Blog: Thoughts at the Spring Equinox
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
As I was untangling the new prayer flags to put up at the Sacred Stream Center for Losar, the Tibetan new year, I realized that the spring equinox this year falls right between the Tibetan new year in early March and the Khmer new year in mid-April.
Both of these celebrations were originally harvest celebrations in Tibet and Cambodia. They were also a time when people made offerings and affirmed their connections to the natural world and its cycles of time.
Within the rhythm of nature’s time, the spring equinox is the moment when the nights and the days are of equal length. It is a time when the sun rises directly due east and sets directly due west. It is the time of the year when the sun rises most quickly and sets most quickly.
In California, the spring equinox is a time of renewal in a different sense than the beginning of a new calendar year. In the garden at the Sacred Stream Center, the cuttings of the sages and the geraniums I rooted last season are now imposing plants. The ancient pear tree is setting its flowers, and the lilac is in bud.
As we enter this moment poised equally between light and dark, I am aware that we are also poised equally between the bounty of peace and the destruction of war. Things are moving quickly as the sun rises and sets over Ukraine, and over so many other conflict zones that do not hold the headlines with as much intensity as the news from Europe.
As we stand here balancing between the extremes of day and night and peace and war, I am reminded of His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama‘s words as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. For many years, he had been navigating the edge between the destruction of his country and the hope of peace, when he spoke:
“I accept the prize with profound gratitude on behalf of the oppressed everywhere and for all those who struggle for freedom and work for world peace. I accept it as a tribute to the man who founded the modern tradition of nonviolent action for change – Mahatma Gandhi – whose life taught and inspired me. And, of course, I accept it on behalf of the six million Tibetan people, my brave countrymen and women inside Tibet, who have suffered and continue to suffer so much. They confront a calculated and systematic strategy aimed at the destruction of their national and cultural identities.
No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples.
As a Buddhist monk, my concern extends to all members of the human family and, indeed, to all sentient beings who suffer. I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of inner peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion and elimination of ignorance, selfishness and greed.
The problems we face today, violent conflicts, destruction of nature, poverty, hunger, and so on, are human-created problems which can be resolved through human effort, understanding and the development of a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share.”
These words capture the challenge of the current moment as we seek to steady ourselves between the light and the dark. We may feel a sense of powerlessness as we find ourselves unable to offer help to those caught in terrible conflict. We must not despair. At this moment, as in every moment, we can step up to the responsibility of putting our hearts and minds toward tipping the balance toward peace. Let us harvest the practices of kindness we have engaged in over the many seasons of our lives, and use them to sow the seeds of encouragement and hope in all we do, knowing that each thought and each action will tip the balance.