Today my wife and I took our son to ride the North Pole Express. It’s an event organized by a local Catholic school as a fundraiser. They do a great job of converting our Boston commuter train into an approximation of the Polar Express, complete with songs, stories, Santa, elves, hot chocolate and hundreds of kids in pajamas.

We had fun and it was a big hit with the boy, who is enamored with trains, even when they don’t have all that other cool stuff.

Everyone also gets a silver sleigh bell on a leather cord. Just like in the movie. You may remember that in the movie, the boy’s bell stops ringing when he stops believing in Santa. When he believes again, he can hear the jingle again.

My family celebrates Christmas, but I’m a Buddhist, which basically means I’m agnostic. I try to be agnostic about most things, not just spiritual matters, but also politics and as many of the unknown and unknowable variables that come with everyday problems as I can manage.  Just a few days ago, I came across this passage in Alexandra David-Neel’s book, The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibet:

The faith commended to their faithful by all religions, and considered by them as a virtue essential for him who hopes for eternal salvation, is nowise approved in the Secret Teachings. Based on the advice given by the Buddha to His disciples, the primary recommendation that the Masters give to neophytes is: “Doubt!”

Doubt is an incitement to research, and research is the way which leads to knowledge.

That sums up my orientation nicely, and finding myself on a train ride organized by The Immaculate Conception School is a little different for me. Granted, I’m also agnostic about the assertions of dogmatic atheists and materialists. But I’ve always liked how the mystic, poet and mountaineer Aleister Crowley put it:

We place no reliance on the Virgin or the pigeon Our method is science, our aim is religion.

So when my wife asked the elf if adults could have bells too, and he handed us a pair, I was delighted to find that mine does not ring. Perfect.

The Tibetan singing bowl I brought home from India, on the other hand, makes a beautiful, deep tone that seems to go on forever.


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