Tibetan Losar - Shambhala New Year

February 25th 2009 Shambhala Day, Year of the Earth Ox

Thumping on the neighbor’s door woke me at four AM. President Richard Reoch was being informed that we need not be out of bed till five; there’d been a mistake in the westerner’s schedule. The bedroom was black, the air stiflingly stiff and hot with no light or fan in a power failure that was to last late into the morning. I blindly fought to open my door that was later discovered to be jammed half-shut by a thick Losar greeting card shoved beneath it in the earlier hours. After I sweatily yanked the door out six inches, Jigme the manager’s face appeared in a candle lit dimness. “Happy Losar,” he said with a smile after explaining the change in schedule.

So began the year of the Ox. It’s a bit of challenge to dress formally while wearing a headlamp in a hot room, but somehow it works. There’s something special about doing that when you know everybody in the village is faced with the same problem. The Shambhala and Ripa sangha members trickled out in the early morning darkness using flashlights to walk to the Ripa Ladrang without stepping in cow dung.

Walking through the settlement in the dark, everybody was saying delightedly, ‘Tashi Deleg,’ the traditional New Year’s greeting. I’ve read that these words, ‘auspicious goodness,’ were not a common greeting until the 1960s or 70s west when someone pointed out that there was no way to say ‘good day’ or something of the like in Tibetan. Up till then, Tibetans usually greeted each other throughout the year with, ‘Where have you come from?’

At the Ladrang, vigorous chanting, drumming, horns and cymbals could be heard from the window of His Eminence’s shrine room above the garden. Below, about a hundred lay Tibetans and westerners were being served sweet tea, butter tea and New Year’s chang, Tibetan beer, in this case made from rice. The Sakyong Wangmo and her sisters Semo Sonam and Semo Pede were moving through the well-dressed crowd, greeting everyone with a smile and making them feel at home. Everyone was readying khatas to present to the lamas upstairs who’d been performing a Gesar long life practice practice since 2 AM; some Tibetans came with trays of fruit and kabdze. A steady line of people filed up the stairs into the shrine room and them out another door and down another set of stairs at the far end of the garden.

Inside the narrow small shrine room the walls were rumbling with the voices of about 20 lamas headed by Namkha Drimed Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche whose thrones squeezed in on either side of the shrine at the far end of the room. Below them a row of lamas ran along either wall and there was just enough space for two people to squeeze past each other on the carpet in between. The middle of the room was filled with a narrow double line of people trying to get to or from His Eminence and the Sakyong while offering khatas to the lamas along the way. The lamas, who sat on low cushions, had their practice tables and all but their texts buried under a long, unbroken, fluffy white cloud of khatas about six or eight inches high. The Sakyong gave a big smile as he placed a khata over my neck. He looked very happy, as did His Eminence, to be practicing first thing in the New Year.

Back down in the garden it was time for a few more sips of chang or sweet chai. By then the sun was really up, and our eyes were really open to the day. While people were dressed according to the request by the Tibetan government to have a subdued New Year, the ladies looked quite elegant in their dresses and simple chubas while the gentlemen were handsome and dignified in suit jackets and ties. We learned that if this had been an ordinary new year, we’d have heard explosions of demon-chasing fireworks in the morning, and for the next few days along with parties and dance music throughout the settlement.

Soon after a relaxed and cheerful breakfast most everyone, lay and monastic, was in the shade of the monastery porch contemplating the intense heat and white light sunshine. The monks soon rushed to the courtyard to make two long columns with a wide space between them for His Eminence Namkha Drimed Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche to walk past on the way to the stairs up to the shrine room. All the monks held white khatas that gleamed in the sunlight, a pretty contrast to the red of their robes. Atop the steps, Thonnga, who runs the canteen (and who’s wife had a baby less than a week ago) and a few other village laymen, set up a traditional painted stand holding raw and ground roasted barley to be tossed into the air before entering the monastery.

Tibetan New Year’s, monastery-style, is a pretty straightforward situation. Everyone made offerings of khatas and money to various shrines and the main lamas before sitting back down again for ceremonial tea and big bags of treats including kabdze, fruit and candy the the young monks appeared to dig into quickly. After formally offering our tea with a tea chant, the monastics and those of use who could read Tibetan sang through a variety of aspirations for the new year, more positive seeds being planted to start things well. At the end of about an hour of a half of practice, both Namkha Drimed Rinpoche
and Jigme Rinpoche offered short talks to the monastics

Afterwards, the Shambhala sangha was joined by the Ripa sangha in the lobby of the guesthouse transformed into a small assembly hall for a short practice lead by President Reoch before we listened to the recorded Shambhala Day addresses from the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo. This, interestingly enough, started at about midnight Halifax time. Then, after a long chatty luncheon most everyone wandered to their rooms for a long nap.

The final part of a Shambhala Day in Orissa was a dinner party for the foreign guests in the garden of the Ripa Ladrang hosted by the Ripa family. Several small tables were placed on the little lawn amidst the wide leafed tropical plants. In typical Tibetan hospitality, guests were unceasingly plied with chang, fruit juice and water while a great banquet of momos, tandori chicken, various local vegetable dishes, broth, extra-hot hot sauce, and a dessert of rice pudding was served to one and all. There were three head tables, one for His Eminence, the Sakyong and Sakyong Wangmo, along with their guests President Reoch, Noedup Rongae and Heinz Buhofer. To their right sat Jigme Rinpoche and a new group of Russian guest,s and to their left sat Lhuntrul Rinpoche, Tulku Kunkyab Rinpoche and Khandro Chime Drolkar and some others.

The night was delightful and low key. There was no singing and no dancing but toward the end of the evening, after His Eminence had retired, there was a round of toasts from various members of the community. This was started by Kristine McCutcheon who had been instructed by the Richard Reoch to speak for five minutes straight. This broke the ice. Tulku Kunkhyab gave a very sweet toast in English. We’d have say that the broad voiced and cheerful Nepalese gardener at the Ripa Lhadrang gave the most memorable toast of all. He animatedly described what it has been like for him to encounter the great variety of ants and other insects and obstacles here in Orissa as he experiences the blessings of the guru watches spread to people in the community. In the end, everyone was tucked in bed by midnight, happy and content to have started the new year in good form and good company.

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