I try to make gratitude a part of every day: the preamble to my morning meditation practice begins with a simple yogic breathing exercise followed by a four-part prayer that includes an expression of gratitude. But like most people, my mind moves - or gets pushed - a little further in the direction of gratitude as we approach America's Thanksgiving holiday. This morning I remembered one of my first teachers, Urjasvat das, and how grateful I am for his generous tutelage, cheerful disposition, and catchy witticisms. He taught me, among many other things, that there are three steps to understanding transcendental knowledge: learning it, living what you've learned, and sharing what you've learned. The last step, sharing, was a great source of joy for him. As such, he was always very grateful for the opportunity to teach and for any reciprocal service that we offered as his grateful students. He would always express his gratitude the same way: with a big smile on his face and saying, 'I just can't thank you enough'. My own sense of gratitude begins with the fact that I've been given a human birth. I suppose one could say that it was my karma to take birth in a human body - I earned it so nothing to really feel grateful for. Just the same, I consider it a gift since I have no idea what I could have done to deserve it. I brought the idea of being grateful for having taken a human birth up in my class the other night. The look on the faces of my students made it immediately clear that this idea hadn't occurred to them. Has it occurred to you? Perhaps we take the fact that we're in a human body for granted because we think of our bodies as who we are, that our human body is an intrinsic part of the 'I' who is grateful for whatever else we should feel grateful for. Yoga wisdom texts tell us that a human birth is actually very rare for a spirit soul wandering through the material world. And this makes a lot of sense if you think about all the possible life forms we could have taken birth in. There are more living beings in three square feet of soil than there are human beings on planet Earth. Someone has to take birth as one of those creatures. Why not you? Or me? The great blessing of a human birth is the opportunity to inquire about the true nature of our being, about the meaning and purpose of our lives, and about how to get off the merry-go-round of repeated birth and death in any one of 8 zillion possible types of bodies But how many of us make the kinds of inquiries that a human birth offers us? Very few. For some people, the circumstances of their birth may be so trying that thoughts of survival are all they have time for. For others, life may be so carefree that the opportunity for enjoyment overtakes any sense of urgency about self-knowledge.
"Of many thousands among mankind, one may strive for perfection, and amongst those who attain perfection, hardly one may know me in truth. " — Bhagavad-gita 7.3
A thoughtful person may find motivation for spiritual inquiry in either happiness or distress, in the futility of trying to cling to fleeting enjoyment, or in the leisure time that a prosperous life affords. In any event, the attainment of life's ultimate goal is rarely achieved. Still, the effort to attain that goal, even if we only make a little progress, is encouraged:
"For those who strive along the path of righteousness, progress is never lost nor minimized, and just a little advancement can save one from the greatest danger." — Bhagavad-gita 2.40
The greatest danger is to sink back down the evolutionary ladder to a form of life that doesn't offer us the opportunity to make progress, however incremental, toward understanding our true selves beyond any material life form at all. For someone who has arrived in a human body, living in an animal, insect, or microbial body is in the 'been there, done that' category. But that doesn't mean it can't happen again. So, in addition to being grateful for the human body I currently reside in, I'm grateful for having teachers who helped me to understand the value of my human birth and who gave me the opportunity to make spiritual progress in this short and precious human life. But most of all, I'm grateful to you for letting me share the knowledge my teachers have given me with you. There are three steps to acquiring transcendental knowledge: learning it, living what you've learned, and sharing what you've learned. Sharing what I have been given is a great source of joy for me. And without you, I wouldn't be able to take that last and all-important step. So please accept my heartfelt expression of gratitude for letting me into your life. I just can't thank you enough.