Verses from The Dhammapada 98
Being in a state of gratitude can be the key to a fulfilling and joyous life. Genuine gratitude however cannot be faked and is something that genuinely arises from the heart. Jenny Hall examines how we can open the heart to experience gratitude in our daily lives.
‘In village or forest on the hills or in the plain, wherever the Arahants live is delightful.’
This verse points to the unconditional gratitude of the Buddha Nature, sometimes called ‘choiceless awareness’.
A friend’s dentist administered valium whilst extracting a decayed tooth. The friend expressed her gratitude by warmly hugging the dentist. She then embraced everyone sitting in the waiting room. Perhaps not quite as dramatically, we have all experienced gratitude when pain is alleviated. Such is the relief that it is often accompanied by the promise ‘I shall never hanker after anything again!’
However, it is the nature of ‘I’ to rapidly forget such contentment. Surrounded by increasing abundance it is easy to be pulled into the belief that something is still lacking in our lives. Gratitude is conditional. We may spend years feeling that we are failing to possess or achieve something that would bring more fulfilment.
Trevor Leggett told the following story.
During the time of the Shah, in a town in Iran, two students were keen to enter his government. They arranged to attend the necessary interviews. On the day they were to be held, one of the students became ill and was unable to attend. His friend was accepted for a post in the capital. The sick student recovered and found fulfilling employment in his home town.
Despite this, he spent many years resenting the fact that he had failed to acquire a government post. Thirty years passed. He bumped into his friend and discovered that he had lost his position with the Shah’s government. Through no fault of his own, he had been demoted to a humble clerk.
Like the ‘unsuccessful’ student we also fail to be grateful for our situation because we cling to a picture of a ‘superior’ one.
As children we were encouraged to feel gratitude by imagining those less fortunate than ourselves. Before meals we gave thanks for ‘the world so sweet, for the food we eat, for the birds that sing.’ In conclusion we said ‘thank you for everything’.
However, we can’t think ourselves grateful. Master Torei says, ‘Gratitude is a function inherent in the heart.’ It occurs spontaneously when ‘I’, made up of thoughts, is emptied out. Our thoughts are driven by desire and hate. This emotional energy needs to be greeted and suffered. Choiceless awareness then opens. In this melting of ‘me’, gratitude flows. Everything then becomes intimate. The ‘food we eat’ is really tased and relished. ‘The birds that sing’ are clearly heard. It is realised that everything is supporting us. Nothing is separate. ‘Thank you for everything’ naturally arises. Choiceless awareness extends care to everything encountered. When the plant is watered the flowers lift their heads in thanks. There is a joyful participation in the gratitude of all.
There was once a goatherd called Peter. He lived in a meadow surrounded by mountains. His garden gave him fruit and vegetables. The goats gave him milk for cheese and yoghurt. The trees gave him wood for the fire. One evening he returned with his flock from the mountains. The nanny goat and her two kids were missing. Peter set off at once to find them. He blew his pipes and called but there was no sign of them. The stars lit his way as he climbed higher and higher up the mountain. As the sun was rising, Peter, exhausted, sat down and closed his eyes. Suddenly he heard a voice calling his name. He jumped up. A girl with eyes and a cloak as blue as the sky stood before him. Peter saw the goats sheltering under her cloak. The girl introduced herself as Hertha, the Star Maiden. She said she cherished all newborn life on earth. Hertha explained that she had found Peter’s goats wandering and she was protecting them from wild beasts. Hertha then took Peter to a cave full of glittering jewels. She invited him to choose some. Peter replied that he no need of precious stones. He had everything he needed. Hertha was delighted with his reply. She presented Peter with some sky blue flax flowers and their seeds. Hertha’s gift brought good to all.
When ‘I’ am out of the way, like Peter, we have no need of ‘precious jewels’. Like the seeds given to Peter, the more the seeds of gratitude are watered, the more gratitude flowers.
When we stand before the Buddha, we bow in gratitude as we remember his great efforts in making available to us the Way out of dissatisfaction for all to walk.
Verses from the Dhammapada
The virtue of generosity, charity or giving. Your donations are welcomed.Learn more