The Circle of Gratitude
Every New Year’s Eve at Shumei America’s National Center in Pasadena, we have a fire ceremony in the courtyard before the clock strikes midnight.This fire ceremony is designed to purify us before entering the New Year. Years ago, when we first started this tradition, we tried to imitate the fire ceremony held on New Years Eve in Misono, Shumei’s international headquarters in Japan. However, now we have developed our own style of this observance, which includes a sage burning purification ritual, live music, and group meditation. It is a very good way to welcome the New Year and it is becoming one of our more popular events. If you have never attended this event, please come experience it for yourself at the turn of this year.
Everyone seems to be talking about the Mayan calendar and the significance it holds for the year 2012. Coincidentally, there will be many important events happening within our Shumei community this year. Within nature as well as within human civilization, many crises are occurring, and things will probably get worse before they get better. We live in very exciting times. About this time, Meishusama stated, “At the time of the world’s transformation, disaster will arrive in concert with joy.”
Wherever we look, the world has been undergoing great transformations: economically, environmentally, politically, socially, morally, and for each of us personally. Everywhere around us, changes are happening. Can we handle great change? Are we ready for 2012? If not, then I have one simple practice to recommend to you for making this year’s journey easier. It is The Circle of Gratitude. It applies to all of us. Gratitude is universal. I am sure even the angels practice gratitude.
Let us read Meishusama’s teaching entitled, You Are What You Think. It is the shortest teaching found in “The Essential Teachings of Meishusama” and I like this teaching very much. It has helped me a great deal throughout the years. This teaching changed my life.
Gratitude breeds gratitude; discontent spawns discontent. This is the truth. For a grateful heart rises straight to God while a discontented heart finds only the evil spirits of hell. Because of this, people whose hearts are ever grateful are naturally fortunate and happy, but people who are discontented or who grumble are unfortunate and miserable. This is a fact.
In the Oomoto teachings there is the following saying: “Be joyful and joy will come unto you.” These are words of truth and wisdom.
What this teaching tells us is that by being grateful, you become luckier and more good things will come to you.
I would like to share a wonderful story that is one of my favorites. It is about Linda Tan. She is now in her late twenties and is a very successful businesswoman in New York City. She is also the Youth Group Leader of our New York Center. Their youth taiko group, called OMNY Taiko, was created because of her passionate dedication to this art form. Today she is a success by most people’s standards. However, when she was around ten years old, her life was a different story. She did not have a good self–image. She was a little overweight and her school grades were not so great. Her parents were always comparing her to her cousins who were doing better than her. On top of that, she also lost her best friend who had been with her for a long time. Her weight, her grades, her parents, and her lost friendship all made her miserable. She felt like a complete loser.
Then one day, she happened to be in the New York Center during one of their monthly Sampais. She had been playing with the kids in the back of the Center when she heard the sensei talking about gratitude. She found herself intrigued by the sensei’s words. So, she stopped playing and went to the sanctuary to listen. And she got the message: gratitude will make her life better. She then decided to practice being grateful in her daily life. Every day she tried to find something to be thankful for. Surprisingly, she was able to find many things worth her appreciation. She had good parents who provided her with food, clothing, shelter, and an education. Every day she tried to fill herself with gratitude. Soon she started seeing positive changes in her life. She made a new friend, who remains her best friend to this day. Her grades started going up, she was able to enter a good college, and she got a good job. Today, whenever she travels great distances, she flies business class—that is better than I do! She provides strong support for her entire family both financially and emotionally. Gradually she has become happier and even more grateful. Gratitude kept attracting many wonderful things to her, which then made her more grateful.
Linda is definitely living within a Circle of Gratitude.
The opposite of living within a circle of gratitude is living within a vicious circle. One who complains constantly emits bad feelings, creates an unfortunate environment, and so attracts bad luck. Greed drives people on an endless pursuit of material wealth and pleasure. Such people always want more. No matter how much they get, they are never satisfied. Buddhists call them hungry ghosts. No matter how much they eat, they are still hungry.
Last year’s disaster in Japan was a wake–up call for all of us to reevaluate how we live our lives. Most of us do not need more food, clothing, and shelter. We need to recognize when we have enough and learn to appreciate what we already have. That is the key to happiness. We need to think of our children and their future instead of only ourselves. We should not sacrifice our children and their future for momentary luxuries. We must find an alternative energy source instead of deadly nuclear power. We must stop depleting and killing our soil with toxic chemicals to force it to produce larger harvests. We must alter our lifestyle to become more sustainable.
The Circle of Gratitude is the essence of Shumei’s Natural Agriculture. When farmers grow and harvest vegetables, they give gratitude to the Divine, to the sun, the moon, the water, the soil, and the seeds. Then consumers purchase these vegetables with gratitude toward the farmers and to nature. People eat these foods with gratitude to the farmers and the people who prepared their meal. And if the plants and soil could talk, I am sure they would express gratitude to the farmers for watering and caring for them. This energy of gratitude circulates and makes the vegetables spiritually rich and the people happy and healthy.
The real essence of food is spiritual energy. And this spiritual energy comes from the Divine, from nature, and from people’s gratitude. Meishusama said, “For a grateful heart rises straight to God while a discontented heart finds only the evil spirits of Hell.” A grateful heart can help connect us to God. Without gratitude, no matter how much Natural Agriculture produce you eat, you will not receive much spiritual energy. Without gratitude, no matter how much Jyorei you receive, it will not be enough. Gratitude is a powerful force that makes everything come alive. Life does not seem difficult when you are grateful.
When Shumei’s president, Kaicho–Sensei Hiroko Koyama, speaks to new members at the New Members gathering in Misono, she always emphasizes two lessons: Gratitude and Love for Others. When things are going well, it is easy to be grateful. How about when things are going badly? Can we be grateful then? This is one of our biggest challenges.
Long ago, I was not a very grateful person. However, after many years of practice, I have gotten to the place where I can always be grateful even when things do not go well. This is how I now think: “Well, I don’t understand why these bad things are happening to me now, but there must be some reason for them. Maybe I will be able to understand it later. Until then, let me say ‘Thank you, Meishusama.’” By repeating “Thank you Meishusama” many times, I usually begin to feel better.
God can sometimes feel distant and impersonal, whereas Meishusama always feels close to my heart. I do not know what God looks like but I do know what Meishusama looks like. I believe he is watching over me from somewhere high up in the spiritual world. Meishusama is very real to me. I feel God is working through him to benefit all creation. And I feel Meishusama cares deeply about me and everyone else. at is why I pray to Meishusama, and that is why I express gratitude to him.
You may prefer to pray to Jesus or Mary or Buddha or Krishna or some other saint or holy person. Whatever your belief, you will still benefit from feeling gratitude. through gratitude, we receive Divine Light. It was by cultivating gratitude that my own life was transformed.
It is especially good to practice gratitude every day. Remember Linda Tan. Do you chant every day? I encourage you to do so. Ideally, you should chant twice daily. Before you sleep, fill yourself with gratitude. First thing in the morning when you wake up, chant. Daily chanting is a way of saying thank you, not a way of asking for favors. It is a way to thank the Divine, to thank the people in your life, to thank nature, and to give thanks for whatever arises in your daily life. It is easy to say, but it is difficult to do it every day.
No matter how many years you have been giving Jyorei and participating in Shumei events, if you do not practice gratitude in your every day life, you are missing something very important. If you have not already, this is a good year to begin being grateful and giving gratitude for all you have. If you make a commitment this new year to be more grateful, I guarantee that one day you will look back at this new year and say, “My life has changed.”
The key to happiness and success is gratitude.