Buddhist Practice and Community Living - Sravasti Abbey's first Young Adults Program
Conducted by Ven. Thubten Chodron©
Sravasti Abbey, USA
30 May 2006 to 7 Jun 2006
Day 1, Part 1. [37 min] : Download mp3 file
Setting a proper motivation for hearing teachings.
It’s important to spend time cultivating this because it’s not other people’s praise or criticism but our motivation that determines the value of our endeavors. ~ Important to create a long-term motivation.
Introduction to the abbey, including its history and development.
It’s helpful to learn history because knowing what came before, we understand better what’s happening now. But be mindful that history is always told from a particular perspective.
When did it all start? Probably way back in the eighties when Ven. Chodron was living in Dorje Palmo Monastery in France.
Why was the abbey set up? The Buddha set up the Sangha community and when one ordains as a monk or nun, it signifies admittance into the community, the focus of which is Enlightenment. The abbey provides the support needed for Sangha members to have proper training and to practice in a community setting, opportunities which are very much lacking in the West.
His Holiness chose the name ‘Sravasti Abbey’ in the late 90’s. ~ The reason for the name.
Ven. Chodron tried starting the abbey with various fellow monastics before circumstances deemed it necessary for her to do it on her own. ~ What Ribur Rinpoche advised.
Ven. Chodron relates an interesting series of events that resulted in the abbey finding its current home. ~ How the Buddha statue and the thangkas of Manjusri and Maitreya were offered to the abbey and the Kangyur and Tangyur procured even before this home was found. ~ In mid-Oct 2003, Ven. Chodron and the kitties – Achala and Manjusri – moved in. ~ The developments that have taken place at the abbey since then. ~ Support for the abbey – material, financial, labor, etc – comes from many people who give out of the goodness of their hearts.
Day 1, Part 2. [24 min] : Download mp3 file
Ven. Chodron explains how they try to live the key Dharma values and principles at Sravasti Abbey.
- Keeping to the way the Buddha wanted it to be (for the monastic community): Eating only food that is offered to the abbey.
- Generosity. The Buddha sets up a symbiotic relationship between the Sangha and the lay people: the Sangha gives Dharma teachings and the lay people offer the four requisites of food, clothing, shelter and medicine. ~ When we appreciate our interconnectedness with others, our consumer mind is transformed into the mind of service and our mind of poverty is transformed into the mind of richness. ~ Ven. Chodron shares how the process of starting the abbey – learning about the workings of the septic system, water supply system, etc – opens her eyes to being the recipient of kindness in a way that she has not thought of before. ~ Seeing the kindness of others and not judge them even if we have very different views.
Day 1, Part 3. [12 min] : Download mp3 file
Questions and Answers:
- What’s the definition of ‘kindness’?
- What do we do when we get puffed up with pride when we do something for somebody?
- Question on the line between being happy that we’ve helped somebody vs. being proud.
- Since we have had so many past lives, haven’t we also been very kind to others (as much as others have been kind to us)?
Day 2, Part 1. [26 min] : Download mp3 file
Meditation on the kindness of others and setting a proper motivation for hearing teachings.
Ven. Chodron continues to talk about the principles upon which Sravasti Abbey is founded.
Great emphasis is placed on these principles because 'we’re not trying to create an institution for the sake of an institution'.
Dharma practice includes study and receiving teachings, discussion, meditation, service and living harmoniously together. We learn the Dharma through hearing it. We also think about it so that we understand it. We meditate deeply on it so that we integrate it into our lives and then live it in our interactions with one another – this is the proof of the pudding.
- The emphasis at the abbey is on practice and training – there is no expectation that we are ‘there’ already. The ramifications of this.
- Give and Receive Support. How learning to give and receive support helps us. ~ Compassion can manifest in different kinds of behavior. Sometimes we need a kick in the pants, hence the need for wrathful methods. Ven. Chodron talks about how her teachers used wrathful means to train her.
Day 2, Part 2. [36 min] : Download mp3 file
Principles upon which Sravasti Abbey is founded - cont'd.
- Rejoice in others’ virtue and talents. To feel happy at others’ happiness instead of competing with them or feeling jealous or arrogant.
- Mindfulness. In the Tibetan tradition, not only does it refer to being aware of what we’re saying or doing, it also means holding in our heart the precepts and principles that guide our life: equanimity, love, etc.
- Reliability and consideration for others. We commit to a task only after we have done some examination and have some confidence that we can carry it through, and put energy into completing it. If something unforeseen crops up, we inform those affected. ~ Many of us draw up task lists, and we cross off each task as we complete it. Ven. Chodron reminds us that the purpose of doing the task is not so we can cross it out and get it out of the way, but to benefit others. ~ How this relates to the far-reaching attitude of joyous effort.
