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There is a small Christmas tree in our house (my husband calls it a ‘Charlie Brown tree’), placed between our indoor Buddhist shrine and the large, embroidered silk thangka on the living room wall. It may be small, but it’s pretty: its white lights sparkle all night long, and small, colorful Tibetan prayer flags are draped all around it. Under our little tree is a large statue of Ganesha, a Hindu deity who has millions of devotees in the Jain and Buddhist traditions.
Both my husband and I grew up in traditional Catholic families. By the time we both reached adulthood, we had parted with Catholicism; he, to an agnostic viewpoint, and me, to East Asian values and philosophies.
I spent my early twenties exploring many traditions before Buddhism found me at the age of 25. A friend and I then traveled to South Korea, China, and the Hong Kong section of China in an effort to connect more closely with the Buddhist community. It was in Hong Kong that I had my most intimate experience with Buddhism. I had an incredible vision at Lan Tau– of Adibuddha in the form of a blue flame emerging from a white lotus – that showed me the eternal truth of all things.
Shortly after I returned from Hong Kong, a friend, farmer, and fellow Buddhist named David Brown introduced me to a community of Tibetan Buddhists in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. That connection set me on the path to enlightenment: I became a disciple of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. About 12 years later, I further refined my practice to include aspects of both Tibetan and Mahayana practice. Finally, 10 years ago, I formally took refuge and began ngondro.
As a dual Tibetan/Mahayana practitioner who acknowledges several Hindu deities, I’m no stranger to an eclectic mix of traditions in my everyday practice. I’ve been Buddhist longer than ever I identified as Christian. And yet, at Christmas, I and many other Buddhists participate in some of the practices associated with Christmas.
Many Buddhists around the world have a positive view of Christmas. They may go to temple on Christmas Day, and they may exchange small gifts. And all the while being disciples of the Buddha and their guru or karmapa.
There are powerful similarities between followers of Buddha and followers of Jesus Christ. Noble and selfless love, forgiveness, compassion for the world, caring for the sick and poor, kindness to animals, giving of alms, and moderate living are just a few. Despite what retail interests tell us, the true celebration of Christmas is to go deeper into one’s heart – to create a loving, compassionate mind in order to be of service to others. Buddhists and everyone can deeply appreciate what Jesus Christ has taught.
Christmas gives us all a very important message for humankind: love one another, harm none, trust the infinite, and never lose sight of hope. Wishing peace and joy to the world is not just a Christian thing, a Hindu thing, a Jewish thing, or a Buddhist thing. We are all so incredibly, deeply, and lovingly connected.