This morning I awoke bright and early, after having slept maybe… oh boy… two hours? Anyway, went over to my friend’s apartment for breakfast before heading to the local Dharma Center to do Losar prayers with the Tibetan community.
I got to his place at 6:30 am. He was already up and at em, bright eyed and bushy tailed. He was doing his shrine – he had the kap se, or the Tibetan New Year fried cookies, plus the special grains in their container which is used especially for Losar (I will find the name here shortly), plus he had many offerings on his shrine for the New Year, including tro ma drai si (a rice with a Tibetan tuber root in it, sometimes raisins are added for sweetness), dried fruit and nuts, plus candles, offering bowls, a bottle of wine and flowers. It was a full shrine to be sure.
He was very busy so he said this was a self-serve breakfast. It was very funny actually – he was brewing chang kos, or boiled Tibetan beer and Tibetan tea. And after he offered these to the wisdom beings, then I had some. Guests are important, but not as important as the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. (Of course!) So I fixed us some eggs and toast. And with the curious, “is-that-a-bitter-or-fermented-taste?” chang kos and the salty, buttery Tibetan tea, I was full.
At one point, he lit some incense and I could have sworn that he had mistakenly put an illegal substance in the incense box. I thought I’d been around the block when it came to pungent incenses, but apparently I did not know about this particularly heavy smelling juniper variation. It was over-powering at first. We got his things together and then went to the Dharma Center.
At Tashi Choeling, the local Jonang Center which is just south of Charlottesville, the Tibetan community of C’ville meets for holidays and events. At first, there were about twenty people there, including eight to ten students from the University, some of whom I had met before and others who I met for the first time. But overall, I felt very welcome and welcomed. I typically feel like I am at home among Tibetans and that was the case here.
We eventually got organized and chanted prayers inside. I have one or two of those prayers, I guess the general ones, memorized, so I was able to say them with ease, but otherwise it was all I could do to keep up in the Tibetan-only prayer book. After that, we went outside where several Tibetans put up prayer flags – which included one or two people going up into trees to do so. Several other people got the fire going and then we chanted more prayers around the fire pit.
After the fire puja, we did the traditional Tibetan New Year ritual of offering (I think this is right, please correct me if not) flour to the deities. “Ssooo… Ssooo… Ssooo… Ki ki so so lha gyai oo!!” At which point you throw up a pinch of flour as an offering. When this is done simultaneously as a group, it looks really good – little fountains of white flour go up as one (and then rain down on you).
Then back inside to eat tro ma drai si, kap se, drink Tibetan tea and relax. It was good to chat with several friends in Tibetan, or I should say, the broken version of Tibetan that I attempt to speak… It was very inspiring though, I got several people’s numbers and I plan to call them to get together and practice conversing. I met several people for the first time. All in all, a very pleasant and relaxed morning.