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In late December and early January snow fell and we had the joy of sharing the quiet of a snow covered Abbey with our guests. But two-thirds through January we started to have weather that was 10 to 20 degrees warmer than it usually is. It was March in January.

May we learn to meet the unexpected with fortitude and equanimity, essential qualities for benefitting others.

Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

Vajrasattva New Year’s Retreat

The Abbey began 2015 by welcoming friends to join in the Vajrasattva New Year’s Retreat. We joyfully made lots of merit with a Lama Chopa puja on New Year’s Eve—quite different from some of our New Year’s Eve activities of the past!

This was a modified retreat, in that we practiced three sessions a day, plus a discussion session, then offered service, mostly by preparing meals and rolling mantra. Kuni cooked for the first two days, which was a special treat.

Vajrasattva purification practice was new for some and an old and trusted friend for others, so we offered guidance and instructions for the former while providing a silent session for the latter.

The discussions were fruitful, particularly on the day we examined our conditioning around making mistakes and our relationship with guilt. From that, many people developed a clearer view of what purification practice is really about—and it’s not guilt!

We enjoyed the snow, the practice, and deepening Dharma friendships. Jim shares his reflections on the retreat in this Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talk. Photos are here.

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HH the Dalai Lama’s Lamrim Teachings in Mundgod, India

His Holiness continued the lamrim teachings for a third year at Gaden Monastery in Mundgod, India, where tens of thousands people attended and the teachings were translated into nine languages.

Venerables Jigme, Damcho, and I attended and Laresa, an Abbey supporter who just completed two years in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, joined us. As always, the teachings were wonderful, and His Holiness was healthy and enthusiastic. He gave good Dharma advice, especially on the importance of using reasoning in Dharma practice and generating faith in the Three Jewels based on an understanding derived from reasoning, not from blind belief. Photos are here.

We also visited several teachers while there: Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, Serkong Rinpoche, and Zong Rinpoche, all of whose previous lives were my teachers. We also saw Zopa Rinpoche and the abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery, among others. This was also a time for seeing many old Dharma friends—people I’ve known since the middle 70’s and early 80’s—and see the fruits of their Dharma practice. Our faces are more wrinkled and our hair greyer than when we first met, but the love of the Dharma still beams brightly inside of us.

While I stayed at the house of one of my teachers, Venerables Jigme and Damcho, and Laresa stayed at Jangchub Choling Nunnery, where the nuns treated them grandly. They were there when His Holiness visited the nunnery one afternoon, and heard his encouraging and inspiring words to the nuns that left some of the nuns in tears of joy and gratitude.

Pics from the earlier part of the trip to Asia, when Venerable Damcho and I were in Singapore, are now on the website. The details are in the January 2015 enews. The talk I gave for young people at the National University of Singapore on developing healthy self-confidence and harmonious relationships, “The Union of Method & Wisdom,” is posted here.

The entire Asian visit was a wonderful time of sharing the Dharma with people who are dear to our hearts.

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Our Eighth Bhikshuni

The Abbey was delighted to welcome Venerable Tsultrim home when she returned from Taiwan after receiving the bhikshuni ordination. Like all of us who go to Taiwan to receive full ordination, she rturned joyful and with increased appreciation for the Abbey, monastic life, and the opportunity to learn and practice the Dharma and the vinaya.

Many people helped Venerable Tsultrim while she was there participating in the month-long training program, which includes renewing the sramanerika precepts and receiving the bhikshuni and bodhisattva precepts. She is our eighth bhikshuni, and we hope to have many more and some bhikshus too.

Venerable Tsultrim spoke about her experience in Taiwan, sharing what she will miss and what she will not miss.

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Varsa: the Snows Retreat

In ancient India, the monastic community did retreat every summer during the monsoon rains. It was called varsa, the rains retreat or annual retreat. Here in eastern Washington State, our varsa has been re-labeled the snows retreat and it occurs during winter. I spoke about its origins and the Abbey’s practice in this talk on Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner.

This year, eight bhikshunis and two shikshamanas entered this three-month monastic retreat. The rites to do this are ancient—we distribute and collect sticks to count the number of participants, and we commit ourselves to observe varsa one by one, each of us saying the same words in our own voice. There is an incredible sense of peace when we do these rites slowly, mindfully, thoughtfully, and with delight with being together as the sangha. Photos are here.

At the conclusion of the varsa retreat, there is a ceremony for inviting feedback, and in the days following that, the kathina ceremony in which the sangha makes a robe of merit. We’ll tell you more about this and how you can participate as the date approaches.

