Wow. It’s May already and the flowers from April showers are finally coming up. Winter has been reluctant to leave this year, and though we’ve had some beautiful sunny spring days, there were occasional bursts of snow until mid-April.
Although some road restrictions have been lifted, some have not. This inability of big trucks—such as the ones needed to pour concrete—to get to the Buddha Hall’s location has impacted construction work. (Roads in the countryside aren’t like roads in the city. In the spring when the snow melts and rain falls, soggy roads get damaged if heavy trucks drive on them.)
But optimism always prevails. The snowbells came out first, and the daffodils—which this year are late bloomers—are now blooming and brightening the landscape, along with bright green grass. We’re delighted to welcome guests now that retreat is finished. Many people from the U.S. and internationally have come to visit us.
Meanwhile, the teaching program at the Abbey is also blossoming, with Geshe Dadul teaching Friday evenings (watch here), Ven. Chodron teaching Thursday mornings (watch here), and Geshe Thabkhe teaching Tuesday and Friday afternoons via Jewel Heart, plus all the Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner (BBC) talks Abbey residents give daily (watch here). Many courses and retreats are also coming up this month and throughout the summer. See our Events Schedule for more details.
Click here to see the most recent Abbey life photo gallery.
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron & the Sravasti Abbey Community
Concluding Our Winter Retreat
The Abbey’s 18th annual three-month winter retreat concluded with a Dorje Khadro fire puja and a go-around in which we all shared our experience of doing retreat on the four establishments of mindfulness (mindfulness of body, feelings, mind, and phenomena). See photos here. Everyone learned a lot, especially by connecting this mindfulness practice with their daily lives and strengthening their antidotes to the afflictions.
All of us rejoiced at our own and others’ merit. We especially rejoiced at the merit of the 400+ people who did the Retreat from Afar, which included Dharma friends in Ukraine and Russia and about 170 meditators in prison. Furthermore, we rejoiced at the merit of all our Dharma friends and supporters, without whose kindness we wouldn’t have been able to do retreat.
Dronsel, an anagarika (eight-precept holder), composed some verses to sum up her experience of retreat. Read them here.
Kathina and Volunteer Appreciation Event
To celebrate the end of winter retreat, we held the kathina ceremony and a volunteer appreciation event. See photos here. This was our first event of 2023, and we also broadcast the ceremony online. Watch the video here. The community was delighted to engage with many of our closest friends and supporters after a three-month break.
Widely celebrated in Southeast Asia, the kathina is one of four monastic rites that make a location a central Dharma land. During the ceremony, lay supporters offer food, clothing, shelter, and medicine to replenish the monastics’ supplies after retreat. The sangha then ceremonially offers a “robe of merit” (kathina robe) to a worthy monastic.
The event included a procession where guests carried an offering up to Chenrezig Hall. An elephant typically leads the parade, but anagarika Dronsel carried a big moose placard instead. Ven. Sangye Khadro gave a short talk on the interdependence of the monastic and lay communities, and Ven. Pema led a sutra recitation while fully ordained monastics conducted the kathina rite.
Ven. Semkye thanked volunteers who deliver food and offer service on a regular basis; each also received a gift. We also thanked online volunteers who help with the Abbey’s and Venerable Chodron’s websites, video and audio editing, SAFE class facilitation, social media, and many other tasks. After a delicious potluck lunch, guests stayed to roll mantras for Buddha Hall statues or help with forest work.
After a wonderful kathina celebration, many of the Abbey guests along with the community donned their work clothes and boots and headed to the forest. The heavy winter snowfall had broken many branches and tree tops, but with the joyous effort of this team, within a few hours all the branches were gathered and the tops bucked and stacked.
There was also time to assist the infrastructure team with raking gravel pushed off the road by the snow plow back onto the road to the Buddha Hall. The transformation was remarkable and everyone felt invigorated by the fresh air and exercise.
Launch of “Let’s Raise the Roof” Campaign
Friends of Sravasti Abbey are eager to “raise the roof” on the Buddha Hall, and they’ve launched a campaign inviting your generosity to do that. Heather clearly explains the next steps in her short Let’s Raise the Roof video.
