|Shunryu Suzuki Lecture|
New Year Story
In Japan, as I remember, January 14th is the day when we gather the old memorial tablets or old symbols of shrine. And childrens or boys go something holy—some equipment we need to observe something holy. And when it is very smoky, you know, because at that time we burn—we burned firewood, kerosene lamps, or things in [throughout] one year. Things become very dusty and smoky. [Aside:] Smoky? Smoky? No.
And so in January—of course, New Year's Day, we renew all the decorations, so old ones we carry old ones to the shrine, which is always waiting for those things. Old, old small shrines, or just stone—not [2-3 words] but stone deity called—called a dosojin. Most of the days we do not know even there is dosojin. But on New Year's Day, or from New Year's Day to January 14th, old—old symbols and ornaments will be there. People, you know, take—take them to the old shrines.
So at that time, we realize that, "Oh, here is shrine." On January 14th we make pretty big shrine, maybe six feet high, with straw. And when it is dark, we set fire on it and burn it. And people—children come with rice, rice balls. Rice ball is made on New Year's Day and it is—we put it—we put it on the branches of the tree—a kind of tree—and we decorate it in front of altar. And on January 14th, children take all the small rice balls dango—dango, and bake it—bake it in that—in that fire we made by the old decoration. Some people knows why we do and some don't.
My mother told me the story of why we do. All the year round, you know, dosojin—that god go—lived in various part of the village, and [knows] who observe good precepts and who don't. He has—he is supposed to keep the record, as ino also does [laughs], in Tassajara zendo or City zendo [laughing]: who attend zazen and how many times someone didn't come. He has that kind of responsibility. So he is supposed to have all the records, and on January 15th is the day when that—you know, when some god come and check the—his note. And when someone didn't observe, you know, maybe evil deity come—evil spirit come and check the record. And if someone didn't observe good precepts, then that evil spirit will visit his home [laughs].
That was the idea, but dosojin is very good deity—good god. So before he come he burned, you know, the records. And he may say: "Yesterday evening we had a big fire [laughs], so I have no more records. It was burned away, so I haven't—I am sorry," he may say. So wherever the evil spirits goes, many deities, you know, will say "dosojin," they say. And "I'm sorry. We have big fire, and we have no records. So [laughs] I am sorry. Next year I will be very careful. Please come next year." [Laughs.] So evil spirits doesn't know where to go, so all the villagers—villagers will be protected from the evil spirit. That is the story.
That kind of, you know, story—legendary stories—were also in India. That story came from India to Japan, and in some part of Japan we are still observing it. It—fourteenth is the, you know, fourteenth some days—sometime fourteenth—sometime the fifteenth; it is according to the moon, you know. Full moon will be sometime fourteenth and sometime fifteenth. Before full moon it is—we call it white—white days, white nights, and after full moon we call it black—black days. Moon is, you know, more and more become black.
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