The Four Debts of Gratitude

This painting depicts the Buddha taking care o...

Wow! Somewhere along my way while traveling for three plus weeks, I lost my blogging momentum.  I am happy to be back, and am looking forward to getting my blogging groove going once again.

My focus for this week’s encouragement is gratitude.  Over the past week I have experienced a surge of gratitude and feeling of appreciation in my life.  In the past, I am guilty of focusing so much more on what I don’t have that I neglected to see and appreciate the wonderful gems shining before my eyes.  This behavior also kept me from experiencing happiness and living in the present.  Being so focused on my have-nots and comparing myself to others, I was unable to live in the present moment and enjoy all the goodness that was happening around me.  I was unable to appreciate.  Looking back, I see how sad of an existence this was and how many opportunities I missed out on.   Prior to this realization, I was ignorant to what I was doing to myself.  All I knew was that I was not happy and I wanted to change.  Just before my three-week hiatus and with the help and guidance of a good friend and fellow Buddhist, I began to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for what I no longer wanted to see in my life, and at the same time I chanted for what I did want.  For example, one thing I subjected myself to way too often was criticism.  I was constantly criticizing myself, and I was my worst enemy.  So, I chanted to no longer be critical of myself.  I chanted to replace criticism with value and acceptance.  Instead of criticizing my life, I would value and appreciate my life.  I also no longer wanted to be ruled by fear.  So, I chanted to be courageous, capable, and confident.  I also chanted to stop comparing myself to others.  Instead, I chanted to love and accept myself.  I chanted Nam-myho-renge-kyo for over a month with these prayers written on paper and placed at my alter.  As time went by, the wool that covered my eyes fell away.  My heart expanded, and I saw for the first time all that I had criticized in my life were actually gifts waiting to be opened and enjoyed.  Words cannot explain the joy I experienced the moment this realization came to be.

So, in honor of appreciation and its importance in our lives  I give you the four debts of gratitude.

1.  The first debt of gratitude is that owed to all living beings.  In Buddhism, everything and everyone is connected.  Our lives are supported by our environment and other living beings are a part of that environment.  Surely along the way, someone has helped you out in a time of need and in that way relieved some of your suffering.  Therefore, for the kindness and support we have inevitably received from others, we each owe living beings a debt of gratitude.  As an example, I am reminded of the time when my car ran out of gas late in the evening.  I made it to the gas station just before the engine sputtered and gave out only to realize that I left my wallet at work by mistake.  A man and his son, witnessing my distress, handed me a $5 dollar bill with a warm and encouraging smile.  It was more than I needed to get me back to work so I could retrieve my wallet, obtain additional fuel, and arrive home safely.  I am forever indebted to that act of kindness.

2.  The second debt of gratitude is that owed to one’s parents.  This one seems pretty obvious to me.  Our parents are not perfect, but I believe they do the best they can.  They work hard to provide basic necessities, a good education, and raise us into capable people.  I realize that for some folks, childhood may have been difficult or painful.  We may harbor anger towards our parents for one reason or another. But, if we look deep enough we all can find at least one thing to be appreciative for–something our parents did for us that helped us through.  At the very least, we can show our parents gratitude for giving us the gift of life.

3.  The third debt of gratitude is that owed to one’s sovereign.  Let’s face it, this nation and our government do much to ensure our daily survival and comfortable living.  That is not to say that it’s perfect or that improvement in policies are not needed.  However, at the very least we can show a sense of appreciation for the systems that place food on our table, bring warmth into our homes on a cold winters night, running water, lights at night for safety, paved roads, and library services providing free access to literature.  This list could go on and on.  It’s easy to focus on all that is wrong, all that we don’t like, and it’s easy to take services for granted.  It’s harder to realize how well we are provided for, and even harder to then feel a sense of gratitude for all the daily privileges we take advantage of.

4.  The fourth debt of gratitude is that owed to the three treasures, the Buddha, the Law (the Buddha’s teachings), and the Buddhist Order (the community of Buddhist believers).  Here I quote Nichiren: “Concerning the debt owed to the Law, the Law is the teacher of all Buddhas.  It is because of the Law that the Buddhas are worthy of respect.  Therefore, those who wish to repay their debt to the Buddha must first repay the debt they owe to the Law.  As for the debt owed to the Buddhist Order, both the treasure of the Buddha and the treasure of the Law are invariable perpetuated by the Order.  To illustrate, without firewood, there can be no fire, and if there is no earth, trees, and plants cannot grow.  Likewise, even though Buddhism existed, without the members of the Order who studied it and passed it on, it would never have been transmitted throughout the two thousand years of the Former and Middle Days into the Latter Day of the Law.”

So, why is gratitude so important?  “The answer is that it can serve as a springboard to help us overcome our lesser self and the narrow confines of self-interest.”  -Daisku Ikeda

What (or who) is it that you are grateful for today?



  1. Pingback: Grateful thanks to the online sangha | Karma Rinchen Tashi

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