I’ve felt at odds with Christmas for years but since becoming a practising Buddhist I find it even more jarring. It’s the excessiveness; the rampant consumerism, gluttony, meaty-ness, wastefulness; the mountains of plastic and other waste it generates and the pressure it puts on people to spend money they don’t have, buying things for people they don’t really want or need.
It can be hard not to get caught up in the pressures of the season and either give in to aspects you don’t particularly agree with, and/or start to resent it all!
This year thanks to my studies within the Awakened Heart Sangha and Lama Shenpen’s teachings, I have a new perspective on it and feel better equipped to face the festive season, relating to it as a Buddhist.
The Buddha taught the ‘Middle Way’ and I think it’s possible to find a middle way with Christmas; a more balanced compromise with celebrating Christmas as a Buddhist. So I’ve decided to use the Christmas period as an opportunity for extra practise.
Christmas is a time for giving, so it’s the perfect opportunity to embrace that element. Generosity is an important aspect of Buddhism too, known as ‘Dana’ and there are different ways of practising it.
Generosity is one of the Six Paramitas, which seem the perfect teachings to revisit and to practise this time of year. Lama Shenpen gave a year of teachings on these topics two years ago, these can be found on the AHS YouTube Channel.
Generosity can mean sharing the Dharma, giving your time, being open and open minded, being present with family, for instance. Giving presence, not just presents. The other Paramitas include: Patience/Forbearance – I can look for the opportunities to be more patient with others; Discipline – over Christmas do I really need to stuff myself with another mince pie and can I keep to my practise as intended? Diligence/enthusiasm – Keeping up the enthusiasm and energy for practice and finding the joy in the whole practise, finding the spirit of the season.
I wrote about learning the Buddhist Feast Practice in my last post, and there’s a clear tradition of feasting at Christmas, so as a Buddhist I can look on Christmas dinners and families parties as I would a Buddhist feast: as a time for honouring our connections and samaya (inescapable bonds) – to family and friends.
With the help of these Buddhist teachings, I can transform the whole experience of Christmas for myself. It doesn’t mean that I have to suddenly buy into the whole thing, but I can meet it in the middle.
For some of the practical aspects of Christmas, I’ll be buying as many Fair Trade gifts and/or gifts that support charities as possible and have already bought several items from the Free Tibet online shop. I’ll also be giving homemade gifts including edible treats for people, which I did last year that seemed to go down well!
I’ll be using fully recyclable brown paper present wrapping or reusable present bags and we’re asking people to donate to charities instead of buying us things for Christmas.
We’ll be making a vegan Christmas dinner and will be mindful to not just panic buy loads of extra food we’re not going to eat, and we’ll also be donating food to the local food bank.
On Christmas day I’ll include a feast practise/ meal offering, to tie together the experience of Christmas as a practising Buddhist.