As we move into the holiday season I receive many questions about the acts of gift giving, celebrations and other customs from a buddhist perspective. Though buddhism makes no  “specific” reference to holidays and practices, I can surely see no harm and offer the following thoughts:

• Give a Thoughtful Gift. While Buddhists strive for non-attachment to material things, we also believe in practicing kindness.  A truly thoughtful gift which shows you have paid to attention to someone’s needs and feelings is much more important than a meaningless stocking stuffer. Have a deeply religious Christian friend?  A gift that shows you respect their faith and shows love and kindness is always appreciated. Do you have a friend that seems to be down during the holiday season? A gift of being there for them and asking if they would like to talk shows that you have taken the time to see them in their time of need.

• Help a Person in Need. We all know someone who needs our help, whether they are a family member, close friend, or even a homeless person on the street asking for spare change.  Everyone has a different need, but we can help as much as we can. Buddhists often give money when asked by someone in need (such as a homeless person), or helping someone during a difficult time if only being there to listen. You may find that buying a few grocery gift cards from the supermarket and giving them to people in need will mean more than any electronic gadget ever will.

• Plant Seeds of Kindness. Buddhists plant seeds of kindness by doing the most basic things such as holding the door open for a person with their hands full, paying for the coffee of the next five people in line behind you, or just giving a hug. There is no reciprocation needed or expected! Just the act of being kind will benefit you both in ways you cannot imagine.

• Help an Animal. Often forgotten, animals also feel cold, pain, hunger, and fear like every living creature. Carry around a bag of cat, dog, and bird food in your car to share with an animal in need such as a hungry homeless kitty on a cold night. You many also do what Americans are wonderful at, donating to charities and there are many wonderful ones that support animals such as the Humane Society, ASPCA, your local shelter where you can volunteer, etc. Oh, and a little toy to your own furry companion will make them happy. Catholics may know of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, who preached sermons to animals during his lifetime. We all can be kind to our furry friends.

• Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation. Sometimes the gift we should give to help others starts with us. Loving-Kindness meditation allows you to create positive change within you of Friendliness (metta), Compassion (karuna), Appreciative Joy (mudita), and Equanimity (upekkha). This meditation focuses on sending loving thoughts to a respected person (such as a teacher, so many Buddhists include the Buddha), a loved one (such as a family member or close friend), a neutral person (perhaps a cashier you don’t know), and a hostile person (someone you are having difficulty with). Sharing the practice of loving-kindness with children helps them understand more about compassion and love for others, and not just about material things.

These simple and accessible gifts are timeless so why stop during the holiday season? We each give our gifts throughout the year with the minutes of our days, and the energy we shape, within our ways.

Peace and Love, Jim

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