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Turkeys, flowers, veggies, buildings, knowledge, and merit—everything is growing at Sravasti Abbey this summer! Rejoice with us and read on.

Wishing you, too, much spiritual growth as you cultivate love and compassion.
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey Community

Exploring Monastic Life

Our eighth annual Exploring Monastic Life (EML) program drew a great group of participants—many of them in their twenties and thirties—who are sincerely looking into monastic ordination. Each morning I gave a talk about monastic life, followed by a group discussion.

The discussions were potent; we talked openly about many topics in order to clear out old baggage, the things that could impede living happily as a monastic: our afflictions, previous use of intoxicants, expectations for worldly success, and so on. In an open and trusting atmosphere people were able to look at thorny issues and gain clarity.

Through the discussions the group bonds closely as it becomes obvious that we all share the same beautiful spiritual aspirations and face similar obstacles. The purpose of the monastic community becomes clear—our mutual support is essential to the growth of all.

Nathan from Spokane summed it up in a note to Venerable Chodron at the end of the program. You might enjoy reading his reflections.

In the afternoons we offered service: forest and garden work, repairing the wooden logs of the meditation hall, making applesauce, picking knapweed, and so on. These group projects provided time for casual conversations about Dharma topics. EML concluded with hilarious skits in the garden. People played each other, bringing forth peals of laughter as we poked fun at ourselves.

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Chenrezig Hall

Last month, you saw our contract signing ceremony with George Weaver of Alpha & Omega Construction. In August Venerable Tarpa and George have been working together, lining up the various engineers, beginning the process of getting the many permits, choosing the building materials, designing the commercial kitchen, and so forth.

Chenrezig Hall is much more complicated to build than Gotami House was. It’s nearly three times the size and is a “commercial building,” whereas Gotami House was a residence. Chenrezig Hall requires input from structural, mechanical, electrical, and other engineers, who will design the geothermal heating system, septic system, ventilation, propane gas for cooking, and so forth. All the equipment for the commercial kitchen must be chosen and the kitchen designed in order to get the permit from the health department and to do the plumbing and electrical rough-in.

The back wall, which is dug into the hillside, will be of concrete, while the other three sides will be fazwall, a green product that vastly extends the life of the building and provides excellent insulation as well. A big plus: carpenter ants don’t like to live in it!

When I ordained 35 years ago, I never imagined building a monastery in the West and having to learn about the many things involved in doing so. But they say that bodhisattvas will learn anything to benefit sentient beings, so that is a comfort when we go from choosing building materials to thinking about their ultimate nature.

As the elements of our building plans have become more specific, our estimation of the final cost has become clearer: $2 million. At present about a third of that amount has been donated. Meanwhile the Chenrezig mantra count to generate merit is over 12 million. The dedications you send in when you send in your mantra count are so inspiring. We feel your support and good wishes, and hope that you feel ours as well. Chenrezig Hall is for you. 

We did a lovely blessing of the land before excavation began. The Abbey residents and guests gathered on the construction site. There we made offerings and prayers for the other beings with whom we share the land, and asked all the moles, voles, ants, and so forth to please relocate their families before the bulldozers arrived. Carrying sticks of incense as a symbol of pure ethical conduct, we circumambulated the construction site chanting om mani padme hum. To conclude, we gathered near where a large Kuan Yin (Chenrezig) statue will abide in the completed hall and recited the “King of Prayers.”

All of us felt that our minds were transformed, and we dedicated the merit for the benefit of all beings, especially our donors, supporters, volunteers, neighbors, and all the other beings on the land. Construction commenced August 23 , with bulldozers, rigs, and dump trucks in the meadow as we all looked on with hope (and prayers)!

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Volunteers and Sharing the Dharma Day

Last month we told you about our Volunteer Appreciation Day. When honoring our volunteers, some of them spontaneously spoke about what volunteering at the Abbey has meant to them. A video camera happened to be on hand, and so we were able to record some of these. Mike, Laresa, Kathy, & Bill, who have been attending Dharma classes and helping the Abbey for some years now, share their experiences.

If you’re interested in volunteering at the Abbey or from home, please contact the volunteer coordinator.

August’s Sharing the Dharma Day had over 25 guests, most from our local area and some visiting the Northwest during summer holidays. I gave a talk on how we form and then cling to our identities, which led to thoughtful discussions after lunch and during the discussion period.

