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April has seen the last sputtering of winter in the Northwest USA. After hardly any snow to speak of in two months—and after we’d long since put away the snow shovels and boots—on April 6 the temperature dropped and several inches of snow fell. We managed to get around in it, and by the next afternoon it was completely gone. Spring is now in full bloom at the Abbey (photos are here), and wildlife and humans are engrossed in spring activities (more photos here).

We have been saddened by the tragic earthquake in Nepal. I was there in 1973 prior to encountering Buddhism, and returned several times from 1975 onwards after meeting the Dharma. The people there are resilient, but the loss of life and the difficulties of getting aid to isolated villages calls us to action. Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist charity, is providing relief. Consider making a donation through them or another aid organization of your choice.

Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

Winter Retreat Concludes

Both the Manjushri and Yamantaka retreats concluded with several days of activities. Bee Lan and Sarah joined us for the closing Yamantaka sessions.

Jhampa Shaneman, a longtime Dharma friend, and Paul from Boise came to the Abbey to help us do the peaceful fire puja. One afternoon, Jhampa taught people how to prepare the many offering substances and the hearth. The next morning, I did the fire puja with all the Yamantaka retreatants participating and Jhampa and Paul assisting. It went very well, and there was a nice sense of completion.

Participants in both retreats joined in a go-around, sharing their reflections and experiences of retreat—what they learned, how it influenced them, and how they want to continue to practice. It was a warm sharing of people who had gotten to know each other very well, despite living together in silence.

The following day, one of the retreatants took everyone out for a lovely lunch in Newport, and then we took a walk along the Pend Oreille River. Upon returning to the Abbey, we did the Dorje Khadro puja to conclude the Manjushri retreat.

The next day we did skits—an Abbey tradition after long courses and retreats. This is a time to laugh at ourselves, to use our creativity, and to bond as a community in a different way.

This year’s skits were exceptionally good, with three songs by the X-tremes including “Stop! And Renunciate” and “Going to the Chapel, Not Going to Get Married.” One skit mimicked some people’s penchant for taking photos, and another spoofed our unending effort to find a microphone that works. The competition between Venerable Tarpa and Venerable Yeshe over who could say the most mantra the most quickly had us in stitches. We laughed so hard, we cried.

After over ten skits, we concluded on a more serious note, chanting “She Carries Me,” a song about Kuan Yin, and “Star Spangled Compassion.” Photos are here.

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Pravarana, the Invitation at the End of the Annual Monastic Retreat

At the Buddha’s time, the sangha stayed in one place during the three months of the summer monsoon rains. At the Abbey, we do this retreat—called varsa in Sanskrit—in the winter, making it a “snows retreat” rather than a “rains retreat.” This in large part coincides with our annual winter meditation retreat.

At the conclusion of the varsa, there is a ceremony called pravarana, meaning “invitation,” where each sangha member invites her fellow monastics to give her feedback so that she may learn about herself and grow.

For the second year, the Abbey has done both the varsa and pravarana. These are two of the three practices that a full-fledged sangha does (the third being the fortnightly posadha where we confess and restore our monastic precepts) that makes a place a “central land” where the Dharma flourishes. Pravarana is a moving ceremony where we feel a strong sense of community. Photos are here.

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Kathina, the Robe of Merit

As a way of rejoicing in the virtue the sangha created during the varsa and by doing pravarana, the Buddha instituted the time of kathina, where the sangha has a few privileges for five months. This begins with the kathina ceremony where lay followers offer robes to the sangha, because at the time of the Buddha, cloth was hard to come by and monastics’ robes were usually worn out after the monsoon. In Asia nowadays, it is a time of celebration where many offerings are made.

About 20 guests came for the kathina ceremony this year, bearing all sorts of offerings from toilet paper to soy milk to a book of beautiful Buddhist paintings. Guests were very moved by the chanting during the ceremony, and I talked about kathina and led a meditation on rejoicing. Watch it here.

Following the kathina ceremony, we had lunch. It was wonderful for us to see so many friends again after our retreat and to catch up on what is happening with them and to share the Dharma together.

After lunch, we did the Lama Chopa Puja, a meditation in which we again make offerings to the Three Jewels. This time we did it in thanks for the opportunity to do winter meditation retreat, showing appreciation to the Three Jewels, and to all those who made it possible for us to do retreat.

We gave gifts to those who served the retreat, bringing us food each week, cooking, and taking our recycling and garbage (no curbside pickup in a rural area). It was a beautiful day filled with goodness, rejoicing, and sharing. It was also a lovely way to bid farewell to those who did the three-month retreat with us and to thank our supporters. Photos are here.

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In the Community

There is hardly a pause between the end of retreat and a return to community activities.

These began with a talk at North Idaho College (NIC), co-hosted with the Coeur d’Alene Dharma Friends. They usually invite me for two talks a year, and this spring’s topic was “Inner Peace, World Peace” (video is here), which clearly struck a chord for students and townspeople too. The standing-room-only crowd listened attentively, taking in the importance of having a peaceful mind and the methods to practice to bring that about, and a lively Q&A session followed the talk. The fall NIC talk, September 29, is “Loneliness in a Time of Connectivity.”

Right after the fire puja, Venerable Tarpa and I traveled to the Spokane mayor’s office for an interfaith meeting to learn about Spokane Gives, a citywide initiative to promote volunteerism and support for service organizations. We appreciate the city’s wish to encourage citizens to support one another.

Venerables Jigme and Semkye have begun leading the meditation classes at the Spokane Unitarian Universalist Church. Over the winter, the group met regularly to continue their study of An Open-Hearted Life, and they welcomed the nuns with smiles, good insights, and questions.

