The Attitude of Gratitude – The Sutras of Suryakirti
[With commentary by Narik Allemirag.]
1. Cultivate a discriminatory attitude of gratitude toward everything all the time.
The role of discrimination is obviously implicit in normal social situations. You don’t give thanks to people who harm you. But the key is to be grateful to everything that your discrimination tells you is worthy of such gratitude, not just to a small selection of people or just to one’s God. You must be grateful all the time, not just during special moments or a Thanksgiving holiday. You have to cultivate this attitude because it doesn’t come naturally to human beings. The idea of being discriminating in cultivating this virtuous attitude is assumed in the rest of the sutras.
2. Express gratitude toward everything all the time.
The attitude of gratitude must find expression, otherwise it is a meaningless figure of speech.
3. The expression of gratitude is a feeling, not a speech, not a demonstration.
Gratitude is best expressed as a feeling or mood, not a speech or a big demonstration of emotion. In social situations, a simple ‘Thanks’ is sufficient. For those who pray, a short, heartfelt thanks to one’s object of prayer – a God, higher force, guru, parent – is sufficient expression.
4. The feeling of gratitude, sustained for a period of time by recognizing the benevolent nature of the universe, becomes a mood of gratitude.
A mood is a feeling that lasts for an extended duration. A mood of gratitude is achieved when the benevolent nature of the universe is recognized. This requires constant practice.
5. The mood of gratitude is established as an attitude of gratitude when the benevolent nature of the universe is experienced and constantly recognized.
Constant practice in feeling gratitude gives rise to the mood of gratitude. Effort in sustaining the mood of gratitude combined with positive experience of the response of the universe solidifies the mood into an attitude.
6. When so established as a fundamental virtue, the universe becomes benevolent, reciprocal, and responsive.
Why should we practice gratitude? Is there some practical benefit from doing so? If not, why bother? Suryakirti assures us that if you practice gratitude diligently, you will find that the universe will respond with more examples for which you can be grateful. The universe itself becomes transformed from a seemingly indifferent, neutral entity to a dynamic entity that finds ways to support your attitude.
It may seem rather self-serving to be grateful to someone in order to get more benefit later. That is not what is implied here. People are part of the universe and hence take on the characteristics of the universe. People feel happy and motivated to perform beneficial actions if they are recognized for being helpful. So is the universe. Thanks are always appreciated. Why is this property of the universe true? Suryakirti gives a hint in the next sutra.
7. This is so due to the nature of energy relationships. Any other speculation is useless.
Why does the universe reciprocate thus? What are the causes? What is the mechanism by which this happens? Is the universe intelligent? Does this prove the existence of God? All such speculation, Suryakirti implies, is useless and unnecessary. It is sufficient to know that the universe merely responds to energy patterns in a certain way. Any more analysis into this is of academic interest and does not change the result or the nature of what actually happens.
8. Express gratitude toward everything you encounter.
So much for the theory. Now for the practice. How is this attitude of gratitude to be cultivated? Some guidelines follow.
At the outset, it is important to practice this virtue by anchoring it to reality, to things that you encounter personally, not to abstract ideas, and not to limit it to people, gods, or gurus of the past. If you are grateful only to conceptual abstractions, illusions, or memories, then the virtue yields no benefit in your daily life.
9. Express gratitude toward all objects that have been useful to you.
Here is an interesting departure from the traditional theory of gratitude. Everyone knows that to give thanks to people who have helped you – and for those who believe in God, to give thanks to God – is good and proper. But giving thanks to objects? Objects don’t exist with the intention to serve us, do they? In the next sutra, Suryakirti assures us that this is true.
10. Objects are encapsulations of thought, invention, work, functionality, intent, or support.
Objects created by human beings, such as a chair, are the result of some person who thought of the idea of a chair and who expended effort in creating it. A chair is therefore an encapsulation of this idea, effort, and intent. Hence, every time you use a chair, it is proper to feel thankful.
Objects that are natural – streams, mountains, air, water, stones – also are encapsulations of some purpose and use for human beings. [Remember, discrimination should be applied throughout this practice of gratitude. You are obviously exempted from expressing gratitude to hostile people and dangerous objects.]
11. Express gratitude the moment you receive help or service, whether from people or from objects.
Most of the time, we don’t express gratitude at the time of receiving help or service, unless the giver is another person. We typically don’t express gratitude for happy coincidences, smoothly running cars, things happening on time, or to the vending machine for correctly dispensing a can of pop.
At first, it feels strange to be thanking inanimate objects. In the initial stages of practice, we will frequently forget to do so. With persistent practice, it is possible to shorten the time between using an object and expressing thanks (as a feeling or an intention). Ultimately, you will achieve a sustained mood of gratitude that extends to objects, people, animals, and the more complex phenomena such as a bus arriving on time, a closing of a sales order, an unexpected call from an old friend, a return of money owed to you, getting tickets to a popular show, and so on.
[Remember, gratitude towards objects and fortuitous circumstances is best expressed as a feeling or intention, not in a lengthy speech.]
12. An attitude of gratitude establishes a benevolent relationship with the universe. The benefits of this virtue are obvious.
A sustained attitude of gratitude – a mood, if you will – puts you in a different relationship with the universe. It is as if the universe delights in receiving your thanks and willingly does more for you. You enter into a benevolent partnership with the universe.