Beliefnet
One City

by Ellen Scordato

Thanksgiving, a particularly American holiday, is coming up on Thursday.
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What are we giving thanks for? What am I grateful for? What are you grateful for? These kinds of questions get asked a lot around this time of year. I try to compose a gratitude list almost every day, but I won’t do that here–I figure it is a pretty common practice among beliefnet readers and is/will be/has been much discussed in many other beliefnet blogs.

Since One City is a buddhist blog, I’d like to look at gratitude from the viewpoint of a couple of buddhist teachings. Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, I’d like to look at how  American and buddhist intersect around the holiday for me this year.

1) Gratitude reflection #1:
From the Tibetan tradition, I’m familiar with an interesting list of 10 (or 18) conditions necessary for practicing the dharma.


Starting from the good fortune of “precious human birth,” the teaching
moves from describing the eight other ways one could have been born, to
listing ten necessary aspects: being born human, in a region of the
world where the Buddha’s teachings are accessible, with intact sensory
organs, without false views, with natural trust in the dharma, in times
when a buddha has appeared, in times when a buddha has given teachings,
when those teachings have been preserved and are accessible, with the
ability to grasp and practice the teachings, and so on.

I can
understand that list. What strikes me on this very American holiday is
how grateful I am for a very American freedom: the freedom to access
buddhist teachings and the freedom to practice them.

Being
born in the USA has given me a whole world of
freedom to practice that I give thanks for every day. It gave me
freedom to convert to a religion other than the one I was born in.
Freedom to practice as I please. Freedom of religion and worldview is
not exclusive to the USA, but it is by no means universal. And being
born at this time, when buddhist thought and teaching is growing and
more accessible in the USA every day (to an almost bewildering degree,
as Greg Zwahlen has so well discussed in his perceptive and learned One City posts) is pretty amazing.

Grateful for freedom of religious and spiritual observance and practice, yup. I put it on my T-day table.

2) Gratitude Reflection #2:

From the Tibetan tradition, I’m also familiar with a body of mahayana teachings called lojong,
or mind training. These are practices for those on the boddhisattva
path, those trying to wake up. The popular buddhist teacher Pema Chodron has written extensively on various aspects of lojong and its associated meditation practice, tonglen.

Lojong
practice, which involves contemplating and applying about 56 diff
slogans, arose from Eight Verses on Thought Transformation*, three of
which run as follows:

4. Whenever I meet a person
of bad nature
Who is overwhelmed by negative energy and intense suffering,
I will hold such a rare one dear,
As if I had found a precious treasure.
 
5. When others, out of jealousy,
Mistreat me with abuse, slander and so on,
I will practice accepting defeat
And offering the victory to them.
 
6.
When someone I have benefited
And in whom I have placed great trust
Hurts
me very badly,
I will practice seeing that person as my supreme teacher.

*Geshe Langri Tangpa (1054-1123), student of Drom Tonpa, a chief student of Atisha

These
practices are all ways of loosening our attachment to our concept of a
solid, unchanging self. They are hard. They are completely inimical to
our general way of being “I.” They can be easily misunderstood. They
are by no means the whole of practice!

And they give rise to the giving-thanks lojong slogan: “Be Grateful to Everyone.”

How
apropos for Thanksgiving. Be grateful to everyone, even the people who
irritate me, since they reveal to me that I can be irritated. They rub
up my sore spots, where I might think I’m all fine and dandy but still
nurse grudges, and attachments, and pride, and jealousy, and
ego-clinging, and all the rest of that mucky stuff.

So what strikes me on this very American holiday is how grateful I am for another American freedom: freedom of speech.

Private
bodies may fire their employees for certain kinds of speech, a torrent
of public abuse may rain down upon speakers, but we do have freedom of
speech. We can, and do, argue, as Americans. All the time.

And
how apropos of my friend Jerry’s post on this blog last week, about
politics. I am grateful for freedom of expression in America. Am I
grateful for what happened in the comments section? Notsa much. I am
grateful we can disagree. Can I practice being grateful to those who
disagree with me, those who arouse my ire? I can. They show I’ve still
got ire to work on; they show I can’t fool myself. I am human. Humans
think like this, like me, like you.

What do we do about it, working from and toward a compassionate heart?

That discussion, and the subject of Jerry’s post,
turned up a nest of muck and hatred and concept that astonished me with
its virulence, force, and explicit threats of violence. Do I have
hatred in me? Did anyone’s comments arouse a response? I feel sorrow at
the pain expressed and inflicted by comments; what is that? That is all
stuff to look at, a big spotlight on human thinking, my thinking, your
thinking, our thinking. The Buddha taught four mindfulnesses, common to
all traditions. And mindfulness of feeling requires some feelings to go
on. Mindfulness of thinking requires some thinking. 

Feeling and thinking are something to be grateful for.

“I am grateful to be human. I am grateful to everyone.” That’s a lot on the Thanksgiving plate.

My best wishes to everyone for a peaceful and heart-opening day on Thursday, whatever thinking or feeling is going on.

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