Here we are at the end of one year and the beginning of another. Of course, years are artificial discriminations we make as time flows on. May we make our lives meaningful by practicing the altruistic intention of bodhicitta and working for the benefit of all living beings.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama advises us not to measure our progress in the Dharma by the change we see in ourselves in a month or a year, but to look at how we’ve changed in three or five years. As long as we keep going in the direction of cultivating wisdom and compassion, let’s not worry about how long it takes to attain full awakening. We’re not in a race to get to awakening before everyone else!
Our joy is in practicing the Dharma, in connecting with others even in small ways that can often bring great benefit that we’re not aware of at that moment. And our joy is also in restraining the afflictive mind as the bodhisattva Togmay Sangpo instructed in “The Thirty-seven Practices of Bodhisattvas”:
In brief, whatever you are doing
Ask yourself, “What’s the state of my mind?”
With constant mindfulness and mental alertness
Accomplish others’ good—
This is the practice of bodhisattvas.
While 2020 was a challenging year with many events that caused great suffering—personally and to the world—and tested our inner strength, let’s learn what we can from those experiences and go forward in our lives with compassion and optimism.
On January 6, the Abbey will begin our annual three-month winter retreat. As always, our friends and supporters are invited to join the Retreat from Afar, and do the Green Tara and Lamrim (Gradual Path) meditation daily together. Several hundred meditators from around the world, including practitioners in US prisons, commit to at least one session each day, drawing energy and support from the Abbey residents engaged in five daily meditation sessions. Read more and sign up here.
While Retreat from Afar meditators receive transcripts of Dharma teachings via email every week, there’s no email in prison. We snail-mail hard copy practice packets to our prison meditators at a cost of about $2,650. If you would like to support their retreat and make merit too, you can make offerings toward the prison Dharma mailings. Go to the Sravasti Abbey Donate page, make your gift, and write “Prison Dharma Support” in the Comments box.
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron & the Sravasti Abbey Community
Awakening the Kind Heart Retreat
Venerable Sangye Khadro led a retreat over Thanksgiving weekend on the four immeasurable thoughts of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. She began by guiding a meditation on Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion, and taught from the first half of her book, Awakening the Kind Heart: How to Meditate on Compassion. Watch the teachings and community-led meditation sessions here.
The eighty-five participants who registered found the discussions on love and self-criticism very healing. One participant wrote, “Thank you to everyone for the nourishing retreat. Holidays during Covid are even more lonely and this inspired and warmed the heart.” See photos here.
Thirty-Seven Practices for Troubled Times
With Ven. Chodron still recovering from total hip replacement surgery, we postponed her course on Saṃsāra, Nirvāṇa, and Buddha Nature, based on His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s book of the same title.
Instead, Abbey monastics offered a retreat on “The Thirty-seven Practices of Bodhisattvas” to help people deal with the effects of the Covid pandemic. This thought-training text is ideal for these troubled times as it presents many ways to transform adversity into the path to awakening.
Each day, there was an early morning meditation—nearly ninety people signed on for the first session!—and a different Abbey nun taught on several verses each day. Another meditation session and a discussion group in the afternoon completed the daily schedule. People loved hearing how each nun presented the Dharma and related it to their lives. Watch the teachings and meditations here and see photos here.
Sharing the Dharma Day
On Dec 6, the Abbey held its final online Sharing the Dharma Day for 2020. Ven. Chonyi led a meditation on identifying good qualities within others and ourselves. Watch the meditation here.
Ven. Sangye Khadro taught on Chapter 37, “Connecting with Compassion,” from An Open-Hearted Life. We were especially moved by her stories about the inspiring presence of Lama Thubten Yeshe, one of her root teachers. Watch the teaching here.
After the afternoon discussion group, a first-time participant wrote, “I am so grateful to have found these live online lectures and Sharing the Dharma Day conversations. I really sat and contemplated what I had just been a part of and it brought me to tears of joy. I truly feel that this sense of community is my first experience with the Sangha.”
Holiday Celebrations at the Abbey
Together with Tibetan Buddhist practitioners worldwide, the Abbey community commemorated Lama Tsongkhapa Day on December 10 by doing the Lama Chopa Guru Puja and offering lights while chanting the praise to Lama Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. Learn more about his life and work from Ven. Nyima’s Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talk here.
Sravasti Abbey also has its own annual Christmas traditions. We read Engaging in the Bodhisattvas’ Deeds (aka Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life) by the eighth century Indian sage Shantideva. Reading this text is like hearing Shantideva speak to you directly without pulling any punches. It’s refreshing and inspiring and touches our hearts and stimulates our aspiration to become bodhisattvas.
At the last minute, seven of our friends learned that we were reading this text and joined us from afar. Join us for ongoing teachings on the text here. You may also enjoy Ven. Sangye Khadro’s Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talk on “How Do Buddhists Relate to Christmas?” Watch it here.
Ven. Sangye Khadro filled in for Ven. Chodron to give two Dharma talks on “Living with Wisdom and Compassion in Times of Uncertainty” organized by the Tibetan Buddhist Centre in Singapore. She emphasized the importance of reaching out to others with compassion instead of allowing our self-centered mind to spin with worst-case scenarios focused on ourselves. Watch the first talk here and the second talk here and let the Dharma gladden your mind.
Ven. Sangye Khadro also had her last online meetings for the year with the Sandpoint Sangha and book club, while Ven. Nyima concluded her Spanish class on “Eight Verses of Mind Training” for Ganden Shedrub Ling. The Sandpoint Sangha and Ganden Shedrup Ling will continue to practice and meet on their own during the Abbey’s winter retreat, and Ven. Khadro and Ven. Nyima will resume their classes in April.