In brief, we’ll post opportunities for you to help “sponsor” various rooms and features of the Buddha Hall, starting with the holy objects on the roof. Right now, traditional Tibetan roof ornaments—two deer, a Dharma wheel, and three spires called ganjiras— are almost finished in Nepal. Read about them and see the video of their construction here. They will be shipped and stored until the Buddha Hall is complete. Next, they’ll be gold-painted at an auto-body shop in Spokane. Finally, a crane will install them on the roof.
But before they can be placed on the Buddha Hall, we’ll need to raise the roof and finish everything inside it. That’s the purpose of the Let’s Raise the Roof campaign, and it’s what your offerings ensure. Learn about it here.
Your gifts gathered together are like drops of water filling a bucket—every drop makes a difference. This Buddha Hall is for all of us, and together we are bringing it to life. Thanks so much for joining in!
Buddha Hall Update
Completing the walls of the upper floor of the Buddha Hall has been the sole focus for the month of April. Workers demonstrated impressive focus and physical strength through their careful measuring, inserting of rebar into the Faswall blocks, lifting of each block over the rebar, leveling the blocks with shims, and attaching the blocks with screws. See the video updates here.
The crew had to work around road restrictions to pour concrete into the Faswall blocks, but they completed this successfully. Adding the vapor barrier and pouring the upper floor slab will take place as soon as the road restrictions are lifted. Right now, the presence or absence of precipitation is determining the construction schedule.
We are excited about the new campaign to Raise the Roof of the Buddha Hall! Learn about it here.
See the most recent photos of Buddha Hall construction here.
Sharing the Dharma Day
For the first Sharing the Dharma Day of 2023, Ven. Chodron continued teaching from An Open-Hearted Life, her book co-authored with psychologist Russell Kolts, this time on the subject of partiality. Watch for links to the meditation and teaching in the next eNews.
One part of us genuinely wants to reach out and benefit others with wisdom and compassion, while another part of us judges and often criticizes people who need help, thinking, “Why don’t they just get a job instead of asking me for money?” or, “They hurt my feelings in the past, so why should I help them now?”
Sometimes we favor people living in other countries because we don’t know them; other times we favor friends and relatives because we are close to them. What we want to cultivate is an attitude that sees all living beings equally as wanting and deserving happiness and not wanting suffering. The methods to help us do so are discussed in other chapters in the book.
Kindness Talks at North Idaho College
The North Idaho College (NIC) Diversity Council hosted Venerable Chodron via Zoom for the public talk “Kindness in Times of Disagreement” (watch here). NIC Professor Laura Templeman typically invites Ven. Chodron to give a talk each semester, and asked her to respond to the book The War for Kindness by Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki.
To help overcome feelings of separation and mistrust so prevalent today, Ven. Chodron spoke about the importance of recalling interdependence and the kindness of others. She asked the audience to explore whether focusing on only our own welfare makes us happy in the long-term and challenged the group to rethink what kindness really means: Does it mean giving others what they want, even if they will misuse it to harm themselves and others?
She concluded by encouraging everyone to act with a kind attitude. Acts of kindness can be simple, such as smiling at others, saying hello, and being interested in your children’s lives and their friends.
The following day, Vens. Tsepal and Kunga spoke at the “No Future Without Kindness” event at NIC, also organized by Prof. Templeman, on Buddhist practices that cultivate empathy, kindness, and compassion. The audience was clearly interested in empathy and its benefits.
Citing Jamil Zaki’s book, Ven. Kunga commented that empathy alone can lead to burnout, while compassion motivates positive action to reduce suffering. Ven. Tsepal spoke about humans’ shared wish to be happy and led a short mindfulness meditation. The audience then broke into small groups to discuss empathy barriers, how they felt after a recent act of kindness, and ideas for increasing compassion in their community. The students were eager to share their experiences and affirmed the value of kindness, given all the suffering they see in the world.
Venerable Sangye Khadro at Thubten Norbu Ling
Ven. Sangye Khadro traveled to Santa Fe, NM to teach at Thubten Norbu Ling for two weeks. She taught two weekend courses—one on Peaceful Living, Peaceful Dying, and the other on Introduction to Tantra—and three weeknight classes on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness.
