Bodhi Christmas

“Every major religion has an important holy day sometime between mid-November and mid-January. Not one can claim to own the season entirely unto itself. ”

This is the third year I have begun my annual Bodhi Day message with this idea.

Bodhi Day is the date we celebrate of Shakyamuni’s enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Our Buddhist community in the Manitoba Buddhist Church celebrates early in December this appearance of Buddhahood in our world. This is an important date for the entire Winnipeg faith community, as well, because it gives those of the dominant faith a chance to acquaint themselves with those who share the Holy Days. The interaction of the faith communities has not always been a pleasant story, as the events of Sept. 11 have shown.

I just returned from an intensive meditation/study session in Kyoto. The English speaking newspapers there had several articles about the future of religion in light of the recent war. One article argued impressively that all of the religions need to re-examine their truth claims in the wake of Sept. 11 events. It is indeed touching to see how some of the faith communities are reaching out towards each other, sometimes hesitantly, beyond their faith enclaves. It is surely true for our interracial and interfaith community at the Manitoba Buddhist Church.

My question for these Holy Days in 2001 is this: why should we have to depend on Sept. 11? Is it not possible to reach out to one another in light of the Holy Season? Then our reactions would be more pro-active rather than merely reactive. Will the war move us in the direction of a society of religious robots in cookie-cutter faith ghettos? Will the loss of democratic rights in the face of terrorism lead also to the loss of religious freedom? The Holy Season offers us a way to face these questions. We may start by asking forgiveness, offering forgiveness and seeking theological accommodations for ‘the others.’

In that spirit, I ask forgiveness for any insult directed towards those of another faith. I also sincerely forgive those who have persecuted Buddhism in the name of their faith. I further pledge to seek theological accommodations that view other faiths as participants in the power of the saving grace emanating from deep within my own. So, once again I will erect my Buddhist Christmas tree, my Bodhi Tree. There will be dragons, elephants and fantastic birds from our sacred stories, the Jataka Tales. For the post Sept. 11 world, I will also include a symbol for other faiths. This will be a kind of Interfaith-Bodhi-Christmas-Tree for the Holy Days. I am most anxious to see what kind of gifts Santa Claus will leave for me under this kind of tree.

Sensei Ulrich

November 29, 2001