Table of Contents

The autumn leaves blazed at the beginning of November, and gradually the snow came, transitioning us from orange, red, and green to a gentle white. Through it all we focus to keep our days filled with Dharma.

During this season of giving, let’s reflect on the kindness we receive and offer our resources, protection, love, and merit in return, bringing peace to our own hearts and into the world.

Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

A New Book!!

Living with an Open Heart: How to Cultivate Compassion in Everyday Life by Russell Kolts and Thubten Chodron, published by Constable and Robinson Press in the UK is now in stock! You can get it from Amazon in UK, paperback (reduced price) or ebook. You can also order the paperback through Amazon in the US.

Russell is a psychologist and professor at nearby Eastern Washington University, who first visited the Abbey several years ago. He studies and practices with Compassion-Focused Therapy and was thinking of writing a book of brief readings and practices for cultivating compassion. He wanted to draw from Western psychology as well as Buddhism, so invited me into the project.

It was fascinating for both of us to study compassion from these two viewpoints, and we discovered a good deal of overlap between our approaches. We think the book is unique and practical, and hope it will help a broad audience. This is a good one to share with your non-Buddhist friends as well as Buddhists.

Speaking of books, Wisdom Publication’s blog published the video where I talk about how Insight into Emptiness was written.

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Chenrezig Hall

In early November, the County Building Inspector came for a walk through and gave the contractor a short list of things to fix or add in order to get occupancy.

On November 25 he returned and we got “occupancy!” We’re thrilled to be able to use the building now. This is the fruit of everyone’s hard work and generosity—the builders, the benefactors, and especially Venerable Tarpa who was the project manager. We now welcome you to come and share the Dharma with us in Chenrezig Hall.

One of the most rewarding events was to move Kuan Yin to her throne/pedestal in the entryway. Carved out of one piece of cypress wood, the statue weighs around 320 lbs. and is over 5 ft. tall. Local friends came and together we devised a plan which involved wheeling the wooden shipping crate into the entry way, opening it, and lifting the statue up.

On the back of the pedestal we hung the copper om mani padme hum plaque that Sage made.

After consecrating the statue again, we enjoyed the community spirit that working together brings. The building inspector looked at the statue a long time—Kuan Yin plants the seeds of compassion whenever she can.

On “Move In” day, lots of friends from Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, and Missoula MT came to help us carry beds, chairs, bookcases, and the freezer from Ananda Hall to Chenrezig Hall. We also hauled a lot of leftover materials out of Chenrezig Hall and stored them in the barn. With more space in Ananda Hall, we then moved office furniture around, giving people room to work comfortably at their desks. Everyone worked joyfully and efficiently—and it was great exercise—so that after the first day most of the big items were relocated.

We had a second moving day over the Thanksgiving weekend to get the new kitchen set up and ready for service, andon Saturday we had our first lunch in the new dining room.

We’re still not finished, of course. Many details will be worked out over the winter, including furnishing the building, and we’ll do landscaping in the spring. We’ve set the consecration for June 14, and hope many of you will come. Now we have lots more room for you!

Venerable Samten made a new video of some interesting bits of the building process of the last few months. The video also features new music created for the Abbey by our composer friends Jimmy Denny and Bill. Check it out.

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Blessing the Capitol Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree on the lawn of of the US Capitol building in Washingon DC this year was taken from the Colville National Forest, near Newport. The native Americans did a ceremony of hope before the 88 foot spruce was cut. It was then put on a 103 ft-long semi and taken to Newport, where the whole town was out to welcome it. This was the only stop on its trip across the country where people could see the whole tree before it was bundled up for protection.

Amidst all the celebrations on Main St., the Abbey monastics gathered next to the tree to bless it. We did Chenrezig meditation, imagining each needle, branch, and the entire tree as Chenrezig—Buddha of Compassion—and invoking Chenrezig’s compassion into the tree. Chanting Chenrezig’s mantra and other prayers, including “Star-spangled Compassion,” we reflected on compassion and harmony for some time.

Afterwards people in our town—most of whom don’t know what Buddhism is—thanked us; they knew something special was happening. And from our side, we were only too happy to send some compassionate energy to the people in our nation’s government.

We dedicated, “May everyone who merely sees, hears about, talks or thinks about this tree have a compassionate heart and think only of benefiting others. May they do only what is of benefit for the country, the world, and all sentient beings.”

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Winter Retreats

Winter is a wonderful time to do retreat. At the Abbey the gentle snow falls and you feel like staying cozy indoors and contemplating. Come and join the Abbey community for a winter retreat:

Dec. 9 – 22: Green Tara Retreat
Jan. 13 – Feb 10:
Jan. 13 – April 14: Three-month Vajrasattva Retreat

If you can’t come here to do the retreat, you can do the modified Retreat from Afar at home. Send us your photo, which we’ll put in our Meditation Hall, and we’ll send you all the instructions, plus transcripts of Dharma talks during the retreat.

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Nyung Ne

Fifteen of us did the wonderful practice of “Abiding in the Fast”, which is a 2 day retreat of 1000-armed Chenrezig.

The fast we abide in is abstaining from afflicted mental states, but the practice also involves a physical fast.

