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Spring is here! We’re having a warm and sunny spring here in eastern Washington State (except for the occasional quirky snowfall!) The snowbells announced the new season and now the daffodils and crocuses are following up. All our animal friends are busy eating and nesting. And we human beings are emerging from our meditation retreat and the monastic “snows retreat,” resuming the meditation classes in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.

We have added some retreats since the last enews, so check out the schedule. Come and spend some time at the Abbey with Dharma friends in a gorgeous natural setting.

Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

Sharing the Dharma Day & Puja to End the Winter Retreat

April 13 was a big day at the Abbey. In the morning we had our second Sharing the Dharma Day of the year, with nearly 70 people in attendance! People ranged in age from 2 to 70-something, with everything in between. The topic, drawn from Don’t Believe Everything You Think, explored how to transform our habitual reactions into wise responses when we are falsely accused. The video is here.

We held the teaching in the large room of Chenrezig Hall, which was transformed into a dining room for a delicious potluck lunch. In the afternoon, we did the Lama Chopa puja and tsog to mark the official end of the meditation retreat, to express our gratitude to the Three Jewels for the opportunity to do retreat, and to thank all the supporters who made it possible. Recognizing our interdependence, we dedicated our merit for all sentient beings, and especially for those near and far who contributed to our having the place, time, and life requisites to do retreat.

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Retreat from Afar

More than 200 people did the Retreat from Afar. Each year, we post their photos on the back wall of the Meditation Hall and, over the course of the retreat, become familiar with their names and faces.

Many of them wrote messages and made offerings for the end-of-retreat celebration. Reading their letters was inspiring; they benefited so much from doing one session of Vajrasattva practice a day for the three months of the retreat.

A group in Xalapa, Mexico had a great experience doing the retreat together. They wrote, “Everybody showed enthusiasm and commitment, first to learn the mantra and then to recite the whole mala each day. During our weekly sessions, each person expressed the difficulties he experienced or the obstacles she faced in the practice. The rest of the group gave advice or shared ideas that had helped them overcome these same problems or similar ones. Read more about their group experience.

Here’s a sample of some of the notes we received from around the world:

From Europe: I am very happy to have been able to be in this Vajrasattva Retreat from Afar. At first I took the compromise to do one month, because I thought it would be hard to do, but it was so wonderful that I kept up my meditations and purifications through the whole three-month retreat. I felt so well feeling purified and doing all my practices for the sake of others.

From Singapore: Participating in this retreat has a lot of meaning for me. Without the retreat, I tend to be lazy at times, but with this retreat and my commitment, I had to practice and stop being lazy. Knowing that a lot of people were practicing together with me was very encouraging too.

From the US: Knowing you guys have been up there doing the sadhana many more times than me was all the nudge I needed to follow through on my daily commitment of 1 session per day. It was intense and challenging at times, and I think I formed some new neural pathways to accomplish visualization!

So please don’t stop just because the retreat concluded; keep going in your practice!

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Posada, Varsa, Pravarana, & Kathina

These Sanskrit words tell of four events that a sangha community of four or more fully ordained monastics do in order to create virtue, and the bhiksuni sangha at the Abbey did all four this year!

Posadha is the fortnightly confession and restoration of precepts, which helps us to evaluate our actions, purify transgressions, and make determinations for the future.

Varsa is the annual three-month rains retreat (held in the summer during the monsoon rains) that we have made a “snows retreat” given our climate. During this time, we do not go out much, focus on studying, practicing, and discussing the Dharma, and emphasize harmony in the community even more than usual. At the conclusion of varsa, the sangha gives the pravarana—the invitation to others in the community to give us feedback on our actions, informing us of any misdeeds they have seen, heard, or suspected. This helps to clear the air and increases our ability to hear wise counsel. See the photos here.

apr14kathina11.jpgKathina occurs after the varsa and pravarana and is the time for offering the “robe of merit,” a new robe given by the laity to the sangha, which the sangha gives to a monastic with the most worn robes. Kathina is a celebration of the merit created by the sangha during the varsa and pravarana and is an opportunity for the laity to create merit by making offerings.

