By Rev. Ken Yamada
Some people dread the upcoming holidays and resent time spent with family, when tensions may run high. Others enjoy time with loved ones and look forward to sharing a meal. Personally, I think Thanksgiving Day is the perfect Buddhist holiday.
Think about it: A tradition of getting together with family and friends to share a meal on a day called “Thanksgiving.” In Jodo Shinshu, we’d probably call it “Gratitude” day.
It’s a rare chance for everyone to meet in one place, expressed by the Japanese phrase “Ichi-go, ichi-e,” meaning “one time, one meeting.” The Buddha taught this world and our lives are impermanent so we never know if we’ll meet again. If we are aware of this truth, how could we not treasure the moment?
In meeting family members, we are reminded of the karmic connections and conditions that link us together like the “Golden Chain,” which our Dharma school kids recite. Shinran Shonin told us in the Tannisho: “We come together when conditions bring us to meet and part when conditions separate us.” If we truly understand this truth, how could we not treasure our loved ones?
When we sit before a bountiful meal, typically of turkey, stuffing, vegetables, potatoes, yams, salad, pumpkin pie or whatever it may be, we see how the earth, the sun, the wind, and the rain, also animals and plants, as well as farmers, ranchers, laborers, truck drivers, store clerks and countless others, have come together to bring us food that nourish and keep us alive. In Jodo Shinshu we might call this dynamic Great Compassion, while Higashi Honganji teacher Manshi Kiyozawa liked to say “Power beyond Self.” If we realize this truth—which exposes the limits of our own power—how could we not be thankful?
If we could truly appreciate our karmic conditions, our family and friends, our food, the innumerable links to everything and everyone around us, this moment we share, this Power beyond Self, this Great Compassion, how could we not put our hands together in gassho and say, “Namu Amida Butsu”?
So you see, Thanksgiving Day really is a Buddhist holiday. Please treasure this special day.
Rev. Yamada is editor at Shinshu Center of America.