Tibetan Buddhist New Year: Losar 2016
Year of the Fire Monkey
Losar is the three day Tibetan New Year festival which in 2016 is observed on February 9-11. Since the Tibetans use a lunar calendar, the date may vary from year to year and it sometimes coincides with the Chinese New Year as it does this year.
The origins of Losar go back to the pre-Buddhist period in Tibet (127 BC – 629 AD) to the Bon religion. This holiday was originally held every winter and copious amount of incense was burned to appease the gods and local spirits. Eventually this tradition merged with Buddhism which resulted in the annual festival that we see today.
A month before Losar, Tibetans draw the “Eight Auspicious Symbols” on the walls of their homes. In Tibetan Buddhist monasteries the monks meditate on and perform rituals to honor and reflect upon the Dharmapalas (Dharma Protectors) and Deities of Fierce Compassion (otherwise mistranslated as “Wrathful Deities”) such as Manjushri.
These deities have a fierce appearance but actually represent fierce compassion which fights against the ignorance within our own minds. According to Robert Thurman in his book “The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Liberation Through Understanding In The Between”, they have no hatred in them not even against those who do evil. It is more like a “tough love” like the fierceness of a mother protecting her child from touching something hot.
On the eve of Losar Buddhist monks decorate the monasteries and offerings are left at the family altars of Tibetan households such as cakes, candies, breads, fruit, and beer.
The First Day of Losar: “Lama Losar”
For Tibetan Buddhists, the new year begins by greeting and honoring one’s spiritual teacher or guru wishing him/her peace. His Holiness the Dalai Lama along with other important lamas conduct a ceremony to make offerings to a dharmapala (dharma protector) by the name of Palden Lhamo who is regarded as the spiritual protector of Tibet.
Among lay people, there is also the tradition to leave offerings of barley seeds at family altars to help ensure a bountiful harvest and to wish one another a happy new year by saying Tashi Delek which means “auspicious greetings” in the Tibetan language.
The first day also includes sacred dances where dancers dress as Dharmapalas (dharma protectors) and fierce deities in order to ward off the influence of negativity and malevolent spirits.
The Second Day of Losar : “Gyalpo Losar”
On the second day of the Tibetan Buddhist New Year, Tibetans spend the day honoring community and national leaders.
Gyalpo means “King” in Tibetan and in ancient times this was the day when kings gather their people and would hand out gifts to them in an elaborate celebration.
Today, the Dalai Lama himself meets with officials of the exiled Tibetan government in Dharamsala, India as well as with foreign dignitaries.
The Third Day of Losar: “Choe-kyong Losar”
On the last day of Losar Tibetans make additional offerings at monasteries to the dharma protectors and also hang prayer flags from hills, mountains, and rooftops. Additionally, they burn incense and praise the dharma protectors in chant (mantras) and song for blessings.
Of course after the initial three days, celebrations can go on for an additional 10 to 15 days.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article on Losar, the Tibetan Buddhist New Year which. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below and once again Tashi Delek!!
Here is the Dalai Lama’s Losar 2016 address:
Also please enjoy a special Losar podcast by Buddhist scholar and teacher Robert Thurman: