“Do Buddhists celebrate Christmas?” is a question I’m often asked. My answer is usually along the lines that most Western Buddhists do, although not as a religious holiday.
It seems fair enough that a lot of Buddhists do Christmassy things in December, like giving and receiving gifts, and gathering together on the 25th to feast with friends and family. After all, Christianity itself “borrowed” the holiday from European Paganism, where it was known as Yule — a word that’s still in use in Northern Europe. Most of the things that we think of as “Christmassy” — trees, mistletoe, feasting — are in fact “Yule-y,” and nothing to do with the Bible. No religion has a copyright on having celebrations around the solstice!
So, yes, usually I have a tree, which I love decorating, and I put presents under the tree for my kids, although the emphasis is less on material things and more on enjoying our time with each other. It’s a wonderful Pagan secular celebration for all of us!
In case you have a meditator in your life, and you’re wondering if you can get them a gift that would help support their spiritual aspirations more than, say, nice socks or the latest electronic gizmo, we have a number of suggestions that are of lasting value.
(Yes, this is shameless commercial promotion, since the fact of life is that we need to earn money in order to keep our teaching activities going!)
The first suggestion is a bit on the expensive side, but it’s a gift that will last for a lifetime and give the meditator you love (which might even be you!) the blessing of comfortable meditations.
The Kindseat is a Buddhist-designed meditation bench that is adjustable in height. The very stable seat also automatically adjusts its tilt to conform to your body and keep the spine in the ideal alignment for sitting comfortably. I’ve literally sat on mine for more than two hours straight without moving, and experienced minimal discomfort. There’s a custom designed, non-slip cushion that makes the experience of using the Kindseat even more comfortable. And it can be used in a kneeling position or a cross-legged position, so it’s suitable for almost every meditator. There’s even a Kindseat Hi for people who can’t kneel, and who normally use chairs to meditate, and a Kindseat Plus for meditators with larger frames.
When meditating, it helps to have a special place: somewhere that’s attractive, uplifting, and calming. And for many people a Buddha statue provides a focal point that reminds them of their aspiration to bring greater mindfulness and compassion into their lives. Buddha statues come in different sizes and styles, and we have a wide variety on our store.
Incense turns even our humble sense of smell into an opportunity to develop calmness and clarity. Different scents have different effects on our emotional states, so that sandalwood is rich and promotes a sense of wellbeing. Japanese “Moss Garden” incense (my own favorite) is deeply relaxing. While there are high-end imported incenses that are very expensive, incense is generally a very affordable gift. You might want to combine it with an incense burner (see below). Incense is also, traditionally, symbolic; just as the smoke of the incense spreads outward, never ceasing, so too our meditation practice “perfumes” the world around us, as our mindfulness, calmness, and compassion affect those around us.
You have to have something to burn incense in. An incense burner, like the beautiful Japanese ones we carry on our store, is filled with something like sand or rice to hold the stick safely upright (setting the house on fire is not conducive to relaxation). It also catches most of the falling ash. The beauty of a glazed ceramic bowl also contributes to the quality of the meditation.
Another sense we can tap into to support our efforts to develop mindfulness, calmness, and relaxation, is sound. The sound of a singing bowl, whether it’s the clarity of a smaller bowl or the deep, visceral resonance of a larger one, helps set the mood before a meditation. In fact, the sound of the bowl can be a meditation in its own right, as we pay attention to the ever-decreasing volume fade into silence. And a bowl struck at the end of a sit can also symbolize the effects of our practice being carried out into the world.
Other thoughts about giving
Just a few more thoughts:
Giving is a very traditional practice in Buddhism. It’s something that the Buddha himself encouraged and praised. Happiness ultimately can’t be derived from material things, but giving is more about showing someone you care about them by putting thought into choosing something appropriate and pleasing for them, and putting your care into action by taking something that’s yours (your money) and making it theirs (the gift). Buying a gift is a spiritual practice!
And along those lines, most people tend, these days, to go straight to Amazon when doing shopping online. But Amazon is killing local businesses and other smaller online retailers, who usually provide better working conditions and wages for their employees. (See “How Amazon’s Tightening Grip on the Economy Is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities“) So I encourage you to pause and think about what you most value before you navigate to Amazon! Where you choose to put your money changes lives, and changes the world.