Friday, January 19, 2007


I was reading Thich Nhat Hanh's book "Living Buddha, Living Christ" when I came across this short story...

"During a conference on religion and peace, a Protestant minister came up to me toward the end of one of our meals together and said, 'Are you a grateful person?' I was surprised. I was eating slowly, and I thought to myself, Yes, I am a grateful person. The minister continued, 'If you are really grateful, how can you not believe in God? God has created everything we enjoy, including the food we eat. Since you do not believe in God, you are not grateful for anything.' I thought to myself, I feel extremely grateful for everything. Every time I touch food, whenever I see a flower, when I breathe fresh air, I always feel grateful. Why would he say that I am not?"

This reminded me of the trick questions the lawyers would ask Jesus. For example when Jesus was teaching that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, He was asked who is our neighbor by an expert in the law. Jesus "answered" with the story of the good Samaritan who aided the beaten traveler when the Levite and the Priest passed him by while he lay on the road, followed by the question, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, the Samaritan was not to be associated with and was seen as an "undesirable." To consider a Samaritan as one's neighbor would be unthinkable. This story has always brought a smile to my face when I imagined the expert in the law trying to figure out how to answer Jesus. What's interesting is that his answer never said the word Samaritan. The lawyer answered, "The one who had mercy on him." Kind of an early example of spin.

Thich Nhat Hanh doesn't have a clever story, but reveals his source of gratitude in a very beautiful way.

"Contemplating our food before eating in mindfulness can be a real source of happiness. Every time I hold a bowl of rice, I know how fortunate I am. I know that forty thousand children die every day because of the lack of food and that many people are lonely, without friends or family. I visualize them and feel deep compassion."

My own gratitude has come from knowing the suffering of loneliness. When I remember what it was like to be alone, I find great joy and gratitude to be with my wife and sons. When I am able to be a part of another's healing process and I observe the suffering they have gone through, I am grateful for the ease of my pathway compared to what they have gone through.

My guess is that when Jesus told the expert in the law to "go and do likewise," it wasn't only for the benefit of those he might help, but it may have been more for the lawyer himself. For, the gift of gratitude is happiness.

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