February 22, 2012 marked Shambhala Day – the beginning of the New Year, based on the Tibetan lunar calendar (one month after the Chinese New Year).
To celebrate this occasion we went to Gampo Abbey, North America’s Shambhala-Buddhist monastery located in Pleasant Bay on Cape Breton Island. A few words about Shambhala Buddhism: Shambhala is not considered to be a religion as much as a set of practices based on an ancient wisdom tradition, designed to help people live compassionate lives and helping others to do the same in order to create an enlightened society. Shambhala practitioners come from all walks of life and may or may not also participate in more traditional religious faiths. For anyone interested in learning more about Shambhala, you can visit www.shambhala.org
On this sunny day, we decided to drive the shorter, more scenic way through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Although this is the more challenging route, over two mountains – Cape Smokey and North Mountain– it was well worth the risk. The view from Cape Smokey showed that the packice had indeed arrived from the north Atlantic: in some places as far as one could see, textured ice chunks formed a seemingly solid sheet of ice, punctuated by naturally formed ice sculptures lit up by the sun. Looking out at Pleasant Bay, we saw a coyote or a fox scrambling across the ice. It had seemed to wander out there and all of a sudden realized the ice was unstable and was looking for a way back to shore…
Once we arrived at the Abbey, the festivities began with a lhasang – an outdoor fire and cedar-smoke ceremony, traditionally held on this day to invite good energy down into the general environment. A lively group of monastics and community members chanted and circumambulated the fire, accompanied by traditional drums & cymbals.
The lhasang was followed by a most amazing vegetarian feast with dishes from various cultures, all delicious and beautifully arranged. Enough time was given to allow for lively reunions with old friends, for meeting new friends and for catching up with each others’ lives.
After the meal we practiced the “Birthday Sadhana” – this being the birth of a New Year. This is a practice in which one contemplates the Four Reminders: One’s good fortune for being born a human being; the reality of Impermanence and Death urging us to live full and compassionate lives; the mechanism of Karma – that all our actions have consequences; and, the fact that Samsara, or suffering, is endless unless we commit ourselves to stepping out of our habitual patterns and reactions. The opportunity we were given to contemplate each of these reminders made possible new learning and insight – helpful for moving forward inro the new year.
The New Year we are now entering is the Year of the Water Dragon. A few words about the qualities associated with the Year of the Water Dragon: Overall this is a year during which the element (water) and the sign (dragon) are in harmony for the first time in 16 years, allowing for more opportunity for kindness, harmony and creativity in our lives.
I would invite us all to periodically contemplate just how we might move with this energy and create such opportunities in the lives of those around us and in our own life.
We thank our friends at the Abbey for their generosity in creating a rich and meaningful Shambhala Day experience for all.