What It Meant to Visit and See for Myself
by Brittany Daugs
The Abbey’s annual Exploring Monastic Life (EML) program began in 2005 for new and aspiring monastics to learn about the motivation, commitments, and lifestyle of Buddhist nuns and monks. Daily teachings, discussions, and offering service time give a taste of how it is to live and train in a monastic community.
Necessarily, it is an experiential program. But for two years, Covid forced us to move the course online. In 2022, however, EML was live again, and the community delighted in sharing the joys of monastic life with a group of earnest explorers.
Brittay attended EML online in 2020 and visited in person in 2022. She compares the two experiences.
We are encouraged to study and reflect on the Dharma many times to integrate it meaningfully and sustainably into our lives. So, it makes sense that after learning from Venerable Chodron and the community from afar over the internet for nearly four years, I finally made the trip to Washington to spend three weeks at Sravasti Abbey.
Those who have visited the Abbey will recognize my first impressions: the drive from Safeway with anticipation, the verdant forest once arrived and the variety of animals, birds and insects who consider Sravasti a sanctuary. It is more expansive than I had imagined, the landscape a good analogy for the mind.
I had sensed that I was missing something by remaining online, but I did not know quite what. I now realize it was the lived Dharma and spiritual friendship the monastic community and guests embody in person that is unavailable at home.
Surrounded by practitioners more experienced on the path, I discovered a level of immersion in the teachings that I now see as essential to developing on this path.
What are the causes?
Perhaps online we witness the results of the Sravasti community living the Dharma—the studied questions at weekly teachings and transparent sharing during retreat group discussions. However, despite exposure to the Buddha’s teachings, I had never thought to ask: What are the causes to achieve this result?
Ethical conduct is foundational to life at the Abbey—present in preparation of food, in engaging others with integrity, in the way time is utilized to bring benefit.
Residents and guests offer service together each day, transforming activities like lopping tree branches in the forest or pulling weeds in the garden into opportunities to work with our minds. There are many opportunities to “flex our bodhisattva biceps,” as one person said during my stay.
Practicing the Dharma
The Buddha’s teachings are complex, and practical application of them can be confusing without proper guidance. I visited the Abbey for their annual Exploring Monastic Life course, expecting the prospect of ordination to be foremost on my mind.
As silly as it now sounds, I had not expected to learn about how to practice the Dharma.
During my stay, I did what students do: I tried to learn by observation, in discussion and, when possible, through emulation. I saw the variety of ways life at the Abbey is designed to help residents and guests identify and counteract afflictions by recognizing them and swiftly applying antidotes.
Online this important aspect of the Abbey and its work was lost to me, making it easier to slip into negative habits as soon as I logged off Zoom.
While each retreat has a designated beginning and end, the community at Sravasti Abbey does not stop practicing (and thus benefitting). They are continuously engaged in many ways unobservable online.
Perhaps this flow of service from the community stops only when all have gone to sleep, and maybe not even then.
To grow in the Dharma, to learn how to live it in all aspects of life, I encourage all who are interested to visit in person.