Welcome to the year two thousand fifteen. Happy New Year.
The idea of celebrating New Year is one of mixed meanings for me. In some ways I find it strange that this one arbitrarily set day caries so much meaning and significance for many and for others it has no meaning. I personally fall into both camps.
As I mentioned the start of the New Year is arbitrary, it could just as easily be any day and in fact throughout history it has been and continues to be celebrated on various days. The Jews celebrate the New Year according to their long traditional calendar dating back over 5000 years. In various countries at various times a strict lunar calculation was used and so occasionally months needed to be added. We see examples of this in the dating of some of Nichiren’s writings. There are probably many hundreds of ways in which the start of a new year has been calculated. Currently we use the Gregorian calendar began being used in 1582 CE replacing the Julian calendar, which had been in use since the time of Julius Caesar.
These are just a few examples of how arbitrary the fixing of the start of the New Year is.
We as humans often attach great significance to the beginning of things, such as birthdays, marriages, new jobs, and so forth as well as to the ending of things such as death, divorce, being fired from a job. Yet time is really a tricky concept for there is no really fixed point for time other than the arbitrary agreement we all subscribe to because of culturally defined norms.
So stepping back, looking closely we could say that every day or every moment is the start of a ‘new year’. Yet today, New Year’s day 2015 we do put special importance on a new beginning. It is convenient, traditional, culturally accepted, and easy to observe.
Let us step away for a moment from the fact that every moment is a new beginning, though I would like for you to carefully keep it in mind as the message continues.
Today is the first, and on the day we begin doing many things again for the first time. Today many of you will perhaps have had your first cup of coffee or tea. I myself had already had my first sip of diet soda, a terrible habit I suppose though there could be worse. Today you will have perhaps showered for the first time this year, or perhaps it will be tonight. This morning you will have done your first recitation of the Lotus Sutra for the year. May you will make your first entry into your journal for the New Year today. Some things you might not do for the first time until a few days have passed such as going to work or to the store.
Today is a day of first causes and first effects which will be both a continuation of last year and also set the course for this new year. This is an unbroken chain, unless you actively seek to break it. The cycle will continue as it has or will take a new turn. The direction the rest of the year goes is in a very large way determined by what you do today, and also in reality every day.
Today is as good a day as any to make changes for the future, and perhaps it is easier to do so because it is the New Year 2015. I hope that as you go through this day and the ones following that you will carefully and mindfully engage in those activities with an attitude that those causes you create today will significantly impact the rest of the year and the remainder of your life.
Finally I would like to bring up one of my favorite subjects, which is goal setting. I cannot stress enough how important it is to set goals. Even science has proven that goal setting is psychologically and emotionally beneficial. There is nothing about Buddhism that would go against the idea of goal setting; think about attaining enlightenment. Enlightenment is the ultimate goal of Buddhism. Now how will we attain it?
Goal setting provides you will a base line from which to examine your progress towards improving and changing your life so the trajectory is towards the ultimate goal of enlightenment. By setting and keeping in mind your goals you will be better prepared to examine what is working for you and what is not.
If we merely wander through our lives living only from moment to moment then we risk going nowhere. Our journey to enlightenment is not so different from driving from one destination to another. If we set out to drive to purchase food without any clear idea of our route or even knowing what a grocery store is then it will be merely by chance we actually accomplish anything. Your happiness, your enlightenment is too important to leave to chance, or accident.
In conclusion let me wish you all a very happy and productive New Year. From today I hope you will redouble your efforts to practice Buddhism and reveal to your friends, neighbors, and co-workers the great benefit of Buddhism. Today is a day of first, let us all make these firsts the start of many great things. Leave nothing to chance.