Dear Friends,

The daffodils are blooming, and the tulips are next, followed by the irises. The male turkeys are doing their spring dance and the sparrows are swirling in the sky.

Many guests are arriving for retreats as well as long and short visits, and we’re venturing into the forests once again to clear away dead material.

The Sravasti Abbey community has welcomed home five new bhikshunis who just received the full ordination in Taiwan, so lots is happening here.

Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

More on the Bhikshunis Ordination & Travels in Taiwan

Our April eNews detailed the first half of the full ordination program at Fo En Si Temple in Taiwan attended by five of our senior siksamanas. Ven. Chodron also served as one of the 10 bhikshuni witness preceptors and Ven. Damcho as the translator.

Vens. Lamsel, Kunga, Dekyi, Rinchen, and Monlam rejoiced at successfully taking the bhikshuni ordination on March 24. Read their reflections on the process here.

Bodhisattva Ordination Ceremony

The triple ordination platform culminated in taking the bodhisattva precepts from the Brahma’s Net Sutra. These are slightly different than the bodhisattva precepts in the Tibetan tradition but contain many of the same ethical guidelines. The preceptors emphasized that the bodhisattva precepts are actually more significant than the pratimoksa monastic precepts because they entail the profound commitment to lead all sentient beings to awakening.

The night before the bodhisattva ordination, ordination guides placed three small incense cones on the tops of the heads of the new bhikshus and bhikshunis. These were lit and left behind three dots as an offering to the buddhas and bodhisattvas, and to demonstrate their determination to benefit sentient beings despite any hardships they must endure. Thankfully, Ven. Chodron kindly held some of their heads and provided reassuring words as the cones heated up.

Visit to Luminary Temple

 After the full ordination, all the Abbey nuns went to Luminary Temple in Chiayi where the new bhikshunis thanked Vinaya Master Ven. Wuyin for giving them the bhikshuni precepts and received her advice on how to keep the precepts in America. We cherished the opportunity to meet privately with Ven. Wuyin and soak up her decades of insight about monastic life and Vinaya practice. We sincerely hope she will return to Sravasti Abbey to teach us again.

We also enjoyed catching up with Ven. Jenkir, the director of Luminary Buddhist Institute. Ven. Chodron was delighted to have the opportunity to repay the kindness of the Luminary community by offering a talk on “How to be a Happy Monastic with the Right View” for the students at the Buddhist Institute. Luminary also offered us instructions on playing the large Dharma instruments that will arrive at Sravasti Abbey in the near future.

Visits to Pu Yi & Dharma Drum Mountain Monasteries

 The five new bhikshunis then returned to Pu Yi nunnery, a home away from home, where the abbess continued to shower them with Chan wisdom and Taiwanese treats. From there, they took a day trip to Nung Chan Monastery and briefly met Abbess Ven. Guo Yi, who will visit the Abbey in May along with nine other nuns from Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM).

The next day, they received an amazing tour of the DDM headquarters at Taiwan’s northern tip, including meeting Abbot President Ven. Guo Huei. They were humbled and inspired by DDM founder Master Sheng Yen’s vision to build a pure land on earth and establish a modern, well-educated sangha.

Catching Up with Ven. Hengching

 The five bhikshunis also visited with Vinaya Master Hengching, who took them to a delicious vegetarian lunch. Ven. Hengching, an academic bhikshuni who oversaw the digitization of the Buddhist canon, has been a tireless proponent of offering the bhikshuni ordination in the West, and we continue to benefit from her close connection to the Abbey, including her 2017 visit to teach the Vinaya.

Connecting with Shandao Temple

Meanwhile, Vens. Chodron and Damcho visited Shandao Temple in Taipei at the invitation of abbot Ven. Dahui, who was one of the preceptors at the full ordination. A broad-minded practitioner interested in other Buddhist traditions, he had read and appreciated Ven. Chodron’s books in Chinese.

 They spent most of the afternoon having a stimulating discussion about practice in the Chinese and Tibetan traditions, and were joined by director Ven. Rucheng who shared his expertise as a chant-leader. We hope the connection between Sravasti Abbey and Shandao Temple will continue to grow in the future!

