We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet . . .

I heard someone say on television this week that 2016 was a gut punch.  I believe he meant the hell of the election, and the torture of it’s aftermath.  Or, maybe he was referring to the number of notable deaths we’ve experienced.  For me, the year started with the death of my father.  A punch that keeps on pounding.  And my father’s best friend, my uncle, passed away…  Now, before I get all maudlin here…

Let me say that I’ve never felt too sentimental about the New Year.  I don’t care what year it is really, it’s just a number, a change in the calendar.  That’s not to say I haven’t done my fair share of partying on New Year’s Eve.  On many of those nights, I’ve heard the same song sung after the stroke of midnight, and I’ve sung along, not even remembering what Auld Lang Syne means.

It means ‘for old times’ sake.’  It’s Scottish and the entire world knows this tune.  But not the original tune.

When Scot poet Robert Burns put the lyrics together in 1788, he sent them to the Scots Musical Museum with a note that read, “The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man.”

Robert Burns (1759-1796) is Scotland’s National Bard, a poet and lyricist associated with the Romantic literary movement.  You may know some of his famous poem/songs, such as “A Red Red Rose,” “Tam o’ Shanter, and “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye.”  While poetry was his primary occupation and he was Scottish by birth, I suspect he may have had a wee bit of the Irish in him, for his other two passions in life were drinking and chasing women.  He died very young, following a dental extraction at age 37.

As Burns mentioned in his note, “Auld Lang Syne” is an old song; in fact, he probably took the first verse from an earlier piece “Old Long Syne.”  The rest of the lyrics are thought to be Burn’s own composition.  However, the melody that we know so well is not the melody Burns used.  A few months ago, I stumbled upon the original melody, and I prefer it.  It seems more tender, and haunting.  And it has awakened my interest and appreciation in the song.

Here is “Auld Lang Syne” sung with Burn’s melody by Paolo Nutinia, a Scottish singer, songwriter.  Below the video are Robert Burns’ lyrics.   You’ll also see the original manuscript of “Auld Lang Syne” penned by Burns on December 7, 1788. which you can click to view in a larger size.

Thank you for for reading The Endless Further.  Regardless of what the new year means to you, let us all take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne…

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
Sin’ auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo . . .

So here’s a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo . . .

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A Day with Three Mornings

New Years is a time when many people still make “resolutions,” even while most of them know that they will manage to keep only a few of them, if any at all. I’ve always liked what the English sculptor and artist, Henry Moore once said, “I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years’.”

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutions2And I also like the Tibetan word for “new year,” which is losar. Lo is “year, age”; sar “new, fresh”. So despite that a new year is just a turn of the page on the calendar, it can be a time for fresh beginnings. New is merely something not previously known, but fresh is not old or spoiled; fresh is pure and clean. We should strive to make this new calendar year a fresh year.

The Buddha asked his followers to consider this question, “What, when I do it, will lead to my long-term well-being and happiness?” If some behavior or way of thinking is not helping someone find well-being and happiness, then of course, it should changed.  The importance of having the ability to consciously direct and manifest change in our lives cannot be overstated.  Change is good, and in recognizing its great benefit, we can say that every day is a new year. Every day is a fresh start. Every day is a time for resolutions, a time to embrace change.

As far as New Years the holiday is concerned, most Buddhist countries celebrate the New Year according to the Chinese calendar. It coincides with Lunar New Year (last year January 31 and this year February 19). An exception is the Japanese Buddhist schools who tend to observe New Years on December 31. However, this is a relatively new tradition, only in place since 1873, when five years after the Meiji Restoration, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar. Prior to that, Japanese Buddhists celebrated the Lunar New Year.

And that was certainly the case in the 13th century, when in the first day of 1241 at Kosho-horinji Temple in the Uji district of Yoshu, Eihei Dogen, the Tendai priest who had brought the teachings of the Chinese Caodong school (Soto Zen) to Japan, entered the assembly hall and gave the following talk, which along with 531 others has been preserved in Eihei Koroku (“Eihei or Dogen’s Extensive Record”) and translated by Taigen Dan Leighton & Shohaku Okumura.*

They have titled the talk “The Advantage of New Years” and explain that the phrase “Lost the advantage” means “that the speaker did not express the Dharma as fully as the monk in this dialogue, and was bettered by the monk.”

Today is the beginning of a new year [1241], and also a day with three mornings. I say three mornings because it is the beginning of the year, beginning of the month, and the beginning of the day.

dogen01Here is a story. A monk asked Jingqing Daofu, “Is there Buddha Dharma at the beginning of the new year or not?”

