Friends of Sravasti Abbey Singapore offer a cake and celebration. In honor of Sravasti Abbey’s 10th anniversary.

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We send best wishes to you and everyone for a peaceful new year. Let’s rejoice together in the opportunity to make our lives meaningful and resolve to nurture the seeds of kindness in ourselves and others. Please join us often—online or at the Abbey—to share the Dharma in 2014.

Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

Travels in Asia

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is presently giving precious Lamrim teachings in South India that Venerables Chodron, Jigme, and Damcho are attending. (The teachings are streamed live and archived here.)

We hear there are over 30,000 (!) people there, and the often-unreliable internet connection is taxed. Consequently we haven’t received Venerable Chodron’s first-hand account of her Asian travels. We’ll give you a brief summary here, and she can fill in the details when she returns.

Venerable Chodron left before Thanksgiving to teach in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia before going on to India, bringing along Venerable Damcho as her assistant. Venerable Jigme joined them in Singapore before they flew to Indonesia. Here are photos from the first two weeks of travel.

After a weekend retreat and Dharma talks in Bandung and Jakarta, the Abbey nuns made a brief return to Singapore for two special events, including a celebration in honor of the Abbey’s 10th Anniversary, hosted by Friends of Sravasti Abbey Singapore (FOSAS).

Venerable Chodron’s Singapore connections stretch back about 25 years to when she was resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre. Singaporean Dharma friends and students have been enthusiastic supporters of Sravasti Abbey since the very beginning.

“The FOSAS celebrated the Abbey’s 10th Birthday with songs, speeches and a light offering ceremony,” Venerable Damcho wrote. “I cried through most of the event because I was so touched by the kindness and generosity of the FOSAS over the last two decades.” Photos of the second two weeks, including the birthday party, are here. The FOSAS also have wonderful photos of that event and the 9-day Singapore teaching tour in their Facebook photos.

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Chenrezig Hall

George, his crew, and all the sub-contractors have built a beautiful and serviceable Chenrezig Hall, and our big move into the kitchen was exciting. Now it’s up to the community to adapt and settle into the new building.

Along with our commercial building designation came the requirement to license the Abbey as a food establishment, so our meal preparations now follow the same regulations as delis and restaurants. This has been a big a change for community!

Although Venerable Yeshe is the kitchen manager, everyone gets involved with cooking, and we’ve become card-carrying owners of Washington State food handler’s permits. Some of our regular guests have taken the online training, too, so they can volunteer in the kitchen without supervision.

We’ve learned the three-step process for washing dishes and are getting used to wearing protective gloves whenever we handle food. Because our heads are shaved, we are not required to wear hair nets (another bonus of renouncing), but we have a supply handy for guests and volunteers.

We’re actually happy to follow these guidelines, knowing that they make the Abbey safer for residents and guests. Soon we’ll be familiar and comfortable with the new routines, restoring the homey feeling we’ve always had around meals in the crowded conditions of Ananda Hall.

Paul came and very kindly spent a few hours disassembling the electric cooktop he and his wife, Susan, donated a few years ago and then re-installing it into a counter in the new kitchen. Meanwhile, Venerable Yeshe is continuing to organize the most efficient locations for things—towels to utensils to foodstuffs.

Guest rooms and offices in Chenrezig Hall are mostly empty, waiting for furnishings. Ananda Hall, too, seems a bit bare now that so much has been moved into the new building. Do check the wish list to see if your gently used couches, reading chairs, lamps, bedside tables, café tables, filing cabinets, and bookshelves could find a new home at the Abbey.

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Sharing the Dharma Day

We inaugurated the new dining room with a bountiful potluck on Sharing the Dharma Day. Despite the recent snow, many new people came as well as longtime friends, and we marveled at how comfortably 30-plus people fit in the new space.

Bodhicitta was the theme for the day as we continued to explore verses from “37 Practices of Bodhisattvas” that Venerable Chodron explains in Don’t Believe Everything You Think. Venerable Tarpa gave a wonderful talk on developing bodhicitta and the afternoon discussion explored how our minds create the categories of friends, enemies, and strangers.

Our guests were happy to learn that there’s one more Sharing the Dharma Day before winter retreat: January 5.

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Green Tara Retreat

An intimate group of 10 guests and residents gathered for the two-week Tara retreat, connecting with the Buddha’s Enlightening Influence and facing up to the mental afflictions described in the 1st Dalai Lama’s provocative verses, “Prayer to Rescue Us from the Eight Dangers.”

Community members gave Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talks on the Eight Dangers — the Lion of Pride, the Elephant of Ignorance, the Fire of Anger, the Snake of Jealousy, the Thieves of Distorted Views, the Chains of Miserliness, the Flood of Attachment, and the Carnivorous Demon of Doubt —and their antidotes, and the group incorporated these into their 5 meditation sessions and one study session each day. In addition, we rotated leading analytic meditations on these verses and on the first 8 chapters of Aryadeva’s 400 Stanzas, which we’ve studied extensively over the last 9 months.

Tara showered her powerful influence on everyone. In the closing “go-around,” when we shared about our challenges and insights, each person reported a significant shift in some area of practice or personal situation, and we’re all vigilant against those afflictive dangers!

We finished retreat with a beautiful Lama Chop puja. Our Dharma friend Alaya, who’s steadily working on her commitment to create 111,111 tsatsas (small Buddha images), sent exquisite Green Taras in honor of the retreat.