See photos here from the second half of the ordination platform and subsequent travels in Taiwan. Read an article in Buddhistdoor magazine about the significance of this ordination for the Abbey sangha: Fourfold Sangha: Five Nuns from Sravasti Abbey in the US Receive Full Bhikshuni Ordination in Taiwan.

Dharma Instruments

At Sravasti Abbey, we practice according to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and receive monastic precepts from the Chinese Buddhist tradition. As such, we chant in the Chinese Buddhist style twice a week as part of our evening practice and during monastic rituals.

While in Taiwan, Vens. Chodron and Damcho thus began looking for Chinese Dharma instruments for the future Buddha Hall. The abbess of Pu Yi Nunnery connected them with a wood carver who makes stands for Dharma instruments.

He brought them to a workshop to test a large gong and wooden fish (sometimes called a Chinese temple block or wooden bell that is decorated with fish-shaped carvings). A kind benefactor heard about this and stepped forward without hesitation to offer the gong and wooden fish, along with their cushions and stands, to the Abbey.

Subsequently, Ven. Hongding, the monastery manager at Fo En Si temple, which hosted the full ordination, asked if they might be looking for other Dharma instruments. Vens. Chodron and Damcho shared how inspired they were by the sound of the large morning bell and evening drum at her temple.

Ven. Hongding enthusiastically took them to visit more artisans, and offered to lead her disciples and lay followers to sponsor the bell and drum for the Buddha Hall. She also offered a large gong and wooden fish that will go into the Posadha Room.

She said, “We hope to send this beautiful and virtuous practice of chanting to Sravasti Abbey in the USA, to have such beautiful melodies and chanting in America, to bring inspiration to a foreign land so that the sentient beings and their lay supporters there can benefit from it, just like us.”

The full set of large Dharma instruments and their stands should be ready to ship at the end of June. They will need a home to live in and share the sound of the Dharma widely. Please help us to finish the Buddha Hall!

Progress on the Buddha Hall

Construction teams are coming closer to finishing the Buddha Hall every day! Even when the building itself is finished, there will be much more to do, but for now, we rejoice to be able to see it gradually heading to completion.

 Interior Painting:

Both floors of the Buddha Hall are now painted—white in the main hall, light green in the Tara Room, light blue in the Posadha Room, soft yellow in the Dedication Room—and they’re beautiful. The finish carpenters are building and installing faux beams for the Tara and Posadha Rooms and the Main Hall.

Bathrooms & Infrastructure:

Electricians are installing light fixtures, and the bathrooms are now equipped with partitions and toilets. Sinks and countertops will come soon. Excavators are working on the sand filters, the water tanks at the top of the meadow, and the septic system.

 Woodwork:

Concurrently, teams are assembling and installing door frames, baseboards, and windowsills. We appreciate their care and skill in creating these beautiful wooden accents. Eventually, you will see the exceptional work they have done to deal with the complex angles in the ceilings.

Roof Ornaments:

The framers built a raised platform for the ganjiras (spires) that will sit on top of the Buddha Hall. While the added height is needed for venting, a wonderful side effect is that it makes the ganjiras more visible from many more locations. One worker thinks they could be seen from nearby Hoodoo Mountain!

 So much effort and energy has been and continues to be invested in the Buddha Hall. Countless people for many generations to come will benefit from using this well-designed and beautiful building to learn, meditate, and practice the Buddha’s teachings.

Click here to see photos of the recent progress.

$216,000 Finish the Buddha Hall Challenge:

As we get closer to completing the Buddha Hall, three generous donors want to help. They’ve offered $216,000 ($108k + $108k) and challenge Abbey friends to match their Finish the Buddha Hall offering by July 9.

 All Buddha Hall gifts received now through Vesak Day (May 23) and Wheel-turning Day (July 9) will go toward the challenge. Watch for more info as the Friends of Sravasti Abbey reach out to invite your support.

Thank you for the tremendous effort that has brought construction this far. Together, we’ll finish the Buddha Hall and enjoy learning and practicing the Dharma together in it!

