Today is the lunar new year known as Losar in Tibetan or Tsagaan Sar in Mongolian. Though often called “Tibetan New Year,” this holiday is celebrated by a number of different peoples with strong common historical ties. It is my privilege to interview Dolma, a Sherpa Buddhist, about what this holiday means to her.
Who are you?
A community-organising Sherpa Buddhist who loves tea and plants.
What’s the Buddhist significance of this holiday?
Losar is the Sherpa and Tibetan Buddhist New Year, and it’s one of the most important holidays of the year. We follow a Lunar calendar, and so like many other communities, this is the year of the Dragon. During Losar we aim to begin the New Year with a fresh start, which is represented through purification pujas and other traditions like cleaning your entire house and wearing new clothes.
What does this holiday mean to you?
For me personally, Losar is about family and community, and I enjoy the tradition and joy we share with each other during this time. I guess I have a migrant’s nostalgia about Losar too now that I don’t live in Nepal anymore. It makes me think about my mother’s stories about celebrating Losar in Solukhumbu, and how my cousins and I would pick out the candy and dried apricots out of bowls of khapsay(a sweet fried dough that we make for Losar) at relatives’ houses. I think about how we would throw tsampa (roasted barley flour) around at the Gompa, and in particular, the elderly Sherpa and Tibetan women who would run around and laugh as they threw tsampa at each other! I do look forward to the traditions that I still take part in here in the U.S. too, such as time with family and cooking particular dishes. And so Losar is a time for me to reflect on the past year, the one to come, and to share in this festivity with my loved ones.
What do you plan to do for Losar?
My family is very spread out now, which makes visiting each other during Losar difficult, and there’s no Sherpa Gompa where I live. But my immediate family is much closer to me now (which is wonderful!) and so I spend Losar with them. We usually do the traditional practices, such as making khapsay and visiting friends in the area. There is usually a Sherpa Losar party as well, but we don’t celebrate Losar when a member of our family passes away, and with the passing of Trulsik Rinpoche, many communal Losar celebrations have been cancelled.
I wish everyone a wonderful New Year – Losar Tashi Delek!
You can read other writing by Dolma on this blog (“How can you be angry? You’re a Buddhist!”). You can also check out other holiday posts (including the other lunar new year) here.
There is an emerging generation of Asian Buddhists in the West and beyond, comprised of vocal young adults fluent in the language and currency of the West, but who refuse to be limited by it. And among them is the Angry Tibetan Girl.
As described by the Tibetan blogger Dechen on the youth blog Lhakar Diaries…
“Angry Tibetan Girl” is angry, and funny, as hell. There are so many posts with echoes of countless conversations I have had (!) and been part of (!) with Tibetan friends which were often non-stop rants. Yes it’s uncomfortable to admit but it feels SO GOOD to rant! That’s why I love Angry Tibetan Girl – she just says what we’ve all been thinking!
You might have missed it, but there is a youth blog for the voices of young Tibetans. I couldn’t believe it when I found it.
As a nod to Lhakar, I encourage you to listen to the voices of Tibetans speaking for themselves, on their own terms. Follow them. Tweet with them. Support them. (h/t to @djbuddha)
Today marks the Tibetan New Year, Losar. In line with my most recent holiday post, I planned to invite a local Tibetan American to write some personal thoughts on celebrating Losar. You will probably see a number of blogs today post about Losar, but for the most part, you’ll be reading about white Buddhists describing a Tibetan holiday.
For the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with white folk celebrating Tibetan culture. In fact, I feel it’s absolutely important that we hear the voices of white Buddhists who practice Tibetan Buddhism, and who feel an abiding bond with Tibetan culture, including Losar. But what you’ll be missing out on is what they can’t tell you. For example, they can’t tell you what Losar means to them from growing up in a Tibetan family.
