January 2016: A New Year’s Note


I’m planning to use a Dharma Calendar at the Zen Center this year. For some years I’ve been looking forward to trying this. Here’s how it’ll work: Each month of the year will have a different topic associated with it – there will be dharma talks on that topic, the morning readings will reflect the topic, and we may adjust our chanting and ceremony a little each month. If the Dharma Calendar works out, we’ll repeat the cycle year after year.

Earlier this year I got re-inspired to create a calendar by Alain de Botton’s interesting book Religion for Atheists. De Botton argues that religion has done many things right, and that secular society should pay attention these things. Among other things, he commends the way religion uses the calendar as a
simple way to remind people of the values and practices we cherish. Every religious tradition uses a liturgical calendar to remind people what’s important year after year.

I’ve chosen 12 topics that I think cover the major themes in Buddhism and Zen practice. The first three months follow the ceremonial pattern of Buddhist ordination ceremonies: Confession & Renewal, Taking Refuge, and Precepts. In the other 9 months we have the 6 paramitas represented as well as other basic Buddhist concepts. We’ve been observing five major Buddhist holidays a year, and we’ll continue to do that: The death days of Rinzai, Bodhidharma, and Buddha; and Buddha’s birth and enlightenment days.

We start January with Renewal. During this month we’ll do the traditional sange chant, often translated “confession.” During this month I’d like to encourage all of us to do some reflection on how we’ve been living and acting. Zen may appear to be all about the present moment, but reflection on our past actions and the present state of our relationships is an aspect of Zen life that is sometimes overlooked.

Part of our practice is a commitment to change our habits of body and mind. Some of the sangha read Norman Fischer’s book Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong. The first lojong slogan is Train in the Preliminaries, and Fischer has this to say about it: “Training in the preliminaries is
the process of looking honestly at your life and making a firm decision to embark on a disciplined spiritual path.” In January I hope we can collectively reflect on our lives, and recommit to beginning our practice anew.

Here’s the Dharma Calendar that we’ll follow in 2016:

January – Renewal

February – Taking Refuge

March – Ethics & Values

April – Silence and Emptiness

May – Birth

June – Wisdom

July – Interdependence

August – Kindness & Compassion

September – Patience & Diligence

October – Impermanence

November – Generosity & Gratitude

December – Awakening & Buddha Nature

See you on down the path,