The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

We went to find a Christmas tree the other day.
Lest you wonder why a Buddhist Priest might be looking for a Christmas tree, please consider the words of Thich Nhat Hanh:
"If you enjoy walking meditation, practice walking meditation.  If you enjoy sitting meditation, practice sitting meditation.  But preserve your Jewish, Christian or Muslim roots.  That is the best way to realize the Buddha's spirit.  If you are cut off from your roots, you cannot be happy." *

My particular Christian roots are not deep, but in my grandparent's lives, Christianity played a central role in their every day dealings, as well as during those Holy Observances such as Easter and Christmas.  So their spiritual tendencies are still very much with me, the seeds of their belief and faith, and I am living proof of their love and faith in the future!
So we always search for a tree at this time of year.
These days it's just my husband and I doing the searching, but over the years when the children were still living at home, it was a family affair full of the usual laughter, drama, bickering, pouting,(adults bickered & pouted too), more laughter, joking, and finally, consensus on the perfect  tree.  
We still tell the story of the time B. accidently gave A. a bloody nose, giving everyone at the tree farm the impression that we had been fighting over a Christmas tree. Or the time we brought the collie along for a farm experience and had to forcibly drag him away from the live manger where the sheep were huddled in a far corner, bleating anxiously.  
Then there was the outing when the kids convinced one another that every woman looking for a tree weighed 300 pounds, while their mates were under 100...somehow chicken corn soup was blamed for the weight differences....Just one of those odd family bonding moments.... 
All of us manage to find our own unique significance and meaning through this holy Christian observance, whether it is profoundly religious or slightly absurd.  In fact, for some of us, this season may be both religious and absurd.  

The tree we found over the weekend has a bird's nest hidden deep within its dense needles!
My husband chose the tree, then found the nest too, and I said, "That's it, we're done looking!"
The nest is so brilliantly engineered!  A sturdy construction of twigs and mud, the interior puffy with milkweed down--I haven't looked closely enough yet, but find myself wondering, is there anything else in the nest? 
From a Buddhist perspective, a nest in a Christmas tree provides a beautiful place to consider interconnectedness of all Sentient Beings, our complete "interbeing".
In Danish folklore, a nest found in a Christmas tree is considered an omen of good luck throughout the year.  
And birds, being creatures of both heaven and earth, are the direct pipeline to God, ascending with our prayers of gratitude and faith, and perhaps returning with guidance.  In many traditions, birds are the spirit's messenger.
So I don't have a problem with a Christmas tree--it is not a religious icon for me, but more a symbol of family time, for better or worse!  We will decorate it with birds we've collected over the years, including the awesome Orgami cranes A. makes every season. 
In the end, there was always a sense of having accomplished something slightly amazing as a family as we returned home with our tree.
Oh, and then there was getting the tree to stand upright...but that's another story.

*The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

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