Earth Gathas

by Thich Nhat Hanh, re-posted from Lion’s Roar

Gathas help us to practice mindfulness in our daily lives and to look deeply. Reciting these short verses will bring awareness, peace, and joy to the simple activities we may take for granted, like eating a meal, washing our hands, or taking out the garbage. These gathas remind us that Earth provides us with precious gifts every day.

Taking the First Step of the Day

Walking on the Earth
is a miracle!
Each mindful step
reveals the wondrous dharmakaya.

This poem can be recited right as we get out of bed and our feet touch the floor. It can also be used during walking meditation or any time we stand up and walk. Dharmakaya literally means the “body” (kaya) of the Buddha’s teachings (dharma), the way of understanding and love. Before passing away, the Buddha told his disciples, “Only my physical body will pass away. My dharma body will remain with you forever.” In Zen, the word has come to mean “the essence of all that exists.” All phenomena—the song of a bird, the warm rays of the sun, a cup of hot tea—are manifestations of the dharmakaya. We, too, are of the same nature as these wonders of the universe. We do not have to walk in space or on water to experience a miracle; the real miracle is to be awake in the present moment. Walking on the green Earth, we realize the wonder of being alive. When we make steps like this, the sun of the dharmakaya will shine.

Turning on the Water

Water flows from high mountain sources.
Water runs deep in the Earth.
Miraculously, water comes to us
and sustains all life.

Even if we know the source of our water, we often take its appearance for granted. But water is what makes all life on Earth possible. Our bodies are more than 70 percent water. Our food can be grown and raised because of water. Water is a good friend, a bodhisattva, which nourishes the many thousands of species on Earth. Its benefits are infinite. Reciting this gatha before turning on the faucet or drinking a glass of water enables us to see the stream of fresh water in our own hearts so that we feel completely refreshed. To celebrate the gift of water is to cultivate awareness and help sustain our life and the lives of others.

Looking at Your Empty Bowl

My bowl, empty now,
will soon be filled with precious food.
Beings all over the Earth are struggling to live.
How fortunate we are to have enough to eat.

When many people on this Earth look at an empty bowl, they know their bowl will continue to be empty for a long time. So the empty bowl is as important to honor as the full bowl. We are grateful to have food to eat, and with this gatha, we can vow to find ways to help those who are hungry.

Serving Food

In this food,
I see clearly
the entire universe
supporting my existence.

When we look at our plate, filled with fragrant and appetizing food, we should be aware of the bitter pain of people who suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Looking at our plate, we can see Mother Earth, the farm workers, and the tragedy of the unequal distribution of resources. We who live in North America and Europe are accustomed to eating foods imported from other countries, whether it is coffee from Colombia, chocolate from Ghana, or fragrant rice from Thailand. Many children in these countries, except those from rich families, never see the fine products that are put aside for export in order to bring in money. Before a meal, we can join our palms in mindfulness and think about those who do not have enough to eat. Slowly and mindfully, we breathe three times and recite this gatha. Doing so will help us maintain mindfulness. May we find ways to live more simply in order to have more time and energy to change the system of injustice that exists in the world.

Touching the Earth

Earth brings us into life
and nourishes us.
Earth takes us back again.
We are born and we die with every breath.

The Earth is our mother. All life arises from her and is nourished by her. Each of us is a child of the Earth and, at some time, the Earth will take us back to her again. In fact, we are continuously coming to life and returning to the bosom of the Earth. We who practice meditation should be able to see birth and death in every breath. Touching the earth, letting your fingers feel the soil, and gardening are wonderful, restorative activities. If you live in a city, you may not have many opportunities to hoe the earth, plant vegetables, or take care of flowers. But you can still find and appreciate a small patch of grass or earth and care for it. Being in touch with Mother Earth is a wonderful way to preserve your mental health.

Watering the Garden

Water and sun
green these plants.
When the rain of compassion falls,
even the desert becomes a vast fertile plain.

