On the Heart and Gift of Gratitude



Reverence and humility,
contentment and gratitude;
and timely hearing of the Dhamma,
this is the highest blessing.

 
-- The Buddha, Mangala Sutta - the Highest Blessings, Verse 8

 
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Dear Dhamma friends,
for whom i am very grateful,
 
On this day of thanks giving, i want to thank you for your presence in my life, and our lives -- the lives of our Sangha -- and to share a few of the Blessed One's words with you on the heart of thanks and the gift of gratitude.
 
I've been a researcher of gratitude these past few days, delightfully learning more about the science of this very interesting subject than ever before.
 
From Wikipedia:
 
Gratitude, thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation is a positive emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. The experience of gratitude has historically been a focus of several world religions,[1] and has been considered extensively by moral philosophers such as Adam Smith.[2] The systematic study of gratitude within psychology only began around the year 2000, possibly because psychology has traditionally been focused more on understanding distress rather than understanding positive emotions. However, with the advent of the positive psychology movement,[3] gratitude has become a mainstream focus of psychological research.[4

Multiple studies have shown the correlation between gratitude and increased wellbeing not only for the individual but for all people involved.[39][40] The positive psychology movement has embraced these studies and in an effort to increase overall wellbeing, has begun to make an effort to incorporate exercises to increase gratitude into the movement. Although in the past gratitude has been neglected by psychology, in recent years much progress has been made in studying gratitude and its positive effects.
 
Gratitude and well-being

A large body of recent work has suggested that people who are more grateful have higher levels of well-being. Grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships[22][25][26] Grateful people also have higher levels of control of their environments, personal growth, purpose in life, and self acceptance.[27] Grateful people have more positive ways of coping with the difficulties they experience in life, being more likely to seek support from other people, reinterpreted and grow from the experience, and spend more time planning how to deal with the problem.[28] Grateful people also have less negative coping strategies, being less likely to try to avoid the problem, deny there is a problem, blame themselves, or cope through substance use.[28] Grateful people sleep better, and this seems to be because they think less negative and more positive thoughts just before going to sleep[29].  Gratitude has been said to have one of the strongest links with mental health of any character trait.


Whilst many emotions and personality traits are important to well-being, there is evidence that gratitude may be uniquely important. First, a longitudinal study showed that people who were more grateful coped better with a life transition. Specifically, people who were more grateful before the transition were less stressed, less depressed, and more satisfied with their relationships three months later.[34] Second, two recent studies have suggested that gratitude may have a unique relationship with well-being, and can explain aspects of well-being that other personality traits cannot.

 
In the Buddha's teaching as recorded in the Anguttara Nikaya -- translated by Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi as the "Incremental Discourses of the Buddha" -- we find the Kataññu Sutta or Teaching on Gratitude.  Here the Buddha relates gratitude to personal integrity.  It is this personal integrity that is both a cause and a fruit of depth of meditation and the development of deep and penetrating insight and wisdom.
 
In the extraordinarily popular and oft-recited Mangala Sutta, the Buddha's Teaching on the Highest Blessings, we find gratitude -- katannuta -- amidst the cultivation of the inner virtues for the development of a spiritual life that appear in verses 8 and 9.  This is the way that gratitude fits into the schemata of the Teaching on the Highest Blessings:
 


Mangala Sutta vv.8, 9.
Developing a spiritual life:
Cultivating inner virtues

 

(22) Reverence (garava)
(23) Humility (nivata)(24) Contentment (santhutti)
(25) Gratitude (katannuta)
(26) Timely hearing of the Dhamma (kalena dhammasavana)
(27) Patience (khanti)
(28) Being amenable to advice (sovacassata)
(29) Seeing peaceful ones - renunciants (samananam dassanam)
(30) Timely discussion of the Dhamma (kalena dhammasakacca)
 


As Ajahn Brahm has said in a lovely talk given on Gratitude:

When we get some understanding, some taste, of this beautiful Dhamma that leads to happiness and liberation; gratitude arises naturally. 

I have tremendous gratitude that I have food every day, have a kuti to meditate in and to sleep in.  Although my lifestyle as a teacher might seem very busy; I have great gratitude for the time that I do have to meditate.  Perhaps its because I am so busy doing things, when I have the time to do nothing; i don't waste that time.  So I have gratitude.

