Buddhist New Year Song

The dates for the Buddhist New Year differ according to country and tradition. In some cases, it’s the first full moon day in January, and in others, not until the first full moon day in April. The time is not important for it is only a change in the calendar. However, that change can be significant if we use it to produce a change in ourselves. Almost all Buddhist traditions agree that a new year presents an opportunity for a new departure, a new beginning, which can transcend its symbolic aspect, if we use it as a time not only for celebration but also for contemplation, reflection, for practice.

The Vietnamese Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, for instance, suggests a practice of loving-kindness (metta) mediation for the first three days of the New Year. On the first day, we practice for ourselves. On the second day, we practice for people we love. On the third day, we practice for those who make us suffer.

Reflection is an important characteristic of poetry, and as well, the spirit of new departure, new directions. Diane di Prima, a poet who has studied Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, once said, “I think the poet is the first person to begin the shaping and visioning of the new forms and the new consciousness when no one else has begun to sense it; I think these are two of the most essential human functions.”

di Prima has written several poems with Buddhist themes. Here is one apropos for the season:

Buddhist New Year Song

I saw you in green velvet, wide full sleeves
seated in front of a fireplace, our house
made somehow more gracious, and you said
“There are stars in your hair”— it was truth I
brought down with me

to this sullen and dingy place that we must make golden
make precious and mythical somehow, it is our nature,
and it is truth, that we came here, I told you,
from other planets
where we were lords, we were sent here,
for some purpose

the golden mask I had seen before, that fitted
so beautifully over your face, did not return
nor did that face of a bull you had acquired
amid northern peoples, nomads, the Gobi desert

I did not see those tents again, nor the wagons
infinitely slow on the infinitely windy plains,
so cold, every star in the sky was a different color
the sky itself a tangled tapestry, glowing
but almost, I could see the planet from which we had come

I could not remember (then) what our purpose was
but remembered the name Mahakala, in the dawn

in the dawn confronted Shiva, the cold light
revealed the “mindborn” worlds, as simply that,
I watched them propagated, flowing out,
or, more simply, one mirror reflecting another.
then broke the mirrors, you were no longer in sight
nor any purpose, stared at this new blackness
the mindborn worlds fled, and the mind turned off:

a madness, or a beginning?


Copyright © 1990 by Diane di Prima

Diane di Prima, “Buddhist New Year Song” from Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems, City Lights Books, 1990.


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