A Season for All

Another Christmas season arrives, and once again people will wish me a Merry Christmas and then, knowing I am Buddhist, will ask, “Oh, I’m sorry, have I offended you?” My usual answer is, “No, I celebrate all holidays and accept all blessings and good wishes.” How could someone wishing me peace, joy and happiness possibly be offensive?

In many ways, the sentiments expressed during the Christmas season are compatible with the Buddhadharma. “Peace on Earth, good will towards men,” reflects the wish for all humans to enjoy happiness. Buddhism teaches that as long as another is suffering, we can never completely overcome our own suffering. Ever mindful of our actions, we strive to do only that which alleviates suffering.

The Buddhist idea of Dana, or giving, is truly evident this time of year. In addition to exchanging presents with friends and relatives, we also give more to those in need. We put our donations into the Salvation Army kettle and write checks to our favorite charities. We seem especially aware of those who are less fortunate. Our gratitude for what we have is more profound than ever.

For Buddhists, whose lineage is of a northern Asian origin, December is also particularly special. On December 8, we celebrate Bodhi Day, the day of Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment. Having left behind his family and royal status, and after six years of meditative and ascetic practices, Gautama Shakyamuni decided to meditate beneath a pipal tree until either he realized the underlying cause of suffering, or he perished. On the morning of the seventh day, as the sun rose, he attained this awakening. He realized that the cause of suffering is our ego driven ignorance of the true nature of life. We see things as we want them to be, not as the really are. This conflict between perception and reality is the root of our suffering.

Many other religions and cultures have special days during December. All seem to focus around similar themes of giving and gratitude. There is, however, one underlying question. How do we take this feeling of oneness and giving, and carry it throughout the entire year?

This year, we enter the Christmas season with a great sense of discontent. We are involved in two wars. Unemployment is high. More and more people are suffering and no clear solutions are in sight. For many, joy will be hard to find. Perhaps, the answer lies with “the reason for the season.” For Christians, the true meaning of Christmas is the birth of their Savior. Through Him, their path to eternal salvation was born. They are able to overcome the suffering of this world. For Buddhists, Shakyamuni Buddha’s awakening, and willingness to share this realization, provides a path to overcome suffering is this life. Regardless of your religion, a guideline to happiness exists. All you have to do is follow it. May all have peace and happiness throughout the year.

For information about Zen meditation, contact me at BASEWI@aol.com.