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“