On October 3, l863, President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day a
national holiday, to be observed on the last Thursday of November. In l94l Congress
adopted a joint resolution confirming the fourth Thursday of November, as Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is an American holiday which
usually brings to mind a day to get together with friends and family. Over the years, the
focus has been to prepare the traditional roast turkey and pumpkin pie with all the
trimmings and to catch the football season on television.
Many people have a vague recollection that
this holiday started with the Pilgrims, but have forgotten the beautiful history behind
this celebration. It is a story of human struggle, courage, and a commitment to the
freedom to practice one's faith against great odds. The story carries timeless application
for us today, as we recall with deep gratitude in our hearts the great love and sacrifice
of others that paved the way for us.
Religion in England was woven
into the monarchy as a way to unify the people, and to command their loyalty. When Queen
Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in l558, she was determined to enforce one Protestant
religion. She passed an Act of Uniformity which compelled the clergy to adhere strictly to
the detailed forms of worship set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. A group of Puritans
known as Independents began to oppose the Church of England. They found the detailed forms
of worship in the Book of Common Prayer repugnant, and they sought to worship in their own
Some Independents, called Separatists, began
to hold their own private worship, and stayed away from the church. By forming these
separate congregations, the Puritans made themselves subject to persecution, and
Parliament forbade them to hold their own services.
When James I ascended to the throne in l603,
he made it clear that he opposed the Puritans. He considered their disagreement of his
leadership of the Church of England seditious. He strengthened the Court of High
Commission to punish Puritans who wanted to make reforms. As persecution of the Puritans
intensified, they escaped to Holland, eventually settling in Leyden.
The Puritans began to hear glowing accounts
of North American settlements. A pioneer English colony in North America had been founded
at Jamestown. Life in Leyden was difficult. Work was not easy to find, and they had not
been able to escape from religious strife. Leyden was also a potential battlefield as a
twelve year truce between Holland and Spain was to end in l92l. The Pilgrim Fathers
decided to go to America. They were hopeful of having the freedom to worship in their new
The Leyden Pilgrims boarded the Mayflower
and sailed for North America, eventually landing at New Plymouth, where they established a
settlement. Nearly half of the Pilgrims died from the harsh New England winter, disease,
and scurvy. The Wampanoag Indians were friendly to the Pilgrims, and taught them how to
plant corn, and showed them how to harvest fish and other commodities of the land. The
first harvest in a new land was bountiful, and a day of thanksgiving was set aside. The
Pilgrims were joined by the Indians in three days of festivities, and the first
thanksgiving in American history was celebrated.
The Pilgrims wanted to thank God for His
bounty. Notwithstanding all of their suffering, they never lost their faith in God, and
their strong spiritual life was instrumental in seeing them through their hardships. Over
the years, more settlers arrived from England to escape the continuing anti-Puritan
policies of the monarchy.
Samuel Eliot Morison, wrote in The
Pilgrim Fathers, Their Significance In History, that the story of the Pilgrims was a "story of their patience and fortitude, and the workings of the unseen force which
bears up heroic souls in the doing of mighty errands, as often as is read or told,
quickens the spiritual forces in American life, strengthens faith in God, and confidence
in human nature...And the key to that story, the vital factor in this little group, is the
faith in God that exalted them and their small enterprise to something of lasting value
and enduring interest."
The cornerstone of truly great achievement
rests in God, and the inner peace that one can find when the heart and mind reposes in
Him, no matter what the trying circumstances in life may be. As the Pilgrims thanked God
for His goodness though they suffered, so too, may we thank God for the experiences that
we must experience to evolve and grow in greater strength spiritually. Let every day be a
day of thanksgiving to God. Everywhere we look in daily life there are Pilgrims all around
us; heroic souls who strive to be free, and are willing to undertake great sacrifice that
others may also be free.
History is replete with horrific
persecutions in the name of religion. We are fortunate that in our American history the
freedom of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United
States which sets forth that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
I remember Divine Mother in my heart always,
and I recall how she used to say that America was founded on freedom of religion. She
could see the inherent wisdom in allowing a nation's citizenry the right to worship God in
ways that rang true in their hearts. She saw the beauty in the ability of each person to
realize his or her potential to the fullest, and she often said that the greatest love
that one can give is freedom. We can never experience true freedom at the oppression of
others, for we are all connected to each other, and to oppress others is to oppress
Sri Ramakrishna said, "I have practiced
all religions—Hinduism, Islam, Christianity—and I have found that it is the same God
toward whom all are directing their steps, though along different paths...Whenever I look,
I see men quarrelling in the name of religion—Hindus, Mohammedans, Brahmos, Vaishnavas,
and the rest. But they never reflect that He who is called Krishna is also called Siva,
and bears the name of the Primal Energy, Jesus and Allah as well—the same Rama with a
thousand names. A lake has several ghats. At one the Hindus take water in pitchers and
call it 'jal' at another the Mussalmans take water in leather bags and call it 'pani' at a
third the Christians call it 'water.' Can we imagine that it is not 'jal' but only 'pani'
or 'water?' The substance is One under different names, and everyone is seeking the same
substance; only climate, temperament, and name create differences. Let each man follow his
own path. If he sincerely and ardently wishes to know God, peace be unto him! He will
surely realize Him...If people feel sincere longing, they will find that all paths lead to
I thank Divine Mother for awakening my
spiritual consciousness, and for making God come alive in my heart. I remember her life
spent in her humble kitchen, serving an endless stream of people who sought to be with
her, and experience her powerful transmissions. Divine Mother wrote to me on October 27, 1973, "When one loves the Lord, he knows God is all in all, and that God is perfect
harmony, love, joy and abundance, and that God is the only power. Attach the mind to God
and work. Everything belongs to Him. He is infinite love...Let God be the Doer. He is the
Creator and the Destroyer, and as we hold His hand and work in the early stages of
spiritual unfoldment we will get strength and comfort, the anxieties will gradually
disappear. Try to love God first before anything else. His life is in you the closest of
all. Keep on thanking Him. He is running the universe."
How I love the deep respect that Sri
Ramakrishna and Divine Mother had for each person's sacred journey back to the Godself.
They lived in that transcendent state of pure Spirit in which religions do not exist, and
yet is the wellspring from which all religions are born.
There is great joy in each person's
spiritual evolvement, and I have been privileged to see incredible growth taking place
throughout the spiritual family. I am happy to see these courageous souls go for their
true freedom which can only be found in God realization. Along the way, I am touched by
these grateful hearts who praise God, and I am happy to share with you their beautiful thanksgiving in this issue. May the joy of this
holiday and everyday be magnified in our hearts with deep gratefulness and devotion to the
One Great God. Happy Thanksgiving to all!
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