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may14springlifeThe garden is alive with so many different colors: the vibrant deep pink flowers filling trees; the white, red, purple, and yellow tulips; white apple blossoms and light pink cherry blossoms; the bright green of the meadow grass, the sparkling blue of the sky.

Along with the beautiful weather, more guests are coming. Some visit for the day, others for a week, and some for a month or more. Think of joining us this summer and sharing the Dharma together.

BhiksuniThubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

Teaching in Australia

Four years ago I made my first trip to Australia, having been invited to speak at a 2-day Buddhist conference in Sydney by Mitra, a group of university students. This year, too, my trip was initiated by Mitra, and I was delighted to participate in their 2-day conference once again. The conference brought together practitioners from a diversity of Buddhist traditions as well as spiritual seekers exploring Buddhism. At the conference, I gave talks on forgiveness and on having healthy relationships, and participated in a fascinating panel discuss on “The Future of Buddhism in the West: Revival or Degeneration.”

I also spoke at Chenrezig Institute and Langri Tangpa Centre in Queensland and Vajrapani Institute in Sydney—all Tibetan centers—as well at Bodhikusuma Centre and the Buddhist Library, which are Theravada centres. It was very good to speak to enthusiastic audiences and to meet old friends at all of these places.

I very much enjoyed visiting some Theravada monasteries in New South Wales. We drove to Bodhisaddha Monastery and visited with the three monks living there. Their land is beautiful, overlooking a gorge, and they have constructed a few small kutis where the monks live. Then it was on to Santi Forest Monastery in Bundanoon, where I gave a Dharma talk “Getting Along with Others.” It was lovely spending the night in the bush (although I didn’t see any kangaroos there). The next morning we walked out to a cave large enough to seat twenty plus people, where one of the nuns had carved a large Buddha in the interior wall. From there we went to Wollongon to see Nan Tien Institute, where I visited with one of the nuns I’d met at the Mitra conference.

While in Sydney, I also gave a talk at Macquarie University. The students there were very interested in the Dharma, but we ran out of time to discuss all their questions. So the night before leaving for the US, these students and the Mitra members gathered in one of their homes, and we talked about the Dharma as it pertains to young adults. I love speaking to that age group with their curiosity, receptivity and enthusiasm to learn.

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Our Buddhist Cousins

Tibetan Buddhists and Theravada Buddhists are cousins, and as monasteries bringing the Dharma to the West, Abhayagiri Monastery in California and Sravasti Abbey have a lot in common. While we usually meet at the annual Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering, this year we also met out of our common concern for the environment.

Monks from Abhayagiri invited us to join them at a hermitage in the mountains of central Washington to help restore part of the forest lost to fire. Take a look at the colorful pics here and here.

Four nuns drove over for the day-long adventure, and a couple of days later, an Abhayagiri contingent returned the favor with a visit to the Abbey. Abhayagari Abbot Ajahn Passano was in the party and gave the Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner (BBC) talk that day, reminding us that our strong practice is the best foundation for the monasteries we are building in the West. You can watch it here.

We were also delighted to welcome Amma Thanasanti to the Abbey for a visit. An American Theravada bhikkhuni who largely lives on her own, she was happy to be with a monastic community and we enjoyed many good Dharma discussions with her. She also gave a BBC talk, speaking on the Bahiya Sutta from the Pali canon.

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Sharing the Dharma Day

About 45 people gathered for the May Sharing the Dharma Day.

What do you do “when someone broadcasts all kinds of unpleasant remarks about you throughout the three thousand worlds?” This was the question of the day, as we explored another verse from The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas and my commentary in Don’t Believe Everything You Think.

Venerable Tarpa’s talk identified attachment to reputation as the sticking point in facing slander and blame, and Venerable Chonyi led the group discussion on applying the author’s antidote: to speak of our detractor’s good qualities with a loving mind. The guests were engaged in the topic, and they love lunching in Chenrezig Hall.

The whole collection of talks from Don’t Believe Everything You Think, including this one, is on our Youtube channel.

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In the Community

The Gardenia Center in Sandpoint is the gathering place for those seeking an alternative Sunday service. I’ve spoken there many times in the past and try to use something from one of the songs or readings as the basis for my talk. On May 18, they sang John Lennon’s song, “Imagine,” so in the tradition of Tibetan commentators, I used that as the root text and then gave a commentary on it. What fun!

Our series of meditation classes in both Coeur d’Alene and Spokane came to a close, and a new 7-week class series begins at the Spokane UU church on Monday with Venerables Jigme and Samten.

may14dharmalife7.jpgVenerable Jigme spent a month in Madison, WI at the Eastside Dharma Center giving talks and leading meditations while their resident teacher was traveling. While she was there, she was able to pay respects to Geshe Sopa, one of Venerable Chodron’s beleoved teachers who founded the Deer Park Monastery and taught at the University of Wisconsin for decades. He is very old now, and his body is frail, yet the visit inspired and impressed Venerable Jigme. “I felt like Geshe Sopa was deep in meditation and had no connection to what his body was doing,” she wrote. “He was so peaceful, no struggle, no uneasiness.” May we all approach aging and death with such peace!

Venerable Tarpa attended the annual Buddhafest, a Vesak Day celebration, at the Twin Rivers Unit of the WA State prison In Monroe. She was touched that several families attended the special event this year. She talked to one mother who visits her son three times a week. The words “unconditional love” are tattooed on the mother’s arm, and it’s clear that her support is making a big difference in her son’s prison experience.

Venerable Tarpa also spent a day at Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle, giving talks and a practice session on Far-Reaching Meditative Concentration, and she made a second prison visit to our local facility at Airway Heights, where she is a quarterly volunteer.

