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What is a New Year?
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on New Year's Eve 1997)

This is the eve of the New Year. We expect a really happy New Year, especially as the New Year commences on Thursday, the day of Jupiter, the day of the Guru—Jupiter representing goodness, peace, harmony, religion and philosophy.

The concept of a year with twelve months arises due to various conceptual factors, one being the traversing of the Sun through the twelve houses of the zodiac. The solar and lunar years are the traditional calculations, here in India particularly, of a New Year. The solar New Year and the lunar New Year commence sometime in March and April. This means to say that the concept of the year of twelve months has an astronomical significance. Since astronomy and astrology are geocentric, we consider the Sun to be moving through the houses of the zodiac, and it traverses twelve houses in twelve months. If we were to be stationed on the Sun, we may perhaps regard the Earth as one of its planets.

But what is January, which we consider as the beginning of the New Year? Evidently it has reference to Janus, a Roman deity. Due to association of the month with this deity, some circumstances give rise to the thought of the month of January being the beginning of the year. The Roman calculation is a little bit intriguing. The month September has connection with sept, which is seven. October means eight, November means nine, December means ten. How come is this kind of nomenclature of the months? Why should the month of December be deca, while January is the beginning of the year? There has been some historical mix-up of these concepts, and by practice and the convenience of people, the whole world accepted that January should be the beginning of the year, whether or not it has any mystical significance or philosophical or astronomical justification.

Above all these factors, there is the important contribution of human thought in the notion of the beginning of a year. Oftentimes, the birth of a prophet is regarded as the time of the commencement of a year. Islam has its own New Year particularly connected with the prophet Mohammed, and perhaps connected with his movement from Mecca to Medina. Did the first year commence with the birth of Christ? Not so, it appears. Some say the Christian era commenced on the sixth year after the birth of Christ.

How many years have now passed? From which beginning are we to calculate the number of years? Are we following the date of the birth of Christ? But the year number one did not start on the date of the birth of Christ, nor are we following the Islamic doctrine of the calculation according to Prophet Mohammed. We have in India other New Years: Vikrama Samvat. In panchangams we will find so many years after Vikrama ascended the throne. Vikrama was one of the kings of India. Vikrama Samvat, or the era of Vikramaditya, the king, commences in 57 BC. There is another calculation, which is called Shaka, or Shalivahana Shaka, based on the date when King Kanishka, in early days of Indian history, ruled. Shalivahana Shaka and Vikrama Samvat are prominent among traditional Hindus.

But the world has found it convenient to follow the accepted practice of regarding this year as 1997, whatever be the reason behind it. We say the twentieth century will end. According to what calculation are we saying that the century will end? What is the meaning of 'a century'? Many hundred years started from which date? Here comes the power of human thought, apart from historical considerations. If we decide that a thing is like this, it will be like that. The total thought of humanity is very powerful, and if millions of people think the same thought consistently, it will become an objective reality. The world thought, which is the cumulative effect of everybody thinking the same thought, will become a solid reality. If the mind can create the world, as we have said, the mind can create anything. It can create a New Year just now, not necessarily tomorrow, for other reasons.

Humanity, under the pressure of certain circumstances, has agreed to consider the first of January as the beginning of the New Year. Since we have to give due respect to the thought of humanity, apart from other considerations which are irrelevant to the conclusions of the human mind, we herald the New Year 1998 now by the stroke of the midnight hour. Here also there are some differences. Indian tradition does not always consider midnight as the beginning of the day. For certain purposes, such as the birth of a child, midnight is considered as the beginning of the day, but for some other purposes, sunrise is the beginning of the day. One day and one night constitute one total day. It is not from midnight to midnight, though that is also valid for some other purposes such as birth, marriage, etc. But for holy ceremonies, worships, etc., sunrise is the beginning of the day. So we may consider the New Year as commencing at midnight tonight or by sunrise tomorrow, as we like. But, again, human thought is powerful. The tradition followed by the total mind of humanity is that midnight is the hour of the commencement of the year.

We have been celebrating and observing many New Years. In what way is the year new? Is it because we have added the number one to the existing number? That is not the only meaning. Adding one number is a mathematical interpretation of the situation. Its qualitative connotation is also new. Tomorrow shall be a better day. When we generally hold such an opinion, we do not mean by the word 'tomorrow' just one number added to the previous number. It is a qualitatively superior occurrence in preference to the conditions prevailing today. Everyone hopes that tomorrow shall be a better day. Rarely does a person feel that tomorrow will be a wretched day. It is not the habit of the mind to think that tomorrow will be worse than today. After all, tomorrow it shall be all right. The future will take care of it. The hope of a better condition of living is the significance of the celebration of the New Year. We become new in the perspective of life and the vision of our existence in this world. It is not that we will carry on the drudgery of today's existence and drag it to tomorrow also. The New Year is not a continuance of the sorrow of today. It is an occasion for the diminution of the grievances and the suffering of today, and the betterment and a new hope for tomorrow.

