from Karma Kamtsang Association Poland – Branch of Benchen Monastery
We all know how New Year’s Eve and New Year are celebrated. Some would also like to know how Tibetans spend their New Year. Fellow Buddhists often ask what could they do, how to celebrate this day, if they are not able to perform the traditional pujas taking many hours. Lama Rinchen will try to answer these questions.
The traditional Tibetan calendar is based on calculations connected with the lunar phases. It is divided into lunar months, thirty days each. Sometimes, depending on the year, some days may double or, on the contrary, be omitted (i.e. in certain months there will be two 5th days, or the 10th day will occur right after the 8th). It happens that entire months are repeated (for example there were two last months in 2005). Therefore Buddhist feasts and anniversaries are movable. This refers also to Losar, the Tibetan New Year.
It usually falls in February and celebrating it is one of the most important events for the Tibetans. In Tenga Rinpoche’s monastery the preparations for this ceremony start already several weeks in advance. The puja of Mahakala, the main guardian of Kagyu teachings, begins nine days before the New Year. The prayers are recited day and night. All diseases and other suffering, destructive emotions, bad inclinations and deeds, not only of persons participating in the ritual but of all sentient beings, are gathered in one location in order to be destroyed. The possibility of them harming anyone in the coming year is erased.
The famous Mahakala dances are the culmination point of the puja. One the day before the last, after a whole-night puja, the monks put on brocade clothes and masks. They dance from 7 a.m. till late afternoon, with short breaks only. This ritual is performed to subdue demonic forces which are impossible to be tamed by meditation or mantra recitation. According to the transmissions, if these rituals were to stop, the released negative forces would bring madness to human minds and the world would immerse in war.
Lamas’ meditation and the flames of a giant fire in which the main torma in the shape of a demonic face is burnt at the end, are supposed to cut off all the negative influences from the previous year.
The first day of the New Year is the most festive day for the Tibetans. Lamas, monks and lay people working for the monastery come to the gompa at sunrise. Entire families arrive. First, the monks recite prayers for auspiciousness for over half an hour; later each participant approaches the thrones and offers gifts to the Rinpoches and receives blessings.
On this day the Tibetans simply celebrate. They wear neat clothes, some dress in Western style, others wear traditional Tibetan outfits, and visit each other. They exchange wishes, recall past days sitting at a lavishly set table and move on to the next house. Every door is open. It is also typical to visit the local lamas offering them kathaks and gifts. Losar, the New Year, celebrations last three days.
Since there are no large Buddhist monasteries in Poland or generally in the West, it is impossible to perform traditional Tibetan New year ceremonies. I have observed the Mahakala dances a few times in the Benchen Monastery and I have a thought to share with you – the size of the event – the knowledge necessary to properly perform the ritual, the number of required outfits and accessories, the long training of a large group of monks (some dances are performed by up to 100 dancers!) – makes it difficult to imagine when and if transferring this tradition to the West would be possible.
However, a lot of us would like to celebrate this day somehow. I have once asked Tenga Rinpoche what we can do here, in the West. Rinpoche answered that if anyone wishes to celebrate Losar, it would be best to perform an offering tsok puja on the first day of the New Year. Some Western Buddhists believe that the Mahakala dance day would be the best day to celebrate. Actually, the contrary is true: it is the most inauspicious day of the year. That is why the dance ritual is performed then, to evoke the wrathful aspect of Mahakala which is supposed to conquer all adverse conditions.
It is best to start the New Year with an auspicious activity. If it is not a tsok offering, you can perform another puja or meditation, preparing special offerings. In our Centre we usually start Losar celebrations with Amitayus (Tib. Tsepame) Buddha empowerment. Tsepame is the embodiment of buddhas’ activities augmenting vital forces, life span and all prosperity. Then we perform the Milarepa or Amitabha puja. After the ceremonies, there usually is a slide show from pilgrimages or religious ceremonies connected with the Benchen monastery and its lamas.
It is worth remembering that the first month of the year is considered to be a period when the effects of all activities: both positive and negative, are multiplied. Therefore, depending on you possibilities, it is good to devote more time to meditation practice then.