“Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.6)
Thanksgiving is one of the more popular holidays in America. Celebrated annually in the month of November, it is best known for food and family. Though the holiday has evolved into an annual tradition of families getting together, Thanksgiving started as a religious holiday.
The Thanksgiving weekend is known as the largest travel weekend of the year in America. Since the holiday always occurs on a Thursday, the Wednesday before and the Sunday after are two of the single largest travel days of the year. People travel far and wide to be with their families to celebrate this festive occasion. It is such a deep rooted tradition, that many married couples have trouble deciding which family they will spend Thanksgiving with, the husband’s or the wife’s. The cornerstone of the holiday celebration is the Thanksgiving meal. Turkey is the traditional main course, along with side dishes including stuffing, cranberry sauce, cornbread, pumpkin pie, etc. Families settle in for the meal and eat as much as they can, for all this sumptuous food is made to be enjoyed. Afterwards, the male members of the family usually settle down on the couch and watch football. Thanksgiving is such a popular holiday that it is even celebrated by people outside of the Christian faith. The name of the holiday gives us hints into its origin. The real meaning of Thanksgiving is to give thanks to God.
A long time ago, during the early 1600s, the Pilgrims settled on this land known as America. They had fled from England due to restrictions imposed on their religious practices. The Pilgrims wanted to have religious freedom so they bravely journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean in hopes of a better life. This is the natural yearning spirit of man. Aside from wanting freedom, man wants to be religious, for that is his nature. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that each living entity is constitutionally a part and parcel of the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna. Due to contact with nature, the soul accepts different types of bodies based on qualities and desires. Though it is the tendency of the living entity to forget its original position as servitor to the Supreme Lord, an inkling of that devotion to God still exists inside the body. In every living entity, there exist two souls. The atma is the soul that represents the living entity’s identity. Along with the soul, there is the Supersoul, also known as the Paramatma. The Supersoul is God’s expansion. It is the presence of the Supersoul that allows the living entity to have any God consciousness at all. In the purified state, the living entity becomes fully conscious of the Supersoul and thus takes direction from Him. Most of us are in the conditioned state where we are forgetful of our relationship with God. Nevertheless, mankind’s true nature is to be Krishna conscious.
Life in the New World was initially very difficult for the Pilgrims. When they arrived in America, they were met with harsh conditions. Many of them died during the first winter due to sickness. They had expected to find paradise, but all they encountered was hardship. William Bradford was the governor of the new colony and he described the early events in his diary. The Pilgrims’ trip to America was sponsored by merchants in England, so there was immediately a debt that needed to be repaid. The Pilgrims decided to have a socialist/collectivist style of government where the community, or the state, owned everything. Each person worked as hard as they desired, but the fruits of their work were all placed in a common store to be divided equally amongst the citizens. This system didn’t work very well since the output of food wasn’t very high. Bradford realized that people had no incentive to work harder than anyone else.
"The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years … that by taking away property, and bringing community into common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing – as if they were wiser than God…For this community [so far as it was] was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense … that was thought injustice." (William Bradford)
To remedy the situation, Bradford decided to unleash the power of freedom and free enterprise. After all, they had escaped England to seek out freedom in the New World. Bradford assigned each person their own plot of land. People were then allowed to keep whatever they produced. A tremendous harvest resulted. The output was so great that the Pilgrims were able to pay off their debts to the English merchants much sooner than expected. They now had an overabundance of food, which they then used to trade for goods with the local Indians and other citizens.
"This had very good success, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been." (William Bradford)
This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Lord Krishna, God Himself, single-handedly maintains millions of planets in the air. At the same time, food for the 8,400,000 varieties of species is also taken care of by God. Birds, tigers, reptiles, and even ants, none of them rely on any economic systems to provide for their food. Animals don’t require a Federal Reserve Chairman, elaborate tax schemes, large government bailouts, or a big economic summit to solve their eating problem. God takes care of all that. The human society should be no different. The starvation problems we see today are often attributed to overpopulation or the uneven distribution of wealth. These excuses are simply bogus. In terms of economics, It is the inherent nature of man to want to provide for himself and for his family. A government’s role is not to check this desire unnaturally, but rather to ensure that innocent life is protected and that transactions take place voluntarily. Such conditions will always result in an abundant food supply.
Even with this new free market system, the Pilgrims weren’t silly enough to think that all this food came solely through their own efforts. They held the first Thanksgiving celebration as a way to thank God for the great harvest.
“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Bg. 3.27)
Thanking God in this way represents an elevated level of consciousness. Pure devotees of Lord Krishna act in a similar manner, except they take things one step further. The Lord is the primary source for everything. In His expansion as Lord Vishnu, God simply exhales once to create innumerable universes. Thus everything in this world can be attributed to Him. Food is our lifeline. Without it, we couldn’t survive. For this reason, a smart person will thank God for any and all food they receive. In the Vedic tradition, devotees take things one step further by offering food to the Lord.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Bg. 9.26)
Devotees of Lord Krishna try to eat as much prasadam as possible. This is a higher form of worship than simply asking God to supply us food or even thanking Him for what He gives us. Since He is the source of everything, why not offer food to Him? Preparing elegant and sumptuous meals for our family is certainly a nice thing, but doing the same for God is an even higher practice. “Here God, I prepared this elaborate food for You because I love You and I want You to be happy. You have been kind enough to allow me to always think of You, so I am trying to repay that kindness by offering You this nice dish that I prepared specifically for You.”
To those unfamiliar with Vedic traditions, this practice may seem strange. The food is offered to a picture or deity of the Lord. Some may take the deity to be stone or wood, but it is actually an authorized form of God. Lord Krishna Himself authorized this practice of deity worship when He personally appeared on earth some five thousand years ago. It’s not as if devotees simply take anything and turn it into an idol. Rather, the deity is treated to be as good as God Himself, for there are specific procedures in place to maintain the deity. When vegetarian food is prepared and offered by a devotee, the Lord eats the food by glancing over it. God doesn’t require hands or a mouth to eat. Since He is omnipotent and supremely powerful, He can eat with His eyes. After the Lord eats the food, He leaves the remnants for us to partake in. This leftover food is known as prasadam, meaning the Lord’s mercy.
Thanksgiving day is so nice because it gives people an opportunity to give thanks to God for all His blessings. Many families have a tradition where they go around the dinner table asking each family member what they are thankful for. This Thanksgiving, we are thankful for everything God has given us, but most of all, we are thankful that He allows us to remember Him. Krishna is so kind that, in this age, He appears in the form of His holy name. By regularly chanting “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can give thanks every day.