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Jan 22
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Finishing One Year, Starting Anew

Practices for the two weeks leading up to Shambhala Day, reflecting on the passage of time and laying a good foundation for the coming year

by Walker Blaine

monkey-200-300x300 copyAs we approach the coming New Year of the Fire Monkey on February 9th, it is important to acknowledge the conclusion of our time in the current year of the Wood Sheep. Even though the timing of any “new year” is a group choice made over many generations within a culture, whatever culture we find ourselves in, it is healthy and uplifting to make a relationship with the passage of time. As warriors, we cultivate an attitude of greeting transitions with openness and inspiration for the future.

The Shambhala Calendar

Our Shambhala calendar derives from the Himalayan Buddhist tradition. It is based on a combination of the movement of the sun and the moon, in contrast to the Western calendar, which is based solely on the movement of the sun. Using a calendar that combines the movement of the sun and moon is why Shambhala Day, which falls the day after a new moon, moves from year to year.

slivermoonThe reason we use both the sun and moon in our calendar is that the sun and moon together create the cycle of the seasons, and day and night, which we experience in the passage of time in the world around us. This is mirrored by the way that the sun and moon of bravery and gentleness, or wisdom and compassion, create a life of warriorship. A calendar like this helps us stay in touch with the seasons outside, reminds us of the good qualities within us, and spurs the activity of creating enlightened society together.

 

PhilSun-300x163Having a calendar also enables us to plan for work and play. It enables our culture to mark its growth and establish itself with dignity through community celebrations, program gatherings, and rituals that integrate basic goodness into our lives. The full moon, for example, is the time that we celebrate goodness together by practicing the Shambhala Sadhana. Other examples are Midsummer’s Day on the summer solstice, the Harvest of Peace on the fall equinox, and Children’s Day on the winter solstice. A calendar creates strength and sanity for everyone because it helps us to collectively move through time with a sense of purpose and inspiration.

Marking the Transition in Our Practice

Water ice and snowThe transition from one year of activity to the next holds great power and is especially meaningful and important to pay attention to. In Shambhala, the traditional time we mark the end of the year is the eleven days before Shambhala Day. This is a time when we focus on having good conclusions to our activity from the past year, and where we create the good conditions that enable us to enter the next year with a sense of clarity and strength.

Spiritually, the end of the year is a time to apply ourselves to meditation practices connected with overcoming obstacles. Generally speaking, these are the protector practices. Tibetan monasteries do intensive protector practices at this time, calling on the energies of awakenment to overcome both seen and unseen obstacles to compassionate activity. In Shambhala, our end of year practices are sometimes called “mamo chants,” which refers to the title of a protector chant we do intensively during this period. Mamos are a personification of the elements, which can become imbalanced and harmful at times of transition or societal change. The mamo chants are like a request to heal whatever imbalances have accumulated over the past year.

Another aspect of practice at the end of the year is to gather back any energy that might have dissipated over the past twelve months. It is good to spend some time prior to Shambhala Day reflecting on this aspect of our experience and to dedicate some practice to drawing back energy. This can be as simple as doing a period of sitting meditation or Shambhala meditation with that motivation and dedicating the merit at the end.

Marking the Transition in Our Household and Family

morning sun at Juniper HillThe end-of-year practice time concludes two days before Shambhala Day. The day before Shambhala Day is when we could do a thorough “spring cleaning” of our home to lay the ground for the New Year. Cleaning our home is a way to invoke fresh energy and literally clear away residue of the previous year, regrouping ourselves for a new beginning. It parallels the spiritual practice we did leading up to Shambhala Day. Cleaning our home can be a celebration of our good nature, rather than a chore or something we do because we feel bad.

home-shrine-18Cleaning our home shrine is an important aspect of this process. If we have a protector tea-offering bowl, this is the day to clean it. The overall approach in taking care of our household at this time is to let go of staleness and create the environment for fresh energy to arrive. If we are able to conclude projects, honor obligations that we’ve been unable to fulfill, or pay back a debt before the New Year, this will allow more inspiration and energy to take root after Shambhala Day too.

The end of the year can also be a poignant time for families to work together on their household, and to reflect on how they spend time together, how the spaces in the home are working or could be rearranged. If there are children in the household, they can help with cleaning and re-establishing the shrine. This is a good time to explain the shrine implements and their meaning to our children, giving them another opportunity to be included in our practice and culture.

lhasang pot

Burning incense in a lhasang pot

Shambhala Centers can also host a time for cleaning the center and shrines before the start of the new year. After the cleaning is finished—whether at home or at the center—we can do a lhasang, or divine purification. A lhasang is a simple ritual of burning juniper and chanting a liturgy that both cleanses and blesses a space. We can chant the lhasang at our shrine and then move through the entire home or center burning a little juniper, chanting the warrior’s cry in each room to invoke blessings for the future.

An Ongoing Exploration

There are many other things we might do to bring renewal and inspiration before the start of the New Year. Don’t be afraid to be both curious and playful. Do what feels best for you and your household to explore the transition to Shambhala Day in ways that feel right and strengthening. It is important to approach the process—especially the cleaning—with curiosity and relaxation rather than a being burdened by having to do it right. By bringing end-of-year traditions into our lives and creating some of our own, we participate in the exciting exploration of how to embody enlightened society. All of this lays the ground for the celebrations on Shambhala Day and walking forward through the seasons as a culture of basic goodness and the Great Eastern Sun.

Walker Blaine is Master of Liturgies to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and a Herald of the Kalapa Court. He has studied and practiced the dharma in Shambhala for more than 30 years. Walker lives with his wife Patricia in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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7 responses to “ Finishing One Year, Starting Anew ”
  1. This is an extremely well-written and culturally appropriate explanation for us. Can someone tell me exactly what a “Herald of the Kalapa Court” means? Thank you.

  2. Carol Henderson
    Jan 23, 2016
    Reply

    Editor’s note: A Herald of the Kalapa Court is someone appointed directly by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. A Herald is able to provide reading transmissions of texts, and may also share other communications from the Sakyong.

  3. Sylvie M Stevenson
    Jan 22, 2016
    Reply

    Thank you, Walker, for this lovely summation of the end of year according to the Himalayan lunar calendar. A though-provoking and very fresh “take” on gathering the energies, cleaning and re-dedicating. I so enjoyed it!

  4. Grit Turnowsky
    Jan 23, 2016
    Reply

    Dear Walker,
    thank you for your inspiring and kind reminder.
    Best,
    Grit

  5. Timaree Bierle-Dodds
    Jan 23, 2016
    Reply

    Thank you so much Mr. Blaine! This is very helpful!

  6. Andrea Darby
    Jan 23, 2016
    Reply

    Thank you, Walker for this. We have forwarded to the members of PVSC. I like the idea of a lhasang at the center after our cleaning day. Warmest, Andrea

  7. Thanka you Walter for writing and publishing this.


Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.



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