Match gift, which challenged Abbey supporters to offer $100,000 by December 1. More than 200 people responded, and we met the match two weeks ahead of the deadline. Thank you so much! The next funding milestone is to reach $1 million this winter. We’re just $150,000 away from that near-term goal.

People all over the world are also steadily contributing toward the 21 million mani mantra recitation goal, with a current total of 17.9 million accumulated. Please join us with your Chenrezig practice.

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Out in the Community

In October, Venerable Chodron gave a talk at North Idaho College on “Advice for a Better World.” The talk became an impassioned exchange with the audience, who asked heartfelt questions and received Dharma advice on working with the challenges they face—things like “How can I deal with procrastination?” and “How do I deal with stress and adversity? Or loss and bereavement?” If your Dharma thinking needs a boost, click here and listen.

Venerable Samten and Venerable Jigme offered a 4-week course for the Coeur d’Alene Dharma Friends on the Four Noble Truths. The CdA group is studying the first module of the Sravasti Abbey Friends Education program together, and they told us the teachings really enriched their learning.

Venerables Semkye and Chonyi completed the meditation class series at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Spokane. Many people mentioned how the class—which focused on karma, the 10 destructive actions, and their 10 constructive opposites—gave them concrete ways to bring the practice of ethical conduct into their daily lives. Everyone is looking forward to resuming the classes again in March.

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November Visitors

More than 40 people attended November’s Sharing the Dharma Day, including 11 students from the Compassionate Interfaith Society (CIS) at Eastern Washington University (EWU). Venerable Jigme gave a thought-provoking talk on death and rebirth, and Venerable Semkye facilitated the follow-up discussion.

This was the first time for many people to share their thoughts and experiences on dying, and the discussions were tender and profound. Curious and open, the CIS students stayed after the regular program for a rich Q & A discussion. The CIS was formed in response to demonstrations at EWU against people of different faiths. CIS is now one of the largest clubs on campus, with members from fifteen different faith traditions!

We also enjoyed visits from a number of Dharma friends, including Sherran Pickering from Canada, who stayed with us for over a month, pitching in with loads of service and Dharma practice. She’ll be back for the winter retreat. Our old friend Jim Talley came for a lunchtime visit. Tree and Jen from Spokane came several times to meet with the community, share lunch and Dharma, and then graciously ferried some of our traveling nuns to and from the airport. All our guests contribute to creating the diversity of Abbey life.

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We had several Thanksgiving-time guests. Veda Van Zee brought her sister, Gayle, and Ken Mondale brought his son, Keith; both were visiting for the holidays.

For Thanksgiving Day we took the 8-Mahayana precepts, being especially aware of how fortunate we are to have the choice to eat only one meal that day when so many beings in the world are hungry. Tracy Morgan and Marianne and Bill Miller joined us for Thanksgiving dinner and a beautiful long walk through the property, including a steep hike up Milarapa’s Mile. When we dedicated our merit that night, we especially made prayers for the estimated 45 million turkeys slaughtered for this day.

A long-time friend of Venerable Chonyi, Tod Ransdell, came to the Abbey on Friday, bringing an exquisite wooden statue of Kuan Yin to offer for Chenrezig Hall. Tod is simplifying his life before moving to an intentional eco-community and just knew that this Kuan Yin would be happy at the Abbey.

One by one—due to illness, bad weather, a crisis at work, and other obstacles — most of the guests registered for the Thanksgiving retreat (and some community members too!) had to drop out. The remaining, intimate group thoroughly enjoyed the retreat time, relishing the deep silence, Chenrezig practice, and talks and meditation on love and compassion.

Thanksgiving gave us a chance to reflect on the kindness of the local supporters and volunteers who come week after week, shopping and transporting food offerings for the sangha: Chris, Dwight, Donna, Danna, Susan, Tree, Jen, Marianne, and others, all coordinated by longtime Dharma friend, Tracy. We could not be here studying, practicing, and sharing the Dharma without their kind, consistent help.

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Winter Retreats

The various community travels to India have created unusual conditions for us to be able to offer some shorter retreats this winter. If it’s especially difficult for you to leave the family in December, then this winter retreat schedule is perfect for you!

You can welcome the New Year with Vajrasattva by doing this short purification retreat at the Abbey December 28 – January 1. You’ll apply the four opponent powers to purify past negative actions and enter the new year feeling refreshed.

If you would like to do longer retreat, join us to meditate on the four establishments of mindfulness. There’s a 26-day option (January 14 – February 8) or you can do the whole 7-week retreat (January 14-March 4.)

If you can’t visit this winter, then please join us for the Retreat from Afar , doing at least one meditation each day on One-Thousand-Armed Chenrezig. (If you prefer to do the four establishments of mindfulness for Retreat from Afar, that’s ok too.)

We’re very excited to offer Life As a Western Buddhist Nun II, a Vinaya course with Master Bhikhshuni Wu Yin, founder of Luminary Temple in Taiwan. Nuns of all Buddhist traditions and levels of ordination are welcomed March 14 – April 3 for teachings, discussion, practice, and living in community.

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More News

Offering our time, talents, and services to the Abbey is a part of the community’s daily Dharma practice. To inspire ourselves, Abbey residents wrote gathas to help us bring the bodhcitta motivation more fully into our everyday tasks, which you can read here. You can also watch Venerable Chodron’s video teachings on the “41 Prayers of Bodhisattvas”—the text that inspired our gathas. Here’s the link to the playlist.

With the sobering realization that he wants “one foot in samsara and the other in nirvana,” Robbie shares his insights about resistance to Dharma practice and how to work with it.

Ruby, who is planning to come to the Abbey in December, is traveling as Venerable Chodron’s attendant in India. She’s having a valuable opportunity to experience conditions in various monasteries in India. She shares her reflections on the value of monastic training at the Abbey.

You can also read Venerable Chodron’s advice to an aspiring monastic about the benefits of ordained life.

December 8 is Lama Tsongkhapa Day, celebrating the parinirvana of one of Tibet’s great scholar-yogis and the founder of the Gelug tradition. It’s a great merit-making day. Traditional activities include making vast offerings—especially light offerings, doing the Lama Chopa puja, and studying or reciting Je Rinpoche’s texts. Here are links to The Three Principal Aspects of the Path (with audio commentary by Venerable Chodron and a recording of the Abbey community’s chanting) and The Foundation of All Qualities.

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