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Winter Retreat: Manjushri and Yamantaka

Varsa is a retreat for monastics only. At the Abbey it partially overlaps with our winter retreat. We invite guests to join us for our winter meditation retreat, which this year focuses on wisdom, especially Manjushri the Buddha of Wisdom, and Yamantaka, his fierce aspect.

Together, there are 24 people doing the first month of retreat this year, and 16 will continue to do three months of retreat. Of the 24, 2 are German, 4 are Singaporean, 3 Canadian, 1 British, and the rest American. It’s wonderful being an international group. The first retreat photos are here.

In the days preceding the retreat, to prepare for our meditation time, we had teachings, purified negativities with prostrations to the 35 Buddhas, and collected merit by reading “108 Verses on Compassion,” an inspiring text by Bhikshu Lobsang Tayang. Retreat preparation photos are here.

In a discussion session, we shared with each other the aspects of the Dharma that ring the most true for us and the hesitations or doubts we had about doing retreat. The discussion brought us together in an amazing way—no one wanted to get up when it ended. A bond of trust and mutual appreciation had been created that will carry on throughout the retreat and beyond.Venerable Chodron guided us through the steps of generating a bodhicitta motivation, preparing our seats, and making offerings to enter retreat. We are keeping silence during retreat, except for necessary communication and Q&A times. It’s a time to look within, and we cherish that.

We are very grateful to Zopa for volunteering to cook for us for the first month of retreat. She is nourishing all of us with kindness and care.

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Requesting Training & Becoming Anagarikas

Clinton, Alex, and Brian requested training at the Abbey in mid-January. This is the first step in exploring whether they want to ordain at the Abbey. The short ceremony was attended by the retreatants as well as the resident community, and was a time of celebration.

Then, two weeks later, on January 27, they received the eight precepts of an anagarika. This Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talk explains it.

Earlier in the day, the community and guests shaved the heads of the three anagarikas-to-be, then they donned the blue uniform of Sravasti Abbey anagarikas. Monastics and retreatants alike were touched by Clinton’s, Alex’s, and Brian’s commitment to the Dharma and to ethical conduct, and we were joyful in welcoming new members to the community. Photos here.

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Books News

Living with a Compassionate Heart

Living with a Compassionate Heart, the book Venerable Chodron co-authored with psychologist Russell Kolts, is now coming out in the US edition, which will make it much easier for people in North America to get.

The new title is An Open-Hearted Life: Transformative Methods for Compassionate Living from a Clinical Psychologist and a Buddhist Nun and it’s available here on Amazon.

Read about the book launch in Singapore, watch Dr. Kolts and Venerable Chodron’s talk on Healing the Mind” given in Singapore, and go to the book page to learn about the book.

Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions

While traveling in December, Venerable Chodron gave two talks on this new book by H.H. the Dalai Lama, that she co-authored with him. The two talks are very different. One is an introduction to common points in the many Buddhist traditions. The other is more advanced, pointing out interesting similarities and differences in the traditions.

You may also want to visit the book page for Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions.

Buddhism for Beginners

Buddhism for Beginners is now an audio book, read by award-winning actress Gabra Zackman. It’s available here on audible.com.

Buddhism for Beginners has its own book page too.

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Re-Imagining Mundgod

While in Mundgod, my friend Tsewang Namgyal invited us to a meeting about developing Doeguling—the entire Tibetan community in Mundgod. The idea is to make it into a tourist site, a goal that the state government would support and help to fund. In doing this, it would vastly improve the living standard of the Tibetans there and expose thousands of people to Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism.

Namgyal wants to do this in a way that is sensitive to the needs of the various stakeholders in the area, including monastics, farmers, shop owners, and the local Indian community. He said, “Spending time there and meeting with the contemplatives, it is easy to imagine how this place could become not only a major source of ancient knowledge for the world, but also a creator of new wisdom with the integration of science with ancient wisdom.” Learn more about the project here.

The meeting was held at the local school where we were treated to an excellent performance of Tibetan song and dance by the students. We got to meet many of the local people involved as well as two members of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile and Alfred Tolle from Google, who is known as “the compassion guy.” We wish the project all success.

