Giving Thanks & Practicing Gratitude on Thanksgiving


Over the past few years, as I’ve evolved a Buddhist lifestyle, Thanksgiving has become one of my favourite Western holidays, right up there with Christmas because it feels so good to give. Here is a personal list of my reasons why:

  • Thanksgiving is one of the least commercial holidays the western world has that provides an opportunity to complete acts of kindness for family, friends and people we don’t know.
  • This holiday tradition of gathering family and friends together to “give thanks” for everything and everyone that this life has given them is an opportunity to strengthen and/or repair personal relationships.
  • There are many community and personal opportunities to volunteer your time or donate money to those who are less fortunate.
  • You have the choice to make an incredible vegan or vegetarian meal to celebrate in which no animals will be harmed. (There is a link to a recipe for a tasty filo lentil loaf complete with onion gravy at the end of this article)
  • Gifts are not traditionally given. The “presents/presence” you can give to people is extending-loving kindness. (Preferably in the Buddhist Metta tradition without any clinging or expectation of reciprocation)

If you are fortunate enough to either host or attend a Thanksgiving celebration, consider putting some time aside beforehand to make a list of anyone you may want to thank and the way you would like to do it for their love, friendship, support and companionship.

Our plan this year is to have two Thanksgiving meals on two separate days. At the first meal, we will gather at my parent’s home to celebrate with family. For the second meal, my wife and I will be hosting friends, who don’t have any family close-by to celebrate with, or who don’t necessarily practice it every year.

With my family, I make a point of being grateful that my elderly parents are still here to celebrate with us, are still happily married and healthy enough to prepare our meal, which they have done every year for my sister and our families.

At some point during the gathering, we’ll thank my parents for their love and support throughout the years. In my particular case, as I’m adopted, I’ll give a special thanks to my parents for receiving me into their warm and loving family. My feeling is that I had won the parent lottery, so there is much to be grateful for.

When we host our friends’ gathering, we will select dishes and menu items we know they will enjoy. We will have a vegetarian option for those who do not eat meat. My personal practice is that I do not eat meat. However, I know and live with people who do.

One of my goals in hosting the meal is to provide a model for people to do it “flesh free”. As a layman Buddhist practitioner, my chosen method to spread the dharma is through personal example as I move through the world.

Most of my family and friends know that part of my Buddhist precepts include not eating any animal flesh or consuming alcohol or other stimulants (I drink decaf coffee). Once in a while, someone will ask me why I don’t eat meat and my answer is: compassion for the animals. This usually leads to some type of acknowledgement that they think this is a good thing and then the person goes right back to taking another mouthful of turkey or ham. All this while I smile, extend gratitude for the opportunity to at least provide another point of view regarding meat eating, hope this seed of compassion may one day germinate and lead to considering another option, then go on eating my plant-based dishes.

For me this is the essence of my own Buddhist Practice. I’m not militant with how I practice and share the Dharma I have learned. I go about my Practice in a manner that allows me to move through the world as a layman and at the same time not openly disagree with everyone. In the Sutra on the Eight Realizations of Great Beings, Spoken by the Buddha it is referred to as, “living a simple life while practicing the way.”

My point of view is that I can make my own choices to live my life in certain way and if anyone has questions why I’m doing it, I’ll answer as best as I can in a truthful, kind and transparent way.

The basic principles of the Dharma are relatively simple: we are all subject (including the Buddha) to the laws of cause and effect. Consistent good thoughts, beliefs and energy over time will generate positive effects. Negative thoughts, beliefs and energy over time will generate negative effects.

In each of our lives, the choices are entirely of our own making. So is our destiny. If you happen to be considering a meat-free alternative for protein in your own Thanksgiving celebration, below are links to a very delicious plant-based vegetable loaf recipe with onion gravy recipe. Enjoy with Metta and Mudita this holiday season:

Filo Pastry Lentil Loaf:

Onion Gravy:

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