- Non-harmfulness to other sentient beings and our environment
- Gratitude and respect. Feeling gratitude towards others by seeing their kindness towards us, and cultivating respect for others by seeing their good qualities. ~ Respecting everybody’s wish to be happy and to be free of suffering. ~ Developing gratitude and respect even towards our enemies: story of Lama Yeshe putting his palms together in respect and thanking Mao Tse Tung despite what happened.
- Apologizing and forgiving.
- Humility and willingness to accept instruction, especially in a monastic context. What humility is, how to cultivate it and why humility is especially essential in a monastic community. Includes an explanation of two of the verses from the "Eight Verses of Thought Transformation" that exemplify this attitude.
Day 2, Part 3. [9 min] : Download mp3 file
Questions and Answers:
- Question on whether one needs to take an initiation before one can practice the meditations on the wrathful deities.
- Question on handling disagreements.
Day 3, Part 1. [25 min] : Download mp3 file
Setting a proper motivation before hearing teachings.
Dukka: often translated as suffering or misery, it has the connotation of unsatisfactoriness. When Ven. Chodron first encountered the Dharma, one of the things she found that gave her great relief was that people (in the Dharma circle) were willing to talk about dukka or the unsatisfactoriness in their lives. People in her society tend to deny any unsatisfactoriness, yet they’re constantly complaining.
Different types of dukka or unsatisfactoriness.
1. Dukka of instability, constant change or uncertainty: We run around trying to make our life secure. We seek security in retirement funds, relationships, studies, etc. We are trying to stabilize something in this very unstable world. But if we check, we’ll see that we’re not in control. Rather than react to this dukka of uncertainty with anxiety or depression, we use it to motivate our practice.
2. Dukka of dissatisfaction: We try many things in an attempt to get some pleasure, but we always wind up dissatisfied. We often attribute our dissatisfaction to something external – the people, the situation, etc. If we check up, we’ll see that this is actually the nature of cyclic existence.
Generating renunciation or the determination to be free. The Tibetan term for the ‘determination to be free’ or ‘renunciation’ means definitely emerging from dukka. People get freaked out by the term 'renunciation' because they misunderstand its meaning. What we’re renouncing is dukka – insecurity, unsatisfactoriness, being under the control of afflictions and karma. We’re not renouncing happiness; we’re going towards happiness.
3. Dukka of getting born again and again
4. Dukka of dying again and again
5. Dukka of going up and down in status
6. Having to experience the dukka alone: Whether it is birth, death, or other experiences, we have to experience them alone. Ven. Chodron shared how she was both shocked and relieved when she first heard this teaching.
Day 3, Part 2. [20 min] : Download mp3 file
What’s the purpose of thinking about the different types of dukka?
The purpose is certainly not to make us fearful or depressed.
Generating renunciation is really a tremendous act of kindness towards ourselves. It’s putting our lives in a good direction.
'I should practice' vs. 'I want to practice'. When there is faith and confidence in the Dharma, then Dharma practice changes from ‘I should’ to ‘I need to’ and ‘I want to’. ~ Ven also talks about the turning point for her when she contracted hepatitis at Kopan Monastery in her first year of meeting the Dharma.
Day 3, Part 3. [22 min] : Download mp3 file
Questions and Answers:
- How do I get from seeing others’ experiences to actually feeling that these could happen to me?
- Can purification practices reduce the suffering effects of negative karma we created previously?
- Question on the different kinds of sorrow. Includes an account of how a participant tried to curb his smoking habit before coming to the abbey.
- When we experience pleasure in cyclic existence, what’s a healthy way to relate to that pleasure?
Day 4, Part 1. [26 min] : Download mp3 file
Setting a proper motivation for listening to the teachings.
Rebirth and Karma. Why is understanding these important? ~ The continuums of the body and the mind – understanding these helps us to understand rebirth. ~ The Buddhist view is neither nihilistic nor eternalistic. ~ Ven. Chodron relates an encounter with a scientist to show the importance of checking if our views are coherent.
Self, body and mind. What is ‘I’ or self? ~ The body, the mind, and the differences between them. ~ Life, death and the continuities of body and mind. ~ Each moment of consciousness is dependent on the previous moment of consciousness. Through this, we see how rebirth happens.
Day 4, Part 2. [28 min] : Download mp3 file
Is there a beginning? Everything that exists depends on causes. Ven. Chodron illustrates how, if there were a beginning to the material universe or consciousness, there would be many logical flaws.
Emptiness and Dependent Arising. What is meant by the selflessness or emptiness of “I”? Ven. Chodron illustrates selflessness with the question: “On what basis do you say you’re an ‘American’?” ~ We build many identities on the ‘I’ but are they valid? ~ The power of our conception. ~ Thought training using the concept of dependent arising.