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Guests and Projects

Zach from Portland stayed with us for six weeks this summer. He took the opportunity to really go into the Dharma and asked fantastic questions. His visit culminated with his taking refuge and precepts.

Venerable Jigme’s nephew, Shane from Colorado, also stayed with us for a few weeks. A skilled carpenter—he was the one who made the large Sravasti Abbey sign that you see as you drive up Country Lane—he carved beautiful wooden signs for many of our trails . His visit also concluded with a refuge and precept ceremony.

Ruby from Singapore is spending two months with us, and enjoys learning to plant trees and to care for the forest—outdoor work that Singaporeans rarely do in their bustling city-nation. Susan from Philadelphia returned to spend another three months with us.

Lee, a WWOOFer (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) spent two weeks volunteering at the Abbey, working in the garden and forest. We were delighted and honored when our Dharma friend Diana Cutler from the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center also visited us for a few days.

Our forest health project continues. It is so beautiful to work in the forest in the summer, and contrary to working on the computer, you can visibly see the difference afterwards!

We have two new batches of baby turkeys near the Abbey, and lots more in the forest. The mother hens care for them constantly as they chirp and waddle all around the paths and into the tall grasses. This reminds us of the compassion of all mother sentient beings.

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Teachings

Since Jeffrey Hopkins had to cancel his retreat at the Abbey in June due to health concerns, he very kindly offered to teach us via skype. So we are enthusiastically learning about the phrase of “emptiness is the meaning of dependent arising.” It’s fascinating.

I also began a new set of Dharma talks on the seven types of cognition, objects of cognition, and the divisions of phenomena. We’re discussing how we know objects, reliable and unreliable mental states, and the categories of existent phenomena. Learning this will help a great deal when we begin studying Buddhist philosophical tenets, the topic that will follow in the Thursday evening teachings. These teachings are streamed live every week at 6 pm Pacific time. You’ll find the archived teachings on YouTube,

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SAFE Course Resumes September 10

Sravasti Abbey Friends Education (SAFE), our online, distance learning program, resumes September 10. We’re repeating Courses 1 and 2—Introducing the Buddha’s Teaching and Renunciation—and launching Course 3—Bodhicitta.

The program focuses on personal transformation through studying and practicing the Buddha’s teachings.

Evaluating his experience, Nick from South Africa wrote, “This has been a truly inspirational course. I am so happy that I have had the opportunity to be fortunate to be part of it. Over the last 12 weeks I have experienced a personal growth as well as spiritual growth. The amazing thing for me is the simple way in which the Dharma was presented. The questions were a brilliant conversation starter, and I enjoyed following the different discussions.”

A student in the US told us, “To sum up, I learned a lot, worked hard, practiced the best I knew how, and enjoyed the whole process. The course has helped me integrate Buddhism in my everyday life.”

You can learn more about the SAFE program on the Abbey’s website. Write the SAFE Coordinator to enroll in a fall course.

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More News

How do you practice when it feels like you can’t take one more thing on your plate? Mary Grace wrote to tell us how she is doing it.

Amanda tells us about the Dharma supporting her during cancer treatment and the opportunity for generosity.

Dani tells about her life as an anagarika (8 precept holder) at the Abbey and the value of a supportive community for training. Ken tells us about making a difference in the world.

Our friend Dermot McNevin wrote a dissertation on the “Role of Information Technology in Suicide Prevention,” where he spoke of the value of online communities for creating a sense of belonging and friendship in people’s lives. In this regard, he mentioned the Abbey, saying,

“The author has found an inspiring model for the self-help section, in the online spiritual teachings of Venerable Thubten Chodron and the community of Sravasti Abbey. This is a Buddhist Abbey based in the United States which broadcasts Buddhist teachings on an almost daily basis. It also broadcasts weekly in-depth teachings and hosts an archive of audio, text and video Dharma teachings. The nuns in Sravasti Abbey, through the guidance of Venerable Thubten Chodron, have built an online community that fosters contact and communication throughout the world, and even has an inmate program which reaches out to inmates in the prison system. Because Buddhism has at its basis the human mind, and how to work with difficult everyday situations in skilful ways, this example of using the internet to disseminate spiritual teachings is highly relevant. It helps people who are well, to stay well.

“As we’ve seen from our literature review and the Buddhist nuns in Sravasti Abbey, information systems can be used to build compassionate, positive online communities that create social networks, which allow peer groups to help each other and to share their experiences. By creating a “virtual” agency that gathers together the best resources on the net at any given time and disseminates these to its members.”

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