Dear Friends,

It’s El Niño weather this year so our winter is comparatively mild, except for the 7 to 10 days that were below 0° F.

After the cold spell, the temps went up and the snow began to melt, making for a mud bath. But our hearts are warm and clear as we continue with the second half of our winter retreat.

Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron & the Sravasti Abbey Community

New Year’s with Vajrasattva

Abbey residents know there’s no better way to bring in the new year than our annual New Year’s Vajrasattva purification retreat. We therefore were happy that this year’s retreat was one of the most highly attended of 2023.

Familiar friends and many new ones experienced the power of regretting past misdeeds, making amends, and beginning the year afresh by chanting Vajrasattva’s mantra and visualizing purification.

During the morning, Ven. Sangye Khadro taught the general characteristics and results of karma, as well as antidotes to the root afflictions of anger and attachment.

In the afternoon, Ven. Jigme provided helpful insights into cultural conditioning that influences how we approach purification practice. Many sincere and interesting questions followed from participants eager to learn about the Buddhist worldview.

Discussion groups, meditations, and Q&A sessions led by Abbey monastics likewise opened new insights into why we act in harmful ways, and how to change our thoughts and behaviors to better align with compassion and wisdom.

See retreat photos here.

Monastic Training Course

Abbey monastics and six guest nuns from three continents participated in a two-week training course on the Vinaya (monastic ethical code). The course included teachings, discussions, and daily purification involving bowing and chanting. See course photos here.

The course was intended to prepare the five Abbey siksamanas (novice nuns) planning to take full ordination in Taiwan in March. We also wished to support a group of nuns who received bhikshuni ordination at a Vietnamese temple in France last year. Former Abbey residents Vens. Jampa and Nyima also attended.

 Venerable Bhikshuni Guo Goang, a senior nun and teacher from Dharma Drum Mountain in Taiwan, and her translator, Bhikshuni Changhwa, offered teachings during the first week.

Topics included the history of bhikshuni ordination, the relationship between sangha and lay devotees, confession rites, gender relations, and hierarchy.

Senior Abbey nuns gave teachings and led discussions during the second week. They gave an overview of the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya, categories of transgressions, right livelihood for monastics, relating precepts to our culture, and living harmoniously in a community.

 The course included group work that explored the origin stories behind the monastic precepts and the afflictions they are designed to counteract. Vens. Guo Goang and Changhwa also gave an engaging demonstration on monastic etiquette.

A three-nun panel—Vens. Chodron, Sangye Khadro, and Guo Goang—shared their diverse experiences as fully ordained monastics.

Before they departed, the Taiwanese bhikshunis offered a beautiful puja in honor of late Geshe Dadul (Tenzin Chodrak) that involved Chinese and Tibetan chanting.

 Abbey monastics first met Ven. Guo Goang at the 2023 International Bhikshuni Varsa in Shravasti, where she served as the Abbess. We were delighted to welcome her to the Abbey.

Ven. Chodron has also given several talks at Dharma Drum branches in Asia. We look forward to maintaining our ongoing connection with Dharma Drum by welcoming a large group of their nuns later this year.

The Alliance of Non-Himalayan Nuns asked Ven. Chodron to give a talk on “Living Harmoniously in Community” that will be shown at their upcoming gathering (watch it here). In her usual frank and humorous way, she pointed out the self-centered attitude’s shenanigans in hijacking the peace of any group working or living together. “The self-centered attitude is the real enemy,” she said. “Not other people.”

Memorial Services for Geshe Tenzin Chodrak (Dadul Namgyal)

On Jan. 3, Geshe la’s body was found in the pond near Tara’s Refuge (read our announcement). A few days later, Ven. Chodron shared what we know about his death in this talk.

Reading this interview on death and dying that Geshe la did with The New York Times in 2020 helped us to make peace with his death: How Does a Buddhist Monk Face Death?

On Jan. 21, the Abbey hosted a memorial service for Geshe la (watch here). In freezing weather and on icy roads, some brave ones arrived at the Abbey and joined the warmth emanating from everyone’s shared appreciation, respect, and love for Geshe la.

 Our voices joined in reciting the Medicine Buddha practice before an elaborate altar overflowing with offerings. This was followed by a short video with pics of Geshe la’s life at the Abbey (watch here) and a big lunch.

On Jan. 27, Geshe la’s family and four monks from his monastery, Drepung Loseling in Atlanta, came to Newport for his memorial.

The funeral home in our little town had its first Buddhist service, with the Loseling monks chanting texts and prayers and then the Abbey community chanting prayers. It was beautiful, with people coming together from the various strands of Geshe la’s life—his family, his monastery, and his Western students.

 After the service, the heavy clouds that had shrouded the Abbey for several days lifted and for the rest of the day, there was a vibrant blue sky with a few fluffy clouds.

The family and monks returned to the Abbey for lunch and a tour of the Buddha Hall, and then all of us walked to the pond where Geshe la’s body was found for more purifying prayers.

See photos from these two memorial events here.

