True gratitude is a rare virtue in our civilization when constant demands are made for one or another type of rights and privileges, without any consideration as to how much we owe others and what our responsibility towards them is. It is a reverential feeling of the human heart which should flow out spontaneously in every direction, to the visible and the invisible worlds and to great Mother Nature for all the bountiful gifts that she bestows freely. Usually, people are grateful for some help or kind treatment received from others, or for mercy shown towards them in their hour of stress and difficulty. It would be ungracious not to feel so, but it is not enough. True gratitude has no boundary; it expands more and more as we come to recognize the Law of Interdependence to an ever greater extent. Not only are human beings dependent on one another; all beings, high or low, great or small, to get along in this evolutionary march have to aid and be aided by others.
This universe is alive and vibrant with different powers and forces. it is guided by divine intelligences and is not a mechanical and fortuitous concurrence of atoms. Therefore, first and foremost, our whole-hearted gratitude should go out to the One Divine Principle of Life, which is also the One Law. It is the source and origin of everything, from the starry firmament above to the dust below our feet. Each human being as a Divine Ray has emanated from the Eternal Source, is one with it and with all other emanations from the same Source, the Divine Principle. It is universal in scope, and, being the Law itself, is impersonal. It is omnipotent—all powerful; omnipresent—all-pervasive; omniscient—all-knowing. Usually, petitions are made to a Personal God for some kind of favours and boons, and, when these are not responded to, people get disappointed and annoyed, not understanding the Law of Karma, just and immutable. All the great Teachers haved taught time and again that one should meditate and reflect on that Source, the Self of all creatures, and work in harmony with it so as to reach the nature, stature and dignity of conscious godhood, the goal of every human being. When man considers himself to be a miserable sinner, or believes that he has descended from the apes, how can he put forth effort to rise to the Divine origin, above all limitations, and how can true gratitude overflow the heart? It is the recognition of unity with the One and with all that enables man to express his heartfelt gratitude.
A ray of Divine Life and Light is the Eternal Pilgrim, going the rounds of his pilgrimage on earth, gaining wisdom, experience and power. It always needs a bodily vehicle to work through, to contact the objective world and objective things, to adjust the Karmic balance and to step onward and forward on the great journey. That vehicle is provided by one's parents in terms of past affinities, and they guard and protect one through the years of childhood and beyond. We can only realize the deep debt of gratitude we owe them as we reflect upon and try to understand the words of Lord Buddha:
Difficult it is to obtain birth as a human being. Difficult it is to live the life of a man. Difficult it is to get to hear the True Law. Difficult it is to attain to Enlightenment. (The Dhammapada, Verse 182)
These days, are there many who realize this truth and pay their respectful homage to their parents? Everything is taken for granted and life has become such a mechanical process that children forget their responsibilities to them!
The body provided by the parents is not a solid mass of matter but is made up of different kinds of lives, constantly coming in and going out, human, animal, vegetable, mineral, fiery, watery, airy, earthy. To keep them all working harmoniously is the duty of the Inner Ruler. They belong to different Hierarchies, each working according to the law of its own being. The body is considered as something to enjoy life with, and is not generally looked upon with reverence. It is pampered by most people, tortured by a few, and is no longer the appropriate instrument it ought to be. Through self-control and self-discipline it can become a living temple for a living god.
The Inner Ruler has under its command 33 crores of Devas, it is said. It is a vast kingdom, vast as a universe in miniature, which has to be ruled efficiently. In reference to this, there is an instructive story: Once upon a time the great God Shiva-Mahadeva had to perform a sacrifice at which he wanted all the 33 crores of gods to be present. So he made his son Kartikeya go round and invite all of them. Kartikeya's vehicle was a peacock, on which he set out to do his errand. The day was approaching and he had been able to do very little; so he wanted his work to be entrusted to a wiser god, and Ganesha, God of Wisdom, was selected. Ganesha had a reputation for performing the maximum work with the minimum of labour. His vehicle was only a mouse and he had very little time to do the work. He reflected upon the task ahead, went round his father, Shiva, three times, and prostrated himself before him. He thus invoked all the 33 crores of gods and gave them the invitation, and all of them came on the appointed day. People are generally in the habit of looking outside when every power and force is within them. Beings of various degrees do so much for us and it is the duty of each one to give them the right impress through deliberate choice, so that they may not be degraded but through gentle help may be ever uplifted.
The connecting link between man's body formed of different lives and the Divine Ray, the Eternal Pilgrim, is Manas, the thinker endowed with self-consciousness, the great prerogative of mankind. At a certain stage in our pilgrimage the divine intelligences actually incarnated on earth to light up the mind of man, turning consciousness into self-consciousness. Theosophically, they are known as the Solar Pitris, the mind-born sons of Brahma, a hierarchy by itself. This is how the three lines of evolution have converged together and brought a human being on the scene so that through self-choice and self-determination he may reach the destined goal of human perfection. The mind is the instrument of the self-conscious thinker, who, like the body, has to be nourished well and kept clear of all dross. The human mind has to be raised to the plane of divinity, and that task is to be done reverentially and gratefully, day after day, till man the thinker attains conscious union with his divine parent, Atma-Buddhi.
What about gratitude to our fellow pilgrims, who consciously or unconsciously do so much for us unasked—the millions of workers in the fields, the factories and the mines; the big bosses and the petty peons, all those who serve us along different lines? Only through our loving thoughts and feelings can we show our gratittude to them. Were it not for these unknown millions, how would we get the wherewithals of life?
Are we not indebted to great Mother Nature at every step and at every turn? Her beauties and utilities are too many to be mentioned! She is ever ready to serve us. Are we as ready to help her with right knowledge and right love? The majestic mountains, the flowing rivers, the green fields and multicoloured flowers, the vast oceans, the deep forests, the sun, the moon, the stars, all provide us with necessities, never for a moment considering their benefit or reward. Hidden in the bosom of Mother Nature are deep secrets to be unveiled, but she shows her treasures only to the eye of Spirit. Therefore, it is only when through self-purification the Spiritual Vision, the Divine Eye, is opened that she becomes the friend and ally of man, grateful for having an opportunity to help and serve.
What homage shall we pay, out of the heart's gratitude, to the Elder Brothers, the great Masters of Wisdom and Compassion, the Custodians of the sacred lore, who out of their compassion sacrificed the peace and bliss of Nirvana to help suffering humanity? It is only through the study of their philosophy and service of their humanity that we may express, in however small and insignificant a measure, our gratitude.
To unite one's soul to the Universal Soul requires but a perfectly pure mind. Through self-contemplation, perfect chastity, and purity of body, we may approach nearer to It, and receive, in that state, true knowledge and wonderful insight.