Let’s Not Be Thankful, Not Today or Any Day
Let’s Be Contemplative
In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared a three-day late autumn feast to celebrate the success of the harvest. They had prayed for a good harvest and when they got what they wanted, they celebrated. In 1863 Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, institutionalizing the idea that getting what we want is cause for celebration.
This was a very Puritan religious idea: seeking happiness from externals It is not a very Buddhist idea. In fact, Buddhism posits exactly the opposite idea. It sees greed, the unrelenting desire for more, as one of the three poisons (anger and delusion are the other two), not as a cause for celebration. Being thankful for getting what we want misses the whole point of our practice, which is to be selfless, present, caring and generous, which is to do our best in each moment and to allow our happiness, our Buddhanature, to arise from within.
So today, rather than giving thanks, consider spending some time reflecting on the Five Contemplations which have, for thousands of years, been recited by followers of the Buddha before meals.
The Five Contemplations
- I contemplate how much positive potential I have accumulated in order to receive this food.
- I contemplate my own practice (of generosity, moral rectitude, compassion, patience), constantly trying to improve it.
- I contemplate my mind, cautiously guarding it from wrongdoing, greed, and other defilements.
- I contemplate this food, treating it as wondrous medicine to nourish my body.
- I contemplate the aim of our practice, accepting and consuming this food in order to accomplish it.
Getting Started with a Contemplative of The Five Contemplations
Sit in the traditional meditation posture and follow your breathe for 5 to 10 minutes, then start thinking about each of the key phrases in the Five Contemplations. After about half an hour of contemplate, go back to your breathe for another 5 to 10 minutes. Here are some notes to get you started.
Positive potential: Consider how mindful and morally disciplined you have been; consider what “mindful” and “morally disciplined” each mean and their relationship to each other.
My own practice: Consider what generosity, discipline, compassion and patience mean to you in the context of your practice, how much of each you exhibit in your daily life, and if you apply these with a sense of equanimity.
My mind: Contemplate mindfulness of mind, one of the four foundations of mindfulness, in relation to guarding against wrongdoings, and also how right effort applies here.
This food: Consider the interconnectedness of all phenomena that can be seen in food and its sustenance, and the moral implications of interconnectedness for you and your family and ultimately the planet and universe.
Aim of our practice: Consider the point of a Buddhist practice, what your aim is in following the path, and its implications for the future.
After half an hour or so of contemplation, return to your breath and follow it for another 5 to 10 minutes.