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Our lives are supported by an intricate web woven by the effort and consideration of countless people. The unseen daily exertions of others are behind each of the innumerable elements that sustain and enhance our daily existence, from the food we eat to the products and amenities we use. Moment by moment, the natural environment supports and makes possible our lives. Gratitude is the joyful recognition of this fact.
While the admonition to “count one’s blessings” may seem trite, in times of trial a sense of gratitude for what is good in our lives can ground us and provide a basis for meeting and overcoming difficulties. In this sense, gratitude is the key to unlocking a more open and rewarding perspective on life. Feelings of appreciation are always accompanied by the elevation of one’s state of life and the broadening of one’s perspective. And, the more our life expands, the more profound our sense of gratitude becomes, to the point where we can feel appreciation even for the problems we face in life.
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda frequently calls on young people to take on difficult challenges, in order to be able to grow. To be able to look back on one’s struggles with appreciation is proof of spiritual victory. To be able to greet even the most severe hardships with a sense of gratitude, rooted in a firm confidence of ultimate triumph, is an expression of the free, unfettered life condition of Buddhahood.
Gratitude is the key to unlocking a more open and rewarding perspective on life.
This is why the 13th-century Buddhist priest Nichiren could state that he felt the deepest gratitude toward Hei no Saemon-no-jo, the government official who persecuted him and attempted to have him killed. It was precisely because of Hei no Saemon-no-jo’s persecutions that Nichiren was able to test and prove the power of his convictions, drawing forth from within profound strength and sense of purpose.
Nichiren’s letters to his followers almost always open with a detailed and heartfelt expression of thanks for their offerings and support. Citing various examples from history, Nichiren writes of gratitude as an essential component of our humanity. Daisaku Ikeda has described it as the very essence of Buddhism.
related article Courage What may to one person seem a simple problem may be experienced by another as overwhelming and insurmountable. But the process of summoning up the courage required to take action is always the same regardless of how seemingly big or small the challenge. In contrast, ingratitude is an outgrowth of the arrogant delusion that we are fundamentally detached and separate from each other and our surroundings. To lose sight of the reality of our mutual interdependence makes us prey to the destructive impulses of envy and greed.
Nichiren describes three categories of people on whom our lives depend and to whom we owe gratitude. These are, in the language of his time, the sovereign, the teacher and the parent. Our gratitude toward our parents is elemental, since it is through them that our individual lives arose and that we are connected to the larger web of existence. The teacher in the Buddhist context refers specifically to one’s mentor in practice and faith. In a broader sense it refers to the indispensable role of education in human life and all those who help shape the development of our character through their positive influence. The sovereign, in contemporary context, refers to society itself.
In this sense, sovereign, teacher and parent all function to enhance life. They can even be understood to represent the fundamentally compassionate nature of the universe, the core evolutionary impulse of life to move toward fulfillment and expression of its potential.
Maintaining a sense of appreciation connects our lives to this impulse. To honor and act on that sense of appreciation—to “repay one’s debt of gratitude”—is to act in accordance with the core direction of the cosmos. It is to make efforts to develop our character, to support that which enhances and oppose that which diminishes life, to take action based on a courageous and humanitarian spirit—this is what gives full, beautiful expression to our humanity and the inherent dignity of life. This could be considered the core spirit of religion. It is the essential focus of the SGI movement, which centers on the question of what each of us can do now to benefit those around us. Peace and the transformation of society begin from the exercise of this spirit in our immediate surroundings.
Courtesy July 2009 issue of the SGI Quarterly.