Neutral Day

February 24th, 2009

Unlike the western tradition, the day before New Year’s, or more specifically, the night before New Year’s, is not a time for partying in the Tibetan world. The ten days leading up to the New Year are days when one is working to clean out negative karma, mend relationships and settle old debts. Then there’s a neutral day, a day that isn’t positive or negative, a time to keep things simple and literally clean house (like the monks who were scrubbing windows and tidying their rooms today). Finally, there is Losar, the New Year, the time for festivities and a time for a positive beginning after letting go of the old.

We spent a large part of neutral day morning folding the many white ceremonial offering scarves (khatas) that would be needed on Losar, Shambhala Day. It is the Tibetan tradition to offer a khata, a symbol of pure of intentions, to lamas, dignitaries and friends at auspicious times such as Losar, at a greeting or departure, at the conclusion or start of a teaching event, and so on. As westerners deep in the Tibetan world, the Losar khatas in Orissa have presented a bit of a challenge. The latest estimate is that we’ll each need to be ready with 22 khatas tomorrow. Cutting and folding 44 khatas (which come in packets of four, uncut) seemed to take Patricia and me more than an hour and a half.

There was another aspect to the khata situation that presented a dilemma; making an offering of money with the khata. The presence of this tradition brought up a host questions such as: how much, to whom and the ubiquitous question of why. Obviously, from a western standpoint, everyone in a community making 22 separate monetary offerings on the New Year, or even at the end of a major program, is kind of over-the-top. It sounds excessive. After some research the number declined to a more reasonable-sounding 15 monetary offerings when we learned it wasn’t absolutely necessary to make an offering to the lamas performing the early morning Gesar puja (His Eminence, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Jigme Rinpoche and so on) and then repeat it a few hours later in the main shrine room at the formal Losar practice.

Fifteen offerings might sound like a lot, but it turned out that the best way to go about things was to look at the total amount one wanted to give, and then as a base, divide the money up into three tiers. The first tier comprises an offering to the main teacher, in this case, His Eminence. This offering ought to be the largest. The second tier would belong to the other rinpoches in the group, and one sets up a lot of envelopes in this category along with the, the final category for the khenpos, lamas who are not rinpoches and other lesser dignitaries. One apportions the money according to that scheme and makes sure to have some spare envelopes and cash just in case.

One might offer more to this or that teacher one has a connection with. The list of rinpoches included the, of course, the Sakyong Wangmo, while the list of lamas included His Eminence’s wife, Khandro Chime Drolkar, and the other two daughters here in Orissa, Semo Pede and Semo Sonam. One also makes offerings to the statues of the Buddha, Padmasambhava and so forth as well as to the throne of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I think the offerings to the Buddha and those other than His Holiness might cycle back to the monastery. It all sounds a bit crazy from a western standpoint, but when all was said and done, it didn’t seem that different from what a finance officer does behind the scenes with offerings to Shambhala International, the centers and the Sakyong. And as I have pointed out before, sometimes the western students have received their share of fourth or fifth tier offerings with the monastics during the Rinchen Terdzo. I am guessing we’ve received 40 cents a week since early December.

The end of the day was spent back at the lakeside shack-restaurant having a beer. Monks were swimming in the late-afternoon sun, while different lake birds, small crows and pigeons zipped this was and that over the waters. On the long porch in the shade by the restaurant the proprietor and some of her helpers were busy making kabdze (lit. mouth food) for the New Year. This is fried dough either in thick twists or the tubular ‘donkey ears’ style. Kabdze is a traditional Losar food. Finely milled flour, though common in the modern world, was a rare culinary treat in Tibet.

todd-chambers-2009-02-23PS There’s a post-script to yesterday. I was approached in the middle of the lama dances by a very kind and cheerful man named Todd Chambers, a student of Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche, and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche, known to many as ‘The Khenpo Brothers.’ Todd has been following the blog while on pilgrimage here in India and prevailed upon his family who live in Orissa to stop by the monastery to see His Eminence and the Sakyong whom he has great admiration for. Todd’s been here at other times and stayed a bit for the dances before heading home before sundown in order to avoid a more challenging nighttime drive through the elephant territory nearby.

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