Happy Holidays
Many Buddhist Statues wear what is called ‘the archaic smile.” But why, when Shin Buddhism makes the role of our human limitations in seeking the truth so clear to us? Then there is classical Buddhism that tells us the world is full of suffering due to our addiction to ignorance, hatred and greed. This seems like a bleak picture, so why the smile? 

We may well ask ourselves this question during this Holiday Season which is filled with so much joy and celebration. Every major religion has a holiday sometime in Nov., Dec. and Jan. The question is: if we, as Buddhists, share in any of the joys the Holiday Season, are  we being untrue to our beliefs? Maybe even irreligious?

Joy plays a very important role in emotional and physical health. What would it be like to never hear a joke? Or just to let loose and laugh for all your worth? Can you imagine humourless world—no smiles, no joy, no hearty laughter? No funnies in the newspaper? 

Joy does appear in Shinran’s Kyō Gyō Shin Shō. There shinjin give rise to the Mind of Joy. Even our ekoku at the end of each chant contains the line “…serene true joy.” Joy also appears many times in the Wasan. The Pure Land is also depicted as a joyful experience. 

Even the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, calls nirvana, moksha = ecstasy. There is also a subtle joy to the experience of nirvana, according to his reports of his own experiences.  

While joy is nowhere banned in our nembutsu services, there is a feeling in some temples that dour faces are a sign of piety. If we are too happy, maybe we just have not understood the seriousness of our situation, so they might think.  But is this not just going to the other extreme? 

What we are looking for in all these celebrations is a joy that warms the heart and lasts all year. It is a deep profound experience that arises as a result of the awakening of trust in the Amida—and lasts and lasts and lasts. Maybe this is what the holidays in these hard times will help us discover. Many people are cutting back on holiday spending this year. This might lead to the discovery of deeper joys than the usual consumer orgy. 

Sympathetic Joy is part of the ideals of Buddhist practice, it is even part of the Bodhisattva Vow, the Hongan. So the Holidays have much to teach all of us, not just the Buddhists alone.  

No, the smile on the Buddha statue is no accident. It was put there intentionally. What’s more, it can never be wiped off. 

Happy Bodhi Day.  Happy  Holidays. 

Sensei Ulrich

December 21, 2008