Venerable Chonyi took part in an interfaith panel at Spokane Community College, joining a Catholic sister and two professors—one a practicing Hindu, the other a Muslim. The panel moderator noted that heads were nodding as each person shared the core values of her religion. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama often reminds us, the basic spiritual values of love, compassion, generosity, and kindness are universal. About 80 students and faculty attended. “When people talk to me about the panel, their eyes are very, very bright,” the panel organizer told us. “Somehow it took them to a very joyous place.”

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Retreat: Seeing Yourself as You Really Are

Using H.H. the Dalai Lama’s book, How to See Yourself as You Really Are as the basis, we had a great time exploring serenity and insight as practiced in Tibetan Buddhism.

The retreatants were a great bunch—as you can tell from the photos: very engaged, asking thoughtful questions, sharing good ideas in discussion sessions, and focused during meditation sessions.

We began studying this text in retreat two years ago, so you can listen to the talks from the 2012 and 2013 retreats, as well as the talks from the recent 2014 retreat . We made a date to meet again next Memorial Day to continue to explore the nature of reality.

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Filling Statues

Having focused on making “mantra rolls” for several months, we filled the large bronze Kuan Yin statue as well as many smaller statues that various people have asked us to consecrate.

Preparing for, filling, and consecrating statues is quite a production, and, thankfully, many people helped us make the “mantra rolls.” Over 20 different mantras were put into various parts of the statues, and each must be rolled slowly and carefully. People offered many other items: tsatsa (clay or plaster images of the Buddha or deities), jewelry, beads, incense, potpourri, blessed pills, and other sacred objects that we put inside the statues as well. Turning the large Kuan Yin statue upside down and balancing it carefully to avoid damaging it took skill, and righting it and lifting it back on the altar after it was filled required all the strength of five men. Take a look at the photos!

We filled 22 statues, which literally took all day—9 am to 6 pm. Everyone in the community plus several guests took part. I did a puja the day before to bless all the items that went into the statues, so our task on the filling day was to continually visualize making these offerings to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas as we packed the hollow statues with blessed substances. Everyone chanted om mani padme humaloud or silently throughout the process, and the energy in the room was vibrant. By the end of the day we were tired and exhilarated.

The next morning we took the final step. Standing before the Kuan Yin and the table filled with statues, we visualized light rays coming from our hearts and the heart of each statue, inviting the enlightened minds of all Buddhas to appear in the form that each statue represents—Buddha, Kuan Yin, Tara, Manjushi, and so on. The space was filled with holy beings as we invoked and requested them to come and abide in these physical representations to inspire us all.

I once asked one of my teachers why we do this process and ritual, since it’s said that the Buddha’s mind pervades all of space and so would already be contained in a Buddha statue. He answered that we do it for our own minds’ sake: that in engaging our body, speech, and mind in filling these statues, we create much merit and our faith increases. I can say without question that the process changes us, and the energy of the statues seemed to be changed too. The whole room seemed to be filled with joy!

Some of the community, guests, and I shared about this on Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner.

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In one section of our land, which we’ve named “Milarepa’s Mile” due to its remoteness, steep incline, and meditative atmosphere, the trees are very crowded. To protect it from fire, we have been advised to thin the trees, but due to the location and topography of this plot, we cannot do it ourselves. So we have hired professionals. The work will start soon; we’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile Brian, Andrew, and other volunteers are felling the trees that died or fell over due to the weight of the winter snow. This will contribute to our firewood supply to heat Ananda Hall.

The veggie garden is being planted and early plantings are starting to sprout. Between sharing some with the voles, moles, and turkeys, we should have some fresh organic veggies later in the summer.

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Help with the New Website

After many years of dedicated service, sharing thousands of pages of written and audio Dharma teachings and articles, is getting a new design and structure.

We are looking for volunteers to help migrate the old to a new platform built on WordPress. If you are fluent in Spanish or German, we also need your help with translation and proofreading! Required skills for content migrators:

  • Willingness to learn. You will watch training videos and take a simple test before migrating website content.
  • Basic writing skills. You will write short blurbs to describe the entries.
  • Attention to detail. You will follow a textbook guide to ensure uniformity across the site.

Time commitment:

  • About 3 hours of training time in total.
  • A few hours a week working on WordPress posts.
  • We hope to get part of the new site up by the end of August.

If you would like to be part of this virtuous project, please write the website coordinator.

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Other News

Please join us June 14 to celebrate and consecrate Chenrezig Hall! So many of you have given so much—merit, service, and offerings—and we look forward to celebrating the consecration with you.

Joey and Karen drove up a truckload of bed frames from Portland for Chenrezig Hall, which our assembly party—including Bob, Danna, Donna, Chris, Dwight, Lee, Belinda, Catherine, Tracy, Mary Ann, and Valerie—put together quickly. Belinda and Tracy scoured yard sales for additional furniture, and Chenrezig Hall was ready just in time for the Memorial Day Retreat. Thanks to these and many more volunteers who offered service this month.

Read Carrie’s insights about the subtle, this-life effects of living the Dharma. Carrie is a student in the Sravasti Abbey Friends Education (SAFE) distance learning program.

Thanks to the many people who offered their Clothes for the Cause to benefit Pend Oreille County’s Youth Emergency Services (Y.E.S.). Ken spread the word and the Spokane Buddhist Temple sent up three carloads of clothes!

Guy Newland will be teaching at the Abbey this month. He will also give a talk—”Search Inside Yourself”—in our local town of Newport on June 27 to benefit Y.E.S. Please join us! In addition, Guy will speak at the Spokane UU Church, giving the Sunday sermon on June 29 and meeting with the UU Buddhist meditation class Monday night June 22.

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