Thubten Donyo, presently training as an anagarika at Sravasti Abbey, accompanied Ven. Thubten Chodron on her recent trip to Singapore and India. There he met the Friends of Sravasti Abbey Singpore for the first time.
Many of these Dharma friends have studied with Ven. Chodron since the 1980s, and they have continued to nurture their connection with her and the Abbey. They host her teachings in Singapore regularly, joyfully volunteering to cover all aspects of the trip. This year, they also journeyed to India where they participated in offering lights at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya. On returning to the Abbey, Donyo sent this letter of appreciation, which we now share with you.
Hello to each and everyone of you precious FOSAS,
I have wanted to write to you for some time, to express my deep gratitude, but as I was starting to formulate what I wanted to tell you in my mind, I realized that it was way beyond a simple thank you. There’s a lot of reflection that has brought about this genuine feeling of appreciation for your support, this wish to thank you, and I wanted to share them with you.
First, something has started to shift in me since we went and visited Nalanda’s ruins, a kind of better assessment of impermanence and what it really means. I’m still processing our visit and the history of this incredible site.
Nalanda used to be the residence of more than 10,000 students and 1,500 teachers. There were 108 buildings spread over a five by ten kilometers area. It ran for eight centuries and has been the temporary or full-time residence of many of the greatest masters who produced the texts we study today: Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Asanga, Atisha, Chandrakirti, Dharmakirti, Dharmapala, Dignaga, Kamalasila, Naropa, Santaraksita, Shantideva, Vasubandhu, just to name a few.
Nalanda is the source of all the scriptures and Sutras the famous Xuanzang brought back to China and translated. This is also where Shantideva composed the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra! And despite all the incredible virtue created there, we were standing in the ruins of this major institution of Buddhist learning.
I let the tip of my fingers slide over the original bricks while walking the ruins corridor . . . Thinking of how it might have looked. How it might have felt when this place was still thriving, full of monastics… I was thinking to myself, “Where is the great Nalanda Buddhist University now? Where are all the students, all the scholars, all the great masters?”
This visit was a good reminder for me that nothing in this world lasts and that includes me, the Abbey, and all the conducive circumstances I enjoy right now.
No place like the Abbey
A second thing that happened during my tour in Singapore and India is that I met a lot of people and monastics from everywhere around the world. I heard their stories, who they are, where they come from, how they met the Dharma, where they live now (in community or alone), what kind of studies they’re doing, how they support themselves, etc.
What I learned from all these exchanges is that, for Westerners, a place like the Abbey is very unique and nowhere else to be found. The conditions we have, the support we receive, the resident teachers living with us, the opportunity to study and practice Tibetan Buddhism in English, all of these together in one place are so rare and precious.
This brings me to the last major turning point for me during this trip, something that will change my practice forever, and it was meeting you all. I’ve heard your names many times in the past, every time we dedicated our merits to our kind supporters or prayed for your long life and good health, but I have now connected those names with “real” people; people with families, friends, dreams, fears, joy and pain, people who worked hard to have what they have and who try their best to reach out and help others.
For someone like me who has joined the Abbey quite recently, it’s really easy to take everything for granted. You arrive there and there’s all these buildings, we have food, medicine, accommodation, drinking water, three resident teachers, all the Dharma books you could ever dream of, etc. etc. etc.
We keep reminding ourselves that everything we have comes through the generosity of our supporters, and we pray and dedicate for them, but we meet only a few in person, especially when they live on the other side of the globe! So this opportunity to travel, serve my teacher, and meet you all in person has been a real blessing and been very meaningful to me.
Your generosity is inspiring
Your generosity is unparalleled and astonishing, and I’m not just talking about monetary generosity, but also generosity of time, energy and support. I was deeply touched to hear all your stories, how you met Venerable Chodron (many of you in the late 80’s), how strong this connection is, and everything you made along all those years to make sure that Venerable would come back and teach you, that she would have what she needs and then help her make her dream of building a monastery come true.
Living among you for a while, I got the same feeling I get at the Abbey: this sense of a big family that really takes care and supports one another. I saw harmony, people united for a common goal, people taking the initiative to gather together, study, and make the Dharma alive in their lives.
Sravasti Abbey is a dependent arising and countless causes had to come together in order for it to exist. Among those causes is the kindness of our supporters. It is because people believe in what we are trying to do at the Abbey that the community is able to grow.
I made my request for ordination to Venerable Chodron at the Mahabodhi Temple and you were in my heart when I made it. Because you believe in Venerable Chodron’s vision and in the Abbey, because you make it possible for my teacher to teach, to have a place to live and to write books, to have a place to train monastics, because of that, you make it possible for this merely labeled “Donyo” to go to this Abbey, to train and transform his mind, so that he can uphold, embody and share the Dharma.
So I’m holding all of these reflections in mind as I’m writing these words…