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Summer is here! We love the long daylight hours, allowing us to take evening walks in the forest and leisurely water the flower garden in the evenings after meditation practice. May all the warmth and cheer of summer fill our hearts with enthusiasm for benefiting others.

Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

How to See Yourself as You Really Are Retreat

Our retreat on H.H. the Dalai Lama’s book, How to See Yourself as You Really Are, brought a full house to the Abbey. How nice it will be when Chenrezig Hall is complete and we have more room to spread out! The topic of this book is emptiness and dependent arising, and as Venerable Chodron commented on each sentence, we discovered deep meaning behind just a few words.

The group was lively, asking many questions and challenging assumptions as we tried to see ourselves as we really are without so many preconceptions, misconceptions, and expectations.

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Chenrezig Hall

The Alpha & Omega Construction crew set about the difficult task of building the front entrance eave and the structural support for the wood sign that now graces the entrance.

Venerable Jigme’s nephew, Shane, used his wonderful craftsmanship and skill to rout the letters of Chenrezig Hall’s name, and Venerables Tarpa and Samten painted them. Then came the daunting step of mounting the sign. It was inspiring to watch this creation unfold, and we captured the feat in photos and video.

The roof is now complete, the insulation is going in, and Brad is doing a great job with the drywall. There’s been a delay due to scheduling an appointment with the fire marshal to inspect the fire suppression and fire alarm systems, but he will come in a few days, so that will be resolved. Meanwhile we’re selecting the lighting, cabinetry, and bathroom vanities, as well as carpeting and other flooring. In the chapel we’ve designed a beautiful arrangement of Chenrezig tsa-tsas (small plaster images that Alaya is making) with light offerings.

Take a look at the “Hidden Wonders of Chenrezig Hall,” which will enable everyone who visits to live comfortably and safely.

The project continues to inspire the generosity of friends from all over the world, who have nearly met the $158,000 Great Compassion Challenge. Thanks so much for everyone’s support! Over the next few months, the Friends of Sravasti Abbey will continue to invite the final $500,000 needed to complete Chenrezig Hall. We hope you’ll all come to visit and enjoy Chenrezig Hall when it’s finished!

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Sharing the Dharma Day

This day, too, brought a full meditation hall to the Abbey with a combination of regulars and newbies. The topic from Don’t Believe Everything You Think was how contemplation on death helps us to live in a meaningful way and clearly choose priorities in our lives.

Sharing the Dharma Days always bring lively conversations after lunch and good discussions in the afternoon session, and this day’s discussion centered on apologizing and forgiving. Since our lives won’t last forever, and we don’t want to die with resentment or remorse in our hearts, it is important to apologize to those we have harmed and forgive those who have harmed us.

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Activities in the Broader Community

This month was full of activities in the broader community. Venerable Chodron did two book readings of Don’t Believe Everything You Think —one at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, the other at Morning Light Yoga Studio in Coeur d’Alene—after which she signed the books. Both were benefits for Youth Emergency Services, a grassroots organization to help homeless teens in our area.

Venerable Chonyi did a weekend course in Boise ID with Treasure Valley Dharma Friends(TVDF) on Buddhist holy days, their meaning, and how to celebrate them. The talks covered the Buddha’s life as a teaching, and explored the specific stories behind the four Tibetan Buddhist holy days. There was much rejoicing when several people gathered early Sunday morning to take the Eight Mahayana Precepts and later met for the only meal that day with a delicious potluck. TVDF wants to use this experience to create a deeper sense of community and Dharma friendship by commemorating these holy days together as a Dharma group.

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Interfaith Activities

Venerable Chodron participated with other faith leaders—a Catholic nun, Jewish rabbi, and Episcopal priest, with a Unitarian Universalist minister moderating—in a panel discussing the death penalty. It was a fascinating discussion of this difficult topic in which they viewed it from all sides: what the scriptures of various religions say, punishment vs. rehabilitation, how do we heal from violence, and society’s moral responsibility to offenders. Venerable Chonyi, who attended, gives a video report.

A fellow panelist, Sister Mary Ann Farley, invited the Abbey community to her convent, Sisters of the Holy Names, in Spokane. Venerable Semkye talks about the visit. There were many nuns in their 80s and 90s and even one who was 102! Everyone commented on how alert and sharp their minds are. People also noticed that the Catholic sisters continuously spoke about the good points of their fellow sisters. We were sad, however, that they do not have young postulants to carry on their tradition. We all shared a tremendous sense of commonality and an unspoken understanding of each other’s life styles.