In Asia, the kathina is a huge community festival—one of my Theravada friends said that they’ll sometimes even have an elephant in the parade of offerings. I told her we’d forego the elephant!

Our own inaugural kathina was a more modest event, with local friends ceremonially offering the “robe of merit” as well as symbols of food, shelter, medicine, light, flowers, and so on. Photos are here . I gave a talk to introduce and explain the kathina ceremony, which is on video here. Then we made another video to capture part of the ceremony itself and to record comments from some of the sangha and lay participants. Abbey monastics also shared their joy in two Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talks: (Go here for Venerable Tarpa & here for Venerable Semkye.)

Performing these rituals that monastics have done since the time of the Buddha has an amazing effect on the mind. We really get a sense of the preciousness of the tradition and the debt we owe to all the monastics of all Buddhist traditions that came before us and preserved the Dharma and the vinaya (monastic code).

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Teaching in the Midwest and on the East Coast

The U.S. spring teaching tour was a whirlwind of activity enabling me to share the Dharma with many different people who would otherwise never hear it and to reconnect with old friends and make new friends at Dharma centers.

During the two week trip, I spoke at three universities: Marquette (a Jesuit university), Cleveland State, and U Mass Boston.

When speaking to students, I usually mention the title of the talk once so they hear something about what they came to learn about, and then talk about life and what is important in life. We discuss societal conditioning and pressure and the importance of thinking for ourselves and discerning what is beneficial and realistic in the mass of messages we receive each day. We look into competition—is it useful? We investigate true happiness—is that the same as pleasure? And we explore ethical conduct—is it just following others’ rules or does it influence how you feel about yourselves?

I also gave talks at Kurukulla Center in Boston, at Jewel Heart Cleveland, and Jewel Heart Chicago. The people in all these centers are genuinely interested in the Dharma; they want to practice in order to transform their lives. Videos of the Kurukulla teachings on Understanding the Four Seals and Working with Disturbing Emotions are here.

In addition, I visited many old Dharma friends—Nick and Wendy at Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archives, and many others—and also visited with folks at Wisdom Publications and Shambhala Publications who kindly publish my books. I also had dinner with my 93 year-old aunt and my cousins in Chicago, who I hadn’t seen in ages.

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Practicing Dharma in Daily Life Retreat

The community as well as guests got a boost from the Practicing Dharma in Daily Life retreat. The meditations and talks were based on a section in the Abbey’s Pearl of Wisdom I prayer book that explains how to transform ordinary life activities—eating, working, bathing, preparing for bed, and so on—into eight practices that transform the mind.

Venerable Tarpa led the way, introducing the 8 practices that are based on advice from one of Venerable Chodron’s teachers, Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Various members of the community led the corresponding meditations, discussions, and talks that included exploring how we practice the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation. All the retreatants—residents and guests—were inspired!

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In the Community

Venerable Jigme is in Madison WI at the invitation of a Buddhist group there to help while their teacher is in retreat.

The Spokane Feminist forum invited me to participate in aSaturday morning panel discussion entitled “Faith and Feminism: Are They Compatible?” The group—three Protestant ministers, a Muslim activist who is also president of EWU’s Compassionate Interfaith Society, and a Buddhist nun (me)—each shared our stories of how our gender affects our faith and influences our “ministries” (to borrow a useful term). We agreed women have come a long way as “faith leaders,” and there’s more to be done. We also agreed that gender is not an issue in our personal spiritual practices or in serving others.

Friends of Compassion (FOC), a wonderful group of people who hold monthly meetings in Spokane so that people can learn about the compassionate actions that others are engaged in, asked the Abbey to give a presentation on “Buddhist Monasticism: Origins, Motivations, Practices, and Outcomes.” The audience was warmly receptive, and FOC founder John Hancock asked good, probing questions about the Abbey’s mission. I also introduced the self-centered thought and talked about overcoming it as the heart of Dharma practice for both monastics and lay practitioners. We recorded the talk, which you can watch here.

