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lately i've been having
an email conversation with
and my old friend and teacher and i'm sure someone many of you know for the david stein go rust
who's a benedictine
an old friend of zen center
that a lot of buddhist practice
they were the subject of our conversation is his favorite subject
gratitude this is favorite
think to think about he's been thinking about it for bug fifty years now i think
the title of one of his books is called the gratitude the heart of prayer
so now he's and an old he is exactly what
he's in the seventies
he's getting very enthusiastic about the internet
it is a hermit now he pretty much lives quietly in ithaca new york and a hermitage near a monastery but he's very enthusiastic about the internet i guess it's the perfect thing for a hermit in
talk talk to millions of people without ever loot leaving your hermitage
anyway so he's enthusiastic about the internet and he's got all these helpers
making a web site for him which i think it's called gratitude
so it is as the it's gonna be i'm sure
one of the greatest websites ever they've been working on it for a year it seems

and in brother david as a person who
on only thinks about gratitude but he seems to embody it
some of you know this is true but
if you don't know him and you meet him for the first time
you feel as if he is so grateful to have met you and you think you why is z grateful to meet me but as the feeling you get that he's so grateful to be able to meet you
he just seems like a grateful guy in always grateful for the whole world
and for each and everything that's in it
now he's also someone who is
very involved has very strong views and political opinions likes and dislikes
but still he manifests this tremendous gratefulness for everything
and he really doesn't seem to complain about things gratitude seems to be never far from his thoughts and feelings
so we sent me this article that he wrote about gratitude you wanted to know what i thought of it
and in the article he says
do you remember a time
when you went outside at night and looked up at the stars seeing them as if for the first time
and then he then quotes
eugene o'neill who went out and looked at the stars and saw them as it for the first time
and a genome the eugene o'neill the playwright rights
for a moment i lost myself
i actually lost my life
i was set free
i dissolved in the hi ddim starred sky
i belonged i belonged without past or future
within peace and unity and with a wild joy
within something greater than my own life to life itself
to god if you want to put it that way
for a second you see the secret
and seeing the secret you are the secret
for a second there is meaning
so that's me quoting brother david quoting eugene o'neill who said that an experience that some time ago
so in the article brother david says that this
powerful an immediate sense that one sometimes gets of belonging
belonging to the whole world
is he's he thinks the the essence the basis of gratitude
and it is a feeling i believe that is fostered
in our practice in an all spiritual practice
this feeling of belonging and the gratitude that comes from it
when we see ourselves
as we are all each and every one of us without exception taught to see ourselves as a separate atomized individuals in a big world full of other separate atomized individuals
it's not that easy to feel grateful
quite the contrary in the midst of that inherently contentious a situation actually we have plenty to complain about
there are so many things
that we want so many things that we need
and it seems as if whatever we get
it's not quite enough
no amount of love or possessions no amount of gratification
could ever really fill the gap between ourselves in the world
so we're always looking and needing something to fill that gap always thirsty always dissatisfied
in buddhism they call this literally trishna means thirst are thirsting says our existential condition one of thirst like a hungry ghost thirsting thirsting thirsting for something we can never quite
get enough of
but when we feel that sudden rush of belonging just as you need o'neill describes
something that comes into our lives really suddenly and for no reason
something we haven't earned are created for ourselves but it just arrives all of a sudden is a gift out of nowhere
maybe when we're least expecting it maybe even at a time when we're feeling the lowest of the low
when that happens to us though as brother david says we naturally feel a profound sense of existential gratitude
brother david writes why do i call that wild joy of belonging gratitude
because it is our full appreciation of something altogether undeserved utterly gratuitous life existence ultimate belonging and this is a literal meaning of great full ness in a moment of gratefulness you do not discriminate you fully
except the whole of this given universe as you are fully one with the whole
this is not how we usually feel i know
usually there's something we're looking for
we go through our days and weeks and months and years more or less happy or unhappy in fluctuating way
but most of the time not really
attentive to our condition
when we do take the time when we do have the spaciousness in our lives to attend to our actual condition to attend to what deep deep deep down we're actually feeling in our hearts
i think that it rarely do we feel
a deep sense of satisfaction and contentment
