Buddhist Tradition: New Year’s Day

Fireworks may traditionally celebrate the year’s first day, but for many Buddhists, a bell rings in the New Year.

The bell is an important symbol, because it tells us something important is about to happen, usually a service, but it also represents the sound of “dharma” or great truth.

In Japan, an annual tradition at the start of the New Year is visiting a Buddhist temple and ringing the bell 108 times at midnight. The sacred number 108 represents our various passions and reminds us to be guided by the Buddha’s wisdom.

The sound of the bell extends in all directions, penetrating walls and traveling great distances, representing the universal nature of truth. When rung at midnight on New Year’s eve, it even symbolically transcends time, extending simultaneously into the past and future.

Here in the United States, some of our temples mark the passage of time with a New Year’s Day service, which includes sutra chanting, incense offering, and a dharma message, often followed by refreshments and snacks.

Unfortunately because of the pandemic, visitors currently aren’t allowed at temples, but you can still observe a New Year’s Day service online. Please check with your local temple for information.

Most of all, the sound of the bell makes us mindful to live a life of self-reflection, to think of others, to be helpful, and to appreciate this life we have been given.

-Rev. Ken Yamada is editor of Higashi Honganji’s Shinshu Center of America