Gautauma Buddha lived five hundred years before Jesus. A millennia before Buddhism emerged from India to China, Taoist/indigenous practitioners in Asia appreciated the sacred in the cycles of the earth, and developed language to enter into it. The Solstice is one of the most sacred cycles. It is apprehended by Taoists and Buddhists as a time of darkness that is seen as-it-is: an energetic phase that is dominated by the experience of yielding, sinking, silence, befriending, and at its center, something within the earth hidden and stirring.
It is the time that is furthest from the light and warmth of the sun. Buds are enclosed, the earth’s crust is frozen and the activity therein is asleep, animals hibernate, fly to warmer climes, and we celebrate this time of year with foods and colors that warm and that remind us of the seed that is hidden and alive. From millennia we do this: the Bronze Age Babylonians exchanged gifts, early European Druid rituals included hanging fir sprigs to renew life, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, and the Christian era began celebrating the birth of Jesus at the Solstice in keeping with the themes of the sacred, hidden and stirring.
Common to all these cultures are the birth narratives of important persons. They are composed of similar motifs and themes familiar to us all: a virgin birth, the participation of the stars of heaven showing the way, the glory attending the new born child, the presence of an elderly sage calling our attention to this child. Less familiar are the striking parallels between the birth of Jesus and of Buddha.
Today we have the opportunity to incline our attention toward the mystery of the sacred contained in the energy of the Solstice, and enhance this by an appropriate use of the segments of text from the birth of Jesus and Buddha.
Christian monastic chant uses the device of a repeating a theme, called an antiphon, to accentuate a text and allow it to deepen our experience of it. The antiphon invites us not to analyze or criticize, but instead to gaze softly.
This antiphon is taken from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah (45:8) who tells his people to look to the heavens and the earth for the teaching. The antiphon is used by the Church during this waiting period before Christmas, looking to the heavens and the earth to give birth to the Teacher, the Just One. In the Buddhist tradition the Dharmakaya connotes this confluence of heaven and earth transmitting to us the teaching or Dharma.
We are invited to sit and listen in silence, gaze, yield, sink and befriend the most sacred time of year, singing an antiphon that unites the Buddhist, Jewish, and Christian traditions, and listening to texts that point us toward a universal mystery at the heart of our humanity.
The dharma is deep and lovely.
We now have a chance to see it, study it, and practice it.
We vow to realize its true meaning.