Sharing the Dharma Day

On a beautiful, sunny April 14, the Abbey hosted our first Sharing the Dharma Day of 2024. To our surprise, there were more new people than people we knew! All seemed eager to connect with us and explore Buddhist meditation and teachings.

Ven. Semkye set the stage with a moving meditation on how to replace our habitual judgmental attitudes with compassionate thoughts such as, “That person looks unhappy. May he be well and happy.” Watch the meditation here.

This created a perfect segue for Ven. Khadro’s heartfelt teaching on Chapter 64 of An Open-Hearted Life on slowing down and giving space when powerful emotions arise, threatening to derail our practice of compassion. Nods and comments from listeners reflected the value of this important message. Watch the teaching here.

In the afternoon, Ven. Tsepal led a discussion on how to apply this teaching in our lives. People shared thoughtful comments, leaving us feeling nourished and rejuvenated in our practice. Photos are here.

Join us on Mother’s Day for the next Sharing the Dharma Day on May 12. Bring your mom (and dad), too!

WSU Journalism Field Trip

FāVS News editor and journalism professor Tracy Simmons brought up a batch of Washington State University (WSU) students for an overnight field trip to help broaden the students’ views on religion.

We had a wonderful time interviewing them and being interviewed. These budding journalists had probing questions and were intrigued with Buddhism and the workings of a monastic community.

They were especially fascinated with our newest nuns, marveling that anyone so young would be willing to take on monastic life.

Read WSU junior Lizzie Stout’s reflection on her visit, Weekend at Sravasti Abbey for Religion Reporting Project, and Professor Simmons’ surprising experience following her visit in Teaching Religious Literacy in the Face of Intolerance. See photos of the visit here.

Kindness and Equanimity at North Idaho College

Two carloads of monastics took the one-hour drive to Coeur d’Alene, ID for our first in-person Dharma talk at North Idaho College (NIC) since 2019, before the pandemic forced us to move these bi-annual talks to Zoom.

We were delighted to personally connect with the folks who came to hear Ven. Sangye Khadro speak on “A Fearless Heart.”

Naming kindness as one of her favorite topics, Ven. Khadro identified empathy, kindness, and compassion as essential qualities for happiness, peace, and well-being. We have all received kindness, she noted, and have given it as well. But sometimes, we find it’s not easy to care.

Drawing from scientific research and Buddhist ideas, she described how empathy, kindness, and compassion relate to each other, the advantages of developing them, and ways to do so. Watch the talk here and download the supporting slides here.

The next day, Vens. Ngawang and Gyatso gave a refreshing presentation at NIC on the sameness of ourselves and others. Ven. Ngawang spoke about the many ways we’re more similar than different, and Ven. Gyatso led the supporting meditations.

Everyone then buddied up with a “stranger” across the room to share joys and struggles. After this five-minute exercise, participants immediately felt more similar to and connected to the other person. See photos from both NIC events here.

Prison Work Updates

As many corrections facilities are tightening their restrictions on materials that enter the prisons, the Sravasti Abbey Prison Project Team is figuring out new ways to ensure Dharma materials are available for interested inmates.

Each state has different requirements. We are rejoicing at Georgia’s unique central library borrowing system, which allows any inmate in the state to request the delivery of our books to their facility from Georgia’s centralized prison library. Also, Sravasti Abbey has become a non-profit used book vendor with Washington State’s Department of Corrections, allowing us to send materials more freely to people incarcerated in our state.

The Prison Dharma team sends boxes of books to prison chaplains who make them available to any incarcerated individual with access to the library. Often, letters from more inmates then start coming to the Abbey requesting more materials, like our quarterly newsletter, malas, DVDs, CDs, books, etc. It’s exciting to see this project flourish and impact so many people in deep ways, opening their minds to the Dharma and transforming lives.

Vens. Jigme and Ngawang have been leading two Buddhist groups twice a month at Washington’s Airway Heights Corrections Center for about a year. Following Venerable Khadro’s book, How to Meditate, participants are learning the basics of meditation, the Buddhist worldview, and various antidotes to afflictions.