Day 4, Part 3. [24 min] : Download mp3 file
Questions and Answers
- I’ve been reading a lot of materials that regard the mind as an emergent property of the body. This is causing me a lot of confusion. What practices or readings can I do to get a different view?
- When you’re talking about emptiness, my ego feels like it wants to scream. Is this reaction normal?
- Discussion on how we cannot label something as a perceiver unless there’s an object being perceived and the process of perceiving. They’re all labeled in dependence upon each other, just like ‘parent’ and ‘child’ exist in dependence upon each other. There’s no ‘parent’ without ‘child’ and vice versa.
- Why do we need to recite mantras in Sanskrit? Aren’t they just arbitrary labels?
Day 5, Part 1. [38 min] : Download mp3 file
Cultivating a proper motivation before listening to the teachings.
Karma and its effects – one of the ways in which dependent arising functions. If there’s no inherently existent self, then what is it that carries the karma? What is it that goes from one life to the next? Ven. Chodron explains this using the example of River Spokane. ~ What karma means.
The four main characteristics of karma:
1. The cause & the effect are correlated, i.e. a happy result comes from a positive karma; an unhappy result comes from a negative or destructive karma. ~ Important to see that this is not a system of reward and punishment imposed by the Buddha.
2. A small action can bring a big result. Analogy: a small seed grows into a big plant. Therefore it is important to be attentive not only to our major actions, but also to the minor ones.
3. If you don’t create the cause, you don’t get the result. When causes and conditions come together, a karmic seed ripens into a result. Not only are our actions the causes of happiness in this or future lives, they also act as the conditions for previous lives’ karma to ripen. Ven. Chodron tells the story of a friend who had an unfortunate death to illustrate the importance of putting ourselves in good environments so as to create the conditions for our positive karma to ripen. ~ We all want happiness, but are we creating the causes of happiness? ~ When we go through bad times, respond wisely. ~ Example of someone who uses her illness (cancer) to energize her Dharma practice.
Day 5, Part 2. [29 min] : Download mp3 file
4. Karma does not get lost. Anger or distorted views can impede the ripening and reduce the strength of positive karma. To prevent this, dedicate the positive karma created. ~ Negative karma does not get lost but can be purified with the four opponent powers.
Collective karma and individual karma. Be very careful about what kind of groups we join. ~ If we are residents of a state that practices the death penalty, do we accumulate the karma of killing when someone is executed? ~ Also, be careful about what we rejoice at, e.g. when we read about the fortunes or misfortunes of people we like or don’t like. ~ We also accumulate positive or negative karma depending on whether we tell others to do positive or negative actions, e.g. complaining to our friends and wanting them to take our side.
Points to consider when making decisions:
- Consider the long term and short term results that the action will bring.
- Examine our motivation for doing it.
- Would I be putting myself in a situation where I can live an ethical life?
- Which of the options will help me develop love, compassion and the bodhicitta mind, and be of service and benefit to others?
"Which is going to give me the most (temporary) pleasure?" - Do not use this as a criteria.
Be content with the decision we have made.
Day 5, Part 3. [11 min] : Download mp3 file
Questions and Answers:
- Question on the indestructible drop.
- More about purification. Purification can cause negative karma to ripen in a less intense way.
- We don’t make ourselves suffer in order to purify.
- Question on karmic connections.
Day 6, Part 1. [33 min] : Download mp3 file
"I have to" vs. "I choose to". Ven. Chodron explains the proper and healthy way to handle a strong attachment that we cannot let go of yet, giving some real life examples: choosing between attending a Dharma event and working, choosing between leading a lay life and getting ordained, etc. She also talks about not letting our attachment to approval run our life, including attachment to our teacher’s approval, illustrating it again with a real-life example.
The force of habit. In response to a question from the audience, Ven. Chodron talks about how the force of habit can be so strong that we may not see that we have a choice in how we feel in response to a situation. Ven. Chodron shares her personal experience of how to overcome a negative habit.
Day 6, Part 2. [14 min] : Download mp3 file
Living an authentic life. Ven. Chodron advises us not to live our lives ‘on automatic’.
Day 6, Part 3. [34 min] : Download mp3 file
Questions and Answers:
- Question on how to make an honest aspiration when part of our mind wants to do something but another part is not quite ready to.
- Question on what it means by not entrusting oneself to non-Buddhist teachers.
- Question on studying non-Buddhist teachings.
- Question on how prostrations help us counteract our arrogance.
What to do after this course.
Click on the links below for more explanation of:
Dukka and the Determination to be Free:
Karma: Audio | Articles/Transcripts
Emptiness and Dependent Arising:
Audio | Articles/Transcripts