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nov15-message.jpgThe autumn colors at the Abbey sparkled, especially in the first half of October when we had balmy weather and deep blue skies that contrast with the red and yellow leaves. One exceptionally dark night near the time of the new moon, the electricity went out, and the entire Milky Way shone in the sky. There were so many stars that we could not see them individually; they became a glittering scarf above us. See Autumn photos here.

Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

Green Tara Retreat

The week-long Green Tara retreat was filled with Tara’s joyous energy. All the retreatants (nearly 30 of us) were Buddhist practitioners, so the teachings on the Tara sadhana and on Khunu Lama Rinpoche’s poem The Jewel Lamp: A Praise of Bodhicitta could be more in depth.

Kim led a fantastic yoga class each day that helped people to sit for a longer time with ease. In a silent retreat like this one, people get to know each other and bond in a different way, but just as closely. The weather was beautiful throughout the retreat, so break times were spent walking in the forest and reading on the deck of Chenrezig Hall.

Last month we told you we were in the process of buying our neighbor’s property. Escrow continued during the retreat, and I must say it’s more challenging to lead a retreat in those conditions than usual. However, I’m getting used to it. Twelve years ago when we purchased the current Abbey property, I was leading a retreat and we were also in escrow.

The Green Tara retreatants were enthusiastic about the purchase and followed all the twists and turns with us. They broke into applause and smiles when we announced that escrow had closed and the property was now ours. After the last session of the retreat, during which we generated aspiring bodhicitta, all of us walked down the road to chant and bless the new property.

I am preparing Khensur Jampa Tegchok’s commentary on Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland for publication, so we chanted Nagarjuna’s inspiring “Twenty Verses” from that text and then chanted the Praises to the 21 Taras and Tara’s mantra.

During the chanting, a truck from the metal recycling place arrived to remove some of the old metal scraps the sellers had left behind, so when the blessing was complete a few of us walked over to talk to them. One of the men knew the past owners from three decades ago and told us a little about the history of the pond on the land. Although they were not Buddhists, before we parted, they asked us to make prayers for their business. A very sweet connection.

– VTC

Watch the teachings here. See the photos here

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Tara’s Land

Escrow closed Thursday October 8, and we were able to take possession of the property—which we’ve named Tara’s Land—on October 15, after the sellers moved out. All the resident monastics lined up in procession as we entered the house. Someone sprinkled blessed water, the second person spread purifying incense, the third held a Buddha statue, followed by people holding pictures of our spiritual mentors and deities, and various offerings.

Having purified and blessed the house, we then went into the out buildings and walked the surrounding land, sprinkling blessed water and incense while chanting Tara’s mantra. We’re feeling the energy change as we bring the presence of the Dharma there.

The land is gorgeous: about 28 acres of forest and 29 acres of meadow. We have a lot of knapweed control to do, but are enthusiastic about returning the meadow to its natural grasses. We’ve consulted with the County Weed Board, and they have given us advice and are willing to help. We’ve also put “No Hunting” signs all around.

The house needs a lot of work, but it will give us more room. We’re busy putting on gutters for the rainwater, patching holes in the roof, removing scrap metal, and arranging for a radon system to be installed. We also plan to tear down some of the old out-buildings.

Many people responded to our announcement that escrow had closed, and we are very grateful for your kind donations that will help us with the purchase and renovations. Please come and visit as soon as you can!

– VTC

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Sharing the Dharma Day

We were about 40 people at the October Sharing the Dharma Day. The theme of the Dharma talk was Joyous Effort from verse 28 of “The Thirty-seven Practices of Bodhisattvas”:

Seeing even hearers and solitary realizers, who accomplish
Only their own good, strive as if to put out a fire on their head,
For the sake of all beings make enthusiastic effort
The source of all good qualities—
This is the practice of bodhisattvas

As usual, there was a thoughtful and open discussion in the afternoon. These discussions enable people to apply the teachings to their lives and to share their ideas about practice with their Dharma peers.

After the discussion, we again went to the new property to bless it, this time reading Nagarjuna’s “Twenty Verses” and chanting Chenrezig’s mantra.

– VTC

Watch the Dharma talk on Joyous Effort here. See photos here.

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21st Annual Western Buddhist Monastic Gathering

nov15wbmgFor over two decades, Western Buddhist monastics from many different Buddhist traditions have been meeting in fellowship to get to know each other and to talk about what it’s like to be a Buddhist monastic in the West.

The 21st gathering was held at Sravasti Abbey this year, fulfilling a dream we’ve had for many years. Until now, we haven’t had the space or the infrastructure to host a big gathering and to welcome an assembly of “those intent on virtue.”

It is due to your kindness, our supporters and volunteers, that we were able to host this gathering, and all the monastics who came expressed their gratitude to you. In fact, Abbey residents had to be careful not to get attached to the praise we received—so many people commented on the beauty of the Abbey and the land, and on the kindness and harmony they felt in our community.

The theme of this year’s gathering was “The Challenges and Joys of Monastic Life.” Throughout the week we shared about this on many levels, in organized sessions and private conversations. You can read more about that here.

