Gratitude – The Buddha Way

Thanks to
Thanks to

After learning a lot of spiritual principles with my first teacher, I came across another teacher who was very incisive in sharing the Buddha’s teachings, called Nithya Shanti. He had been a Buddhist monk for several years after quitting a corporate job and then gave up the robes to teach Buddha’s teachings in a simplified way. I’ve documented my first experience after attending his workshop about 4 years ago called HADAYOLI – short for Happiest Day of your Life here. Most of what I learnt from this workshop has stayed with me and its value has exponentially grown over the years. One of the most profound, irreversible change it has brought about in me is moving from theory to practice. Nithya’s workshops (or joyshops) are characterised with practice and that is the reason they have stood the test of time for me.

Last year I went through a spell of amnesia. I forgot almost everything for a while. What stayed with me and gave me relief was just 2 practices –
1. Going back to breath.
2. Gratitude.

Today morning in a conversation with my Ayurvedic doctor, the conversation turned to gratitude. I shared with her how the Shakyamuni Buddha taught it, as it has been passed on by Nithya in his joyshops. I felt compelled to write more elaborately about it.

The Buddha talks about 3 Levels of Gratitude:

1. Gratitude for things and people, as though they have been regained after loss.
2. Gratitude for your challenges as though we have already learnt the lessons they bring us.
3. Gratitude for aspirations, hopes, wishes and dreams, as though they have already been realised.

Through last year’s experiences and sitting in the Sunday sessions at GD‘s, I picked up a fourth level  –

4. Gratitude for your thoughts, visions, emotions, blocks and feelings, for passing through you like clouds, for they never truly belong to you.

Experiences in practicing Gratitude:

Over time gratitude has helped me immensely to bring me back to the present moment. I remember reading the HADAYOLI manual which has a page dedicated to I am Thankful which has statements like these:

I am thankful for the wife who says its sandwiches for dinner tonight, because she is at home with me and not with someone else.
I am thankful for my mother complaining, because it means she cares about herself and us. 

I frequently make up such statements of my own to tap into my own wisdom in moments of frustration or anger. Sometimes complaining is more enticing than listening to your soft inner voice. But when I discipline myself, I begin to see that nothing is too bad. It helps me accept the badly wrapped gifts life frequently brings and see a bigger picture.

Like most people I too have a critical voice that becomes overpowering at times. In those moments the only real path to shift, is to begin thanking myself for how far I’ve come. At times I realise even if I don’t have the will to thank life for my present moment challenges, I still can come up with a fair repository of challenges I have overcome. It starts a snowball of courage, of feeling I can and slowly from a freeze reaction, warms me up to take action to create the change within. And that is something. I remember at one point putting up Post-It notes on my wardrobe mirror, on my cupboard and on the walls of my room thanking myself. I thought, well the Buddhists have prayer flags they tie up on high altitude places for the prayers to be carried by the wind, why not have gratitude notes put up with the intention that these will get anchored by my subconscious? And yes, I have seen the effects of these.

The Wayne Dyer film, The Shift, strongly inspired me at one point. The opening of the film is where he wakes up at 3.13am, breathes out slowly, and says Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. The sanctity behind this gesture moved me so much that even today the moment I wake up I touch the floor before my feet touch the ground and say these words to thank mother earth for the unfathomable support she gives me on a daily basis. It is enough to be thankful for. It fills me with reverence. Louise Hay also says that she opens her day by thinking of 3 things she is grateful for in her life while she is still in bed. I practice this too, off and on as I remember it. 

I recently read a note inspired by Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love based on Rumi’s transformation from a successful, unhappy cleric to a committed, passionate poet of love which said (loosely quoted) –

A Sufi is grateful not only for what he has received, but also for what he has been denied.

I felt an instant resonance to this the moment I heard it in a Sunday session. Too often I have cribbed, embittered that I did not get what I want when I wanted it. And yet, secretly, in places I wouldn’t have even admitted to myself had I not heard this quote, I have rejoiced when the big picture unfolded and I could clearly see that what I have been denied was not going to get me the peace, clarity, happiness or whatever else I was seeking through it. But the lack of it did. This happened very recently when I broke away from a relationship I thought was going to lead me to enlightenment. I was in a relationship with a projection. The person was far away from my version. I was grateful, both to him and finally to life for having denied me my “big vision” of enlightenment. Recently in a session, GD said, “Don’t be in a relationship, be in gratitude!”, and that instantly brought relief.

The intention behind writing this was purely to delve deeper into gratitude. However, gratitude when pedestialised can lead to making Thank you a habitual response dished out a million times during the day without feeling even an iota of gratefulness within. And that habit might actually prevent you from experiencing gratefulness under the pretext that hey, I’m practicing gratitude aren’t I?! At times Thank you can be a very awkward and even an inappropriate thing to say. If there is sincere gratitude within, your gestures, your smile, your eyes, your disposition will convey it. The communication of it won’t matter, the feeling of it will. Over time, I have seen that there can be a lot of doership even with practicing gratitude. Making a gratitude note a day of the many things you are grateful for is great. However, seeing yourself shift into a space of gratitude on a moment to moment basis is a beautiful experience. It shifts the receptivity to life from being a fearful unknown to being a welcome mystery.  

Finally, I am grateful for all the half-baked lessons and all the side-effects they are having which I am perhaps not even aware of at this point. When the greatest Zen masters saw the infinite intricacies of life merging into one single moment, it transformed them into living, breathing embodiments of gratitude. Signing off with a note of gratitude for my current favorite teacher who I’m having fun learning from, GD:

Money is no immunity from feeling poor.
A great house is no immunity from feeling insecure.
A good relationship is no immunity from feeling lonely.
A great career is no immunity from feeling failure.
And yet how the mind maps money to rich, house to security, being in a relationship to completeness and a career to success. All illusions that we invest time into.
While the real thing lies dormant under a thick red carpet of hope. And sometimes, some of us get lucky enough to have this red carpet pulled from beneath our feet. Thank you Life, for sending me such a teacher. I got lucky!

Thank you for reading and participating in this joy!

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