Needless to say, the biggest event this past month was the Abbey’s evacuation due to the Oregon Road Fire just a couple of miles down the road. Thank you so much for all your prayers and support during that unforgettable week!
Meanwhile, a few Abbey nuns were still in India participating in the ongoing International Bhikshuni Varsa.
Read on for more…
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron & the Sravasti Abbey Community
Guests had all arrived Friday afternoon, ready for Geshe Chodrak’s weekend retreat on overcoming our mental afflictions, when we saw billowing clouds of smoke coming from Elk, a small town near us. A strong wind was quickly spreading the fire, rapidly filling the valley in front of us with smoke. We knew it was time to prepare to evacuate.
Thank Goodness for Planning!
Ven. Tsultrim had organized a plan for evacuation a few years ago and we had practiced doing it, and now it was the real thing. The guests helped us get ready and then left for home. The sheriff soon arrived and instructed us to leave immediately; he was pleased to know that we were ready and willing to follow his instructions!
The Kindness of Our Hosts
Our fire evacuation plan contained the names and addresses of people who offered to host us in such an event, so we jumped in the cars—24 residents and four cats—and off we went, dispersed in homes in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. The kindness of those who housed, fed, and cared for us for the next week was incredible, and we are forever grateful.
Thanks for Your Prayers
So many people prayed and did pujas for the Abbey. Watch portions of this puja done by the Druk Amitabha nuns at their nunnery in Nepal. Meanwhile, the community recited the Ratana Sutta (Jewel Sutta) and the heart mantra of Vairocana to protect the Abbey and all the animals and other beings we share the land with. Friends of Sravasti Abbey in Singapore also recited the Ratana Sutta.
One supporter wrote, “I am happy to hear all Abbey residents, including the kitties, are safe. Thank you for the instruction to recite the Jewel Sutta, which concluded with ‘By this assertion of the truth, may there be safety.’ May all beings be free of suffering from climate-caused natural disasters, such as fires, hurricanes, and floods.”
The community had several Zoom calls so that we could stay in touch with one another and use the Dharma to process the experience. The theme that permeated these discussions was gratitude for all those who took us into their homes at a moment’s notice and were generous in their care. On the first such Zoom call, we were graced with the presence of Buddha Bear (see photo at right).
The Kindness of Our Firefighters
The skill, dedication, and tremendous efforts of the firefighting crews created the causes and conditions for the fire to be contained, and exactly one week later we were able to return home to Sravasti Abbey, appreciating our opportunity to continue Dharma practice together as a community.
Anastasija, a guest from Switzerland who evacuated with the community, shared her reflections on impermanence while setting the motivation before a meditation during the evacuation.
Our long-term friend MG from Seattle was visiting the Abbey to attend the Working with Afflictive Minds Part 3 Retreat when the fire broke out and all short-term guests had to evacuate immediately. She wrote this reflection on her experience for her school community.
A Request: Used Cell Phones
One thing we learned during the fire evacuation is that many of our oldest phones are not up for the task of keeping us connected during an emergency.
The Abbey is therefore in need of used cell phones that accept a physical SIM card and can be used on the AT&T network, ideally 2020 or more recent models. We will use these phones primarily for emergencies or when people are away from the Abbey.
If you have questions or would like to check whether your old phone could be helpful to us, please write [email protected].
The Buddha Hall
There have been many more subcontractors onsite this month, all contributing to the myriad components needed to build the Buddha Hall. See the most recent photo gallery here.
Here are some of the main developments:
- The construction crew began building the sand filters needed for the septic system.
- Painters stained the exterior wood columns and beams a warm reddish-brown color that beautifully complements the golden color of the stucco on the outer walls.
- Electricians continued to install conduit; very interesting shapes of duct work are working their way between the floor joists of the lower floor.
- The drywall team has been installing a sound isolation system to ensure sound will not travel between the floors, and they laid insulation in the ceiling of the lower floor.
- Workers arrived to install the fire suppression system, which, due to the size of the building, will take many weeks to complete.
- Two concrete pours on the walls of the teacher’s wing made it ready for the framers to build the roof.
- Crews also poured concrete for the walkway and for the upper floor deck. You’ll love the view from that deck!
Work on the Buddha Hall was paused for the week we were evacuated and commenced again the last week of August.
Support the Grand Entrance
Friends of Sravasti Abbey continue to invite generosity to raise the roof on the Buddha Hall. See Heather’s video inviting your support for the “Grand Entrance,” the main entryway where the deer and Dharma wheel will welcome all who enter the Buddha Hall, signifying Buddha’s first teaching when he “set the wheel of Dharma in motion.”
How fortunate we are to have met those teachings! The Buddha Hall will be a place where we can learn, study, and practice those teachings to benefit ourselves and the world.
Framing the 21 Tara Thangkas
Our friends around the world enthusiastically responded to the opportunity to frame the beautiful paintings of the 21 Taras.
Vens. Pema and Semkye took them to a frame shop in Coeur d’Alene for professional framing. Connie, the owner of the Great Frame Up, generously gave the Abbey a discount on the series of sacred artwork and was overjoyed to see the paintings in person.
