Should Buddhists Celebrate Christmas?

Should Buddhists Celebrate Christmas?

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Our immediate response to the question of whether Buddhists should celebrate Christmas is: ‘if they feel like it’. However, we suspect that some readers might be looking for a fuller account of our view on this matter. Therefore, here are five reasons why we feel it is appropriate for Buddhists to celebrate Christmas if they feel like doing so:

  1. Christ was an enlightened being: We think there is a lot of synergy between the teachings of Christ and those of the Buddha. For example, one of Christ’s core messages (which don’t necessarily always coincide with the teachings of the Church) was that of unconditional love. Unconditional love and compassion for all beings are also important parts of Buddhist practice. It’s our view that all authentic paths of spiritual practice ultimately extend from, and lead back to, the same source. Therefore, we like to think that just like the Buddha, Christ was an enlightened being. We like to see the Buddha in Christ and Christ in the Buddha. Therefore, why not celebrate the life of Christ?
  2. Christmas is an opportunity to give: Undoubtedly, some individuals see Christmas as nothing more than an opportunity to make money, spend money, party, and/or go on holiday. However, although there are some who only engage with Christmas on a superficial level, this doesn’t mean that we have to follow suit. The idea at Christmas of exchanging gifts and spending quality time with friends and loved ones is wholesome. That said, in our opinion, we don’t need to wait until Christmas to give to others because each day provides an opportunity to be generous. Giving to others is really a means of giving to ourselves. When we give without expecting anything in return, we receive. We receive the psychological and spiritual benefits that arise from caring about others rather than only caring about ourselves. In a sense, giving is a means of letting go of ourselves and when we give with the right intention, it generally makes us feel lighter and happier. It’s good to give on a daily basis but designated periods for giving – such as Christmas – can also be a good idea. Christmas day provides us with an opportunity to practice generosity without the distraction of work and other obligations that are suspended due to the public holiday.
  3. ‘Buddhism’ is just a label: In our view, an individual that is truly in touch with their own path of spiritual practice is completely comfortable with experiencing, and learning from, other spiritual traditions. An important objective of Buddhist practice is arguably to not be attached to labelling oneself as ‘Buddhist’. When we stop labelling ourselves and others, it’s easier to transcend concepts. Labels have their uses but they can limit the mind. As we discussed in our post on ‘Being too Buddhist: A Teacher-Student Dialogue’, in our opinion, true Buddhists are those that have let go of the idea of being a Buddhist. They are people that embrace the practice of being a ‘non-Buddhist Buddhist’!
  4. An opportunity for inter-faith dialogue: We’ve touched on this point already but it is worth specifically highlighting the benefits of inter-faith dialogue. Learning about other faiths helps us to learn about our own faith. Interfaith dialogue broadens our perspective and helps us to understand that although the core tenets and beliefs of the world’s various religions sometimes seem incongruous, there exist individuals within these different religions who appear to be treading the same path. For example, Saint Francis of Assisi was a 12th Century Catholic monk who practiced contemplative living and spent time living in a cave. There are lots of Buddhist saints who have done precisely the same thing. According to the version of Saint Francis’ prayer that appears on Wikipedia, Saint Francis is reported to have said “Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy … For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.” Assuming they did not have prior knowledge of who uttered these words, we suspect that many Buddhists would not have difficulty in believing that they are the teachings of a Buddhist saint.
  5. Christmas pudding is scrumptious: We (but especially Ven William who is basically a dessert addict and has a penchant for chocolate and cakes) think that Christmas pudding is delicious. Not partaking in Christmas celebrations is likely to reduce one’s overall intake of Christmas pudding during the festive period. This approach would be unadvisable for somebody who’s taste buds are particularly stimulated by Christmas pudding as well as other popular seasonal deserts (e.g., mince pies)!

