Four lay and monastic practitioners in Plum Village tell us about their practice of gratitude and how it helps them in daily life and their relationship with others.
On Gratitude Itself
Mick: Gratitude can be a source of our joy. For me, I have directly experienced that. I love how the practice of gratitude has gone mainstream. I hear a lot about people keeping gratitude journals. In my experience when I practice gratitude I become happier as a direct result. It makes me happy to think of all those humans who I hope also cultivate happiness by contemplating their gratitude journals each day.
Zoe: My deep gratitude goes to my spiritual teachers and here in Plum Village to the Sangha, because it’s what allows me actually to see myself and to actually be able to understand what gratitude is. To go deeper into myself and water the seed of love, of understanding. Without the help of the Sangha, without the insight of some of my teachers, I could not walk this path and be the person I am today. The more gratitude I have, the more gratitude grows within me. So it’s actually an interaction between me and the Sangha, between my teachers and I. It’s a flow. It’s a give and receive.
Brother Thien Hoa: Some months ago a sister shared with us, “as long as you have gratitude, you have happiness”. I could see that she really meant it, that she lived it. Through her, I could feel how deep the practice of gratitude could go.
I think in the past I’ve seen gratitude as something helpful and important to practice, but relatively small and limited. Like brushing my teeth- important, but just a small piece of the picture. Lately, I feel like gratitude is simple but it can also be something immense. I feel there are no limits to the space it can open up in my heart. In the words that speak to my heart, I would say that when I am living with gratitude, I am going through life holding God’s hand. For me, that means: all of life is right here, complete and perfect already. I don’t need to fear any more. I don’t need to run. I don’t need to chase or seek after anything whatsoever. In this very moment, I have enough, and I am enough. When I can see that- when I can be in touch with that even a little bit- it changes everything.
Sister Trang Giac Minh: This practice has helped me to realize how much love and support my parents have given me. Even though my family is not rich materially, I have never felt lacking in anything. I feel very lucky to be my parents’ daughter. They have given me so much love, opened the door for me to practice the Buddha’s Teachings, and supported me to become a monastic.
Zoe: I think my deepest gratitude is towards my parents. I can feel and understand how much they’ve given me as a child and during my life, even when I couldn’t see it or didn’t understand it. Now, I can see that they’ve actually offered me in a very safe environment as a child. I was very free to do what I liked to do, and they would support me in their own way.
Thanks to the practice, I can feel that when I go home, that my relationship towards them has changed and I can now sit for two hours just speaking with my mom, which is something I couldn’t do when I was a teenager at all. I can feel that through gratitude, I now have more respect and understanding for them. Gratitude is actually a consequence of understanding. Through this understanding of my parents and what they sacrificed for me in their life, I found they could open themselves to me much easier, and I could also share more with them because I now understand how well they know me as a baby, as a child, as a teenager. They might sometimes know me better than I know myself!
[For some people, it might be very difficult to feel gratitude towards parents. If that is the case it might be more appropriate to practice gratitude towards another caregiver or person who has supported you.]
Nature and all beings
Sister Trang Giac Minh: The beauty of nature is a source of my gratitude. I grew up in a big city and rarely saw an open sky at dusk, except as images on a screen. When I first arrived in Plum Village five years ago, I started to be in touch directly with such beauty of mother earth and it led me to feel grateful for my two eyes.
During walking meditation, I have a chance to enjoy the songs offered by the birds, and the beauty and presence of the trees. Every day, I can savor meals cooked by the sisters. These are also gifts from the earth, sky, numerous living beings and much hard, loving work. There are so many simple things that I feel grateful for, such as a smile. When I see someone smiling at me, I feel grateful towards them because sometimes, just a smile is enough to lift me out of my dark thoughts and be in touch with the wonders of life.
Mick: One practice that a friend recommended to me was to start a journal reflecting on my experiences with the natural world. Here in Plum Village, I am spoiled by the wild nature. Writing and reflecting upon my daily interactions with the more than human beings that I share this land with fills my bowl with a jumbo portion of gratitude. My encounters with the families of wild boar, buzzard and kestrel, lizards and snakes, forests and streams nourish my sense of gratitude in every encounter and help me touch the truth of interbeing and non self. I give thanks to life.
