Hinduism

Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part LXXIX

Kritajana (Gratitude)

Continued from Part LXXVIII

Kritajna is a Sanskrit word signifying the broader need of human beings to cultivate awareness of consciousness among the human beings so that in their conscience they could easily differentiate what is right or wrong and be grateful for all the right things bestowed on on them or their life as an act of the divine blessings. Actually, it comprises of two words viz. Krita meaning ‘cultivated’ and Jna signifies to ‘the state of consciousness.’ Basically, it represents the feelings or sentiments of appreciation by the recipient of some favour bestowed in some form of kindness from the giver, who could be the abstract nature, another human being or even by the divine grace. The nearest corresponding term for Kritajna in English is ‘Gratitude’ and in Hindi ‘Kritagyata’ or ‘Aabhar’ in devanagari script. It’s a process whereunder one realizes gratefulness for certain act of kindness and acknowledges it through some appreciation or gesture for it. 

The gratitude is not unique to Hinduism alone as it finds a mention and exercised in various ways in almost all culture and religions of the world. Among the Abrahamic religions, the Judaism being oldest of the Bronze Age vintage reckons gratitude as an essential part of the worship of God, the Christianity accepts it as a basic Christian attribute while the Islam mandates all Muslims to be ever grateful to none other than Allah. In the Sanatana Dharma, Kritajana or gratitude is a way of life and it’s not for the God alone but for every entity or object of nature which is useful for their life. For illustration, Guru Purnima is exclusively dedicated to all spiritual and academic gurus (teachers) and celebrated by all Hindus, Buddhists and Jains in India as also neighbouring Nepal and Bhutan. Similarly, Vaisakhi in North and Pongal in South India are yet other occasions celebrated as harvest festivals, expressing Kritajana for the bountiful harvest particularly in obeisance to the solar deity, as well as to the rain, farmers, cattle and seeds. 

Hindu Scriptures on Gratitude

So the gratitude essentially is a means of “recognising favours that have been done” to a person by another entity. Since the early Vedic age, Hindus had learnt to express gratitude to the divine, various natural forces and everything that was essenstial for the safety, well-being and prosperity of the individuals and society at large. They had a tradition of expressing their gratitude through mantras (hymns) and yajnas (sacrifices) employing Agni (fire) as the sacred medium. The Rig Veda is the oldest scripture of the Sanatana Dharma (the term Hinduism came much later) of the Vedic age vintage and, most probably, the Gayatri mantra is the oldest and best known mantra which is still considered as the most sacred and popular chant among Hindus to invoke and express their gratitude to the Divinity. The Gayatri mantra finds a mention in many Upanishads as an important ritualistic chant and the poem of the Divine.

Om 
Bhur bhuvah svah
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dhimahi
Dhiyo yo nah pracodayat.
(Rig Veda 3.62.10)

Following Srimad Bhagavad Gita, perhaps the Gayatri Mantra is one that has been interpreted and explained by the saints and scholars dozens of time in various pious ways. Such affective translation of the Gayatri Mantra by two scholar saints is reproduced as under:

We meditate on the glory of that Being who has produced this universe; may She enlighten our minds.
– Swami Vivekanand

We choose the Supreme Light of the divine Sun; we aspire that it may impel our minds.
– Sri Aurobindo 

The aforesaid mantra is dedicated in gratitude to Gayatri who is akin to Savitr, the solar deity in the Vedas. Besides, the term is also associated with Shakti (Mahadevi) with various manifest forms such as goddess Saraswati, Parvati or Lakshmi. In his analysis, Sri Auribindo further elaborated the Savitr (sun) as the divine light that comes down and by invoking Gayatri, he meant that divine light to give energy or strength to all the activities of the adherents’ mind. In other words, as the sun illuminates the earth, the mantra has potential to fill the mind of the faithful chanter with all the positive energy in the cosmos with potential to guide and steer his (or her) beliefs and actions.

Garuna Purana is another treaty which considers the gratitude as one of the biggest positive attributes of mind and that every person must follow the teachings of the Vedas and Upanishads which are not only the source of knowledge but actually teach us the way of life and to do many wonderful things that make our journey to life comfortable and blissful. According to this Purana, the most unforgivable sin is ingratitude, for which there is no atonement or expiation “brahmaghnam va krtaghnam va mahapataka dusitam” (1.52.24). 