Ven Dr Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

When Buddha and Christ Met for Tea

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Jesus said: If those who lead you say to you ‘look, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.” (From the Gospel of Thomas)

A world-honoured one whose many names include Shakyamuni Buddha, from the limitless expanse of the deathless realm, with divine tongue (using words beyond sound), did spontaneously converse with the world-honoured one whose many names include Jesus Christ. The two beings of unsurpassable omniscience, simultaneously decided to take human form and walk again in the realm known as earth.

Having taken human form and travelled the earth separately for a one-year period, prior to ejecting their consciousnesses back into the ultimate expanse, the two great beings decided to meet and discuss their experiences over a cup of tea. The Buddha and Christ sat opposite one another in a quiet corner of an independently-run coffee shop. They ordered a pot of hot tea and some freshly baked chocolate brownies. After a few minutes of sitting in quiet whilst observing and being one with the unfolding present moment, they broke the silence and conversed (in audible words) with gentle tone thus:

Buddha: So, please tell me brother, how was your visit?

Christ: Ah, it is most wonderful to see you again. It’s been quite a lonely stay. It saddens me to say so, but I think things are getting worse here, much worse.

Buddha: Was it really that bad?

Christ: Wherever I went, I taught. Sometimes I spoke to them in words, sometimes in actions. Sometimes I spoke directly from my mind to theirs. Sometimes I taught large groups, sometimes individuals. For each and every person I met, I helped them to experience the god-nature within them. I taught them just to stop for a moment, to follow their breath in and out, and to allow the Holy Spirit to bathe their being. But so few wanted to see. Having experienced a taste of unconditional peace, they either became suspicious or else wanted to be spoon-fed without doing any work.

Buddha: Did they see you?

Christ: Some saw a con man, others saw a beggar. Some, I’m sure, saw a teacher of some form or other and perhaps a small number caught a glimpse of my true self. But the truth is, they didn’t want to see. Seeing me fully was an inconvenience for them, a disruption to the soap opera of their lives.

Buddha: Oh dear.

Christ: What about you my dearest, how was your visit?

Buddha: Well, unfortunately, it seems as though my experience was not all that dissimilar to yours. In fact, to tell the truth, it was quite saddening. When I was here some 2,500 years ago, I taught one set of teachings. Those teachings were multi-layered, and were suitable for people with varying degrees of spiritual propensity. In other words, within any given transmission that I gave, people could extract what they needed at that particular point in their spiritual evolution. So whilst it is wonderful that my teachings have spread across the globe, and have been moulded to suit the cultures in which they have found themselves, it is rather upsetting that people insist on dividing my teachings up and then entering into quarrels based on those divisions.

Christ: That is indeed sad to hear.

Buddha: Nowadays, they divide my teachings up into three principal schools which they call the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. It is saddening to observe just how frequently proponents of these respective schools publicise the relative strengths of their particular school or even go as far as to actively deride the other approaches. I didn’t divide up my teachings in this manner, nor did any of my successors who expanded on the Buddhadharma and retransmitted my teachings over subsequent centuries. The essence of the most profound Buddhist teachings is inherently present within the simplest of my instructions. I wish they wouldn’t over-conceptualise and divide the whole into many.

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Christ: I hear what you say. Not only were all of the teachings expounded by you full and complete in their own right, but they originated from the same source as all of the teachings I gave. If only people would realise that when they heard you teaching, they heard me teaching too – and vice versa.

Buddha: Yes, that is so. We used different words to convey the same message. Where you spoke of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I spoke of the Dharmakaya, the Sambogakaya, and the Nirmanakaya. The Dharmakaya means the Father, the Sambogakaya means the Holy Spirit, and the Nirmanakaya means the son. In the Gospel of Thomas you are recorded as saying “Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.” This was your skilful way of teaching the people that the way to reach God or Nirvana was to cultivate and abide in the view of emptiness. With the wisdom view of emptiness, when looking at one thing, all things are seen.

Christ: This is truth!

