At this time of the year in Canada we have a day set aside for giving thanks. This is an admirable custom. It is far too easy to complain about our hardships and to take our blessings for granted . This perverse negativity cannot be just a modern vice, twenty-five centuries ago the Buddha said that gratitude was something difficult to find in the world. It is probably an inherent part of human nature, coming from our restlessness and discontent. Which is all the more reason to occasionally stop and take stock of our manifold blessings.
The simple fact of having taken a human birth is accounted a rare and marvelous thing in Buddhist teaching. This is all the more so if we have our health and wits and live in a place and time of peace and freedom with the opportunity to study and practice a spiritual path, whatever that path may be for each person.
On a more social level, it is important to have gratitude for all the people in our lives who have helped us in one way or another. The truth be told there are no self-made men or women. None of us would be where we are today without a countless number of acts of kindness and generosity. This begins with our parents who gave us life and raised us. In many cases they may have done the job imperfectly, but it is better to remember the sacrifices they made and to forget any mistakes.
And all of us have had many teachers along the way, both the formal kind who taught us our reading and writing and other useful skills as well as many kind individuals who have shared some of their wisdom with us. Even those few people who have done us wrong have in many cases taught us valuable lessons about life.
It is impossible to count or even to recall all the small acts of generosity and helpfulness by which others have smoothed our way through life. It would be even more impossible to repay all these acts of kindness. The best we can do to express our gratitude is to be helpful and generous to others in need. In this way we benefit another, make merit for ourselves and increase the stock of goodness in the world.
The model of human society sometimes put forward by economists, where each individual seeks his own best interests is a myth. The truth be told, if it weren't for altruism and mutual cooperation human society would have collapsed long ago. The Buddhist view is that we are all mutually dependent on one other. There are no self-reliant individuals. We need one another for our happiness, indeed for our very existence. This applies to the spiritual life as well as the purely material. The Buddha's disciple Ananda once said to him "Lord, I believe that good friendship is half of the Holy Life." To which the Buddha replied "Say not so Ananda, say not so! Good friendship is the whole of the Holy Life."
This interdependence goes far beyond the human species, and we should remember this as well. Our physical existence depends on a myriad of other organisms, not only for our food, and for the air we breathe, but perhaps even more for the beauty that feeds our spirit. In our Thanksgiving, let us not forget our debt of gratitude to the earth itself and the living beings and systems we share it with. We could begin to repay our debt to the earth by being more mindful and careful about how we treat it. The human race does not have a good track record in this regard lately.
So count your blessings and have a good Thanksgiving holiday. And last but not least, when you sit down for your feast, don't neglect your gratitude to the cook!