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Town Hall Covers Benefits of Gratitude

The BCA National Council Meeting kicked off with a comprehensive, thought-provoking seminar based on the BCA theme this year — “The Benefits of Following the Shin Buddhist Path.”


The Feb. 18 seminar featured six speakers, was moderated by BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada, and was in three sections: The benefits of a life of gratitude; the benefits of a teaching that embraces all and forsakes none; and the benefits of being part of a Sangha.

The segment on gratitude featured Gregg Krech, director of the ToDo Institute, a Naikan education and retreat center in Vermont, and Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji, Ohtani Chair of the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) and minister at Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church (SACBC).


Rev. Dr. Miyaji is the son of BCA Minister Emeritus Rev. Nobuo Miyaji and the grandson of the late Rev. Kakue Miyaji, the only Kangaku, or highest ranking priest who resided in the United States.


View of Awareness

In his presentation, Krech spoke about a consideration of gratitude, Naikan and Shin Buddhism from the perspective of awareness. And Rev. Dr. Miyaji recalled his grandfather, a Buddhist scholar who taught at Kyoto Women’s University for a long time.

“In Japanese psychology, we have a maxim that says your experience of life is not based on your life, but on what you pay attention to,” Krech said. “So, I thought it would be interesting to look at these themes from the standpoint of what we pay attention to, from our awareness.”

He began by listing the three questions at the heart of Naikan self-reflection, which is rooted in Pure Land Buddhism:

  • What have I received from others?

  • What have I given to others?

  • What troubles and difficulties have I caused others?

“When we look at our awareness we’ve had exposure to some type of practice like Naikan, or self-reflection, or Buddhist principles, when we look at the awareness of what we’ve received, for example, we might find that a lot of what we’re noticing isn’t what we’ve received that’s helpful or supporting us, but we’re paying a lot of attention to what we’ve received that is what we really want, but what we have not received. We’re looking at our unfulfilled wants and needs. ‘What I am not getting from this world?’ ‘What I am not getting from others?’

“So, we might think about ‘I wish my adult daughter would call me more often,’ ‘I wish the Wi-Fi was faster,’ ‘I wish I’d get more recognition for the work I’m doing,’ ‘I want to get paid more for my job’ — these are all examples of looking at what we’ve received, but basically looking at what we’re not receiving that we would like to get.”


Regarding what we’ve given to others, Krech said that people often make two errors: We tend to overestimate what we’ve given to what we’ve received.


“In other words, we’re not as quite as much of a giving person as we thought we were,” he said.


The other error has to do with the role in the giving process. Krech cited the example of driving a friend to a medical appointment, and “essentially taking credit” for the act of giving. But, he said, in order to do that, a vehicle was needed, and that vehicle had to be built, and others had to build roads and install stop lights and stop lights along the way. In addition, the car needed gas for fuel, and oil, and someone had to teach Krech how to drive.

“You see what my point is,” Krech said. “There’s actually a lot of objects, and people, energy, and money that’s involved in the gift of somebody getting a ride to a medical appointment. And I’m playing a role in it, but actually, my role is a relatively limited role compared to everything else that made that possible.”


Speaking about the troubles that we’ve caused, Krech said: “What happens often with our awareness initially is that instead of looking at the troubles and difficulties that we’ve caused others, we become aware of the troubles and difficulties that others are causing ‘me.’ ‘This person caused me an inconvenience,’ ‘This person is doing something that aggravates me,’ ‘This person was a problem for me the other day at work.’


“We basically look at how often people are causing us trouble,” he said. “We don’t really see ourselves as part of that club. In other words, we don’t see ourselves as someone who’s causing trouble to other people. It’s not something that we’re easily aware of.


“Most of the time, we’re not aware of our awareness,” he continued. “We go through the day. We notice what we notice, and we don’t notice what we don’t notice. Our awareness is uncultivated, and it’s mostly driven by our ego and self-centeredness.”


Krech then introduced Naikan self-reflection to the process and pointed out what happens when awareness is cultivated.


First, he said, we become more genuinely aware of what we’re receiving from others, or how loved and supported we are.


“I might become more aware of the ‘little things’ in life like someone who opened the door for me at a store, or somebody sorting my mail at the post office,” he said. “I might become more aware that my wife made a fresh pot of coffee early in the morning, so I could have a nice, hot cup of coffee when I got up. So we become more tuned into those things.”

Krech said we may become more aware of what we’ve given in comparison to what we’ve received.


“We get a sense of whether we’re actually given more to the world or actually receiving more from the world,” he said. “We also become more aware of the interdependence of things in the world, particularly in the gifting process.


“If I give some roses to my wife, one type of awareness — I just see myself as ‘I’m a nice guy, I just gave roses to my wife.’ But when I look at that through my awareness that’s been cultivated by self-reflection, then I begin to see that these roses started from seeds, someone planted the seeds, and there was cultivation of those roses. They had to be exposed to the sun. They were nourished by rain, and then somebody had to take care of them in terms of any kinds of insects or fertilizer that was used. And they were finally cut and they were transported and shipped, and dealt with very carefully. And they ended up in a florist shop maybe where I bought them. I’m more aware of the entire process, or at least, much of that process that went on, and I see myself as part of that process, but with a certain humility because I see myself realistically as only one element of a long sequence of the process that got those roses to my wife.”


Troubles, Difficulties

When we view the subject of troubles and difficulties, Krech said, we become aware of the things we’ve actually done throughout our lives that have caused inconvenience or problems, or embarrassment or awkwardness, or actual suffering to people.


“Naikan affirms us as our humanness as having an ego and being self-centered,” he said. “It doesn’t eliminate it. It affirms it, but it also makes us aware of how important a role that plays an important role in our relationships with the world around us and other people in our life.”

Krech also referred to a circular diagram taken from “Gratitude: Its Source and Power” by Rev. Dr. Taitetsu Unno. The diagram was intersected with horizontal and vertical lines, representing planes. The horizontal plane represents everyday life, and the vertical plane represents the process of awakening, from samsara, foolish being (bombu) to karmic evil to Nirvana, Amida Buddha, and the Primal Vow.


“Naikan primarily works on the horizontal plane, the plane of everyday life,” he said. “And, as a result of that, we can end up living with more gratitude and having more joy in our life. But when we discover or are introduced to Buddhist teachings, we open up the vertical plane of spiritual awareness and our spiritual path and awakening. And that opens up a different way of understanding our life, a different way of looking at what we might be grateful for, and we understand our existence in relation to life.”


Intersecting Planes

Where those planes intersect can be “a wonderful experience for us because, at that point in time, we begin to see our ordinary life as the same as our spiritual life,” Krech said.

Krech pointed out the following results of awareness within the vertical dimension of Shin Buddhist teachings:

  • Appreciation of life in its totality as a blessing, including its ups and downs, joys and suffering.

  • Acceptance of ourselves with the actions and choices made throughout our life and a willingness to simply be who we are without trying to appear better or different.

  • A deeper awareness of our own transgressions that can lead to a diminished inclination to judge others.

  • An inclination to want to give something back to the world to specific people and to the world in general because of a heightened sense of gratitude.

  • We lose confidence and faith in ourselves, which creates a space for a greater faith (shinjin) in a power beyond self.

Next: Rev. Dr. Takashi Miyaji talks about gratitude and his grandfather, the late Rev. Kakue Miyaji.


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