Buddha: Another thing that I found upsetting was that there are now countless Buddhist lineages. Each individual lineage claims to have authority to teach in my name because their principal teacher was taught by someone whose ‘teacher ancestry’ can be traced back to someone who was taught by me. But I didn’t authorise them to teach in my name based on these criteria. My authorisation is given freely wherever genuine realization is born in the teacher’s mind. Authentic teachers are those that belong to the living lineage of emptiness and unconditional loving kindness.

Christ: Amen.

Buddha: What about the teachings you gave 2,000 years ago, are they still intact?

Christ: When I was last here, they had already been told that God made man in his image. So I tried to show them that in their purest form, they were already an image of God. At that time, I taught the people that if they cultivated the heart of love and compassion, and disciplined their minds, they would gradually become suitable vessels to be blessed and inspired by the Holy Spirit that is already present within their being. But the essence of my message has been lost. They insist on searching outside of themselves for spiritual liberation. Don’t they realise yet that if it was in my hands to liberate them, I would have done so a long time ago? They have to stop transferring their responsibility to cultivate spiritual awareness into the hands of some divine presence. Just like the coxswain who helps to navigate the rowing boat, I can certainly help to guide them but they have to do the work.

Buddha: Amen.

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Christ: As far as my “followers” go, I do wish they wouldn’t get so caught up in beliefs and rituals. Whilst such things have their uses, the whole idea was to put my teachings into practise. Spending time squabbling about whether or not I was virgin born and about what day I was born or died on won’t get them anywhere. Such behaviour is just a means of indulging their egos – it causes conflict and unrest. I didn’t teach them this.

Buddha: I think that squabbling and bickering are becoming increasingly prevalent the world over. I visited a number of supposedly “peaceful” countries in the West, but it seems to me that they are at war with themselves. Politicians seem to be as venomous and scathing as ever before – everybody is blaming everybody else. The newspapers appear to be desperate to uncover the next scandal – and where they can’t find one then it seems that they’ll do their best to make one up. All it takes is for a recession or slight financial squeeze to come about and riots break out up and down the country. There seems to be growing amounts of tension and imbalance in the hearts and minds of the people. Governments across the world want sustainable economic and technological growth, but without spiritual growth such things will never come about.

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Christ: So my dear, what is to be done about this predicament?

Buddha: That is indeed the million-dollar question – but what about a fresh cup of tea before we continue?

Christ: That’s an excellent idea. Would you like another chocolate brownie?

Buddha: You read my mind.

To be continued …

Ven. Edo Shonin and Ven. William Van Gordon

Forgive them Father

Forgive them Father

Light bearer
Light bearer

Clicca qui per l’Italiano

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. These are the words that Jesus Christ is believed to have cried out approximately 2,000 years ago during his crucifixion at Golgotha. We were recently reminded of these words during a relaxing discussion with a friend of ours who is a Christian monk in the Franciscan tradition. According to the Christian teachings, Christ died because he wanted to absolve us of our sins. Whilst there is no doubt some truth in this, it is also true to say that Christ died because the people killed him.

Christ revealed his enlightened presence to the people and deeply touched their hearts and minds. He demonstrated to the people that the Kingdom of God was within them and he presented them with a basic choice. That choice was so primordial, so pure, so black and white, that it was impossible for people to ignore it. The choice they were presented with was to devote themselves to the practice of basic goodness and work towards liberation or to continue living in ignorance. It was as simple and clear cut as that. There was no room for misunderstanding, no room for excuses, and no room for ego’s games. Christ had laid the truth bare.

Although everyone who met Christ recognised the choice they were presented with, few of them had the courage to follow him. Indeed, a few venomous whispers into people’s ears by some of the high priests was all that it took for them to make up their minds and turn their backs on Christ. It is not so much that the people began to doubt Christ, but rather, they began to doubt themselves. They began to doubt what they had seen and experienced with their own eyes and hearts whilst in Christ’s presence.

