On the eve of Losar, during her stay at Tashigar Sur, Argentina, Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo, director of the Tibetan Medicine School, gave a talk about the aspects of the new Tibetan Water Rabbit year and the importance of the Buddhist story of the Four Friends.
The Year of the Water Rabbit
Losar is the name of the Tibetan new year. The new year is very important in every culture because on that day families and communities reunite and present the customs connected to their culture – dancing, singing, preparing certain food, wearing certain clothes and ornaments. Therefore Losar is an important moment to re-introduce our culture to the younger generation. Today, although we often buy things that are ready made, there is still a sense of family if we make certain things. This also gives the sense of our roots, which is very important.
This new year is the year of the Water Rabbit. In general, the rabbit is a pleasant animal. It is clever, talented, sometimes so clever that it may be deceptive. The rabbit has many different sides to its character: it can be really truthful, but sometimes acts according to the circumstances. While it is humble, kind and gentle, if the rabbit wants to do something, it has the capacity to attack, although it normally doesn’t.
Since the rabbit is very clever, people who are born in the year of the Rabbit normally become scholars, writers, doctors, involved in any kind of work related to studying. The element of this year, Water, goes well for the Rabbit year. In general, the birth element of the Rabbit is Wood. Water is the mother element of Wood – if we don’t give water to wood, it cannot grow – so these elements have a favorable combination and relatively this year is quite good. Water is also a source of life. It is cohesive, gentle, soft, but also very determined. At times Water can be much stronger than weapons. A few weeks ago we saw this when flooding destroyed the roads. Water has the capacity to be very forceful. We usually consider Fire to be aggressive, but when necessary, Water is also quite aggressive, rapid, and active. So in general this Water Rabbit year will be very good, but, as always, we still need to be careful.
The Ox Divination
According to traditional Tibetan astrology, the tendencies for the year – the weather, rainfall, people’s health, animals’ health, the crops and so on – are indicated through the divination of the ox and the cowherd. There are many different ways to introduce the year and its tendencies but the most common and easy to understand is through the ox, so I will try to explain the Water Rabbit year through the Ox Divination.
The ox represents animals and the cowherd represents humans while the two other elements are the Earth, mother earth, and the sky. In some ways it is similar to the lungta prayer flags.
When we observe this [diagram] of the ox and the cowherd, we observe the color of the ox, what kind of tail it has, the color of the ox’s hooves, the color of the shepherd, his age, whether the cowherd is in front of the ox or behind it, if the shepherd is wearing shoes or not, how he wears his hair, and the material the cowherd’s whip is made of. All these factors correspond to the five elements, and then there are explanations.
This year is the Water Rabbit. In general, the color of the ox is green, which means we may have abundant crops but also lung disorders. The stomach area of the ox is white. This shows that, globally, this year we will have some obstacles. The ox’s horns, ears, tail and head are blueish. This indicates that the more northly regions may have more obstacles. On the other hand, in spring or the beginning of spring, beginning of summer, beginning of autumn, those regions may have more rain. The four legs of the ox are red meaning that the climate of the valley areas or desert areas will be hotter and wildfires may also be possible.
The mouth area of the ox is a little greenish, so virtuous actions may not be very successful this year. The mouth of the ox is closed and the tail of the ox is turned to the right. It means this year is not so good for animals, especially very young animals and animals that produce milk, like cows. For humans, if we look at the mouth and the tail of the ox, the situation is slightly better, compared to animals.
This year the cowherd is elderly meaning that the year is slightly better for people advanced in age, a little difficult for people of middle age and especially for children. The right side of the shepherd’s hair lies more towards the back, while the left side is more to the front. This indicates that relationships and global peace will be average. There will be fewer virtuous actions, and an average quantity of non-virtuous actions. The cowherd is wearing both shoes which indicates that all people will be a little busy this year and there will be abundant rains. The color of the cowherd is reddish, his clothes are greenish, and he’s wearing a yellow belt indicating that the economic situation will be medium, not that good.
This year the cowherd is running behind the ox, while the ox is in front. This is a little difficult for animals. The spring comes a little late in the high mountain area this year. The whip is made of grass indicating that this year kings will have problems with their ministers who, in turn, will not be very kind to people. In particular, the cowherd is holding the whip above his head as if ready to hit someone. That shows also that the people will have less peace.
