You Have to Start Somewhere
Last Friday was Losar. That kept me very busy. Tibetan New Year requires heavy cleaning: your house, your shrine, your body, your clothes and your mind. You don't want to dirty the freshness of a new year--at least not right away.
The days leading up to Friday required lots of loud drum banging and praying to the remover of obstacles to banish leftover negativity lest it infect the bright, shiny year ahead. On the eve, I had to take down my entire shrine: change the seven rice bowl offerings, polish up the glowing statues (I squeezed lemon juice on them to get a sheen), dust photos and thangkas, and change brocades. I piled fruits and a cookie for sweetness. When I saw a glow radiate from my effort, I felt the jubilation of accomplishment. A tangible leap into a happy new year.
A huge tide of joyful wishes flooded my wi-fi. From around the globe, the year of the wood sheep rolled in on Facebook, WeChat, text message, telephone and email. Everybody's reaching out beyond arm's length felt like a huge embrace. In its warmth, I busily beamed around the world best wishes for a happy new year. Germany...Mongolia...Nepal...Canada...for a moment, the planet was a neighborhood.
Friday was also Tet for the Vietnamese and the nominal Chinese lunar New Year that technically started about ten days before. It will be officially celebrated two weeks later with a glamorous parade staged by San Francisco's enormous Chinese community. Friday was for showing the love in stuffed red envelopes, red fruits piled on the shrine, and wearing something new that's red, color of good luck. It was the time for bananas--color of gold, those impossibly long clear noodles--symbols of long life or at least enough for the new year, and celebrating fish by ingesting their energy (i.e. eating some) because they only move forward. Those who retain traditional Buddhist devotion purify themselves by eating a decidedly vegetarian meal, to show their care for life. It's also a way of asking for more life themselves.
The truth is we just make this stuff up. There is no real New Year. We may cling to a calendar as very solid and secure-- so dependable, we can count on it, but a year is just a man-made invention. Just a thought. Like us, the ancients saw day folding into night, then breaking out again. They saw bodies born, change and disintegrate. Looking for something dependable as an anchor, they counted sunrises. Some measured by counting the changes of the moon. Others trusted to the varying angles of the sun. With everything seemingly circular, nobody found an absolute. Where to begin counting in the circle is one issue on which everyone agrees to disagree-- so politely no one gets hurt!
New Year is a perfect example of what the Buddha meant by the impermanence and insubstantiality of everything, most of all our thoughts. Depending on your perspective, this is the year of the goat or the sheep or the ram. It is 2015 or 5775 or 4713. Does it matter? When you find yourself celebrating January 1 and February 19 and in late September and July 1 when your property tax year starts, you see how vested we are in a virtual reality, living in the realm of imagination.
As it happens, Losar is a time for trying to foresee reality with a little fortune telling. Asian calculations combine 12 earthly beings with 5 heavenly elements to create a 60 year life cycle. So I looked up the prognosis for the year of a wood sheep. It is calm, cool and collected. Time to catch our breath from the galloping pace of events that came with the year of the horse. Time for courtesy and charity and community. Somebody who was as tuned into vibes from the real world as we are to Twitter feeds realized that what animates and energizes us ebbs after it flows. The Chinese system attempts to translate how the invisible affects us: the full speed ahead charge of the horse followed by low battery small focus of the lamb, which gives rise to the brazen creativity of the monkey...
I have grown more fond of Asian New Year than other ones. It's timing. It just feels a lot more right in the bones and heart than that ball falling through the snow in Times Square on New Year's Eve and all the other trumped up drunken revelry of Saturnalia. Winter's grip is loosening now: light lasts longer, leaves are trying to peek out. There is a letting go. Life is starting to feel brighter, new possibilities popping up like bulbs. Spring is officially a new beginning. I've find the peace of inner balance comes from being in sync with reality like that.
~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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