Tsundru Kelly met Ven. Chodron and the Dharma as a teenager, and he has been a steady student ever since, attending retreats and teachings and applying Dharma principles to his life. In his early twenties, he came to live and practice with the Abbey community for seven months. Tsundru shares these reflections of his insights and experiences.
Living in community for seven months at Sravasti Abbey has been transformative, to say the least. The inner growth I’ve experienced while being here far out weighs that of years of practicing Dharma on my own, reading books, and attending retreats. While those were invaluable, they pale in comparison to living the Dharma 24/7 in community with Dharma friends, sangha, and a genuine/reliable teacher.
A common myth that many people think is that living in a monastery, nunnery, or abbey is hiding from the world and all your problems. Anyone who has attended a thorough retreat knows the falsity of this myth. The isolation from the busyness and sense stimuli that often accompanies lay life creates an atmosphere for the mind to slow down and stop “doing” and start “being.” This sounds charming in a Zen way, but it can be quite painful. However, if one can stay committed to letting go of the addiction to the ego and all the things that support it’s insecure existence, then the relief that comes to one’s heart/mind is unsurpassable and truly life changing.
This experience for me has been challenging. For the first couple of months, living at the Abbey was jarring because I saw clearly how much of my energy was spent hiding from my fears, being driven by cravings and constantly, constantly presenting a bullshit façade to the world. The analogy for this is when you want to clean the floor; you first have to see the dirt. I have spent most of my life covering up the dirt and even using the Dharma to mask it. After seeing it, I didn’t know what to do. I never anticipated the level of acceptance, vulnerability, and transparency necessary to let go of the cravings and fears that governed my life.
So why leave? I want to take what I have learned into the busy world and apply it in hospice care, learn some mundane life skills, and study other topics that interest me. If the conditions come together in the future and monasticism becomes a natural progressive step, then I’ll be there with a smile on my face.
I have learned that ordaining is a big commitment, and it is important to be sincerely ready and to have a basis of renunciation—not just intellectual renunciation but one that is heartfelt. Although I am physically leaving I will positively remain close to the Abbey and everyone living here, and I will support it in new ways.
Kindness of others
The last thing I want to say is how it has felt living directly on the kindness and generosity of others. I say directly, because, in fact, we all are utterly dependent on countless beings’ kindness. But since people work and pay for their food, somehow it cuts the reality that other people spend hours of their life getting that food to their table.
Living at the Abbey and witnessing the people bringing us food every week so we can eat, reading the donors’ names twice a month during Tsog, reading their letters of support and prayer requests, and seeing the volunteers come up to offer service on their days off have all made this manifestation of the kindness of others a reality for me.
The Abbey’s vision brings people immeasurable hope for this world , and they give so much, trusting that those who are living at the Abbey are indeed helping it grow truthfully and sincerely. When I was eating, I would think that every piece of food I consumed or electricity I used came from others because they trust that I’m here doing my best. This is extremely humbling to reflect on, that I am alive because of people I have never met. Working on the physical/structural growth of the Abbey was such a joy for me because I felt like I was carrying out the intention of all of the donors. I am deeply indebted to all of the Abbey’s supporters near and far.
As the Abbey grows many others in the future will be able to come to the Abbey and live in the Dharma and experience inner transformation. I believe this will create a ripple effect that will infuse tangible peace into our world. Whatever small merit I may have nurtured/created I hope it goes directly to all those who have offered in any way to the Abbey and to all mother sentient beings who have been so kind to me. May we all become freed from unnecessary suffering.
With love and confidence,