As a Buddhist living in America, I find December to be one of the best times of the year. The many religions that share holidays in December (including Buddhism) often share the common thread of peace, love, caring for others, and kindness to one another. That’s something we can all celebrate.
So what can you, as a Buddhist, do on Christmas? More than you can think! Since Buddhism focuses on the end of suffering (both physical and mental), it’s only natural we help each other while we are here on earth together.
Here are some things you can do as a Buddhist during Christmas:
- Give a Thoughtful Gift. While Buddhists strive for non-attachment to material things, we also believe in practicing kindness. A truly thoughtful gift which shows you have paid to attention to someone’s needs and feelings is much more important than a meaningless stocking stuffer. Do you have a deeply religious Christian friend? A gift that shows you respect their faith and shows love and kindness is always appreciated. Do you have a friend that seems to be down during the holiday season? A gift of being there for them and asking if they would like to talk shows that you have taken the time to see them in their time of need. If you are getting a gift for a Buddhist friend, read this.
- Help a Person in Need. We all know someone who needs our help, whether they are a family member, close friend, or even a homeless person on the street asking for spare change. Everyone has a different need, but we can help as much as we can. Buddhists often give money when asked by someone in need (such as a homeless person), or helping someone during a difficult time if only being there to listen. You may find that buying a few grocery gift cards from the supermarket and giving them to people in need will mean more than any electronic gadget ever will. Jesus said “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Matt. 19:21)
- Plant Seeds of Kindness. Buddhists plant seeds of kindness by doing the most basic things such as holding the door open for a person with their hands full, paying for the coffee of the next five people in line behind you, or just giving a hug. There is no reciprocation needed or expected! Just the act of being kind will benefit you both in ways you cannot imagine.
- Help an Animal. Often forgotten, animals also feel cold, pain, hunger, and fear like every living creature. I often carry around a bag of cat, dog, and bird food in my car to share with an animal in need such as a hungry homeless kitty on a cold night. You many also do what Americans are wonderful at, donating to charities and there are many wonderful ones that support animals such as the Humane Society, ASPCA, your local shelter where you can volunteer, etc. Oh, and a little toy to your own furry companion will make them happy (yes, sometimes it is the little things). Catholics may know of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, who preached sermons to animals during his lifetime.
- Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation. Sometimes the gift we should give to help others starts with us. Loving-Kindness meditation allows you to create positive change within you of Friendliness (metta), Compassion (karuna), Appreciative Joy (mudita), and Equanimity (upekkha). What a wonderful thing! This meditation focuses on sending loving thoughts to a respected person (such as a teacher, so many Buddhists include the Buddha), a loved one (such as a family member or close friend), a neutral person (perhaps a cashier you don’t know), and a hostile person (someone you are having difficulty with). Sharing the practice of loving-kindness with children helps them understand more about compassion and love for others, and not just about material things (Buddhanet has a great page about it).
But why stop during the holiday season? Practice the above throughout the year!
Are you trying to understand your Buddhist friend, relative, or family member? Click here to read my article (Understanding a Buddhist During Christmas). And the following books can also help with understanding.
Living Buddha, Living Christ
By Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh
If you are a Christian, this is not only a great book to understand Buddhist concepts, but to also see how they have similar parallels with Buddhism. There are many points in the book that cause both Christian and Buddhist practitioners to pause and think not only of similar beliefs, but also how they can make their life better (and their faith stronger). A must read book that helps to create understanding between these two religions.
Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers
By Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh
A companion book to “Living Buddha, Living Christ”, this book is aimed towards Christians who may have become Buddhists, or who are exploring it. The book helps guide them towards similarities between Buddhism and Christianity, and Buddha and Jesus, so they can remain in their Christian faith. Buddhism reinforces that people should remain in their own faiths because it is the right thing to do, and not to become a Buddhist unless careful thought and understanding is first undertaken. Ven. Hanh reinforces this longstanding belief as practiced by the Buddha with this book by helping those who follow Christ, but are exploring Buddhism, to feel reassured to stay in their religion.