Of course, the above pattern of events is not just limited to Jesus Christ but appears to repeat itself whenever an enlightened being decides to expound the teachings. For example, once when the Buddha was residing in the Jeta Grove, some jealous ascetics from Savatthi tried to discredit him and his disciples. They instructed a young female ascetic called Sundari to make acquaintance with the Buddha and to request his teachings. On an occasion when the Buddha was the last person to see Sundari, the ascetics killed her and buried her body near to the Buddha’s meditation hut. They then visited the King and accused the Buddha of sexual misconduct and of killing Sundari in order to conceal his misdeed.

There are numerous other accounts within Buddhism of meditation masters whose enlightened presence has provoked hostility in the people. Some examples are: (i) the Mahasidda Padmasambhava who was ordered to be burnt alive in Tibet by King Indrabodhi, (ii) the translator Vairotsana who was banished from Tibet, (iii) the Japanese monk Nichiren Daishonin who, following a failed execution attempt, was exiled to a remote Japanese island, (iv) the Indian Buddhist saint Shantideva who was treated with contempt by the monastic community, and (v) the Japanese Zen master Haquin who was falsely accused of sexual misconduct.

The most unfortunate thing about all of these examples is that today, many centuries later on, most people don’t seem to have taken the message to heart. People gossip about their friends and neighbours or believe what is written in the newspapers without even caring whether it might be true. They visit the church or temple for social conformity or out of habit rather than to engage in spiritual practice. People wearing religious robes and false smiles attempt to amass large followings whilst inside, their hearts and minds are overrun with corrupt intent. In short, most people choose not to take responsibility for their thoughts, words, and actions and they crucify the enlightened nature that lies in their hearts.

So it is useful to always ask ourselves the following questions: Would I recognise Christ if he walked into my life? Would I truly surrender my heart to the Buddha and allow him to dismantle my ego? Am I suffocating my Buddha nature or my Christ nature? Do I have the courage to follow Christ or do I pretend that I don’t have that choice?

The sad truth of the matter is that if Christ returned today, the majority of people would be too busy or too caught-up in their own selfish pursuits in order to recognise him. In fact, the likelihood is that they would kill Christ all over again. This might not be as brutal as nailing him to a cross, but might take the form of labelling him a charlatan, spreading malicious rumours, or finding some other means to try and exile him from society. If the next time Christ comes and the people choose to kill him again, rather than the words used to open this post, perhaps Christ would say the following: “Father forgive them, for surely by now they know what they do”.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

Perdonali padre

Light bearer
Light bearer

“Padre, perdonali, perché non sanno quello che fanno”. Si ritiene che queste sono le parole che Gesù Cristo gridò circa 2.000 anni fa, durante la sua crocifissione sul Golgota. Queste parole ci sono state recentemente ricordate nel corso di una discussione rilassante con un nostro amico che è un monaco cristiano nella tradizione francescana. Secondo gli insegnamenti cristiani, Cristo è morto perché voleva assolvere ai noi i nostri peccati. Anche se non vi è alcun dubbio della veritá in questo, ma è anche vero che Cristo è morto perché la gente lo uccise.

Cristo rivelò la sua presenza illuminata al popolo e toccò profondamente i loro cuori e le loro menti. Egli dimostrò alla gente che il Regno di Dio era dentro di loro e li presentò con una scelta di base. Tale scelta era così primordiale, così pura, così bianca e nera, che era impossibile per le persone a ignorarla. La scelta con la quale sono stati presentati era l’invito a dedicarsi alla pratica della bontà fondamentale e proseguire verso la liberazione o l’illuminazione oppure di continuare a vivere nell’ignoranza. È stato così semplice e chiaro. Non c’era spazio per equivoci, nessun spazio per le scuse, e non c’era spazio per i giochi dell’ego. Cristo sottopose a loro la verità nuda.

