Guest Post: My Own Thoughts On My Buddhist Christmas By Jeremy Phillips
I have been a student of Eastern philosophy, and Buddhism in particular, for a long time now. It has always been fascinating to me. But years ago, whenI first tried to do any reading about it, the very foreign nature of the philosophy tended to get in the way of actually understanding what I was reading. No matter what book I chose to read, no matter what school of Buddhist philosophy I was trying to understand, it was always the same:
A master teacher of some type, a person very different than myself, would be describing these very old ideas, from his very Eastern mindset. Eventually, I came to feel that what might be helpful for a Western reader would be a book that spoke about this stuff in an entirely different way...
When I sat down to write My Buddhist Christmas, I did it with the idea of writing a young adult fiction story, about an American teenager who had been raised up as a Buddhist all of his life. Such a person, unlike myself who approached Buddhist philosophy with the mindset of an adult raised in the USA, would understand Buddhism as a more intimate, more essential part of how he already viewed the world. Such a kid would truly be a Buddhist, while still being very much an American teenager. When I started taking my own kids to a Shin Buddhist temple in Spokane, Washington, I started to wonder how the conflicts of life might go for these kids, conflicts which can be even more of a challenge during the Christmas season.
But My Buddhist Christmas is more than a just a book on Buddhist philosophy. It’s also a “coming of age” story, told from the perspective of a main character who is feeling some of these conflicts very intensely, while also dealing with a devastating loss. During the course of the story, my narrator character can be seen experiencing a lot of the stresses that a teenager in America will experience.
He experiences the conflict of becoming infatuated with a pretty girl, and of falling rapidly (perhaps a little too rapidly) in love for the first time. He experiences the conflict of trying to keep a group of unreliable teenagers on task, so that they can make their Punk rock garage band work out for a talent show that he’s involved with. He experiences the difficulty of peer pressure, in a variety of ways.
As he goes about his life, my narrator also shares with the reader a variety of Buddhist parables and philosophical observations, learned from his childhood. The end result of this, is that as the narrator gets to the end of his story and grows up some about how he is living, as he more fully understands his own Buddhist philosophy, the reader, too, will also gather a greater understanding.
Really, I wrote this book for people of all ages. Adults will read it, and perhaps remember how it was to be a teen, how it was to be growing up and starting to take responsibility for themselves more. Teens and pre-teens who read it, will be able to identify with some of the struggles represented in the story. Ultimately it is my hope that whoever reads it, will come away with a better understanding of what Buddhism has to say about life, while enjoying an entertaining story.
“So doesn’t it bother you?” I shudder, thinking of ending up like one of the various invalids that my father takes care of. Not to run and play anymore, or even to have proper control of your own bowels. Perhaps it would be better to lose your mind, like the one old fellow I’d seen earlier, staring blindly off into space. Only, perhaps that would be worse. All of a sudden, I realize that what’s been bothering me is the Buddha’s so-called First Noble Truth, the one that set him onto the path of trying to find Enlightenment—Awakening, Satori, that type of stuff—in the first place. This is the First Noble Truth set into flesh, in the bodies of a hundred different examples, scattered in the building all around me. The Truth of Suffering, that all who are born will come to suffer, at least once in their lifetime, from the unhappy triple curse of sickness, old age, and death.
I feel trapped. I know that I ought to just leave. I ought to just ditch the whole ridiculous Dharma Bhumz thing, despite what the other kids at school will say, despite all the fliers that are up around the building with my picture on it. I know that being the only straight one, the only one who cares enough about our band to keep trying to get it back on track, is only going to be a lot of irritating and frustrating work. To try to stay will be foolish. But, at the same time, I know that I can’t do anything else but stay.
I wonder when it is that a kid loses that crazy ecstatic energy for doing the simplest things. The Buddha would’ve said that being like Annabelle is a wonderful thing, I am sure. But was the Buddha himself so bubbly and full of excitement? I doubt it, although there’s really no way to know. At least as far as I am aware, no records of Gautama Buddha’s daily attitude towards life are on record. But if a person had true Beginner’s Mind, as the Zen people are always trying to push at you, wouldn’t they naturally meet every day in a state similar to Annabelle’s? Maybe it is all just posturing and hope.
“Well hello there,” Mary’s dad says. His handshake is aggressive, the “greetings” version of an assault. It leaves my hand sore afterwards. His next statement comes out sounding like an accusation: “Mary likes you a lot, you know.” Mary’s dad is a big guy. Wide at the shoulders, like a football linebacker. Something about his body language is just plain intimidating. The man smiles at me an awful lot, a fake plastic smile that never seems to end, but with also this tension in his body as though he wants to attack me if he could just find the right excuse. Maybe he’s that way with everyone?