Translated By: Justine Tsui
In Part I, we looked at the way gratitude functions in the everyday life of an ordinary person. Next, we examine how it may relate to the personal practice of a Buddhist follower.
Gratitude and the practice of Buddhism
On gratitude, the Mahavaipulya Sutra on the Tathagataʼs Inconceivable State has this to say,
“One should be grateful, reciprocate and support his parents, master, teacher and those from whom he has received worldly benefits. Why? Because even though grateful beings are subject to death, their wholesome roots will not be damaged. However, ungrateful beings doing various unwholesome deeds destroy their own wholesome roots. Thus, all Tathagatas praise grateful beings and reprimand ungrateful ones.”
Among Buddha’s teachings are five approaches to meditation: mindful breathing, contemplation of impurity, contemplation of compassion, contemplation of causes and conditions, and worldly discrimination. Contemplation of gratitude is a preparative step for contemplation of compassion. Compassion flows naturally from a thankful mind that extinguishes anger at the same time. Thus, we see how gratitude closely relates to the practice of Buddhism, being its foundation course 101. Take a look at the six paramitas in the practice of a bodhisattva: generosity, morality, endurance, diligence, contemplation and wisdom. With none of them is gratitude dispensable.
Gratitude and the six paramitas of a bodhisattva
I thank those around me who have helped and supported me. They inspire me to practise generosity and create wholesome connections with good karma.
I thank my parents and teachers who have nurtured and taught me. To pay back, I shall practice morality and be a good person who abstains from all evils and performs nothing but kind, charitable acts.
I thank the people and things that have hurt me for giving me an opportunity to practise endurance, confront difficulties and solve conflicts.
I thank the rare opportunities of being a human and learning Buddhism and shall pursue diligence in my practice.
I thank the opportunity to follow Buddha’s precious teachings, and practise contemplation to enter samadhi, and subdue mental afflictions through samatha and vipassana (i.e., serenity and insight).
I thank the karma to follow the Dharma that makes me understand that to pursue the supreme wisdom of prajna, I need to transcend reincarnation, and in so doing, I benefit myself and other people so that together, we all attain Buddhahood.
Now that we know what gratitude means and its Buddhist significance, how, in our day-to-day life as a Buddhist, could we put it into action? My mentor, Venerable Master Guan Cheng, says that gratitude is not something one merely generalizes in speech or thought: it is something for one to observe specifically and act out. To observe it is to analyze and contemplate it from different angles. We should start by observing what we do in our daily life and what is around us.
The place I live in has windows through which sunlight comes in. Some people have rooms without windows. When I turn on the water tap, hot water comes out. Some live in places where there is no clean water, not to mention hot water. I have a spacious place with all sorts of modern equipment for creature comfort, and for this pleasant environment I am so grateful!
I have food to eat that others have bought, paid for and cooked for me. After I finish, they even wash the dishes for me. Who are these people? They are the volunteers! I should give them a smile of appreciation and a heartfelt thank you.
Every day, I can walk in the garden to take in fresh air, and if need be, take a bus or plane to go places. But in many remote areas, there may not even be a paved road. And people living in those places all their life may never get a chance to see the world. Shouldn’t I be grateful?!
We do not have to worry about what to wear either. When our clothes get dirty, we throw them into the washing machine. When they are worn out, we buy new ones. We have a comfortable and convenient life in terms of what we need. For all this I should be very grateful.
Health being crucial to personal wellness, I am grateful for feeling well today so that I could worship Buddha and attend Monastery services. As well, I should ponder that I would be miserable if I fell ill. I am also grateful to those around me who are healthy, for if they were to get sick, I would have to take them to the doctor and be worried about them. The mind of a bodhisattva contemplates health for oneself and for all other beings.
There are two kinds of fellow practitioners, bodhisattvas who bring adverse circumstances and those who bring agreeable circumstances. The former give me a chance to learn and practise endurance. The latter help me in difficulty, and guide me to be free from afflictions. I am thankful to them both.
Educational facilities at the Monastery
While the Monastery maintains a sizeable library collection, I can also watch my mentor’s Dharma talks on the Internet, bringing Buddha’s teachings within easy reach. In addition, my mentor uses every occasion to share his instructions in person and face to face. In some other monasteries, in contrast, the abbot may not be quite accessible. Decades ago a group of dedicated people here created the International Buddhist Temple so that we now have such a wonderful place to learn and practise the Dharma. I am genuinely grateful for all this and remind myself every day that I should in no way take any of this for granted.
The importance of gratitude is far greater than we assumed. When you know how to be grateful for everything and to everyone that comes into your life, you will have a happier life, and not be beat by adversities but see them as challenges worth taking on. A constant, lasting gratitude will help bring a healthy, confident and aspiring mentality that contributes to a positive personality.
Let us practise grateful contemplation every day followed by contemplation of compassion, and share them with others so as to benefit as many people as we can.