Being Grateful

What the Buddha Taught About Gratitude

man stretching out arms in field
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Often we're told to remember to be grateful for blessings or good fortune. But Buddhism teaches us to be grateful, period. Gratitude is to be cultivated as a habit or attitude of mind not dependent on conditions.In the quote below, we see that the Buddha taught that gratitude is necessary for integrity. What does that mean?

"The Blessed One said, 'Now what is the level of a person of no integrity? A person of no integrity is ungrateful and unthankful. This ingratitude, this lack of thankfulness, is advocated by rude people. It is entirely on the level of people of no integrity. A person of integrity is grateful and thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by civil people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity.'" Katannu Sutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation

Gratitude Develops Patience

For one thing, gratitude helps develop patience. Ksanti—patience or forbearance—is one of the paramitas or perfections that Buddhists cultivate. Ksanti paramita, the perfection of patience, is the third of the Mahayana paramitas and the sixth of the Theravada paramitas.

Psychologists have corroborated the gratitude-patience link. People with a strong sense of gratitude are more likely to be able to delay gratification, passing on a small reward now in favor of a greater reward later. Developing a sense of gratitude can help shopaholics stop impulse buying, for example.

This shows us that gratitude is also an antidote to greed. Greed often comes from a sense of not having enough, or at least not having as much as everyone else has. Gratitude assures us that what we have is enough; greed and gratitude cannot peacefully coexist, it seems. The same goes for jealousy, regret, resentment, and many other negative emotions.

Gratitude for Difficulties

Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, who learned Buddhism as a monk in Thailand, advises us to be grateful for difficulties. It's really the difficult times that teach us the most, he said.

"In certain temples that I've been to, there's actually a prayer that you make asking for difficulties," Kornfield told the Huffington Post. "May I be given the appropriate difficulties so that my heart can truly open with compassion. Imagine asking for that."

Kornfield ties gratitude to mindfulness. To be mindful, he said, is to see the world as it is without judgments. It is responding to the world rather than reacting to it. Gratitude helps us be fully present and attentive to our surroundings.

Within Buddha's Heart

Zen teacher Zoketsu Norman Fischer said that a lack of gratitude means we are not paying attention and taking existence for granted. "We take our life, we take life, we take existence, for granted. We take it as a given, and then we complain that it isn't working out as we wanted it to. But why should we be here in the first place? Why should we exist at all?"

Because we see ourselves and everyone else as separate atomized individuals with needs to be filled, Zoketsu Fischer said, we can become overwhelmed by all the unfilled needs. So we think we should just look out for Number One, me. But if instead, we see the world as a place of belonging and connection, we are not weighed down. A mind of gratitude will help with this.

"We are sitting within Buddha's heart, releasing ourselves to that aspect of ourselves that deeply belongs to the universe and is grateful for it," Zoketsu Fischer said.

Cultivating Gratitude

To cultivate a mind of gratitude, the most important element is maintaining daily practice, whether chanting or meditation.

And remember to be grateful for the practice.

Moment-to-moment mindfulness and gratitude go hand in hand. A good way to strengthen mindfulness is to set aside some time every day to fully engage in mindfulness.

When you find yourself fretting about things going wrong, remind yourself of what's going right.

Some people may be helped by keeping a gratefulness diary, or at least regularly reflecting on being grateful. It won't happen overnight, but with consistent practice, gratitude will grow.

We'd also like to share with you a gatha to chant. This was composed by my late teacher, Jion Susan Postal.

For all beneficent karma, ever manifested through me, I am grateful.
May this gratitude be expressed through my body, speech, and mind.
With infinite kindness to the past,
Infinite service to the present,
Infinite responsibility to the future.