this is one of the great disadvantages of spiritual practice that can be distressing to recognize how you actually feel better
you sit down on the cushion and if you think you know for a while they're young you think she i thought i was doing all right but look at the condition that i am in oh my gosh
so when we do
give ourselves the possibility of really looking deeply at how we are i think we do feel mostly
something is missing something is a little off kilter
and if we look closely we may not know what it is that's off kilter and sometimes we think we know what it is that's off kilter
but i wonder whether we ever really really know
we think we want something in our lives that we don't have
are we think we want something out of our lives that we don't like that's in our lives that we want to get rid of
and we think
that that if only you know we could correct that situation our restlessness are this
is would pass but i don't really think that's the source of it
because i know everyone has had the experience
in getting it
and finding that very quickly that this is the restlessness deep down reasserts itself
there's something else we think we need

the other day i spoke to an old friend on the phone
who has had a recurrence after many years of being cancer free
she's had a recurrence of cancer
and it seems that she's in a rather a dire situation although it was very nice to talk to her because she seemed surprisingly upbeat and cheerful and positive not in a forest way but in a solid way that was very encouraging to me even though she was in the price
yes of recovering from major major surgery
and even know just a few months before
ah she had lost her sister
do exactly the same kind of cancer that she now has
she said to me i don't spend too much time on why me
or i'm thinking about all the terrible things that might and probably will happen later
i just try to stay with every day as i find it and to do what i can
in in the conversation she reminded me of a talk
that is on dorsey gave its and center some years ago in which he told people that he had aids and those of you who
don't know is under dorsey he wasn't one of the most illustrious and wonderful
priests i ever to come through this and center
he was a
he is to be a heroin addict and also apparently quite a fantastic female impersonator
in in the fifties and sixties i never saw his act but they say that it was but marvelous i've seen photos of him he was really beautiful and he became a wonderful priest of zen center very encouraging to me personally
anyway he started the hartford street hospice and zen center he is to just pick people up off the street who are suffering from aids and were homeless and he would take them home and take care of them
and that started the hartford street since center and hospice anyway he got aids of self
and he died of it it's now ten years ago nineteen ninety he died from aids
anyway she was quoting this talk is and gave probably in the late eighties
a year or two before his death and he said that talk i don't say why me
i say why not me
and as far as i can remember
this on like this friend of mine and i'm speaking up
except that his condition with grace and a cheer that was truly remarkable
rather that that rather than complaining about what he had that he didn't want
he took real pleasure in his condition he enjoyed his state of health enjoyed his state of illness
up until the day he died
there's a famous story of him with my jumbled in like what who who took care of him it was devoted to him in the last days you know wanted to do the right thing and sort of like you know finish up business and express themselves so he thought i should tell us on how much i love him you know say he looked isn't a sort of half conscious and
in the midst of this half conscious state mike system in like is like the most unsentimental person imagine what so this is a big thing from what he says to he says to is a isn't
i'm really gonna miss you
in this answered with them said are you going somewhere

so saying you know why me when we focus on why me
this means that we're seeing ourselves as separate beings in a world of many separate beings and among all those separate beings you know why me why not then why me
but saying why not me
why not me
means that we really understand that we belong
and were mixed up with everyone and everything
and what can happen to any one of us can happen to me and should happen to me
and i can accept it
it's not a surprise
it's not a tragedy it's not a mistake
and my point here is that
can really be
wide enough
even to cover our own suffering we can have gratitude even in these circumstances
one of the questions that people often raise when when we talk about compassion in buddhism
is how how can we be compassionate it's so painful to be compassionate how could we open ourselves up to the suffering of the world
doesn't opening ourselves up to the suffering of the world make us sad and depressed and know overburdened
isn't compassion something we should be very careful about and not get too much of
what we get burned out and discouraged if we really embrace the world's suffering the world's problems world's difficulties i can't bear to read the newspaper i can't bear to hear the news people often bring this up
well from the point of view of our separateness
i think it's really true what they say
if the world is a collection of separate atomized individuals each of whom have needs to be fulfilled that probably aren't being quite fulfilled