While she was there, Lama Zopa Rinpoche passed away (see more below), and she led an evening session of prayers for his quick return, and another evening session discussing the current situation with the Dalai Lama that you can watch here.
She has also been teaching a weekly online class on Buddhist Tenets for Tse Chen Ling Center in San Francisco. Click here to register.
Spreading the Dharma
Abbey nuns have been busy spreading the Buddha’s teachings this month!
- Ven. Chodron gave a four-part series of talks hosted by Jewel Heart on “Searching for the Self” based on the book by the same title by H.H. the Dalai Lama. The talks will be available on the Abbey’s YouTube channel in the near future. Ven. Chodron also gave three of a five-part series of talks on her book Working with Anger, requested by a university in Italy. We’ll share the links after they are made available by Gompa Services.
- Ven. Damcho was invited to give a talk for Buddhist Fellowship (BF) Singapore as part of their Sunday service. She offered ideas on what to do “When Nothing Goes Your Way”—instead of getting despondent, reflect on the kindness of others, recognize the nature of cyclic existence, and rejoice in our ability to transform our minds. The talk will be posted on the BF YouTube channel soon. Last December, she gave a talk at BF entitled “My Life as a Nun: A Journey of Self-Acceptance,” just published here.
- Ven. Chonyi led a weekend course online for the South Carolina Dharma Group on “Foundations of Our Practice,” which focused on the mindfulness meditations of the body and feelings. A participant later wrote, “The meditations were helpful in relating the words to my own experience. I also saw that my lack of clarity regarding what is happiness and what is not happiness, how I identify whether I am happy or unhappy, etc., must be a major factor in why I’ve been circling in samsara for so long!”
- Ven. Lamsel took part in Dr. Gloria Chien’s “Buddhist Meditation & Practice” course at Gonzaga University in Spokane. Two classes of about 25 students each asked questions regarding what led her to become a Buddhist nun, why nuns shave their heads, the difficulties and joys of ordained life, and her favorite type of meditation. Dr. Chien also prompted a discussion about the benefits of abstaining from intoxicants, which created a space to talk about the importance of living our values and having a meaningful life.
Interfaith Earth Day Vigil
On Earth Day this year, Vens. Semkye and Dekyi participated in the Interfaith Earth Day Vigil at the beautiful St. John’s Cathedral in Spokane. Ven. Semkye sat on a panel along with Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Baha’i faith leaders who shared the importance of water in their own traditions.
Taking inspiration from the four establishments of mindfulness practice, Ven. Semkye led a powerful experiential meditation on what it feels like to be made of water. A conversation followed as to how we can all protect and preserve clean water.
The day ended with a blessing from each faith leader acknowledging our interdependence and inspiring everyone to take action based on love and compassion for the earth. Ven. Dekyi also led a brief meditation thanking the four elements. A woman from the interfaith environmental organization Earth Ministry visited the Abbey a few days later and was inspired by all the Abbey is doing to care for the environment at the grassroots level.
Sravasti Abbey in the News
- The Abbey appeared in Fodor’s Travel Guide, along with American and European Catholic monasteries and the Korean Temple Stay program in an article entitled “Staying in a Monastery Can Save You Money on Accommodations.” While that’s not a good motivation for visiting the monastery, the write-up was nice.
- Spokane FAVS and The Spokesman Review ran this article on Geshe Dadul’s residence at the Abbey: “Sravasti Abbey Adds First Male Resident Teacher.”
- The Daily Evergreen, the student-run daily news source at Washington State University, ran a story on “Buddhism Retreat for Young Adults To Be Held in June.”
D.E., one of the incarcerated people that our prison project serves, recently attended a restorative justice program. He wrote about what he has learned on three important topics: Healing Relationships, Bringing Avalokiteshvara into the Circle, and The Power of Precepts.
We’ve spoken to other people—both victims and perpetrators of harm—who have received great benefit from participating in restorative justice programs. Our justice system would benefit a lot from such programs.
You can also read the article “I Am a Buddhist” recently posted in the Prison Dharma section of ThubtenChodron.org. The article was written by an inmate who corresponds with Ven. Chodron and has been serving a life sentence since his 20s.