The thangkas returned to the Abbey a few days ago and are now protected by museum-quality framing. Many thanks to those of you who donated to this meritorious project!
International Bhikshuni Varsa: The First Half
Vens. Damcho and Chonyi spent most of August at the International Bhikshuni Varsa at the Great Shravasti Buddhist Cultural Centre in India. Ven. Tsepal joined them mid-month and will stay through to the end to lead the closing ceremonies.
Conceived and sponsored by His Holiness Drikung Kagyu Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, the Varsa revives an ancient tradition near the holy site of the Jetavana Monastery where the Buddha spent 25 summer rains retreats.
About 130 nuns from Bhutan, Nepal, India, Vietnam, Taiwan, and a few Western countries came to study and practice together, including 30 or so who received the historic bhikshuni ordination in Bhutan in 2022.
The 6-week program covers the Three Higher Trainings of the Buddhist path: ethics, concentration, and wisdom. The Abbey has had a key role in sharing teachings from the Vinaya (the monastic ethical guidelines) and leading the monastic ceremonies. The faculty also includes Khenmo Drolma of Vajradakini Nunnery as the principal organizer and Ven. Guo Goang of Dharma Drum Mountain as the presiding abbess.
Read more about the International Bhikshuni Varsa in this post on our website and see more photos here. Watch Ven. Chonyi’s Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talk “Making History at the International Bhikshuni Varsa.”
Click here to watch this beautiful video summarizing the opening ceremony based on a longer version produced by Gompa Services, which you can view by creating an account and scrolling down to the International Varsa listing.
Four-Armed Chenrezig Retreat
Venerable Sangye Khadro enthusiastically led the Abbey’s annual deity retreat, this year focused on Four-Armed Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion.
She gave detailed instructions on both methods to develop bodhicitta: the seven-point cause and effect and the equalizing and exchanging self and others method. She also introduced the tonglen practice and ended with commentary on Nagarjuna’s Tale of the Wish-Fulfilling Dream.
Community members took turns leading the Four-Armed Chenrezig practice, including meditations on topics such as equanimity, loving-kindness, compassion, and the kindness of our mothers.
Guests and community members also benefited from insightful group discussions that explored the disadvantages of self-centeredness, the benefits of generosity, and other lamrim topics. Participants used the Q&A sessions to ask practical questions about applying the Chenrezig practice and compassion in their daily lives.
Everyone recognized the preciousness and rarity of spending an entire week infusing our hearts with the beautiful energy of Chenrezig. We will post these teachings on our YouTube channel in the near future. Click here for photos from the retreat.
Offering Service Saturday
With members of the community, guests who had just finished the week-long Chenrezig retreat, and local volunteers, the Abbey had a team of over 25 people bring their joyous effort to serve the Three Jewels in this month’s Offering Service Saturday.
While a number of friends were busy rolling mantras for the Buddha Hall statues, another team focused their service at Tara’s Refuge, the land down the road. There, people painted the front entryway of the small house, cleared and pruned the old plum orchard, and worked on a new walking path around the turtle pond.
The transformation was visible to all, as was the satisfaction of the people that worked so hard to beautify the Abbey.
Sharing the Dharma Day
The topic this month was the chapter in An Open-Hearted Life entitled “Compassion as an Antidote to Low Self-Esteem.” Watch Ven. Chodron’s talk on this subject, and click here to watch Ven. Sangye Khadros’ guided meditation on fear of compassion.
Low self-esteem is a problem prevalent in our culture, starting when we’re young and we’re taught to compete with others and compare ourselves to them, complemented by religious sermons emphasizing original sin. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was astonished when he heard all the successful people at a conference confess that they suffered from low self-esteem, as Tibetans do not seem to suffer from this as Westerners do.
In the afternoon, participants discussed the role that putting themselves down played in their lives and shared ideas of how to break through these habitual mistaken thoughts.
Sravasti Abbey Friends Education
Sravasti Abbey Friends Education (SAFE) is a facilitated online study program to learn Buddha’s teachings. Courses are progressive, starting with an introduction to meditation practice and the Buddhist worldview, followed by courses on karma, refuge, renunciation, bodhicitta, the six perfections, and many more topics.
If you want to develop a foundation for Dharma practice and connect with like-minded people around the world, these 12-week courses provide rich opportunities to do so. Everyone begins with SAFE 1A. Read more about this online program on our website and register soon. Registration is limited.
If you are interested in resuming your SAFE studies, please write to [email protected]. All SAFE courses will begin September 18, 2023.
Lots of Teachings
Ven. Sangye Khadro spoke about fear in her monthly talk to the Sandpoint Sangha. Fear can easily hijack our minds during our lives as well as when we approach death, especially if it happens in a sudden, unexpected way. She shared methods for dealing with fear from the Buddha’s teachings and Rick Hanson’s book, Buddha’s Brain.