Coeur d’Alene and Spokane Dharma classes continue, Venerable Tarpa gives talks in Seattle this month, and I will speak in Sandpoint on May 18. Check the Abbey Travel Schedule.

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Rolling Mantra & Making Beds: Offering Service Weekend

The community is preparing for an abundance of virtuous activities, and we’re inviting friends to offer service with us on May 10 & 11. Activities include rolling mantra, assembling bed frames, and working in the garden.

May 13 is Vesak Day on the Chinese calendar, commemorating the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana. To celebrate, we will fill and consecrate many Buddha statues, including the beautiful new bronze Kwan Yin in Chenrezig Hall. The statues are filled with precious objects, a fragrant potpourri, and many, many rolls of mantras. Rolling mantra is a beautiful practice and many more rolls are needed before the 13th!

On that weekend we’ll also receive a dozen new beds for Chenrezig Hall and would appreciate help putting them together.

Come for a few hours or the whole weekend, then return on the 13th to help fill the statues and celebrate Vesak. Let us know you’re coming so we know how much food to prepare, and join us for a joyful merit-making time.

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The Heartbleed security bug was getting a lot of attention early in the month. We checked with eTapestry, which hosts our donation web pages, and IATS, which processes our credit card donations, and each confirmed that its data is safe from Heartbleed. We have also checked with our banks, and all is safe there as well.

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Fiber Optics & Video Captions

We rejoice in the installation of fiber optic Internet at the Abbey! If you’ve had difficulties tuning in to the live-streamed teachings every Thursday at 6pm PST due to our erratic Internet connection, give our live streaming channel another chance now that we have a speedier and stable web connection. We are continuing with Aryadeva’s 400 Stanzas on the Middle Way and you can catch up with past teachings here.

Our Youtube Channel librarian, Tara Shaw, and her team have not only organized all 2,362 (and counting) videos on our channel into playlists, but they have also begun creating English captions for Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talks. Thanks to their efforts, hearing impaired and English as a Second Language viewers will have better access to the Dharma. Please share the link with your friends!

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Youth Emergency Services

The Abbey is continuing to collect textiles for Clothes for the Cause—gathering old clothes, sheets, towels, blankets, quilts, curtains, tablecloths, rags, stuffed animlas, and even stained or dirty textiles—to benefit Youth Emergency Services (YES), a nonprofit organization that helps homeless teens in our area. The drive continues through May 30.

You can bring donations to the Abbey or to the Spokane or Coeur d’Alene Dharma classes.

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Other News

Stained-glass artist Beverly Brecht continues her work on the first of two windows for Chenrezig Hall. Check out her selection of Chenrezig’s jewels.

As we continue to work towards forest health, we are back in the woods limbing and thinning. It’s wonderful exercise and a welcome break after hours at the computer. One area of our property—we named it Milarepa’s Mile—is a steep area far away from the buildings. It is especially overgrown, so we are investigating forestry services who can help thin it. We’ll keep you updated and will send pics when it happens.

Kat has volunteered from her home in Connecticut for several years. In addition to transcribing many teachings for, she took care of the mailings for this year’s Retreat from Afar—no small task! We were delighted to have her visit for the first time. At the same time, we said good-bye (again) to Jonathan, who’s been offering service with us since January. He’s now headed to India to study in Dharamsala. We send all our support along with him. May all his spiritual aspirations be fulfilled!

Two Dharma students have been thinking about happiness. Read Stephen’s reflection on “Happiness,” then check out Ken’s exploration, “What Exactly Is Happiness?”

Venerable Chonyi gave a series of Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talks on applying lamrim and thought training practices in response to the death of a loved one. They’re collected with other talks in the “Grief and Loss” playlist.

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