On the long journey of human life, faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest possession. –A Buddhist Teaching
During the holidays, our thoughts often turn to the giving and receiving of gifts. We normally think of gifts as physical objects that we may or may not actually need. However, the numerous holy days in December are truly a time to reflect on the intangible gifts of the spirit that we receive throughout the year. As Buddhists, we celebrate the Great Awakening of Shakyamuni Buddha and we rejoice in the promise of universal liberation through the Dharma. We are fortunate to receive this gift of the Buddha’s teachings which enable us to awaken to the working of Wisdom and Compassion in our lives. When we receive the life-transforming Dharma as a spiritual gift, we naturally share our appreciation and joy through our thoughts, words, and actions. The greatest gift we can give to our children and grandchildren is our gift of faith in the Dharma.
When I’m in the office I like to leave the temple open for anyone to visit. One day an adorable little girl who attends our preschool and her father walked in and asked if they could offer incense. The act of offering incense and placing one’s hands together in gassho is a common practice in Buddhism. It is a beautiful expression of gratitude and faith symbolizing the oneness of all life. I observed how this father carefully taught his daughter how to offer incense and to place her tiny palms together in gassho. I noticed that she tiptoed and struggled to place the pinch of ground incense into the burner, so the next time they visited, I set up a wooden step so she could more easily reach the top.
Looking forward to their afternoon visits, I’ve been preparing the incense and the wooden step in anticipation of their arrival. The little girl and one of her parents have been coming often to offer incense before they go home. Each time they visit, the little girl greets me with a warm joyful smile. One day, she gave me a little bag of treats, flashed her amazing smile, and then quickly ran back to her mother. While I was grateful for her thoughtfulness, the most wonderful gift is simply watching this family offer incense and gassho together. Each time they visit, I marvel at the beautiful gift of faith they give to each other.
This little girl and her parents remind me that cultivating a heart of gratitude is a lifelong gift of faith. They teach me that gassho is truly a gift and remind me how we should approach life with palms pressed together in reverence, gratitude, and joy. Living in gassho is living with the Nembutsu in our hearts. Namo Amida Butsu.