Similarly, in the Valmiki Ramayana, the first of the two all time great epics of the world, the atonement has been catered for the killing of the cow, drinking of intoxicants, the theft, and even for the breaking of a pledge but there is no expiation for any act of ingratitude of a person; such an importance has been attached to the gratitude.

Goghne caiva surape ca caure bhagna vrate tatha,
Niskrtir vihita sadbhih ktaghne nasti niskrtih. 

(The savants have ordained atonement for the slayers of cows, for the drinkers of liquors, similarly for the thieves and infringers of solemnity, but no atonement is available to a treacherous person.) (VR: Kishkindha Kanda, 4.34.12)

A legendary instance can be quoted from the very Ramayana representing an iconic illustration of the divine gratitude and humility. Circumstances had forced Ikshvaku Vamsa Prince Sri Ramchandra and heir apparent to the throne of Ayodhya to a fourteen years exile to live as a forest dweller along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman. During his southern sojourn, Princess Sita was abducted deceitfully by the Rakshasa King Ravan with evil designs. Ravan was an ardent devotee and follower of the god Shiva who, in turn, had bestowed his divine grace granting him to eternally rule from inaccessible Lanka. Although Sri Ramchandra (many Hindus revere him as an incarnation of god Vishnu) was capable and strong enough to deal with his adversary but knowing that Ravan had Shiva’s blessings, he resolved with all humility and gratitude to seek the grace of god Shiva before engaging with the demon king in the righteous war. To commemorate the occasion, Sri Ramchandra installed a holy Shiva Linga to carry out prayers in gratitude to Shiva at the seashore and the present Ramanathaswamy Temple at Rameswaram in the southern state of Tamil Nadu is believed to have same Shivalinga till now.

While the concept of gratitude is absolute in favour of the God in the Abrahamic religions, the lost civilizations of the West and even present day adherents of these religions overly thrive on materialism. Such a position largely emerges from their belief that they should only be grateful to God, Who has created everything else in the universe for the faithful followers’ administration and consumption. On the other hand, the Hindu scriptures teach the human beings to be grateful to God, nature and everything in the cosmos that is beneficial for them in some way for their safety, nourishment and well-being. This is the reason why Hindus pay obeisance even to animals, plants and even inanimate objects like rivers, mountains, and so on. As already explained in the previous parts of this series in the context of the duties of the householders, the following five categories of beings and objects are prescribed to whom everyone must pay gratitude on a recurring daily basis. They are collectively pronounced as the Pancha-Maha-Yajnas, representing the fundamental framework of the traditional Hindu practice.

  • That everyone must show gratitude towards the parents by respecting, serving and taking care on every day.
     
  • That everyone must express gratitude to the devas (deities) and ancestors through worship and offerings which include grains, flowers, incense, water, fruit, and so on because it is through the divine blessings that the universe and various manifests of the natural world are created and managed.
     
  • That all of us must be grateful to our sages and teachers who impart knowledge and guidance to survive and sail through the material world.
     
  • That all of us must pay our gratitude to the society and people who are devoted to social service and other humanitarian causes.
     
  •  That we must be grateful and care for the environment including flora and fauna, mountains, rivers and oceans by protecting and preserving them as they provides us the life support system necessary for our survival on the planet.

Although Hindu scriptures and other supporting literature carry numerous inspirational quotes and legendary tales on gratitude, the following Subhashita perhaps best serves to illustrate and explain the significance of the gratitude.

Prathamavayasi dattam toyamalpam smarantah,
Shirasi nihitabhaaraa naarikelaa naraanaam.
Salilamamrutakalpam dadyuraajeevanaantam,
Na hi krutamupakaaram saadhavo vismaranti.

(Just as a coconut tree bears the weight of coconuts on its head and gives nectarine water throughout its life in return for a little water that was given to it during the initial years, a saintly (noble and righteous) person will never forget the help however small that he had received.) (Subhasita-Ratna-Bhandagaram)

Just for the sake of readers, Subhashitas are a literary genre of Sanskrit epigrammatic compilations in the form of short memorable verses with authors unknown in majority cases, composed usually in four padas but could be just two as well, conveying some useful message as an advice, aphorism, maxim, fact, lesson or riddle with inherent moral and ethical value. As such Su in Sanskrit means ‘good’ while bhashita  carries the meaning as ‘spoken’; of the thousands of Subhashitas as creative works from the ancient and medieval period, only some have survived till date on various subjects.