Venerables Jigme and Samten drove to Walla Walla, WA where they met with the Namaste Meditation Group at Whitman College for meditation and Q & A. The students showed genuine interest and respect for learning about Buddhism. Venerable Samten said, “I enjoyed the opportunity to share what we do with people who are very open and eager to understand.”

While in Walla Walla, Venerable Jigme also visited the Washington State Penitentiary, where she gave talks in both the minimum- and maximum-security sections. The men were open and receptive, asking questions about working with their anger and talking about how the Dharma helps them transform their minds. Read her reflections on the visit.

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Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland

There was a joyous feeling in the room when we completed teachings on Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Stanzas on the Middle Way. The series of 102 talks, given for the Sravasti Abbey community and people who tuned in online, took over two years of weekly teachings. The community then requested that I teach Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland, which began Thursday, April 30. Catch these teachings live at 6 pm Pacific Time, and find archived teachings on our Youtube channel.

Precious Garland is a well known text—it’s quoted in so many other commentaries and books—and its topics center on upper rebirth and the highest good. In it, Nagarjuna discusses the collections of merit and wisdom, gives practical advice for daily life, and also teaches the ultimate nature in a transformative way.

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Spring Teaching Tour in USA and Mexico

may15tourMy 15-day, six-city April teaching tour started in Chicago with a talk at Jewel Heart on chaplaincy and prison work and a visit to DePaul University where I spoke to a packed room on “Cultivating Compassion: A Buddhist Path.” I then taught at Jewel Heart in Cleveland, and met with a class of thoughtful, questioning students at Cleveland State University.

The 10 days of teachings in Cozumel, Mexico City, Puebla, and Xalapa, Mexico were a series of talks on “Working with Anger” from chapter 6 of Shantideva’s Engaging in the Bodhisattvas’ Deeds. The talks were streamed all over the world—Spain, Argentina, Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Peru, Chile, France, Germany, USA, and more. Over 1,250 people listened! The talks in English with Spanish translation are on the faceBuda channel.

The audiences were receptive and we had quite a few laughs when we looked at our behavior and the ways we tend to justify our anger. I learned more than anyone by immersing myself in this chapter continually for 10 days, and by contemplating how to work with anger and cultivate fortitude in the face of harm. This is a precious teaching for our world today.

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Sharing the Dharma Day

Our first Sharing the Dharma Day this year was a joyful opportunity to reconnect with friends old and new after being cloistered in Winter Retreat. More than 50 people —including our good friends from the Spokane UU and the Social Adventurists—gathered to share Verse 22 in Don’t Believe Everything You Think, Venerable Chodron’s commentary on the “37 Practices of Bodhisattvas.”

Venerable Tarpa tackled the topic of “Who Am I?” with aplomb, and after lunch, we had a stimulating discussion on how grasping at what appears to our senses creates problems in our lives. Watch the talk.

We especially rejoiced in in the attendance of our Dharma friends from Osel Shen Phen Ling in Missoula, MT. Bill, Jenna, Lea, and Ed made a two-day community outing to spend time with us and see Chenrezig Hall for the first time. Deanna, Jeety, and Deb came the next day, bringing a giant carrot cake that we ate for a week! Photos here.

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Two New Books!

Karmans for the Creation of Virtue and Pearl of Wisdom II

To date, very little of the teachings and commentaries on the vinaya—the Buddhist monastic code—has been translated into English, but that is changing slowly. We are happy to share a new addition published by Sravasti Abbey— Karmans for the Creation of Virtue: The Prescriptive Precepts in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya.

The book is based on a series of oral teachings by Vinaya Master Bhiksu Benyin given during a full ordination course in Taiwan. It is a rare teaching that explains the prescriptive precepts that the Buddha required monastics to train in for the flourishing of the Dharma.

The book involved the efforts of monastics across continents over a number of years. Venerable Jendy Shih in Seattle transcribed the teachings; Venerable Ruixiong in Thailand, assisted by Lynne Mallinson, translated the text from Chinese into English; and I edited the English translation. Donors in Taiwan and the U.S. have kindly made offerings so the book can be offered to monastics without charge. Ordained Buddhist monastics can request a copy or write for more information.

The long-awaited revised edition of Pearl of Wisdom II, Buddhist Prayers and Practices, is also now available. While Pearl of Wisdom I is designed for people embarking on the Buddhist path, this book—Book II —is for people who have begun practicing in the Tibetan tradition. In addition to meditations on Chenrezig, Green Tara, White Tara, Medicine Buddha, Amitabha Buddha, Vajrasattva, and Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga, the new edition includes prayers and practices that are good to do to help the deceased or people who are ill. In addition to prayers like “The King of Prayers” and practices like the verses to generate aspiring and engaging bodhicitta, we’ve added a new section of scriptural quotations for meditation. You can get the book directly from the Abbey or order it on Amazon.

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More News

Guests

Our first guest of the year, Cy, arrived in the middle of Sharing the Dharma Day, and we now have Kristy with us for six weeks. Laresa, who first met the Dharma at the Abbey years ago, visited after spending two years in Ethiopia with the Peace Corps. She gave a Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talk about how her Dharma practice sustained her through the joys and challenges of serving overseas. We enjoyed and appreciated how much she has grown through this experience.

Another Abbey friend, Tan Nisabho, also visited for a few days. He attended Exploring Monastic Life as a lay person in 2012, and is now ordained in the Thai Forest Tradition. It was a delight to experience his transformation and support him in his new life.

Correction

Jan Willis’ course, “How to Be a Bodhisattva,” is July 17-19. Dates in an earlier announcement were incorrect.

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