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The Cycle of Time: The Chinese New Year
by Rene Wadlow
2008-02-07 10:07:17
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Talk of the Year ahead and the devil laughs”
- Chinese proverb

This 7 February marks the start of the New Year in China. The start of a New Year is a return to the beginning while recognizing that there has been a passage of time. Every ritual repetition of a cosmic event is preceded by a symbolic retrogression to the original chaos. As Mircea Eliade pointed out in his Rites and Symbols of Initiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth “In order to be created anew, the old world must first be annihilated.

The various rites performed in connection with the New Year can be put into two chief categories: (1) those that signify the return to chaos (e.g. extinguishing fires, expelling evil and sins, reversal of habitual behaviour, orgies, return of the dead); (2) those that symbolize the cosmogony (e.g. lighting new fires, departure of the dead, repetition of the acts by which the Gods created the world, solemn prediction of the weather for the ensuing year).

Thus as the old year dies, there is a short moment when all is as it was at the beginning of time, and then the new takes form, following some of the same patterns as the old — the seasons, the rhythm of vegetation, the lunar cycle — but there is a new potentiality. This new potential is symbolized in Chinese thought by having a new year be under the sign of a new animal of the Chinese Zodiac — 2008 being the Year of the Rat.

With each New Year, the participants find again the sacred time — the same that had been manifested in the festival of the previous year again sanctified by the gods and holding a new set of possibilities. Thus, in China, the New Year is celebrated, if possible, with family in the family home. This desire for renewal in a family setting produces a vast migration of workers — often the only “vacation” of the year. As the start of the New Year is an irruption of the sacred, it represents an irruption of creative energy into the world. Every creation springs from an abundance, an overflow of energy which can then be used for human activities.

The Chinese New Year is heavily influenced by Taoism — a philosophy dealing with the whole of Nature and the place of humans in Nature as expressed in balance and harmony — the yin and the yang — the two poles between which all manifestations take place. This balance and harmony must be achieved both in one’s self and in the world. The yin and yang are the alternating forms of the creative force as it is manifested in the world. This creative force cannot really be named, so as Lao Tzu noted, we can call it Tao — the way. As everything is involved in the yin-yang, they are inseparable and are maintained only in relationship.

The start of the New Year is the period when the yin and yang are in the bestequilibrium, when it is possible to see things whole. Happiness and wisdom depend on this equilibrium and harmony. As one Taoist text puts it:

Wait for the time to break free.

Basically there is a time to break free or be transformed.

It will not do to be too early or too late.

Truthfulness within reaches outside, not admitting force.

When a melon is ripe, it naturally separates from the stem.

Normally, such a period of equilibrium for an individual takes training from a spiritual teacher and a good deal of practice. As Liu I-ming, an early 19thcentury Taoist reformer wrote: Practicing self-refinement is the first priority; stopping craving, forgetting emotions, removing entanglements, when all attachment to the senses is cut off, there is a single field of elixir, completely clean and clear.

The start of the New Year gives to everyone for a moment that completely clean and clear elixir to find new ways and new approaches. So we can say to all our Chinese friends, “Happy Renewal”.

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