This weekend we celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada, reflecting on the harvest of our lives, both literal and symbolic. We are grateful for tomatoes and squash, but also good health and family. Surprisingly, gratitude is not included in the six paramitas to which we aspire as Buddhists. However, the more we frequent a Buddhist environment, the more we recognize gratitude in that space. The most obvious symbol is the standing bow or gassho, which is how we greet each other, how we enter/leave a practice space, how we acknowledge the presence of a Buddha or Bodhisattva image, how we thank each other, and many more expressions. In Indian contexts, the same gesture is called namas-te, and carries all the same meanings as the Japanese gassho.
Unlike the tip of the hat (acknowledging a class difference) or the handshake (releasing a weapon hand), the gassho contains a profound statement of belief. It represents our acknowledgment that the other or their actions are the active presence of the Buddha, not a symbol, they are, in fact, the presence of the Buddha. We bow to affirm the activity and presence of all the Buddhas in our everyday lives.
Those exploring Buddhist practice from a Western background may find such a gesture offensive, or at least an anachronism, behaviour from a past when class distinctions prompted such deference. The more we take seriously that, on the one hand, we are all equal in our future Buddhahood, and, on the other, great teachers have lived and died to make the Dharma available for our awakening, the easier it becomes to express our thanks in this simple gesture.
Yours in the Dharma,
om namo amida butsu