Gathas for the Practice of Mindful Living

           When I [Thich Nhat Hanh] entered Tu Hieu Monastery as a novice in 1942, I received a copy of Gathas for Daily Use, compiled by Chinese meditation master Duti. Gathas are short verses to recite during daily activities to help us return to mindfulness.

            At Plum Village in France, we practice gathas all day long-when we wake up, when we enter the meditation hall, during meals, when we wash the dishes, and with each activity.

            To meditate is to be aware of what is going on in our bodies, our feelings, our minds, and the world. Dwelling in the present moment, we can see so many beauties and wonders right before our eyes-a child's smile, the sun rising, the autumn leaves. We can be happy just by being aware of what is in front of us. Practicing with a gatha can help us return to ourselves and to what is going on in the present moment.

            It is helpful to memorize these gathas, a few at first, and more as you go on with the practice. As you silently recite the first line, breathe in; and as you silently recite the second line, breathe out. When the gatha is finished, continue your activity, and you will find that your mindfulness has increased. When we drive, road signs help us find our way. We "see" the last sign until the next one appears. Practicing with gathas is the same. When we practice well, the gathas are with us continuously, and we live our whole day in awareness.


Waking Up

            Waking up this morning, I smile.

            Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.

            I vow to live fully in each moment

            and to look at beings with eyes of compassion.

 

Taking the First Steps of the Day

            Walking on the Earth

            is a miracle!

            Each mindful step    

            reveals the wondrous Dharmakaya.

 

Stepping out of Bed

            If today I inadvertently step on a small insect,

            may it not suffer too much.

            May it be liberated.

            Homage to the Bodhisattva of the Land of Great

            Happiness.


Opening the Window

            Opening the window, I look out onto the

            Dharmakaya.

            How wondrous is life!

            Attentive to each moment,

            my mind is clear like a calm river.

 

Turning on the Water

            Water comes from high mountain sources.

            Water runs deep in the Earth.

            Miraculously, water comes to us and sustains all

            life.

            My gratitude is filled to the brim.

 

Washing Your Hands

            Water flows over these hands.

            May I use them skillfully

            to preserve our precious planet.

 

Brushing Your Teeth           

            Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth,

            I vow to speak purely and lovingly.

            When my mouth is fragrant with right speech,

            a flower blooms in the garden of my heart.

 

Rinsing Your Mouth

            Rinsing my mouth, my heart is cleansed.

            The universe is perfumed by flowers.

            Actions of body, speech, and mind are calmed.

            Hand in hand with the Buddha, I walk in the

            Pure Land.

 

Using the Toilet

            Defiled or immaculate,

            increasing or decreasing

            these concepts exist only in our mind.

            The reality of interbeing is unsurpassed.

 

Bathing

            Unborn and indestructible,

            beyond time and space

            both transmission and inheritance

            lie in the wonderful nature of Dharmadhatu.*

 

Looking in the Mirror

            Awareness is a mirror

            reflecting the four elements.

            Beauty is a heart that generates love

            and a mind that is open.

 

Washing Your Feet

            The peace and joy

            of one toe

            is peace and joy

            for my whole body.

 

Putting on the Monk's/ Nun's Robe

            Putting on this monk's/ nun's robe,

            my heart is at ease.

            I live a life of freedom,

            bringing joy to the world.

 

Putting on the Sanghati Robe

            How wonderful is the robe of a nun (monk),

            a field of precious seeds.

            I vow to receive it,

            and wear it lifetime after lifetime.

 

Entering the Meditation Hall

            Entering the meditation hall,

            I see my true self.

            As I sit down,

            I vow to cut off all disturbances.

 

Sitting Down

            Sitting Down

            Sitting here

            is like sitting under a Bodhi tree.

            My body is mindfulness itself,

            free from all distraction.

 

Finding a Stable Posture

            In the lotus posture,

            the human flower blooms.

            The udumbara flower is here,

            offering its true fragrance

 

Calming the Breath

            Breathing in, I calm my body.

            Breathing out, I smile.

            Dwelling in the present moment,

            I know this is a wonderful moment!

 

Adjusting Posture

            Feelings come and go

            like clouds in a windy sky.

            Conscious breathing

            is my anchor.

 

Greeting Someone

            A lotus for you

            a Buddha to be.

 

Holding the Alms, Bowl

            The bowl of the Tathagata

            is in my two hands.

            Giver, receiver, and gift

            held in perfect oneness.

 

Blessing the Offering to the Hungry

            The ways of the Awakened One are wondrous.

            His limitless compassion

            transforms seven grains of rice

            into food enough for everyone.

 

Offering to the Hungry

            Great garuda bird,

            hungry spirits in immense wastelands,

            mother and child starving in the desert,

            the balm of compassion satisfies all their hunger.

 

Before Eating

            The Buddha advises us to be mindful

            while we eat,

            to be in touch with the Sangha and the food.

