Lunatic New Year

Thought I might write a few words about Lunar New Year in Sunnyvale last Sunday. Repentance prostrations started at 9am and I thought we would never get to the end of that list of Buddhas! I arrived a few minutes before 9–and this was kinda good and kinda bad as it turned out, since all the next door parking spaces were filled up first, and I got to park a bit nearer the Zen Center. My husband had decided not to attend this year, because it would “break up the day.” (He likes routines the way I like distractions.) This was just as well since we had about half again as many attendees as we had last year, so we really, really need the new building next door for the biggie ceremonies 3 or 4 times a year so the whole congregation can finally be in one room. (This should happen by the end of ’14.) My friend C. and I met and ended up watching the ceremony on a screen in what I call The Sleepy Buddha Room (Small Meditation Hall) with the white, rather effeminate reclining statue in it. We had some little pads for kneeling, and boys and girls were mixed up. Now maybe you don’t know how the big zendo is set up. When we women come in we automatically go to the left (the “Western side”) and men to the right (the “Eastern side) of the center aisle. But in the Small Hall there was no center aisle and the sexes were mixed up. In the “88 Buddha’s Repentance” we bow alternately: “West side bow…rise. East side bow….rise.” And I was wondering “Should I consider myself the ‘West side’?” But my friend C. went down on “East” so I copied her so we wouldn’t be bobbing up and down at different times. I looked around and some bowed as “East” and some as “West” and it no longer had anything to do with the sex of the participants–it was just arbitrary. Also there was the baffling command “Face the center aisle, palms together” to salute the shifus, and then see them out and then to bow to one another, and of course, since there was, as I said, no center aisle, it was like a scene from a Monty Python episode: We were facing every which way like a flock of chickens.* One other problem we had was distinguishing the “rise” chime…the audio wasn’t too good, so I missed getting up on-cue several times…probably looking way, way more religious than I actually am. Oh, and the screen cut off two characters and words on either side of the mid-point recitation. Well, I don’t read Chinese anyhow, so I just skipped reading the pinyin that time. Only about half of the Chinese generally read along aloud anyhow, so I wasn’t alone.

In the main Zen Hall some special guests were introduced and spoke a few words. Then we saw the first video that another friend H. had done for the tenth anniversary this year. A lot of the footage had been filmed during Zen Seven 2013, and I saw many familiar faces on screen. The rest of the New Year Ceremony went like this: Flower Offering. Then New Year red envelope offering plus ringing the big bell, which was brought in to alert the Buddhas that wishes were coming in. Then receiving little New Year gifts from the Vice Abbot. My New Year wish was for freedom for the North Koreans, as usual. And I hope all those Buddhas, Jesus and the saints and sages and patriarchs were listening. Because we really need help with that.

Then, after all had rung the bell and made offerings–and this took some time–we had a nice box lunch, and lots of additional food. I will tell you about vegan Chinese food: It all looks good. But it’s not so filling, that is, it seems so at the time but doesn’t stick to your ribs. The four food groups are sticky, slimy, spongy and watery. (Well, I guess if you bring kids up on that stuff, they will eat it, but sometimes I wonder…) Let me just say that I have learned to avoid the brown rice and anything with cabbage in it. For personal reasons.

Anyway, that was Lunar New Year. A lot of ladies had taken their fancy red  satin jackets, sweaters and blouses out of mothballs for the occasion. I was going to wear my pink lotus jacket but decided against it since we received the blessing of rain on that morning. Yippee! And it was cold for once–even with my raincoat on.

*Later on I found out that someone asked the Abbot if there should be a “leader” in the Small Hall, but he didn’t think it necessary.

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