Merry Shaka

 Grand Rising and Happy Holidays!

Thank you for joining us today, and for sharing your time with me today. I wanted to find a good topic to discuss with you all today, let me tell you, it’s been very challenging. I wanted to talk about the Spirit of Joyful Giving, or Finding Happiness and Joy, something along those lines. As I started writing, halfway through, they did not just feel right, so I scrapped them, balled them up, and tossed them aside. I should have kept them, never knowing if and when I might need them for another talk. I felt that somehow, or someway, the talk might not have been that interesting or at least to me that was how it felt. I was really looking for something different, interesting, and attention grabbing.

I shared my dilemma with Sharon (Higa), and she gave me a wonderful suggestion and I took her advice, to which I am glad I did. I also learned something myself, along the way. I wanted something that would tie being Buddhist to the holidays, and this really did fulfill what I was looking for. Thank you so much Sharon, for your direction. Okay, here we go.

Merry Shaka (the talk and idea is courtesy of Reverend Sol Kalu)

When I first thought about today’s talk, I knew I would be at a disadvantage since I did not have the privilege of being raised Buddhist, I was raised Catholic, I do have an understanding of the Christian faith. I realize that since I am now a practicing Buddhist, I can share a different perspective on the Holidays and the holiday season.

May the spirit of the holidays be with you already as we as Buddhist await the arrival of the New Year, 2023. However, there is another holiday that is being celebrated here in Hawaii and around the world, Christmas. I am sure you have seen decorations up around homes, and stores of Christmas music on the radio, Santa, reindeer, elves, Christmas trees, wreaths, presents, and snow. All signs that the day of celebration will soon be here.

Rev. Kalu gave a talk a few years ago on this, about the similarities between Buddhist and Christian symbolism of the holidays. He explained why millions of Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas. It is because they are rejoicing that their Savior was born on this day, the one who was promised to help deliver them from sin, and that it was a day filled with sharing and love. That peace, joy, and happiness would fill the world, and the people would be saved from their misdeeds and unwholesome acts, resulting from human failing, imperfections to be saved from and Eternal Hell. That this Hell is saved for evil doers, sinners, non-believers, and those not saved. Does this sound familiar to us as Buddhists? While it might sound the same, they are not the same. We as Buddhist will not be saved from a tortuous hell, but by transcending the cycle of six suffering realms to be born into a land of enlightenment, thus becoming Buddha’s ourselves, achieving this through Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow.

We should strive to attain joy, the joy of Shinjin and this is the same joy Christians feel during Christmas season. Through gift giving, practicing kindness, showing compassion, and doing wholesome acts. As Buddhist’s this is something we strive to do every day, not just on a “special day or season.”

If you look at the world right now, you could see how it does not reflect these values any longer. People are so desensitized, falling into the trap of commercialism, overindulgence, to the point of greed. For example, starting with “Black Friday”, stores will open at midnight to allow people in to start shopping. You’ve seen this, people lining up outside a store, and the lines are crazy long, sometimes wrapping around the store and parking lot,waiting for hours to be allowed entrance. Then, once inside, the madness begins. People who are normally reasonable become crazed with the obsession with buying. Pushing, shoving, arguing, fighting over an item, knocking each other down, fighting like animals, all for the sake of buying something that will soon be forgotten, broken, or discarded. All for the purpose of buying what was wanted, not necessarily what was needed. So there goes the “Good will and Peace”, with the joy of giving, gone right out the door.

I personally do not go shopping, especially during the holidays, and it is with good reason too. I know why they call the first day of Christmas shopping is called “Black Friday”, when one goes out shopping, they might wind up covered in “Black and Blue” bruises.

When Rev. Kalu was asked, “As Buddhist’s, do we celebrate Christmas?” He replied “We do not celebrate Christmas; we participate in it. We try to join in on the happiness and feeling of good with that our Christian friends, family, and strangers feel during this important holiday for them.

He also said, “When you are strong in your faith as a Buddhist, by participating, it will not lead you down a path to conversion to another religion. If we were to really give it some thought, the ‘Spirit of Christmas’ is very much Buddhist.” You might ask yourself “Why, or How is that so?”

He explained that there are three things that characterized by Christian Theology, that can be found also in Buddhism.

The first is, GIVING. What do we call that is Buddhism? We call that “Dana”. What is usually given comes in material form or donation to a charity, or volunteering to worthy causes are known to occur because of this.

The second is, WISHING GOODWILL TO OTHERS with sayings such as, “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All Men.” What does that remind you of? The Loving Kindness Metta, an expression of selfless concern for others. During Metta Meditation, we are wishing well to those we love, those we like, those we don’t know, those we do not like, and to those who do not like us. So therefore, it is similar to “Goodwill to All Men.”

The third is, SHOWING COMPASSION or KARUNA. This is also tied into giving and wishing goodwill. With the abundance of giving, there are still those who with all that they have, don’t stop to think of those who are less fortunate; who do not have same abundance; receive nothing; who do not have adequate food, clothing, or shelter.

Rev Kalu also asked, “What about the symbols and Christmas decorations?” He went on to say, “We can not display crosses or nativity scenes. However, the most common ones we see are Christmas trees and wreaths. These are considered festivity symbols and are harmless. They are not objects for Namo Amida Butsu - With Gratitude and Kindness Beyond Words worship or reverence.

Having these will not cause one to fall into Hell or ‘Jigoku’.” He goes on further to say, Christmas trees and/or wreaths are devoid of meaning or substance that they are only decorations, no holy objects. If one still has a hard time, think of the Christmas tree as a Bodhi tree, and the Christmas wreath as the Dharma Wheel, or “Sagarafuji” emblem.

One might say, “Santa doesn’t leave Christmas presents under the Bodhi tree.” But a Bodhi tree present was delivered 2,500 years ago by Shakyamuni Buddha, and that was the gift of enlightenment. First to himself, then to his teachings, and then to all sentient beings. This gift is much more valuable than any gift one can receive.

We have received this present with the potential for Buddhahood in each and every one of us. The only problem is, we no longer have the ability to unwrap it completely, it remains hidden. We rely on Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow to wrap the precious gift for us.

As Buddhist’s we can look at this from a secular point of view through the Buddha’s teachings, not for one day or a season, but to be practiced daily.

Rev. Kalu further stated, “We as Buddhists can freely participate in the ‘Spirit of Christma,’ focusing on the real essence of the holiday of sharing, kindness, happiness to all, regardless of our religious belief. The decorations, we can make them Buddhist to our liking, without attaching feelings to them.

Even Santa’s laugh is Buddhist. How does Santa laugh? Hou-HouHou. Hou-Hou means Dharma in Japanese. We even have our own version of Santa. Do you know who he is? It is Hotei, the Laughing Buddha, the one whose belly is rubbed for good luck. Hotei always carries a sack full of goddess for children.”

So, now do you see the similarities between Christmas and Buddhism?

Merry Shaka, and Hou, Hou, Hou. Dharma, Dharma, Dharma! Thank you Reverend Kalu! 

Reverend Sol Kalu!
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