As dusk arrives I look up to the sky and touch the beauty of mother earth. My heart fills with gratitude. Life, so wonderful! Breathing in, a smile blooms. Recognizing the support and love from parents, teachers, friends and all beings, I smile and bow my head to express my deepest gratitude.By Sister Trang Giac Minh
[In Plum Village, we also have a practice of connecting with the “Four Gratitudes”. We touch the earth in gratitude to our parents who have given us life; to our teachers who have shown us the way to understand, love, and live deeply the present moment; to our friends who guide and support us in difficult moments and to all beings in the animal, plant, and mineral worlds.]
Sister Trang Giac Minh: I am the youngest member of my blood family, so I rarely had to do anything by myself. It was my biggest difficulty in my earlier years living in the sangha. I had to learn how to do household things, physical work, to live with 60 sisters, and deal with the conflicts that arose due to my lack of understanding. What helped me was the practice and support from the sisters who I see as spiritual friends. With their guidance, I slowly cultivated compassion for myself and others, and could accept and face the difficulties. I feel grateful for my spiritual friends who are always ready to support and guide me in difficult times.
Zoe: So this year we’re happy to be about 20 long-terms staying for the rain retreats in Lower Hamlet. I feel very happy and very grateful because many have given their time and space, to come here to Plum Village to practice. We are mostly young people who are very motivated, and have many ideas. I feel personally very close to them because most of them are looking for honesty. We gather here because we want to deepen our practice, we want to go deeper in our understanding of our suffering. There is a lot of care for each other among the long-terms, a lot of support as well that arose very naturally. And it’s in the doing of little things, like we know if someone’s sick, just bringing them food and people can already feel they are supported. These small things created a very warm and welcoming group. After this rain retreat many of our long-terms, want to stay for longer or come back next summer. It is a great joy and happiness that we won’t be saying goodbye and that we can welcome them back any time.
Mick: The web of human connections that I experience in my life is also a deep source of my gratitude. I am lucky to have a loving family, a loving partner and I live here in Plum Village amongst my Beloved Community. When I contemplate the conditions that I have here living in Plum Village, I don’t have to struggle for things to be grateful for. I have access to the teachings of the Dharma from so many of my spiritual siblings every day alongside infinite opportunities to practice together. So-much-gratitude! In this rich life I am able to serve my Sangha here as I earn my simple livelihood caring for our Happy Farm and our wild lands around the Village, whilst all also looking after all those beautiful humans who come to participate in this meaningful practice and service in this time of climate and ecological emergencies.
In Daily Life
Zoe: Gratitude for my teachers is my favorite practice wherever I go, whatever I do. If I feel bad or if I feel sad, even if I feel happy. I offer everything to the Sangha and to my teachers. And even when I clean the floor, I think of them. Cleaning the floor is a sign of gratitude to others. When I help someone, I do it for the Sangha and my teachers and all this is gratitude in action. I try to practice through my actions, through my words, everything I do for others is an offering of gratitude. I think this is my deepest practice.
Brother Thien Hoa: For me, the basic practice of gratitude is to recognize what is present in this moment and smile to it. It has come from countless conditions and here it is supporting my existence, helping to make it meaningful and beautiful, and supporting me to continue on this path so I can offer that gratitude back through my way of living.
Suppose I am about to eat a spoonful of pumpkin. First, I just recognize this is pumpkin or I see in my mind the image of a pumpkin growing on a vine in a farmer’s field. In a split second, I can see the presence of an immense fiery ball called the sun; the rain which has risen from the oceans and fallen from the clouds; and Mother Earth who has been traveling though space offering miracles and beauty for a very long time. If any of these things were not there- or the food delivery truck driver, the donors who generously support us, my brothers and sisters who gave their time and care to cook the meal- then this pumpkin would not be on my spoon right now. If there were no food for me to eat, for the community to eat, we could not continue very long at all. We would not have this chance to learn to live and train together like this to develop our understanding and love and to be a refuge for many, many people.
When I really connect, then the gratitude is very powerful because it’s not an idea- it’s like a direct communication between my heart and all of life.