Giving Thanks

With the arrival of the Thanksgiving celebration, another holiday season has officially kicked off. It is amazing how the commercials pivot so deftly from alarmist and adversarial political commercials to cheerful and lively holiday productions, seeking to convince people that buying goodies offered at mega discount prices can make us happy, like a soothing salve to help us forget the problems of the world.

Gratitude and appreciation are not exclusive to one day in a year. This Thanksgiving holiday isn’t just a time-honored tradition for family gatherings, but it can also serve as a reminder to be kind toward one another and extend help to those less fortunate, regardless of our personal feelings, history and social and political inclinations.

There is much to be thankful for, even while we experience challenges and difficulties. There is reason to be thankful for our families, loved ones, health, jobs and security. We can feel thankful that we have the freedom to practice our faith without fear of persecution. There is opportunity for thanks for having a place to pray in and access to centers and homes where individuals can gather to express faith and to channel Johrei. As we feel sorrow for the loss experienced by others, we are also humbled and grateful for having been spared the devastating purifications that our neighbors and other communities have experienced.

Lately, it seems that this country has been assailed by purifications on so many levels. Here in the west, people have lost their loved ones, homes, places of worship, community centers, businesses, pets and livestock. Just a year ago, wildfires devastated entire neighborhoods and many lives were lost. This time around, the devastation is even greater. The footage of destroyed property and reports about the many lives lost and missing family members seem to make the suffering more personal.

Often, each purification seems to stir up yet another, like an experiment in the Law of Attraction gone abysmally negative. One destructive wildfire erupted around the same vicinity where a mass attack had taken place just a day before.

Reflecting on the reason for such events, it is difficult to determine where the fault lies. It may even be futile to spend one’s energy in seeking blame. In our faith practice, we contemplate the spiritual laws of affinity, cause and effect, purification and spiritual cords. Such interpretations may provide a little solace and understanding, encouraging us toward future choices that may shield us from negative outcomes, even if they may not guarantee 100% protection.

Purifications is not an easy subject to address. One worldview is that disasters, accidents and bad things could happen to anyone and that a divine intelligence has little participation in the matter. Another perspective is that everything happens for a reason and that a “cause and effect” mechanism governs such occurrences. Regardless of the perspective we may subscribe to and unless someone is utterly devoid of compassion and empathy, there is a universal reaction that wells up when we witness the suffering of others.

This reaction should act like a catalyst to motivate and encourage people to reach out. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant authored a principle which is referred to as The Categorical Imperative. It is like a golden rule which urges a person to act, as he or she would want all people to act, towards all other people. It is about doing something, no matter who you are or what you want, because the act is good in itself; it is non-conditional and justified as an end in itself. It doesn’t urge us what to do on the assumption that we want to achieve a particular goal, e.g. being admired, rewarded, finding happiness or to escape a certain fate.

In these recent disasters, we witnessed many examples of this golden rule in strangers helping neighbors, people of different beliefs, political persuasions, economic status and race, reaching out to assist one another. We see this manifest in people who offer support and help to the helpless and infirm seeking shelter and safety at our borders. It would be a positive shift in consciousness if such actions were not just exclusive to major disasters but instead, become a common occurrence, like an organic universal law.

In The Secret to Happiness, Meishu-sama wrote about the process of finding joy through bringing joy to others. The phrase is easy to repeat – “to be happy, make others happy.” We may assume that the rules are conditional and specific, just to achieve a specific goal, but he also encourages us to think beyond a narrow worldview. This Teaching is similar to the fundamental Buddhist principle of The Right View of Life. It helps us understand suffering (or unhappiness) and its causes and how to reduce and eliminate it. It extends to finding solutions to our problems in terms of the relationship of cause and effect and that our choices will determine our future in this lifetime as well as our future lives, for those who believe in the cosmic cycle of birth and rebirth. It helps us realize that our choices affect not only ourselves but also the lives of others.

In recent days, the spirit of fire the west coast has finally receded, while the seasonal change has now brought cold weather toward the east. This is the cycle of nature. The ending of the year provides opportunity to think about the months past. To be grateful for things we have experienced and received, to reflect on challenges and accept our losses and to try to be forgiving toward others.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Johrei Fellowship NHQ November 2018