Happy Lunar New Year!

Today is Losar, shared by Tibetans, Sherpas and Mongolians, among others. If you don’t know much about Losar, I encourage you to read last year’s Losar post by Dolma, a young Sherpa American Buddhist.

Yesterday was the beginning of the Lunar New Year shared by Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese. This holiday is also recognized as a Buddhist anniversary, a fact I learned from Ven. Heng Sure’s blog. You can read my past thoughts about Lunar New Year here.

May you have a joyous year full of blessings and good fortune!

Happy Lunar New Year!

It’s that time of year again.

With no response to my feeble request for a holiday interview, I decided to answer the usual interview questions myself.

Who are you?

I’m an Asian American Buddhist blogger. I blog on Dharma Folk and the Angry Asian Buddhist blogs. As of the past few months, you’re likely to find more frequent updates on Twitter.

What’s the Buddhist significance of this holiday?

For most of my life I haven’t thought of this holiday as having any intrinsic connection to Buddhism. I’ve always seen it as a holiday derived from Chinese culture that’s been infused with some Buddhist practices. But the same could be said of a lot of other “Buddhist” holidays like Rohatsu, which at root is a Chinese harvest festivalthat’s evolved into something that most Western Buddhist bloggers would only recognize as a winter Zen retreat.

If there’s anything very “Buddhist” about this day, I’d say it’s an opportunity to start the year with some good “Buddhist” deeds, so that these deeds will hopefully trickle forward into positive habits throughout the year. I usually begin with a midnight vegetarian meal and later visit temple with family or friends.

That said, I just read on Rev. Heng Sure’s blog that this day has another Buddhist connection of which I’d never known: “For practicing Buddhists the first day of the lunar new year is the celebration of Maitreya Bodhisattva’s anniversary. Maitreya is famous for having subdued his temper through learning ‘patience under insult.’ You simply can’t upset him. Insults, curses, even blows will not get his goat or shake his equanimity. He has a big belly, not from greed for food but from holding all the chi (qi) that people have thrown at him. Swear at him, cut him off in traffic, insult his mother, he endures it all because he has subdued himself—his false pride and vanity are long gone. He sees through the surface of relationships and understands that you wouldn’t be giving him grief if you had peace of mind. Why increase your afflictions by getting caught up in your unresolved drama? It has nothing to do with him, and he won’t waste a second of precious lifetime struggling with hurt feelings or animosity.”

What does this holiday mean to you?

For me, the New Year is all about home, family, and community. Friends have been sending me Chinese New Year videos that remind me to appreciate my parents, to never underestimate the power of love, and to never leave home behind. I haven’t eaten a New Year dinner with my family in well over ten years, but I hope to change that starting next year.

What do you plan to do for the Lunar New Year?

I’ve already done the temple visits. On the Saturday before New Year, some friends invited me to visit Hsi Lai Temple. I hadn’t visited the temple in five years, so it was refreshing to walk around, partake in delicious vegetarian food, and observe some New Year rituals before the crush of visitors expected yesterday and today.

As I’m writing this post late at night on Lunar New Year’s eve, I’m probably going to have a small vegetarian snack at midnight before preparing for tomorrow. My New Year’s plan is to send good wishes to my family and friends, to practice sitting meditation in the morning and evening, and to reflect and plan on what I’d like to do differently this year compared to last year.

There are a couple other Lunar-ish New Years coming up, so stay tuned.

And Happy New Year!

Suksan Wan Songkran!

Today is the second day of Songkran, the Thai New Year—also a New Year (albeit under slightly different pronunciations and traditions) celebrated by Laos, Khmers, Mons and Burmese. Beyond Southeast Asia, this “Other New Year” is also celebrated in Nepal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, Punjab and Bengal (including Bangladesh). For this holiday, I interviewed a marvelously enthusiastic Buddhist practitioner, whom I met years ago through mutual friends in America’s Midwest.

Who are you?

I’m Dome, an American-born Thai, repatriated in Thailand ☺

What’s the Buddhist significance of this holiday?

Songkran’s history with Buddhism runs deep, though only two things come to my mind that show its ties: as it is considered a New Year, new resolutions or renewing old commitments towards doing good is always a Buddhist practice. As they say, practice makes perfect. So aside from the squirt guns, powered water and the games people play to get each other wet during Songkran, some devote their time off from work to go to temples, uphold precepts, and practice their minds to achieve their New Year goals. Nonetheless, for those less bound to a temple, a Buddha image is always presented in front of offices, in neighborhood communities, or as part of a ceremony for anyone to pour water over as an act of cleansing and cooling both the receiver and giver.

What does this holiday mean to you, and how do you plan to celebrate it?

To me, Songkran is a time for reflection of things gone by and things to come. But more importantly, I reflect on my happiness and my practice. I have to admit though, my reflections in these past few years during Songkran have been short. Even now, I’ll be spending it abroad outside of Thailand! I’ll be missing all of the water fights, and the time to spend at the temples, but I continue to make this holiday a merry one!

It brings me immeasurable joy to be able to share the voices of other Asian American Buddhists with the wider Buddhist blogging community. Especially when it comes to holidays that celebrate our cultural heritage, it’s great to hear our voices speak for themselves. Suksan Wan Songkran!

Thingyan Mingalar

By word of a friend, I was put in touch with Aung Htin Kyaw, a talented and enthusiastic community organizer in Southern California. I interviewed Aung Kyaw to learn his thoughts on Thingyan, the Burmese New Year, which begins today.

Who are you?

I am a 2nd generation Burmese American of Chinese heritage. I am currently a college student studying in Los Angeles.

What is the Buddhist significance of this holiday?

While there is no overt Buddhist meaning to this holiday (unlike Thadingyut, for example, which marks the end of the Buddhist lent), Thingyan is considered a very good time to practice the Buddhist precepts, perform merit acts and show respect for one’s elders (by practicing gadaw, the custom of kneeling, prostrating to show veneration to parents and grandparents).

What does this holiday mean to you?

To be honest, this holiday does not have much spiritual meaning for me. Considering that I also celebrate New Year and the Chinese New Year, the importance of crossing over to the Burmese New Year loses its significance for me. It’s just a nice time to celebrate my cultural heritage with friends and family.

What do you plan to do on/for Thingyan?

I’m hoping to organize a trip to South El Monte for other Burmese students to celebrate “Maha Thingyan,” an annual Thingyan festivalheld in the San Gabriel Valley by the Southern California Burmese Association.

Aung Kyaw’s blog Fifty Viss has kept me informed on many issues relating to Burmese Americans, be it finding Burmese food in America or the status of “Burmese” in the 2010 United States Census. Although he hasn’t continued updating the blog in recent years, you can still learn lots (not to mention look at beautiful photos) by combing through the archived posts. I’m not going to have time to attend the Southern California Thingyan festival this weekend, but if you live down here, I strongly encourage you to drop by—and afterward, drop me a comment and let me know your thoughts!

(Disclaimer—I’ve never actually heard anyone say thingyan mingalar, but it works better for the post title than hnit thit mingalar…)