Jingqing said, “There is.”

The monk asked, “What is the Buddha Dharma at the beginning of the new year?”

Jingqing said, “New Year’s Day begins with a blessing, and the ten thousand things are completely new.”

The monk said, “Thank you, teacher, for your answer.”

Jingqing said, “This old monk today lost the advantage.”

A monk asked Mingjiao Zhimen Shikuan, “Is there Buddha Dharma

at the beginning of the new year, or not?”

Mingjiao said, “There is not.”

The monk said, “Every year is a good year, every day is a good day; why isn’t there [Buddha Dharma in the beginning of the new year]?”

Mingjiao said, “Old man Zhang drinks, and old man Li gets drunk.”

The monk said, “Great Elder, [you are like] a dragon’s head and snake’s tail.”

Mingjiao said, “This old monk today lost the advantage.”

The teacher Dogen said: [Both teachers] say the same, “This old monk today lost the advantage.”

Hearing such a story many people say, “These are good stories about [teachers] losing advantage [in a dialogue].” This mountain monk [Dogen] does not at all agree. Although Jingqing and Mingjiao speak of one loss, they do not yet see one gain. Suppose somebody were to ask me, Kosho, if there is Buddha Dharma at the beginning of the new year, or not.

I would say to them: There is.

Suppose the monk responded, “What is the Buddha Dharma at the beginning of the new year?”

This mountain monk would say to him: May each and every body, whether staying still or standing up, have ten thousand blessings.

Suppose the monk said, “In that case, in accordance with this saying, I will practice.”

This mountain monk would say to him: I, Kosho, today have advantage after advantage.

Now please practice.

– – – – – – – – – –

* from Dogen’s Extensive Record: A Translation of the Eihei Koroku, Eihei Dogen, translation by Taigen Dan Leighton & Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications Inc,  2010

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New Year’s Observance by Su Shi

Su Shi (1037-1101) of the Song Dynasty was well-known for his political essays, travel writings, calligraphy, and poetry. During his life, he became somewhat of a celebrity, famous for his mastery of Chinese literary forms, and then infamous for his criticism of the government. Today, it is as a poet that he is most renown. About 2700 of his poems have been preserved.

He was also called Dongpo (“Eastern Slope”), the name he took from the farm where he resided after being banished for “great irreverence” (da bujing), meaning he was seditious. There, he practiced Buddhist meditation, studied dharma and adopted many Buddhist views, most notably, an abhorrence for taking life. However, it is difficult to pin him down as any particular type of Buddhist. As Ronald C. Egan, in Word, image, and deed in the life of Su Shi, notes

In Northern Song times, ‘Buddhism’ was terribly diffuse, and faith and practice among laymen were not necessarily bound to a particular school or lineage. Su Shi called himself a “lay Buddhist” (jushi), but he left no single identification of his location on the bewildering plain of Song-dynasty Buddhism.”

He did inspire a Buddhist parable, which goes like this:

Once Su Shi was visiting a Buddhist monk, who was also a friend. He asked the monk how he regarded him (Su Shi). The monk responded by saying, “You are a Buddha to me.”

Naturally, Su Shi was pleased to hear this. The monk then asked Su Shi how he regarded him (the monk). And Su Shi said, “To me, you are dung.”

The monk smiled and this made Su Shi even happier as he felt that he was superior to the monk. In fact, Su Shi was so delighted with this conversation that several days later he told the story to another friend, only this friend didn’t find the story so pleasing.

“The monk regards you as a Buddha because he regards all living things as a Buddha,” he said. “He has the eyes of a Buddha and the heart of a Buddha, but because you see all things as dung, you regard the monk as dung. So, you have eyes of dung and a heart of dung!”

Okay, maybe not the greatest parable in the world, so let’s move on to some poetry. Here is something that fits the season. This is my own translation/interpretation of Su Shi’s poem:

New Year’s Observance

The end of the year is fast approaching,
Like a snake going into a hole
Already half of its long scales have disappeared,
And who can stop it from going and leaving not a trace behind?
If we should wish to hold its tail,
Even with diligent effort, it would be to no avail.
Children try to stay awake,
And together, we observe the night with noisy cheer.
Afterward, the chickens do not cry at the dawn,
The drums are restrained and beat no further.  
We sit for a long while by the lamp as the ashes die down,
Then rise to see the plough slanting to the north.
Can it be that next year will be my dark year?
I worry and fear that I waste time.
Therefore, I strive to experience each day and evening to the utmost
While I can boast of a little time still left.

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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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