One afternoon, everyone walked down to again bless Tara’s Land with incense, offerings, and chanting. It was inspiring to hear the Dharma in such a variety of languages and melodies, and we were delighted to hang prayer flags that some of the monastics had made.

I think the Buddha was smiling with joy witnessing us, his monastic disciples, meeting together harmoniously, discussing the Dharma, living the holy life, and working together as monastics to spread his teachings in the world. Here in the West, monastics are doing something that happens only infrequently in Asia: we gather as friends, sharing our thoughts and feelings with trust, empathy, and compassion and encouraging each other on the path to awakening.

– VTC

Photos are here. Venerable Chodron rejoices about the gathering in a Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talk. Watch talks by participants Ayya Anandabodhi, Rev. Vivian GruenenfelderBhikshu Haemin, and Venerable Losang Drimay.

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The Forest

We’re continuing to work in the forest as long as weather permits. Now the focus is on removing cords of wood from the forest and bucking up the remaining wood. We’ve been able to give wood away to some elderly people in the community—it feels good to help them—and other people have taken wood to heat their homes too.

Venerables Semkye, Samten, and Losang are attending an eight-week forest stewardship class offered by the Washington State University Forest Extension and are learning a lot. They love being with people who are passionate about protecting the environment and the animals in it, and will implement what they are learning in their work in our forests.

– VTC

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Prison Dharma Outreach

Venerable Tarpa made her last visit for 2015 to our local prison outside of Spokane to meet with the Buddhist group. There were a number of new men at both sessions, and the group continued to discuss and contemplate teachings on the Eightfold Noble Path.

In particular, Venerable Tarpa led them to delve into how “the importance of right view can be gauged from the fact that our perspectives on the crucial issues of reality and value have a bearing …[or] govern our attitudes, out actions, our whole orientation to existence.” This quote was the jumping-off point for valuable discussion in the group.

This year many inmates across the country will be joining in the annual Retreat From Afar. The Abbey currently corresponds with over 900 inmates , and many of them are very sincere, accomplished practitioners. Over and over again they write and tell us how prison is such a rich place in which to practice because there are so many who need compassion!

The inmates that join us in the Retreat From Afar do at least one meditation session a day and recite 108 mantras as their commitment. They receive weekly teachings from Venerable Chodron to read, study, and meditate on throughout the retreat.

People outside of prison can do the Retreat from Afar too! Go here to learn more.

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Walk in the Woods

At the invitation of our friend Muriel from Newport, five Abbey nuns made a day trip to the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars. Attractions on the two-hour hike included close-up views of the Granite Falls, and a detour into an idyllic pocket of 800-year-old cedars. Abbey forest steward Venerable Semkye identified plants for us along the way, and we were thrilled to see many yew trees flourishing in the forest.

After working up an appetite, we shared a picnic lunch and good conversation. Muriel mused that she gets so caught up with her daily life that she doesn’t make enough time to enjoy the beautiful scenic spots in our neighborhood, so an outing with the nuns was the perfect excuse to do so. We look forward to future walks!

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Sandpoint High School Visit

Thirty-eight students from Mr. Baranski’s cultural anthropology classes at Sandpoint High took a yellow bus to visit Sravasti Abbey and learn more about Tibet.

Venerable Chodron started off with tales of her travels in Asia and her experiences living with the Tibetan community in exile. The students then trooped to the Meditation Hall, where nuns took turns to introduce the different objects and activities that take place there.

Most of the group braved the chilly weather for a quick walk of the Abbey grounds, while others watched a video on the Abbey. Everyone then came together again for another session with Venerable Chodron on basic ideas in Tibetan Buddhism. The students chatted with the resident community and guests over a brown-bag lunch, some of them sharing their aspirations to travel and other hopes for the future. The visit ended with a guided meditation.

Our young guests told us they especially enjoyed listening to the monastics chanting, and many expressed a wish to return again. It was an enriching learning journey for everyone!

See photos on our Facebook page.

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More News

We delight in the variety of people who come to the Abbey. This month we had several Singaporean visitors (two were long-term), as well as long-term visitors from Denmark and France. Kuni, whose family is from Thailand, comes regularly with her relatives (pictured). The mixture of cultures and foods is wonderful, and the unity in the Dharma is heartfelt.

Venerable Tenpa in Russia has a strong connection with Venerable Chodron and Sravasti Abbey. He translates the video teachings and leads his Dharma study group, who participate in the Tara retreat from afar as well. The Russian Sravasti Abbey friends have launched their own website. See it here.

Venerable Samten made a short video describing the process of making and installing the stained glass window of Thousand-Arm Chenrezig that our friend, Beverly Brecht, made. Watch it here.

We heard from the previous owners that a 350 lb. bear is living on Tara’s Land on the hills above the house. Papa Bear—aka Berotsana the Bear—decided to check out the Abbey’s forest too, and Venerable Chodron spotted him in the woods one day. He didn’t see her, so she turned around and went up the path before he did. On another day, Venerable Jampa heard him walking around too. Another reason we’re very happy to have Tara’s Land is that now all the deer, bear, moose, and other living beings there will be safe from hunters.

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