Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Christmas for Buddhists

As far as I know, there is no Christmas in Buddhism -- no time when or date on which adherents roll out an expensive red carpet for the birth of the man credited as some sort of "founder" of the way.

Still, by some reckonings, tomorrow is Buddha's birthday. There are some nice little celebrations available in Buddhism -- I always liked ladling water over a statue of the baby Gautama -- but it is not as if Buddhists heaved a collective sigh of relief or swooned or spent too much money ... or at any rate, I never understood it that way.

On public television, they have been advertising a show about Buddhism, scheduled for tomorrow night at 8. I believe the Hollywood actor, Richard Gere, will narrate. I think I have heard that Gere is a follower of Tibetan Buddhism. Maybe the show is a happy-birthday present, or maybe it's all just a confluence of television-executive events.

Advertising ... Buddhism, like any other spiritual adventure, is just advertising. Every temple, text and stick of incense ... it's just advertising. The only question that I can think of that is worth asking is, "Advertising for what?" Christians largely advertise their church and its authority ... with an occasional nod to the "caritas" of their foundations.

But what is it that Buddhism advertises? Ethical behavior? An end to suffering? Compassion? Clarity? I think that to the extent that anyone is willing to look over the four-color brochure of something called Buddhism, that question needs to be answered clearly -- "advertising for what?"

And at first the answer has a way of shape-shifting. At first, perhaps, it is a refuge. But that doesn't hold up very well. So then maybe it becomes a magical mystery tour of some kind -- a mystical view of daily events? But that doesn't hold up very well either. For each person, I imagine, the shape-shifting answer goes on and on -- tweaked here, nudged there, improved or shored up by turns, despaired of and delighted in ... and still the question remains, "advertising for what?"

There is no single answer, no over-arching and free-standing authoritative answer. There is only your answer. "Advertising for what?"

Make it a good that does not require nudging or tweaking or improving.

Christmas is, after all, just fun.