Gathas for Daily Living

Engage in daily activities with mindfulness and awareness.

It is important to cultivate mindfulness and awareness as we engage in activities in daily life.   

Buddhist Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh taught beautifully simple poetic verses to bring our mind to the present moment, as we engage in specific activities. These verses are collected in a book Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh explains:

“Gathas are short verses which we can recite during our daily activities to help us dwell in mindfulness. To meditate is to be aware of what is going on— in our bodies, our feelings, our minds, and in the world.

 

One way to help us dwell in the present moment is to practice reciting gathas or mindfulness verses. When we focus our mind on a gatha, we return to ourselves and become more aware of each action.

 

When the gatha ends, we continue our activity with heightened awareness. When we drive a car, signs can help us find our way. The sign and the road become one, and we see the sign all along the way until the next sign. When we practice with gathas, the gathas and the rest of our life become one, and we live our entire lives in awareness. This helps us very much, and it helps others as well. We find that we have more peace, calm, and joy, which we can share with others.”

For each gatha:

  • ✅ Read it.
  • Contemplate it.
  • ✅ Understand the explanation.
  • ✅ Familiarize yourself with it.
  • ✅ When engaging in that activity, recall the gatha.

The gatha will help you bring awareness to the present moment. We referenced and selected a few gathas from the book for you to practice mindfulness in daily life:

For a more in-depth practice, please visit Plum Village for more information on Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living.

WAKING UP

by Zen Master 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.

“If you really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile? Your smile affirms your awareness and determination to live in peace and joy. How many days slip by in forgetfulness? What are you doing with your life? Look deeply, and smile. The source of a true smile is an awakened mind.

How can you remember to smile when you wake up? You might hang a reminder—such as a branch, a leaf, a painting, or some inspiring words—in your window or from the ceiling above your bed, so that you notice it when you wake up. Once you develop the practice of smiling, you may not need a sign. You will smile as soon as you hear a bird sing or see the sunlight stream through the window. Smiling helps you approach the day with gentleness and understanding.

The last line of this gatha comes from the “Universal Door” chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The one who “looks at all beings with eyes of compassion” is Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. In the sutra, this line reads: “Eyes of loving kindness look on all living beings.” Love is impossible without understanding. In order to understand others, we must know them, “be inside their skin.” Then we can treat them with loving kindness. The source of love is our fully awakened mind.”

TURNING ON THE LIGHT

by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

Forgetfulness is the darkness;

mindfulness is the light.

I bring awareness 

to shine upon all life.

“When you touch a light switch, you can stop for a few seconds to recite this gatha before you turn on the light. Not only will there be light in the room, but there will also be light within you. Dwelling in the present moment is a miracle. Every illusion and random thought will disappear, just as darkness disappears when the light comes on. When we are mindful, we get in touch with the refreshing, peaceful, healing elements within ourselves and around us. Peace and joy are available anytime.

Conscious breathing helps us return to the present moment. I practice breathing every day. In my small meditation room, I have calligraphed the sentence, “Breathe, you are alive!” When mindfulness shines its light upon our activity, we recover ourselves and encounter life in the present moment. The present moment is a wonderful moment.”

BRUSHING YOUR TEETH

by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

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.

“Each toothpaste manufacturer tells us that his brand will make our mouth clean and our breath fragrant. But if we do not practice “Right Speech,” our breath can never be completely fragrant. In Vietnamese we say, “Your words smell bad!” to mean “Your words are not kind or constructive, but rather they are sharp, slanderous, and misleading.” Our speech can build a world of peace and joy in which trust and love can flourish, or it can create discord and hatred. “Right Speech” means that our words are both truthful and beautiful.

In 1964, several of us founded a new Buddhist order, the Order of Interbeing. The ninth precept of the Order reads:

Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people.

Do not utter words that can cause division and hatred.

Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain.

Do not criticize or condemn things that you are not sure of.

Always speak truthfully and constructively.

Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.

When we remember to speak words which are true, kind, and constructive, we nourish a beautiful flower in our hearts, and we can offer its sweet fragrance to everyone.”

BEGINNING TO EAT

by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

With the first taste, I promise to offer joy.

With the second, I promise to help relieve the suffering of others.

With the third, I promise to see others’ joy as my own. 

With the fourth, I promise to learn the way of non-attachment and equanimity.

 

“This verse reminds us of the Four Immeasurables (Sanskrit: Brahmaviharas) — loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and non-attachment. These are said to be the four abodes of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. During the time we eat the first mouthful, we may like to express our gratitude by promising to bring joy to at least one person. With the second mouthful, we can promise to help relieve the pain of at least one person. After the fourth mouthful, we get in touch with the food and its deep nature.”

USING THE TOILET

by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

Defiled or immaculate,

increasing or decreasing—

these concepts exist only in our minds.

The reality of interbeing is unsurpassed.

“Life is always changing. Each thing relies on every other thing for its very existence. If our mind is calm and clear, using the toilet can be as sacred as lighting incense. To accept life is to accept both birth and death, gain and loss, joy and sorrow, defilement and purity. The Heart Sutra teaches us that when we see things as they are, we do not discriminate between seeming opposites such as these.

Everything “inter-is.” Understanding the truth of nonduality allows us to overcome all pain. Reciting this gatha can help us apply the teachings of the Heart Sutra, even during what is usually regarded as a mundane act.”

THROWING OUT THE GARBAGE

by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

 

In the garbage I see a rose.

In the rose, I see the garbage.

Everything is in transformation

Even permanence is impermanent.

“Garbage can smell terrible, especially rotting organic matter. 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 trans- formed 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.”

Source: Thich Nhat Hanh, Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living

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