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The days are getting shorter, but summer was still here for the first half of the month (aside from 3 days of much needed rain). Then, on the day autumn technically began, it actually began — within two weeks we’ve gone from temperatures in the 90s to those in the 50s. Given that this is the time when forest fire danger is at its highest, we’re grateful for the rain.

Autumn brings a special joy to Abbey life. May the season’s beautiful colors remind us of impermanence, which allows us to change and cultivate the qualities that lead to enlightenment.
Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

Labor Day Retreat & Sharing the Dharma Day

This year we again held a retreat on cultivating meditative concentration lo over Labor Day. A wonderful group attended and the meditation hall grew quite still during sessions. The teachings concerned identifying and then counteracting the five hindrances—sensual desire, malice, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and remorse, and afflictive doubt—and cultivating mindfulness and introspective awareness. People especially appreciated the afternoon session in which we alternated walking meditation with sitting meditation in the garden. This series of teachings is posted on our YouTube channel.

The following Sunday saw another crowd for Sharing the Dharma Day. Residents of our surrounding cities came and joined the guests from other states. The theme for this day was the 7th verse of “The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas” and the commentary in Don’t Believe Everything You Think that talks about refuge. This talk is also available online. The afternoon small group discussion focused on “taking refuge” in external desirable objects vs. taking refuge in the Three Jewels.

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Chenrezig Hall

Everyone is working all-out to complete the building—the electrician, plumber, fire systems technicians, carpenters, septic system builders—you name it, they’re all working. And we’re now in the phase where we’re focusing on the details.

At the end of a construction project, you enjoy the simple things in life, such as the purring of the concrete mixer and the tune of the stucco machine. You enjoy the roar of gravel trucks and treasure the slamming of porta-potty doors, knowing that in a few weeks you will not hear them again (at least until the next building project). The men laying the tile, carpet, and flooring are so quiet (sometimes) that you forget they’re there until they warn you that you can no longer walk through the building in your muddy shoes.

We especially like to watch the concrete pouring crew: a couple of brothers in their 70s, who clearly love their work and do a great job. They’ve been pouring door stoops and a parking space. (We’re at the end of a dirt road, but because Chenrezig Hall is a commercial building, a concrete handicapped parking space is required.)

The brothers are also helping us erect a reminder of impermanence on the pathway into the forest—a tree snag left from the Great Fire of 1910 that burned millions of acres in our region. It’s amazing to see what remains from that conflagration; much of it is hard charcoal that will last for years.

We’re also delighted to complete another project carried forward from years ago when some friends in Mexico offered us eight prayer wheels. Looking for the “perfect” place for them, we finally found it at the entrance to Chenrezig Hall, where they will welcome all the guests.

We had some excitement a few days ago when the fire marshal came for the final test of the fire suppression system, which failed due to a hole one of the workers from another crew had unknowingly put in the water pipes in the attic. The pressurized water surged through the pipes and poured through the upstairs ceiling and into a couple of rooms upstairs, then went down the wall and into a couple of rooms and the hallway downstairs. Fortunately the local company that laid our flooring also works with water damage, and they came out right away. They had to remove portions of the ceiling, drywall, insulation, and flooring in some of the upstairs and downstairs rooms.

We’re lucky that people were in the building and someone heard the water running and immediately turned it off. The damage could have been a lot worse. Nevertheless, getting occupancy will now be a ways away. Our contractor, who thought he was almost done with our project—and who needs to get another building finished for other people before Christmas—will still be here for a while. Insurance should cover the costs of repairs, which will be considerable.

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Our 10th Anniversary Celebration

When I moved to the Abbey ten years ago with my two cats, I had no idea how things would develop. Founding a monastery and its subsequent growth depend on so many factors: Who would help with practical issues? Who would ordain? Although I had many ideas, how they would be enacted depended on many circumstances that I had no control over. But looking back now, I believe that the Abbey has developed well.

There is a harmonious community of people—ordained and lay—who are really practicing the Dharma and transforming their minds. There is support for our life requisites of food, shelter, clothing, and medicine. The Abbey is accepted in our local community and is active in helping it. There is a study program as well as many guest teachers, and more and more people from all walks of life are taking interest in the Buddha’s teachings. So there was a lot to celebrate, and we were delighted that almost 60 people came to rejoice with us at the 10th Anniversary Celebration.

Some of the residents put together a great video showing the development of the Abbey, including old pics and interviews with many people who were involved even before we found the land. We were especially delighted that many of the people involved in constructing Chenrezig Hall came to the celebration—the excavator and his wife, one of the carpenters and his wife, someone who helped with the septic system, and a teller from our local bank to mention a few.

In the afternoon we took people on a tour of Chenrezig Hall and then gathered upstairs where Venerable Tarpa, the Abbey’s liaison, and George, the contractor from Alpha & Omega Construction, talked about the building and answered questions. And when we chanted the dedication prayers at the end of the day the sound of our voices joining together reverberated throughout Chenrezig Hall.

Wee Chiang and Dekyi, friends from nearly halfway around the world, wrote us: “Congratulations again on the 10thAnniversary of Sravasti Abbey! We watched the 10th Anniversary video and are very happy that the causes and conditions have come together through the years to enable Sravasti Abbey to grow from just an idea to establish itself and be so successful. The story of how His Holiness wept after hearing about the difficulties faced by the Western Sangha, and told the gathering of Sangha that they must go out and do something to help themselves, is very moving. That the Abbey has received so much help and support from those who appear in the video, and from others around the world, is also due to the seeds of kindness and virtue that you have planted around the world. May the seeds planted continue to bear fruits to help the Abbey grow and benefit living beings, which in turn will plant new virtuous seeds to benefit even more people.”

