One of the greatest misconceptions among people of other faiths is that Buddhists worship the Buddha. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines worship as “a service or rite showing reverence for a deity.” Gautama Buddha was not a deity; he was as human as you or I. If Buddhists do not worship the Buddha why do we have the statues, why do we offer incense? We have these things as an expression of our gratitude for his sharing the teachings, or Dharma, after his enlightenment. After attaining enlightenment, Gautama Buddha could have led a life of solitude, a simple life of joy and contentment. Instead, he chose to travel throughout India for the last 45 years of his life sharing the Dharma. His actions at the time of his death set an example of gratitude. At the age of eighty, he had grown weak. While traveling with his followers a villager provided them with a meal, Gautama Buddha became ill and his condition declined rapidly. As his death approached, he summoned the villager who was distraught over what had happened. Gautama Buddha expressed his sincere gratitude to the villager for having provided a wonderful meal. This was gratitude for the intent rather than for the outcome.
Gratitude is an important part of Buddhism. In most religions, people offer thanks to their God for providing food, good health, and successes in life. Buddhists focus more on the interdependence, or “oneness," of all life. When offering thanks for a meal we are mindful of the efforts of the many people who made the meal possible. Without the work of the cook, the storeowner, the farmer, and others, the food would never reach our table. Many Buddhists are vegetarians, but those who are not are mindful of the sacrifice made by the animal to provide them with nourishment.
A Buddhist saying, “Every day is a good day,” may seem confusing. How can every day be a good day if we are sick, faced with adversity, or things just do not go our way? Buddhism teaches that our ego causes us to think of a day as good or bad. When we are unhappy with events, we only see the day from this perspective. Gratitude for that which we have changes this perspective. Just being alive to experience the day is cause for gratitude. Especially in America, we have innumerable things for which we should have gratitude. Focus on gratitude rather than misery and the day is a good day.
Thanksgiving is a time for everyone, regardless of religion, to reflect upon the things for which we are grateful. For those of us lucky enough to be able to share this meal with family and friends our reasons for gratitude are quite clear. Yet, even those who have fallen upon hard times can be grateful for those who have reached out to help them. The Thanksgiving holiday is the true American day of gratitude.
For more information about Buddhism and Zen meditation in Kenosha, contact me at BASEWI@aol.com.