LOSAR: TIBETAN NEW YEAR

 by Marianjela Celeste

The word Losar is a Tibetan word for New Year. LO means year and SAR means new. In Tibetan Buddhism it is a spiritual occasion coupled with a celebration. For Tibetans, and those who study the Buddhadharma, the first fifteen days of the New Year are considered extremely important. It is during this time that all of our positive and negative actions are said to be magnified 100,000 times! 

But what is the reason our actions are multiplied so? It is said that it is because Buddha Shakyamuni spent one day in each of the fifteen different realms that exist spreading the teachings of the Dharma. On the fifteenth day he returned to the human realm to defeat those who opposed the Dharma, the Thirtikas (a Tirthika is defined as someone who has neither connection with nor the capacity to understand the teachings of the Buddha). Buddha Shakyamuni was successful in quickly turning their minds towards the precious teachings. 

Since everything has to do with to karma (cause and effect) it is then important during these fifteen days to focus ones mind on positive actions while avoiding all negativities. History gives us an example of the power of karma. Milarepa was a great teacher and master, yogi of realization. As a young student he made an offering of an empty container to one of his teachers. This, of course, was not a good sign. As a result, Milarepa found it difficult throughout the rest of his life to find food.

Since we are unsure of the opportunities and possibilities our lives may hold for us in the coming year it is then good to create good signs and seek the blessings and the help of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. We do this by practicing generosity, compassion and wisdom and by making offerings to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. An example of one of these offerings is the bread-like loaves we all saw on the shrine; these are called «Khapsay» and are made from barley, one of Tibet’s main crops. These loaves are presented as an offering in the hope that the coming year’s crop will be rich and bountiful. Other material offerings include butter lamps, flowers and incense. In addition, mental offerings of body, speech and mind are made.

During the Losar ceremony each participant is given a plate of rice cooked with saffron and torma to eat. Torma is a special tiny bulbous root that grows wild in Tibet but due to the unavailability of it in the West then raisins are used instead. This food symbolizes an offering to the three Jewels( Buddha, Dharma , Sangha) of one’s  enjoyments, possessions and glories attained in the succession of all of one’s lifetimes.

The raising of a prayer flags is also an important part of Losar because it is done for ones own benefit as well as that of all sentient beings. It is done to also pleases all the deities and dharmapalas  (protectors of the teachings). The pole symbolizes the reader of the mantras and prayers that are written on the flag itself. The wind represents speech. When the wind moves the flag, the prayers are read into the wind.

The prayers are then carried countless miles in all directions benefiting all those whom the wind touches! Prayer flags are Banners of Victory; that is, they indicate that the Dharma is flourishing. In general prayers as the following are printed on the cloth of the flags:

«In the world in general and in this nation especially may not even the names of disease, famine, war and suffering be heard. May virtuous qualities, merit and prosperity greatly increase and may continuously good fortune and sublime well-being perfectly arise and increase.»

During Losar, it is customary for everyone to go to their own local monastery to make these offerings, recite prayers and receive blessings and teachings from their own teachers. After this, one would journey to other monasteries to visit Dharma practitioners, make offerings and receive blessings and teachings from other teachers as well. 

One would also travel to ones parent’s home to again make offerings and give thanks. Finally, one would meet with friends and relatives. One then spends the entire day relaxing, laughing, enjoying each other’s company and talking about the Dharma. 

At the end of the day when everyone leaves, the tables are covered with half filled cups, empty plates, dishes and dirty napkins. All this is left untouched overnight and into the next day to symbolize the continuation of many such dinners to follow in the future.