Mahāyāna New Year

Mahāyāna New Year

What is Mahāyāna Buddhism? 

Mahāyāna Buddhism is a schools of Buddhism that is commonly practiced in Northeast Asia: Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia.  It is one of the main schools of Buddhism the others being Theravada and Vajrayana.  It’s origins come from Northern India and one of it’s biggest emphasises is on the importance of compassion (Skt: karunã) and insight ((Skt: prajñã).  Mahāyāna Buddhists believe that enlightenment can be achieved in a person’s lifetime and that it is not exclusive to monks and nuns.  The goal in Mahāyāna is for everyone to attain enlightenment through service and helping others achieve Nirvana as well.  This was a massive change from traditional Buddhist thought and allowed those who did not give up their life entirely to Buddhism to remain important within the religion.

With this movement a new body of literature was introduced known as the “Perfection of Insight Texts”.  In this Buddha Sakyamuni (the historical Buddha) is seen as a supernatural being (later formalized as the trikaya- three bodies).  Additionally, the concept and doctrine of emptiness (Skt: sunyata) became increasingly important.  

When Do They Celebrate the New Year?

When Mahāyāna Buddhist celebrate the new year depends entirely on the person.  Some have grown accustomed to celebrating the new year on it’s more formalized day January first but others still wish to celebrate it on the traditional day which typically falls towards the end of January.  In 2021 it will be celebrated on Thursday January 28th.

How Do They Celebrate?

For Mahāyāna Buddhists the new year is a time for meditation and reflection.  They celebrate by honoring and praying to gods with a particular emphasis on the Buddha.  It is common for Buddha statues to be bathed out of respect in addition to offering religious songs to deities.  Buddhists are expected to visit a nearby temple with candles in tow in order to wish for happiness and good luck in the coming year.  They also celebrate by buying new things and decorating their house.  There are large festivities with lots of sweets and a nighttime fireworks show. 

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