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We send you warm holiday greetings and all good wishes for the New Year. Our Dharma practice enables us to create the causes for all these good wishes and prayers to bear fruit, and so we encourage you in your spiritual practice as we welcome 2012.

With prayers sharing the inspiration and blessings of our retreat with you,
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community. 

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Two New bhikshunis!

Venerable Chonyi and Venerable Jigme returned from Taiwan where they became fully ordained bhikshunis in a Triple Platform ordination at Fo Guang Shan. They said it was a challenging but very rewarding month during which they were fully immersed in the strict monastic training program in a place where they didn’t know the language. Fortunately translators helped them, as did their fellow trainees and training guides. As a result, there are now five “home-grown” bhikshunis at Sravasti Abbey, so we are able to do the activities of a bhikshuni sangha, including the twice-monthly Posadha (ceremony of confession and restoration of precepts). This is a major step in establishing the Sangha and in the spread of the Dharma in the West. Watch the five short talks about their experience 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

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Venerable Chodron’s Trip to Asia

After living in Singapore for about a year and a half in the late ‘80s, I’ve visited there nearly every year since then to teach the people who are thirsty for the Dharma and eager to learn. I arrived in early November. Most of my visit was described in the December eNews, and now there are pics on the website to show you.

After teaching in Singapore for ten days, I continued on to India for a short visit to Dharamsala to see Geshe Sonam Rinchen and Serkong Rinpoche and was also able to have an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He looked at photos of the Abbey and was pleased to hear that we are following the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya and now have five bhikshunis.

After Dharamsala, I returned to Delhi for the International Global Congregation. This four-day conference had about 1000 participants from over 40 countries, and was organized by the Asoka Mission. The theme centered on Buddhism in the 21st century and included sessions on Buddhism’s Preservation and Development, Environment and Ecology from a Buddhist Perspective, Right Livelihood, Buddhism and Psychology, Women and Buddhism, Points of Contact between Buddhism and Science, and so forth. I felt honored to present a paper “Sangha Livelihood in the 21st Century.” Even more than the panels, I enjoyed speaking with so many people in the break times. It was special to have the opportunity to meet Buddhists from around the world, who have the same faith and values yet are enacting them in vastly different places and circumstances. However, gender imbalance was evident in the opening ceremony speakers—all males.

The last day there was a prayer gathering at Gandhi Smriti, the site of the Mahatma’s assassination, with chanting by Burmese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, and Tibetan Buddhists, Jains, and Muslims. Being at this place made me contemplate how much impact one inpidual can have on the world. Not only did Gandhi significantly change the Indian sub-continent and inspire so many non-violent demonstrations worldwide in the following decades; the act of the inpidual who killed him also dramatically affected the world. Let’s not think that our actions don’t matter; the actions of one person can impact many beings’ happiness and suffering.

The closing session of the conference featured a talk by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who spoke forthrightly about the importance of individual practice and ethical restraint in order to preserve the Dharma and bring peace to society. One of the important results of the conference was the formation of an international Buddhist body, named the International Buddhist Confederation. You can read the preamble for this new organization and learn more about what happened at the Global Buddhist Congregation at the Asoka Mission website. The conference was followed by a three-day pilgrimage to Bodhgaya and Sarnath, before this gathering of Buddhists spread in the ten directions, taking the benefit of the conference with them.

From India, I returned to Singapore and gave a talk on “Bringing Harmony to Your Workplace” at the Buddhist Library. A FOSA Singapore “good-bye gathering” followed, and then I boarded the plane back to the USA. FOSAS did a marvelous job planning and carrying out the various events during my Singapore visit. They are a harmonious and friendly group of people who cherish the Dharma, and my hope is that many of them will join the Retreat from Afar this winter and will one day visit the Abbey.

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The Meditation Hall

The community has been busy preparing for winter and for our annual three-month meditation retreat. We put gravel under the writing studio as part of a passive radon system, put the garden “to sleep” for the winter, burned the piles of waste we had removed from the forest as part of the thinning project, and, of course, shoveled snow.

