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The Spirit of Gassho: Cultivating Gratitude as a Spiritual Practice

Her Holiness Shinso Ito

December 11, 2023

An illustrated figure, wearing a blue shirt with white collar, presses the palms of their hands together in the gesture of gassho (reverential greeting) in front of a background suggestive of radiant beams of light.

To be a practitioner of Shinnyo Buddhism means interacting with each other in the spirit of gassho, or reverence and gratitude. It is the same feeling we have toward the Buddha and the Dharma. Having this kind of reverence and gratitude toward everyone—at home and in society in general—is what it means to live a spiritual life. That’s the path of the Great Vehicle. Exchanging a warm greeting, expressing appreciation, or humbly making an apology are first steps towards attaining a larger inner capacity with which one can place oneself in the position of others and extend a sincere and true heart to them.

Just as you put your palms together in gassho—reverently or gratefully toward people who you consider sacred—expressing your appreciation and respect toward others reflects the kind of life you’re leading, a life in which you are one with others and the buddhas. This shows your effort and to what extent you can bring out the pureness of your heart and mind. It also shows how much you value the Dharma, something that is present and all around you in the world. No matter how trivial it may be, never forget to express appreciation, even simply to say, “You’ve been a great help, thank you.” Appreciation naturally puts a smile on someone’s face. It gives others joy and relief.

When you interact with people warmly and encourage them with kind and compassionate words, you come to grasp the deep core of Mahayana Buddhism.

When you are stressed out or having a hard time, a dissatisfied, negative frame of mind takes over and leads to pain and suffering. Gratitude, on the other hand, leads to contentment and joy. A grateful mind that says, “Still, I have been given so much,” will lead to happiness and joy. I hope that you will try to put the Buddhist maxim “gentle demeanor and loving words” into practice. When you interact with people warmly and encourage them with kind and compassionate words, you come to grasp the deep core of Mahayana Buddhism.

Spiritual words say:

Gratitude means filling your heart with joy and giving that joy to others.
Dedicate yourself for the sake of others and discover the joy of doing so.

Now is the time to put this into practice. Share your joy and gratitude with other people—even just one other person to start with—and embody this Dharma teaching deeply and clearly in what you mentor and support in the community so that it can be passed on wholly to the future.

My parents, the founders of our tradition, upheld the light of shinnyo in this world that is filled with suffering and dissatisfaction in order to help people realize that a different world is possible: a world that is filled with joy. Make that aspiration your own, even if you think you can do only a little bit. Follow that path towards true liberation, keeping in mind that you’re walking together with those who came before you. Whether it’s in society or with your family, try to be the best person you can be. It’s about those around you—that’s where you need to endeavor in the spiritual practices. Doing so will transform your life.

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