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June has been a very full month for the Abbey, with many virtuous activities, compassionate connections, and fun. We’ve had lots of wonderful guests, and we invite you to join us too.

May the warmth of the summer sun be mirrored in the warmth of our love and compassion for others,

Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

Exploring Buddhism: The Course for Young Adults

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Eight young adults attended this exciting week. They quickly bonded as a group, leading them to be very open and mutually supportive during the discussion groups where we took on subjects like friendship, how to be compassionate when others could take advantage of you, intoxicants, lying, and more. Photos are here.

The group couldn’t have been more cooperative, jumping in to help whenever help was needed. They had a grand time thinning the grand firs in the forest, and they served as charming hosts for the June Sharing the Dharma Day.

Several of them took refuge and the five lay precepts at the conclusion of the course. They also enjoyed a talk by guest speaker, Dr. Russell Kolts, my co-author of Living with an Open Heart. There’s a playlist of teachings, including Russell’s talk, on YouTube.

One day Venerable Semkye took the group out to do trail maintenance when it started to rain. They all gathered under some trees, and even though they were cold and wet, they later talked about how happy and content they all felt in that moment. Contentment is something rare in today’s society, and there they were—no smart phone, no music, no chocolate—and they were satisfied and peaceful inside. Imagine…

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Finishing Touches to Chenrezig Hall

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Some of the young adults arrived several days before the course, and with Venerable Semkye as their leader, they got to work laying pavers under the prayer wheels in the front of Chenrezig Hall. They measured the slope diligently to make sure no water would pool there and did an impeccable job.

Others helped Venerable Tarpa remove the troughs from the north side of Chenrezig Hall, replacing them with bushes and flowers. To get occupancy for the building, the county required us to put up a barrier so people wouldn’t fall over the terraced edge. The troughs seemed like a good idea at the time, but the new hedge and flowers offer the same protection and make a nicer frame for the building.

Cheri and Steve offered some beautiful hanging pots overflowing with flowers, and the Coeur d’Alene Dharma Friends and others offered additional flowering plants and urns. All of these touches combine to make Chenrezig Hall look truly beautiful!

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With the new entry way, the 62 people attending Sharing the Dharma Day were able to enter Chenrezig Hall and have lunch in the spacious dining room. The meditation session and teachings were in the Meditation Hall, which was filled. (Maybe we’ll have to build the temple sooner rather than later, but this year we’re resting from construction.)

The day’s topic from Don’t Believe Everything You Think was on criticism, something none of us relish but we all receive. Here’s the video of the talk .

The afternoon discussion on this topic was vibrant and rich. We were very happy to welcome six men from a drug treatment program to share the Dharma with us. We later heard that they benefited and really enjoyed the experience.

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The Consecration of Chenrezig Hallconcentration.jpg

Wouldn’t you know it! We had beautiful weather before the consecration and after it, but for the few days around the consecration on June 14—just when 15 of our Singaporean friends were visiting—the weather was cold and rainy. But that didn’t stop us from having a wonderful time, which you can see in the photos.

Along with our friends from Singapore, the largest group we’ve ever had at the Abbey came to celebrate with us. In the drizzling rain, Venerable Tarpa and I cut the huge yellow ribbon to officially open the hall. Then, with everyone carrying an offering, we chanted Chenrezig’s mantra as we walked in procession through the hall. We then sat down and meditated on Thousand-Arm Chenrezig.consecration.jpg

Arising from our meditation, we then shared our experiences of building Chenrezig Hall and what it meant to us. Tim Wilson, our architect, spoke first about this “once in a lifetime project” to help a community get established and grow. Jim from the Health Department said how great it was to work with the Abbey. (We’re among the few people who actually want to follow the regulations.)

Following him was Paul Wood, who made the faswall—the fantastic green blocks that the hall is made from. He said that he wants his work to benefit the planet, and he can see that clearly when faswall is used to construct a building dedicated to compassion.

Our lawyer, George, spoke of the tremendous merit created by helping to build the Dharma in the west. Larry Kulesza,larry.jpg who worked on the construction crew, shared that working on the building was like a spiritual retreat for him.

Folks from the extended Abbey community also spoke: Susan, the volunteer bookkeeper, noted how each penny we receive in donations was spent mindfully and treasured with awareness of the hard work donors had put into earning it and their kindness in offering it. Heidi began her comments with, “I’m a low income person,” and proceeded to tell how meaningful and rewarding it has been for her to be able to contribute even a little bit every month to the Abbey.

That prompted someone who gave a large donation for Chenrezig Hall to write us the next day:

consecration4.jpg“I have contributed to many worthwhile organizations and causes. Some of these contributions were large and some were small. Many of these nonprofit organizations received high grades by charity rating agencies. It was important to me that my donations would be used wisely and efficiently. Unfortunately, before meeting the Dharma I also desired some aggrandizement of the self by way of these donations. Praise and reputation were my main afflictions. And I never seemed to fill those buckets.

“My ability to support the Abbey has been a true blessing. I can see with my own eyes how carefully the money is being spent. Every donor dollar is treated like a precious jewel. Also, my personal motivation for giving now comes from the heart without any concern for glory or praise. The ego that I have spent a lifetime feeding has started a major weight loss program. And it really feels good.

Our Singaporeans friends—some of whom I’ve known for 26 years—then showed a video they made about the Abbey and our long-term connection, all the while singing the Buddhist song about Kuan Yin, “She Carries Me.” Dare I say many of us were crying while we watched this. The love that the Friends of Sravasti Abbey Singapore show for the Abbey and its residents is remarkable.

Now, thanks to so many of you, Chenrezig Hall is officially consecrated and ready to receive guests. Do join us!

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Guy Newland’s Visitguycropped.png

Scholar, translator, and author Guy Newland has been a good friend to the Abbey for several years now, and this, his fourth visit, was special in many ways.

