We’ve enjoyed a month of rituals and celebrations set within deep snows and frigid temperatures. The turkeys, birds, and deer are hungry, and we’re happy to feed them. We’ve had the chance to share food resources with a few humans, too.
Ven. Chodron is in Asia with Ven. Damcho and Donyo, we’ve made exciting progress on the Buddha Hall, and our rain of Dharma continues: Ven. Sangye Khadro is leading the New Year’s Vajrasattva retreat this weekend. (Watch it here.) There’s lots to read about!
In her New Year’s Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talk, Ven. Tarpa noted how we greet each other with “Happy New Year,” but that begs the question: what is the cause of happiness? From the Buddhist view, it’s virtuous actions.
So, as we enter this (merely labeled) new year of 2023, may we and all beings create the causes for happiness. May we turn our minds toward virtue, embrace the ethic of non-harming, and grow our love and compassion to create peace in this chaotic world.
See photos of December life at the Abbey here.
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron & the Sravasti Abbey Community
Siksamana Training Course
All Abbey residents participated in our second-ever Siksamana Training Course along with five guest nuns from several countries.
Venerables Chodron, Sangye Khadro, and the other fully ordained nuns gave teachings on monastic precepts, comportment, and community life. The course also included discussion groups, meditation, and daily bowing and chanting.
The three visiting nuns from the Dharmadatta Community gifted us many Tara tsa-tsas for the Buddha Hall and shared their gratitude for the course. They wrote:
“[Thank you for] many incredible teachings that we have received formally and informally from the bhikshuni and bhikshu sangha. [The] teachings from your experience [were] very alive and deep. Sharing this ancient wisdom and the Buddha’s words bring it into our time.
“These teachings helped us to see the training rules as guidelines that protect our bigger aspirations. These teachings have opened our heart to the bigger picture of what it means to be part of this large stream of a sangha community that goes back to the Buddha. Also, we became even more aware of our responsibility for future generations.”
Big gratitude to the lay friends who came to cook and otherwise support the course: Brittany, Whitney, Claudia, Tracy, Sarah, Chris, Andrew, Sam, and Kuni and family, as well as the regular weekly food shoppers. Thanks so much!
After a hiatus of close to three years, Ven. Chodron returned to Singapore for her first teaching tour since the beginning of the Covid pandemic. Ven. Damcho and anagarika (trainee) Donyo are with her. They each sent a report, which you can read online: Ven Damcho’s Travelogue: Return to Singapore is here, and Donyo’s Eating Cake for Breakfast is here. We briefly summarize their stories below.
Photos are here.Before taking off, Ven. Chodron gave a talk at American Evergreen Buddhist Association, hosted by Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle, on Transforming Anxiety and Depression in a Rapidly Changing World.
Then they set off for a full schedule in Singapore. Friends of Sravasti Abbey-Singapore (FOSAS)—a network of Ven. Chodron’s Dharma students, many from the 1980s—organized her talks in multiple venues.
Donyo wrote, “We had just picked up our suitcases at the airport and were rolling our way to the exit where two dozen very excited people were waving at us on the other side of the glass wall, waiting impatiently with khatas, flowers, drinks, and offerings in their hands. Needless to say, you could feel how they had missed their teacher. What also struck me is the deep respect and reverence they have towards Venerable. Truly beautiful.”
Singapore talks (and links) included:
- Amitabha Buddhist Center: Four Close Placements of Mindfulness and Searching for the Self
- Buddhist Library: Practicing the Dharma in Difficult Times (audio only)
- Singapore Buddhist Mission: Finding Your Purpose in Life
- Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery: Healing from the Heart
- As well as talks at Buddhist Fellowship and Pureland Marketing.
Ven. Chodron’s purpose is always to share the Dharma, and her schedule between teachings is also full. Donyo wrote, “First and foremost, I don’t see Venerable wasting any time and that by itself is a huge teaching for me.”
We can’t say enough to thank the FOSAS volunteers for their efforts. Ven. Damcho said, “The FOSAS are busting their guts to help us invite generosity for the Buddha Hall, sharing from their heart about it whenever they can at every public talk.” At one talk, they shared their moving aspiration to continue to support the Abbey and the establishment of the Dharma in the West, especially through the building of the Buddha Hall. Watch it here.
Donyo added, “The FOSAS Volunteers are incredible. They are doing the emcee before teachings, taking care of the books table, speaking about the Buddha Hall, taking photos, helping with getting everything ready and wrapping up at the end of the day, etc. All of that with a smile!
