Happy Losar, kids. By that I mean, happy Tibetan New Year. As it’s the general lunar new year, it’s also Chinese New Year, but that’s not such a popular topic among Tibetans. I’ve always found New Year’s to be an underwhelming holiday. As a child it involved staying up late to watch a way-overhyped ten second video from Times Square, which was already three hours old by the time it reached the folks in California. As an adult, it seems to revolve around champagne-induced excitement tempered by anxiety over the presence or absence of a midnight kiss. I kind of gave up on New Year’s and generally spend it painting or reading or something similarly grandmotherly.
I do, however, like the New Year as a time for reflection and setting aspirations. Tibetan New Year focuses more on this aspect of the changing calendar. As a community, we came together to develop loving-kindness through meditation on Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion, and to make offerings to our teachers and for the benefit of beings in general.
Katak, silk prayer scarves, placed on a table in offering.
The Karmapa, otherwise known as His Holiness Trinley Thaye Dorje, is the spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu tradition, in which I study and practice. Today, he came to KIBI to share Losar with us. The Karmapa is a sacred teacher – sixteen times reincarnated and holder of a lineage extending straight back to the Buddha himself. He also has this trait of really making you want to hug him, all the time. Mostly we reign ourselves in and bow…it’d be hard to get through a ceremony with everyone hugging him all the time. But I have seen people cry on sight of him, and it’s not an unusual impulse to bow your head to the floor when he enters the room.
This is a very serious picture. The times I have seen him in life, Karmapa greets the world with a quiet smile and great patience.
My experience of Karmapa is that he brings me closer to my own wisdom. When I placed my ceremonial scarf on the offering table, he put his hands on either side of my head in blessing. My thoughts quieted for an instant, replaced by a sense of calm, abiding. The teachings direct us to place our trust in the truth, rather than in any individual. To me, Karmapa is an example of the kindness and understanding possible with practice. He guides me on a path that I must walk for myself.
Vessels for Karmapa’s ceremonial snacks: sweet rice and butter tea. The rest of us ate off paper plates; it was no less special.
Today the path looks like this:
1,000 candles to bring the light of wisdom to all beings. Six sacred syllables to invoke limitless compassion. Five silk scarves for five precious teachers. Two bites of traditional rice pudding. One day to welcome the year of the water snake.
Om Mani Peme Hung. Happy New Year.