The Buddha taught that every human birth is precious & worthy of gratitude. In one of his well-known analogies, he said that receiving a human birth is more rare than the chance that a blind turtle floating in the ocean would stick its head through a small hoop. He would often instruct a monk to take his ground cloth into the forest, sit at the base of a tree, and begin “gladdening the heart” by reflecting on the series of fortunate circumstances that had given the monk the motivation & ability to seek freedom through understanding the dharma.
Practicing mindfulness of gratitude consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to life & the realization that there is a larger context in which your personal story is unfolding. Being relieved of the endless wants & worries of your life’s drama, even temporarily, is liberating. Cultivating thankfulness for being part of life blossoms into a feeling of being blessed, not in the sense of winning the lottery, but in a more refined appreciation for the interdependent nature of life. It also elicits feelings of generosity, which create further joy. Gratitude can soften a heart that has become too guarded, and it builds the capacity for forgiveness, which creates the clarity of mind that is ideal for spiritual development.
Let me be clear: The practice of gratitude is not in any way a denial of life’s difficulties. We live in troubling times, and no doubt you’ve experienced many challenges, uncertainties, and disappointments in your own life. Nor does the practice of gratitude deny the Buddha’s teaching on death: Death is certain; your death is certain; the time of death is unknown; the time of your death is unknown. Rather, gratitude practice is useful because it turns the mind in such a way that it enables you to live into life or, more accurately, to die into life. Having access to the joy & wonderment of life is the antidote to feelings of scarcity & loss. It allows you to meet life’s difficulties with an open heart. The understanding you gain from practicing gratitude frees you from being lost or identified with either the negative or the positive aspects of life, letting you simply meet life in each moment as it rises.
Gratitude for the grace of conscious embodiment evolves into the practice of selfless gratitude, in which your concerns slowly but surely shift from being mostly about yourself & those close to you to being about all living beings. As this occurs, you need less & less in the way of good fortune. It becomes enough that there are those who are happy, who are receiving love, who are safe, and who have a promising future. It is not that you would not prefer good things for yourself, but your sense of well-being is no longer contingent on external circumstances. You are able to rejoice that amidst all life’s suffering there exists joy. You realize that pain & joy are part of a mysterious whole. When this state of selfless gratitude starts to blossom, your mind becomes more spacious, quieter, and your heart receives its first taste of the long-sought release from fear & wanting. This is grace.
View full article on Phillip’s website: dharmawisdom.org/
Phillip Moffitt has been teaching Vipasanna meditation throughout the U.S. since completing teacher training at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in 1998. A former publishing executive, Phillip is founder of the Life Balance Institute, dedicated to study & practice of spiritual values in daily life. He also founded the Marin Sangha in San Rafael CA & is a teacher & member of the Guiding Teachers Council at Spirit Rock. His books include “Dancing with Life.”