Amid all my criticism of white Buddhist publishers, writers and bloggers for their rampant neglect of Asian America, I operated under a silly assumption that these same individuals would realize that they were effectively excluding Asian American Buddhists from the conversation of Buddhism in the West—and then do something to change things. It’s become increasingly evident that the closest thing to inclusion we can expect from these writers is the appropriation of Asian American narratives and relating them through their own white-privileged perspectives. We hear white Buddhists speaking out about Wat Lao Buddhasampham—but where are the voices of the Lao Buddhists?
It’s not necessary to have an ethnic Tibetan talk about Losar to understand what Losar means—nor is it necessary to hear from a Lao Buddhist in Kansas to understand the injustice currently facing Wat Lao Buddhasampham. But the continued displacement of Asian American voices from the discussion of Buddhist America sends the implicit message that these voices are not worth including. By simply not changing the way we go about our research, interviews and writing, we accept the inequity of the status quo and thus support the continued subjugation of our diversity under the weight of the white privilege so tightly woven into Western Buddhism.
Then again, whose words are you reading here today, other than my own? I have no interview with other Asian Americans to present today for Losar. A death in the family pulled me away from my preparations, but that’s really no good excuse. If I’m going to castigate Buddhist publishers and bloggers for keeping Asian American Buddhists out of the spotlight, then I’d like should show them exactly who they’re missing. If you know of people you think should be interviewed on Angry Asian Buddhist, please don’t hesitate to drop me a comment below, and I’ll be more than happy to look into setting up guest posts and interviews.
Until then, tashi delek!
On The Original Black Buddha, Lama Rangdrol discusses the dynamic relationships between Tibetan spiritual leaders, black America, China and Africa.
My role as Buddhist practitioner is to simply state the obvious in hopes of avoiding a detente between future Tibetan leadership and grass roots black consciousness in America. Those who think this issue will not be an issue in the future are mistaken. I truly believe good work can be done on behalf of Buddhism, the Tibetan people, and African Americans. Why would someone not believe this?
His thoughts may seem far-fetched to some, that relationships between China and Africa will have any impact on the relationships between Tibetan spiritual leaders and grassroots black consciousness in America—and vice versa. But there’s this funny thing about interdependence.
Lama Choyin Rangdrol writes about the Dalai Lama’s fist-bump and what it means in the context of today’s world.
When I began my discussion some years ago no one imagined a black president would become the center of global politic, and that China would be nudging itself into a dominant position in global resource acquisition. I tried many times to bring my concerns to the Office of Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. My teacher, abbot of Namgyal Monastery, the Dalai Lama’s personal monastery, made many attempts to connect me with inside sources to no avail. There simply was little or no interest. I credit my late teacher, Khempo Gyurmed Tinly, with the vision to foresee the necessity of bridging this divide. He died in 2005. They know who he was, and know he tried. I also reached out to Obama folks; after all I live in Hawaii. But the change they were looking for at the time did not foresee the complexity of an American, Chinese, Tibetan matrix that would create pivotal sound bites, images, and editorials to be examined by competitive world leaders.
His thoughts are very much worth reading.
A single paragraph in an LA Times review of Unmistaken Child reminded me that, more than a simple arthouse favorite, this film has broader implications in the world of Tibetan sovereignty issues.
For how the situation plays out in human terms in a society that believes in reincarnation – the way Westerners believe in gravity – is fascinating. It is a subject that is poised to have serious political repercussions with the Chinese government and Tibetans in exile likely to clash over the identity of the next reincarnated Dalai Lama.
The documentary tows you through a Tibetan disciple’s search for the rebirth of his revered master. It’s a beautiful and compelling narrative, but it can also be viewed as a legitimization of the selection process. In the longstanding faceoff between the Chinese government and Tibetan religious authorities, this film has the potential to be a marketing/propaganda tool to win over broader public opinion. (Although I wonder if it’s had any effect on all the blogtalk over Lama Tenzin Osel.) I’m not much of a believer, but I wonder what sort of reaction you’d get from launching this film with Chinese subtitles.