On the ground there are ten animals, the maximum number, which indicates that the crops should be fine. The autumn will be good and long. There is one dragon in the sky meaning that in general there will be average rains.
In conclusion, there is a lot of green and red, which represent the Wood and Fire elements. For that reason people may tend to have diseases linked to excessive Wood and Fire. In particular, if a person wants to open a business or something similar, he or she may meet some obstacles. The color green represents the Wood element. The entire ox is green, while its stomach area is white. The stomach area is like a container for all the organs of the body. It is white which means its element is Metal so because the stomach area is white, Metal, it means that no matter how hard our body [Wood element] works, the container [Metal] is not in harmony with it. This year since the ox’s body is green, but the stomach is white, it’s not very positive. The four legs are moving and touching the ground, so this refers to lower areas. When the ground is too hot it means there is a great possibility for fire to break out.
What can we learn from this? Firstly, we should be careful with lung or wind disorders. Secondly, if a person has a blood disease, skin disease, or any gallbladder issues, this year they shouldn’t stay in a desert area, a low valley or a region with a hot climate. Thirdly, if a person tends to have a lot of anger, this year may be difficult so it’s good to do practices such as Vajrasattva or Avalokiteshvara.
In general, considering the element of the year, it is good to wear clothes that are red, blue, and white. Yellow and green may not be the best option. This year the ages that have more obstacles and difficulties are zero (newborn), thirteen years old, twenty-five, thirty-seven, forty-nine, sixty-one, seventy-three, eighty-five and ninety-seven. People of these ages need to be careful and in particular for those people who are 85 and 73, this year is a little weak.
The Four Friends
There is a tale about the Four Friends, which comes from a sutra teaching given by the Buddha. The purpose of this teaching is to show that collaboration and respect are very important.
Today, many of us do not need something extra as we have more than enough. We have enough food, which is the most important thing to keep us alive, and we have a roof over our heads. However, many of our human brothers and sisters have neither food nor a roof above them. If we look around, we will see that this is very true today, and until we experience some serious problems ourselves, we don’t feel other people’s problems.
For example, recently there was a big disaster, an earthquake, in Turkey where many people died, however we soon forgot about it. I’m not saying we don’t care but since we are not in the middle of a disaster, we don’t feel that bad. Similarly there are a lot of problems in many different places, all kinds of suffering such as natural disasters, but there is nothing much we can do. In addition, we also have a lot of man-made sufferings, at the global level, at the national level, and at the level of the family.
If we ask people, “Do you need a piece of gold?” Yes, if we have it, that’s good, but if we don’t, that’s also fine. If we ask people, “Do you want to have peace?” Yes, we all want to have a peaceful life, no one wants to live with suffering. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, if you are learned or not, which type of religion you believe, which culture you belong to, which color you are – these are all secondary conditions – the most important thing is that no one likes to suffer. But if we are looking for peace, how can this peace come about and from where? It comes from respecting and understanding others. If I respect you, automatically you will respect me. If I mistreat you, I will receive the same treatment sooner or later and I will be the loser, not the winner.
As Shantideva said, we do not need a lot of weapons, we need only one: to be able to look at our own character, our own poisons. Shantideva also said that our mind is like a crazy elephant that we should bind with our consciousness, our presence. He said that rather than trying to control our enemies it is better that we try to control our three poisons. If we want to walk [barefoot] on the ground, there are a lot of things that can hurt our feet. It isn’t possible to cover all the earth with leather but if we just put a small piece of leather under our feet [shoes], then it will be equivalent to the entire world covered with leather.
The story of The Four Friends starts like this. Once upon a time there was a country probably where Sarnath is situated today. And in that area there lived four animals: an elephant, a monkey, a rabbit and a bird. They lived there and respected each other. They shared food and lived very peacefully. The four animals had four different characters but they understood that to be able to live harmoniously, they needed to share space, food, everything. Other animals, who did not want to be attacked by others, also joined them and they became a bigger community and lived very peacefully.
One day the bird said, “Now we all live quite well and in harmony but now since more animals are joining us and the community is becoming bigger, we need to create some rules”. So they decided to create rules in order to be able to live continuously in this peaceful way: they should not kill, should not attack other animals, should not steal others’ food, should not mistreat others, and should not misbehave sexually. And they lived that way and it was very successful.
