MONDAY, JANUARY 9: It’s the full moon day of January, and for most Buddhists in Mahayana countries, that means one thing: New Year! Buddhists today will be cleaning their homes, donning new outfits and wishing friends and family a blessed new year. Buddha statues will be bathed in ceremonial rituals, and in the temple, candles will be lit. In some communities, fireworks light up the night to announce a fresh start and a new year.
Buddhist tradition has separated into Theravada and the larger Mahayana movement. (Wikipedia has details.) Mahayana Buddhism began in India and encourages devotees to work toward enlightenment for all sentient beings—not just themselves. Mahayana Buddhism now encompasses Zen, Tibetan and Shingon Buddhism, and is practiced in Japan, China, Vietnam, Korea, Nepal and Tibet.
DALAI LAMA PRAYS FOR WORLD PEACE AT GLOBAL GATHERING
INDIA: The mystical cycles of time in Buddhism also are the focus of the 33rd Kalachakra Initiation conducted by the Dalai Lama since 1954. For more than a week, thousands of Buddhists from around the world—including actor Richard Gere from the U.S.—have been gathering with the Dalai Lama at the sacred Buddhist site of Bodh Gaya in eastern India. How many are attending? Crowd estimates range widely. Certainly, tens of thousands are attending, but one Asian news source estimates the total at 400,000.
CELEBRITY REPORTING: Most American news media ignore this Buddhist milestone, although USA Today did publish this short celebrity item about Gere: “Hollywood’s most notable Buddhist, Richard Gere, is bringing in 2012 spiritually. He’s in India hanging with the Dalai Lama for a Buddhism festival at the site where Buddha is believed to have achieved enlightenment.”
MEANING OF THE EVENT: The principles of the Kalachakra tradition are complex, but the term means “Time Wheel.” Anyone who has seen Tibetan monks on television or at a religious festival laying out one of their beautifully colored sand mandalas will begin to appreciate the importance of these Buddhist themes related to time, cycles and sacred space. In general, this is a gathering focused on world peace in a deeply troubled era, the Dalai Lama has explained. Officials organizing the current Kalachakra, which runs through January 10, explain it this way: Followers from many Buddhist sects “will offer a mass prayer ceremony for peace for the whole universe and particularly for our world.” Included in the week of ritual and meditation will be “a long-life prayer ceremony for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This llife-long prayer will be offered by Buddhists around the world, including in India, Nepal, Tibet, Butan and China.”
If you care to read more, Wikipedia has an article about Kalachakra that includes a listing of all of the Dalai Lama’s dozens of formal observances around the world. Or, you may want to visit the official website for the event, which includes its schedule and some newsy links. An extensive story on the event was posted by Radio Free Asia. Most of our readers won’t be able to discern the script, but you can see what the news story looks like in Tibetan-language press.
BUDDHIST TRAGEDY AND DANGER LOOM AS 2012 OPENS
INDIA: The Hindustan Times on Monday, January 9, reports that Indian police are responding to threats of a terrorist attack against the Dalai Lama, indicating that such an attack could come from pro-Chinese forces. The newspaper quoted a police official as vowing: “Police are not taking any chances. Our best men have been given the responsibility of his security.”
CHINA: The backdrop of such threats appears to be a series of Buddhists in China who have set themselves on fire to protest ongoing Chinese oppression in Tibet, focused especially on Tibetan Buddhists. News broke around the world on Sunday, January 8, about two more Buddhists setting themselves on fire in China. Here is the BBC’s version of the story. At least 14 people have taken this rash action over the past year, and Chinese officials typically have accused them of anti-social crimes. In the latest cases, Chinese spokesmen apparently have moved a step further, accusing the burned men of “stealing and whoring.” A Times of India report describes this as an escalation of the Chinese response to such acts. For yet another perspective, here is the Voice of America story from Sunday.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.