Gratitude is the realization that we are neither independent nor self-sufficient, but part of an extraordinary continuum of events and beings, and the celebration of our mutually supportive connections.
The understanding of dependent origination explains that everything in this world arises from and is supported by its environment. Everything and everyone is connected. There is no one, therefore, who does not owe a debt of gratitude to others. In this sense, gratitude may be described as our awareness that our lives are supported by our environment, which includes all sentient beings, and our desire to respond in kind to such support.
Those who are ungrateful or feel burdened by others’ kindness fail to see the interconnectedness of all lives. They build walls of ignorance and selfishness around them to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. The causes of ungratefulness are four: (1) failure to recognize a benefit, (2) taking benefits for granted, (3) self-absorption, and (4) forgetfulness.
Gratitude is an intrinsic aspect of Buddha Nature. By cultivating gratitude, we come closer to manifesting our Buddha Nature. Cultivation uncovers the gratitude that is already present in us, rather than creating it anew. The means of cultivating gratitude are many, but they all begin with respect for our own and others’ Buddha Nature.
The more we trust our Buddha Nature and live by its prompting, the more gratitude we feel. Sometimes gratitude is felt deeply, while at other times we may not consciously be aware of it. When our lives are rooted in Buddha Nature, then gratitude is never far away. It is a confirmation that we are on the spiritual path.
To awaken the desire for universal enlightenment (bodhichitta) is the highest form of gratitude. It is virtuous to offer the merit of one’s efforts for the benefit of all beings, to cultivate gratitude to our Teachers, and to recognize how much we are given in this life. Every day to devote our lives to the benefit of all beings releases us from suffering. The way of the Bodhisattva is to dedicate all merit to others, so that they may realize and manifest Buddha Nature.