Gratitude and Transferring Merit
by Master Sheng-yen
Like repentance, practicing gratitude and transferring merit are useful for reducing self-centeredness and vexation during retreat and in daily life. When we don't get what we want, it is perhaps because causes and conditions are not ripe or because we lack merit. Reflecting on this, we should feel shame, humility, and repentance. When we receive benefits, no matter what we receive and how much, we should be grateful. But ordinarily when we don't get what we want we resent it, and when things go our way we become arrogant, forgetting those who helped us along the way. We feel self-important and proud, creating more problems for the ego. The first error is resenting those who obstruct us; the second error is not acknowledging the help we receive. These attitudes are the biggest causes of vexation.
The practice of gratitude is of great importance in Mahayana Buddhism. There are four benefactors we should be grateful to: our parents, the Three Jewels, the environment, and all sentient beings. We are grateful to our parents because they gave us this life, and with it we can help ourselves and others. We are grateful to the Three Jewels--Buddha, Dharma, Sangha--because they give us the Buddhadharma, the teachings, and the means to practice it. If our environment is unstable, dangerous, and chaotic, it is difficult to practice, so we are grateful if we live in an environment that is relatively secure. Finally, whatever we receive is due indirectly or directly to the help of other sentient beings. Therefore, we should be grateful to them.
Practicing gratitude keeps us from falling into arrogance, resentment, and ingratitude for what we have. Therefore we need to make giving thanks a part of practice, as well as part of our daily life. To be truly grateful means to acknowledge our benefits by making offerings to our parents, the Three Jewels, our environment, and all sentient beings--not just material offerings, but also our time and energy.
How do we repay our parents? We do this by correcting our shortcomings, changing negative attitudes and behavior, cultivating compassion, and sharing our Dharma wealth with them. How do we repay the Three Jewels? We do this by being good practitioners and by inspiring others to learn about the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. How do we repay the environment? We do this by helping those with influence using the perspectives of Buddhism--compassion, non-violence, and concern for all sentient beings and for the environment--and by helping them to use wisdom in enterprise and government. How do we repay sentient beings? We do this with compassion: cultivate love and protection, and help those we encounter. These are active ways of transferring what we have gained from the Dharma.