Guy began with three days of teachings on “Wisdom and the ‘Don’t Know Mind.’” The topic was deeply personal. Grieving the loss of his wife to cancer last year, Guy turned to the hospice work of Roshi Joan Halifax and her book, Being with Dying, as Buddhist support for his experience. There he found an intriguing koan to engage his analytical mind.

Roshi Joan’s work is grounded in the Zen concept of “don’t know mind,” whereas for Guy, extensively trained in the Prasangika Madhyamaka philosphical presentation, “knowing” is everything. What, he wondered, is the Zen school really talking about, and what are the parallels in other Buddhist systems? He brought the course participants into his journey of discovery, stimulating a fresh view to our study of the nature of reality. You can watch the videos here.

Guy then made two visits to the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Spokane. Guy is both a Buddhist and an active UU—two affiliations that are not contradictory. Speaking to our weekly UU-Buddhist meditation class, he openly shared how his meditation practice has sustained him through grief. Then he gave the sermon the following Sunday, explaining how Buddhist meditation and mind training support some of the key principles of Unitarian Universalism. The UUs loved it! The audio is here.

Guy gave several Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talks (here, here, & here ), and he stepped in to give a talk on emptiness for the Thursday live-streamed teaching when Venerable Chodron was called away suddenly.

For his final scheduled talk, Guy presented a wonderful distilled summary of Chade Mang Tan’s book, Search Inside Yourself: the Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness and World Peace in our local town of Newport as a benefit for Youth Emergency Services. The crowd had questions and insights after the talk and found the sharing helpful and practical.

Guy’s formal teachings were exciting and challenging as usual, but it was the informal sharing that touched the community most deeply and seemed to inspire Guy as well. Over ten days with us, he really became a part of the community. Check out the photos.

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Outdoors
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With the help of volunteers and WWOOF-ers, Venerable Chonyi has been diligently working in the veggie garden, planting beans, lots of greens, and who knows what else. CDs swing in the wind and sparkle in the sunlight above the garden beds to deter the turkeys from snacking there.

Meanwhile the colors in the flower garden change daily, and uplift the heart for however long they are there. Tiny apples, cherries, and raspberries are appearing too.

We’ve been having a great time working in the forest, which is like a metaphor for purifying the mind. We take out all sorts of old, dead debris and thin crowded areas. Occasionally we see some forest orchids, lady slippers, and other beauties, and we welcome the deer, birds, and bunnies to come and enjoy. (BTW, I saw a raccoon too!)

It’s also knapweed season, and we loved introducing our Singaporean friends to the satisfying task of pulling the poisonous plant. The children especially enjoyed walking in the forest—it was a first for most of them!

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On the Monday morning following Guy’s course, the entire community had a Skype call with Venerable Chodron’s dad in honor of his upcoming birthday. He visited the Abbey in 2010, was a generous supporter, and whenever he and Venerable talked, he sent his greetings to “the girls.” The Skype connection was a lot of fun for everyone, including Dad, and we chanted a few verses of “The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas”—a “song” he had really enjoyed on his visit—in lieu of the traditional “Happy Birthday.”

The next night, Venerable Chodron got “the phone call”: her dad had choked during his birthday party and died with loving family all around. Venerable Chodron flew to be with the family the next day. She wrote, “My dad’s death is an incredible lamrim teaching—dying by choking on food at the party to celebrate his 93rd birthday. Death is certain, but the time and the manner are uncertain.” The Abbey community has been doing pujas and dedicating merit for Venerable’s dad and all the family.

Coincidentally, the Abbey had already scheduled a community workshop for Venerable Jigme to lead newer residents to write—and longer-term residents to update—our advance health care directives or living wills. With this fresh reminder, the Abbey monastics worked thoughtfully to record our end of life wishes.

Because the time and circumstances of our death are impossible to know, we urge you to prepare your own end-of-life directions. Especially if you are a Buddhist with a non-Buddhist family, it will help them immeasurably to know how you want to die and how you would like them to support you after death.

Venerable Jigme suggests these resources to help you:

  • Advance directives and Durable Power of Attorney for health care are state-specific in the U.S. and will also vary by country. To find a template, do a web search for “Advance Directive” and include your state or country name. Pick one that is either from the government, an official state or country medical society, or the state bar association.
  • Read “Preparing for a Loved One’s Death” from thubtenchodron.org
  • Adapt the template “Dharma Will,” from Amitabha Hospice Service

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Other News
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At the request of a Singapore Dharma study group, I am offering a live-streamed weekly lamrim teaching from Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen’s The Easy Path to Omniscience on Fridays at 6 pm Pacific time through August 15. All are welcomed to tune-in. You can find the teaching on the Abbey’s channel at livestream.com.
Our newest monastic, Venerable Thubten Damcho, wrote an article—honest and humorous—about becoming a monastic and training her mind, “ Sobering Up from Samsara.”

Venerable Damcho’s parents came from Singapore for the Chenrezig Hall consecration and stayed a week. We are always delighted when family members visit the community, and the Pans seemed to really enjoy their time with us, too.

Loren, Nathan, and Andrew all came for the Exploring Buddhism course and stayed for extended visits. They’ve been a tremendous help. We’ve also enjoyed visits from Marga, Venerable Ghache, and a host of day visitors. It’s lovely to share the Dharma—not to mention knapweed extraction—with old and new friends.

Northwest Dharma News ran a nice story on the Abbey nuns’ May visit to the Old Gold Mine Hermitage to meet the monks from Abhayagiri Monastery.

We want to thank everyone who contributed to Youth Emergency Services’ fund raising activity, Clothes for the Cause. We raised $1863 to help the 135 homeless teens in Pend Oreille County.

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