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Prison Outreach

While in Boise, Venerable Chonyi met with a group of spiritually oriented—though not necessarily Buddhist—offenders at the Idaho Correctional Center. One man said that after being forced to look at his negative mind over three-and-a-half years in solitary confinement, he became motivated to change. The group was focused and attentive, asking good questions and sharing wise insights about how they work with anger and aggression. Venerable Chonyi was impressed with the sincerity of these men in their wish to develop inner peace amidst their tough environment.

Several Abbey residents took part in the 18th Annual Buddhist Day celebration at our local Airway Heights Corrections Center. Venerables Semkye, Jigme, Samten, and Jampa joined about 25 offenders, their chaplain, and several regular prison Dharma volunteers to join in the inmate-led event. Through music, a ballet dance, and personal story-telling, the group celebrated their connection with the Dharma, and the heartfelt offerings brought tears to many of their guests. “The depth of sharing and the frequent expressions of the inmates’ gratitude for the Dharma was most beautiful to witness,” said Venerable Samten. The group seems to be deeply bonded in their support for each other and their practice.

The Abbey nuns also admired the compassion of the Airway Heights Christian chaplain, who coordinates 98 different religious/spiritual gatherings a month to help the inmates find the spiritual support they need. “He told us he is praying for everybody—the inmates, the guards, the staff, everybody—constantly,” Venerable Jigme said. “And that really shows in his kindness with everyone.”

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Guest Sangha

We were delighted to have many nuns visit us in June.

Venerable Tenzin Gache, a longtime friend who helped to build Venerable Chodron’s writing studio in 2005, stayed with us for two weeks. Venerable Karma Drolma, a Mexican nun, from Dharmadatta Nuns’ Community in Dharamsala, India, has been with us for over a month. She shared her experience of offering service at the Abbey. Venerable Kalden Wangmo, an American who is returning to India to do retreat, also stayed with us for a couple of weeks and shared her reflections in a BBC talk.

We were honored that two nuns from Jangchub Choling Nunnery in Mundgod, India, also visited us for about two weeks. Venerable Lobsang Chodon just took her geshe exams and is awaiting the results. She will be among the first Tibetan nuns who are geshes. Venerable Dawa Chonzom has been the nunnery’s administrator for the last few years and is looking forward to taking the geshe exams in the future.

One day the two Tibetan nuns fulfilled our request to give a Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talk, and so with Geshe Phelgye kindly translating, they spoke of their experience visiting the Abbey. Needless-to-say, we had many interesting discussions about how we study and practice in our respective monasteries.

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The Forest and the Garden

Our outdoor work continues this summer. We welcomed the help of three big guys from Life Designs, a substance abuse treatment center, who spent a sunny Sunday cutting and stacking logs that we’ll use for heating Ananda Hall this winter. Will Olson, Loren, and many others also came to lend their chain-sawing skills and strength.

Meanwhile the Abbey nuns often work in the forest, and our guest nuns joined us as well. We had a good time working together in the garden and the forest. This was a new experience for some of the foreign nuns, although Venerable Kalden is good with a chainsaw and helped buck up the logs for our winter heating.

One day we were walking in the forest and came upon a baby bunny in the grass. Thinking she was injured, we bent down to pick her up, but she hopped away. Several hours later she was again in the same place and didn’t hop away. Thinking that she was orphaned, Venerable Kalden took her back to Gotami House and nurtured her for a couple of days. We named her Kunkhyen (all-knowing) which proved to be a good name, because she figured out how to get out of the chicken-wire enclosure we made for her. . . but not before Venerable Kalden had given her the transmissions of many texts and mantras by chanting these out loud while Kunkhyen was still in Gotami House.

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More News

Jack decided to return to college to finish his degree. We had a nice go-around and “finishing of anagarika training” ceremony to celebrate the virtue he created and knowledge he gained while at the Abbey for the last year.

Charis from Singapore, who spent three month with us, also returned home. She was always ready and able to offer service and helped us with so many projects as she learned the Dharma.

There are some new articles up on the website you may be interested in. Venerable Jampa wrote about caring for the environment, Ken commented on the kindness of others, and Venerable Chodron shared thoughts about compassion in current events and compassion as an antidote to depression. Bill, a prisoner in Washington State, wrote about the choices we make. Julia describes how she teaches kids virtue.

We also just heard the following books by Venerable Chodron will now or very soon be available as ebooks. Shambhala eBooks editions are available across multiple e-readers and vendors including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Overdrive, Google Books, and Kobo:

  • Buddhism for Beginners
  • Choosing Simplicity
  • Cultivating a Compassionate Heart
  • Don’t Believe Everything You Think
  • Guided Meditations on the Stages of the Path
  • How to Free Your Mind
  • Open Heart, Clear Mind
  • Taming the Mind
  • Transforming Adversity into Joy and Courage
  • Working with Anger

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