Thursday, December 23, 2010

Celebrating a Buddhist Christmas?

Every year around this time I start reflecting again on the question
what Christmas means to me as a Buddhist. Having been brought up in a
Christian country with respect for religion, Christmas has always been
important to me, and it has usually meant something like "peace on
earth." And of course, world peace is the final goal, isn't it?

As Christmas comes at the end of a year, I always feel the need to
reflect on what happened in the year, what it brought to me, what I
learned, and how I want to continue and grow in the next year.

Christmas is also a time to simply be with family and to appreciate
how lucky I am to have so many loving people around me, and a roof
over my head and delicious food in my belly. As I wrote about before,
gratitude is one of those things that makes people happiest.

Finally, Christmas is a time to really consider those who are not as
lucky as me. I often like to do a practice like Tonglen or Loving
Kindness to really think of those people and to wish them
well. Sending positive intentions into the world at this quiet time
(at least it's quiet in the West, especially when we have such a large
amount of snow!) is very powerful, I'm sure.

So although I do not celebrate Christmas quite in the traditional
ways, it is still one of my favourite holidays to be with my family.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The treasures of respect and gratitude

Maybe the above topics sound quite scary for a youth blog, but
actually I think respect and gratitude are things that can make us
really happy beings. I started thinking a lot about these topics after
some e-mail conversations with my ballet teacher. Namely, in ballet,
which has its roots in the 17th century courts, respect is very
important. For example, at the end of a ballet class, the students
typically thank the teacher and the pianist with a reverence
(bow). Interestingly, this culture of respect is very much present in
Tibetan temples and monasteries, too. It is rooted in the view that
every being has a buddha nature, and is a potential buddha. In fact,
you never know whether the being in front of you right now is in fact
a highly realized being.

I recently read the book The Power of An Open Question by Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel which is a
beautiful example of this open attitude towards the world. I think
real respect is not necessarily unquestioning; it rather is a sense of
openness to whatever presents itself to you, and then to investigate
it. If you are not respectful to that view, that you will only overlay
it with your own preconceptions, your own wants and needs. How often
do we not want the world to be different, our teacher to be different
(and sessions not so long), because in fact we are not ready to really
receive. In the world of ballet, the function of adhering to these
age-old traditions is to make you more open to what the teacher has to
teach you, so that s/he can take you into the uncomfortable zone where
you need to go if you want to progress. The same applies, I think, to
a Buddhist context, where our attitude of respect and gratitude for
the teachings and the teacher and each other can take us to the
uncomfortable zone where our ego is slowly being crushed.

Although ego-crushing sounds terrible too, I believe that cultivating
this open, respectful and grateful attitude is also what makes us
happy. We become happier when we see all the wonderful gifts we are
receiving at every moment, and focusing on that reduces our focus on
our discomforts. When we focus on our discomforts, we only become more
self-absorbed, and therefore we are not ready to receive. Instead of
being in a constant battle with life, we can be in a constant open
state, ready to receive whatever teachings may come our way.