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Asking the Clergy: How do you celebrate the spring equinox?

The Rev. JoAnn Barrett of Gathering of Light

The Rev. JoAnn Barrett of Gathering of Light Interspiritual Fellowship, Michel Engu Dobbs Roshi of Ocean Zendo meditation center and Ashok Vyas of Creative Hindu Alliance. Credit: JoAnn Barrett; Ashok Vyas; Michel Engu Dobbs Roshi

Spring begins officially on March 19, marking an earlier-than-usual end to winter that is also a sacred time for many faiths. This week’s clergy discuss how they and their congregations commemorate spring’s fresh start.

Ashok Vyas

Founder, Creative Hindu Alliance, Bellerose, Queens

Holi is a vibrant Hindu festival marking the arrival of spring. It inspires us to celebrate life with love and teaches us to sensitively tune into the changing moods of Mother Nature.

Celebrations start with a bonfire on the eve of Holi, which recalls the burning of a demon named Holika and Lord Vishnu’s protection of the saintly Prahlad. This proof of God’s all-pervading presence to protect his devotee makes Holi a symbol of victory of truth over falsehood.

During Holi we also pray for good health and purity in life. Many people discard unwanted and dirty articles from home and burn them during the Holi day. During the day, people apply colored powders on each other’s cheeks with tenderness and a visible zest for life. Children throw water balloons and direct streams of color on other people. There are many devotional Holi songs about Lord Krishna and his beloved, Radha Ji.

Holi is also known for such special delicacies as sweet pancakes and flatbread. The colorful day is followed by an exciting evening devoted to greeting and meeting with friends and family members, exchanging sweets, hugging each other and sharing warm wishes for Holi. This festival is also known to be a day for new beginnings by forgiving and making a fresh start for collective growth.

Michel Engu Dobbs Roshi

Zen priest, Ocean Zendo meditation center, Bridgehampton

In Japanese Buddhism, the spring and fall equinoxes are called higan, and are considered to be very important. During the week of Higan, many people return to their hometowns to visit their ancestral graves, make offerings and to visit local temples, where ceremonies are performed as a way to atone for self-centered thoughts and actions and thus honor and remember ancestors.

This practice, loaded as it is with cultural associations, was generally not adopted by the convert Buddhist community in the United States. That, it can be argued, is unfortunate, as deeper connections to our past might help us live more responsibly in the present.

Nevertheless, one aspect of higan that is widely practiced is the study of the six paramitas. The word higan is a translation of the Sanskrit word, paramita, which means “getting to the other shore,” or perfection. The paramitas evolved with the advent of Mahayana Buddhism more than 2,000 years ago. They come from a classical teaching of older Buddhism: morality, meditation and wisdom. The six paramitas are: generosity (dana), morality (sila), patience (ksanti), diligence (virya), meditation (dhyana) and wisdom (prajna). The purpose of studying them is to reduce self-centeredness and to ease suffering in our lives. So, as the spring equinox approaches, I encourage everyone to consider the paramitas, remember your ancestors, and live in a good way for the earth and all beings.

The Rev. JoAnn Barrett
Senior officiant, Gathering of Light Interspiritual Fellowship, Melville

We celebrate the spring equinox two ways.

First, spring equinox will frame how we celebrate our weekly service. Our theme is awakening the seeds within us. We use this time of equal light and dark to think about the spiritual balance in our lives. Each of us has the seed of pure potentiality within us. Like the seeds in the ground that have withstood the cold harshness of winter, spring calls us to break from the dark earth to the sunlight. As aware spiritual people, we use this time of earthly rebirth to call forth that which has laid dormant within. We challenge ourselves to clean house and tune into the possible blossoms of our lives. Through song, prayers and meditation, we call spring to come to us.

Second, there are those in our community who will journey deeper into the interconnection of the change of season and the shift in energy it produces. This smaller group will join in a ritual circle of connecting with the Earth. Weather permitting, we sit around a bonfire and explore our connection with air, the element of spring. Air represents the whisper of ideas, calls forth inspiration and ignites creativity. By taking this more experiential time, our interconnection with the Earth and its creatures is enhanced. This ritual awakens an ancient knowing with every new bud that blossoms. We recall that we walk on sacred ground, as sacred beings. This action empowers us to be aware of the sacred connection in all we do.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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