Along with our Fall 2011 issue, online and on newsstands now, Tricycle is celebrating 20 years by releasing an e-book—free to download for all Supporting and Sustaining Members of the Tricycle Community20 Years, 20 Teachings.

Our feeling as we reflect on 20 amazing years is one of deepest gratitude to our contributors, readers, and supporters. Without you, there would be no Tricycle. We thank you, reader, practitioner, friend, for the gift of these twenty years!

Today our longtime friend Kenneth Kraft, Professor of Buddhist Studies at Lehigh University, joins Mark Matousek and Dairyu Michael Wenger, in graciously sharing with us his reflections on gratitude.

Towards a Grateful Society

Gratitude unfolds in unusual ways. The Dalai Lama goes so far as to thank those who have occupied his country for more than half a century. “I am very grateful to the Chinese for giving me this opportunity,” he says. “The enemy is very important. The enemy teaches you inner strength.” Even in the face of overwhelming adversity, he adheres to a time-honored principle: Be grateful to everyone.    

In Japan, gratitude serves as a social lubricant. Bowing is a highly nuanced form of interaction. The most common Japanese word for “thank you” (sumimasen) also means “I’m sorry” and “excuse me.” Repeated throughout the day, it covers all bases. Joseph Campbell once remarked that “religion as gratefulness has permeated Japan.”

Ladakh, a Tibet-like region at the northern tip of India, offers another example of society-level gratitude. Living there in the 1970s, Helena Norberg-Hodge concluded that the Ladakhis’ remarkable joie de vivre could only come from a deep appreciation of life. “During the middle of the harvest,” she wrote, “it can snow or rain, ruining the barley and wheat that have been cultivated with such care for many months. And yet people remain completely unperturbed, often joking about their predicament.”

We can learn from these precedents. Admittedly, Ladakh is agrarian, Japan staunchly hierarchical. Both are easily romanticized. Nonetheless, they are reminders that all kinds of alternative arrangements are possible and worth exploring. Here gratitude becomes shorthand for the attributes of a desirable society.

Tricycle’s twentieth anniversary suggests a coming of age. In the past twenty years, all the practice centers, sitting groups, stress-reduction clinics, activist organizations, conferences, books, journals, online ventures, and academic programs have engendered something greater than the sum of the parts. It’s beginning to look like a subculture of awakening.

Engaged Buddhists in Sri Lanka coined an apropos word—sarvodaya—by combining udaya (awakening) and sarva (all). Acceptable translations include “all awaken together,” “the awakening of everyone,” “waking everybody up.” In a similar spirit the Dalai Lama says, “Without the support of our fellow beings, we could not practice at all; and without a concern for their welfare, our practice has little meaning.” Our debt to one another has no ceiling.

As long as the kalpa does not end prematurely, it appears that Buddhism will continue to penetrate mainstream culture (for starters, it’s needed). There is no harm in aiming high. David Loy looks forward to a “grassroots transformation of consciousness.” Thanissaro Bhikkhu envisions an “atmosphere where mutual compassion and concern are the medium of exchange, and purity of heart the bottom line.” The work of implementing these ideals will be new Buddhism and old Buddhism and beyond Buddhism, simultaneously.

The Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra, translated into Chinese between 250 C.E. and 400 C.E., includes the following passage:

People of the world! Parents, children, siblings, husbands, wives, close and distant relatives! Respect and love one another. Do not hate one another. Do not feel envy towards one another. Let those who have share with those who do not have. Do not give in to greed and avarice. Be always kind in speech and manner. Do not offend or hurt one another.

What else is there, after all, to which we might aspire?

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