Monday, February 11, 2013

Greetings on the Tibetan New Year

Today is Losar, the day of the Tibetan New Year. It's the year of the water snake. I am sending warm wishes to you that this lunar year brings you joy, good health, prosperity and wonderful opportunities for growth and transformation.

Two days ago, I went out to Tashi Choling, the Buddhist center I helped to start in 1980. Every year, we do a spiritual practice for three days to purify obstacles from the current year and clear the energies for the coming year. This morning our sangha (spiritual community) gathered to do a puja ceremony to welcome the new year. I wasn't able to attend because I have a class I am teaching at OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Center) at the university today.

Prayer flags in front of the Tashi Choling temple
 It was very sweet to take part in the practice on Saturday. Going out to Tashi Choling is often like going into another parallel world. It feels good to leave ordinary concerns and activities behind, and focus on meditation and prayer.

The temple is over the mountain pass south of Ashland, Oregon. Then one goes down into the Colestine Valley. It was a cold, brilliantly sunny day. The tall prayer flags in front of the temple were flying in the breeze.

I feel the kind of closeness with my Dharma family that one feels for real family, for old friends bound by a common vision and goals. I've practised with many of my sangha friends for over 30 years now. We've been through a lot together, because we are all in the same spiritual cauldron.

People who are entering a spiritual path or practice sometimes imagine that it will be blissful and harmonious and otherworldly. Yes, hopefully there will be those moments or hours or weeks, but there is also a great deal of tumult, irritation, conflict and difficulty because confronting one's habitual responses and obscurations is not the most relaxing thing. Is that one of my understatements? Yes it is. Spiritual inquiry and the inner work of transformation brings everything up that is hidden below the surface.  Not always pretty, especially since we have the habit of putting everything under the rug, and keeping up appearances.

The sun shines in one of the temple windows
Candles and colored lights on the altar
Some of the work involves disclosing one's negative habits and responses to oneself, and working to transform.

The sangha community acts as support, mirror and sometimes provocateur. The spiritual teacher is the conductor of the symphony. Sometimes the music is ecstatic, sometimes it is cacophony.

One grows to appreciate the entire display. I was very glad to have to opportunity to be with my beloved sangha friends two days ago.

As we age, it's natural to turn within. I remember reading an essay whose author portrayed aging as a natural monastery. One tends to slow down, to become more reflective.

Religious traditions recognize the importance of spiritual focus in the later years. In Hinduism, four stages of life are described--student, householder, retired person and sadhu or sunnyasin. The last two stages are especially involved in spiritual practice. The worldly responsibilities of family and career are done, and one takes up spiritual practice in earnest.

The retired person is pictured living as a hermit in a forest hut. In the next stage, the sadhu or sunnyasin becomes a wandering recluse who has given up home altogether, instead concentrating on spiritual release.

In Tibetan culture, older people are not expected to work, but are supported in spiritual practice. One sees rows of older people with their prayer beads and prayer wheels, spending hours in prayer and meditation.

How different these perspectives on aging are from those of our modern world, with its emphasis on proving one's value through continued productivity, engagement, encore careers, active and sometimes hyperactive aging and a retirement age that keeps creeping toward 70.

These are my reflections today, as I prepare to offer my first OLLI class on "Retirement, Refirement and Successful Aging."


  1. Thank you for your reminder about Losar. I am deep into writing about Tibet so the place as it existed 70 years ago is on my mind but only the Chinese New Year (which is approximately, but not exactly congruent) is the only one mentioned in our papers. Tibet is too much forgotten even by those who have adopted the Americanized form of their religion. When I visited Tibet some 15 years ago I saw a number of older people quietly worshiping at sacred sites, saying their mantras with their beads and handheld prayer wheels. Life was not easy for any Tibetan but they seemed to have found moments of peaceful contemplation -- something that here, in the US, seems to happen mainly in front of the TV instead of with internal calm and focus on their beliefs.

  2. June, How nice to hear from you today. Materialism is a profound disruption of balance both outer and inner. We see that in the world today in ways that are difficult to experience. Sending you good wishes for your happiness and the fruition of your writing.