Merry Christmas, everyone.
I got up around 6 a.m. this morning because I had to open the Zen Center at 7:30. I wasn't sure if we were going to have anybody, but seven people did show up. I even gave a short dharma talk, not on the meaning of Christmas or any other topical theme like that, but instead about lineage.
But whatever else people claim is the real reason for Christmas, I maintain that it's all about magic. And the joy of children. Christmas is the one magical day of the year for children to revel all day in the affection of their parents and to have their undivided attention as they open their presents. Sure, it's about materialism too, I can't deny that's creeped in there, but for children only a little bit - the real magic is in a day of unending joy, the one day when everything is special and different.
What's not magic about a day when a tree is dragged into the house and covered with lights and shiny ornaments, when the whole neighborhood is decorated with wreaths and snowmen and santas and other displays? What's not magic about waking up and finding gift-wrapped presents for you under a tree that was barren the night before? What's not magic about the one day of the year you actually hope that it snows?
Well, it didn't snow in Georgia this year. There was a single crack of thunder last night, signalling the start of rain, which was still coming down as I left the house this morning. It stopped during the morning service, but the day has been otherwise cold and grey.
Which brings me around to the other magic of Christmas - for many children, it's the first lesson in Zen. However great the day was, it comes to an end (impermanance), and even during the magical day itself there is often sadness because one's desires become so great, they can't possibly be satisfied (the first and second noble truths of the existence and cause of suffering).
There are Zen lessons for parents, too. Despite all of their expectations, desires and cravings, they learn that the real joy is when they stop thinking of themselves and instead devote themselves to giving (the dana paramita). Selfless joy abounds in the act of gift giving and of no longer putting the self first.