Caz Lockwood attended a two-week course at Sravasti Abbey on Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions, in November 2015. With many years of experience in event management, she served as Venerable Thubten Chodron’s assistant on a five-week teaching tour across eight cities in Europe in 2016. Caz shares her reflections on the experience.
Meeting so many new Dharma friends over the last few weeks in each place where Venerable Thubten Chodron has given teachings has generated great motivation and a strong feeling of support for my own practice. Knowing that there are so many people around the world who are taking the Buddha’s teachings to heart, and trying as we all can within our lives to attend teachings, study, and most importantly apply the teachings to our lives is something we all share. We all experience the same obstacles and questions, and we can help each other with sincerity and encouragement. These Dharma connections, and attending teachings in person, has instilled confidence and reassurance in me, and deepened my refuge in the Three Jewels.
I have been amazed by the kindness and effort that everyone we met put into taking care of the details of Ven. Chodron’s time in each place. From the beautiful offerings, to the food preparation, to the logistics of each teaching, people were so happy to receive teachings from Venerable and offered their service to make her stay as smooth, comfortable, and relaxing as possible. Every place was slightly different, so I came to realize the importance of arriving in each place with a fresh and open mind, prepared for things to be different than in the last place.
People had a great response and gave good feedback about structure of the weekend workshops and retreats. I think having a guided meditation session after the morning teaching and a discussion session in the afternoon was a new format for some centers and participants, but it was quite beneficial, particularly for people to share their thoughts and questions in small groups. People thought deeply about the teachings, and the discussion groups encouraged and gave them the opportunity to do that.
I had the opportunity to talk with many individuals who follow Sravasti Abbey and Ven. Chodron’s teachings, and we found that we shared being inspired by the many online talks that are videoed, recorded and uploaded by the Abbey. In particular, we shared the sense that the Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner (BBC) talks give us a regular, almost daily opportunity to connect with Sravasti Abbey from afar. Due to the short duration of the talks we can fit them into our day quite easily— I often watch the previous day’s talk when I have breakfast in the morning, which is a nice way to start the day. The BBC talks give us much food for thought throughout the day and I had a strong sense that the online presence of the Abbey is so important to people around the world. Everywhere we went people who watch the teachings online would approach us—including someone while we were at the Valencia train station! Many have been doing so for several years and find great support in this.
For those who had not attended Ven. Chodron’s teachings in person before, their connection with her was greatly strengthened by this opportunity to experience her warmth and kindness in the room. Her sense of humor was something people connected with and a couple of people commented on how refreshing and motivating this was for their practice. Ven. Chodron also gave refuge to people in Spain, Germany, Denmark, and Russia, which was a wonderful opportunity for many people. It would be great to have the refuge guidelines available in various languages online.
It was wonderful to see Ven. Chodron teach in Russia with Ven. Lobsang Tenpa translating. His translation was so precise, making the teachings flow smoothly. He was also able to translate the many thoughtful questions from the audience with great accuracy, which benefited those asking the questions because Venerable could then provide a direct response.
In Denmark where no translation was needed, people benefited even more, because there was no need to stop for translation. On the other hand, for example in Spain, people were so happy to have Spanish translations of the teachings streamed online so that many other Spanish speakers could hear Venerable’s teachings.
When we stayed in a Dharma center, we got a real sense of the community and a closer interaction to those offering service within the center, which was really nice. This was also the case when we were at retreat centers in Germany and in Russia. It was more difficult to get a sense of the community and what the activities of a center were like when we stayed in a hotel or apartment, although these were all very comfortable and it was very kind of the organizers to prepare them and provide everything so thoughtfully. Ven. Chodron didn’t always get an opportunity to be shown around the entire Dharma or retreat center, and I think it’s nice to arrange this as it gives her a feel for a place and an opportunity to meet people involved with the center.
In addition to the Dharma students who had the opportunity to connect with Venerable on this trip, she also connected with many old friends and made new ones. It was so interesting to hear them discuss the Dharma and share their experiences, particularly what they are doing for the development of Buddhism in the West, within Dharma centers for lay practitioners, and establishing monasteries for monastics. These connections, shared knowledge and experiences are so important to the development and flourishing of the Dharma in the West. Of course, many people were inspired to hear Ven. Chodron talk about Sravasti Abbey’s development and the videos helped to give many students a sense of the Abbey.
One of the amazing things about spending time so close to a teacher is to witness how their qualities manifest in every aspect of the day. Spending time at the Sravasti Abbey before accompanying Ven. Chodron on this trip was so valuable, as the experience gave me a sense of how to move about the day with mindfulness and care. I was glad to be familiar with the Abbey prayers, such as the lunchtime food offering, as this allowed me in a small way to bring the peace, respect, and mindfulness that I found so wonderful and helpful at the Abbey into the day and to share this with others. My visit to the Abbey had not been so long and I had much to learn on this trip, but Ven. Chodron’s kindness supported me in keeping calm and remembering my motivation.
I hadn’t truly appreciated at the Abbey that everything done during the daily schedule and the environment created by the community are meant to be integrated into our life outside the Abbey. Our life at home can be an extension of what we’ve learned at the Abbey. Of course this takes much practice and time, but watching Ven. Chodron’s actions and responses in every environment and situation and being constantly in the Dharma, is inspirational and creates great trust in her as a spiritual teacher. Her motivation remains steadfast and unmovable, and her constantly thinking of others in every encounter is demonstrated by her kindness, generosity, patience, wisdom, and skillful means.
I have witnessed Ven. Chodron’s courage and determination through spending this time with her and understand more about her vision for the Abbey from the beginning, and even before the Abbey was established, her strength and commitment to the Dharma. She now has unique experiences that can also be shared with others, and it clearly inspires them greatly.
I am sure I will have many more reflections over the coming days, weeks and months. I am contemplating this precious human life and thinking about how I spend my time throughout the day: are my actions beneficial? How often are they focused on worldly desires? I’m beginning to monitor that and think about how I can turn my actions into meaningful Dharmic actions. I’ve begun to see how much time I waste and what is really important in this life.
I’m less fearful of making changes and more confident in this path, knowing it is not easy and takes effort and courage. I also see that our teachers have great courage and put great effort into transforming their minds and following the Buddha’s teachings. Certainly in the West, our teachers have also faced the same challenges and questions as we beginners have, and we have to find the strength in our own minds to change and develop bodhicitta.