Early on, i realized i wasn't well using the time that i had, so i wasn't grateful.  So i decided to use the time that I had fully, without taking it for granted.  Something obviously changed then.  Then i made such good use of that time, and there was enough time to meditate.  Then instead of developing the fault-finding mind, i developed the grateful mind.  That feeling of gratitude is the opposite of the fault-finding mind. This helped me not to be negative about what i have to do, but always to be cheerful and grateful.  This is what the teaching of anatta means: not me, not mine, not a self.  We have no control over anything.  When we find we can't control it, we end up feeling frustrated and getting negative, this shows our lack of understanding of non-self.  Nature is in control; not you. The Dhamma runs this body and mind, not you.  When we understand this, we'll have less frustration.  Instead of controlling so much, we have the gratitude mind. Then we have gratitude for the few moments that we have. 

It is true that we can get so much happiness in being able to serve; in being able to give -- as best you can.  So I'm very grateful to have the privilage to share even just a little with others.  I am so grateful to be able to teach.  So instead of looking at it as a burden; i incorporate it into my practice of gratitude.  I've got so much gratitude that I have the privilage to work hard and make good karma, to do something useful in this life.  So i don't get mentally tired.  You burn up all the positive energies in the mind through negativity and frustration; by complaining, complaining.  When you are so grateful to do whatever you can: to lay some stones, to wash the toilets, or whatever else you can do for Buddhism: for the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha -- the Sangha is a third of the Triple Gem.  It is so wonderful to have the privilage to serve; to give something. 

That with that state of mind, all of the external practices that you do are not a cause for negativity, but a cause for good kamma, a cause for compassion, a cause for the piti-sukha, for the happiness and joy to arise.  Sometimes, when i have to serve, my body is tired.  But my body is bright because i have energy to give.  This comes from piti-sukha which is generated by gratitude -- which goes against the fault-finding mind.  It is called caga, generosity, giving.  Your caga, your giving, is not a business deal.  It is giving just for the sake of giving.  It gives you so much happiness to do this because it is real giving. 

So often we give something because we wish to get something in return.  Not as actually giving something of your life.  Please look at it as an opportunity to give, and opportunity to let go, an opportunity to express your gratitude. With these positive states of mind, then you find that any work you do, any duties are not a burden.  Then your so-called duties because sources of beauty and inspiration.  Then this becomes good kamma. Because they are good kamma, they develop happiness and bliss in the mind.  Then this becomes liberating. 

You find this mentioned in the Third Noble Truth as Way Leading Out of Suffering; the Way to the End of Suffering. The four ways of letting go, leading to liberation.  This is for giving: not like giving donations, but giving your time and energy, giving gratefully; making it great, making it full.  Giving; expecting nothing back in return. That degree of generosity is so great, it is close to gratitude.  One is not asking anything back, one is not trying to find fault, one is truly letting go.
You are following the Path which leads to deep states of peace and bliss in the mind, leading to freedom from craving, and the fuel -- the upadana -- which gives rise to new life.  That gratitude goes in the opposite direction to wanting things in the world.  Gratitude is a giving.

The point is that by doing all of these things, it is a giving; and by giving we become so grateful. When i have that degree of gratitude, it just makes me so happy.  And that happiness goes into meditation, into states of joy and bliss.  The Buddha taught the Middle Way, the soft way; giving the mind piti-sukha, happiness and joy.

Sukhino titham samadhi athi - the Buddha's words from Majjhima Nikaya 66 -- the Simile of the Quail.  Samadhi -- meditation success -- comes from giving the mind happiness.  It is only from that happiness and bliss can you enter the jhanas.  It is only from the jhanas that comes enlightenment happiness -- sambodhi sukha -- the bliss and happiness when alot of suffering disappears.  It is only from those states that you can understand what the end of suffering means.
This is such a powerful experience of not only meditation success, but insight success as well.  You gain happiness and liberation.  Gratitude and generosity give rise to that happiness very easily.  It is only with gratitude, and giving up, that you can actually get into the present moment. 

With that gratitude, you get contentment.  When you are content to be here, there is peace. 

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