The 13th century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, once said, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
Eckhart’s sage admonishment beautifully distills the essence of humility — every step we take is one steadied by the presence and efforts of others. A ritualized and regular acknowledgement of their help is the cornerstone of right livelihood.
As we do each year, today we pause to celebrate the national Thanksgiving holiday. The name literally suggests this is a day to pause and give thanks. For the twined sakes of ourselves and others, we should make a concerted effort to do just that.
Deciding what one is thankful for is a highly individualized undertaking. We all occupy a different place in the world. Life has given some of us wealth and comforts.
For some, life is a trove of burden and subsistence. Still, every single one of us — no matter what cruelty has been visited upon us by the hand of fortune — has something about which we could give thanks.
Even those for whom this life is relentlessly unjust and painful might take a thankful solace in the spiritual comfort of a passage to a better life once this one is complete. This in itself reminds us that a small dose of perspective can yield great comfort. As the saying goes, ‘someone always has it worse.’
We should also remember that thankfulness is neither a uniquely American nor uniquely Christian undertaking. Perhaps the most extreme manifestation of humility and penitence is found among the 4 million followers of the Jain faith in India.
The core doctrine of Jainism is a broad concern for the welfare of every living being in the universe and for the health of the universe itself. Jains are strict vegetarians and live so as to reduce their impact on the world’s resources.
Jains believe in reincarnation. They strive to attain ultimate liberation through which they will escape the reincarnation cycle. In so doing, their immortal soul lives forever in a state of bliss.
This commitment is best demonstrated by the Jainist monks called Digambara. These monks live completely naked. The Digambara may own two possessions: a pichhi (a peacock-feather whisk-broom used to sweep insects out of one’s path) and a kamandalu (a wooden water-pot). The Digambara believe they must adhere to a code of extreme deprivation including renunciation of worldly possessions and by demonstrating indifference to earthly emotions, including shame — as demonstrated by their nudity.
While such a life is likely well beyond the pale of what most Americans could countenance, the Jainist example goes to a very simple point: Happiness is not found in things. Happiness is not found in unfettered emotion or hedonism.
Happiness is found in truly appreciating every tiny moment of life. Happiness is found in purposeful living. Happiness is found in acknowledging a world greater than oneself. Happiness is found in consistent, practiced and sincere gratitude.
We need not roam the countryside naked with our peacock broom and wooden water pot in order to attain this kind of bliss. We only need commit to a positive power greater than ourselves.
It’s far too easy to be sad and to focus upon that which we do not have. As philosophers and theologians throughout history have suggested, those who harbor infinite appetites usually reap infinite sorrows, but those whose lives are clad in robes of gratitude, seldom want, seldom fear and seldom hurt.
As holidays go, this one is worth year-round celebration.