Given the dearth of Buddhist teachers in the Middle East, the bi-monthly classes that Ven. Khadro and Ven. Tsepal lead, translated into Arabic, will continue through our winter retreat.
Teaching in Schools
Ven. Samten and Ven. Damcho were virtual guest speakers in a 6th grade World History class at Manatee Middle School in Naples, Florida. Both nuns, who were former school teachers, appeared in six classes within a single day. They shared about the life of the Buddha and what life at a monastery is like. They also gained a renewed appreciation for the hard work and commitment of school teachers who show up for their students all day, five days a week, especially during this time of Covid.
Ven. Damcho also responded to students’ questions in an online class on “Buddhist Meditation and Practice” at Gonzaga University in Spokane. The time passed quickly as she shared about her journey as a monastic and described Abbey life and our social engagement efforts.
Ven. Jampa participated in “Warm Lights through Cold Nights,” a virtual vigil hosted by faith leaders and leaders of conscience from around the US to offer hope from different spiritual traditions. Four speakers and fourteen participants meditated together, shared words of encouragement, and spoke about love that brings light to the world. Watch the recording here.
Ven Jampa told them, “Our mind has immense capacities to deal with the challenges we are facing right now. It is important to bring joy to the mind by cherishing and benefiting others even across large distances, across wires, cables and screens. Love does not require the physical presence of the other person. We can benefit so many sentient beings right now. Let’s do it and be there for each other.”
The Buddha Hall
The Abbey is still envisioning a new Buddha Hall in the not-too-distant future. Read the project overview here.
Vens. Chodron, Semkye and Samten met to decide the wall hangings, paintings, and so forth to put on the walls of the main hall, the Posadha Room, and the Tara Room of the Buddha Hall. With this information, the acousticians can design the acoustic panels to put in these rooms that will enable the teachings and chanting to be easily heard.
Vens. Tarpa, Semkye, and Samten are also working together with a lighting company to design the lights for the entire building. The team will continue planning and creating the causes for the Buddha Hall and we’ll keep you posted on our progress.
Gratitude for His Holiness the Dalai Lama
As part of celebrating “A Year of Gratitude to His Holiness the Great XIV Dalai Lama,” the Central Tibetan Administration organized a series of virtual talks on His Holiness’ principal commitments. These were aired on Tibet TV from December 4 to 11 and featured over a hundred speakers from different fields and nationalities, with panels in several different languages.
You can download the schedule of talks here and watch them on the Tibet TV Facebook Page or YouTube channel. Ven. Chodron gave a talk on the “Preservation of Tibet’s Culture and Environment” as part of this series. Her talk and her article can be found here.
Gratitude for Our Kind Supporters
We wish you could see the expressions of gratitude on the faces of Abbey monastics who gather to greet volunteers and friends when they’ve made the long drive to offer food to the community. We are so grateful for your tremendous generosity, including those of you who have mailed us care packages and donated to our food fund online.
As we exchange the food offering prayer—safely masked and from a distance—we imagine reciting with you, “Your generosity is inspiring, and we are humbled by your faith in the Three Jewels.” Thanks for all your support! We hope to see many of you again in person at the Abbey in 2021.
Ven. Chodron’s Recovery
Ven. Chodron’s recovery from total hip replacement surgery continues to go well and she plans to resume some teaching this month. She appreciates all the prayers and good wishes people sent her way; her mind is happy and her movement is gradually improving. Watch a short talk she gave about what she’s learned from physiotherapy here, and another on a letter from an inmate that inspired her here.
During her recovery time, Ven. Chodron has been working on Searching for the Self, Volume 7 of The Library of Wisdom and Compassion, a series of books by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Volume 6, Courageous Compassion, will be published in May 2021. Learn more about Volume 6 here.
Ven. Chodron also concluded a series of nine talks on “The Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas” hosted by Wihara Dharmakirti in Indonesia, with Ven. Sangye Khadro and Ven. Tsepal filling in over the past month. Watch the full series with Bahasa Indonesia translation here.
- Take a look at a new book that investigates the meaning of life, Buddha Life, ZENful Life here. Ven. Chodron contributed to this book.
- We’re delighted that the article “Dealing with Anxiety” has been translated into Czech here. Thank you to translator Vladimír Hajduk!
- Ven. Damcho reflects on her journey to understand true sufferings in “Warning: This Poem Contains Duhkha.” Read it here.
- Ven. Semkye responds to the question, “What Are Some Practical Ways We Can Live Our Faith in Daily Life?” on the SpokaneFāVs website here.
- Ven. Tsepal writes of the final hours she shared with her Mom, who died of Covid-19, in “Send Her On with Love.” Read it here.
- Enjoy uplifting and hopeful photos from 2020 in this beautiful video, “Let’s Build this World with Love.” Watch it here.
Here’s what’s happening online in the next few weeks:
Plus regular teachings continuing through the winter
- Engaging in the Bodhisattva’s Deeds with Ven. Thubten Chodron streamed live on Thursday mornings, 9 am Pacific Time. (Ven. Sangye Khadro continues to offer reviews.)
- The Foundation of Buddhist Practice with Ven. Thubten Chodron streamed live every Friday night, 6:15 pm Pacific Time. (Abbey monastics offer reviews through mid-January.)
- Check SravastiAbbey.org for 2021 schedule and updates.