            Brothers and sisters, when you hear the bell,

            meditate on the Five Contemplations:

            This food is the gift of the whole universe

            the earth, the sky, and much hard work.

            May we be worthy to receive it.

            May we transform unskillful states of mind,

            especially the habit of eating without moderation.

            May we take only foods that nourish us

            and prevent illness.

            We accept this food to realize

            the path of understanding and love.

 

Holding the Empty Bowl

            Looking at this bowl,

            I see how fortunate I am

            to have enough to eat to continue the practice.

 

Serving Food

            In this food,

            I see clearly

            the entire universe

            supporting my existence.

 

Before Eating

            Beings all over the Earth

            are struggling to live.

            I aspire to practice deeply

            so all may have enough to eat.

 

Beginning to Eat

            With the first taste, I offer joy.

            With the second, I help relieve

            the suffering of others.

            With the third, I see others' joy as my own.

            With the fourth, I learn the way of letting go.

 

Looking at Your Plate or Bowl after Eating

            The meal is finished,

            and I am satisfied.

            The four gratitudes

            are deeply in my mind.

 

Bathing the Buddha

            Today we bathe the Tathagata.

            So much happiness comes from awakened

            understanding.

            We have drifted a long time in the three realms:

            Now we see that this world of dust is the

            Dharmakaya itself.

 

Inviting the Bell to Sound (Version 1)

            Body, speech, and mind held in perfect oneness,

            I send my heart along with the sound of the bell.

            May the hearers awaken from forgetfulness

            and transcend all anxiety and sorrow.

 

Inviting the Bell (Version 2)

            May the sound of this bell penetrate deeply

            into the cosmos.

            In even the darkest spots, may living beings

            hear it clearly,

            so their suffering will cease,

            understanding arise in their hearts,

            and they can transcend the path of anxiety

            and sorrow.

            Nama Sbakyamunaye Buddhaya.

 

Inviting the Bell (Version 3)

            May the sound of this bell penetrate deeply

            into the cosmos

            so that beings, even those in dark places,

            may hear it and be free from birth and death.

            May all beings realize awakening and find

            their way home.

            Namo Shakyamunaye Buddhaya.

 

Listening to the Bell (Version I)

            Listen, listen,

            this wonderful sound

            brings me back

            to my true home.

 

Listening to the Bell (Version 2)

            Listening to the bell, I feel my afflictions

            begin to dissolve.

            My mind is calm, my body relaxed,

            a smile is born on my lips.

            Following the bell's sound,

            my breathing guides me back

            to the safe island of mindfulness.

            In the garden of my heart,

            the flower of peace blooms beautifully.

            Namo Shakyamunaye Buddhaya.

 

Listening to the Bell (Version 3)

            Hearing the bell,

            I am able to let go of all my afflictions.

            My heart is calm, my sorrows ended.

            I am no longer bound to anything.

            I learn to listen to my suffering

            and the suffering of the other person.

            When understanding is born in me,

            compassion is also born.

 

Morning Meditation

            The Dharmakaya is bringing morning light.

            Sitting still, my heart at peace, I smile.

            This is a new day.

            I vow to go through it with awareness.

            The sun of wisdom will soon be shining

            everywhere.

            Sisters and brothers, diligently bring your mind

            into meditation.

            Namo Shakyamunaye Buddhaya (three times).

 

Evening Meditation

            At the foot of the Bodhi tree,

            I keep my back straight and my posture stable.

            Body, speech, and mind are calmed.

            There is no longer any thought of right

            and wrong.

            Mindfulness is shining on the five skandhas.

            The original face will be found,

            and the shore of illusion will be left behind.

            Sisters and brothers, diligently bring your mind

            into meditation.

            Namo Shakyamunaye Buddhaya (three times).

 

Impermanence

            The day is ending and our life is one day shorter.

            Let us look carefully at what we have done.

            Let us practice diligently, putting our whole heart

            into the path of meditation.

            Let us live deeply each moment and in freedom,

            so the time doesn't slip away meaninglessly.

 

Praising the Buddha

            The Buddha jewel shines infinitely.

            He has realized perfect enlightenment for countless

            lifetimes.

            The beauty and stability of a Buddha sitting

            can be seen in the mountains and rivers.

            How splendid is the Vulture Peak!

            How beautiful the light that shines forth from

            Buddha's third eye

            illuminating the six dark paths.

            The Nagapuspa assembly will be our next

            appointment

            for the continuation of the true teachings and

            practices.

            We take refuge in the Buddha ever-present.


Praising the Dharma

            The Dharma jewel is infinitely lovely.

            It is the precious words spoken by the Buddha

            himself,

            like fragrant flowers floating down from the

            heavens.

            The wonderful Dharma is plain to see.

            It is recorded luminously in three transparent

            baskets,

            handed down from generation to generation

            in the ten directions,

            so that today we can see our way.