then it is really true that we will be overwhelmed by all the unfulfilled needs of the world
and we will really feel like it's not a good idea to be concerned about the needs of others much much too difficult to difficult even to worry about our own needs let alone
the needs of the wide world
but if on the other hand we see the world as a world of belonging a world of connection
a world in which all things are swimming together as one without any real edges and boundaries just like the stars in the nighttime sky which appeared to us as a unity as a pattern
one continuous being
with ourselves even though we so faraway included in the pattern
if the world is like that force one continuous connected being
then i don't think the suffering of the world weighs us down at all
to be sure our hearts will be tenderized
and when we save suffering tears will come to our eyes
a few weeks ago i was in northern ireland on a i can have a peacemaking retreat with his holiness dalai lama and we were listening to a panel of people speaking about their own experiences as victims of the troubles
one woman who
at the age of seventeen or eighteen was just going with friends to the movies
it was shot down and a drive by shooting and has not been able to walk since
one man who also as a young boy was shot
i was blind
a man whose father had been shot down in their own home
i masked gunman
in them probably most poignant of all a man who had been a militia soldier as a teenager
and although he didn't say exactly what his activities had been it was pretty clear that he had committed murders assassinations have been imprisoned most of his life now and had a deep change of heart was out of prison working to prevent violence but saying
because of what i have done
even though i now see the error of it
because of what i've done i will never ever in this lifetime
the whole again
that the brokenness that i feel
is still with me and will be with me
anyway it was really something to hear these stories
and on the stage with all these people listening to these stories his holiness
i started to cry
as he listened
and yet
you know an hour or two later when he zipped into a limousine and went out to meet with other religious leaders
he was standing between a catholic
priest and a minister protestant minister who both just by chance had beards
and he started grabbing their beers you're standing in between is shaking their beards and he just laughing as if it was the most like a kid you know the most hilarious thing that ever happened this is to guide here and there was this very funny photograph of him that appeared in all the european newspapers of him with this huge almost like he lost it
you know he was so laughing so hard grabbing the beards of these two guys who look bewildered
and and the headline a least in ireland was something like you know dalai lama beards clerics
that was just about an hour after he has been
totally broken up by
in another way by hearing is truly moving stories of suffering
so when we train when we feel this sense of belonging and then we train in it
over a lifetime of practice as his holiness dalai lama has we do
feel deeply sympathetic with suffering maybe more than ever
but this said this is not something hard to bear something that weighs us down and depresses us
because along with the sadness
we also feel a powerful gratitude
for what is
we cry
when something is sad we appreciated as our own sorrow
but at the same time we can feel the beauty of that suffering as it was something beautiful to hear those people speak
because they had all transformed
through their suffering in the midst of their suffering
where there is
a true vision of what the world really is
a vision of connection and belonging that isn't just an idea or concept
but is a real vision the way we see and experience the world
then there's always mixed in with any feeling of sadness we have
a wide and calm feeling and their can even be joy
perhaps the purists sort of joy when we recognize the preciousness of life and life's utter gratuity
life is present in us and all around us
why should it be
what did we do to bring it about
what did we do to earn it or deserve it
is there any one
who was earned or deserved or cause to be this life
so we know that even when life is difficult
well it's still life
in life is always a connection and always belonging even when it's difficult
where there is life
even though it hangs by a thread
there is consciousness and where there is consciousness there is a profound gratefulness
oh my life since i was a boy i've been contemplating this question of the heidegger's that always struck me as the question maybe to you it will seem ridiculous but to me it always seemed like the most important question heidegger's some place or other
and by now for all i know i'm i'm making it up myself but i think i think i give centers
heidegger somewhere asks
why is there something
why not rather nothing
why is there something why not rather nothing
have you ever thought about that
we all take our life in life in general existence
we take that for granted as a given
and then we start complaining things aren't working out the way i wanted them but we don't think you know how did we get her to begin with why is there life
why should we exist at all
why should anything exist
i don't think there's any reason for it
why not rather instead of all of this nothing