Water is the balm of compassion. It has the capacity to restore us to life. Rain enlivens crops and protects people from hunger. The Bodhisattva of Compassion is often depicted holding a vase of water in her left hand and a willow branch in her right. She sprinkles down compassion, like drops of nurturing water, to revitalize tired hearts and minds weak from suffering. Watering the garden, the compassionate rain falls on the plants. When we offer water to plants, we offer it to the whole Earth. When watering plants, if we speak to them, we are also speaking to ourselves. We exist in relationship to all other phenomena. The feeling of alienation among so many people today has come about because they lack awareness of the interconnectedness of all things. We cannot separate ourselves from society or anything else. This is like this, because that is like that is a phrase taken from the sutras, summarizing the principle of interrelatedness. To water plants and experience compassion and interconnectedness is a wonderful practice of meditation.


In the garbage, I see a rose.
In the rose, I see the garbage.
Everything is in transformation.
Even permanence is impermanent.

Whenever we throw something away, whether in the garbage can, the compost, or the recycling, it can smell terrible. Rotting organic matter smells especially terrible. But it can also become rich compost for fertilizing the garden. The fragrant rose and the stinking garbage are two sides of the same existence. Without one, the other cannot be. Everything is in transformation. The rose that wilts after six days will become a part of the garbage. After six months the garbage is transformed into a rose. When we speak of impermanence, we understand that everything is in transformation. This becomes that, and that becomes this. Looking deeply, we can contemplate one thing and see everything else in it. We are not disturbed by change when we see the interconnectedness and continuity of all things. It is not that the life of any individual is permanent, but that life itself continues. When we identify ourselves with life and go beyond the boundaries of a separate identity, we shall be able to see permanence in the impermanent, or the rose in the garbage.

Adapted from “The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology,” by Thich Nhat Hanh. © 2008 by Unified Buddhist Church. With permission from Parallax Press,

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Peace Is Every Step

—Excerpt from “Peace is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh,

“The roots of war are in the way we live our daily lives–the way we develop our industries, build up our society, and consume goods. We have to look deeply into the situation, and we will see the roots of war. We cannot just blame one side or the other. We have to transcend the tendency to take sides. …

… Anger is an unpleasant feeling. It is like a blazing flame that burns up our self-control and causes us to say and do things we regret later. When someone is angry, we can see clearly that he or she is abiding in hell. Anger and hatred are the materials from which hell is made. A mind without anger is cool, fresh, and sane. The absence of anger is the basis of real happiness, the basis of love and compassion.

When our anger is placed under the lamp of mindfulness, it immediately begins to lose some of its destructive nature. We can say to ourselves, “Breathing in, I know that anger is in me. Breathing out, I know that I am my anger.” If we follow our breathing closely while we identify and mindfully observe our anger, it can no longer monopolize our consciousness. …

…When we are angry, our anger is our very self. To suppress or chase it away is to suppress or chase away our self. When we are joyful, we are the joy. When we are angry, we are the anger. When anger is born in us, we can be aware that anger is an energy in us, and we can accept that energy in order to transform it into another kind of energy. ….

…If you are mindful in the morning and try to nourish mindfulness throughout the day, you may be able to come home at the end of the day with a smile, which proves that mindfulness is still there.”

—Thich Nhat Hanh, from Peace is Every Step, Bantam Books. The full version of this essay appears in Parabola, Winter 1991: “The Golden Mean.” This issue is available here.

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Steps to Mindfulness at Work:

Excerpt from The Huffington Post’s “15 Practical Ways To Find Your Zen At Work” 

Thay, as he is known to his hundreds of thousands of followers around the world, believes the practice of mindfulness is relevant to everyone, regardless of what job they do. He writes in his book Work that “[l]earning the art of stopping, of releasing tension, of using loving speech and deep listening, and sharing this practice with others can have a huge impact on our own enjoyment at work and on our company’s culture.”

“When we know how to take care of our strong emotions and to establish good relationships at work, communication improves, stress is reduced, and our work becomes much more pleasant,” he continues. “This is a huge benefit not only to ourselves, but also to those we work with, to our loved ones, our families, and the whole of society.”

Mindfulness is the art of bringing our full attention to the present moment, starting with awareness of our breath. This allows us to experience life without being caught up in the past or worrying about what might happen in the future.

“The future is made up of only one substance and that is the present moment,” Thay writes. “By taking care of the present, you are doing everything you can to assure a good future.”

