“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship” ~ Buddha
Without a doubt, Christmas is my favorite time of year. Complete with colorful lights, Christmas trees, presents, and (of course) traditions like watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” easily put a smile on my face.
But it also brings about the most often asked questions: “What do you want for Christmas?” and “Do Buddhists celebrate Christmas?”. Yes, Virginia, Buddhists are just as festive as anyone this time of year. Traditionally, we celebrate (depending on which school of Buddhism they follow) Bodhi Day on December 8th, and many Buddhists living in Western countries that celebrate Christmas exchange presents just like anyone else.
When asked what I would like for a present, my answer is usually “nothing”, which often gets frustrated glares. I strive for the Buddhist concept of non-attachment, especially to material things. So while I would appreciate a present just like anyone else, I’m quite content with not getting a present (but I enjoy giving them!).
Is It Better to Give or Receive?
But this is not about me, it’s about your Buddhist friend you’d like to get a gift for. You have two options:
- Give Them a Material Gift: You won’t offend a Buddhist by asking if they are accepting with receiving a present from you, so ask! If they are receptive, you can ask what they would like and it will be very similar to asking anyone else who celebrates Christmas gift exchanges. If you ask a child, you’ll be especially rewarded with a list of toys they’d like! Because Buddhists are people just like you and me, they have wide-ranging likes, dislikes, and wants, so it’s not different from getting a gift for anyone else. Your friend may have an amazon.com wish list that can easily help you (search here).
- Give Them the Gift of Kindness: But what if your Buddhist friend leans more on the traditional side like me? They may thoroughly enjoy giving presents, but don’t want anything in return. The gift of friendship is often enough for us and you can express that in many ways from a simple card, to a letter, or even spending time with them. Another option is to find out what they truly care about. Are they very much into helping those in need? Do they love animals? Are they always at their Temple helping others? A donation to a charity they love (or even one that fits their interest) in their name will show them your loving-kindness (a concept much admired by Buddhists).
You are probably breathing a sigh of relief now that this wasn’t too difficult at all!
But what if you really want to get them a religious present? Two words: be careful.
There are two main schools (branches) of Buddhism (Theravāda, Mahāyāna,…although Tibetan, a form of Mahāyāna, can sometimes be considered a third) along with many schools within each one (not including cultural influences!). And each schools often practices Buddhism a different way which makes getting a “Buddhist” gift a very hard task indeed!
If you are still looking to get a “Buddhist” present for them, here are some thoughts and recommendations:
- Buddha Statues: While many things are the same in Buddhism, if you were to get something for a friend such as a Buddha statue, you will be easily overwhelmed by the choices. The one you pick out (perhaps because it looks pretty to you), is from a different school of Buddhism than your friend practices. A Buddha statue is often used in a practitioners home altar and is a personal choice, so it’s best to ask if you want to get them one and go on a window-shopping trip where they can pick out a few they like (this way you can keep an element of surprise). Be sure to search Amazon for Buddha statues and comparison shop.
- What about the “pot bellied” ‘Buddha’ you see almost everywhere? This is actually not the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni. This is a representation of Budai (also known as Hotei) who was a historical Chinese monk. And he supposedly stated in his death note that he was the incarnation of the next Buddha in the future, named Maitreya. So, in short, this is likely not the Buddha you are looking for 😉
- Books: Just like statues, books can easily fall into this category. Because each of the schools has different teachings, you may easily present a book to them that they won’t enjoy (or already have). You can find out what authors they enjoy (such as the Dalai Lama, or Thich Nhat Hanh) to get you a better idea of what books they would like (although getting them a gift card might be the safer option). Amazon has lots of Buddhist books (to include Kindle e-book versions). You may also want to check out my Top 5 books for beginners if your friend or family member is just starting on the path.
Are you trying to understand your Buddhist friend, relative, or family member? Click here to read my article (Understanding a Buddhist During Christmas). And the following books can also help with understanding Christianity and Buddhism (in-fact, they might be a good gift for your Buddhist friend as well).
Living Buddha, Living Christ
By Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh
If you are a Christian, this is not only a great book to understand Buddhist concepts, but to also see how they have similar parallels with Buddhism. There are many points in the book that cause both Christian and Buddhist practitioners to pause and think not only of similar beliefs, but also how they can make their life better (and their faith stronger). A must read book that helps to create understanding between these two religions.
Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers
By Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh
A companion book to “Living Buddha, Living Christ”, this book is aimed towards Christians who may have become Buddhists, or who are exploring it. The book helps guide them towards similarities between Buddhism and Christianity, and Buddha and Jesus, so they can remain in their Christian faith. Buddhism reinforces that people should remain in their own faiths because it is the right thing to do, and not to become a Buddhist unless careful thought and understanding is first undertaken. Ven. Hanh reinforces this longstanding belief as practiced by the Buddha with this book by helping those who follow Christ, but are exploring Buddhism, to feel reassured to stay in their religion.