Ven. Thubten Chodron: An American Buddhist Abbess


On this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, hear host Daniel Aitken’s conversation with Venerable Thubten Chodron, the abbess of Sravasti Abbey in Newport, Washington. Venerable Chodron recounts her first exposure to Buddhism back in the 1970s on a trip to Nepal and India in her twenties. After returning to the United States and showing up to a meditation class, she describes becoming rapidly certain that she had found a tradition which offered thought-provoking, meaningful answers in response to the many existential questions of her life. 

Many of Venerable Chodron’s earliest experiences as a nun were influenced by a series of encounters with masters for which she has felt deeply grateful throughout subsequent decades of practice. She outlines how one, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, demarcated dharma and non-dharma actions according to one’s entanglements with the eight worldly concerns and expounds upon how this line of teaching transformed her motivations and practice. After years of living and training as a novice, Venerable Chodron describes the beautiful moment when she became a fully ordained Bhikshuni in 1986, and her expanded journey as a Buddhist monastic following that point.

Daniel and Venerable Chodron then transition to a discussion of the state of affairs for Western Buddhist monastics today, the challenges and rewards of monastic life, and her reasons for starting Sravasti Abbey. While they agree that the widespread uptake of meditation and mindfulness techniques across America has certainly benefited many, they lament that the larger Buddhist worldview is often lost in translation. Venerable Chodron shares her hopes that growing monastic communities in the West, such as her own at Sravasti Abbey, are able to offer the support that is so crucial to sustaining a monastic life, both spiritually and materially.

Finally, Venerable Chodron speaks about her recent book, Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions, how it came to be, and what she learned throughout the long process of writing it.

For further thoughts and teachings from Venerable Chodron, be sure to check out the books she has compiled and co-authored with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, including The Foundation of Buddhist Practice, Approaching the Buddhist Path, Samsara, Nirvana, and Buddha Nature, Following in the Buddha’s Footsteps, In Praise of Great Compassion and of course, Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions. Venerable Chodron’s Wisdom Dharma Chat with Daniel and her Wisdom Academy online course are also available through Wisdom.  

About the Interviewee

Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron has practiced the Buddha’s teachings for more than thirty-five years. A native of Los Angeles, she ordained as a nun in the Tibetan tradition in 1977 and received the full ordination of a bhikshuni in Taiwan in 1986. Venerable Chodron has studied extensively with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tsenzhap Serkhong Rinpoche, Zopa Rinpoche, and Lama Thubten Yeshe among many other Tibetan masters. With a clear, practical, and humorous style, she teaches Buddhist philosophy and meditation worldwide. Her numerous books, published in several languages, include Buddhism for Beginners, Taming the Mind, Don’t Believe Everything You Think, and most recently Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions. Venerable Chodron has been the resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre in Singapore and was the resident teacher and spiritual adviser for Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle for ten years. She is currently the abbess of Sravasti Abbey, a Buddhist monastic community in Newport, Washington, which she founded in 2003. Many of her teachings are available on her website and on the Sravasti Abbey Youtube Channel. Follow Venerable Chodron on Facebook or Twitter.

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