Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

An American Buddhist New Year ~

Few Americans are Buddhist — between 2.5 and 4 million, according to at least one source. A similar number are of Chinese ancestry — a scant 3 million. This makes the celebration of Buddhist New Year in the US a kind of moveable feast :).

So if you’d like to celebrate Buddhist New Year in the US, you have choices: some American Buddhists celebrate in January — upcoming Monday the 9th. Others fall in w/ Chinese New Year (this year January 23rd), including the wearing of lucky red and the eating of lucky foods. And still others celebrate New Year’s as the rest of the country already has — on January 1st.

But because of the influence on American Buddhism of Theravadin countries like Việt Nam and Thailand, many Buddhists celebrate the religious new year in conjunction with Chinese New Year, in customs if not actual date.  Whichever date you choose, here are some things to do to get ready for the new year:

Clean your altar.Wipe down all the surfaces, empty your incense burner and put out fresh incense. Gently clean any statues. On my home altar, I have a gold Buddha medal my husband brought back from a temple in Japan. I take it out of its sleeve and wipe it gently. I wipe down my table. I carefully rinse my Kuanyin figure, and dust  the brightly coloured  green Tara meditation card I use for a focus. I empty my incense burner of ash and unburned incense, and then I put everything back in place.

If you don’t have a home altar, this is a good year to set one up. It needn’t cost much: a space on a kitchen shelf, as one of my friends has done, will suffice. And if you don’t already have a Buddha statue, print out a nice one on your printer.  Or take a picture at a museum and use that. Fill a small bowl w/ sand and stick an incense stick in it. Add your mala and voilà! An altar :).

If you want to be a bit more elaborate, an altar cloth is nice, and protects the surface of your table or shelf from incense ash and the occasional spark (my table has a few burn marks, I confess).  And you may want to spring for a really lovely Buddha or Kuanyin — they can cost as much as you want to spend. :)

The point is to celebrate the New Year — whichever day you choose — by honouring your commitment to be more mindful, kinder and more compassionate. That’s what is really important. Whatever helps you come to that mindset is the best of New Year preparations ~

 

 

phosphate-free dishwashing detergent and post-holiday clarity ~

We don’t use phosphates in our dishwasher. They cause algae bloom, and lower the oxygen in water, suffocating fish if the bloom is excessive. But their replacements — phosphate-free detergents —  transform your originally clear and/or white dishes into cloudy, powder-covered trophies of environmentalism.

I’m making peace with that. But I had this epiphany today, as I made a blueberry smoothie in the new blender. Trust me, it has to do w/ beginner’s heart :).

Pre-holiday, my husband bought me a new blender — breast-cancer pink, in honour of my sister’s survivorship. (We were still using the blender from our wedding!)  The new  blender jar  is a lovely clear polycarbonate — so clear it’s like looking through mountain air. It almost disappears between the pink lid and the pink base.

I’m washing it in the sink, right after emptying the dishwasher of the phosphate-deprived glassware, each piece clouded and fogged w/ powdery residue. And I stop, as the whole Buddha-in-the-dishes realisation hits me. I know, it’s obvious. But somehow, seeing the crystal clear blender makes it real, tangible: with the accretions of life in the fast lane, too much work, and not enough outside breathing, I’ve become clouded.  The holidays, w/ their Amazon wish lists and lengthy to-do notes and laundry and dishes and cooking and wrapping and mindlessness have only exacerbated it all. Like the glasses given to me — once transparent, now pitted and fogged with salts — I’m dimmer and far less clear.

So I’m trying to figure out what the environmentally correct spiritual equivalent of phosphates is. There’s a Tibetan parable, about a stone picked up by a monk. He shows it to his student, then dips it in water. For a moment the stone’s colours bloom: mica and garnet in the metamorphosed schist. But as the water evaporates, the stone dulls, and returns to dull grey. Maybe all I need is something as ordinary as water. As gentle, as powerful. Something to bring me back to my original nature. Like the breath, followed to its resting place :). Or the contemporary koan of a blender jar, phosphates, and our inner Buddha nature…

 

 

Happy New Year! (and a clean slate to you ~)

I love clean slates. I love a morning which is unencumbered by the mistakes of yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. The idea that it all begins now, today, this very moment… It’s intoxicating.

Just the frame of it — today is clean ~ no baggage ~ the first day of this new year ~ makes watching the bluejay drinking from the bird bath, his head thrown back and the water visibly sliding down his creamy blue throat, a kind of miracle. The goldfinches who didn’t migrate, the hawk sitting in the pecan tree just beside the deck — each is a line in the poem of a new beginning.

Perhaps that’s the allure of an after-life, reincarnation, rebirth. The idea that somehow we can make it all right: iron out the crinkles of our lives, patch the torn places of the fragile paper on which we write our daily words and actions. One of the things I love about  Buddhism is the idea that we don’t ignore  our pain — we walk into it knowingly and live within it until it passes. And it works. In truth, everything passes.

I still write resolutions. Promises to the future, despite my love of the present. Today I’ll make a list in the new journal I have ready, setting aside the stuffed Moleskine of the past 5+ months. I’ll begin to collect new ephemera ~ new poems printed out from various sources, photos of family and friends, tickets to special events. I’ll paste in the weather for another trip, a cartoon, even a sprig of weed w/ perfect seed heads.

My resolutions are ephemera, often. Over the years I’ve learned to make fewer, trying harder to keep them. But like my three-inch-thick journal, they’re more reflective of the actual than the imagined :). My intentions are (always :)) good: I will draw more, do more drafts of work in my journal, make it more reflective of my ‘better’ self. But what I (always) seem to end up with is the daily  me ~ a quotidian calendar. Quick-writes in class with students, to-do lists, a quirky on-line horoscope printed for its totally inappropriate fortune. Continue Reading This Post »

Happy Kwanzaa!

It’s the 5th day of Kwanzaa, the day of purpose, if I’m not mistaken. I love the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). Translated from Swahili — a language chosen for its wide-spread usage across eastern Africa — the principles coexist quite comfortably with Buddhism. Right speech, right action and

I find this true of most spiritual systems — they share far more than they differ. Christians and Muslims and Jews are all children of Abraham. Buddhism grows from the fertile foundation of Hinduism, and shares w/ the Abrahamic religions a commitment to compassion for the needy, the lost.

This year, as I ready for a new chapter (new work ~ what will it be? what will it bring?), I’m thinking of what we share, beginners all. A quest for truths, a love of goodness. A commitment to justice and peace? A hope for the future, certainly. And ss the year winds down, I wish for each of us  success in our quests, fulfillment in our efforts to live up to the principles of Kwanzaa, the Commandments of Moses, the Eightfold Path of Buddhism.

Not to mention a lovely New Year’s Eve, a Happy Kwanzaa, and a New Year brimming with love & laughter. :)

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