New, newer, newest -- it's New Year's Eve and I would like to wish everyone a happy and peaceful new year, starting with enough aspirin to relieve any residual hangovers tomorrow.
At a Zen center I once attended, New Year's Eve was celebrated by chanting the Kanzeon Ten Clause Sutra right through the midnight hour. At the beginning of each chant (it's a pretty short one), one by one, participants got to hit the big-bowl gong. We chanted the sutra 108 times ... 108 having a number of applications/associations in Buddhism, not the least of which is the 108 delusions (only 108???) anyone might be subject to. We chanted from before midnight to after midnight, from one year to the next, and by the time we got done we were still sitting in the same meditation hall ... which had changed but it was hard to say how. It was all a bit like driving across the state line from Massachusetts to Connecticut -- everything (speed limit, scenery, etc.) pretty much the same except for some random sign (and your willingness to credit it) saying you had crossed the border. Chanting was a nice way to usher in the New Year... but then there was the question as to what, precisely, was new about it.
In order for anything to be "new," there is the imperative to look at the "old." This morning, for example, I woke up with the old nudge to Christians, "Imagining you are a Christian because you go to church on Sunday is like standing in the garage and imagining you are a car." It's an old chestnut, one that can be applied to pretty much any faith or belief or intellectual construct. Talking the talk and walking the walk are not the same thing: Sure, it's true, but who is willing to take it seriously?
Anyway, there is the new that relies on the old and then there is the new, the right-now that never was and never will be again and is gone before you can say "right now." Associatively, another old chestnut comes to mind: "Your life is so difficult that it has never been tried before."
So I hope everyone will have a happy and peaceful and safe new year, whether as a Buddhist or Christian, a car or a garage. Take the time to smile just one smile. It's worth the price of admission.