Now in India, the nuns will return to Singapore for a few days (see the Upcoming Events schedule below) before heading to Taiwan. Donyo will soon be home to enter the winter retreat.
Buddha Hall Update
The sounds of hammers striking nails rang out over the building site in the final days of 2022. Framers have been hard at work and the first wall is up! But before they could do that, we had to pour the slab.
The big pour
The big event of the month was the “slab pour”—pouring the concrete foundation—and the weather wasn’t cooperating.
Lots of snow and frigid temperatures were a real challenge throughout December. Workers removed snow from the construction site for days on end to get ready for the pour, and the Abbey snow removal team worked overtime to plow and sand the road so the big trucks could get up the hill to the building site.
A window seemed to open with a “just right” weather forecast for December 13—no snow and a daytime temperature above 30 degrees F. The construction and concrete crews got everything ready to go. However, we awoke that morning to more falling snow. We would have to wait another day.
The crews had to haul snow off the site on toboggans and insulated blankets to re-prepare it for the concrete pour, but by the afternoon, too much snow still remained, and the pour was postponed yet another day. That afternoon, a huge stone-spreading machine arrived, adding a robust layer of sand and rock to support the concrete trucks.
Finally, on December 15, the first of 15 concrete trucks arrived just before 8 am after chaining up at our local fire station. The pour took at least seven hours. The event went very smoothly despite the physically demanding work and the dropping temperatures.
Finally, late in the day, the smoothed and polished concrete slab was covered with a layer of clear plastic. The crew laid hydronic heating tubes across the surface and covered everything with insulated blankets to keep it at 40 degrees F to allow the concrete to cure.
Relief and recognition that a most difficult pour was successfully completed was evident in the faces of everyone involved in this extraordinary effort.
Now that the slab is ready for them, the framers are affixing wooden beams to the top of the concrete walls with large metal bolts. The work continues in pouring rain that will soon shift again to snow, and progress on the Buddha Hall goes on.
Stay tuned as building goes forward in 2023.
Met the Challenge & Light Offerings in Bodhgaya
While the builders met the snow challenges, hundreds of benefactors also rose to a challenge—specifically, the $500,000 Ground Breaking Challenge launched in August.
By the end of the day on December 18, Lama Tsongkhapa Day, the Abbey had received more than $520,000 to match the original challenge gift total. That brought a total of $1 million for the Buddha Hall. This will be a big help for our aim to continue building straight through to completion. See our Thank You! video.
Ven. Chodron and many Dharma friends made light offerings in Bodhgaya on December 28, dedicating the merit for world peace and for the good fortune of the Buddha Hall supporters. They had 29 pages of donor names to recite as they made the offering!
Donors sent beautiful messages and dedications with your offerings. Our local friends Chris and Dwight wrote:
“Thank you for providing this opportunity for us to practice generosity in a way that will benefit so many for years to come. We are happy and fortunate to be able to support the vision and realization of Sravasti Abbey and the new Buddha Hall. May the mission of creating peace in a chaotic world flourish and may Sravasti Abbey be a support for monastics and lay people for generations to come.”
THANK YOU ALL! The Buddha Hall really is being built “by the people and for the people.”
We’ll post Light Offerings in Bodhgaya photos as soon as they are available.
Our Siksamana Training Course concluded with the rite to enter Varsa, the annual three-month monastic retreat. Varsa literally means “rains retreat” because it was held during the monsoon season in ancient India. However, the Buddha also allowed a “snows retreat,” which is more suitable for the Abbey.
Varsa is the time for intensive Dharma study and practice, with emphasis on community harmony. Observing Varsa is one of the marks of a fully functioning sangha community. The Abbey is one of very few such communities in the United States.
Not everyone who began the Varsa will be able to finish it, although the three nuns from the Dharmadatta Community in Virginia will continue their Varsa after returning home.
Ven. Sangye Khadro served as abbess in Ven. Chodron’s absence. We are pleased that Geshe Dadul is participating in Varsa this year. He will serve as the vinaya master for our two resident monks.
More December Rituals
December offered opportunities for the community to share in rituals that seem to become more meaningful with every passing year.
Lama Tsongkhapa Day
On December 18, we celebrated Lama Tsongkhapa Day to honor one of Tibet’s greatest scholar-yogis. Tsongkhapa’s teachings are the basis of our education at Sravasti Abbey.