nothing would be simpler and cleaner less messy don't you think it's a kind of like a purity to it nothing

what we call
the universe
about fifteen billion years ago it began
according to current knowledge of cosmology
fifteen years ago there was the so-called big bang
before the big bang a split second before that
there was no time there was no space there was no matter there was no life there was nothing
but you can't even say that much that there was nothing nobody knows to say there was nothing and it was going too far i think
nobody really knows and nobody can say anything about what it was like a split second before the big bang it's beyond the scope of consciousness to even take up their question
the the story of cosmology begins right after that
at the time of the so-called big bang
a tenth of a millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second later after the big bang and that's exactly right
no it's a tend to the minus forty third power which is a tenth i have to read this get it right
which is a tenth of a millions of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second later
tend to the minus forty third power seconds minus forty three power seconds later after the big bang
whatever big bang me
in that little a fraction of a second the
universe which did not yet exist but whatever it was that was there cool down in that short amount of time
to the temperature of one hundred million trillion degrees i like to give little science facts when i get environment cars
because i figure so it shouldn't be a total loss you should learn a little something
out of the talks every now and then i i like to give a little science facts that i get out of a book and i'm not making this up this is really reputable science scientists say these things
in that short amount of time the planet i'm not the planet the the whatever it was the soup and cosmic soup cool down to be one hundred million trillion degrees
which was cool enough so that something that had never been before suddenly came to be which we call the force of gravity before that there was no gravity until things cool down to that extent
so after that there was a little low
for a teensy whimsy when see fraction of a second tend to the minus thirty fourth power of a second there was not much happening
that tend to the minus thirty four second is a million times
longer than the original tend to the minus forty third power but in that sort of that time they don't they can't see that much went on
but the universe or the whatever it was the pre-university cool down a little bit more during that uneventful period time
in doing so when it cooled down a little more it allowed the conditions so that the first at forms of matter appeared which are known as electrons and quarks these particles which didn't exist before now came to exist
and it appeared that at the same time as those pat particles of matter came to as the exist there was an exactly equal amount of anti matter
that existed along with it so they were electrons and quarks and anti electrons and anti matter corks
and because of this a perfect balance of stuff which was in a kind of stasis their gave rise to other forces in the universe which they call the strong force the weak force and electromagnetic force and now the world is very crowded it's got a protons and electrons and quarks and gravity and all these different forces
so then in the ensuing teeny teeny tiny were still the first second now
after the big bang and the ensuing period of time
many more things took place the next second after the initial event
was probably this one second that i'm talking about is probably the most eventful time in the history of the universe that one second more things happen
talk about getting things done you know
more things happen and that one second after the big bang and have happened probably told all totaled you know in all of the world do you think about all that you're getting dental it's nothing compared to what happened that one second
and as time went on matter and anti matter involves several more different kinds of particles began to differentiate themselves but then something really unexpected took place and nobody seems to know what caused this or how this came about but
what happened was where there had been a perfect equilibrium between matter and anti matter
so that there wasn't a sense nothing existing at all because it was all in a perfect stasis
all of a sudden there was a very slight imbalance there was a little bit more maybe one particle more you know
of matter then anti matter
and because of that imbalance although it was very very slight
the imbalanced somehow caused the matter matter and anti-matter to fall out of their perfect stasis and collide with each other
and in the collision of the matter and the anti matter
light was produced it was the first light ever and not the light from a star or planet because there were no stars some sort of weird who knows what kind of cosmic glow
like a says in genesis you know let there be light and if you ever regenesis you see that it says let there be light and then much later the sun is created so light that there isn't beginning is not the light of the sun anyway there's light but the light is because these particles are colliding and when they collide
almost all the anti matter is destroyed leaving mostly matter now dominant although they're still little anti matter in the mix but mostly better