One day again the bird said, “So far we’re doing very well, but we are still missing something. What we’re missing is that the younger ones respect their elders and the elders should take care of the younger ones. We need to decide who should respect who and who should take care of who. We need a new rule.”
Then they decided that the one who arrived first on this land would be the older one. At that time there was a large tree growing there. The elephant said, “When I came here, the size of the tree was the same as my body.” Then the monkey said, “When I came here, the size of the tree was also almost like my body size.” The rabbit said, “When I came here, two leaves appeared on the tree and I licked the dew from them.” Then the bird said, “When I came here, there was nothing. I went to other places, ate the fruit and then left my droppings here, and in that place the tree grew”.
They decided the younger one should respect the older one and since the elephant was the youngest, he should respect the monkey; likewise since the monkey was younger than the rabbit, he should respect him, and the rabbit was younger than the bird and respected him. So according to their age, the bird was on the top, supported by the rabbit, the rabbit was supported by the monkey, and below was the elephant. And they continued in that way and in the whole region they had good rains, good crops, healthy animals and everybody lived very peacefully.
The king of that region thought, “I am doing very well. I run this kingdom so well that everybody lives very harmoniously.” The minister of that kingdom thought, “I am a very smart minister, I care for this kingdom so well that everything is very harmonious.” The king thought that this harmony was the result of his hard work, and the minister, that of his and they argued about this.
There was a great practitioner, a yogi, and they went to ask him whose merit the harmony in the kingdom was. He told them that it was not the merit of either the king or his minister but the merit of the four animals who live very harmoniously in the jungle. Then the king and the minister went to the jungle, learned from the four animals and later applied the same rules for the people of the kingdom: don’t attack anyone, don’t steal other people’s food, and so on, what we nowadays call the ten non-virtuous actions.
We can bring this story into our daily lives. Before I was born, my parents were here and without parents, we would not be here, so we pay respect to them. We also pay respect to our ancestors, our older family members, grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, and so on who brought us into this world. We thank them and we respect them. Then there are the so-called “senior citizens”. Everything that we use today, originated or came from them so we respect them, we thank them. Also in the Dzogchen Community Rinpoche gave us rules on how we should continue the Community and what we should do. Since the Community has become big, there are also some guidelines, not rules, because Rinpoche never said we should have something mandatory. But there is something like guidelines.
To understand this story, you do not need to have a great capacity or to be learned. It’s very simple to understand. The elephant is the biggest and could say, “I will be the boss”, like today when everyone who is bigger physically, everyone who has more power, becomes the boss. The rabbit is very smart so it could have found another method or idea to manipulate the others. The monkey could very easily have said, “If you do that, I won’t share the fruit with you,” because the monkey was the only one who could reach it. The bird could have said, “Whatever you want to do, I don’t care because I can fly everywhere.” But they didn’t. They said, “We want to respect each other. We will respect who is the elder and will take care of who is the younger.”
I told you the other day that Rinpoche said that we need to have evolution, not revolution. Whether it is a harmonious family, community, society or global world, we need to respect each other and, as Rinpoche said many times, to collaborate. That is why I think this story about the four friends is very good and very useful to tell to children. It’s very simple to present, but it has an important meaning.
Khewang Phuntsog Wangmo received her advanced degree from the Lhasa University School of Traditional Medicine in 1988 and dedicated many years of work as a doctor of Tibetan Medicine in Eastern Tibet, collaborating with A.S.I.A., the non-profit organization founded by Professor Namkhai Norbu. From 1997-2000, she was the A.S.I.A. project coordinator in Tibet for the development of Gamthog Hospital, supervising healthcare activities throughout Chamdo Prefecture.
In 2007 she co-founded the American Tibetan Medical Association (ATMA), a national organization representing the Tibetan medical profession within the United States. In 2012 Dr. Phuntsog Wagmo was appointed the International Director of the School of Tibetan Medicine and is currently in residence at the Shang Shung Institute of America, where she continues as Director and International Director of the Institute’s national and international programs in U.S.A., Russia and Tenerife, Spain.
Transcribed and edited by Anastasia Eremenko from a talk given by Dr. Phuntsog at Tashigar Sur on February 20, 2023.
Final editing by E. Granger