Srimad Bhagavad Gita and Gratitude

As mentioned in previous parts, Srimad Bhagavad Gita is an epitome of all Hindu scriptures as it essentially embodies the gist of all the Vedas as also the supreme spiritual mystery unraveled in a simple and elegant way. In Bhagavad Gita, Shree Krishna has emphasized on the need to attain a stable and equanimous mind which can be achieved through selfless actions and an unflinching faith and devotion to God. Ego is the worst enemy that paves way for other negative attributes allowing them to take root in mind. Ego capitalizes on ownership, and in turn inculcates sense of fear, insecurity, anger, stress, and many other negative attributes in person. Once a person is free from ego through the control on mind, he achieves a stable and serene mental state with free space for the positive attributes like equilibrium, tranquility, peace and gratitude.

Vihaya kaman yah sarvan pumansh charati nihsprihah, 
Nirmamo nirahankarah sa shantim adhigachchhati. 

(That person, who gives up all material desires and lives free from a sense of greed, proprietorship, and egoism, attains perfect peace.) (BG: Chapter 2, Verse 71)

Reduction in ego paves way for the contentment and with contentment comes the feeling of gratitude. In a sense, the gratitude is a means of decentralization of ownership by offering the doership to God and God-created other natural objects in the cosmos. On the contrary, if a person is discontent, he will suffer from the disorders like agitation, excitement, or delusion. Shree Krishna recommends giving up desire and learning to live with one’s needs because those who are able to learn living with the minimum basic needs are also capable of handling ego. In fact, when one relinquishes desire, he is also overcoming expectation and learning to live in the present moment. This is a state when the sense of humility and gratitude suo moto comes and he starts being grateful even for the mundane needs to God, nature and everything else relevant.

Yadrichchha-labha-santushto dvandvatito vimatsarah,
Samah siddhavasiddhau cha kritvapi na nibadhyate.

(Content with whatever gain comes of its own accord, and free from envy, they are beyond the duality of life. Being equipoise in success and failure, they are not bound by their actions, even while performing all kinds of activities.) (BG: Chapter 4, Verse 22)

In the beginning of his discourse to Prince Arjuna, Shree Krishna insisted that giving up of the material desires was of paramount importance. Once a person desires for a thing, he is taken over by egoism and suo moto falls into the trap of negative emotions like arrogance, greed and sense of ownership and doership. The ego stands as the chief barrier that tends to deprive the person from realizing the truth of the Self and Supreme. It functions like a fortified prison that keeps the person locked within his own mind and body. Hence it is essential that the person gets rid of egoism; having got riddance itself paves way for renouncing a host of other negative emotions. Most importantly, a person free from egoism is also free from the sense of ownership and doership, which is responsible for the bondage and lack of gratitude. In the following verse, Shree Krishna compares an ungrateful being with that of a thief.

Ishtan bhogan hi vo deva dasyante yajna-bhavitah,
Tair dattan apradayaibhyo yo bhu?kte stena eva sah.

(Fostered by sacrifice (yajna), the celestial gods will surely bestow on you without asking all the necessities of life. But those who enjoy what is given to them, without making offerings in return, are verily thieves.) (BG: Chapter 3, Verse 12)

Shree Krishna asks the adherents to offer sacrifices to the Divine selflessly and gratefully and, in return, they will receive the divine grace absolving them from sins. Those who enjoy all material gifts and holdings without offering them back are sinners akin to committing theft. This could be easily learnt through the following instance of the Kurushetra in Mahabharata where overwhelmed with infatuation, Prince Arjuna reveals his faint-heartedness and bewildered mind with a desire to give up and opt out from the imminent war. Shree Krishna then explains him the righteous duty of a Kshatriya and yogas of action, knowledge and devotion as well as their impact on learnings about the self-control, cosmic science and the Divine glory. This discourse not only helps to usher in clarity in Arjuna’s mind and vision but also inculcates a sense of gratitude and humility which is clearly visible in the following verse. 

 

Manyase yadi tach chhakyam maya drashtum iti prabho,
Yogeshvara tato me tvam darshayatmanam avyayam. 

