Gathas – What are gathas?
Gathas are short verses used to help one be mindful during their daily life. We use them for washing dishes, drinking tea, lighting a candle, etc.
I was first introduced to the concept of gathas in 1989, shortly after I read my first book in college by Thich Nhat Hanh. In 1992, I bought my first copy of Present Moment, Wonderful Moment and explored the use of gathas.
Listen to the gatha for waking up by Thich Nhat Hanh:
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 all beings with eyes of compassion.
I am not a morning person, by any stretch of the imagination. But what a wonderful way to start the day.
There is a Zen joke, I think it I heard it in a podcast or class by Tara Brach that goes something like, a person ways laying in bed and said this prayer, “Dear God, I’ve been patient, kind, loving, and present. I haven’t sworn or yelled and I have thought good things about my fellow beings today. In a few seconds, I will be getting out of bed and I think I am going to need all the help I can. Thanks.” That could be much more like what we are accustomed to in our daily lives.
They aren’t prayers in the traditional way of using a prayer as a way of communicating with something(one) outside of ourselves and asking for something.
By using gathas, instead, we set our intentions and attention.
We remind ourselves to breathe. We remind ourselves that in our average everyday life, we tend to walk through minutes and hours in a sleepwalking fashion but our intention is to be mindful to life.
Gathas are used to remind us to be present to what is or what we are doing. For example,
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.
Imagine what that might be like. You get out of bed and go to brush your teeth. You recite a gatha.. maybe you read it off the sticky note on your mirror… You set an intention for your day… you will practice right speech. But you are doing more.
If you are being present to the gatha that you are reciting and being mindful of the cool water that hits your tongue, the tang of the cinnamon or mint toothpaste, you are not beating yourself in your thoughts.
You are not rehearsing what you are going to say to your boss after yesterday’s confrontation.
You aren’t dwelling on the list of things you have to accomplish today.
You are pushing away anything but inviting in the experience, the phenomenon of now. Imagine what kind of energy you might be saving that would normally be spent fighting off the world (in our minds as we mindlessly brush our teeth).
Gathas also help us on the cushion. Here are two examples of gathas that we sing in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition:
Breathing In, Breathing Out — sung http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jshH6GQbSbw&feature=related
The same gatha by a group of children — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xse2sHOtyPk&feature=related
Can you not help but hear, “I am free, I am free, I am free” going through your thoughts? It makes me smile. I’m not a singer myself, but in my mind, I can enjoy this as I sit.
Gatha for entering a room (Photo credit: redwylie)
When I sat with Snowflower Sangha, I would sometimes feel very homesick. I’m not from this part of the country. My brother and my grandfather were no longer alive. My friends back home were far and I would feel so sad as I sat. And then, I would start to recite this:
I have arrived,
I am home
In the here.
In the now.
I am solid.
I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.
This gatha would remind me that, well, wherever I was, I was home. Where I was, I was perfect. Whatever what was, was perfect.
There is also a lovely gatha, No Coming, No Going that I particularly like to use. Here is a link to some gathas from a sangha. Many of the gathas have been set to music, which makes them a little easier to learn. When I think back to my childhood, I remember the prayer of St. Francis because we sang it at Mass a lot.
Ultimately, we can create our own gathas. If you are sitting with an elderly parent or an ill parent who can’t speak to you or who is sleeping, you can use this gatha:
Breathing In, I smile to myself. Breathing Out, I relax my shoulders. Breathing In, I smile at my parents. Breathing Out, I honor all of my ancestors.
Or sitting at a red light:
Breathing In, I am here and now. Breathing out, I know I have no where to go but here.
Play around and come up with some of your own. There are many more out on the web that you can listen to, like the clips from youtube. Create your own. Share them with your dharma brothers and sisters. Share them here.
A flower to you, a buddha to be.
Present Moment, Wonderful Moment – Thich Nhat Hanh
The Dragon Who Never Sleeps – Robert Aitken
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