Losar 2015 Newsletter
Feb 17, 2015
On February 14th all the monks took an exam and demonstrated their chanting skills, and yesterday, we prepared all of the torma (offering cakes) for today’s ritual which is called Gu-tor. Gu means nine and Tor stands for torma, the ritual offering cakes we frequently use in our rituals. This puja is for preparing for the new year and for saying good bye to the old year. It involves clearing our obstacles, averting negativities and purifying the coming year. The deities associated with this puja are Tro-wo (Tro means wrathful) and Phur-ba (Vajrakila). They are the main deities of Menri Monastery.
On the 28th day of the last month of the Tibetan calendar (February 17th), we will perform a few Cham dances for cutting obstacles and during this puja a special melody, which was composed by Nyamme Sherab Gyaltsen, will be chanted. He received a mind transmission from the High Deities and the name of the melody is Drug-mo Dir-wa (drug-mo means female dragon and dir-wa means roar). This puja is for the benefit of all sentient beings in the universe and for invoking peace and happiness as well as removing obstacles.
On the 29th day (February 18th this year), Tibetans generally clean their houses as much as possible, in order to welcome the New Year with cleanliness. Floors, rooms, furniture and even the ceilings will be cleaned, because often mountain-dwelling families cook indoors, causing their ceilings to become black. Another tradition on this day is Dog-pa, which is a ritual for cutting obstacles, averting negativities and purifying Body, Speech, and Mind.
In addition, Tibetan families normally prepare Ku-thug. Ku means nine and thug means soup. The number nine represents the 29th day of the last month on which this tradition is observed, and it also represents the nine ingredients which are used in the preparation of the soup. Before its preparation, we wash some barley and cut it into a coarse flour, which is then cooked in the soup. There must be 9 ingredients in the soup, and different variations exist for this recipe but some common ingredients are wheat, rice, vegetables, meat, potato, beans and dro-ma which is a wild root that grows in the upper Himalayan regions, similar to sweet potato.
The distinctive element of this gu-thug consists of balls of dough which are cooked in the soup, one ball for each member of the family. Inside these balls we put different objects which symbolize different qualities. Some objects used include a piece of yellow string which symbolizes that we have strong faith in the Bön and a good heart. Another object could be a piece of soft white wool, which symbolizes a gentle personality, kindness and overall good behavior, while a long piece of white string symbolizes patience. On the other hand, some objects carry negative significance, such as a piece of chili, which symbolizes a “hot mouth” indicating excessive or harsh speech. A piece of black coal symbolizes a “black mind” full of negativities, while a piece of wood symbolizes a thief. So each dough ball has an object inside and all of these balls are cooked in the soup, which takes hours to be ready, because the balls take a long time to be completely cooked.
Then the whole family sits down together to eat the soup and each person’s soup will contain one of these dough balls. Each person opens the ball and takes out the symbolic object hidden inside, and the object is said to describe the personality of that person. Families typically have lots of fun seeing what objects each person got and much joking and laughter accompanies this tradition.
At Menri Monastery we do not observe this tradition, but some monks may get together in small groups to prepare Gu-thug and have a good laugh! Also common on the 29th day of the last month is a ransom ritual, in which we offer tormas, food and jewels to negative spirits to appease them and in exchange we expect them to refrain from causing obstacles for us during this upcoming new year. People normally rub a piece of colored string on their bodies so that it may absorb negativities, and then spit on it and throw it into a plate which contains a scapegoat effigy made of dough. We take this plate out of the house and place it at a crossroads. While walking to the intersection, it is important not to turn and look back to the house, and while walking back after placing it, we must not look back either, so that the spirits do not follow us back to our house. Once inside the house again, the whole family sings merrily and recites auspicious prayers for happiness. Although we do not perform this at Menri Monastery, some monks may choose to do this individually or in small groups.
The very last day of the old year is a day of preparation and last-minute cleaning and decorating. Most people do not sleep during this Losar-eve night. Prayers are sung to invoke wealth and abundance, and if a person leaves the house after midnight and meets someone, they must say “Losar Tashi Delek!” At Menri, we perform some ritual music.
At daybreak on the first day of the New Year, people visit their local water spring to take the first fresh water of the year, which is considered special and is used as a water offering on altars as well as to brew Tibetan tea.
In Himalayan culture, work related projects such as building homes or making blankets are best completed before the year’s end, as it is not a good sign if the work carries on to the New Year because this means it might never be finished! We also try to settle all debts before Losar and on New Year’s day, we refrain from borrowing anything, even something as small as a box of matches. We also mainly try to stay at home and relax on the first day of the year; it is not a day for doing work, holding events or entertaining guests, with the exception of close relatives or Lamas.
At Menri Monastery, we take down old prayer flags on the last day of the old year, and we put up new ones on the birthday of Nyamme Sherab Gyaltsen, the founder of Menri in Tibet. This is celebrated on the 4th and 5th days of the first month (February 22nd and 23rd), and this leaves a period of four or five days in which the discipline at Menri is relaxed somewhat. Monks are generally expected to be quiet while inside the monastery and refrain from shouting and fooling around. During these days, however, they are allowed to play sports, sing, dance and celebrate; some monks even light fireworks. We also consider that the negative spirits enjoy all this ruckus and it appeases them.
This year there will be no Geshe ceremony at Menri Monastery, and on Sunday, March 1st we will perform Cham dances all day long. On March 4th and 5th we will celebrate the birthday of Buddha Tonpa Shenrab, and all monks will pray. The 5th is a full moon day and many people will perform a fasting practice called Nyung-ne which lasts for two days (4th and 5th).
From March 13th to 20th we will have a Mawe Senge (Wisdom deity) retreat. The entire dialectic school will participate. Then on the last day His Holiness Menri Tridzin will give the Mawe Senge empowerment (wang) for everyone.
During this new Wood Sheep year, anyone born on a wood sheep year may expect to encounter obstacles. Those people are advised to hang prayer flags, recite the long life mantra and rescue animals from slaughter by purchasing them and releasing them in the wild. Those born on an ox year could also encounter obstacles and the same recommendations apply to them.
I wish you all happiness during this New Year and may all your prayers manifest completely.
Like our Losar design? Check out our CafePress site for Losar coffee mugs and t-shirts! We have items from both 2014 (wood horse) and 2015 (wood sheep) years. http://www.cafepress.com/khyungdzongwl Original Losar artwork by Los Angeles artist Jennifer J. Jelenski. All profits go toward support of the Dolpo Clinic.
Coming soon – a full report on the the Dolpo Clinic’s achievements this past year.
-Margaret & Dika