Forget Christmas, let every day be Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving is here again in the States and, although I was not brought up with it and often barely eat more than a tofurkey sandwich unless people invite me over (hint?!), it has become my favorite holiday. People everywhere stop to count their blessings, and this makes them feel grateful and appreciative, so it is a good day. (Not for turkeys, however, not a good day for them at all. I don’t like the role that turkeys are forced to play. So p’raps don’t invite me over for the meal part after all… or the football… but the rest of it, yeah!)
Back in the day, from what I’m told, the first settlers gave thanks for good harvests. Nowadays most of us are a good deal more removed from the source of our food, which means that what it takes to get food onto our plates every day is hidden from us unless we really stop to think about it. But although I may not be thinking about the background of my frozen peas as I plop them in the pan and then gobble them down with my tofurkey, I am just as dependent on those who planted, grew, harvested, packaged and delivered my food as the early settlers were. In fact, the chances are that these days a good deal more people are involved in the process of getting food into my stomach to sustain my life for another 24 hours. On Thanksgiving we have a better chance of remembering this, and the thought pleases us for we feel supported.
I’d like to have Thanksgiving every day (no turkey, no football, no lines at the airport, but the good bits!). And I can, there is nothing stopping me. For one thing, I can remember how lucky I am to have this precious human life. For another, I can remember how this precious human life and every single one of my needs and enjoyments come from the kindness of others.
In the meditation on our precious human life we count our blessings because this life is right now giving us an unprecedented opportunity to make serious spiritual progress even on a daily basis, yet it is so almost unbelievably rare — a fact that becomes obvious if we compare our situation to that of most other living beings. Even the simplest things in life are precious, such as being able to walk or talk or write or taste, something we often don’t realize until we no longer have them due to sickness, disability or death. Traditionally in Buddhism we count 18 blessings, called the eight freedoms and the ten endowments – chances are you have every one of these (if you want to know for sure, you can check out Joyful Path of Good Fortune.
Don’t let this be true for you: “You don’t know what you’ve got till its gone.”
Thanks to others!
Then in the kindness of others meditation we contemplate in as much personal detail as we can where exactly each of these blessings comes from?! Quick answer: Others.
Geshe Kelsang says:
Our body is the result not only of our parents but of countless beings who have provided it with food, shelter and so forth. It is because we have this present body with human faculties that we are able to enjoy all the pleasures and opportunities of human life… Our skills and abilities all come from the kindness of others—we had to be taught how to eat, how to walk, how to talk, and how to read and write… Our spiritual development and the pure happiness of full enlightenment also depend on the kindness of living beings. ~ Transform Your Life
Remembering all this makes us feel grateful. We feel “full” for all that is “great”! We need gratitude to feel good about our lives and also as a foundation for love and compassion for others. Whenever we recall any kindness someone has shown us, studies and our own experience show that we feel instantly better, and closer to them. (A 15th century etymology for gratitude is “pleasing to the mind”). Gratitude predisposes us to many positive states of mind. So when we take a little time to itemize all the kindness we have received since the day we were born, we can overflow with happiness! As we fill up with happiness, it seems to push all our negative, selfish minds out, for there isn’t room for both – like scum being pushed out the top of a bottle when we fill it up with clean liquid.
On the other hand, when we feel depleted, exhausted or ungrateful it is easy for the negative moods to settle in. We feel we are lacking something, hollow, and project that on the world around us, which feels bereft of happiness and support. We can develop attachment for external objects to fill us up, and if we see others’ experiencing good things we can easily feel envy for the things we feel we don’t have.
“Hang on a minute”, I hear some of you say. “I don’t have that much to be thankful for – my life is in fact a huge mess and it is all their fault.” If we find ourselves pursuing this depressing line of thought, we can go back to the precious human life meditation. To be able to even think about these things means we must have a precious human life – so with that established we can stop dwelling on what is wrong with our lives and instead remember everything we have going for us. Then we can ask ourselves where each of our freedoms and opportunities actually comes from. (Answer above!)