so now there's matter and in the matter after a while times goes by maybe one minute later
neutrons and protons begin coalescing together to form heavier nuclei such as helium lithium and hydrogen
and the temperatures cooling down at a rapid rate now the temperature of all this is only about a billion degrees very cool
then things go on in that way
for three hundred thousand years
and then ah the temperature of this soup is only about three thousand degrees
cool enough so that adams begin to be formed from this miscellaneous
one billion years goes by and the adams
i begin to form large clouds clustered large clouds and the clouds started swirling around together with under the influence of these different forces that were formed in the first second they began to swirl around together and form galaxies
after about another two billion years
matter coalesces further into what we call stars
and the stars through off planets and create create various numerous solar systems
this process goes on for about three billion more years
and then is the creation of a star that we call the sun and eventually ah sandwiches an average star in the universe throws off an ordinary modestly sized planet that we call earth
and then some many many many years later comes life and eventually human beings
now it seems as if none of that had to happen
there's no reason really but any of that had to happen
certainly i had nothing to do it
and neither did any of you
in our recent appearance in this universe although absolutely connected to all of it in a direct causal line
is literally gratuitous
so why i'm saying all this is because it seems to me that gratitude
isn't as much emotion or feeling
as a rock bottom fact
maybe the primary fact
of are being at all
if we are if we exist
we must belong
radically belong
we must be possessed by embraced by all that is for no reason and gratitude is literally what we are
when we are most attuned to what we are
when we plunge deeply into the nature of what we are as body and mind creatures existing
we find that what we are his gratitude
and then we stop complaining then just be happy to be alive
no i don't want to give complaining a bad name here
i myself am ah has long habit of complaining
i inherited from my forebears for many generations
and i'm sure that as long as there have been human beings there has always been complaining it's an old tradition for all of us
and i think that the reason for that complaining
is that tiny imbalance between matter and anti-matter that i mentioned a moment ago
i'm sure that that is the source of are complaining
because what that says is that think about it you know existence itself
is the result of imbalance imperfection this is that this is a source of existence something being a little off produce this existence
that there's anything at all means that everything is a little bit off
so when existence evolves to the point of self reflective consciousness which is you and i
then the job of that self reflective consciousness must be to recognize that things are a little bit off and to start complaining about it

but the point of that complaining
it's not just to keep complaining but the complain for the purpose of recognizing the need
to return to
and restore that balance even though it's never actually restored
as long as we're alive
we have to complain and restore work to restore the balance so existence always strive for balance
and never achieves it
but that's what it has to do it has to strive for balance
so that's what we do too we recognize were unhappy we start complaining
and that is natural and absolutely necessary
we can't just stop with complaining are complaining has to lead us down the road to gratitude
otherwise completely becomes something very destructive and we see them live with me fruits of that all around us
but when complaining leads us down the road to gratitude it becomes a source of wholeness
the catalyst isaac luria had a wonderful metaphor for all this it's very famous i'm sure most of you know it
his idea was that in the beginning of the creation of the world there was a slight mistake in the arrangements something went a little wrong
god had this gigantic ladle in which he was pulling pouring the divine spirit into different vessels but there was a crack in one of the vessels and some of the light of the divine spirit fell out of the vessel into this world that we call our world
and according to luria it is that was the purpose of spiritual practice to find that light to gather that light as it appeared
dimly and various places in the world and raise it up
to restore the balance of the world
so in our practice
truly we are working to
come in touch with the sense of gratitude this sense of belonging to and with the world
as though as although as i said earlier
feeling of gratitude just comes we don't make it
still we need to cultivate ourselves to open up ourselves so that we're ready to receive the gift when it comes
it really you can look at a religious practice all forms of religious spiritual practice as forms of cultivation of gratitude
if you think about dog and centuries idea of zazen how he teaches us to do zazen he says we're not doing zazen zen meditation in order to examine ourselves and analyzer selves or in order to make personal improvements in our lives were sitting
in in zazen because we are buddhists heart our existence itself is buddhists heart and when we sit in zazen we're releasing ourselves to that aspect of ourselves that most deeply belongs to the universe and is grateful for it