            We vow to study it with all our heart,

            and take refuge in the Dharma ever-present.

 

Praising the Sangha

            The Sangha jewel is infinitely precious,

            a field of merit where good seeds can be sown.

            The three robes and the bowl are symbols of

            freedom.

            Precepts, concentration, and insight support each

            other.

            The Sangha dwells in mindfulness day and night

            providing the foundation for us to realize the

            fruit of meditation.

            With one heart, we come home to the Sangha,

            and take refuge in the Sangha ever-present.

 

Breathing (Version 1)

            Going back to the island of self,

            I see Buddha is my mindfulness

            shining near, shining far.

            Dharma is my breathing

            guarding body and mind.

            Sangha is my five skandhas

            working in harmony.

            Breathing in, breathing out.

            Flower, fresh.

            Mountain, solid.

            Water, reflecting.

            Space, free.

 

Breathing (Version 2)

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

As my in-breath grows deep,

my out-breath grows slow.

Breathing in, I calm my body

Breathing out, I feel ease.

Breathing in, I smile

Breathing out, I release.

Dwelling in the present moment,

I know this is a wonderful moment.

 

Breathing (Version 3)

            I have arrived

I am home

In the here

In the now

I am solid

I am free

In the ultimate

I dwell.

Arrived, arrived

At home, at home

Dwelling in the here

Dwelling in the now

Solid as a mountain

Free as the white clouds

The door to no-birth, no-death has opened

Free and unshakable I dwell.

 

Smiling at Your Anger

Breathing in, I know that anger makes me not

beautiful.

Breathing out, I smile.

I stay with my breathing

so I won't lose myself.

 

Turning on the Computer

Turning on the computer,

my mind gets in touch with the store.

I vow to transform habit energies

to help love and understanding grow.

           

Driving the Car

Before starting the car

I know where I'm going.

The car and I are one.

If the car goes fast, I go fast.

 

Making a Short Journey Safely

Two-thirds of accidents

take place near home.

Knowing this, I am very careful

Even on a short trip.

 

Looking at the Buddha Image before Touching the Earth

In the realm of suchness,

the one who bows and the one who is bowed to

are equally empty of a separate self.

With deep respect, I bow to Buddha in this spirit,

and the communication is perfect.

Buddhas manifest in all directions.

In the Interbeing Cosmos, as in every jewel of

Indra's net,

There are countless me's bowing to countless

Buddhas.

 

Drinking Tea

This cup of tea in my two hands,

mindfulness held perfectly.

My mind and body dwell

in the very here and now.

 

Watering the Plants

Don't think you are cut off, dear plant.

This water comes to you from the Earth and sky.

You and I have been together

since beginningless time.

 

Looking at My Hand

Whose hand is this

that has never died?

Has anyone been born?

Will anyone die?

 

Using the Telephone

Words can travel thousands of miles.

May my words create mutual understanding and

love.

May they be as beautiful as gems,

as lovely as flowers.

 

Watering the Garden

The sunshine and the water

have brought about this luxurious vegetation.

The rain of compassion and understanding

can transform the dry desert into a vast fertile

plain.

 

Walking Meditation

The mind can go in a thousand directions,

but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.

With each step, a cool wind blows.

With each step, a flower blooms.

 

Turning on the Light

Forgetfulness is the darkness,

mindfulness is the light.

I bring awareness

to shine upon all life.

 

Washing Vegetables

            In these vegetables

            I see a green sun.

            All dharmas join together

            to make life possible.

 

Gardening

Earth brings us to life and nourishes us.

Earth takes us back again.

We are born and we die with every breath.

 

Planting a Tree

I entrust myself to Earth;

Earth entrusts herself to me.

I entrust myself to Buddha;

Buddha entrusts herself to me.

 

Cleaning the Bathroom

How wonderful

to scrub and clean.

Day by day,

my heart and mind grow clearer.

 

Sweeping

As I carefully sweep

the ground of enlightenment,

a tree of understanding

springs up from the Earth.

 

Cleaning the Meditation Hall

As I clean

this fresh, calm room,

boundless joy

and energy arise!

 

Throwing Out the Garbage

In the garbage, I see a rose.

In the rose, I see compost.

Everything is in transformation.

Impermanence is life.

 

Cutting a Flower

May I cut you, little flower,

gift of Earth and sky?

Tank you, dear bodhisattva,

for making life so beautiful .

 

Arranging Flowers

Arranging these flowers

in the saha world,

the ground of my mind

is calm and pure.

 

Changing Water in a Vase

Water keeps the flower fresh.

The flower and I are one.

When the flower breathes, I breathe.

When the flower smiles, I smile.

 

Lighting a Candle

Lighting this candle,

Offering the light to countless Buddhas,

the peace and the joy I feel

brighten the face of the Earth.


From Stepping Into Freedom: An Introduction to Buddhist Monastic Training by Thich Nhat Hanh

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