November 28, 2020
Everyone knows that Thanksgiving is a traditional time for remembering what we are grateful for. Though it was Lincoln who made the day into a national holiday, to a boy from New England it was all about the Pilgrims commemorating having survived their first year here. For us now it is the time when families reunite. Perhaps in keeping with the Pilgrims inviting the local Native Americans, who had taught them how to get by, our family often had to dinner someone who wasn’t a relative. Who the Pilgrims were giving thanks to was their God, of course. Buddhists who have had an opening are said to feel great gratitude that is not addressed it to anyone or thing in particular.
Though I started writing this last week, I turned out to have a personal reason for being grateful on Thanksgiving Day. Jane came home from the hospital then. She had had shortness of breath for several days and so on Monday made an appointment to talk to our doctor on Wednesday, but someone on Tuesday noticed what Jane had said her symptoms were and called to speak to her, and on listening to her voice, recommended she go to the Kaiser ER immediately. She ended up staying for two nights so that tests could be run to try to find the cause of her condition. Tuesday night Jane did call me at 11 to say that a nurse had stopped by to say, “No covid.” Being without Jane and worrying about her was like suddenly finding myself in a two-dimensional world. On Thursday morning her doctor concluded that she was fine, and Impossible burgers and fries from a Burger King drive thru was our improbable and likely to be unforgettable Thanksgiving dinner. I felt full of gratitude sitting home Thanksgiving night watching TV together.
You may wonder what you have to be thankful about in 2020, besides a candidate having won or remaining in good health, what with worries about the political situation or the virus and your loss of freedom to do what you want to or go where you want to, or lack of work, or children being home-schooled, or plans being cancelled; the list goes on. There is one thing we all can be grateful for: our practice. We will show this In the Bodhisattva Ceremony today in paying homage to the Three Treasures.
When the kokyo chants, “I take refuge in Buddha,” our reply will be, “Before all being/immersing body and mind,/deeply in the Way/awakening true mind.” This is saying that in following the example of the first treasure, Shakyamuni Buddha and those who teach us now what he taught then, we dedicate ourselves to sitting with all of our body and mind. This respect we have for Buddha is as much for our inner nature. Answers to why people practice can vary greatly or may not sound significant. It could be because our Buddha nature is why we sit. Though it may not be recognized yet, not listening to that nature is apt to be the cause of our getting in trouble.
Our response for what is chanted next, “I take refuge in Dharma” is “Before all being,/entering deeply/the merciful ocean/of Buddha’s Way.” With this we accept that the second treasure is always around us giving us help. After all, it is through Dharma that our inner nature communicates to us. In our taking the precepts, they become the language through which it speaks. Once we understand this fully, we will no longer need someone else’s words to lead us. “Going beyond good and bad” and “killing the Buddha” are expressions of this freedom we will find.
Finally, we follow “I take refuge in Sangha“ with “Before all being,/bringing harmony/to everyone/free from hinderance.” This is our pledge not to let greed, anger, and foolishness disrupt our community. Living together peacefully will be the result of not letting such expressions of self separate us from each other through causing conflicts. While our inner natures are independent and don’t require help, we in our relative world are interdependent and must rely on the support of others. People do need people. So here we are today. Being physically together would have been nice, but that we are here is what matters. Sitting together without being able to sit together like now is sort of like being in a committed, long-distance relationship.
That we practice is due to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. It is because of them that we can feel gratitude for being alive.