Celebrating a Birth in Tibet
I am from a small city in Tibet. Because of the help and guidance of my family, I was able to go to university in Beijing at government expense. However, I return to my home at least twice each year for the spring and autumn celebrations. Celebrations in my family still follow Tibetan custom, even though many have been blended with Han Chinese. Most are based in Buddhist custom.
I remember when my younger brother was born. I was about 11 at the time. The ladies of the neighborhood were very solicitous of my mother. They came to help with the work about once each week in the later months to relieve my mother of the burden of laundry and other heavy work. My grandmother always helped and the ladies helped her so Mama did not have to do it.
When Sung was born the whole neighborhood knew. My grandfather placed two banners on our roof eaves, hanging from the edge: one to ward off evil to protect the child and one to attract good fortune. However, the actual celebration does not commence until the third day of the child’s life, or fourth for a girl child. I think this is because in old times the children did not always live this long in Tibet, which is very high in altitude. But if they were still ok by three or four days, they would usually survive normally.
The Pang-sai is a cleansing ritual aimed at cleansing the child from the journey into this life. The first to come to celebrate are the family of the child. Many people may journey from other places to do this. They bring gifts of food and clothing. Buttered tea, barley wine, meat, butter and cheese are presented to represent wishes for an abundant life.
New clothing and wonderfully colored scarves are presented to represent shelter for life. Scarves are also presented to the parents to carry good wishes. A visit by a monk from a local monastery or one of the family will insure that the child will develop wisdom. The monk(s) brings religious banners and leads in worship rituals in which everyone participates.
Every day the family and visitors party for a week until the naming ceremony, but nobody comes into the house or see the child, except immediate family and the monks. The rest of the people are served and celebrate in the courtyard, which is usually partly covered and offers a warm fire. It will be a month before anyone outside of the family or the monks touches the child.
The child is named by the most respected personage who is able to attend. We had three monks in our family, so my brother was named by a Living Buddha, which is a monk who is very enlightened. I remember him, because he looked at me and it was like he looked inside me, quietly smiling his approval of what was there in my heart. I remember how he cradled my brother and then held him up in the doorway for all to see as he pronounced his name: Zhu Sung, and he presented the baby to the world and the gods.
The banners decorating our house fluttered in the breeze for one month before my brother made his first trip into the world outside. The Living Buddha selected the most fortunate date for this special day. We all dressed in our best clothing, with Sung dressed in the finest of his new clothes, and his forehead was marked with ash to ward off evil during the journey. We journeyed to the monastery to present him to the gods.
I remember that I was honored to care for Sung the rest of that day while my parents and family entertained all the well-wishers and feasted on what they brought plus very special fluffy cakes cooked on a big flat stone, and served with yak butter and sweet sauce. I shared in the feast, but I stayed indoors with Sung most of the time, though Mama came in now and then to feed him and I was sent to eat or dance.
There was no loudness or feasting there, just quiet observance as the monks prayed and sang to proclaim the purity of this new life and introduce his soul to those around him. I think this ceremony is good for all of us, as we all share in the beginning of this life, so we all share in his growth, helping him to become the good man who is my brother Sung.
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