Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Holiday Interests of a Different Kind

Holiday Interests of a Different Kind
Tony E. Hansen
15 Nov 2011

This time of year brings us indoors to many festivities.  We greet each other with familiar sayings and Yuletides. There is a measure of compassion and happiness that is found in this time of year that is absent from other times. At the same time, many different cultures are enjoying a holiday, but what happens when the holiday is done? Eastern religion and philosophies may offer an idea.
I grew up Catholic, but as I grew as an adult and with the influence of martial arts, I explored the realms of Eastern philosophies (specifically Buddhism and Taoism).  As I look towards another holiday season that is definitively rooted in Christian tradition, that of Christmas, I find myself thinking that is there should be more than just the holiday compassions.  As well, the holiday season (as well as life) has to be thought of much more than in terms of narcissistic or material gratification.

While I have not abandoned the Christian traditions, I found myself questioning the manner at which the doctrine was implemented. This is similar to how one learns about revolutionary theories and ideas, but the actual implementation is far from the idealistic projection (e.g. communism). The doctrine preached by Jesus Christ seemed far from the pulpits and rituals being offered at the various churches that I attended or from the voices of those proclaiming to be saved (especially from those of the Christian right). The doctrine would seem to dissolve at the church doors as those who would profess the awe of Christ and confess “sins” would ultimately disregard the teachings.

What I found in Buddhist and Taoist mediation and readings was a completely different understanding of the world than what the Western world proposes. I cannot say that these ideas are better than the Christian doctrines, but they present a different perspective of our environment. Without fully knowing rituals, hierarchies and the traditions of these religions, I began to find a refuge in their philosophies, a way to express my thoughts, and to learn about life’s little intricacies that I had never found in Christian teachings.

As I evolved over the years, I have found myself less inclined to the Church and more towards the pursuit of the four Noble Truths and the precepts of engaged Buddhism.  Yet, the discipline for this pursuit is much the same as for Christian doctrine as both need practice and patience. There is similarity between mediation and prayer, but Buddhists attempt to find spiritual growth through un-attaching and letting solutions reveal themselves where prayers tend to be more of asking for divine assistance and spiritual growth. Each of these is a different approach to solving issues, but both are looking for a spiritual state free from suffering.

Both traditions understand that problems, emotions, discipline, and solutions are rooted in thought.  In order for problems to resolve and for solutions to be found, we have to look within before we look for changes in others (having faith in oneself). Yet, faith to most Christians resembles a “fervent hope” that there is Jesus helping us along the way and that there is a path to gracious afterlife for good behavior today. This is kind of ironic because to truly express faith seems to be more about letting go and letting life just be. For example, the plant simply grows not because the gardener tells it to grow. Yet in order for the plant to grow, the gardener needs to provide proper nourishment and care. Likewise as individuals, we need to provide “proper nourishment and care” to our lives via kindness, compassion and loving towards ourselves and to people in order see the desired positive responses. Otherwise, we find hatred and anger can control our lives, and ultimately, that blind ourselves from what we can be. Otherwise, we are constantly looking for happiness in new material things or new relationships without realizing what we already have is what we need and is very precious.

Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, said that when you realize that life and every breath is precious, you can live every moment with joy on your lips, and thus, you will see the result in every deed. This is because you will take care of yourself, and your relationships will benefit in parallel because what is important will be revealed in them.

As we get ready for yet another annual run of festivities and holidays, we should pause for a moment and meditate on our lives. Remember in your holiday gift giving to consider how precious your relationship is with the other person and how joyous your life is because of that relationship. Remember that new material things might bring a moment of joy, but compassion, a good heart and a good smile are mutual gifts that can be cherished well beyond the holiday season.

Peace be with you this holiday season and always. Namaste.