Taking the 8 Mahayana Precepts for both days, on the first day we have one meal and on the second day, we don’t eat, drink, or speak. Meanwhile we do 3 sessions of Chenrezig practice each day, which involve many prostrations. It sounds difficult, but once you get into it, it isn’t. The practice steers our refuge to Chenrezig and compassion.

After breaking the fast on the morning of the third day, all of us felt the strong purification that occurs by continuously guiding the mind towards virtue.

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Red Robes, Shaved Heads

This year, to celebrate Bhikkhuni Day, there was an afternoon event featuring the Abbey nuns at the Spokane UU Church.

About sixty people attended, and when asked why they came, many said they were curious about the Abbey and ordained life. They wanted to know our individual stories of how we came to the Dharma and why we decided to ordain, so Venerables Tarpa, Chonyi, Jigme, Samten, and I shared about our lives. I also gave a talk on “Dying with Regret,” and our friend Sarah spoke about the history of bhikkhunis. Short meditations and small discussion groups added to this great afternoon.

People were so interested in the Dharma and monastic life and asked so many intriguing questions that they inspired us!

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Caring for Our Forest

We share the land with many other living beings and feel responsible for their well being. This involves caring for the forest and meadow lands. In 1910 there was a huge fire that burned in Washington, Idaho, and Montana, destroying millions of acres. From time to time we find a burned snag from that blaze, and earlier this month we erected one of them up the hill from Chenrezig Hall. Here’s the story.

Over the years we have worked in our forest, thinning crowded trees and carting out debris. We were delighted that FLEP (Forest Land Enhancement Program) supported us in this effort. Matt from the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has been giving us excellent advice and lots of help on our plan to do the same for the part of the forest we’ve called “Milarepa’s Mile,” the most congested and unhealthy area. We’ve loved hiking through the area with him, learning about the trees and listening to his advice. On one day he came, I gave a talk on our philosophy of forest stewardship, which Matt showed to the “big wigs in Olympia” who were apparently thrilled with it.

A few days later, Chris, the former fire chief of our area, came for lunch and also spoke about keeping the forest and land safe.

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Sharing the Dharma Day

While we thought the rainy weather would decrease the size of November’s Sharing the Dharma Day, in fact it increased it!

This month’s topic from Don’t Believe Everything You Think was how the happiness in cyclic existence is low grade and the bliss and fulfillment of liberation is much greater. In the afternoon discussion group, we particularly examined the role of the media in telling us who we should be and what we should have and do. Our non-thinking adherence to societal conditioning makes us live “on automatic” and leaves us vulnerable to being overwhelmed by ignorance, anger, and clinging attachment. Choosing to live mindfully and to keep good ethical conduct, in contrast, is very freeing.

You can view the talk on “Why Worldly Pleasures Won’t Cut It” here.

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Out & About

An Abbey supporter offered tickets for Venerable Chonyi and me to attend the Spokane chapter NAACP banquet, featuring a keynote address “Justice or Just Us: A Call to Action to End the School to Prison Pipeline” by Judge Joe Brown. The address was thought provoking, and many of his conclusions dovetailed with what I have learned doing prison work: When, as a society, we neglect children’s education and upbringing, we’re setting them up for a life in prison.

Three students from the local high schools’ NAACP chapters spoke as well, and they were really impressive. One boy, who was just a sophomore, was particularly passionate and had some great ideas for how to work with kids who are acting out. Instead of suspending them, which makes their grades decline and lessens their interest in school, give them special help to increase their abilities and interest in doing well. Sometimes all it takes is one adult who really cares about a child and believes in him or her to turn that teen’s life around.

I spoke to a full house at North Idaho College on “Life Is Fleeting (So What Will You Do With It?).” The Coeur d’Alene audience was an interesting mix of students and older townspeople, and they asked many good questions. You can watch the talk here.

Venerables Semkye and Chonyi ended the fall series of meditation classes at the Spokane Unitarian Universalist church. We’re creating a series of winter classes for them based on videos of our Sharing the Dharma Day talks. The Spokane group is enthusiastic, and the video classes can support the continuity of their practice while we’re in retreat.

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More News

Shane came at the end of the month and, again, offered his wood-carving skills. This time he carved the beautiful Tibetan letters of om mani padme hum into the beam over the side entrance to Chenrezig Hall.

Clinton, Melanie, Marga, and Sage all came and offered service for several days, and there were the two amazing groups of movers that came from all over. Other guests this month included a lunchtime visit with Geshe Phelgye and a group from the UU church in Spokane. Sharing with guests keeps us all thriving in the Dharma.

The report on our 19th Annual Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering was published in Buddhadharma News.

Photos of the Abbey sangha’s recent travels are now on the web.

Since it’s Thanksgiving weekend (in the U.S. anyway), you might especially get a lot from reading Heather’s insights into eating healthily and the fifth lay precept to abstain from intoxicants.

We’ve been especially touched by the outpouring of generosity from Dharma friends for our county’s homeless teens— now 117(!) of them. On behalf of Youth Emergency Services (YES), we thank you for all the warm coats, boots, socks, and so forth that you’ve sent their way. Their holidays—and their futures—will be brighter for it!&nbsp

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