Happy New Year!

If you’re from one of the reddish areas, Happy New Year!

Map South and Southeast Asian regions celebrating an April New Year

My first post was a similar new year greeting nearly four years ago. Since then I’ve gone off to be the Angry Asian Buddhist and let my own writing here die down as my talented co-bloggers John, Oz and kudos have taken up some of the slack. There is so much that I have learned about writing and the Buddhist community in these past four years, from my earlier writing on Buddhist Americans to what turned out to be Dharma Folk’s most popular post ever.

Hopefully in this new year I will make more time to write here. There is much that I’d like to share about my practice and my community. For example, this year’s New Year was the most exciting new year that I’ve perhaps ever enjoyed, and being replete with Buddhist themes, it’s an experience I would love to share on this blog. But before then, we Dharma Folk might focus our energies to apply a more unique theme to the site.

Stay tuned.

Happy New Year!

This blog is officially two years old. Our first post in 2008 marked the Other Lunar New Year. (I write “lunar” although several countries time their celebrations in line with the Gregorian calendar.) I’d like to think of this date as a most auspicious anniversary. As I wrote then:

This festival is widely celebrated in nations that are predominantly Theravada Buddhist, so this theme is both fitting and auspicious for our first post! You may often hear/see this celebration called Songkran in ThailandLaos and CambodiaThingyan in Burma and Aluth Avurudhu in Sri Lanka. This new year is also celebrated in Nepal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, Punjab and Bengal (including Bangladesh). Apparently it’s not as much of a fest elsewhere in South Asia.

Similar posts from the past are here and here. I couldn’t find any writing on this holiday hanging around the anglophonic Buddhist blogosphere—save a background mention in a Tricycle post. Can’t say I’m surprised! It’s a sad and disappointing sort of vindication—if it weren’t for the Angry Asian Buddhist, I wonder how many self-styled “Western” Buddhists would recognize this holiday at all.

Happy Independence Day

Twelve years ago today I found myself out by Dún Laoghaire harbor, and looked out to see the USS John F Kennedy. That was the most “American” July 4 for me, if only because that massive symbol of America in a foreign harbor reminded me of all my family that had served in the forces and who were celebrating the Fourth of July back home. So to celebrate this day, especially for our service members overseas, here’s an excerpt from a prayer by Venerable Master Hsing Yun that was posted on Buddhist Military Sangha.

Oh great compassionate Buddha!
May our armed forces:
Be able to understand
Both themselves and their opponents, and avoid danger;
Be well-versed
In the art of war and uphold justice;
Be able to exercise compassion and wisdom,
And achieve victory through martial virtues;
Be able to possess courage and kindness,
And win the war without fighting a battle.
May they defend the nation
With the spirit of fearlessness;
May they guard the people
With the courage of great compassion.

Aung San Suu Kyi Turns 64

Aung San Suu KyiIn the Buddhist community, I’m sure (or hope) quite a bit of online fanfare will be devoted to Aung San Suu Kyi, who turns 64 today. Most readers are probably well aware that Aung San Suu Kyi has been a key leader in the Burmese democracy movement, and has championed this role with an emphasis on nonviolent approaches. She has spent most of the past 19 years under house arrest, and now faces an almost certain prison sentence as a result of ridiculous charges. There is much more you can learn about related current events at the Irrawaddy and the Democratic Voice of Burma.

I encourage you to celebrate Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday (if you are so inclined) by learning more about the current situation in Burma and in the Burmese exile community.

Southeast Asian New Year a Buddhist holiday?

Pohela Boishakh(Inspired by a previous post by kudos.)

This is probably a question that few care to ask, but I thought I’d slop together some information for anyone who was interested in knowing more about this holiday. I usually refer to it as Songkran/Thingyan, but this term (as I understand) is most often used to just denote the first day of New Year celebrations. Temple visits and blessings are typical, but I’ve never really thought of this holiday as Buddhist.

