Welcoming the Year of the Rabbit
New Years Day Dharma Message 2023
Happy New year! Happy 2023!
Akemashite Omededou Gozaimasu
On December 31, members and friends joined us online from around the country for our New Year's Eve Joya No Kane service. Traditionally for this service the temple bell is rung 108 times. Because of the temple fire earlier this year and because we were on Zoom, we had to be creative--each person used bells that they had in their homes and we took turns ringing them. This bell ringing activity purified the 108 Bonno, our many attachments to the world of suffering. Ringing the bells cleaned out our greed, anger, and ignorance, and reminded us of the Infinite Wisdom & Compassion of Amida Buddha that accepts us just as we are. The process of hitting the bell helps us reflect on our self-centeredness in the past year, and prepares us to face the new year with a clean slate.
Photo: Rev. Anne's home altar set for New Years Day Zoom ServiceThis morning, this new year, represents a fresh start. Last night we rang away our defilements and today we begin the new year joyously and together as a sangha. I am so happy to be here and to have you all here with me.
According to the Japanese calendar, today is the first day of the year of the Usagi, the year of the Rabbit. I think we can use this image of the rabbit to help set the tone for the rest of the year. By nature, the rabbit is easy going and prefers to avoid conflict and not take unnecessary risks. 2023 is a year to show patience, modesty, and kindness in all our relationships. The year of the Rabbit is said to be one of stability, and is a good time to settle into a smooth and peaceful life. Ahhhh…. Doesn’t that sound great?
In addition, over the past few years I suspect that most of us have had a loved one become sick or die—my own mother died last January at the age of 90. I find that I am really feeling that grief as we come up on the anniversary of her death—and I know that I am not alone in grieving—in fact millions of others around the world are also dealing with their own grief.
The anxiety that all this has created has been reflected in our national and local political discussions, sometimes leading to arguments among family and friends as well as at a city, state, and national level. As I reflect over the past few years, I think everyone is tired, grieving, and at least a little bit anxious about something.
And I was thinking last night as we were ringing away the defilements of last year during our Joya no Kane service, how nice it was to clean some of that anger, fear, grief, and anxiety away.
Photo: The Kansho bell at Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple which is traditionally rung on New Years Eve.
This morning I am thinking about what a wonderful opportunity this new year offers. And how fabulous that right now we are entering the year of the Rabbit—what perfect timing! As I said, the year of the rabbit is a year to show patience, modesty, and kindness in all our relationships. The year of the Rabbit is a year of stability, one that leads a smooth and peaceful life. Isn’t this just what we all need right now?
But I don’t think we can assume this patience and kindness and peacefulness will appear out of nowhere, just because we turn the page of the calendar. I believe that we must each make an effort to bring these qualities of the rabbit into our own lives as well as encouraging and supporting these qualities in others. Patience and compassion are the qualities that, as Jodo Shinshu Buddhists, we have already experienced through the compassion of Amida Buddha and the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. Having experienced the patience and compassion of others, we can now aspire to share these qualities with the people in our daily lives. Perhaps drawing on the image of a calm and peaceful bunny will help us cultivate patience and help heal the pain, grief, and fear that so frequently surrounds us as we go through our daily lives. Take a moment right now to imagine the kind of calm and peaceful rabbit you want to guide you through the next year.
I started this message with a quotation from one of Shinran Shonin’s letters. This letter reminds us of the importance of centering our lives around compassion, starting by appreciating the compassion we have received, drawing on that gratitude to cultivate compassion for ourselves, and then sharing compassion with others. Maybe the year of the Bunny is a good time to cultivate this peaceful practice.
In Gassho (with palms together)