Sometimes, you learn more while missing school.
On Thursday, my cultural anthropology class traveled to Newport, Washington to visit the Sravasti Abbey, a Buddhist monastery hidden in the hills of eastern Washington.
Buddhism is a beautiful religion, focusing on self and moral improvement. Typically, buddhists try to follow the eight-fold path focusing on a wholesome lifestyle, ethical actions, and proper treatment of yourself and others. It also follows four beliefs- that suffering is real and present, suffering is caused by unenlightened craving, suffering ends with the end of unenlightened craving, and the way to reach unenlightened craving is by following the eightfold path. Becoming enlightened means entering nirvana, where you transcend out of the universe and reach pure happiness.
In Sravasti, reside Tibetan monastics- buddhist nuns and monks devoting their life to reaching nirvana. They spend the days walking in the forest, cooking, cleaning, studying, and meditating. They do so in quiet, choosing only to focus on one thing at a time, providing them with right concentration. They live off their own land, as well as by what the people have provided them with (their expenses are all donation), and in turn, give back to the community.
For me, this trip was at first, another opportunity to experience a new culture, while focusing on a specific religion. In my area, we lack diversity in religion with most religions being Christian, Mormon, or Catholic. I have hosted a Muslim exchange student, but other than that, have little to no experience with other religions. Buddhism is the first Asian religion I have encountered, and by far one of my favorite to experience and study.
We began with talking to the Abbess, Venerable Thubten Chodron who told us the main teachings of Buddha- the Dharma- and her encounters with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. We then opened to a question and answer session in which I asked a few questions.
In response to whether or not they play sports Venerable Chodron said, “Well, we do chase the cats to bring them inside. But I do not like sports with a ball. Why do people care so much about a ball?”
It was also mentioned that even as monastics they vote, gently confront people when their behavior is subpar, and read the translated texts of Buddha and the Indian and Tibetan commentary on them.
After visiting with Venerable Chodron, we took a tour of the grounds with Venerable Thubten Damcho. She took us on a path to the best view, from which I took a photo. She explained how she moved from Singapore and is adjusting to the cold and how shocked she was to see snow being shoveled from the roof.
We walked back down to the grounds to see the meditation hall and the house of the nuns, as well as ordinary places, such as the workshop and barn. It was all fairly simply decorated, unless it centered around their religion. The altar in the meditation hall has many ornate buddhas shrouded in bright fabrics and gifts.*
From there we went back to the Chenrizig Hall, where we meditated on the kindness of others. It was helpful to think about all the people that contribute to our daily food and clothes, as there are so many from the farmers to the packagers to the shippers to the people that stock grocery stores. We took about thirty minutes to thank them and others.
We then ate lunch, which for the first twenty minutes we ate in silence, again to thank others, but also to focus on the food itself. After the first twenty minutes, we began to talk. At my table sat two travelers experiencing Buddhism, one from Belgium and one from Portland. Also there was trainee from DC, who definitely had the soft qualities of most buddhist monastics, but also the rough and tumble qualities of someone from the east coast. Lastly, there was Venerable Thubten Nyima, a nun who reminded me greatly of my great-grandma.
“You asked a lot of good questions today. Are you satisfied with your answers?” she asked me from across the table.
I thought briefly, and yes, I was greatly satisfied. I was given in-depth thoughts on such an inspiring religion that values the happiness of others and self, while maintaining internal and external humbleness.
I continued the conversation with her and we discovered we had something in common- the death of parents. While I have lost my mother, she was orphaned and moved from her home in Columbia to the US. She considers California her home since Columbia is painful for her but she finds comfort in her religion and is slowly repairing her mindset and mental health.
At the end, they prayed for worldwide happiness and for the food to be medicine to their bodies.
We unfortunately had to leave soon after, and I reflected on how much I took away from their teachings and lifestyle. The importance of gratitude is huge, and can make or break one’s happiness and success. I will never forget this trip.
*Note: It is important to understand Buddha is not a god, merely the creator of the religion and first to reach enlightenment. He was a prince raised away from suffering, that when he left the palace, was astonished to see the sickness, death, and poverty encompassing our daily lives. He then proceeded to study the origin and cessation of suffering.