Radhanath Swami: On Thanksgiving
In order for that spirit of loving service – the spirit of bhakti – to grow, a very essential element is thanksgiving, or gratitude. The seed of love can only take root and grow if it is in fertile soil. Gratitude is that fertile soil. Whatever spiritual practices we do, like chanting God’s names, coming to satsanga, doing seva, all of these things are like watering the seed of that love that is within us. But that watering process will be ever more effective to the degree that our consciousness, or our heart, is a field of gratitude.
A person who is ungrateful can never really be happy because they will always be expecting something else or something more. A truly grateful heart actually finds fulfillment and opportunity in every situation. Gratitude is a state of mind. It is not a response to circumstances. If our gratitude is a response to circumstances then it is going to be very fickle. But if it is something that is coming from within, coming from a deeper place, then we can be grateful in every situation. If we cannot be grateful for the challenges and disappointments that come in our lives, then we can’t really be grateful for the things that go our way either.
How to be grateful when things really don’t go our way? When we are trying to see the whole picture of who I am and what life really is for, then we can see – there is an opportunity to grow in every situation. The day of Thanksgiving did not begin by some people who came to America by a first-class British Airways flight and arrived at the JFK airport, and had a limousine and five-star hotel room waiting for them with a thanksgiving celebration. Thanksgiving started with people who were being persecuted and who were really struggling in Europe. They came by boats, in which many of them died. There was nobody to greet them and they encountered a lot of difficulties. But what they did get they were very thankful for, because they had struggled.
If you really expect something to happen and feel that you deserve it, can you really be grateful for it? For example, if you go to a restaurant with your American Express credit card and buy a meal with your credit card, you may tell the waiter how grateful you are. But imagine if you are starving in the street and someone comes and gives you that same meal… you are going to be so much more thankful because you really don’t think you deserve it. Humility and gratitude are inseparable. If we are arrogant we really cannot be grateful for anything – not deeply. Even if one works for years to earn something, a humble person will not think “I deserve it.” Rather, he will think, “I am so grateful for every single person who helped me learn how to do this. I am grateful to every person who was instrumental in giving me a chance, and I am grateful to God for everything I have been given.” – Radhanath Swami