I have been greeting all my Thai, Lao, Burmese, Mon, Khmer and Sri Lankan friends with Happy New Year. But it so happens that one of my best friends is Bengali (and Muslim), and he was quick to point out that this is also the Bengali New Year, known as Pohela Boishakh, celebrated by both Indian and Bangladeshi Bengalis. Not only that, he continued, it’s also the South Indian, East Indian (Assamese, Manipuri, Oriya, Bengali), Nepalese and Punjabi New Year. While the Southeast Asian areas that celebrate this holiday are predominantly Buddhist, the other areas in South Asia are predominantly non-Buddhist. They are mostly Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. So from that more regional perspective, this day isn’t a Buddhist holiday at all.

Continue reading “Southeast Asian New Year a Buddhist holiday?”

Happy New Year!

Thingyan

I can barely believe that I wrote our first Dharma Folk post one year ago today. We had no idea what we were going to do with this blog. We had a lot of thoughts and things to say about Buddhism and the Buddhist community. We figured we might as well start a blog and start writing.

Today is the start of the “other” Asian New Year. In Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, it’s celebrated as Songkran. In Burma, it’s called Thingyan. Both are modern derivatives of the Sanskrit sankranti, which refers to an “astrological passage.” If you get the chance to go to temple for a New Year festivity, beware that this holiday is also known as the Water Festival. You might want to bring clothes that you don’t mind getting wet! (I know that this New Year is also celebrated in Sri Lanka, by both Sinhalese and Tamils. I just don’t know how they celebrate it.)

Of course, I have a snarky twist in store for every celebration…

Continue reading “Happy New Year!”

Chinese New Year a Religious Holiday?

As many of you probably already know, this past weekend, and for some this week as well, has been the celebration of the Lunar Chinese New Year. Our family did common New Year activities that many people probably also partake in – visiting a temple, burning paper money for ancestors, gathering for a big family dinner, receiving red envelopes. While scanning through Google Reader this morning, I came across an interesting article titled “Business of Chinese New Year”, featured on the Belief.net website. The article basically talks about how Chinese New Year has become one of Las Vegas’ “most critical holidays”, as vacationers come for gambling, performances, shopping, and even just a short getaway.

While reading the article, what got to me was not the main issue at hand, but rather that the article was posted on Belief.net in the first place. There were no religious/spiritual references in the article nor did they mention anything about how religion plays a role in Chinese New Year. I could not figure out why Belief.net would post such an article, especially since their mission is “to help people like you find, and walk, a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness”. Unless of course, they assumed Chinese New Year is a religious holiday! Well, is it? Continue reading “Chinese New Year a Religious Holiday?”

Buddhism For Sale

Hello everyone,

As a new contributor to Dharma Folk, I am honored to particpate in the discussion of Buddhism through this blog.

As my first post, I have gathered several pictures of Buddhist related products taken while Christmas shopping. It’s always surprising to see Buddhism appearing randomly on t-shirts, in restaurants, as toys, and whatever else people can think of. This “Buddhamania” phenomenon, as the Los Angeles Times calls it, appears everywhere – the Buddha figure seems to be getting more and more popular, though not always in a spiritual context.

Continue reading “Buddhism For Sale”

Celebration in the ruins of Rangoon

Buddha at BogalayOn May 19, the moon will pass into its full phase, marking the festival on which Theravada Buddhists celebrate Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and parinibbana. This date marks the most important and largest Buddhist holiday.

Devotees often undertake the eight precepts, make donations to charity and also go to temple to pay respects to Lord Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. This festival is filled with celebrations of joy and also the intent to renew one’s dedication to the path.

But for the people of Burma, the full moon of the month of Kason will mark two and a half weeks since the landfall of Cyclone Nargis. I cannot begin to describe this tragedy, especially as many others have done so thoroughly already (also see here, here and here). How will this festival be marked in Burma? How will Buddhists celebrate this day around the world, while so many Burmese flounder in destitution, abandoned by their own government?

What is an appropriate Buddhist response on this occasion?

Continue reading “Celebration in the ruins of Rangoon”