A tradition that exists in Mongolia, after the new year season, is to invite a monk over to one’s home or place of employment to have them perform a blessing for the new year. Last year, I did not see any such event at my usual haunts in Erdenet. This year, however, while visiting Khentii aimag, I was able to see it.
The monk sits and pulls out his affects: a book filled with Tibetan chants, incense, and a small metal thunder rod. He then asks for a cup of tea, which he places on the table. The chanting then begins. Everyone sits around while the monk chants. At various intervals, he will bring the tea to his lips and blow on it before putting it down again. Towards the end of the chants, he dipped his thunderbolt scepter into the tea and sprinkled the room with the tea. He then took a spoon and put small spoonfuls into everyone’s cupped hands. We drank it as best we could.
He then moved on and put various seeds and grains into the palm of our hands. We kept our hands outstretched, palms face up and filled with our handful. He recited some chants, and at various points, we moved our arms in a clockwise manner. Once we finished, all the women emptied their grains into the hands of the men. For the Mongolian family, it was into the Father’s hand. For my girlfriend, it was into my hand. We kept our grains and placed them somewhere high in her ger. High places are the best for storing items to show them great respect.
At the very end, he neatly place the pages of his book back in place and everyone lined up again. This time, he chanted a short blessing and then tapped the book against our foreheads. With that, we thanked him and he took his leave.
The family, and the monk, were very relaxed during it all. One woman was feeding her sister’s baby (and, on occasion, herself), another was on her phone, and, half-way through the process, the monk took a call about a future appointment. My girlfriend commented on how she liked the relaxed atmosphere of it all, and how in America, if you did any of that during a religious ceremony, it would be seen as disrespectful. Out here, however, they took it in stride: sometimes life needs attending to, even during a blessing.
It was a wonderful experience to share, even if it seems so mundane or even pointless to those who do it every year. It’s always interesting to see how others, both as individuals and representatives of a larger group, approach tradition and religion.