The 89-year-old Vietnamese monk, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King for his work in seeking an end to the Vietnam war, is critical of Western society’s obsession with competition at work, which serves only to strengthen our sense of self at the expense of other people and the environment.

In fact, he believes the desperation to succeed at all costs helps fuel our voracious economic system, which in turn is leading to climate change and the destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity.

“Those striving to be the best, to be at the top, have to work very hard to get there, and doing this, they suffer a lot,” he writes. “Once they reach the top, they have to keep on striving in order to stay there, and often they suffer from tremendous stress and become burnt out. If we continue living like this we’re heading not only towards self-destruction but also toward the destruction of our planet.”

Thay says we should replace our fixation with fame, wealth and competition with the three Buddhist powers: understanding, love and letting go.

“Only when we can establish harmony, love and happiness within ourselves are we in a position to really help our business,” he writes.

 So here are 15 practical steps Thay says we can take to bring mindfulness to our work:

  1. Start your day with 10 minutes of sitting in meditation.
  2. Take the time to sit down and enjoy eating breakfast at home.
  3. Remind yourself every day of your gratitude for being alive and having 24 brand-new hours to live.
  4. Try not to divide your time into “my time” and “work.” All time can be your own time if you stay in the present moment and keep in touch with what’s happening in your body and mind. There’s no reason why your time at work should be any less pleasant than your time anywhere else.
  5. Resist the urge to make calls on your cell phone while on your way to and from work, or on your way to appointments. Allow yourself this time to just be with yourself, with nature and with the world around you.
  6. Arrange a breathing area at work where you can go to calm down, stop and have a rest. Take regular breathing breaks to come back to your body and to bring your thoughts back to the present.
  7. At lunchtime, eat only your food and not your fears or worries. Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Change environments. Go for a walk.
  8. Make a ritual out of drinking your tea. Stop work and look deeply into your tea to see everything that went into making it: the clouds and the rain, the tea plantations and the workers harvesting the tea.
  9. Before going to a meeting, visualize someone very peaceful, mindful and skillful being with you. Take refuge in this person to help stay calm and peaceful.
  10. If you feel anger or irritation, refrain from saying or doing anything straight away. Come back to your breathing and follow your in- and out-breath until you’ve calmed down.
  11. Practice looking at your boss, your superiors, your colleagues or your subordinates as your allies and not as your enemies. Recognize that working collaboratively brings more satisfaction and joy than working alone. Know that the success and happiness of everyone is your own success.
  12. Express your gratitude and appreciation to your colleagues regularly for their positive qualities. This will transform the whole work environment, making it much more harmonious and pleasant for everyone.
  13. Try to relax and restore yourself before going home so you don’t bring accumulated negative energy or frustration home with you.
  14. Take some time to relax and come back to yourself when you get home before starting on household chores. Recognize that multitasking means you’re never fully present for any one thing. Do one thing at a time and give it your full attention.
  15. At the end of the day, keep a journal of all the good things that happened in your day. Water your seeds of joy and gratitude regularly so they can grow.

The Huffington Post’s “Work Well” series is also part of our “What’s Working” solutions-oriented journalism initiative.


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Realize You are the Earth

By Thich Nhat Hanh on Tuesday October 27th, 2015

By seeing the Earth inside of us we can touch the Ultimate Dimension

The Earth will be safe when we feel safe in ourselves.
– Thich Nhat Hanh

“You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.

Breathe in and be aware of your body and look deeply into it and realize you are the Earth and your consciousness is also the consciousness of the Earth. Not to cut the tree not to pollute the water, that is not enough.

Touching Mother Earth inside of us

We need a real awakening, enlightenment, to change our way of thinking and seeing things. The practice of mindfulness helps us to touch Mother Earth inside of the body and this practice can help heal people.

This kind of enlightenment is very crucial to a collective awakening. In Buddhism we talk of meditation as an act of awakening, to be awake to the fact that the Earth is in danger and living species are in danger.

Activists have to have a spiritual practice in order to help them to suffer less, to nourish the happiness and to handle the suffering so they will be effective in helping the world. With anger and frustration you cannot do much.

