Monday, September 15, 2008

touching the earth

Touching the Earth

Transcription of a talk by Thich Nhat Hahn

As more and more people suffer the pain of being uprooted from their culture, we need more than ever to come into contact with our own heritage and with the positive seeds of our tradition. The moment we feel happy, society already begins to be transformed, and others feel some happiness too. When someone in society discovers his true identity, we all find our identity. This is the principle of interbeing. Even though our society has caused us pain, suffering, internal formations and illness, we have to open our arms and embrace society in complete acceptance. We have to go back to our society with the intention to rebuild society and enrich its life by offering the appropriate therapies for its illnesses. I would like to offer an exercise that can help to do this. It is called Touching the Earth.

In each of us, there are many kinds of ideas, notions, attachments, and discrimination. This practice involves bowing down and touching the Earth, emptying ourselves, and surrendering to Earth. You touch the Earth with your forehead, your two hands, your two feet, and you surrender to your true nature, accepting any form of life your true nature offers you. Surrender your pride, hopes, ideas, fears, and notions. Empty yourself of all resentment you feel toward anyone. Surrender everything, and empty yourself completely. To do this is the best way to replenish yourself. If you do not exhale and empty your lungs, how can fresh air enter?

In this practice, the body and the mind work together in harmony to form a perfect whole. We prostrate ourselves six times to help us realize our deep connection to our own roots:

The first bow is directed towards all generations of ancestors in our blood family. Our parents are our most recent, closest ancestors, and through them we connect the generations that have preceded us. If we are on good terms with our parents, the connection is easy. But if we are not, we have to empty our resentment and reconnect with them. Our parents had seeds of love and trust they wanted to transmit to us, but perhaps they were not able to do so. Instead of transmitting loving kindness and trust, they transmitted suffering and anger. The practice is to look deeply and see that we are a continuation of our parents and our ancestors. When we understand the "emptiness of transmission", reconciliation is possible. Bowing down, touching the Earth, we should be able to surrender the idea of our separate self and become one with our ancestors. Only then is true communion possible and the energy of our ancestors able to flow into us.

The second bow is directed towards Buddhist ancestors who came before us, those who have transmitted these teachings and practices to us for more than 25 centuries. 

The third bow is directed towards our land and toward the ancestors who made it available to us.

The fourth is for channeling and transmitting the energy of loving kindness to those we love. We touch the Earth, look deeply into our relationship, and see how we can improve it.

The fifth bow is directed towards those who have made us suffer. Looking deeply, we see that these people suffer also and do not possess the insight to prevent their suffering from spilling over onto others. Motivated by compassion, we want to share our energy with these persons, hoping it will help them to suffer less and be able to enjoy some peace and happiness.

The sixth bow is directed towards our own spiritual ancestors. If we are lucky, it may be easy for us to connect with representatives of our spiritual tradition  - our rabbi, pastor, or priest. But if we have had problems with such persons, our effort is to understand how they themselves were not able to receive the jewels of the tradition. Instead of feeling resentment toward them, we vow to go back and rediscover the jewels of our tradition ourselves. Getting connected with our church, synagogue, rabbi, or priest will enable us to touch all our spiritual ancestors.

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