Touching the Ultimate and Historical DimensionsImage by Tejvan Pettinger

Touching the Ultimate and Historical Dimensions

Discussion date: Thu, Jun 28, 2018 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

This Thursday we will practice the Three Earth Touchings. These are a concrete practice meant to help us touch ultimate reality, the true nature of what is, by better understanding historical reality, our normal way of perceiving reality through ideas, concepts, and notions. We do this not to have some mystical experience, but to deepen our understanding and practice so that we may transcend our habit of concretizing ideas and feelings as real things, thus liberating us from craving, aversion, fear, and anxiety.

Sister Chân Diệu Nghiêm (Sister Jina) gave a wonderful dharma talk on June 10 in Plum Village where she explained how important it is to touch the ultimate through the historical. In the historical realm, we experience reality through concepts such as you/me, same/different, birth/death. But by using practices like Touching the Earth, we can come to see that this is just our quotidian experience of reality, not the real nature of reality. The historical is how we experience the question of “what am I,” according to Sister Jina, while ultimate reality is how we experience the question of “how am I.” In the ultimate, we experience no birth/no death, no being/no nonbeing, no coming/no going as a reality liberated from the concepts and ideas we use to navigate our daily lives.

One way Sister Jina expressed this difference is the phrase “I have distanced myself from my parents.” It may be true in the historical world that you have stopped or reduced communication with your parents, that you have put some emotional and physical distance between you and your parents. But in the ultimate dimension, this statement cannot be true. You are made up of your parents, their genes and their experiences, and you continue to be with and part of them, not separate from them. These two realities of historical and ultimate co-exist; you cannot remove one from the other. By coming to see both the historical and the ultimate, we can navigate our daily lives with a deeper understanding of our experience and our existence and with more inclusiveness, understanding, and love. That is the purpose of practicing the Three Earth Touchings, which help us connect to deeper truths about how we exist in interrelationship with time and space in just this moment.

Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the coexistence of the ultimate and historical in Inside the Now:

The one contains the all. Your body can tell you everything there is to know about the cosmos, boundless space, and time without end. You will see that the here is also the there, and that the now carries within itself the span of eternity, including the past and the future. Eternity is there to be touched in each moment. Both sun and moon, all the stars and all the black holes, can nestle comfortably inside a tiny grain of sand. The entire cosmos can sing to us with the voice of a wild flower.

The Touchings are below. We can practice them by physically touching the earth or by bowing while seated. This Thursday we will practice them as a Sangha and then discuss our experience. Does this practice help us experience the historical and the ultimate? Does touching the ultimate shift our experience of the historical? Does this practice deepen our practice? I hope you can join us.

Scott Schang

Touching the Earth, I connect with ancestors and descendants of my spiritual, heart, and blood families.


(All touch the earth)
(Read slowly, with a pause after each paragraph to allow for reflection)

My spiritual ancestors include the Buddha, the bodhisattvas, and the noble Sangha of Buddha’s disciples.

They include Jesus and Mary Immaculate; the Jewish prophets and the Hasidic masters; Mohammed and the Sufi masters; the incarnations of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; and the many other wise and courageous women and men who have shown us the way.

My spiritual ancestors include my own spiritual teachers still alive or already passed away. They are present in me because they have transmitted to me seeds of peace, wisdom, love, and happiness. They have awakened my understanding and compassion.

When I look at my spiritual ancestors, I see those who are perfect in the practice of mindfulness, understanding, and compassion, and those who are still imperfect. I accept them all because I see within myself shortcomings and weaknesses. Aware that my practice of mindfulness is not always perfect, and that I am not always as understanding and compassionate as I would like to be, I open my heart and accept all my spiritual descendants and all those whose lives I touch in my daily life. Some practice mindfulness, understanding, and compassion in a way that invites confidence and respect, but there are also those who encounter many difficulties and are constantly subject to ups and downs in their practice and in their lives.

In the same way, I accept all my ancestors on my mother’s side and my father’s side of the family. I accept all their good qualities and their virtuous actions, and I also accept all their weaknesses. I open my heart and accept all my relatives, my descendants, and my friends and acquaintances, with their good qualities, their talents, and also their weaknesses.

My ancestors, my descendants, my friends, and my loved ones are all part of me. I am them and they are me. I do not have a separate self. All exist as part of a wonderful stream of life which is constantly moving.

(Pause for 5 to 10 breaths)
(All stand up)


Touching the Earth, I connect with all people and all species that are alive at this moment with me.

(All touch the earth)

I am one with the wonderful pattern of life that radiates out in all directions. I see the close connection between myself and others, how we share happiness and suffering.

I am one with those who were born disabled or who have become disabled because of war, accident, or illness. I am one with those who are caught in a situation of war or oppression. I am one with those who have no roots and no peace of mind, who are vulnerable to extremism in the face of hopelessness and anger, who are hungry for understanding and love, and who are looking for something beautiful, wholesome, and true to embrace and to believe in.

I am someone at the point of death who is very afraid and does not know what is going to happen. I am a child who lives in a place where there is poverty and disease, whose legs and arms are like sticks, and who has no future. I am also the manufacturer of bombs that are sold to poor countries. I am the frog swimming in the pond, and I am also the snake who needs the body of the frog to nourish its own body. I am the forest that is being cut down. I am the rivers and the air that are being polluted. And I am also the person who cuts down the forest and pollutes the rivers and the air. I see myself in all species, and I see all species in me.

I am one with the great beings who have realized the truth of no-birth and no-death and are able to look at the forms of birth and death, happiness and suffering with calm eyes. I am one with those people, who can be found a little bit everywhere, who have sufficient peace of mind, understanding, and love to be able to touch what is wonderful, nourishing, and healing, and who also have the capacity to embrace the world with a heart of love and arms of caring action.

I am someone who has enough peace, joy, and freedom to offer fearlessness and joy to living beings around me. I see that I am not lonely and cut off. The love and the happiness of great beings on this planet help me not to sink in despair. They help me to live my life in a meaningful way with true peace and happiness. I see them all in me and I see myself in all of them.

(Pause for 5 to 10 breaths)
(All stand up)


Touching the Earth, I let go of my idea that I am this body and my life span is limited.

(All touch the earth)

I see that this body, made up of the four elements, is not really me and I am not limited by this body. I am part of a stream of life of spiritual, heart, and blood ancestors that for thousands of years has been flowing into the present and flows on for thousands of years into the future.

I am one with my ancestors. I am one with my descendants. I am life manifested in numberless different forms. I am one with all people and all species, whether they are peaceful and fearless or suffering and afraid. At this very moment, I am present everywhere on this planet. I am also present in the past and in the future.

The disintegration of this body does not touch me, just as when the plum blossom falls it does not mean the end of the plum tree. I see myself as a wave on the surface of the ocean. My nature is the ocean water. I see myself in all the other waves and see all the other waves in me. The appearance and disappearance of the form of the wave does not affect the ocean. My Dharma body and wisdom life are not subject to birth and death.

I see my presence before my body manifested and after my body has disintegrated. Even in this moment, I see how I exist elsewhere than in this body. Seventy or eighty years is not my life span. My life span, like the life span of a leaf or a Buddha, is limitless. I have gone beyond the idea that I am a body that is separated in space and time from all other forms of life.

(Pause for 5 to 10 breaths)
(All stand up)
(Bell — standing bow to conclude the Touchings of the Earth.)

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jun 28, 2018


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