Work on the Meditation Hall continued in November and went into December as well, but it slowed down because of snow and also because of the holiday season when inspectors and workers take off work. The hall is down on its new foundation, tar and insulation were put on the exterior footings, the inside walls were framed out, and the electricity was roughed in and inspected. We’ve finished putting in the insulation, drywall, and texture, and have just started painting.

Thanks to everyone who made offerings to support the relocation and transformation of the Meditation Hall. Please come meditate with us soon!

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Retreat Begins!

So many sincere Dharma practitioners applied for the winterretreat that we couldn’t turn anyone away. As a result, the Abbey is completely full for the first month of retreat (emphasizing the need for Chenrezig Hall—the new guest house with a huge kitchen and dining room that we want to build). The Meditation Hall was not ready for the beginning of retreat, but we’re a resourceful bunch and prepared well. The 14 people doing Vajrasattva retreat transformed the library at Gotami House into a meditation room, and the 14 people doing the Six-Session Guru Yoga retreat made the two small bedrooms in the new retreat cabin into two meditation rooms, each with seven people. The library in Ananda Hall doubles as a second dining room, and the regular dining room doubles as a teaching room. We’ll be happy when the Meditation Hall is ready to use again!

Dani began the purification process before retreat even began. One night she woke up with severe abdominal pain and Zopa took her to the ER at 3:00 in the morning. She was very dehydrated, and as it turned out, she had appendicitis. Our local rural hospital is good, and a few hours later she had her appendix removed. She said she contemplated love, compassion, and bodhicitta just before having the anesthesia and so her mind was peaceful and happy as she went under.

More than 200 people are doing the Retreat From Afar! If you’re interested in joining in, check the website for the materials and notify Venerable Samten that you would like to participate. The teachings on Vajrasattva that I gave last year are now on the web too, and will help all of you doing the Retreat from Afar. The Vajrasattva materials are also available in Spanish, due to the kindness of Karina who translated them. The teachings on Six-Session Guru Yoga are restricted to those with Highest Yoga Tantra initiation. If you are doing the Six-Session Guru Yoga retreat from afar, let us know and we’ll give you access to those teachings.

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Lama Tsongkhapa Day

To celebrate Lama Tsongkhapa, one of the great Tibetan sages and practitioners whose teachings we follow, the Abbey monastics and all the retreatants had a large Guru Puja (Lama Chopa) and a Medicine Buddha puja. During the pujas we dedicated merit for the hundreds of people who had made prayer requests asking that we dedicate for their long life and good health, success in their projects, good rebirth for their deceased dear ones, harmonious relationships, and so on. The names were displayed on scrolls on the walls, and we also read them out loud during the dedication.

To conclude the puja, we did a candlelight procession around Ananda Hall and the Buddha statue in the garden. Snow was falling, making the candle light especially beautiful.

Another special event during December is our annual reading of Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, which we read aloud every Christmas. The verses in this book challenge our self-centeredness and self-grasping, and show us the way to cultivate mindfulness, love, compassion, generosity, and wisdom, both in our meditation sessions and in our daily lives. We dedicated the merit for the pure Buddhadharma to flourish in our hearts and in the world, for the long lives of HH the Dalai Lama and our other spiritual mentors, and for each sentient being to cultivate peace within him or herself and to live in harmony with others and with the environment we live in

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Other News

Sravasti Abbey is now podcasting our teachings!

Dani, one of our new anagarikas, writes about how she uses the Dharma to adjust to her new life at the Abbey.

Henry, from Singapore, writes his reflections on seeing the ruins of Nalanda Monastery in India.

While Thanksgiving is over, you may want to read the contemplation Ken (an anagarika at the Abbey since September) composed and sent to his family about this day of giving thanks.

During the winter retreat, in lieu of streaming the teachings on the “Paths and Grounds” on Thursday evenings, we are uploading a teaching that wasn’t up before that you can watch at your leisure. The “Paths and Grounds” will continue after retreat. You can find all the archived video teachings on the Abbey’s YouTube channel.

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