The Buddha’s Present

rev joshohah


        What is the first thing you think about when you hear the word “Christmas?”  “Jesus?”  “Presents?”  “Winter?”  “Food?”  How about Buddha?  Believe it or not, Buddha is one of the first things I think of.  Well,  a Buddha anyhow.  I think of Putai, the round Buddha you often see on the countertop at Asian restaurants who is often holding his sack.

        In Chinese folklore Putai goes throughout the town and collects the things that people have thrown away- what they no longer value or appreciate- and he gives it to children who cherish it.

        Can you imagine if Santa worked that way?  If instead of having to get the next big thing he gave our children what he once loved but no longer fully appreciates?

        “Look, an old toaster.”  “Look, Dances with Wolves on V.H.S.”  “Look, a black and white t.v.”  Imagine the savings.

        Now I know I’m making this idea sound a little silly, but I think you might find it powerful.  If it is something you really cherished—an old photo, a family heirloom, a pair of shoes… it may, even if you are giving it away, reawaken your appreciation of life.

        My Christmas advice to you is whoever the younger someone may be in your life give them Santa’s present- stand in that line and do whatever you have to do, but give them “Buddha’s present” as well.  I’d be willing to bet which one ultimately lasts.

        Of all the gifts I received as a child I have none of them.  The new toys quickly became the old toys.  What I do have are the family trinkets, the records I borrowed from Dad, some of mom’s recipes and so on.  Why not give something that isn’t new, but that will last?

        What would you give as your Buddha’s present this year?  Something you love but seems to be gathering dust…that’s not being properly enjoyed.  A piece of old jewelry?  A favorite book?  A story about a relatives life?

        The life of the Buddha, not Putai, but prince Siddhartha who attained enlightenment under the Bodi tree is a beautiful story.  And to me, it works very well as a Christmas story.

        In some ways it relates well to those of us feeling trapped in a material culture. 

        Siddhartha is the son of a King and Dad desperately wants what he thinks is best for his son.  For Dad, that is mostly to be safe and to be kept from all the evils in the world.  He keeps Siddhartha indoors, everyone around him is paid to be there, and Siddhartha is given every possession he desires.

        We may look at Siddhartha’s life, the riches, the security, the love and the lots of stuff, and we might think, “Hey, this kid has it all.  That’s what I want.  That’s what would make me happy.”

        To many people today, this is what happiness would be.

        And Siddhartha is probably happy too or as happy as he can be.  As happy as he can know what happiness is. 

        And isn’t that the issue sometimes when happiness is about the new tablet coming out, or what’s on TV later?  Not that all that isn’t wonderful, but it’s not real, real happiness.  It’s kind of an artificial life.

        And we should look at our children and ask not are they happy, but do they know what true happiness is?

        We should look at our loved one’s and say not are they happy, but do they know what true happiness is?

        And we should look at ourselves and not ask “Am I happy?” but ask, “Do I truly know what happiness is?”


        If happiness is in your mind a set of appearances- a state of affairs, no offense, but your happiness may be artificial.

        If your happiness is feeling fully embracing and embraced by the all of it, then you have discovered what real happiness is.


        So young Siddhartha is given an artificial life, he is given the appearance of happiness… which is not happiness, and somewhere inside himself Siddhartha knows this. 

        He asks a chariot to drive him around the grounds of the kingdom and stumbles upon what come to be known as the four passing sights.

        On one occasion, he sees an old person. The next occasion Siddhartha sees a sick person.  The following occasion to the charioteer’s dismay, a dead person.  And finally an ascetic, or renunciate who has sworn off all material possessions.  Siddhartha has never seen any of these before.

        In seeing these things is Siddhartha’s heart full with fear?  With sadness?  No, his heart is filled with life.  His heart feels for the first time compassion.  For the first time he can say “This is it. This is real life.”

        None of us may know all the secrets to the mysteries of life, but we should be able to feel real life.   To not avoid it.  To come to be true with it.

        Siddhartha leaves his kingdom to pursue real life.  He in a sense, ages, becomes ill, dies, and becomes a renunciate all at one time.  Eventually people say he achieved enlightenment.  He become known as the Buddha or “Awakened One.”

        Perhaps each of us can be “awakened one’s” too?  But maybe you don’t have to leave your family and swear away all your things to do it?  Maybe just a Buddha’s present could help?

        In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey has a picture of his father up on the wall at the Savings and Loan and there is a quote under it from the Catholic Saint Lawerence.

        “All you can take with you is what you’ve given away.” 

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