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Teaching by Dagri Rinpoche

I’ve known Dagri Rinpoche for many years, but it was only now that he was able to come to the Abbey with his attendant, Venerable Tenzin, and my old friend Venerable Steve, who is now an excellent Tibetan-English translator. Rinpoche’s four-day visit was a whirlwind of activity that left us all inspired.

Rinpoche gave beautiful teachings on emptiness and tantra (they’re online here) before giving the 1000-armed Chenrezig initiation, and Venerable Tenzin showed Venerable Semkye and other nuns how to set up the elaborate altar and offerings prior to the initiation.

The Meditation Hall was full with 40-45 people here for the weekend. Although we were crowded in the kitchen and dining room, we were also rejoicing that this would be one of the last retreats in those circumstances.

We had requested Rinpoche to consecrate the new Kuan Yin statue that is still in the crate until Chenrezig Hall is finished and her pedestal in the entry way is complete. Rinpoche responded by giving the first teaching and having the first puja in Chenrezig Hall. So while machines purred in the background (you come to love the sound of a backhoe, drills, etc. because it means you’re that much closer to completion), Rinpoche gave us the oral transmission for “The Inseparability of the Spiritual Master and Avalokiteshvara” and instructions on how to meditate on this practice.

He then consecrated the Kuan Yin statue and the prayer wheels outside the entrance. All this finished just in time for Rinpoche, Venerable Tenzin, and Venerable Steve to put the final items in their suitcases and depart for the airport.

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Week-long Chenrezig Retreat

About 35 people did the weeklong Chenrezig retreat following Rinpoche’s visit. Meditating on Chenrezig just after receiving the initiation was powerful, and people were very committed to the practice. I also gave teachings on “Parting from the Four Clingings,” a short text that succinctly points out where we can fool ourselves in spiritual practice. Teachings on the Chenrezig practice and “Parting from the Four Clingings” are on the web for you to watch.

Later on the same day as the mini-flood in Chenrezig Hall, another exciting thing happened: the second Kuan Yin statue we got from China arrived. It is 3.5 feet tall and made of bronze. Kuan Yin is seated on an elephant in the aspect of Samanthabhadra. We carried the statue into Chenrezig Hall’s multi-purpose room, set up an altar and made offerings, and then consecrated the statue. After that we chanted om mani padme hum —the sound resonating beautifully in the room—while each person offered a kata. We asked Larry, who has been with the Chenrezig Hall building crew from the beginning, to come as well. Larry resonates with what the Abbey is all about and he gladly joined us to welcome Kuan Yin.

We’re very grateful to Jean, who volunteered to cook during Rinpoche’s teachings and the retreat. She came all the way from Singapore to offer service, and we were well nourished by her cooking, which was sprinkled with care.

After ten full days with Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion, we’re all glowing.

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In the Community

Beginning in the summer and continuing into December, one monastic each month is going to Seattle for a weekend to give talks at Dharma Friendship Foundation. The summer session of the meditation group at the UU Church in Spokane concluded, and a new fall session begins next week. This past session on cultivating compassion really spoke to people’s hearts; many of the participants told us how they were transformed by it. A new series of Dharma talks—one each month—also recently began in Coeur d’Alene and will continue into January.

The Abbey holds a seat on the Board of Youth Emergency Services (YES) in our local town of Newport. YES works to find shelter for the approximately 100 homeless teens in our county(!) and to support them so they can stay in school. We prepare backpacks with schools supplies that are given to the homeless teens at the beginning of the school year. Now we’re looking for winter coats and boots that they so badly need for our upcoming snowy winters. We love working with other people in Newport to do this.

The Sravasti Abbey community extends internationally. In Singapore there’s a team of people that translates some of the Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talks into Chinese and put them on the web with Chinese voice-overs. They met in September and wrote us, “It was a great meeting because we chatted like old friends and shared our experience with Buddhism and how we started in the first place. It lasted for 4 hours! We definitely want to visit the Abbey together one day!” You can view the talks and read the transcripts in Chinese.

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Comings & Goings

Venerable Samten has been away from the Abbey since August 24. Her aged mother was injured in a fall, so she returned to Alberta, Canada to be with her. We missed her a lot and were glad, that after four weeks, she returned to the Abbey for Dagri Rinpoche’s teachings.

Jane, Venerable Semkye’s sister from Vermont, visited us for a week. Having been here several times before, Jane is now part of the extended Abbey community, and her visits are almost as much to be at the Abbey as to see her sister.

WWOOF-er Andrew was also with us for a week to offer service and experience the community. The evening before he departed, all of us got into a debate about predetermination and the nature of mind. It was a stimulating discussion, and Venerables Tarpa, Tsultrim, and I appreciated talking about something besides construction! Tom, a young man from Spokane, was also visiting at the time.

Some people came early for—and others have stayed after—the Chenrezig teachings and retreat, so we’ve enjoyed a steady stream of visitors this month.

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More News

For those of you following the conversation about bhikkhuni ordination, Bhikkhu Analayo’s paper, published in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, examines the legal validity of the revival of the Theravadin bhikkhuni “ordination that began with the ordination in Bodhgaya” in 1998. Check it out here.

Ken writes about practicing generosity “for the right reasons.”

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