Every Christmas while on my Buddhist three-year retreat, sacred time magnified, and I would reflect on the overlay of these two traditions in my life. Here below is an excerpt from my memoir, a journal entry from the final year of retreat, sharing with you now.
December 24, Christmas Eve, 2014
The glittering, glittering night, my gratefulness knows no bounds.
My appreciation for the dark solstice, the inner stillness of winter, gave rise today, Christmas Eve, to an integration of my chosen path of Buddhism and my Christian roots; the latter having paved the way at a young age to sublime mystical life at Christmas, now crissing and crossing between traditions, unifying them, and reflecting.
Quiet, so quiet today, but allowing music into retreat, music and the flexibility to meet my spontaneous and natural inclinations. So much joy in one day.
The integration point lit up in reading Anam Thubten’s book in which he wrote, “The greatest miracle is Enlightenment.” Yes, this I believe. And, but of course! And it struck me, having read it at this Christmas time, that that is what Christmas is—celebrating the miracle of Enlightenment.
The Christians see Enlightenment in their Christ only, as a reflection of God’s light. His birth—he came that way, like a tulku. But the miracle is that anyone—someone—manifested as an expression of the ultimate—full of profoundest love, wisdom, impartiality, compassion. And light.
For Buddhists this possibility is everyone’s birthright, and has manifested countless times. When this manifestation happens it’s a reflection of the Dharmakaya, like the Christian God, full of light, pervasive, and beyond conception.
In either case, the once or the many, the miracle of transcending the mundane, or awakening into super-reality, is so awe-inspiring, we’re called to celebrate. Even we mundane ones recognize it, long for it, can nearly define it. Why? Because we all have the same essence, we’re programmed somewhere deeply inside, to also wake up.
So Christmas is a celebration of this bright light of Awakening that sleeps in everyone’s heart. In all this music, the words sing in the language of poetry, which sometimes allude, as poetry does, point to without saying, like art does. Sometimes that’s the only way to get to the heart of the mystery, the paradoxi, where the linear cannot go. Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming, Christ the Apple Tree, The Counselor, Lord of the Dance, Holly and Ivy, Three Ships. And Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, a hundred times.
I think without these ancient songs, this poetry and this praise, we can scarcely begin to comprehend it. It’s why the quite ancient pieces speak especially to the mystical, magnifying the vicarious experience of this enlightenment, or at least, the awe. It is in the dark of winter that the mystical landscape, this tapestry can be spread. It is in the dark of this glittering night that the miracle of this glorious light’s brilliance can be most appreciated. And in the holy moment we fall to our knees.
tulku – reincarnation of an enlightened being
Dharmakaya – ultimate level of enlightened “existence“
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Beautifully expressed! I am exploring other beliefs and find they expand and deepen my reverence and awe for material and spiritual life and the Creator.
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This came via email, from a dear friend:
All of that is a great read! And, as you would expect, produced a flood of thought– all relative to “enlightenment.” And my personal version of it encompasses a very broad spectrum.
When I look out through my window and marvel at the bare tree limbs and realize what is in store when spring comes and then segue to how much I enjoy interacting with friends and then segue again to the beauty of our winter resident swans, and on and on—-..The sum of this is the realization of how great life is! Not particularly that it is a gift from some supreme being, but just that we realize the existence of all that is beautiful.
Be it as simple as a spoken word or a tree.
Thanks for sending that stuff. Paul
Another note via email from an island friend:
Thanks for sharing this link to your writings. Each one is a lesson. I am finding your writings to be of significant help. These insights, I will read and reread again.
The “sacred enemy” is a lesson of transformation. [see post of 9/18/20] Removing feelings from interactions with an “enemy” is something I have needed and continue to need, to Learn. Understanding and practicing “sacred enemy” is now a personal goal.
Much thanks to you! Love, Dale
From another friend and long-time meditator:
thanks for the wonderful memoir of christmas on your 3 year retreat. you put into poetic words the mundane thoughts – no, feelings – i have!
Here’s from a long-time friend, sent via email:
Sweet, Diane! So much to think about. I am currently reading about Socrates and Plato and the Greeks (who thought of everything first). Heraclitus lectured that nothing is permanent, change is fundamental reality. Reminded me of the sand mandala! The Greeks thought of it all first! 🙂 So much to learn.
Another delightful comment via email:
Thank you for sending your wonderful Christmas/Buddhamas reflections. As I read it, I thought of two of my favorite quotations.
John Steinbeck wrote, I know not where: “It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.”
And what I call the “Un-Final Words” in my book of quotations, something John Tarrant wrote in his masterful book, The Light Inside the Dark: “Somewhere in the universe, the Buddha is still deepening his enlightenment.”
Via email, from a dear friend, and long-time Buddhist:
The Glittering Night is so fantastic and being a Recovering Catholic myself, I could understand everything that you wrote. Thank you for sharing that with us and we are anxious for the birth of your complete book.
Love to you always, Phyllis
This came from Denmark, from a devoted Buddhist practitioner, and friend:
Thank you for this beautiful writing. It just hit me where I am. I love you put in art and music – unique. It tickles in my heart.
Right now I am in a one-month retreat in my summerhouse. And I will be here alone christmas eve. I imagine that it will be a quiet cold night, stars and full moon. Maybe a little snow. Then I will read your words when I sit in the rocking chair, looking out at the sea.
Much love, Marianne
And from France, a friend sent these words via email:
Thank you so much for sending this. It is a beautiful text. “the inner stillness of winter” brought me tears; but in a beneficial way, reminding again to look deeper at things.
I love the confluence of Buddhism and Christianity in your statement “celebrating the miracle of Enlightenment”! Having come from Christian roots as well and now on a Buddhist path, it gives even more depth to this time of year.
Thank you Diane