Seasons Greetings! Another year almost over, and as we prepare to enter a new year we turn our attention to the time of celebrating another Christmas day. In the West, and especially in America, Christmas has become an “every-man’s holiday” it seems. And although my primary spiritual practice And world view is Buddhist, I can be just as caught-up in the festive spirit as others are. It comes perhaps from some degree of my past Christian background and monastic vocation. It is a rare thing to find a Buddhist from birth in America, we generally come from other traditions. But my thoughts turn to finding lessons that can teach universal realities from other traditions at times like this.
The Advent season is here and is being kept throughout all Christians lands as one of the great celebrations of Christendom. It is meant to be essentially a religious festival, but has become very commercialized over the past century it seems. It is now an essential component of a successful world economy. So supreme a festival, all secular duties are laid aside on Christmas day, and there is a spirit of joyfulness almost everywhere. It is on this day that men dream of “peace on earth and good will to men”. On this coming day in the year, we try to put aside our rivalries and jealousies, enmities and strife, so as to come a little nearer to each other. An attempt is made more strongly than usual for us to greet each other with the “spirit of Christmas”; in fact so great is this spirit that it is possible to see friends in larger number during this time than on other days. It is the characteristic of those who throw themselves into the spirit of Christmas, that he who perhaps the day before seemed as someone that bothered us is seen more as a friend.
Perhaps the keynote underlying Christmas is the discovery of friends everywhere. The holiday is, of course, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and because of the power of his message of hope and the importance of recognizing that we are all connected, gives us time to value friendship and family. This one time a year we make this distinction while we erect barriers between ourselves on ordinary days because of our attitude of suspicion and distrust. But on Christmas day there is an attempt to put aside that attitude, and because of that effort, teachers like Jesus and the Buddha are nearer. And so next week we are thinking of doing the same thing. There is a mass effort which makes it easier for each of us to swing along with the current towards doing good. Showing some compassion toward those around us. I believe the message of Jesus is that he came to declare a greater change is at hand if we could only learn to awake and become enlightened to the fact that we are living a myth.
On December 8th all Buddhist’s around the world celebrated the day that Siddhartha Gotama obtained enlightenment (Bodhi Day). This awakening is very often misunderstood even among many Buddhists’, and especially in the West. In short it is experiencing the true nature of our universe and the role we have in it, and the interconnectiveness of all things. Not from an intellectual perspective, but in actual experience. It is not to be understood as mystical, however. I find the lessons of Jesus and Siddhartha are similar in many ways. They offer a “re-birth”, and a chance for us to step on a path to salvation and renewal. While this notion of salvation is interpreted differently between our two traditions, it is still a process that leads to being saved from suffering and the unsatisfactoriness we bring on ourselves if we only change our mind-state. For Buddhists, it is the result of understanding the nature of human flourishing the Four Nobel Truths point to.
When we celebrate Christmas and Bodhi Day it is an opportunity for us to help others understand what important lessons Jesus and the Buddha have to give us. Christmas time is special because Jesus’ life offers hope and understanding that can influence our lives in useful and productive ways, and on this day the message is given special attention. But what a wonder it would be if every day could be like a Christmas day. And why not? Jesus lived not that his spirit might pervade the earth on one day, but that it might pervade it every day in the year, and not in one particular place, a church, but that it might pervade everywhere, in the home, in the office, in the school, in the judgment hall.
So if we understand the lessons of your tradition and acknowledge how the lessons of Christmas can transform our lives and the world around us each day, one can train themselves to greet others everywhere with the same intent and be mindful of every moment in order to be ready to show our understanding and compassion – an understanding and maturity that realizes the state of our true nature, like a Buddha. So I call for us all to attempt each day to evoke in others more of the spirit of Christmas. In a way, Christmas day is a day of special giving in order that the day might be a pattern for all days in the year.
As we gather around the tree at home, and receive and give gifts out of love for our family and friends, let us not forget the biggest gift of all. One that will never wear out no matter how often we use it.
I extend warm blessings to all.
David Shen-Xi Sensei