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January has been a full month at the Abbey: several people returned from their travels, and in the middle of the month we began our winter retreat.

We’ve been noticing climate change very distinctly this year as January weather is more like March. It’s been 15-20 degrees warmer than usual and we’ve had little precipitation, which will bring a summer with increased chances of forest fires. We hope those of you in the Midwest and on the East Coast of the US stay warm. Send some of your snow our way!
Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

Travels in Asia

After a weekend of teachings in Malaysia with Buddhist Gem Fellowship, a wonderful Dharma group that began inviting me to teach in Malaysia in the 1980s, Venerable Damcho and I went to Singapore, where there was a busy schedule of teachings at a variety of temples and centers.

Venerable Jigme joined us, then the three of us went to Indonesia, where I led a retreat and taught in Bogor, Bandung, and Jakarta. Buddhism in Indonesia has grown a lot in recent decades after having nearly disappeared in the 16th century with the ascent of Islam there. However, there’s a distinct feeling of this being an ancient Buddhist land—it is the home of Lama Atisha and the magnificent Borobudur stupa is a national treasure valued by all. Indonesian Buddhist art, especially the huge stone statues of compassionate Buddhas sitting so majestically, also lets you know that the Dharma is not new to this land.

A particularly touching event in Singapore was the 10th Anniversary Party for Sravasti Abbey. Beautifully choreographed by Friends of Sravasti Abbey Singapore (FOSAS), it included a lovely offering of lotus lights, short talks by dedicated volunteers, and gifts—FOSAS gave a large Chenrezig tangka to the Abbey and a crystal with the Buddha and earth lit up inside. The Abbey in return gave small gifts to the many enthusiastic volunteers and Dharma students.

We then went to India to attend HH the Dalai Lama’s 10-day teaching on various lamrim texts. This was a wonderful opportunity not only to learn the Dharma, but also to visit many of our teachers (and their reincarnations)—Ling Rinpoche, Serkong Rinpoche, Zopa Rinpoche, Pari Rinpoche, Geshe Tabkhe, Khensur Jampa Tegchok, Jangste Choje Rinpoche, Samdhong Rinpoche and others—and to see many Dharma friends, some I’ve know nearly 40 years. (Gasp!) An international group of twelve bhikshunis (fully ordained nuns) also did posadha—our fortnightly confession ceremony—together at Sera Monastery.

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Establishing the Sangha and the Dharma in the USA

One of the conditions of a precious human life—a human life with the best circumstances for Dharma practice and the possibility of attaining awakening—is to live in a Central Land, i.e. a place where a Sangha of at least four fully ordained monastics carry out the three principal monastic rites: fortnightly confession (posadha, sojong), three month monastic retreat (varsa, yarne), and the ceremony concluding the retreat (pravarana, gaye).

Working together with Chinese nuns over the years, we have translated the ceremonies for these rites, and Venerable Heng-ching and Venerable Hong-fan from Taiwan recently spent several jam-packed days at the Abbey teaching us how to do them. We shared many moments of joy with these bhikshunis, and there was a definite sense of being part of and carrying on a 2600-year tradition done by bhikshunis since the time of the Buddha. As far as we know, this is the first time a Sangha of bhikshunis following Tibetan Buddhism did this retreat in English and in the USA. (We were able to do this since we follow the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya practiced in Taiwan. The Mulasarvastivada Vinaya practice in Tibet does not currently have an extant bhikshuni lineage.) See the article about us here.

It was especially touching to see everyone working hard to make this happen—Venerable Tarpa and Venerable Tsultrim setting up the Hall, Venerable Samten writing out the musical score for the chanting, Venerable Chonyi putting the English translation to the Chinese melody, Venerable Damcho checking the translation of the ceremony, me editing the ceremony until the last minute. The enthusiasm and community feeling were compelling, and now we are doing the monastic retreat alongside our usual winter meditation retreat (These are two different retreats that happen to overlap this year).

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Outreach and Caring for Others

In the first weekend of January, while I was teaching in Singapore, Venerables Tarpa and Semkye were teaching at Coeur d’Alene Dharma Friends, and Venerable Samten participated in the interfaith panel in Spokane. Venerable Chonyi was teaching in Columbia, SC, and then there were nearly 50 people at the monthly Sharing the Dharma Day at the Abbey—lots of Dharma sharing to begin the new year.

