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Winter’s snow came late this year, but at last the Abbey new yearland is covered in white. Its arrival coincides with the gradual return of the five Abbey nuns who’ve been away for the month. Venerable Chodron and Venerable Damcho are still traveling, but everyone will be home soon, and we’ll begin winter retreat.

We invite you all to visit in 2015—short-term or long-term, in-person or on-line—to share the Dharma and join in Abbey life.

At the dawn of this merely-labeled new year, we dedicate our merit towards peace for every heart and in every land. May we all deepen our kindness in 2015, growing in compassion and wisdom to help create peace in our chaotic world.

Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

Trip to Asia
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At the invitation of Friends of Sravasti Abbey Singapore (FOSAS), Venerable Chodron, accompanied by Venerable Damcho, went to Asia to teach and also to attend HH the Dalai Lama’s Jangchup Lamrim teachings at Gaden Monastery in South India. En route, she gave a talk on Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions at Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle.

The first evening in Singapore there was a blessing of the new office space of Pureland Marketing, where the two nuns were staying. It was wonderful to see so many people from the Buddhist community show their enthusiastic support for Pureland and come together for this joyful event.

The following evening was a talk, “Thinking Outside the Box,” (audio is here) attended by 380 people, at the largest monastery in Singapore. This was followed by a two-day weekend retreat on “Creating the Causes for Happiness,” which about 230 people attended. Here Venerable Chodron explained the 51 Mental Factors, differentiating those that cause happiness from those that result in misery. People asked many good questions and enjoyed the discussion groups. (The series of retreat videos starts here.)dec14singone12.jpg

Talks on the following two nights were given to packed audiences at Pureland Marketing, where Venerable Chodron continued teaching on chapter 6, “Fortitude,” from Shantideva’s Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.

Venerable Chodron also spoke at two Theravadin temples: Wat Palelai (Thailand) on “The Path to Nibbana” and Buddhist Library (Sri Lanka) on “A Buddhist Response to Religious Fundamentalism” (video is here). She was also delighted to speak at the newly established Buddhist college for women on “The Importance of Monastic Training.” The principal teacher there was one of Venerable Chodron’s students back in 1987-88. We nuns don’t have biological children, but we rejoice in the achievements of our spiritual children.

Venerable Chodron spoke to another student group from the National University of Singapore Buddhist Society, and also addressed the young adult group at Buddhist Fellowship. Also at Buddhist Fellowship, she spoke on “Culitvating Faith in the Three Jewels” (video is here) and “Healing the Mind: Perspectives from Buddhism and Psychology.” The latter talk was given with Dr. Russell Kolts. The two of them co-authored Living with an Open Heart, and they did a book launch together in Singapore. Her final talk before leaving for India was “Meeting Manjusri,” given at the new Manjusri Library.

Needless-to-say, the trip to Singapore was packed. It was also full of joy at seeing so many old friends that she’s known from the time she lived in Singapore in 1987-88. Some of these friends from Friends of Sravasti Abbey Singapore (FOSAS) visited the Abbey last June for the opening of Chenrezig Hall, and we hope many more will visit us in the future. We are grateful to their support in organizing Venerable Chodron’s yearly teachings in Singapore and in their continuous kindness and good wishes.

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A New Bhikshuni!
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Venerable Tsultrim just returned from her month-long training and Triple Platform ordination at Golden Lotus Association Temple in Taoyuan, Taiwan, making her the Abbey’s eighth bhikshuni (fully ordained nun.) She trained with the largest group of monastics to be fully ordained in Taiwan in 20 years—about 360 bhikshunis (nuns) and 120 bhikshus (monks). She was the only American in the group, and one of only three Westerners, the others being from Canada and Germany.

Venerable Tsultrim was particularly struck with the kindness met there, both from lay people and monastics. She visited two temples and got a deeper understanding of how Buddhism is practiced in Taiwan. She is glad to be fully ordained in time for the winter varsa retreat, which begins soon.

Watch for Venerable Tsultrim’s sharing on Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner in the coming days. Photos we will be on the website soon.

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In the Community
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Venerable Tarpa, who is now an official volunteer at Airways Heights Correctional Center, visited their Buddhist group where she finished a short series of teachings on karma.

One lifelong prisoner told her how he has learned to work with his mind. For example, he’s just had a birthday. “He told me, ‘This is what I do: I ask myself what I would do for my birthday if I were on the outside? Well, I’d have a cup of coffee and really enjoy it.'”

“Then,” she continued, “he sat down and did just that—drank his coffee and made his mind happy.”

This man initially came to the Dharma group hoping to neutralize his raging mind. “Through his  practice,” Venerable Tarpa said, “he’s learned to find peace and even moments of deep joy in the most difficult of situations.” That’s a powerful teaching for all of us.

Venerable Chonyi gave the Sunday morning sermon at the North Idaho Unitarian Univeralist Church in Coeur d’Alene. Poverty was the church theme for the year, so Venerable Chonyi’ focused on spiritual poverty. Her talk helped the congregation explore how defining and cultivating spiritual values brings greater satisfaction than chasing after material wealth, sense pleasure, or praise and fame. These North Idaho UUs seem to resonate with the Dharma as much as their counterparts at the UU church in Spokane, where Abbey monastics have taught for several years.

Venerables Semkye, Chonyi, and Samten visited three religion classes at Gonzaga University, a Jesuit school in Spokane. Religion Professor Wendlinder has a broad mind, and, for the second year, invited Buddhist nuns to meet with her Catholicism and Christian Diversity classes. We began the classes with a few minutes of meditation, which, in the week before finals, was welcomed. The students had good questions, and we hope the meditation helped ease their minds.

