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The Dharma of Trick or Treating

As a Buddhist Sunday School teacher one issue of great importance to me is that my students see Buddhism as part of their lives, rather than a packaged and defined category that exists for a few hours on Sunday morning and then vanishes in a puff of smoke. So when I have the chance to relate Buddhism to something that is already a part of their lives, I take it. Last Sunday I talked about how Halloween secretly teaches awesome Buddhist principles.

Think about it: Halloween is the only holiday celebrated in the US in which we do not give exclusively to our family or loved ones, but to complete strangers. We give unconditionally. This is carried even further in the symbolism of Halloween through the use of costumes, for even if our loved ones arrive at our doorstep to trick-or-treat they would be shrouded in disguise. I talked about how giving was the first thing the Buddha taught as part of the gradual training, and how giving even the smallest thing teaches us how to help others and let go.

The next day no trick-or-treaters came to my door. This bummed me out significantly.

It occurred to me that I may have attempted to relate to my students through an experience they didn’t actually have. I’m in my mid-twenties, which means my prime trick-or-treating years were spent in that transition period when neighbors stopped trusting each other, and all caramel apples were suddenly filled with razor blades. I lived through the rise of “stranger danger,” and saw the definition of “stranger” expand to include everyone in the neighborhood.

I asked around and was told that most trick-or-treating for suburban kids these days happens at malls, which seems to me to be the apex of sad. My metaphor of communities united by unconditional love and gift-giving has been replaced by one in which we trust businesses more than individuals.

There are many things that we as a society, especially the United States, need right now—and while I don’t expect it to jump to the front of the line, I think the mutual trust that makes door to door trick-or-treating possible is sorely needed.


Photo by eyeliam.

  • http://dharmafolk.wordpress.com/ arunlikhati

    Wow. Thank you for this post, John.

  • http://www.facebook.com/priyalugus Liisa Priyanka Lugus

    thanks, john. another great thing about halloween is that it is very equitable: we accept princesses, cheerleaders, vampires, ghouls, whomever – and treat them all the same.

    • John

      @Liisa: You are right; I had not thought of that. And more concretely, fancy shmancy store-bought costumes get the same treatment as a well-worn bedsheet.

  • Sir Awesomesaucecakesandpies

    If you ever have an influx of candy john, I will more the glady take it off your hands and put it to good use. (slowly bubbling in stomach acid!)

    • John

      @SirAwesomeEtc

      I’m glad you used the term “influx” of candy, for that is the proper expression. Some foolish people may have used the terms “extra” or “leftover” candy and, as we all know, there is no such thing as having some “leftover candy.”

  • http://gomindful.com Jay

    Sad to hear that this tradition has changed and isn’t a real community thing anymore in the US. I just remember when about 10 years ago kids in Germany started to do Halloween and one day suddenly a little guy dressed as vampire was standing in front of my door and I had no sweets!

    • John

      @Jay

      At the very least it is no longer community-oriented in Los Angeles, but I hold out hope for other parts of the US.

      Your story of Halloween Trick-or-treating “starting” in Germany so recently fascinates me, Jay. As it started in your lifetime, can you trace its origin? Was it started by community interests or commercial interests? Inquiring minds want to know :)