Lama Tsongkhapa Day is traditionally celebrated with many light offerings. At the Abbey, we offered a Guru Puja, dedicating merit for our kind benefactors, and did a candle light circumambulation in Chenrezig Hall while chanting Tsongkhapa’s migtsema mantra.
Geshe Dadul gave a wonderful talk on the Life of Tsongkhapa. Watch it here.
Ven. Chodron also gave a Lama Tsongkhapa Day talk at Amitabha Buddhist Centre in Singapore. Watch that one here.
A beloved Christmas Day tradition at the Abbey is the recitation of the entire text of Shantideva’s Engaging in the Bodhisattva’s Deeds. It’s a beautiful and direct exhortation to develop bodhicitta and a road map to awakening. His Holiness the Dalai Lama famously attributes his own compassion practice to Shantideva’s verses. Weekly teachings on this text continue into 2023. Look for them here.
The recitation filled the morning. Afterwards, Vens. Tsultrim and Monlam presented a delicious pizza lunch, followed by a community viewing of Tukdam: Between Worlds, a documentary on the dying process of advanced practitioners who continue their meditation after clinical death.
We are grateful for the holiday cards and gifts from everyone.
Livestream Viewers Take Note!
As of January 1, the Abbey will stream all our live teachings through our YouTube channel. We will no longer use Vimeo Livestream. Videos previously streamed on Livestream will be available for viewing until June 2023. Find them here.
Going forward, you’ll be able to review retreats and Geshe Thabkhe’s teachings on YouTube immediately after the event has ended.
The regular weekly teachings will be streamed live on YouTube, then edited and reposted later as follows: Samsara, Nirvana, and Buddha Nature videos posted by Tuesday, 12 am Pacific Time (PT) and Engaging in the Bodhisattva’s Deeds videos posted by Wednesday, 12 am PT. Sharing the Dharma Day teachings will be edited and posted later.
Join in the Retreat from Afar
It’s not too late to sign up!
While the Abbey community is in winter retreat, you can join in by doing one session a day on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness within the meditation on Shakyamuni Buddha.
Check out the meditation resources in the Retreat from Afar manual and the Retreat Preparation page. There’s also a Zoom retreat orientation on January 4, 9 am or 6 pm Pacific Time. Pick the session that’s best for your time zone. You must register to join the Zoom session.
Help wanted: nominate your favorite BBC
Our friend and author Sarah Conover is seeking help from BBC-watchers. She’s compiling a book based on talks from our Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner that are posted on the YouTube channel.
Tentatively titled How to Love a Stranger and Other Reflections from the Sravasti Abbey Monastics, the book’s themes might include: Transformation, Experiment in Love, Offering Service/Bodhicitta, and Renunciation.
Sarah and her collaborator, Betsy Wharton, invite you to: 1) Submit the title and link to two or three (no more) of your favorites by email. 2) Use “BBC Suggestions” in the subject line, include title and links, and send to Betsy Wharton: bewharton dot bw at gmail dot com.
We enjoyed long-term visits with Ven. Sonam Lhamo from India; Tao, who’s on winter break from Yale; and Ven. Damchoe Dronme from Spain, who will be with us through the winter retreat. In addition, Ven. Ngawang’s mom, aunt, and cousin came for a few days to happily “meet” the new monk. We always enjoy family visits. Other folks came and went as well.
Our winter retreat begins in a few days, closing the Abbey to guests for three months. Doors re-open the first week of April, and the first public event, the Kathina Celebration, is April 9. Please come visit!
Here’s what’s happening in the next few weeks:
- Jan 6–Feb 5: One-month Winter Retreat on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness in person
- Jan 6–Apr 3: Retreat from Afar on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness
- Jan 7: Stopping the War Within Ourselves with Ven. Thubten Chodron in Singapore
- Jan 8: My Life as a Nun: A Journey of Self-Acceptance with Ven. Thubten Damcho in Singapore
- Jan 14: Healing from the Heart with Ven. Thubten Chodron in Taiwan
- Jan 15: Medicine Buddha Puja on Zoom
Plus regular ongoing teachings:
- Rice Seedling Sutra with Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe streamed live, Thursday mornings, 9 am Pacific Time.
- Samsara, Nirvana, and Buddha Nature with Geshe Dadul Namgyal filling in for Ven. Chodron, streamed live, Friday evenings, 6 pm Pacific Time. Now streamed on YouTube.
- Engaging in the Bodhisattva’s Deeds with Ven. Thubten Chodron streamed live, Saturday mornings, 8 am Pacific Time. Now streamed on YouTube.
Check the Abbey Events page for more.