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Sravasti Abbey Friends Education (SAFE)

About 40 people from as far away as South Africa and as nearby as Spokane completed this session of the Sravasti Abbey Friends Education distance learning program. We now have five courses, from the Introduction to Buddhism through the curriculum on developing the correct view. A new course on refuge is scheduled out this spring.

SAFE courses are offered online with the feedback and supervision of a senior Dharma student. Each course is twelve weeks long, and the spring session will begin in late April. Watch for the exact date.

Here’s what we heard from some of this session’s SAFE students:

Jacob told us:

The SAFE course created the conditions for me to really think about the fundamentals of the Buddhadharma, and my capacity for practice each day has grown … In our busy lives, we need steady opportunities to study and practice. The online format of the class helped to make this possible.

Lori said:

I’m beginning to see how community is a facet of spirituality. Collectively, all of the people who took part in the SAFE course enhanced my ability to keep going with my Dharma practice. My energy was really strengthened.

A student in Singapore wrote:

I felt glad to have the companionship of the other students in the course. Through their thoughts and opinions, I can see that it is normal to have these feelings and emotions that arise, like jealousy. But I can also see that they are striving hard to correct themselves, and that inspires me to know that as a group, we can help each other.

Jane realized:

This very fortunate life has a meaning and purpose I didn’t recognize before. All actions, no matter how insignificant they appear, have consequences: one kind thought in this lifetime could lead to the discovery of a cure for cancer in a future rebirth. I am grateful for this inconceivably precious opportunity. (Read her full end-of-course reflection,”Through the Dharma Doorway.”

There’s a detailed description of the SAFE program online. You can write the SAFE Coordinator to sign up now for the spring session. Dates will be announced soon.

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Interfaith & Dharma Sharing

Venerable Chonyi gave the “sermon” at the North Idaho Unitarian Universalist congregation in Coeur d’Alene with a talk on “What the Buddha Taught and Why It Matters Today.” About 60 people turned out and the crowd was engaged and attentive. Through an odd miscommunication, the church’s piano and hymnals were not available, so the group chanted Chenrezig’s mantra instead of singing, which added to the Buddhist experience.

Venerables Semkye, Chonyi, and Samten were guests in three religion classes at Gonzaga University, a Catholic college in Spokane. Q&As on the two classes on Catholicism were lively, and the Christian Diversity class on ecumenism was particularly dynamic. Professor Anastasia Wendlinder has each student take on a specific Christian denomination and immerse her or himself in its theory and practice for the entire semester. The students, therefore, posed their questions about Buddhism from the perspective of their adopted denominations. This made for some juicy dialogue, and the Abbey monastics learned a lot. We hope the students did too!

We also hosted our Carmelite sister neighbors for lunch one day. Both nuns have been ordained for over 30 years, and we learn from their perspectives on contemplative and community life. Buddhist nuns have much in common with our Christian sisters, and we treasure our friendship with the Carmelites.

Venerable Chonyi returned to Coeur d’Alene to talk about karma as part of the “Wish for Freedom” series with the CdA Dharma group. Venerables Tarpa and Semkye will complete the series this weekend (info below) with talks on “Our True Condition” and “The Thought of Liberation.”

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Holidays at the Abbey

Christmas Day dawned with a bit of icy fog, then brilliant blue skies—a perfect climate for our 5th annual recitation of Shantideva’s Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. Shantideva’s text is beautiful and bracing, and we always come away from the reading reinvigorated to do battle with our afflictions, offer ourselves in service to sentient beings, and realize the elixir of bodhicitta as quickly as possible

Two days later we celebrated the parinirvana and brilliant legacy of Lama Tsongkhapa with a Guru Puja and candlelight procession. Due to extremely icy conditions around the Abbey, we didn’t process outdoors, but held the celebration in the Meditation Hall where the light offerings brought warmth and joy to the practice. Afterwards, Venerable Semkye set the candles outside to burn down in the starry night.

May the light of Je Rinpoche’s compassion and wisdom spread in all the ten directions!

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More News

Don’t forget to sign up for the Vajrasattva Retreat from Afar, which begins January 13.

Some of Venerable Chodron’s talks and Abbey videos have been selected for the online Spirit Enlightened film festival on Culture Unplugged. Check out the Sravasti Abbey entries here.

Venerables Tarpa and Semkye each took some well-earned retreat time this month, in addition to the Tara Retreat. Venerable Tarpa’s two-weeks of reflection in a wooded cabin offered by friends in North Idaho had a surprising end. She woke one morning to a manhunt of 100 police officers combing the woods in search of two “armed and dangerous” criminals. Recalling the Vinaya and our many monastic precepts about staying safe, she decided to return to the Abbey. Fortunately, the men were soon apprehended and no one was hurt.

Venerable Samten’s sister and cousin, Cheryl & Carolyn, visited for a few days, enjoying the Abbey and some of the regional sights. Cousin and sisters joined forces to make us a delicious pancake breakfast, and they promised to return.

Brian came for sharing the Dharma Day and stayed a week to offer service. He was immensely helpful in the move, and we’re grateful. Cesar is visiting from Mexico for four months of offering service. This is his first encounter with snow, and he’s enthusiastic about shoveling it. In fact, he pours enthusiasm into every task we give him. We’re happy to have him.

We also enjoyed a year-end flurry of day visitors including Will Olson and our Facebook master, Cheri, who just moved to Spokane with her husband, Steve, to be near the Abbey. Welcome to the neighborhood!

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