We’re encouraged to send our deceased loved ones to their next life with love. Rashika did that, composing beautiful verses about Geshe la being reborn in Amitabha’s pure land. Others can do this for their loved ones by changing the name in the verses.

The Abbey community appreciates all the prayers and good wishes people have sent for Geshe la. The pastors of several local churches tell us that their congregations are praying for Geshe la, and an Eastern Orthodox monastery across the state, near Seattle, wrote that their monks are also praying for him.

Buddha Hall Update

In the first week of January, the electrical and mechanical engineers visited and were pleased at the progress so far.

The mechanical rooms that house the fire suppression system and the geothermal and radiant floor heating systems are visually amazing. We are also rejoicing in the skill of the plumbing team leading the HVAC room (watch a short video).

With the completion of the duct work, the drywall team can move ahead with putting sheetrock on the lower floor ceiling.

 Upstairs, the taping and mudding of all of the rooms is underway, so we can now imagine how multifunctional the Main Hall and Tara and Posadha Rooms will be.

The stucco has been completed on the last exterior wall! In the snowy cold, Robert and crew worked six days a week. Stuccoing under scaffolding and tenting was very physically demanding.

On their last day, Robert said it was a privilege for them to work on our temple. They’ve told their families and friends about their experiences here and he learned a lot.

When queried by Ven. Samten on what he learned, he said how to be kind and smile. Ven. Samten replied, “Robert, you already know how to do that,” and he said no, on other jobs they are grumpy. “You people come and check on us every day and you show us kindness. I will not forget this. We will be back in the spring to do touch ups and make sure everything is completed well.”

See the latest photos here.

 The Pema Chodron Foundation & the Posadha Room

We are honored that The Pema Chodron Foundation has awarded a $50,000 grant to help sponsor the Posadha Room in the Buddha Hall.

The room is named after the twice-monthly monastic ceremony of confessing our mistakes and restoring our precepts—Posadha in Sanskrit, or Sojong in Tibetan.

We’ll give novice ordinations in the Posadha Room, along with other monastic rites. While our lay friends never see the Posadha ceremony, you directly benefit from it. A sangha community that is strong in its ethical conduct can be trusted for spiritual support.

Thanks to everyone for your fantastic support for the Tara Room!

Now, Friends of Sravasti Abbey invite others to join The Pema Chodron Foundation in their Posadha Room sponsorship. This gift especially helps to preserve the sangha!

More News

  • While Gala Rinpoche (at right) from Drepung Loseling Texas visited the Abbey in November, we asked him to give a talk to the sangha. He gave useful suggestions on how to practice the Dharma with a long-term view that inspired all of us. Listen to it here.

  • Ven. Chodron’s talk from BuddhaFest, “Applying Buddhist Logic in Meditation,” is now available for viewing here.

  • Al writes about how he uses an empty coffee pot in the prison to fill himself up with compassion and goodwill here.

  • This article discusses how a digital detox retreat sparked interest in looking at other aspects of our lives.

  • Ven. Sangye Khadro’s teachings during the Four-Arm Chenrezig Retreat in July 2023 are now available for watching on YouTube.
  • Kindness in Practice, Ven. Chodron’s Oct. 2023 talk on how to respond with kindness no matter what happens, can now be viewed here.

Upcoming Events

Here’s what’s happening in February:

Feb 1 – Apr 11, Thursdays: Ornament for Clear Realization with Ven. Sangye Khadro on Zoom, hosted by Tse Chen Ling

Feb 3-24, Saturdays: Rice Seedling Sutra with Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe on Zoom(no class Feb. 10)

Feb 5: Introduction to Tantra with Ven. Sangye Khadro on Zoom, hosted by Thubten Norbu Ling

Feb 11: Inspiring Stories about Lama Yeshe & Lama Zopa Rinpochewith Ven. Thubten Chodron on Zoom, hosted by Tushita Meditation Centre

Feb 12: Inspiring Stories about Lama Yeshe & Lama Zopa Rinpoche with Ven. Sangye Khadro on Zoom, hosted by Tushita Meditation Centre

Feb 18: How to Create Harmony with Ven. Thubten Chodron on Zoom, hosted by Tushita Meditation Centre

Feb 18: Medicine Buddha Puja with Abbey monastics on Zoom

Feb 28: The Eight Worldly Concerns with Ven. Thubten Chodron on Zoom and in person, hosted by Ocean of Compassion Buddhist Center, Campbell, CA

Plus weekly teachings online:

Middle-Length Lamrim with Ven. Sangye Khadro, streamed live Thursdays at 8 am Pacific Time through Feb. 22, then switching to Friday nights at 5 pm PT on March 1

Samsara, Nirvana, and Buddha Nature with Ven. Thubten Chodron, streamed live Friday nights at 5 pm Pacific Time through Feb. 23

New Series: Transforming Problems into Happiness with Ven. Tenzin Tsepal, streamed live Thursdays at 8 am Pacific Time starting Feb. 29 (check website for link)

Check the Abbey’s Events Page for more!