Bodhisattva St. Nick

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Dear Still Water Friends,

I’ve always been amazed at the capacity of the holiday season to stimulate strong emotions. For some of us there is the dismay and anger that arise in response to the shopping frenzy and overindulgence which seem to unashamedly mock the love and sacrifice that are at the heart of the Christmas and Hanukkah stories. Similarly, family gatherings can become a mockery of the connection and respect we long for in our relationships.

Yet the holidays also bring to many the genuine contentment of sharing and celebration, of families reconnecting and reaching out to each other. During the holidays many of us are able to rise above our resentments and open our hearts.

This Thursday evening, after our sitting, we will explore together the sufferings and joys which arise in us during the holiday season and also explore how we can work with these strong emotions.

A practice often recommended by Thich Nhat Hanh is the “selective watering of seeds.” Deep in our consciousness we have “seeds,” which are our capacity to create cognitive and emotional responses to internal and external stimuli. When we or someone else waters the seed of greed, greed arises in our conscious mind and takes over our being. When something waters the seed of compassion, compassion arises. Our responsibility as practitioners is to be aware of the seeds we are watering in ourselves and others and to chose those that bring peace and joy into the world. (A reading from Thich Nhat Hanh on Selective Watering is below.)

While sitting this morning, with this program topic undoubtedly in the back of my mind, I realized that for decades I’ve allowed images of Santa Claus and St. Nick to stimulate in me feelings of repulsion. They represented to me the crassness of the commercial displays and the substitution of material objects for genuine care and concern in relationships.

For the first time I realized how unfair I’ve been to Old St. Nick. Historically, he was a 4th century Greek Christian bishop who was known for his abundant (and anonymous) generosity. When I was able to look past the commercialism of our modern Santa Claus, I could see the energy of a Bodhisattva. Like Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, St. Nick is a being who listens patiently to the longings of the world, and responds with presence and presents. And like the Buddhas of old, it is possible for him to be simultaneously in millions of places at once.

Within the Asian Buddhist tradition, there are also folk heroes that are known for their generosity and even look a bit like our modern representations of Santa. The corpulent Chinese “laughing Buddhas,” who are most often represented carrying a bag, seem clearly to be Santa’s spiritual cousins.

I think now I will just smile when I see a Santa.

I hope you can be with us this Thursday.

You are also invited to join other Still Water friends this Thursday, before our sitting, at our “Third Thursday Supper.” It takes place around the corner from Crossings, at Moby Dick Restaurant, (909 Ellsworth Drive), beginning at 5:30 p.m. All are welcome. if you have, questions please contact Maria Sgambati at 202 486-6491. Otherwise just show up.

Warm holiday wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher


Selective Watering
From Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism by Thich Nhat Hanh

We can help each other water the wholesome seeds in our store consciousness. We can say to those close to us, “Dear one, let’s be careful not to water the unwholesome seeds in each other. Let’s water only the wholesome seeds in each other and then we can have nourishing food for our consciousness.” When we water seeds of forgiveness, acceptance, and happiness in the person we love, we are giving them very healthy food for their consciousness, as if we were cooking them a delicious healthy meal. But if we constantly water the seed of hatred, craving, and anger in our loved one, we are poisoning them. …

The Buddha said, “Nothing can survive without food.” This is a very simple and very deep truth. Love and hate are both living things. if you do not nourish your love, it will die. If you cut the source of nutriment for your violence, your violence will die. If you want your love to last, you have to give it food every day. Love cannot live without food. if you neglect your love, after a while it will die and hatred may take its place. Do you know how to nourish your love?

If we don’t give hatred food, it too will die. Hatred and suffering grow greater every day because every day we nourish them, giving them more food. With what kind of food have you nourished your despair and your hatred? If you are depressed, you may have no strength and no energy left. You may feel that you want to die. Why do you feel like that? Our depression doesn’t just come out of nowhere. If we can recognize the food that has nourished our depression, we can stop consuming it. Within a few weeks our depression will die of starvation. If you don’t know that you are watering your depression, you will continue to do it every day. The Buddha said that if we know how to look deeply into our suffering and recognize what feeds it, we are already on the path of emancipation.

The way out of our suffering is mindfulness of consumption, not only for ourselves but for the whole world. If we know how to water the seeds of wisdom and compassion in us, these seeds become powerful sources of energy helping us to forgive those have hurt us. This will bring relief to our nation and to our world. The American people are capable of realizing this kind of wisdom and compassion.