Gathas are short verses that we can recite during our daily activities to help us return to the present moment and dwell in mindfulness. As exercises in both meditation and poetry, gathas are an essential part of Zen Buddhist tradition. Using a gatha doesn’t require any special knowledge or religious practice. Some people like to memorize a favorite verse that they find they can come back to again and again. Others just like to write the verse down in a place they are likely to see it often.
Reciting gathas is one way to help us dwell in the present moment. 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.
When you memorize a gatha, it will come to you quite naturally when you are doing the related activity, whether it’s turning on the water or drinking a cup of tea. You don’t need to learn all the verses at once. You can find one or two that resonate with you and learn more over time. After some time, you may find that you have learned all of them and are even creating your own. Composing your own gathas to fit the specific circumstances of your life is one wonderful way to practice mindfulness.
These are some of our favourite gathas for meditation and for posting up around the house:
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand-new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully each moment
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
Opening the Window
Opening the window,
I look out with full awareness.
How wondrous life is!
Attentive to each moment,
My mind is clear like a calm river.
Turning on the Light
Forgetfulness is the darkness,
mindfulness is the light.
I bring awareness
to shine upon all life.
Turning on the Water
Water flows from high mountain sources.
Water runs deep in the Earth.
Miraculously, water comes to us.
I am filled with gratitude.
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.
Washing Your Hands
Water flows over these hands.
May I use them skillfully
to preserve our precious planet.
Following the Breath
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.
Breathing in, I am so happy to hug my loved one.
Breathing out, I know my loved one is real and alive in my arms.
The mind can go in a thousand directions,
but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.
With each step, a gentle wind blows.
With each step, a flower blooms.
This cup of tea in my two hands,
mindfulness held perfectly.
My mind and body dwell
in the very here and now.
We'd love to hear your favourites!