In Buddhist societies, celebrating the new year according to the Gregorian calendar is a relatively new occurrence. Historically, the lunar new year, which falls on 22 January this year, has been more important in many East and Southeast Asian countries. Nonetheless, Buddhists across the world have embraced the Western celebration in varying and unique ways.
In Japan, ringing a large hanging bell has become a customary way for many Buddhists to welcome the new year. Days ahead of the new year, Buddhist monks at Chion-in temple in Kyoto carried out a test run of the yearly bell-ringing. The bell, which is 3.3-meters tall and weighs 70 tonnes, was rung 108 times on New Year’s Eve, starting at 10:40 p.m. local time. While the monastery restricted visitors to just 1,000 people as a precaution against COVID-19, they live-streamed ceremony on their YouTube channel for all to see.
This Japanese tradition has also made its way to the United States. The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco held its 37th annual Japanese New Year’s Bell-Ringing Ceremony to ring in the new year. Like many celebrations around the world, this was the first time the event has taken place in person since 2019. The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper described the event as “a great way to end a year and start a new year.” (The Rafu Shimpo)
In Thailand, Buddhist laypeople could take part in a “resurrection” ceremony officiated by a Buddhist monk. The ceremony, complete with coffins and flowers, offered the practitioners an experience of the death process with the intention of letting go of negative karma as the participants are symbolically reborn into a new life.
As part of the Geluk Great Prayer Festival in Bodh Gaya, India, the Geluk International Foundation offered prayers for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 1 January. More than 16,000 monks and nuns chanted prayers for the Dalai Lama before he addressed the gathering. In his statement, the Dalai Lama said:
It so happens that today, on the first day of the new year of the common calendar, we are gathered in this sacred place where monks from the three great seats of learning, Ganden, Sera and Drepung, are offering prayers. We are also joined by masters of the Sakya, Nyingma and other traditions. It is because the interdependence between us that we have gathered here on this occasion.
As for me, I am determined to continue to serve the Buddhadharma, especially the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition, until I’m at least 100 years old. As you know, I am driven by the following prayer:
For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the suffering and misery of the world.
People in Tibet are facing difficulties, but it is the people of the Three Provinces—Amdo, Kham and U-tsang—the Himalayan Regions, as well as Mongolia, Kalmykia, Buryatia and Tuva, who most fervently pray for me to live long. These heartfelt wishes will bear fruit. I am determined to live for a long time and in my dreams I’ve had indications that I will live to be more than 100. The karmic connections between us serve as conditions for this to come about.(His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
In Vietnam, the new year was an occasion for generosity. The Vietnam Buddhist Sangha Executive Council in Trieu helped to select 250 disadvantaged families who would receive daily essentials, including jam, rice, tea, and cooking oil at a local market, as well as 100,000 dong (US$4.25).
And in Geneva, Illinois, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva will host a New Year Blessing Ceremony on 8 January. The event will be led by monastics from the Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple and will include guided meditation and discussion.
“Meditation is an amazing tool for stress management and mental focus, and for making a genuine spiritual connection,” said Rev. Scot Hull, senior minister. “Our church is pleased to offer this opportunity to learn directly from these Buddhist monks as a gift to the community.” (Daily Herald)
Monks at Kyoto temple test their hanging bell for New Year’s Eve (The Asahi Shimbun)
Photos: New Year 2023 celebrations around the world (Al Jazeera)
37th Annual Japanese New Year’s Bell-Ringing Ceremony (The Rafu Shimpo)
Thai devotees hold resurrection ceremony to welcome 2023 (ABS CBN News)
Offering of Prayers for Long Life (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
Geneva Unitarian Church hosts Buddhist New Year Blessing and Meditation Service (Daily Herald)
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Bhumisparsha: Siddhartha’s Intent India and Deer Park Institute to Host Online New Year’s Eve Concert
New Year Refuge: A Global Celebration of the Buddha
International Lay Buddhist Forum Held over the New Year in Thailand