Putting the Buddha back in Christmas, and the Rebirth back in New Year…

 

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Kwan Yin Fest near Chiang Dao, Thailand

So I’ve made a big deal, for myself at least, over the fact that, at least in my mind, we as humans, and as Buddhists, or whatever, don’t really have to do anything to be upright moral citizens of this world and this civilization. As long as we don’t do any bad things, then all should be well, for each of us, morally and ethically and spiritually. It is no one’s place and position to prescribe the behavior of others, so long as they are doing nothing wrong and causing no one any harm…

Then there’s Christmas, the Big Deal for Christians worldwide, with much spillover into other countries, especially those which have significant consumer cultures. But that’s not really what it’s all about, not for those who really ‘get it’, i.e. get the fact that it’s all really about what you give, not what you get. So what you get, hopefully, is the satisfaction of making other people happy…

Of course things have degenerated over the years and Christmas commercialism has reached monumental proportions, such that the rule of thumb for many US retailers is that Christmas accounts for half the year’s total income. Of course that says as much or more about our mass consumer culture than it does about Christmas, which is still marked by solemn masses around much of the world, a serious reminder of the roots of the tradition, one which has gone through many turns of the wheel in its 2000+plus year history…

And of course Buddhism has nothing like that, though theoretically one should be giving something every day, to the monks, at least, and dana is generally considered the basic entry-level approach to Buddhism, the social equivalent to personal devotion, and equal in status to sila, ethics and morality. So if the big year-end blow-out that is Christmas has no precise equivalent in Buddhism, smaller versions of something similar go on throughout the year, at least in the countries where it’s traditional…

So while I stand by my personal conviction that no one really has to do anything in this life, in this world, much less fawn and pander, just to curry favor, in order to live a righteous and moral life, still: it is Christmas, and not a bad time to make a show of generosity, and a show of faith, faith in our fellow men and a fine show for the kids as well…

But it’s telling that so much attention is still paid to the birth, supposedly miraculous, of the ‘Christ child’, and serious Christians will tell you that this of course is the ‘reason for the season’. Well, Buddhism also has stories of not only a miraculous birth, but also many many prior lives, all of which go into making Buddhism what it is today, supposedly…

But most of these stories came many years after the life of the Buddha, and just like Christianity, serve to make the religion easy and attractive, an appeal to magic and a hook to emotion. Because isn’t this what the average person wants most in life and out of life–love, luck and longevity? Very few want the drudgery of high-fallutin’ metaphysics and hard-to-follow doctrines, and this is something that all major religions have in common…

But I personally reject all superstitions, and miraculous births certainly fall into that category, along with heaven and hell, and other unnecessary appendages to honest heart-felt faith in something ‘other’ than common-sense dog-eat-dog reality, not that I accuse anyone of lying about it, because ‘if you believe it, then it’s not a lie.’ It’s just not necessary and extra baggage is extra weight…

But that’s not the case with dana, generosity, and giving. There is always a need for that, not that you have to do it, but it is good, if you are able. And there is nothing wrong with making a special time of year devoted to that cause and effect. If that’s a traditional Christmas, then I’m in. I just might add that taking less is a good counterpart to the idea of giving more…

For better or worse, the new year carries no such religious baggage. But everyone celebrates it, why I don’t know, since it’s really just another day on just another calendar, UNLESS you factor in the coincidence that in the over-populous northern hemisphere of the world, it closely corresponds to the winter solstice, the year’s shortest day, and so heralds the eventual return of spring, and the greenness that that brings, and the fruits soon to follow…

And the smart money would have you believe, of course, that they’re all the same thing, Christmas and New Year and Saturnalia and the original solstice celebrations. Saturnalia even had a tradition of masters and slaves trading places, and get this: the gifts were all gags, jokes, trivial and trifling, of symbolic significance only! But I like it all as a symbol of rebirth, Christian and/or Buddhist both/either, a renewal of sorts and revival of spirits, such as should happen every minute of every day, something fresh new and invigorating…

That is a rebirth that I can believe in. And so it is in Amerika. Another year of defilement and deception at the hands of rogues and rascals is now ended. Such is life, and such is death, like shadow and light, like turning the pages of no particular book over and over and over again until the corners are frayed and the white has turned yellow and we eventually get it right, or die trying, hopefully not. Happy New Year…