Every year in Plum Village, France, my heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, celebrates Christmas with his sangha, the community of students and practitioners there. Usually, he gives a talk about Jesus and about his meaning to us today, whether we are Christians or Buddhists or any other faith or non-faith.
Now, it may seem strange to many people that a Zen Buddhist monk would celebrate Christmas but it’s not really, if you understand how open Thay (his students’ affectionate name for their teacher) is to light, love, and goodness, wherever it appears.
One only has to read Living Buddha, Living Christ or Going Home—Jesus and Buddha as Brothers to understand how deeply Thay has looked into where Buddhists may find common ground and join hands with Christians in genuine brotherhood and love.
If we don’t get caught up in words and dogma, and think about living practice, I think we get closer to the true spirit of Christmas. As Thay writes: “On Christmas Eve, we speak about faith, about energy about the Holy Spirit. To me, the Holy Spirit is faith, the Holy Spirit is mindfulness; the Holy Spirit is love. The Holy Spirit is already there within us. If we are able to touch it within ourselves and help it to manifest in us, we can cultivate the Holy Spirit the way we cultivate mindfulness.”
So, in Buddhist celebration of Christmas, I’d like to share part of a talk Thay gave on Christmas Eve, 1996, entitled “Let the Child Be Born to Us.” May it inspire whoever reads it, whether Christian, pagan, Buddhist, Muslim, Sufi, wiccan, Sikh, atheist, or agnostic, to love ourselves and others more fully and freely and deeply!
Let the Child Be Born To Us
“Christmas is often described as a festival for children. I tend to agree with that because who among us is not a child or has not been a child? The child in us is always alive; maybe we have not had enough time to take care of the child within us.
To me, it is possible for us to help the child within us, to be reborn again and again, because the spirit of the child is the Holy Spirit, it is the spirit of the Buddha. There is no discrimination. A child is always able to live in the present moment. A child can also be free of worries and fear about the future. Therefore, it is very important for us to practice in such a way that the child in us can be reborn.
Let the child be born to us.”
“Tonight, we celebrate the birth of a person who is very dear to humanity, a person who has brought light to the world, Jesus Christ. We hope that children like him will be born to us very moment of our daily lives.
In the Buddhist tradition, we practice Beginning Anew; it is a very important practice. To begin anew means we are reborn fresh and new and able to start again. This is really good news. The teaching of the Buddha offers us ways to be reborn in each moment of our daily life and to learn to love again.
There are those who are so discouraged that they no longer have the courage to love. They have suffered a great deal just because they have made an attempt to love and have not succeeded. The wounds within them are so deep that it makes them afraid to try. We are aware of the presence of these people among us, all around us. We have to bring them the message that love is possible, because our world desperately needs love…
True love is made of understanding—understanding the other person, the object of your love, understanding their suffering, their difficulties, and their true aspiration. Out of our understanding there will be kindness, there will be compassion, there will be an offering of joy. There will also be a lot of space, because true love is without possessiveness. You love and still you are free, and the other person is also free…”