Thanksgiving, a celebration of gratitude. For those of us able to gather with family and friends it is a time when we reflect upon all that we have. Of all the holidays celebrated in America, Thanksgiving, in my opinion, is the one most in tune with Buddhist teachings.

The temple to which I belong is of a sect of Buddhism founded in Japan. Before eating we do the equivalent of “saying grace.” We recite a phrase that roughly translates to, “I bow down to the Oneness of all things.” After this we say, ”Itadakimasu (ee-ta-da-ki-mas).” A literal translation is, “I will receive.” The true meaning is much deeper.

I have noticed that Thanksgiving is the one time when almost everyone says some sort of blessing before eating. Most people direct this thanks to their Creator. They express their gratitude for all He has provided. The phrase “Itadakimasu” expresses a broader thanks. When we say, “I will receive,” we are thanking everyone and everything responsible for our meal. We thank the cook, the grocer, the delivery person and the farmer for bringing this food to our table. We are grateful to the turkey that gave its life for our meal. Mindful of all that has occurred, we humbly receive that which is offered.

Thanksgiving is also a time when we are more aware of others less fortunate. Newspapers and television are filled with stories about volunteers helping serve meals to the homeless and needy. A smiling politician or celebrity hands out a turkey leg or some stuffing. But what about the rest of the year? What do we do then?

The Buddhist teachings speak of the Oneness of all things. This means that nothing exists independently. Everything is dependent on, and connected to, everything else. All actions have infinite effects. Suffering has the same effect. No one will ever overcome their own suffering as long as another still suffers. Thanksgiving can be the time that we rededicate ourselves to overcoming all suffering.

A basic idea in Buddhism is that of “Dana,” or giving. Dana is different from charity. Usually, we think of charity as assisting others suffering due to poverty, disaster or conflict. Although Dana includes all this, it goes beyond just material needs. Dana is any thought, word or action that helps relieve suffering whether it be spiritual, emotional or physical. Dana is performed without the expectation of any recognition or reward. The only reward is on a universal scale. The suffering of one is the suffering of all.

This year, as you sit down to your Thanksgiving meal, think about the blessing you recite. As you thank whomever or whatever for the food in front of you and the company you are with reflect on all that has occurred so that this moment could exist. All that has gone before has led to this moment. Then, humbly and with great joy begin. Itadakimasu.

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