Sebbene tutti coloro che hanno incontrato Cristo hanno riconosciuto la scelta con la quale sono stati presentati, pochi di loro hanno avuto il coraggio di seguirlo. Infatti, pochi sussurri velenosi nelle orecchie della gente da alcuni dei sacerdoti è stato tutto ciò che ci é voluto per le persone nel prendere una decisione e voltare le spalle a Cristo. Non è tanto che la gente ha cominciato a dubitare di Cristo, ma piuttosto, ha cominciato a dubitare di se stessa. La genta ha cominciato a dubitare di quello che aveva vissuto e visto con i loro occhi e il loro cuore, mentre nella presenza di Cristo.

Naturalmente, il suddetto modello di eventi non si limita solo a Gesù Cristo ma sembra ripetersi ogni volta che un essere illuminato decide di esporre gli insegnamenti. Ad esempio, una volta quando il Buddha risiedeva nel boschetto di Jeta alcuni asceti gelosi da Savatthi cercarono di screditarlo e i suoi discepoli. Essi incaricarono una giovane asceta femminile chiamata Sundari per fare la conoscenza con il Buddha e richiedere i suoi insegnamenti. In un’occasione quando il Buddha fu l’ultima persona a vedere Sundari, gli asceti la uccissero e seppellirono il suo corpo vicino alla capanna di meditazione del Buddha. Poi visitarono il re e accusarono il Buddha di cattiva condotta sessuale accusandolo di aver ucciso Sundari al fine di nascondere il suo misfatto.

Ci sono numerosi altri racconti nel Buddhismo di maestri di meditazione la cui presenza illuminato ha provocato ostilità nelle persone. Alcuni esempi sono (i) il Mahasidda Padmasambhava chi fu ordinato di essere bruciato vivo in Tibet dal re Indrabodhi, (ii) il traduttore Vairotsana che fu bandito dal Tibet, (iii) il Monaco giapponese Nichiren Daishonin che, a seguito di un fallito tentativo alla sua esecuzione, fu esiliato a una remota isola giapponese, (iv) il Shantideva uno santo buddhista indiano che fu trattato con disprezzo da parte della comunità monastica e (v) il Maestro Zen giapponese Haquin che fu falsamente accusato di abusi sessuali.

La cosa più sfortunata di tutti questi esempi è che oggi, molti secoli più tardi la maggior parte delle persone non sembrano avere preso a cuore il messaggio. La gente dice dei pettegolezzi sui suoi amici e vicini di casa o crede in  ciò che c’è scritto sui giornali senza curarsi che se sia vero o meno Persone che indossano abiti religiosi e hanno falsi sorrisi tentano di accumulare molti seguaci mentre al loro interno, nei loro cuori e nelle loro menti, vi sono  intenzioni di corruzzione. In breve, la maggior parte delle persone sceglie di non assumersi la responsabilità dei loro pensieri, le loro parole e le loro azioni ed esse stesse crocifiggono la natura illuminata che si trova nei loro cuori.

Quindi è sempre utile domandarci: riconoscerei Cristo se entra nella mia vita? Sarebbe veramente possibile per me concedere  il mio cuore al Buddha e permettergli di smantellare il mio ego? Io sto soffocando la mia natura di Buddha o la mia natura di Cristo? Avrei il coraggio di seguire Cristo o faccio finta che non ho questa scelta?

La triste verità è che se Cristo tornasse oggi, la maggior parte delle persone sarebbe troppo occupato o troppo assorta nei propri inseguimenti egoistici, per riconoscerlo. Infatti, la probabilità è che lo ucciderebbero nuovamente. Questo potrebbe non essere così brutale come inchiodarlo a una croce, ma potrebbe essere di etichettarlo come un ciarlatano, diffondendo voci maligne , o trovare altri mezzi per cercare di escluderlo /emarginarlo  dalla società. Se la prossima volta che Cristo viene e la gente sceglie di ucciderlo di nuovo, anzichè utilizzare le parole usate per aprire questo post, forse Cristo direbbe quanto segue: “Padre, perdona loro, perché sicuramente ormai sanno quello che fanno”.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon