Martin on #Gratitude (Living #Buddhism, Study Material for Discussion Meeting, May)

17 May

The Benefits of Practicing Gratitude
How this simple act can produce pride, self-esteem and even the will to go on living.

Living Buddhism
Living Buddhism sat down with SGI-USA Study Department Men’s Leader Greg Martin to discuss the benefits of practicing gratitude.
Living Buddhism: In America today, it could be said that never before have so many had so much and appreciated it so little. On social media, the hashtag #FWP, or “first world problems,” refers to tweets from people unnerved by seemingly trivial matters such as their masseuse being too busy to see them that day or their swimming pool being too cold. What’s missing here?
Greg Martin, SGI-USA study department men’s leader: I believe gratitude is missing. Several years ago, I had reached an impasse with a family member. I felt that this person wasn’t treating me with the type of “respect” I deserved, and I became increasingly frustrated and angry by our interactions. I searched SGI President Ikeda’s articles and was surprised to find a very simple antidote to my suffering. President Ikeda writes:
Appreciation is what makes people truly human. The Japanese word for thankful ( arigatai) originally indicated a rare or unusual condition, and later came to denote a sense of joyful appreciation at an uncommon occurrence.
Having a spirit of appreciation for someone from whose actions we benefit, a sense that “this is the rarest and noblest thing,” produces in our hearts a feeling of pride and self-esteem: “I am worthy of receiving such goodness.” It provides us with spiritual support to go on living. ( Learning From the Gosho: The Eternal Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 28)
The idea that I could produce self-confidence and self-esteem through being more appreciative was a revelation.
The “spiritual support to go on living”—this is a powerful assertion. How did practicing appreciation change your own perspective?
Greg: I realized that most of my frustration wasn’t about the other person; it was about me. The “respect” that I wanted was due to my own lack of self-respect. So, I began actively expressing my appreciation. Interestingly, I became less angry and frustrated, and I started to feel better not only about our relationship but also about myself. I realized that my lack of self-esteem and self-worth were symptoms of a deeper issue: ingratitude.
More scientific research is validating your experience—that practicing gratitude has great mental and physical benefits.
Greg: Yes, a University of California, Davis professor found that people who live with an “attitude of gratitude” experience improved emotional and physical health, with stronger relationships and communities. And the University of California, Berkeley now operates a center dedicated to studying the psychology, sociology and neuroscience of well-being, which is rooted in the practice of gratitude. Anecdotally, I read an article about a woman who began keeping a gratitude journal after her father passed away. Within months, she began sleeping better and restoring broken relationships. Scientific research is confirming what President Ikeda says: You can produce pride, self-esteem and spiritual strength through being more grateful.
Nichiren Buddhism goes a level deeper by teaching that to repay our debts of gratitude is what makes us truly human. Would it be safe to say that this notion is misinterpreted in modern society?
Greg: In today’s society, repaying our debts of gratitude is often seen as a zero-sum equation. Say, for instance, that you give me a gift for my birthday. We’ll be “even,” so to speak, when I give you a gift in return. The problem with understanding appreciation as a mathematical
equation is that the logic collapses when we consider the more important things in life. How do we repay the gift of life we received from our parents? How do we repay the gifts we receive from our Buddhist practice, which offers the greatest path to happiness and enlightenment? How do we repay our mentor who taught us how to gain the most from this practice? These gifts are priceless.
What constitutes repaying debts of gratitude in Nichiren Buddhism?
Greg: In Nichiren Buddhism, repaying debts of gratitude begins with recognizing the interconnectedness of all life. A key theme in Nichiren Daishonin’s writings is recognizing his own debt of gratitude to his mother and father. He also offers a broader perspective based on the eternity of life, saying:
If you stop to consider, you will realize that, at one time or another in the past, all men have been your father and all women, your mother. Thus, in the course of all the many lifetimes and existences you have lived through, you have come to owe a debt of gratitude to all living beings. And since this is so, you should help all of them to attain Buddhahood. (“The Four Virtues and the Four Debts of Gratitude,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 637)
When we live with the determination to repay our debts of gratitude, we will come to naturally share the Mystic Law with many others, based on our boundless appreciation for all those who have helped us become who we are today.
What happens when you live consciously in this way?
Greg: I recently heard an experience from a 30-year SGI-USA member. She was battling depression and at a breaking point in her marriage, feeling divorce was the only available option. After receiving encouragement in faith, she began chanting seriously to the Gohonzon to self-reflect on what she needed to change within her own life.
Once she turned her attention to her own human revolution, she realized that the problems she was experiencing were a reflection of her own issues with self-esteem, with always feeling less than others. As she came to realize what she needed to work on, she also gained a sense of appreciation for how patiently her husband had been supporting her over the years. When she began actively expressing her appreciation to her family, she began feeling differently about herself. This fueled a process of total transformation for her and her family.
So, rather than looking at repaying debts of gratitude as a ledger, would you say it is a spirit, a way of life that s grounded in our richest possible humanity?
Greg: Yes. President Ikeda expresses this sentiment perfectly in the following guidance:
What makes a person great? Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda said: “True greatness means that, even if you forget what you’ve done for others, you never forget what others have done for you and always do your utmost to repay your debts of gratitude. Therein shines the light of Buddhism. Such people radiate integrity, depth of character, bigheartedness and charm.” Even if you forget what you’ve done for others, never forget what others have done for you— these are very profound words. (November 25, 2005, World Tribune, p. 2)
We talk about the importance of gratitude, but the benefits of practicing gratitude are enormous, too. As President Ikeda said, expressing appreciation to others gives us a sense of pride and self-esteem, and even the will to go on living. Those are compelling reasons to begin practicing gratitude—and ones that we can produce on demand.

Copyright SGI-USA 2015

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