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Sharing the Dharma Day
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The theme for our December Sharing the Dharma Day (SDD) was timely: “The Misery of Attachment.” As usual, the topic came from Venerable Chodron’s book, Don’t Believe Everything Think, a contemporary commentary on Togmay Zangpo’s The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas.

Verse 21 reads, “Sensual pleasures are like salt water; the more you indulge, the more thirst increases. Abandon at once those things which bring clinging attachment. This is the practice of bodhisattvas.” Excellent advice to begin the holiday season!

Venerable Semkye gave the Dharma talk, skillfully weaving points from the book with the common anxieties of the holidays. She ended with a lively reading of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” demonstrating how the self-centered thought, driving our attachment, bring us misery. The video is here.

The afternoon discussion continued the theme, asking people to examine the seasonal customs that trigger our attachment. People found this to be helpful preparation for the days ahead. Over 40 people gathered for this SDD, not wanting to miss the last one of 2014. We’ll renew these Dharma connections when the monthly event resumes in April.

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Lama Tsongkhapa Day & Candlelight Vigil
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Lama Tsongkhapa Day—commemorating the parinirvana of the founder of our lineage—is traditionally celebrated with a beautiful puja, abundant offerings, and a candlelight procession.

The date for this year’s Lama Tsongkhapa Day coincided with a nationwide candlelight vigil in memory of the 60,000 Americans who have died by gun violence since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School two years ago, so we took the opportunity to bring the light of Tsongkhapa’s wisdom to bear on this national tragedy.

Twenty people gathered for the half-day event. Venerable Semkye set the tone with an opening explanation and motivation (the talk is here), then opened the circle for each person to share.

Everyone spoke candidly from their hearts. Some told stories of personal tragedies or fears. Others drew from their experiences in the military or law enforcement, adding another dimension to the discussion. Some talked of social activism, while others considered taking action within their own circle of friends and family. There were tears and laughter too as one person after another voiced the most important action of all: addressing the violence—in the form of the mental afflictions—that lurks in our own minds.

After an abundant potluck lunch, Venerable Tarpa led a Chenrezig meditation, followed by the lighting of candles. Calling on the light of wisdom to free us all from the darkness of ignorance, each person offered an aspiration, then we chanted the migstema—the five-line praise and request to Tsongkhapa—as we circumambulated the Meditation Hall. The day was full of hope, and one friend noted, “This is is way to help create peace in a chaotic world.” Photos are here.

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Sangha Comes Home
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Venerable Jampa returned after spending ten weeks in her native Germany. It was her first visit since moving to the Abbey three years ago, and she enjoyed reconnecting with family and friends from Tibetan Center-Hamburg, where she once studied, worked, and practiced. Venerable Jampa was well cared for throughout her visit, for which she is grateful, and she relished studying and listening to teachings in German! She also developed a deeper appreciation for community life at the Abbey.

She told us, “I practiced alone, studied alone, did my daily chores alone, all without the support of resident monastic community. Of course I could do these things by myself, but I felt the absence of community support. The situation for monastics at the Abbey is rare and unique!”

Something Dagyab Rinpoche said when she attended his teachings in Frankfurt has stayed in her mind: “The Dharma will pass from within, not from the outside.” He meant that the Dharma must be shared from experience, from holding our precepts and transforming our minds. “I found that powerful,” she said, “and I see how much monastic community helps to bring this about.” She shares her thoughts in this Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talk. We are happy to have her back.

Venerable Jigme also returned late on New Year’s Eve from attending the Jangchup Lamrim teachings with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in India. She met Venerables Chodron and Damcho there, who will return to the Abbey in a few more days. We’re looking forward to being all together again for the first time since October. Photos and info on the India trip will appear in the next enews.

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Sravasti Abbey Friends Education Program
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Over forty people enrolled in the fall/winter session of our online distance learning program, Sravasi Abbey Friends Education (SAFE). Topics ranged from the beginning courses—understanding the Buddhist view and develping the determination to be free from cyclic existence—to a course on refuge. Students were thoroughly engaged with the material and in supporting each other.

At the end of the session, Nancy wrote about weaving her Dharma understanding into her life, learning that “Delight Is Not the Problem.” You can read her essay here.

Other students also shared their reflections. Here’s a sample:

“As I reflect on the SAFE course I can’t help but think of those years I spent floundering in self-centered ignorance trying to learn the Buddha’s teachings without a spiritual mentor or any real concept of the path. One needs a guide and a good map when one has to travel far, and this course has provided that and more.”

“Having renunciation explained so succinctly in the root text gave a concise feeling of direction and a measure toward which I should be striving as I develop in my practice.”

“This last session has shown me new ways to meditate and think about taking refuge in the Three Jewels and taking precepts. It was a great comfort to know that we are never alone; the Buddhas and other holy beings are always there to help whenever we need them.”

The next 12-week SAFE session begins April 30. Click here for a detailed program description.

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More News

With the holidays and snow, Abbey activities begin to slow down, and we can spend a little more time with our guests. Mary Grace came from Seattle for five days. Rachel joined us for over a week, helping in the kitchen and forest, and Brian returned for a few months’ stay. Myra and Tracy came for the annual Christmas Day reading of Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, and Cheri and Kuni have offered service during the month. Meanwhile, Clinton and Shane are settling in, and Alexis is enjoying her three-month visit. We are grateful for their contributions to community life.

Venerable Chodron gave a Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talk from Singapore on bringing compassion to our view of the recent New York grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner. The talk is here.

The Puget Sound Business Journal named Venerable Chodron as one of fourteen Seattle-area women who “took the 2014 by storm.” Click here for the story.

The Manjushri Retreat from Afar begins January 13. Go here for details and to sign up now.

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