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Happy New Year 2024: The Year of the Dragon

January 1, 2024

Happy New Year!

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

あけまして おめでとう 2024

Congratulations on the beginning of a new year!

Yesterday at our temple's New Year’s Eve service, we rang the kansho--the big  bell behind the altar--108  times. Everyone who attended in person was able to line up and ring the bell 4 times each. It is interesting to me how each person, using the same bell and mallet, manages to make a slightly different sound. Listening to the different tones and tempos we each create is a wonderful reminder of the uniqueness of each one of us.

Female Buddhist Minister hitting a large Japanese bell with a wooden Mallet

Image: Hitting the kansho bell on New Year's Eve. 

I think everyone, young and old alike, enjoyed getting to be a part of this once-a-year tradition.  According to Buddhist tradition, this bell ringing activity purifies the 108 bonno, our many attachments to the world of suffering. Ringing the bell cleared away the greed, anger, and ignorance we accumulated in 2023.  And as we rang the bell, we were reminded of the Infinite Wisdom & Compassion of Amida Buddha that accepts us just as we are—wise or foolish, pure or impure, generous or greedy.  The annual tradition of hitting the bell helps us reflect on our self-centeredness in the past year, and prepares us to face the new year with a clean slate.

So this morning, this new year, represents a fresh start.  Last night we rang away our defilements and today we begin the new year joyously and together as a sangha. 

2023 was the year of the Rabbit. The rabbit is easy-going and prefers to avoid conflict and unnecessary risks. So at the New Year’s Day service last year, at the beginning of  2023, I encouraged everyone to show patience, modesty, and kindness in all our relationships in order to reflect the spirit of the rabbit.

As you look back on 2023, how did you do?  Were you easy going? Were you kind and patient with the people in you life?  I hope so.  And I also hope that, even though the year of the rabbit is behind us, you continue to try to be kind and patient.  Kindness and patience, after all, are rarely bad choices no matter what year it is.

This morning, as we begin this new year together, we can look forward and consider how we would like to live our lives in the next 12 months. According to the Asian calendar 2024 is the year of the Dragon.  The Dragon is powerful and charismatic –it brings energy, creativity, and innovation. However, it can also be unpredictable, impulsive, and demanding. Quite a shift from the quiet, humble qualities of the rabbit of 2023!   

Lighted inflatable dragon balloon

As we begin the year of the dragon, I wanted to share 3 characteristics of the dragon that we can use to guide our lives through 2024.

1)     1) Dragons likes change.

 Since dragons like new things, 2024 might be a good time to change some old routines. In the spirit of Buddhist non-attachment, try to be open to new possibilities and learn from different perspectives. Don’t assume you are always right or that your way of doing things is the only correct way. You may even discover new talents or interests that you didn’t know you had. 

2)     2) Dragons can be demanding and assertive.

Although assertiveness can be a valuable trait, being too demanding can create unnecessary conflict with others who have different opinions or goals.  And it can interfere with harmony in our relationships. To avoid unnecessary conflict, it is important for us to remember to focus on  listening to others and respecting their views, even if we don’t agree with them. One of our goals in 2024 should be to work together to find common ground and solutions that benefit everyone.

3)    3) Dragons are large and powerful creatures who can be excessive and extravagant, leading to waste or overindulgence.

To counter this tendency toward excess in 2024 it will be wise to follow the middle path as taught by Shakyamuni Buddha.  Be careful with your spending, eating, drinking or working. Find a healthy balance between your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. Take care of yourself and your environment and avoid unnecessary stress or harm.

The teachings of Shakaymuni Buddha emphasize the importance of finding the middle way, the path between extremes.  As we enter the year of the dragon, it seems like this approach would be a good one for all of us to take.  The extremes associated with the Dragon year remind us of the importance of the Buddha’s middle way. 

As we enter the year of the dragon, let us take a moment to remember the words of the "Pledge" written by Rev. Kojun Ohtani the current Gomonshu (head) of  Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha. 

Our Pledge  Breaking out of my shell I will share a warm smile and speak gentle words Just like the kind Buddha.  Not becoming lost in my greed, anger, and ignorance I shall think and act with an open-mind Just like the calm and peaceful Buddha  Not putting myself first I will share in the joy and sadness of others Just like the compassionate Buddha  Realizing the gift of life I have received I shall strive to live each day to its fullest Like the Buddha who tirelessly works to liberate all.

 

Happy New Year Everyone!

Rev. Anne Spencer

Assistant Minister, Idaho Oregon Buddhist Temple

Female Buddhist Priest in blue robes and pink gojo-gesa

Anne Spencer
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