“Being self-sufficient, Krishna does not require the service of any living entity, although He has many devotees. It is because Krishna is so kind and merciful that He gives the opportunity to everyone to serve Him, as though He required the service of His devotees.” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 21)
The spirit soul is constitutionally a servant of God. God is the superior entity and we are the inferior. Like it or not, this is how things are. When we say “constitutional”, it means that there is no way to change it. We can deny it, ignore it, pretend that it’s not the case, or even try to change it, but the relationship between the two is eternal, or sanatana. As the relationship and the respective positions are fixed, the occupational duty is as well, and therefore in the Vedic tradition the closest equivalent term to religion is sanatana-dharma. This eternal occupation manifests in service, and on Thanksgiving we are afforded a wonderful opportunity to carry out that service.
Thanksgiving originated as a celebration for a bountiful harvest. The settlers in the New World, a place later to become the United States, had a very difficult time in their initial few months. Imagine leaving your home for a distant land that is unknown to you. You’re leaving because practicing your religion is more important than anything else. The New World offers the hope of a better life, where you can worship the Supreme Lord while maintaining a simple lifestyle.
But the settlers didn’t have it so easy. Many of them died on the journey across the ocean, and in the first few months the food production was scarce. The governor of the new colony, William Bradford, decided to change the system a bit, dividing up the land and giving ownership to individuals. They could keep whatever they produced, rather than having to place everything in a common store. Using individual self-interest to their advantage, the colonists were able to produce so much food that they soon started trading with the Native Americans.
So pleased with the bountiful harvest, the Pilgrims decided to hold a grand feast where they gave thanks to God. This was a genuine sentiment. They believed in Him, and for that reason they risked their lives for the experiment that required a transatlantic journey. God is a singular entity; He is not exclusive to a specific tradition. Depending on time and circumstance the methods used to connect with Him may vary, but the ultimate goal is always the same. Even if the worshipers don’t know much about Him, He is still full of transcendental features, with unmatched kindness being one of them.
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor…Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be…” (President George Washington, Thanksgiving Day 1789, A Proclamation)
Later on George Washington, the first president of the United States, made Thanksgiving an official holiday. He described it as a day to be grateful to the Almighty and dedicate service to Him. The Supreme Lord doesn’t require this honor. His ego is not so inflated that He will grow angry if we neglect worship of Him. In the Vedas He is described as atmarama, which means self-satisfied. If you are satisfied in the self, your happiness is not dependent on anyone else.
Yet the person who is atmarama kindly makes room for more happiness when someone offers Him service in a genuine way. And so we can turn one day of giving thanks into a full-time engagement. And more than just eating a feast and saying a prayer, one can offer their food items to the Lord. In the Bhagavad-gita, He says that a simple flower, fruit, or water is sufficient for an offering.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)
If we are able to offer more than just a flower, why not do it? If our constitutional position is servant of God, why not continue in service without interruption? If we feel pleasure eating nice food, why wouldn’t the Lord be pleased by the same food also? If we get satisfaction from feeding our family, why wouldn’t the same satisfaction exist in God, who can expand His belly infinitely to accept all the offerings made to Him with genuine devotion?
In the bhakti tradition offerings steadily flow towards the lotus feet of that author of all that is good in this world. Those who follow bhakti-yoga maintain the attitude of the original Thanksgiving on a daily basis. At this point one may wonder if the effect wears off through the steady diet of devotion. After all, holidays are special for a reason. They don’t come around every day. If you celebrated your birthday every day, would it be special anymore?
Such limitations don’t exist in bhakti. Only in loving devotion to God does the enthusiasm increase as you progress further along. If practiced in an authorized way, such as by chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, bhakti-yoga continues without interruption and without motivation. All the common pitfalls that lead to despondency, despair, sadness and fear are removed. You have something to do all the time. If you’re not chanting, you can prepare and offer food. You can read about Krishna through the translations and commentaries of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He had so much enthusiasm for bhakti-yoga that even in old age he had the energy of a youth.
If you’re not reading, you can chant together with friends in what is known as harinama-sankirtana. If you want to have something to look forward to, you can make plans to practice bhakti-yoga. You can visit various temples, meet with other devotees, or just think about some way to offer something to God. It is said that if you just think of offering something to God, whose best name is Krishna because it describes His all-attractiveness, that offering is immediately accepted. This means that if you want to say thanks now, you can do it.
The ability to practice bhakti-yoga at any time and any place, coupled with the fact that it allows you to say thanks every day of the year, substantiates the claim that devotional service is the highest occupation for man, a service that is available to any person, at any age. Whether sitting down to a large feast or just eating a single piece of rice, if we say thanks to the origin of matter and spirit and humbly ask for the ability to remember Him during this and every subsequent lifetime, the supreme benefactor will surely grant our wish.
The Supreme Lord with offerings to feed,
By why your service would He need?
The whole world in His hand He’s got,
So what’s the harm if in service we stop?
Bhakti-yoga exists for our benefit,
Solutions to all problems in it sit.
A day for service Washington made,
Thanksgiving, a tradition then stayed.
From one day an engagement for a lifetime make,
Chant holy names and sumptuous prasadam take.