Advance in age, maturity of one's life, is not a heading forward to old age and death. It has another significance, namely, an increase in knowledge and experience. As we grow into maturity, we are not marking our movement towards our death. We are hoping for a goodness and a robust future for our own selves. Everything in the future is better than the past. The evolutionary process of the universe is a permanent teacher for everyone. There is movement onwards and backwards; progressive and retrogressive movements are taking place in the process of evolution, but finally it is a progress. The world is not retrograding into a hind condition, though it may sometimes appear so if we read human history.

All of you must have read the history of humanity. Have we progressed onward from some centuries back, or are we going down? The quality of the life of people will decide whether it is a progress or a retrogression. Technological conveniences and comfort-giving gadgets, and moneymaking methods should not be regarded as progress on the path of evolution. The more is the need we feel for external conveniences, the less do we consider the capacity of our soul inside.

Desires indicate the bankruptcy of one's inwardness, which a person tries to make good by purchasing the external commodities of the world and filling the vacuous inwardness by the goods of the outer world. The outer cannot fill the gap that the inner fills. The inner can become and feel improved only if the dimension of the inwardness expands. Inwardness cannot expand by adding some externals to it. The external shall stand always outside the internal, and any amount of possession of the goods of the world is not going to enhance the quality of the human soul.

There is an inwardness at the deepest recesses of our heart, which we call the soul of a person. It is the pure subjectivity. It is the utter reality of our being which is called the soul, whether people generally understand the meaning of this word or not. The utter, deepest reality, the substance, the bottom of our existence, is called the soul. If that expands, if the subjectivity in us can become a larger subjectivity, we may be said to be improving in our life and we are progressing on the path of evolution. But if our objectivity goes on expanding and our subjectivity is gradually tending to annihilate itself, we become machines and not human beings. Are we not slowly moving towards a mechanical age where everything is a pushbutton affair? Everything comes by one push of the button. The outer machine has controlled the inner soul of the human being. Will the machine bring salvation to the soul within? Who will achieve salvation? The machines and gadgets.

The comfort that we feel in our life is really not a happiness that we have gained. It is a false promise that the world of objects gives to us, a promise which it cannot fulfil. The world has never fulfilled the promises that it has made to people. Everything looks beautiful, and the wealth of the world is large; we can have it if we want. But no one did have it really. The world was never possessed by any person. The richest person in the world did not possess the world. The rich person possessed only an idea, a notion, an empty feeling that something has come inside. That which is outside cannot come inside and, therefore, all possession is a deceptive phenomenon into whose trap everyone gets caught. Let the New Year be a soul-making year, not a year of increasing machines, tools and implements, gadgets and airplanes, and destructive weapons. That is not the expectation of a New Year.

We say, “Happy New Year!” Who is going to be happy? Are the mechanisms going to be happy, or are you and I going to be happy? If you depend on machines for your comforts, the machines will become happy because they have possessed you and converted you into a slave. Do you want to be happy? Then build up your being, which is the soul within. The soul-making event is the beginning of the New Year. The newness consists in the progressive advance that the soul makes in enhancing its own dimension towards perfection. A Godward march is the inner significance of the observing and the celebration of a New Year. It is God calling, God coming, God summoning, God wanting you, God running after you, if you would like to put it so. That is the great New Year we shall be expecting.

As I mentioned, hopefully, since Jupiter's day is the beginning of the New Year, we shall really expect something good. In our Indian calculations, there is a deciding king of the year and a minister of the year. Today someone told me that Jupiter is the king of the coming year but Saturn is the minister, and he asked me what is the significance. I said that Jupiter is like sweet porridge—like kheer, as we call it—and Saturn is like neem leaf. So if these are the king and the minister, what will be the rule? What will be the nature of the administration? It will be beautiful, sweet porridge, mixed with a little juice of neem leaf. Would you like it or would you not like it? It is very sweet, so you cannot throw it away, but it will also bite you inside.

The goodness of life, and the beauty and the joy of life, do not mean freedom from duty and hard work. We may associate Saturn with hard work, work with perspiration and consciousness of duty, and Jupiter with the awareness of God, the consciousness of the Almighty Creator of the universe. Thus, meditation and action may perhaps be the significance of these two great gentlemen ruling the coming year. If the whole world of humanity manifests a single thought of majesty and godliness, and decides to move onwards towards God-consciousness, the world shall see a better day.

In many ways, we may say, our future is in our hands. If one person thinks a good thought, it is fine, but if many seated together think the same good thought, it will produce a cumulative effect. It will be a more powerful good thought. That is why satsanga is considered as a very important religious discipline. You may meditate in your room and pray to God independently, but if you collectively sit and generate a thought of God in a group we call satsanga, it will have a greater effect. If all of us seated here think one thought—the thought of the great Almighty—continuously for a few minutes, that would be the essence of satsanga. The idea of satsanga is that there is the occasion for us to think one noble thought, one feeling, and to have one perspective so that, we hope, the humanity of tomorrow will realise its forte and foible, and gird up its loins for its own benefit and betterment.

May God bless you all!