Online Book Discussion Group
We are happy to announce that an online book discussion group, organized by Venerable Thubten Jampa from Germany and Julia Arkhipova from Ukraine, will have its first meeting on Zoom at 10:00 AM (PDT)/ 7:00 PM (CET) on Sunday, May 21, 2023. The discussion group will meet every month, on the third Sunday, for a two-hour discussion.
They will be reading and discussing Transforming Adversity into Joy and Courage: An Explanation of the Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas by Geshe Jampa Tegchok (author) and Thubten Chodron (editor).
To join the group and receive the Zoom link to the meetings, please email [email protected]. They look forward to meeting you!
Passing of Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Although many of you already know, one of our precious teachers, Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche, passed away April 12. Updates, tributes, and prayers for his swift return can be found on the FPMT website here.
Following the passing of Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche, Ven. Chodron gave several talks discussing Rinpoche’s life and contribution to the welfare of living beings, and on a personal level, she shared stories of her training under his guidance. A longer talk at Sravasti Abbey is here, and a shorter talk is here. A talk given to Amitabha Buddhist Centre is Singapore is here, and a talk given to Shantideva Center in New York is here.
Each talk is different, but the common theme running through all of them is our need to put into practice the teachings that Rinpoche and other lamas gave us with compassion, and to take on the responsibility to cultivate the bodhicitta that Rinpoche modeled in his life to benefit sentient beings.
- Gompa Services is showing a 4-part series on Atisha’s Bodhisattvas’ Jewel Garland taught by Ven. Chodron. This text talks about the qualities of bodhisattvas in a practical way and immediately invigorates our practice. More info is here.
- Last year, Innercraft, a web portal that offers online courses in different forms of meditation, did a podcast interview with Ven. Chodron. They’ve since invited Sravasti Abbey to make a page to feature some of our online teachings and offer future online talks. Check out the Sravasti Abbey page on Innercraft here.
- For those of you who saw the doctored video about H.H. the Dalai Lama and a young boy, Jigme, a Tibetan man who lives in Minnesota, explained what actually happened from a Tibetan cultural viewpoint. Watch his video that clears all the misinterpretation regarding the Dalai Lama’s actions. Please note that the boy’s mother was sitting next to His Holiness and that both the boy and his mom afterwards made a short video saying how grateful they were to have met His Holiness and how much his compassion impacted their lives. As a Tibetan, Geshe Dadul also shared his cultural perspective on the situation in this BBC.
- We’re delighted to announce that Courageous Compassion has been released for the Spanish speaking world with the title Compasión Valerosa, and in September, Searching for the Self will be published as ¿Quién SOY Yo? Both books are part of The Library of Wisdom and Compassion series by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Ven. Thubten Chodron. They are published by Ediciones Amara.
Here’s what’s happening in May:
- May 4 – June 29, Thursdays: Tenets with Ven. Sangye Khadro on Zoom, hosted by Tse Chen Ling
- May 5-7: Peaceful Living, Peaceful Dying retreat with Ven. Sangye Khadro
- May 6 & 13: Working with Anger with Ven. Thubten Chodron online, hosted by Coordinamento Nazionale Pedagogisti e Educatori
- May 13: Offering Service Saturday with the Abbey community
- May 14: Medicine Buddha Puja with Abbey monastics on Zoom
- May 21: Sharing the Dharma Day with Ven. Thubten Chodron & the Abbey community
- May 26-29: Good Karma Memorial Day Weekend retreat with Ven. Thubten Chodron & the Abbey community
A look ahead:
- June 9-15: Young Adults Explore Buddhism with Ven. Thubten Chodron & the Abbey Community
- June 30 – July 20: Exploring Monastic Life with Ven. Thubten Chodron & the Abbey community
Plus regular ongoing teachings:
- Samsara, Nirvana, and Buddha Nature with Geshe Dadul Namgyal filling in for Ven. Chodron, streamed live, Fridays, 6 pm Pacific Time.
- Engaging in the Bodhisattva’s Deeds with Ven. Thubten Chodron streamed live, Thursdays, 9 am Pacific Time.
Check the Abbey’s Events Page for more!