According to a story in Puranas (Hindu Mythical Literature), Narada, a great devotee of Lord Vishnu (a Hindu deity) boasted that there was no bigger devotee of the Lord than him. According to the parables, Narada was known to be very mischievous, egotistical, and jealous.
Lord Vishnu smiled and referred to a specific farmer as his most dedicated devotee. Narada was upset, and decided to go and see the farmer and what special thing the farmer was doing that made him Lord Vishnu’s favorite. Narada observed that farmer remembered the God just twice a day, repeating his name in morning before leaving for the fields and again in the evening. Narada was perplexed, and came back to ask Vishnu why the farmer was better, considering he chants Vishnu’s name all day, more than the farmer does. The Lord said, “Before I answer your question, please take this bowl of oil and go around the Earth, but make sure that not a single drop is spilled.”
Narada, after completing his journey, went back to get his question answered. The Lord asked him how many times during his journey did he remember the Lord. Narada said that he was too busy tending the oil and did not think of the Lord. Lord Vishnu smiled and said, “The poor farmer does not forget me even while he deals with his life’s good and bad circumstances, and continues to thanks me twice a day; therefore, he is my biggest devotee.”
The farmer’s authentic, thankful prayer of gratitude opened the door for Lord Vishnu’s grace to shine in his heart and guide him to live in true spirit. Narada, on the other hand, was too attached to the thoughts of heaven and fear of hell, and thanked the Lord with the hope of redemption. Clinging to thoughts of hell or heaven bring suffering and no redemption. Persons like Narada get too attached to one image and one belief system without realizing that whole universe is the higher spirit’s true personality. On the other hand, people like the farmer live both in the world of spirit and flesh with no clinging to any thought salvation. Gratitude leads the way for grace to enter into the lives of people like the farmer.
Unfortunately, most of us live a life without spiritual gratitude. We do not consistently take time to acknowledge and thank for the gifts of heaven. Henry David Thoreau lamented on this attitude by saying, “The gifts of heaven are never quite gratuitous.”
A few centuries before Thoreau, the fifth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Arjan Dev Ji, beautifully expressed human beings’ lack of gratitude in the following hymn:
Daat piyaree visreya daatara
Jaane naheen maran vichara
Vasat parayee ko uth rowey
Karam dharam agla hee khovey
Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Page 676
(The human loves the divine gifts, but forgets the giver
He does not think that his sojourn in this world is short
He constantly laments the gift of fortune to others
In the process he loses (the chance) for good deeds)
In the above hymn, the Guru stresses that life without gratitude leads one to jealousy and grasping. The person gets attached to the illusion that other people are more fortunate than him. This, in my opinion, starts the process of a mindless game of addictive competition and an exercise to somehow control the events of the future by attempting to relentlessly prepare for it and stay ahead of others. The person forgets that the future is veiled and it reveals itself only when future turns into present and the results in most cases are different than anticipated. This facile optimism of controlling the future comes from attachment to material wealth with no room for growth of spirit through prayers of gratitude. This attitude prevents the higher power’s rays of grace to penetrate the dark layers of ignorance covering our souls and shine a new light into our lives.
A person is not a thing or process, but an opening through which the absolute can manifest
That opening is grace which has many faces. Some of the faces of grace are benevolence, joy and mercy, but often it comes as a challenge, such as a terminal illness, and tests our strength and fortitude. The acceptance of these wounds caused by these challenges with gratitude leads one to be enchanted by grace. Rumi has expressed this thought beautifully:
Keep your gaze at the wounded place
That is where the light enters
The gaze mentioned by Rumi is nothing but finding joy in the present moment, which is another name for gratitude. In my view, without loving acceptance of the present condition, we cannot find the dazzle behind the darkness engulfing us. This darkness can lead us towards grace and make us true heirs of higher spirit’s light. The sentiment has been expressed in the Gospel of Thomas as one of the sayings of Jesus Christ: The seeker shall not stop until he finds. When he does find, he will be disturbed. After being disturbed, he will be astonished. Then he will reign over everything.
The reign is a condition of grateful joy. In my current state, I am trying to be grateful for each day. This attitude did not come easily. The first year after my lung cancer diagnosis was very distressing. All my prayers were appearing to be nothing more than useless endeavor. The stress was unpalatable and it appeared that I was thrown into the dark dungeons of despair, pain, and suffering.
Slowly through that darkness, a light began to emerge. This, in my opinion, was a result of my prayers asking the higher spirit to guide me towards acceptance and true gratitude. I understood again that pleasure and pain are like yin and yang; they always come together, only the space they occupy changes. My old hopes and ambitions had died, but the prayers of thankfulness and focused introspection gave birth to new hopes. I realized that a thankful life allows you to realize your deeper self and open your heart.
As mentioned above, acceptance of the present condition and true gratitude for the higher spirit opens us open to grace. This acceptance and thankfulness can put us on the path of understanding our true nature as well as the true nature of our maker. I hope that we all take the time, even if it’s only 5 minutes, to thank the all-pervading spirit every day, thus opening our hearts for grace. I hope that the following poem on gratitude and grace by Rilke provides further impetus to all to practice gratitude:
With every step I do I go towards you,
Because who am I and who are you,
If we do not understand each other.