I don't understand Thanksgiving; I never have. Besides the 43,000,000 turkeys senselessly slaughtered for Thanksgiving centerpieces, the entire holiday feels slightly schizophrenic to me.
In America, we stuff ourselves with food until we're fit to vomit, and in some way this is supposed to be an acknowledgement of all of the ways that we have been blessed? Wouldn't fasting be more of an effective reminder?
But feasting sells better than fasting.
Through the Buddha's teachings, we examine all of the mindless habits that we indulge in every day--wallowing in emotions, lost in thought, eating voraciously, acting and speaking unskillfully. This same critical analysis applies to the traditions that we engage in. Thanksgiving symbolizes both the decadent overindulgence of Western culture--its fervent addiction to consumption, literally--and humans' intentional self-ignorance.
Thanksgiving represents the ultimate Western irony. Gratitude means exercising humility and reflecting on all of the ways that the world--not just our family, community, and nation--nourishes us. It means to acknowledge how all beings contribute to our existence, and as a result, a blossoming of compassion emerges in our hearts for those beings we ordinarily harm through our mindlessness.
Yet, toxic American culture teaches us the exact opposite--that the way to express gratitude is through excess, exploitation, and gross over-consumption. All of which are the exact opposite of gratitude, hence the irony.
When we embody awareness, we cannot help but see that Thanksgiving is yet another symptom of a distressed culture, one that causes harm to countless beings.
Instead of slaughter and decadence, true thanksgiving encourages a change in our lifestyle for the benefit of all beings. Give thanks every day, not just the last Thursday in November.