It was a timely topic, given the 11,000-acre fire that was raging in our area. One woman expressed gratitude for the advice, as she had spent several days worried about having to evacuate with her horse in case the fire came close to her property.
Talk on Joy and Rest for Vajrayana Institute
Ven. Chodron gave a talk on “Cultivating Joy and Rest” for Vajrayana Institute in Australia. A big impediment to feeling joy in our lives is our tendency to put ourselves down and fall into low self-esteem. She discussed how to see through these unrealistic and unbeneficial mistaken conceptions about ourselves and appreciate our unique talents and abilities. This enables us to experience joy, and learning to live in a balanced way instead of seesawing to extremes. Thus we can continue serving others without getting exhausted. The video will eventually be posted on our YouTube channel.
Venerable Damcho’s Teachings in Singapore
On the way to and from the International Bhikshuni Varsa in India, Ven. Damcho stopped in Singapore to give talks (see photos here). Among them were “Stress at the Workplace” to Buddhist Fellowship Youth and “Harnessing Your Inner Wisdom” for the Buddhist Fellowship Sunday Service, which you can watch here.
She met the Friends of Sravasti Abbey Singapore and did prayers for safety of the Abbey and a short Tara practice to launch inviting generosity for the Tara Room. She also visited Blue Lion Preschool, which has a marvelous curriculum. Finally, she did a Q&A entitled “Let’s Talk Nunsense” which can be found here and spoke on “The Overachiever Mindset” for Handful of Leaves Podcast. Listen to that here.
Online Dharma Events in September
Venerables Chodron and Sangye Khadro will be giving online talks as part of the Metta Convention hosted by Western Sydney University September 25 to October 1. Ven. Chodron’s talk will be on “Open-Heart, Clear Mind” and Ven. Khadro’s talk is on “Compassion for Oneself, Compassion for Others.”
Metta Convention is a week-long event bringing together Buddhist teachers from different traditions to explore topics relevant to modern living. Other presenters include Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, and Ajahn Sona. For more information, visit their website.
Venerable Chodron’s talk “Applying Buddhist Logic in Meditation” will be available for viewing September 10 through October 22 as part of BuddhaFest 2023, sponsored by Lion’s Roar magazine.
BuddhaFest is an online festival of Buddhist films, Dharma talks, and music, including a special tribute to the life and legacy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. For more details, visit the BuddhaFest website.
- Release of Appearing and Empty: On Aug. 29, Wisdom Publications released Appearing and Empty, Volume 9 in The Library of Wisdom and Compassion, cowritten by The Dalai Lama and Ven. Chodron. This third and final volume on emptiness imparts the highest philosophical view of the ultimate nature of reality – the selflessness of both persons and phenomena. Click here to purchase a copy.
- Buddha Bear’s Spiritual Journey: Many of you loved and supported Buddha Bear and her friends last year, before they went into hibernation for the winter (and a few went on pilgrimage to Bodhgaya). But now they’re back and Ven. Kunga interviewed Buddha Bear. Read the interview here—all ages are invited!
- Teachings by Zong Rinpoche: Vens. Chodron, Jigme, and Lamsel went to Long Beach, California, to attend teachings and empowerments by Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, sponsored by Gaden Shartse Thubten Dhargye Ling. His previous life was one of Ven. Chodron’s teachers, a distinguished and well-respected lama whom she first met in 1980. She had visited him several times at Gaden Shartse Monastery in South India; his interest in the world and his broad way of thinking are impressive.Also attending the teachings were many old friends, who had also been students of the previous Zong Rinpoche. After so many decades, for all of us meet again and study with Rinpoche brought home the power of creating merit and dedicating it to meet qualified Mahayana and Vajrayana teachers again in the future.
- LA YOGA magazine published this article marking the release of Appearing and Empty. It includes a short bio of Ven. Chodron and a summary of each of the previous books in The Library of Wisdom and Compassion series.
Here’s what’s happening in September:
- September 11, 18 & 25: Courageous and Kind with Ven. Sangye Khadro and Abbey monastics at Create in Newport, Washington
- September 17: Sharing the Dharma Day with the Abbey community & Medicine Buddha Puja with Abbey monastics on Zoom
- September 23: Awareness of Our Body and Speech with Ven. Thubten Chodron on Zoom, hosted by Vajrayana Institute in Sydney
- September 26: Sandpoint Sangha with Ven. Sangye Khadro at First Lutheran Church in Sandpoint
- September 30: Open Heart, Clear Mind (Metta-lympics) with Ven. Thubten Chodron on Zoom & Compassion for Oneself, Compassion for Others (Metta-lympics) with Ven. Sangye Khadro on Zoom, hosted by Metta Centre
- October 15: Sravasti Abbey’s 20th Anniversary Celebration
Plus regular ongoing teachings:
- Samsara, Nirvana, and Buddha Nature, streamed live, Fridays, 6 pm Pacific Time
- Engaging in the Bodhisattva’s Deeds with Geshe Tenzin Chodrak (Dadul Namgyal), streamed live, Thursdays, 9 am Pacific Time
Check the Abbey’s Events Page for more!