We also received a visit from the parents and close friends of a 25-year-old man who died recently in a tragic cycling-car accident. They were doing a pilgrimage to the places he had been in the last year, and Sravasti Abbey was one of them. We shared their grief, discussing Dharma ways to heal and doing a lovely ceremony to send him off to his next life with our love, compassion, and prayers.

Winter also brings our annual caring for the deer by setting out salt blocks, for the turkeys by giving them cracked corn—(They run after Venerable Semkye whenever they see her!)—and feeding the chickadees and nuthatches.

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Sharing the Dharma Day

Several guests came early to offer service by “rolling mantras” to fill our beautiful bronze Kuan Yin statue, then stayed over for Sharing the Dharma Day.

We are continuing to use Don’t Believe Everything You Think as the text for these monthly events. Venerable Semkye gave an enthusiastic talk on Verse 11 from the root text, “The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas,” about the disadvantages of self-centeredness and the great benefits of cherishing others. Then Venerable Tarpa’s discussion questions really had people thinking about how the self-centered thought works in their lives.

Our guests were happy to be here and a little sad that they have to wait until March for their next day at the Abbey.

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Winter Retreat Begins

Our annual winter meditation retreat began in mid-January. The group of retreatants this year—us ten monastics and nine guests—is particularly earnest in their practice. There is a wide range of ages and nationalities in the group, but everyone shares a unity of purpose and love of the Buddha’s teachings.

Retreat from Afar is continuing this year. To date a total of 215 people are doing one meditation session of Vajrasattva practice a day with us. Eighty-four of them are people in prison. Everyone doing Retreat from Afar who has sent us a photo is represented in our Meditation Hall. We see your photos daily and support you in your practice as you support us in ours.

Our daily schedule for retreat is the same as in previous years, with five meditation sessions each day and one study session. The principal practice people are doing is the Vajrasattva purification practice, and a few people are working on the ngondro (preliminary) practices of prostrations and mandala offerings.

Three times a week we do chanting and serpentine walking, and twice a month we do the Lama Chopa practice with tsog. We also take the Eight Mahayana Precepts twice a month, and the bhikshunis do bhikshuni posadha in the Meditation Hall while the lay people read and contemplate the five precepts in Chenrezig Hall. During the break times, people read, and do “mantra rolling” to prepare the rolls of paper with mantras written on them that are put inside Buddha statues.

Last year at this time we were in the middle of building Chenrezig Hall and the construction workers were here diligently working. We’re really enjoying being able to use the completed Hall this year. There is ample space for cooking and eating, for break out groups, and for accommodating more people. We appreciate all of you who made this possible and hope you will all visit us soon to enjoy the Dharma and the natural beauty at the Abbey.

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Happy Chinese New Year

We finished the month with a spirited Tara puja to welcome the Chinese New Year, then dedicated the merit by reading out 1500-plus names for our friends in Singapore who had requested prayers for this day. There are many Friends of Sravasti Abbey in Singapore and we were delighted to repay some part of their kindness in this way. Our Singaporean nun, Venerable Damcho, gave a Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talk about Chinese New Year and how the practice of receiving red packets (that contain money) as a blessing has changed for her over the years, especially since she became ordained.

For all beings everywhere, and especially for our Chinese friends, we send best wishes for compassion, wisdom, and happiness to grow in the new year.

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More News

Namdro wrote to us about her experience at Young Adults Explore Buddhism at the Abbey last year:

“I decided to attend the Young Adults retreat in order to do a bit of research on how to get a youth group started. Indeed I learned a lot from the many lovely young people I met, but I also heard some heart-moving life stories and discovered some things about myself as well. Visiting the Abbey was an engaging and introspective experience that I would recommend to any young adult with a curious mind and an open heart. The sense of compassion and stillness that I experienced at the Abbey still touches my daily life. The stories and lives of all the people I met there are a treasure to me and I look forward to going back one day soon!”

This year, Young Adults Explore Buddhism runs June 6-13. Click here for info.

Tanya shares her reflections on Learning to Create a Happy Mind.

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