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Followers to commemorate Buddha's Enlightenment.

Byline: FROM HEART TO HEART By the Rev. Oswin Hollenbeck For The Register-Guard

On Dec. 8, Buddhist traditions with East Asian roots - China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam - celebrate the Buddha's Enlightenment, or Awakening.

After six years of fruitless punishment of his body through ascetic practice, the former prince returned to the meditation of his childhood. He sat quietly with a bright mind beneath a giant fig tree through the night, and awoke to his true nature as the morning star arose in the Eastern sky. He discovered that his true nature was inseparable from the true nature of all existence, and he called this new path between all extremes "the middle way."

In monasteries and meditation temples, Dec. 8 marks the end of a weeklong "searching the heart" retreat commemorating the Buddha's final endeavor in his pursuit for truth. We emulate his efforts through our own and celebrate his victory over the defiling passions of greed, hatred and delusion. The retreat usually ends at midnight with an intimate ceremony with the master upon the altar representing Shakyamuni Buddha.

In the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, a Western religious order within the Soto Zen tradition, we observe a public ceremony honoring this occasion on a Sunday in December. We use many conventional winter holiday decorations, which is one way our teacher and founder, the Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett, adapted Buddhist practice to the West.

The centerpiece of these decorations is the "jewel tree," usually evergreen, which represents the Bodhi (enlightenment) tree underneath which the Buddha meditated. The jewel tree comes from Mahayana (Great Vehicle/Northern Buddhist) Scriptures describing the Buddha residing in a pure land.

This "paradise" is landscaped with trees bearing wondrous jewels, fruits, flowers and lights, all of which reflect one another to create a dazzling interplay of color and light. Delicate bells sound as the Buddha's teaching blows through the trees, and fragrant clouds of offerings and incense adorn the sky. This land represents the exquisite peace, beauty and joy of the awakened mind and heart.

On a jewel tree one finds traditional ornaments given Buddhist meaning, such as stars, garlands, jeweled ornaments, bells, lights and celestial musicians.

Other ornaments have a Buddhist origin: the eight-spoked teaching wheel, the lotus blossom of practice and training, the knot of eternal love, dragon guardians of faith, exquisite mystical birds and familiar animals from Buddhist stories. Holly and pine "deck the halls," because in the East, evergreen trees symbolize the unconditioned and unchanging - that which is ever alive and does not die.

The Buddha never intended to found a new religion. He sought liberation from suffering and was willing to share his understanding with others. Nor did he declare his way to be the only one. He taught respect and tolerance of other paths, for the light he awakened to is the rightful inheritance of all beings. The jewel tree is one way contemporary Buddhists can join other faith traditions at this time of year in declaring the joy, splendor and contentment that arise from centering one's life on the light within.

The Rev. Oswin Hollenbeck is a monastic in the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives and the resident teacher at the Eugene Buddhist Priory. This column is coordinated by Two Rivers Interfaith Ministries, a network of more than 35 religious and spiritual traditions in the Eugene-Springfield area. For more information, visit www.interfaith or call 344-5693.
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Title Annotation:Religion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 2, 2006
Previous Article:THE BULLETIN.
Next Article:Holiday parade ready to jingle along.

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