A New Year Dawns

“Shinnen akemashite omedeto.” This Japanese New Year’s greeting literally means that a new year has dawned or “opened up.” Although not specifically Buddhist, this greeting expresses the joy of living in the present moment.

At our temple the New Year’s Day service is followed by a toast and traditional foods. As part of the celebration, temple members take turns striking a bell a total of 108 times. The explanation of this specific number is confusing even to most Buddhists. Simply put, it represents the number of obstacles to enlightenment occurring in past, present and future lives. The ringing of the bell symbolically drives away these obstacles. In everyday practice, the ringing of the bell helps us to focus on our actions. It reminds us that our past actions have affected our present lives. Likewise, our present actions determine our future happiness or suffering. We become mindful of our actions. We gain an awareness of the “eternal now.” What is this “eternal now?”

Buddhism does not deal with the ideas of creation, the end of the world, Heaven or Hell from a religious viewpoint. These questions are unanswerable other than through speculation or personal belief. Therefore, Gautama Buddha felt that to focus on such questions distracted you from dealing with your present life. He felt it more important to deal with the suffering in the life you are living, and its cause, than to worry about the unknown.

Life is a series of unique moments. Shaped by what has come before, and a building block of future moments, each is unique. “You cannot step into the same river twice,” is an old saying. Although the river appears the same, the water is flowing, therefore, the content is different. Gautama Buddha recognized this constant change. He realized that our attachment, our clinging to people, things or ideas is a cause of our suffering. When we cling to that which is hurtful, be it words or actions of others, we prolong our suffering. If we cling to joys, hoping futilely that they will never end, we guarantee our future suffering. Live every moment fully, independent of past or future.

“Every day is a good day,” expresses a basic Buddhist teaching. This is a statement of the potential of each day. The day is neither good nor bad. It just is. Your perceptions and actions make it either good or bad. When we wish someone, “Happy New Year,” we are expressing the same sentiment. We do not know what the year will bring, but at that moment it has the potential to be a happy new year. This is the essence of Buddhism. Recognize the potential of each moment. Do not cling to the past or hope for a happy future. Move beyond the past. Start to create your future. Live fully in the “eternal now.” Let each day dawn anew.

For more information about Buddhism, or Zen meditation in Kenosha, contact me at BASEWI@aol.com.