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The Meanings of Thanksgiving in Buddhism

Thích Trừng Sỹ

The Meanings of Thanksgiving in Buddhism

Namo Buddhaya, Namo Dharmaya, Namo Sanghaya,

Dear Dharma Sisters, Brothers, and everyone,

Today is Thanksgiving season; we have a good opportunity to read, study, and understand a couple of the meanings of this Holiday happily.

1. A) We know the first Thanksgiving in the United States in 1621 (2022 – 1621 = 401 years) was celebrated together by various people coming from Europe on a Mayflower ship and native Americans to express their thanks and gratitude to God, heaven, earth, crops, weather, healthy life, development of the country, and the national founders.

The different types of food for this holiday are usually vegetables, pumpkin, corn, beans, carrots, especially “turkeys.” People often call it “Turkey Festival” because millions of turkeys are killed for their meat on this holiday. However, on Thanksgiving under President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the lucky turkey that was first released was a friend of his son, Tad. From then until now, when Thanksgiving comes, each President often releases a turkey to express a little sense of love between people and animals, but the full meaning of animal-release to preserve health and increase longevity is to make a vow to eat vegan by oneself, not to kill oneself, not to kill living beings by oneself, not to tell people to kill living beings, and not to see people killing living beings one rejoices to follow.

In the United States, since the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, Thanksgiving officially took place on Thursday of the 4th week in November. Under the US., 32nd President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Thanksgiving has become the annual national holiday from 1940 until now.

In Canada, Thanksgiving takes place on Monday of the second week of October every year.

When Thanksgiving returns, everyone has free time to reunite happily with family to eat, relax, and discuss business.

B) Thanksgiving has been present in Buddhism around 2611 B.C.E., years until now (624 B.C.E. – 35 (Enlightenment year of the Buddha) = 589 + 2022 = 2611). In the Second Week, after having attained full enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, where the Vajra Seating was immobile, from a distance, the Buddha looked and gave thanks and gratitude to the Bodhi tree to express the deep meaning of protecting the natural environment, and spoke the different kinds of gratitude in Buddhism.  Please see the summary below.

Venerable Thích Trừng Sỹ took this picture for souvenir in the Buddha’s second week at Bodhgaya in 2005 when he studied in Delhi University and had a good chance to visit and pilgrim there.

Thanksgiving” is a compound noun; “Thanks” (noun) means “thank (verb); “thank” someone or something a lot. “Giving” (noun) means “give” (verb);  “Give” (v) has ever gone together with “Receive” (v); “Receive” (v) something from someone. Both the giver, the receiver, and the objects which are given have the meaning of the same equality.

When something is given, received, and thanked from someone, we do not see the giver, receiver, thanker, Thanksgiving has the meanings of perfectness, selflessness, and non-distinction. Conversely, when giving, receiving, and thanking something from someone, we still see the giver, receiver, thanker, and the objects given, Thanksgiving has a sense of selfishness, differentiation, and imperfection yet. 

Thanksgiving always goes together with the meanings of “Gratitude and grateful Remembrance” of living things and living beings in the world.

Indeed, when we say “Thanksgiving,” we immediately think about our duties and responsibilities for “Gratitude – Gratefulness,” or “Thankfulness” between this generation and previous generation, between living people and dead people, between givers and receivers, between inherited people and connected people, and vice versa, etc.

Different kinds of “Gratitude” in Buddhism:

1/ Gratitude to grandparents and parents for their nourishment and giving birth to us.

2/Gratitude to the Buddha, the wonderful Dharma, and the harmonious Sangha.

3/ Gratitude to secular and spiritual teachers for their education and training.

4/ Gratitude to good friends and intellectuals.

5/ a. Gratitude to the national heroes, who have founded the country, built the country, and defended the country from the ancient times to the present day;

5/  b. Gratitude to the countries where we were born, have grown up, cultivated, studied, lived, and worked.

6/ Gratitude to monastic and lay people, who have merits studying the Dharma, understanding the Dharma, propagating the Dharma, protecting the Dharma, and lighting up the light of the Dharma in the present and in the future right in this world.

7/ Gratitude to children and grandchildren who have the ability to continue the family lineage, blood family, and spiritual family. In order to apply the Buddha’s teachings into everyday life, every year, whenever Thanksgiving comes,

First, we are always deeply grateful to our parents for their giving birth and upbringing. At home, parents are practical professors who teach love and understanding to their children and grandchildren. Although there is no school in a family’s education, parents always play very important, fundamental, and meaningful roles in educating their children to become good and virtuous people in life.

Second, we sincerely thank our teachers for their careers of teaching, educating, and transmitting secular knowledge and Dharma knowledge, as well as joining stable wings to us to fly high and far in multicultural society today.

Third, we sincerely thank the national heroes, who have contributed to the nation’s construction and defense from ancient times to the present day.

American Map


Fourth, we sincerely thank the countries where we were born, have grown up, lived, cultivated, studied, and worked.

Fifth, we would like to wholeheartedly express our deep gratitude to the Buddha, the wonderful Dharma, and the harmonious Sangha;

The Buddha, the fully Enlightened One, the founder of Buddhism, show the way of peace, joy, and authentic happiness to living things and living beings all over the planet.

The Dharma is the path of peace, or the noble path with the eight methods of practical cultivation in the present, including virtue, meditation, and wisdom, interrelated very closely with right view, right thought, and right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Peaceful Sangha, the Community of cultivated people, vow to live their lives of ethics, mindfulness, and awareness to bring peace and happiness to themselves and to other people right here in this world.

Moreover, this year, we sincerely thank the medical doctors and scientists who have created valuable, effective, and timely vaccines to treat people all over the world with great success. We hope that in next 2023, the war will end soon, the disease will be eliminated, people in the world will be prosperous and happy. 

Finally, we sincerely thank natural environment and peace society, where we live in independence, autonomy, freedom, warmness, fullness, and happiness right here and right now in the present life. Moreover, beside the meanings of gratitude and grateful remembrance in Buddhism, Thanksgiving still has the meanings of eating vegan to nourish the hearts of loving-kindness and compassion. According to normal meanings, every year, when Thanksgiving comes, there are millions of turkeys and animals killed, but according to the meanings of Buddhism, when Thanksgiving and other ceremonies come, to maintain long-term health and to nourish wholesome environment, compassion, and loving-kindness, we are aware to take a great vow to eat vegetables, tofu, flowers, and fruits to benefit ourselves and other people right in the present life.

Today, we have many wholesome conditions to study, understand, practice, and apply the meanings of Thanksgiving into our daily life to benefit everyone. Therefore, we strive to promote, maintain, and develop the traditional cultural features of the past and the present to make life beautified right here and right now in this world.

Best wishes to you to enjoy a happy Thanksgiving season with your loved ones, relatives, and friends in the family, the Temple, or in the Church happily.

May you all be well and happy all the time.


Ý Nghĩa Lễ Tạ Ơn trong Đạo Phật



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