Tibetan New Year ceremony helped bridge faiths
Kanwal Prakash Singh
From the Indianapolis Star, April 5 2015, p. 4A
There are opportunities today to witness, celebrate and connect with once distant and unfamiliar cultures and traditions that are now part of the changing spiritual and cultural landscape of Indiana. The “Losar” celebration of the Tibetan New Year at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington on Feb. 19 was a spiritually enriching experience.
The ceremonies began outside with traditional Smoke Puja offerings and Buddhist chants, led by the Venerable Arjia Rinpoche, director and spiritual leader of the Cultural Center, near a specially prepared platform for the sacred fire. About 100 faithful and friends from many faith communities participating in the ceremonies — 2015 is the Tibetan Year 2142, also know as the “The Wood Sheep Year” — stood under a blue sky with 10 inches of fresh snow on the ground against a backdrop of trees and a stupa.
The sanctifying ceremonies, which included Tibetan chants; unspoken prayers of gratitude for the sky, earth, water and fire; and myriad blessings that sustain life, and for the planet that we share as a human family, exuded a transcendent spirit.
Following the outdoor Smoke Puja (sacred ceremony), the gathering moved inside the beautifully decorated Cultural Building. Prayers for world peace and harmony were offered by Rinpoche, representatives of Baha’i, Sikh, Catholic and Jewish faiths, and by Charlie Wiles, executive director of the Center for Interfaith Cooperation in Indianapolis.
The symbolism of nature used as the backdrop of the Losar ceremonies echoes celebrations in other faiths; the sacred sounds of chants seemed transcendent and familiar, and presented no language or cultural barrier. One could recognize unifying faith lessons; affirmations of dignity, cooperation, peaceful coexistence and well-being of all God’s children and creation in interfaith prayers.
For one brief moment, the lesson of our common humanity stood before us, above the divides, dangers and tragedies facing human civilization. We imagined the Tibetan Losar, Easter, Baisakhi, Buddha Purnima, Ramadan, Diwali, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Native American ceremonies, other secular and religious observances and commemorations as being pilgrimages of renewal and new beginnings for a more hopeful future in all the lands, cultures and faith communities. The blessed thought was comforting!
Familiar spiritual mandates in major faiths affirm that life, learning and advancement of human civilization depend on each of us entering into a sacred commitment of peace, harmony and goodwill toward one another as a universally cherished ideal and anchor. We have a stake in this vision and must have faith in this precept.
To get there, we must dismantle the barriers that divide and separate us because of culture, faith, status, ethnicity or gender. We can begin by acknowledging God’s light in each other; welcome shared hopes and dreams; bring the ignored, stereotyped and disenfranchised into folds of trust and reassuring possibilities; and envision and safeguard that ensure that “right” not “might” may shape our universe.
The Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, the celebrated greats from all nations, faiths and generations provide a guiding light to create and entrust such a lasting legacy to future generations.
But great dreams are never realized without sacrifice. With trusted intentions, working in solidarity as a respectful spiritual foundation, the world may see manifested such long-awaited thresholds of peace and harmony.
✭ Kanwal Prakash “K.P.” Singh is a Sikh community leader in Indianapolis.