(O Lord of all yogas, if You think it can be beheld by me, then kindly reveal me your imperishable cosmic form.) (BG: Chapter 11, Verse 4)

For the sake of brevity and other constraints, the entire dialogue cannot be reproduced here but, in essence, Arjuna profusely thanked Shree Krishna for the wisdom and knowledge imparted in the preceding discourse while expressing his humble desire to see the cosmic form of the Supreme Entity. In the aforesaid verse, the former has now sought the latter’s approval with gratitude and humility to reveal His Universal Form provided He is satisfied with the seeker’s worthiness. 

As an ordinary human being is spiritually not so strong with many doubts about the Self and other cosmic realities, the adherents of Hinduism as also almost all other religions resort to seeking the grace of God to enlighten their mind and the actionable path. This is the reason why in the discourse of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Shree Krishna initially explains the yogas of Karma (action) and Jnan (knowledge) and their intricacies to Arjuna and then guides him that the Bhakti Yoga (devotion to God) is the easiest way to achieve the same end. 

Tam eva sharanam gachchha sarva-bhavena bharata,
Tat-prasadat param shantim sthanam prapsyasi shashvatam.

(Surrender exclusively unto Him with your whole being, O Bharat. By His grace, you will attain perfect peace and the eternal abode.) (BG: Chapter 18, Verse 62)

The Hindu Vedanta philosophy is based on the premise of the monistic monotheism suggesting the nature of the Individual Self and the Supreme Self (God) is the same, the duality so appearing is because the former is under the influence of Maya (material world) in the present state. This is what Shree Krishna told Arjuna that the God dwells in the hearts of all living beings (Self or soul is a fraction or extension of the Supreme) and, based on their karmas, He directs the wanderings of the soul (Self), who is seated on the machine (perishable body) made of the material energy. As the soul is linked to God, it also needs the latter’s grace to get out of its present predicament i.e. bondage owing to Maya; hence Shree Krishna’s advice of surrendering wholeheartedly to God seeking His grace.

In essence, the teachings of Srimad Bhagavad Gita recommend that every person should cultivate the spirit of gratitude in life. We shall be thankful to God for everything that we possess and for all that comes our way. Similarly, we should be thankful to our parents, spiritual guru and teachers, ancestors, family, society, nature as well as various forces of the nature such as light, water, fire, air, etc. We shall be grateful for what we possess to meet our needs but gratitude should be through our constant actions by performing righteous duties. The underlying message of the Bhagavad Gita is that any person who lacks gratitude and shirks in recompensing others vis-à-vis help and benefit received actually commits sin. In other words, those who take for self but avoid giving back to the society and environment are the worst kind of sinners.

Cultivating and Practicing Gratitude

In Hinduism, apart from the Satya and Ahimsa, Kritajana is yet another important positive attribute with a potential to directly connect us with God. Actually, it’s a key factor for our all social and spiritual interactions as majority of us instinctively express gratitude to God, our elders and many others even for small favours and achievements. This gratitude or thanks giving actually reflects our respect and adoration towards the Divine, our parents and elders, teachers, great personalities, and so in. Even our friendship and social relationship largely revolves around the gratitude that comes from the mutual reciprocity and generosity that extends as far as to our surrounding eco system too including the environment, animals and plants. The sense of gratitude makes us a better human being and an asset for the society. Some researches carried out in the past also suggest that the feeling of gratefulness triggers the parasympathetic component of the nervous system increasing the secretion of oxytocin and reducing the level of cortisol. Oxytocin as happiness and bonding hormone is also believed to reduce the effects of aging of the brain, anxiety and depressive thoughts.

In the previous section, we found Shree Krishna advice to get rid of the sense of ownership and doership in an endeavour to achieve a stable mind. The relinquishment of ego leads to contentment and from contentment arises the feeling of gratitude. Conceptually, it may appear very simple but taming our mind to practically do it not so easy because by intuition the attributes of Ahamkara (I am the doer) and Mamakara (This in mine) tend to rule the material life of a person. Of course, our scriptures recommend an easier way that the person should unconditionally surrender to God through devotion and be grateful to Him for everything one possesses or achieves in life. Of course as a growing child, everyone learns mundane lessons of gratitude from his (and her) interactions with parents, teachers, other elders and society as well as the surrounding environment. However, there are some special methods and meditation has been considered one such way of acquiring positive attributes and emotions including gratitude. 

