Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Jesus and Buddha on giving thanks

With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, I wondered what the great spiritual teachers such as Jesus and Buddha said about gratitude and giving thanks.

The answer: Not much.

Today’s popular wisdom urges people to “count your blessings,” a technique that never helped me much when I was down. Ignoring painful realities felt like denial, not healing.

Jesus and Buddha both seemed to take a different approach. Buddha spoke of the Middle Way, where people could be free from both desire and aversion, no longer caught up in seeking and counting blessings.

Jesus himself often gave thanks to God. Otherwise he called attention to the behavior that he witnessed. For example, he healed ten lepers, including one Samaritan, a member of a despised ethnic group, perhaps similar to queer people today. Only one, the Samaritan, bothered to say thanks.

Jesus spoke to the bystanders. “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

To the leper he said, “Your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:17-19)

Can’t relate to lepers? When I used a voice-recognition program to type the above scripture, it changed “clean” to “lean.” I smile when I imagine ten fat people made lean, a type of healing that’s much more familiar in America today.

Jesus seems to equate gratitude with faith. It’s an act of faith to give thanks as we navigate life’s vicissitudes, which Buddha identified as pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and dispute.

I’m grateful for the chance to try to walk the Middle Way with an attitude of gratitude this Thanksgiving Day. I also thank the people who build community by reading and commenting on this blog.

My two favorite resources on Buddhism are Insight Meditation by Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein and Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg.

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