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Abbey Life

Before retreat, Venerables Semkye and Tarpa visited our dear friends and rural neighbors Sisters Nancy and Leslie of the Carmelite Sisters of Mary. Once or twice each year we spend a few precious hours together. The Carmelites are a contemplative order of the Catholic Church and live in spiritually-based communities, so we have much in common and can share very honestly together. On this last visit we delved into discerning faith and hope—and the times that we lack either one—in our personal practices. How wonderful to share and learn from each others’ rich spiritual traditions!

In December, three of the Abbey community joined with families and volunteers for the Youth Emergency Services (Y.E.S.) holiday party. Over 50 guests enjoyed a wonderful buffet dinner donated by Life by Design. Venerables Samten and Semkye and Clinton helped distribute some of the hundreds of gifts donated by residents of Pend Oreille and Spokane Counties, including many from the Abbey’s extended Dharma community. The gifts brought lots of joy to the youth and their families. In a very personal touch, Dharma friend Samten Regan’s mom, Margaret—aged nearly 90—created handmade Christmas card/placemats for each attendee, which the kids were touched to receive.

Winter is a quiet time for visiting. Caryl and Jack both came before the Vajrasattva retreat and stayed after. Caryl has been in the Sravasti Abbey Friends Education program for some time and volunteers on the ThubtenChodron.org migration team. She weathered a bus ride from Texas to join us. That’s commitment! Jack, from the Bay Area, has practiced in the Zen tradition and is curious about Tibetan Buddhism. Both easily joined into community life and contributed much during their time here.

Several day guests also visited before retreat, including Dharma friend Belinda, who came to introduce baby Kayla to the Abbey. We were delighted, and Kayla seemed to be too!

In the first week of retreat, it was Venerable Tarpa’s turn to receive “the call,” letting her know that her dad, aged 89, had passed away peacefully. Although he had not been ill, he had been declining for some time and his death was not unexpected. Venerable Tarpa traveled to her home town in Michigan for a few days to support her mom and siblings for the funeral, then returned to retreat. Her father had been a family doctor there for over 45 years, and Venerable Tarpa was happy to experience the community’s appreciation of him. His obituary is here. Several Abbey residents have lost parents in the last two years, reminding us again and again of life’ s fragility and the resolve to practice the Dharma now while we can.

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More News

Over the years, we’ve developed a connection with a small group of Russian Buddhists. We met some of them in 2012 at HH the Dalai Lama’s lamrim teachings at Sera Monastery, then again at his teachings in Hamburg, Germany in August 2014, and once more in Mundgod this last December. Many of them are now doing Vajrasattva retreat in India. Just as the Abbey community did on Christmas, our Russian friends recited Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life from afar. They asked us, in return, to recite a text on Orthodox Christmas, which this year fell on January 7. So we gathered together and recited Je Tsongkhapa’s “Praise to Dependent Arising,” which piqued everyone’s interest in studying this text.

Sakyadhita, an international organization for Buddhist women, is holding its 14th Conference in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, June 23-30, 2015. We encourage you to attend. Get info here. Venerable Chodron will attend and will give a Dharma talk there, and she will also be teaching in different sites in Indonesia prior to the conference.

The Religious News Service published a nice story on Venerable Chodron and Sravasti Abbey.

Read “Namaste Glen Campbell,” written by Jane, one of the Friends of Sravasti Abbey Education (SAFE) participants.

Even in retreat, we hear news of the world. If you’re alarmed by recent events, read the pertinent article Venerable Chodron posted to her website: Fear About the World: Confusing Compassion with Despair.

Also on ThubtenChodron.org is Venerable Chonyi’s report on the 20th Annual Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering held last October at the Deer Park Monastery in California.

Meditation classes continue this winter with student-led book study at the Spokane Unitarian Universalist Church, 4340 West Fort George Wright Drive, on Mondays at 6:30 pm. The class has been following Living with an Open Heart over the last year. The newly available and re-named US edition, An Open-Hearted Life: Transformative Methods for Compassionate Living from a Clinical Psychologist and a Buddhist Nun, is available online and will be in bookstores soon.

Friends of Sravasti Abbey in Spokane have organized a homemade (authentic!) Thai dinner and Buddhist movie event on Saturday, February 28, in support of the Abbey’s Sangha Medical Fund. It’s at the Spokane UU Church, beginning at 6 pm.

The Abbey is now part of the AmazonSmile program. Amazon donates 0.5% of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases when you shop with them online. AmazonSmile is the same Amazon you know—same products, same prices, same service. Just log in like you normally would and select Sravasti Abbey as the non-profit that you would like them to donate to. Click here to register and learn more.

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