We choose what we think about, so we might as well choose to smell the roses rather than stick our nose in the stinky garbage can.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Please give this article to anyone who might like it.
(Postscript: despite the title of this article, Christmas can be cool too… more later.)
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Hii ni noma sana…so real ..if only we all could practice it…
Gotta start with us, today. Then it’ll spread.
I’d like a Kadampa Life article on alcohol please.
I’m very close to excluding alcohol from my life. My only reluctance is that I will be excluding myself from sociable “get togethers.” There are no people in my life who do not use alcohol as a sociable influence. I’m angry with it. It takes lives, childhoods and we need to wake up to the psychological harm it does.
I guess it could be an article on overcoming addictions?
Beautiful, Luna. I am happy I saved this to read this morning. Thank you and Happy TG! EVERYDAY ;^)
Every day!! 🙂
Wonderful article Luna! xx
Thank you Sharon!
I am grateful and thankful for all those kind dharma teachers and spirtitual guides, who, bound by compassion, made great effort to bring the precious dharma to us, over the centuries, from far away lands, in keeping with a pure lineage. We are extraordinarily fortunate that these teachings and kind teachers have appeared in our world. I am grateful to you too Luna. Peace and love,
It is amazing when we stop to think about it how the Dharma has managed to travel over here through time and space, and we have managed one way or another to run into it 🙂 Thank you for the reminder, Joe. xx
When my 10-year-old son had his appendix out a few years ago, and had to eat jelly and clear fluids for two days, he said “I’ll never take eating properly for granted ever again!”
He does take it for granted now, of course, like most of us do – but every now and then he reminds me of what he said that day!
Btw – tofurkey ???!!!
Good example of noticing what we have going for us… !
Tofurkey is turkey made from tofu, tastes alright actually!
i luv thanksgiving everyday!!! thank you!!!
I totally agree with Vajra Sister, and thanks also for all your effort in the generation of this. May you have a happy Thanksgiving every day.
Thank you so much!
Samsara…… always sneaking up on us……
it sure is, but were you referring to something in particular?
I have looked forward to Thanksgiving holiday all my life. Whether I have enjoyed the experience is another matter. I know now that my Dharma practice has changed the way I look at the celebration. I must admit I indulge in eating the turkey. I struggle with this all the time and on this holiday I just like eating turkey. My attitude is this – I am so thankful for knowing I have a mind. I am thankful I can try to control my mind each and everyday. Sitting at a dinner table with a dozen or so other uncontrolled minds certainly provides the edge of experience I desire. I prepare myself for the dinner by indulging in tantric practice for as many hours as i can and then off I go to the pureland for a wonderful feast. Sometimes I forget about the enlightened being I have generated myself as – and get caught up on getting my share of all the fixings. I am thankful to be able to practice patience and work on my fear. Thanksgiving Day dinner is a wonderful stage for the play of emptiness to appear. I am too fixated on my items of attachment and repulsed by items of aversion to enjoy the play. This year i will try harder. Thanks for the post – will be thinking about my precious human life now too!
Thanks Ike. It is true that Tantric techniques for transforming attachment into bliss can be a very helpful, even vital, way for transforming enjoyments; but we have to be real careful that we don’t use it to just increase our attachment or justify our indulgences. If in any doubt, best to stick to the minds of non-attachment and contentment as taught in the stages of the path 🙂
Luna, you are so right what you say about attachment. I have found myself getting attached to the idea of not being attached. I try to transform aversion too! I have found them to be two sides of the same coin. If we stay with unpleasant feelings long enough and don’t run from them they resemble bliss and can be blurred. I learned this at a Vipassana 10-day retreat. My leg pain eventually disappeared until 5 minutes before the end of the hour. I became attached to the idea the pain would end and the pain became unbearable for those 5 minutes! Have a great holiday.
Thanks for reminding us how much we have to be grateful for!