Classes include concentration and analytical meditations, a Dharma talk, Q&A session, and discussion. Participants share many inspiring examples of “transforming problems into happiness,” and it is obvious they are benefiting greatly from the Dharma.

The Fig Tree‘s 40th Anniversary Celebration

Vens. Semkye, Rinchen, and Gyatso attended an interfaith 40th anniversary celebration for Spokane’s major interfaith newspaper, The Fig Tree, which reports on the enormous number of virtuous activities done by faith communities in NE Washington for social justice, environmental stewardship, and advocacy for the poor.

The Abbey monastics spoke of the symbolism of the bodhi tree, chanted the four immeasurables and offered a small bodhi tree to one of The Fig Tree co- founder, Mary Stamp (above; photo credit: Gen Heywood). The Abbey also offered an interfaith banner with words of compassion, harmony, and kindness to the host church, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral.

Last year, The Fig Tree ran an article celebrating the Abbey’s 20th anniversary.

Attention Young Adults!

After several recent wonderful visits with young people, we’re looking forward to our annual Young Adults Explore Buddhism program, June 14 to 20. Please share this flyer with inquisitive people you know, aged 18 to 29, who seek a deeper meaning for their lives and for the planet.

See a series of short, engaging promo videos here.

Watch teachings and meditations from the 2023 program here.

More News

  • Forest Mantras: Ven. Desal of Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archives gifted the Abbey a micro disc of Lama Zopa’s chants to play in our forest and plant Dharma seeds on the minds of the animals and insects living there. It is solar powered, and Vens. Losang and Gyatso built an enclosure to prevent water from entering (see below).

  • Ven. Sangye Khadro in Spain: Europeans take note! Ven. Sangye Khadro is currently teaching at multiple FPMT centers across Spain through June 2. Take a rare opportunity to join her in-person if you can. Some talks are streamed, as well, and all include Spanish translation. Info is on our website.
  • Getting Honest About Attachment: Ven. Tsepal led a wonderful retreat on attachment at the end of April. We’ll tell you more next month, but the teachings are available now on our YouTube channel.
  • Watch these Dharma teachings now available on YouTube:

    Eight Worldly Concerns with Ven. Chodron at the Ocean of Compassion Buddhist Center in Campbell, CA on Feb. 28
    Remembering the Kindness of the Guru – Lama Yeshe & Lama Zopa Rinpoche with Ven. Chodron for Tushita Meditation Centre as part of their 2024 Days of Miracles celebration
    When Nothing Goes Your Way with Ven. Damcho for Buddhist Fellowship in Singapore

Upcoming Events

Here’s what’s happening in May & June:

Now – June 2: Ven. Sangye Khadro in Spain, in person teachings in seven cities

May 4: Working with Anger, online with Ven. Thubten Chodron, 4 pm Pacific Time

May 4-25, Saturdays: Four Establishments of Mindfulness, on Zoom with Ven. Thubten Damcho, 7 pm Pacific Time

May 6 & 13: Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions, online with Ven. Thubten Chodron, 11 am Pacific Time

May 12: Sharing the Dharma Day, in person at the Abbey

May 18: Offering Service Saturday, in person at the Abbey

May 18: Staying Calm in the Face of Challenges, Ven. Thubten Chodron, live in Walla Walla, WA

May 19: Medicine Buddha Puja, online with Abbey monastics

May 24-27: Good Karma, Memorial Day Weekend Retreat with Ven. Thubten Chodron at the Abbey

May 29: Compassion for a Happier Mind online with Ven. Thubten Chodron for Dönüşen Zihin (Transforming Mind) in Turkey

June 9: Sharing the Dharma Day, in person at the Abbey

June 14-20: Young Adults Explore Buddhism, in person at the Abbey

Plus weekly teachings online:

Following in the Buddha’s Footsteps with Ven. Thubten Chodron, Fridays, 6 pm Pacific Time

The Rice Seedling Sutra online with Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe, Tuesdays, 9 am Pacific Time, starting May 14

Check the Abbey’s Events Page for more talks, retreats & courses!