Once in a new moon: Special visit from Tahoma One Drop Zen Monastery founder marks celebration

Shodo Harada Rõshi

The Chinese New Year at the Northwest Language Academy and Cultural Center next week will be rung in by a special guest.

Tahoma One Drop Zen Monastery’s founder, Shodo Harada, will be in town for the celebration. The event is free to anyone wishing to participate, and is 4-6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 8 in Langley. It is the first time since the monastery in Freeland was founded decades ago that Harada Rõshi (Japanese for old teacher or old master) has scheduled his visit to coincide with the Chinese New Year. The holiday is also called a Lunar New Year because it coincides with the first new moon between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20.

Jess Leon, one of the Tahoma members and a practitioner of renzai Zen, said the Whidbey Island followers have long sought Harada’s return during the holiday. Having him around for the fifth anniversary of the joint celebration between the monastery and Northwest Language and Cultural Center is special, and may be the result of effective politicking.

“I think the lobbying has been going on for 25 years now,” she laughed the week prior to his arrival.

“We’re thrilled to have him here for a longer part of time,” Leon added.

Her sentiment was echoed by the academy’s founder, Josette Hendrix.

“We’re lucky to have Rõshi here during this time,” she said. “We’re really delighted.”

The two-hour celebration will be in the vein of traditional Zen new year ceremonies. It is a far more somber experience than that of Western celebrations with champagne toasts, loud singing and bombs-a-bursting. Leon laughed when asked if it would be similar to Chinese New Year celebrations around the globe with fanciful fireworks displays. Ben Watanabe / The Record | An altar similar to this will be set up for the Lunar New Year.

“We try to keep the fireworks internal,” she said.

“There won’t be any dancing dragons,” Leon laughed, referring to the costumes worn during some Chinese and Japanese celebrations. “The Rõshi, he was born in the year of the dragon, so he might be dancing.”

There will be chanting from the Zen followers and monks, an offering of incense on a hot coal. In years past, the ceremony included a ringing of a bell for each person in attendance at the new year celebration. It symbolized leaving behind the past year’s sins, and in the Buddhist tradition a bell is rung 108 times to represent the infinite impediments to enlightenment.

Putting on such an event fits right in with what Hendrix wants to accomplish with the center: cultural exchange and cross-cultural understanding.

“Our objective for this event and gathering is really to create an opportunity for the community, for all ages and different faiths, beliefs, likes and dislikes, to come together that we all share something very fundamentally, the humanity we all share,” she said.

“Diversity is what makes life more vibrant and able to survive,” she added.

Harada will be based on Whidbey for a few weeks. He typically spends most of his year at the main temple in Okayama, Japan, and visits the other monasteries in the United States and Europe. During prior tours of Whidbey Island, he hosted calligraphy workshops but will not be able to do so this time around. Instead, his truly public appearances will be daily dharma — cosmic law and order — talks at 1 p.m. Feb. 17-23 at the Freeland monastery.

Lunar New Year

Tahoma One Drop Zen Monastery and the Northwest Language Academy and Cultural Center are jointly hosting a free Lunar New Year celebration 4-6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 8 at the Langley center, 5023 Langley Road.