Every year since I was a child, New Year’s Eve was special, but little more than a lead up to Shambhala Day, when my American Buddhist community gathered, pulled our “Sunday best” out of storage, meditated, chanted, burned damp juniper in a sort of purification blessing and drala-magnetizing ritual, danced in a full-on fancy British-style Ball, listened to an international Dharma address by our guru (with funny commentary preceding by our own resident comedian, Marty Janowitz), attended brunches at households all over whatever town I happened to live in…it was a full, special, helpful week of celebrations.
But the 10 or so days preceding, we’d do very little. Stick close to home. Practice meditation, chant sacred reminders about wakefulness. We’d avoid travel, big decisions, business moves—the week or so directly before the Eastern New Year is considered a time for contemplation and cleaning up the accumulated karmic dust bunnies from the year before.
It’s called Dön Season.
Shambhala Day marks the beginning of the New Year, and is the most important holiday of the Shambhala Mandala. Based on the traditional Tibetan new year’s celebration of Losar, the day is calculated astrologically according to the Tibetan lunar calendar, and changes every year to coincide with the annual lunar cycles.
On Don Season, via one of our community’s most senior teachers, the Dorje Loppon:
Averting the Negativity of the Old Year
by Dorje Loppön Lodrö Dorje
The year-end Mamo Days practice [chants] is a means of clearing up the environmental negativity of the whole year.
It is traditional at this time to invoke the transforming power of realization in the form of the Dharma [Buddhist teachings] Protectors’ practice. The karmic forces which shape our world are both personal and collective. We are caught up in the momentum of conditions around us, for good and ill. We share virtue, exertion, beliefs, conflicting emotions, prosperity, difficulty and sickness with our family, our community and our country. We are continually reacting to and contributing to the general energy.
Just as the motion of the earth and the cycle of the seasons take place, there may be also a cycle of the karmic forces on a psychic level. Traditionally the end of the old year is seen as a time of the ripening of karmic tendencies. The Protectors’ practice at this time is a way of actively purifying and transforming the accumulated negativity.
Outwardly, this negativity manifests as discord, opposition, desires, accidents.
Inwardly, it manifests as emotional fixations, sickness and unbalanced inner energy in the psycho-physical body.
Secretly, it manifests as fixed beliefs concerning ourselves, and the reality of subtle and spiritual aspects of existence. For instance, we might think that the psychic and spiritual forces of life are solidly and definitely external from our own awareness. Or we might think that such dimensions positively don’t exist and don’t function at all. Both extremes create trouble for us.
To help deal with this accumulated karmic force, we attune ourselves to the lineage blessing in the form of the larger and compassionate mind of practice, and invoke the Dharma Protectors, who are the form of enlightened energy with the role of transmuting and overcoming such environmental negatively, outer, inner and secret.
The Drala Principle [invoking and connecting with sacred energy, wakefulness] also has this function, in part.
What makes this a real communication, rather than just a religious practice done with wishful thinking?
Perhaps we could think of our four factors:
First, keeping our own conduct and awareness straightforward and kind. Second, keeping openness to the fundamental nature of our awareness, which is inseparable from the awakened Masters of our tradition. Third, keeping familiarity with taming, riding, and transmuting our own personal energies, through our lungta and our vajrayana practice. Fourth, paying attention properly to the details of our lives.
These factors tune us into the energetic background of our life in a sane way.
Bonus, an old Shambhala Day talk.
For old times’ sake, here’s Trungpa Rinpoche’s 1984 talk. Remember specifics about the year may not apply, but the general spirit was so touching I had to put this in. Again, courtesy the Chronicle Project, a site worth supporting (it’s working to preserve history and teachings of Trungpa Rinpoche in the West:
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche: Cheerful Shambhala Day.
Students: Cheerful Shambhala Day Sir.
CTR: It is a great pleasure for me to talk to you all. Not only in this room alone, but overseas and students of Vajradhatu. I hope that we all will have good time and good year, particularly good practice. We had a very positive year, and no doubt we will have also positive year in this year.
It is particularly year for us to develop sense of humor. Particularly it is year for [us to] express non-theism, and no doubt that it is year for further cheering up. It is year of experiencing interesting gap in our lives. Some people might feel that there is a sense of loss, confusion, and some people might experience year of making decisions of our lives. But we shouldn’t be afraid of those problems.
The reality, strangely enough, has four legs and it’s hairy [laughter]. Occasionally it has two wings. Sometimes it is ornamented with two horns. Life is not all that bad. It has enormous cheerful possibilities. Wherever you are, you will find great smile. One never knows who is smiling, or for that matter, what we are smiling for. In short, please make sure that there is no frivolity, and make your decisions [in] accordance with the practice of meditation, and with sense of humor. This is year of making decisions: economic, social, education, and so forth.
As far as the Vajradhatu is concerned, we are grown up, growing further. We are learning more. We have learned from both mistakes and wisdom. It is year for us to not panic, and develop sense of humor.
I am very pleased with all the students — how much exertion they put in their practice, and effort. It will cause longevity for me, and therefore I would like to thank all of you. But let us continue, let us go on. Let us expand. Cheerful Shambhala Day to all of you with lots of love. Let us play together.
Thank all of you. Please enjoy today, and rest of the year. Don’t give up. Continue. Thank you.
© 2008 Diana J. Mukpo
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