in our daily services when we make prostrations when we make offerings of light an incense and flowers when we chant sutras and dedicate those sutras we are expressing our gratitude
that there is something and not nothing
and that we have a way of entering that's something which is also nothing
in the fact of our very existence
and there are many many other practices in various traditions prayer and recitation visualization practices tomlin practice the practice of compassion where we breathe in another person's suffering
taking it into our own body and line and we breathe out relief all these practices really are the practices of
cultivating gratitude and healing
gratitude even for suffering acceptance and gratitude even for suffering
and we can invent other practices that we can do all day long to remind us of gratitude and to counter act our natural strong habit of complaining
now to practice all this is not to make ourselves into idiots
forgetting all the horrors of the world as if they didn't exist
pretending that everything is just fine
when it usually isn't
no to be grateful for and with what is doesn't deny difficulties
it embraces them and accept them as a necessary step
inhaling them
i myself ah
work on the cultivation of the open space of gratitude every day it's a very active practice with me
and what i feel gratitude
gratitude for my for my own body
gratitude for the sky and clouds and this seems to be karmacally a big one for me i am very much
my journals diaries have probably a high percentage of them is descriptions of the sky and clouds this for some reason is very moving to me that that there should be a sky and then it should be so very very beautiful in my ah
mind and body should be structured in such a way to create co-create with the sky this beauty that i experience and grateful for that i'm grateful for my family
i'm grateful for my teachers
i'm grateful for the teaching of buddha when i feel that gratitude as i sometimes do
i know that it's a sign of my a spiritual health
and when i don't feel it when my life feels cramped and with complaining and lack then i understand that my spiritual health is not good and i try my best to
correct it
so i'm saying that gratitude is something
more than meets the eye is something very very basic and very profound
gratitude is something that takes us to the very edge of time and space and beyond time and space
because to be grateful for life as a truly is
is also to be grateful for death as it truly is
not to underestimate life
not to underestimate death
our mind of complaining and separation divides mystery of life into two parts we call one part life
and we call the other part death
one part we like and we want more of the other part we don't like me when i get rid of
but in the light of gratitude we understand that these two things are not really two things
in buddhist funeral services
i'm always touched by the saying that the priest will often say in various ways something like in in the dymo world or in true reality
there is no coming know going no increase no decrease no birth and no death
this saying is a deep expression
of our gratitude for existence as it really is
our knowing that life in order to be life is always full of death and that death in order to be death is always full of life
and the only time we find that balance that our whole life is seeking the only time that we enter the perfect balance
return to the place before the big bang is when we enter death
because of this understanding
we don't see impermanence as a threat or a tragedy
we don't see aging and dying as necessary evils we brace ourselves to endure
but rather as fruition
that we welcome with a spirit to enter them with calmness and appreciation
i find it really interesting that although whether we think of it consciously or not most of us consider death to be the ultimate personal defeat
and we all do everything that we can do to stave it off and even denied that there is such a thing
even though that's the general human view of death it's really interesting that all the great founders of religions
have always seen death as the sublime
complete victory
the death of jesus is his most perfect act
the act for which he it was born
the act that contains within it his eternal life and the redemption for all beings
buddha's death is not even called death it's called pirate nirvana
not a sad loss but a joyful combination of lifetime after lifetime of spiritual cultivation
through our practice of gratitude working on it every day
for a lifetime
we can imitate our great teachers
and go forward with our lives
the matter what happens whether they bring suffering whether they bring joy and certainly any life will bring both
what do they bring arriving whether they bring leaving we can face our lives in the spirit of gratitude for everything that happens
and we do this not only for ourselves alone which in the light of gratitude makes no sense at all
but for and with everyone for and with everyone
soon it's gonna be thanksgiving
i hope that all you can make a this special time of being with family
a time of really practicing gratitude
not just some
retail store holiday but
something that can be
deeply moving for all of us
i'm always grateful for your presence when i come to give a talk
to see all of us more today than usual
thank you very much