When I am mindful, I enjoy my tea more. I am fully present in the here and now, not carried away by my sorrow, my fear, my projects, the past and the future. I am here available to life. When I drink tea this is a wonderful moment.

Touching the Ultimate Dimension

If we are able to touch deeply the historical dimension – through a leaf, a flower, a pebble, a beam of light, a mountain, a river, a bird, or our own body – we touch at the same time the ultimate dimension.

The ultimate dimension cannot be described as personal or impersonal, material or spiritual, object or subject of cognition – we say only that it is always shining, and shining on itself.

Touching the ultimate dimension, we feel happy and comfortable, like the birds enjoying the blue sky, or the deer enjoying the green fields. We know that we do not have to look for the ultimate outside of ourselves – it is available within us, in this very moment.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

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Compassion is not Enough

Excerpt from “The World We Have” by Thich Nhat Hanh

There’s a lot of suffering in the world, and it’s important for us to stay in touch with this suffering in order to be compassionate. But to remain strong, we also need to embrace the positive elements. When we see a group of people living mindfully, smiling and behaving in a loving manner, we gain confidence in our future.

When we practice mindful breathing, smiling, resting, walking, and working, we become a positive element in society, and we will inspire confidence in everyone around us. This is the way to avoid allowing despair to overwhelm us. It is also the way to help the younger generation so they don’t lose hope. It’s very important that we live our daily lives in such a way as to demonstrate that a future is possible.

To bring about real change in our global ecological situation our efforts must be collective and harmonious, based on love and respect for ourselves and each other, our ancestors, and future generations. If anger at injustice is what we use as the source of our energy, we may do something harmful, something we will later regret.

According to Buddhism, compassion is the only source of energy that is useful and safe. With compassion your energy is from insight; it is not blind energy. Just feeling compassion is not enough; we have to learn to express it. That is why love must always go together with understanding. Understanding and insinght show us how to act.

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No-Coming, No-Going

Contemplation on No-Coming and No-Going by Thich Nhat Hanh

This body is not me.
I am not limited by this body,
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born,
and I have never died.

Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
manifestations from my wondrous true mind.
Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass, sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek.

So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say goodbye,
say goodbye to meet again soon.

We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.


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Only love will get us out of this circle of suffering.

by Alexis from Wake Up Montréal

Dear friends from around the world,

I am writing to you from Montréal. On Friday, I lost my cousin during the attacks in France. Faced with this terrible news, I cried. Eric was the father of a little girl and his partner is due to give birth in two months. So many things are jostling in my mind.

I breathe in, I breathe out.

Eric, you were (and you are in my heart) a being filled with joy. I will pay homage to you by being joyful and mindful to offer joy to others. Today, I wish to carry that joy into this violence, this nameless suffering. You are an example and I will follow your lead on this path of joy and openness of spirit.

I breathe in, I breathe out.

I have not given into the anger or the desire for revenge. Because it is anger and revenge that brought on these odious acts. Today, I wish only to hold those dear to me, and those whom I don’t know, in my arms and tell them that I love them. Only love will get us out of this circle of suffering.

I breathe in, I breathe out.

In losing a loved one, I am aware of what people go through daily, whether they are from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, but also the United States. Every day, people around the world are killed by gunfires. Today, I have the opportunity to join them, their loved ones, and send them my compassion.

I breathe in, I breathe out.

To hate, to Mara and to all those who fall into it, I see you. You are nothing but an illusion and I will not identify with you. On my path of peace, there are no exceptions. Facing suffering, I observe and I let go. I do not oppose. I do not identify. I also offer love to these men who kill. Even if I completely condemn their actions, I cannot forget that they are a portion of our collective suffering. I vow to work on my own personal sufferings, in order to lessen, in my humble way, our collective suffering.

I breathe in, I breathe out.

Today, people are speaking with one another, opening doors that were once shut, and are in solidarity. Even if this wave is only for now, I do want to see this presence, this support, this love for one another. I am sad that this only occurs in moments of despair, but I am happy to tell myself that it is always present. I vow to maintain this spirit of openness within myself and to accompany others to open themselves.

I breathe in, I breathe out.

I breathe in, I breathe out.

I breathe in, I breathe out.

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