Expressing our Gratitude: Four Conversation Starters

One way that we express our gratitude is by placing our hands together in "gassho" as seen here in this picture taken in 1959 when our beautiful gingko tree was planted by the Gomonshu, the leader of our Jodo Shinshu Buddhist tradition. 

A group of temple members in gassho while a tree is planted

Last month we celebrated Eitaikyo, a Japanese Buddhist tradition which expresses our appreciation for those who have gone before us.  This month we celebrate Thanksgiving, a very American tradition which also focuses on gratitude. These two very different occasions are reminders of the value of gratitude across time and culture.  In the spirit of these two holidays, I wanted to share an activity that works with people of all ages and from all religious backgrounds. It just takes a few minutes and it can be a good conversation starter.

It involves thinking about and/or discussing these 4 questions that you can reflect on quietly or can be a topic of conversation at your holiday gatherings.  

1) Who were all the people—the relatives, the teachers, the friends, the ancestors, and the strangers--who have contributed to me being the person I am today?  What would my life be like without them?

painting of two hands holding a heart

2) How much food have I eaten in my lifetime? Consider all the plants and animal whose lives have been sacrificed so you can live—remember both the delicious meals and the less tasty ones.  They all made you who you are today.

Bento lunch with inari sushi, onigiri, chicken, orange slice, egg roll, Jello, seaweed salad

3) Review all the resources you have used to stay alive and comfortable, to build your houses and keep them warm in the winter and cool in the summer--the clothing you’ve worn and all the people who made it.  The tools you’ve used and the people who made them. The vehicles and fuel that have allowed you to travel for work or pleasure.  

4) Finally, think about all your pets, houseplants, and all the wild plants and animals that have enriched your life.  Remember the joy and beauty they have given you.


dog, boy with guinea pigs, and cat

We have received a lot from others in order to have the lives that we are now living.  Having thought about how much we have received, we can also think about ways of sharing compassion, insight, joy, beauty, comfort, and care with others. This kind of sharing is at the core of our spiritual practice--a practice that grows from our own gratitude and appreciation for our lives.  And it is at the heart of the Buddhist teachings.

In case you are wondering, this is what that little gingko tree planted in 1959 looks like now! 


Buddhist Temple with Gingko tree

Even if we can’t ever fully repay our many debts to those who have been compassionate and generous toward us, we should not give up trying.   We can honor those who came before us by making sure that we continue to share the gifts we have received with others. 

And feel free to share things that you are grateful for in our comments section!

Namo Amida Butsu

In gratitude, 

Rev. Anne Spencer, 

Female Buddhist Minister

Assistant Minister, Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple


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