When a person engages in deep meditation, he reaches the states of being ecstatic and blissful that suo moto generates the feelings of humility, compassion and gratitude towards God, nature and people in surrounding. In Patanjali’s Yogasutra, Dhyana (meditation) is listed as the 7th step of the Eight-Limbed Yogic Practices already dealt with at length in the Part XXX of this series.  Dhyana is contemplation i.e. focused attention inside the body and mind on God, Self or any other object of nature or abstract thought of pure and pious nature. Thus is seen as an effective tool to see the purpose of life clearly and perceive reality beyond illusion. In modern age, the meditation has assumed a far more universal form whereby emphasis is more on stress reduction, relaxation of the body and mind, and self-improvement rather than laying erstwhile much emphasis merely on the spiritual growth and attainment.

Buddhist monks are said to have evolved their modified meditative practice known as ‘Gratitude Meditation’ which apart from the usual benefits also considerably enhances gratitude level. As such any good practice is not specific to a religion and, instead, could be followed by everyone for its accrued benefits. Hence a practitioner could indulge in daily practice of the gratitude meditation for five to ten minutes of focused breath awareness feeling grateful for the following six things in life:

1) that he is breathing and alive for yet another day while many others are not so blessed;

2) that so many people have serious ailments while he still has reasonably good health;

3) that his mind (brain) is cognitively healthy and fit without any serious shortcoming;

4) that his sensory organs are still reasonably hale and hearty with ability to sustain stress and pain;

5) that he is grateful to God for everything including the possessions and accomplishments enough to be happy and content; and

6) that he is grateful to people (family, friends, and everyone that matters) and objects of nature making his life easy and comfortable.

As already established, on the absence of any purported act to enhance the gratitude level, even the path of the spirituality and devotion could be of tremendous help. People who regularly worship or attend to religious and/or charitable activities stand better chances to have greater degree of gratitude in their lives. Being grateful is indeed among the most common and admirable attributes that comes with unclenching faith and devotion to God. The aforesaid averment is also vindicated with the following verse from the Srimad Bhagvad Mahapurana (often referred to as 5th Veda too).

Mam ekam eva sharanam atmanam sarva-dehinam,
Yahi sarvatma-bhavena maya sya hy akuto-bhayah. 

 (O Uddhav! Giving up all forms of mundane social and religious conventions, simply surrender unto me, the Supreme Soul of all souls. Only then you can cross over this material ocean and become fearless.) (Srimad Bhagavatam: 11.12.15)

Hindu texts describe many ways whereby the living being could easily feel surrendered to God. The simplest way is to try concording own desire with the desire of God; in other word, one should learn to take and be content with both happiness and sorrow as will of the God. While we thank God for every material possession and accomplishment, we should not complain either in the event of the failures and sufferings, consciously accepting it as will of God. Yet another aspect symbolizing surrender to God is having full faith in Him in all circumstances about his abilities of taking care of the entire universe. We must always acknowledge with gratitude numerous priceless gifts of God that we use daily for free such as sunlight, air, water, fire – listed just a few. Realizing the God as the creator of the entire cosmos, we must feel grateful in assigning all ownership and doership to Him rather than taking such credit for self - a very significant step in our subservience and surrender to God. As relinquishing ego is key basis of our evolution, instead of nurturing pride for successes and good deeds, we must express our gratitude by assigning it to the grace of God.

Postlude

By following some of the points outlined in the foregoing paragraphs, practitioners can enhance their level of gratitude and, in turn, overall quality of life. Of course, the scriptures provide that the surrender of self to the devotion of God is the ideal and best course for acquiring and expressing the sense of gratitude. Merely the feeling of gratefulness could do wonders to improve and shine the life of all practitioners. Even in mundane social interaction, when we express gratitude to any other person or group, we can easily notice joy and reciprocity in the latter’s expression too. It is also established through studies that the genuine feelings of gratitude lead to improvement of the individual’s altruistic tendencies, including the level of generosity, empathy and helping attitude. Undoubtedly, the grateful people are also found to be happier, more satisfied, and less stressed and depressed in their social life and relationships compared to the egoist and ungrateful.

Continued to Next Page  
 

Images (c) istock.com

16-Apr-2023

More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

Top | Hinduism

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