Setting our Intentions for the New Year

Setting our Intentions for the New Year

Discussion date: Thu, Dec 30, 2004 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday, December 30, we will explore the use of mindfulness gathas as ways to focus our intentions during the comingyear.

In its widest meaning, a gatha is any poem used formeditation. Many of us are familiar with gathas used as guided meditation, suchas:

I have arrived
I am home

In the here
And in the now

I am solid
I am free

In the ultimate
I dwell

In the Mahayana tradition, which encourages mindfulness in daily life as well as in the meditation hall, gathas are short poems used in familiar situations each day, to remind us how we can open to the moment and transform our lives.

Although contemporary gathas take a variety of forms, many still retain the formal structure established in the “Purifying Practice” chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra, an Indian Mahayana scripture, written several hundred years after the death of the Buddha. Robert Aitken, aZen teacher, writes about the form:

The first line establishes the occasion, the second line presents the act of vowing, and the last two lines follow through with the specific conduct that one promises to undertake in these circumstances.

Aitken gives as an example, Thomas Cleary’s translation of a gatha from the Avatamsaka Sutra:

When I see flowing water
I vow with all beings
to develop a wholesome will
and wash away the stains of delusion.

The use of gathas was very common in the Vietnamese Zen tradition. When Thich Nhat Hanh entered the monkhood in 1942, at 16 years ofage, it was not customary to teach the novices to meditate for several years.Instead they were told to memorize the fifty gathas in the book, Gathas forEveryday Use (by the Chinese meditation teacher Du Ti), and to use them throughout the day. Forty years later, Thich Nhat Hanh assembled a similar collection, Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for DailyLiving, for the use of monastics and visitors to Plum Village. Thich NhatHanh explains their use:

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.

A selection of Gathas from Present Moment WonderfulMoment is below.

This Thursday, after our sitting and walking meditation, we will explore writing Gathas that speak to issues in our lives – developing our mindfulness and concentration; dealing with sadness, fear, or depression; controlling our anger; losing (or gaining) weight; establishing better relationswith our partners, friends, children or parents; being more focused at work; andso on. Our purpose will be to crystallize our deep and wholesome intentions, sothat they will easily come to mind when specific situations arise.

You are invited to join us this Thursday for our meditation period and to explore the use of gathas in daily life.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner


Six of my favorite gathas from Present Moment, WonderfulMoment are:

Listening to the Bell
Listen, listen,
This wonderful sound
brings me back to my true self.

Inviting the Bell
Body, speech, and mind 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

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 all beings with eyes of compassion

Washing the Dishes
Washing the dishes
is like bathing a baby Buddha.
The profane is the sacred.
Everyday mind is Buddha’s mind.

Sitting Down in the Meditation Hall
Sitting here is like sitting under the Bodhi Tree
My body is mindfulness itself,
entirely free from distraction.

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.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Dec 30, 2004


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