The Buddha that sits in my entrance way has a tiny Santa hat perched jauntily on his head; set at a rakish angle, it juxtaposes perfectly against Gautama Buddha’s serine expression.
I love Christmas. I inherited this from my mother, who worked slavishly to ensure that the season was a flawless expression of the image of her family she projected on the world. Our home was always perfect; presents were piled high under the tree which itself was cut on our property in Northern Ontario in an idealistic holiday gathering of caroling friends and merriment and dragged home through the waist deep snow; dinner was an elaborate affair that often induced early forays into eggnog and rum, hold the eggnog.
I love Christmas, but I’m not enamored with the wild debaucherous consumerism that seems to infect our society like some kind of pathological screwworm, always present but most veracious at this time of the year. But like all things in life, I live with the paradox that I enjoy giving gifts. So I go shopping.
This year I went in search also of the Buddha Claus.
While wandering the downtown streets of Victoria, or through the cities many shopping malls, I tried to imagine what it would be like for a four year old to sit on the Buddha Claus’ lap and read off their wish list. The Buddha would listen placidly and then, with a warm smile, would explain that much suffering is born from desire and the illusion that “things” can provide us with fulfillment and stave off the inevitable end of our impermanent nature of our transient existence. Then the children would be sent on their way, a copy of the Dhammapada clutched in their sticky fingers.
Maybe the Buddha Claus isn’t for everybody.
I spent my albeit brief time in long lines in retail outlets doing what I could to make the lives of those around a little better. I gave them the gift of a smile, a friendly word, a feeling of camaraderie, and the so necessary sense of human connection. I failed at this effort a few times, providing unwanted verbal assistance from the safety of my glass and steel bubble to those who failed to grasp that parking lots don’t mean that you simply stop unexpectedly and interminably in the middle of them.
But I hope that in the main I was able to relieve people of a little suffering during what is often a stressful and lonely time of the year. And in doing so, relieve myself of some suffering. It’s the illusion of our separateness that so often leaves me feeling unnerved.
As I’ve said before, the purpose in all my running and my stillness isn’t to achieve enlightenment – the permanent end of suffering – but to simply find some peace. Christ taught us that the meaning of Christmas is peace on earth. The Buddha teaches us that the purpose of life is peace in our troubled souls. We can’t have one without the other.
Merry Christmas and Namaste.