The summer before college, I attended a Buddhist conference per the recommendation of some friends. Before sitting down for our daily meals, we sang a short song that consisted of words like “mercy to all sentient beings” and “aspire to do all good,” addressing the origins and the processing of the food in front of us and the energy that it will bring. After chanting, I sat down, looked around and felt the energy of the youths around the room evolving itself into an ageless wisdom — gratitude, and the importance of being intentional.
The power behind gratitude from those meals and the people that ate them carried with me to college, where it experienced the ebbs and flows of life. Therefore, there were moments that I could not help but elevate my sense of self and abandon gratitude for conditioned thoughts such as my ego, my social status, my academic performance or even things such as how the color of my skin will manifest into people’s acceptance of me. I think of those meals from time to time at my lowest moments and I can not help but question: why is the power behind gratitude becoming so feeble when I am surrounded by conditioned things, conditioned people and conditioned events?
I began clearing my mind by first addressing the conditioned nature of everything that is going on around me. I began taking initiative on focusing on my own well-being and counting blessings in my life, instead of intentionally waiting for others to do so for me. Soon enough, the ageless wisdom of gratitude I felt around the room is carried by every person I meet, manifesting itself in different ways. I see it in the lady who cleans the third floor Luter bathroom, with the intricately made hairband, as she recounts her stories to our suite about physical health and her family situations. I see it in one of my best friends who plays the newest Drake song on speaker and treating the song as if it was the pinnacle of human progress, and his love toward hip-hop. I see it in my mother as she splits her time between the places she travels to and the people she meets, and how she treats each opportunity as if it was her last. I see it as I open my eyes in the morning to a full schedule and instead of feeling anxious about it, I feel anticipatory in the most hopeful way because today is another day where the world will challenge me, and I will challenge back with my strength and endurance.
The Buddhist conference stressed that Buddhism is a hybrid of religion and philosophy, and to categorize it as one or the other would not do it justice. Even the label Buddhism sometimes does not do the belief system justice, because small and large forms of enlightenment happen in every moment of our lives, not just in the teaching of the Buddha. When religious beliefs come up in conversation, I usually respond: “I don’t know, I have sort of tried everything and liked everything, but I don’t feel like attaching myself to an organized religion.” But, from now on, I want to say that I believe in the power of gratitude, of accepting everything as it is, and doing good things as much as I can for, well, no reason at all, other than to do them. Having mercy to all beings really goes a long way, because to me, it is my favorite form of seeking joy.