Touching the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh

In Plum Village we do a practice called “Touching the Earth” every day. It helps us in many ways. You too could be helped by doing this practice. When you feel restless or lack confidence in yourself, or when you feel angry or unhappy, you can kneel down and touch the Earth deeply with your hand. Touch the Earth as if it were your favorite thing or your best friend.

The Earth has been there for a long time. She is mother to all of us. She knows everything. The Buddha asked the Earth to be his witness by touching her with his hand when he had some doubt and fear before his awakening. The Earth appeared to him as a beautiful mother. In her arms she carried flowers and fruit, birds and butterflies, and many different animals, and offered them to the Buddha. The Buddha’s doubts and fears instantly disappeared.

Whenever you feel unhappy, come to the Earth and ask for her help. Touch her deeply, the way the Buddha did. Suddenly, you too, will see the Earth with all her flowers and fruit, trees and birds, animals, and all the living beings that she has produced. All these things she offers to you.

You have more opportunities to be happy than you ever thought. The Earth shows her love to you and her patience. The Earth is very patient. She sees you suffer, she helps you, she protects you. When we die, she takes us back into her arms.

With the Earth you are very safe. She is always there, in all her wonderful expressions like trees, flowers, butterflies, and sunshine. Whenever you are tired or unhappy, Touching the Earth is a very good practice to heal you and restore your joy.

 ~ from “A Pebble for Your Pocket”, page 44.

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Touching the Earth for Young People

tin-n-drawing-mother-and-childTouching the earth is a practice developed by Thich Nhat Hanh to help us connect with the many different aspects of who we are: our blood and spiritual families; the country we live in; and all beings– animals, plants and minerals. When we are connected to our roots, to all that sustains us, we are happy and solid, no longer isolated and lonely. The following text is a version for young people written by Sr. Steadiness and Sr. Swiftness. For the original text see Teachings on Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh or click here for the Five Touchings of the Earth and here for the Three Touchings of the Earth and here for more practices.

You may like to introduce this practice by telling the story of Buddha and Mara and how the Buddha took refuge in the earth in a time of difficulty. (See introduction to Touching the Earth).

At the sound of the bell, we breathe in and joining our palms, touch them to our forehead and then our heart. This is to unify our mind and body. Breathing out, we open our palms and bend down, either kneeling and touching our forehead to the floor (the child’s pose in yoga), or laying our whole body flat on our belly. We turn our palms upward, in a gesture of openness, receptiveness and surrender. We relax completely and allow the text to enter deeply our body and mind while lying on the ground.

Touching the Earth I see that I Am a Child of the Earth

(bell, children touch the earth)

The earth is like my mom and dad. From the earth I receive delicious foods to eat like wheat to make bread, rice, apples, and carrots, and even chocolate from cocoa beans. The earth gives us material to make our clothes, like cotton and wool from the sheep and wood and stone to make our homes. The earth takes such good care of me. I feel happy to live on the earth.

I feel my body lying on the earth. I feel my arms and my legs and my face touching the ground. I feel that the earth is solid and can support me. I see the earth covered with many plants and trees and beautiful flowers, making the air clean and pure. As I breathe in I can feel the fresh, cool air fill my body. I feel calm and relaxed.

I feel happy and safe on the earth.

(bell, stand up)

Touching the earth I feel connected to my mom and dad

(bell, children touch the earth)

I am the child of my mom and dad. Even though I may not live with both my mom and dad now. I see my mom and I smile to her. I see my dad and I smile to him. I want my mom and dad to be happy. I want them to be safe and free from all worries.

Sometimes, mom or dad gets angry at me, and I feel hurt. Sometimes mom or dad is so busy she or he does not seem to have time for me, and I feel sad. But other times Mom and Dad take care of me and we can laugh and play together, and we have fun. Mom and Dad have taught me so many things, like how to read, or sing, or do math, or make cookies. I feel thankful to them. I know that my mom and dad were children too, a long time ago, and they felt sad and hurt sometimes, just like me. I know they have had many difficulties in their lives, and I don’t feel mad at them.

I think of my mom and my dad, and I feel their love and support, and I feel happy. I know my mom and dad need my freshness and my smiles to make them happy too.

(bell, stand up)

Touching the Earth, I am happy to be me

(bell, children touch the earth)

I am a young girl or boy living on the planet earth. Sometimes I feel small like a tiny bug or a spider happily crawling in the grass. Sometimes I feel big, like a huge, old tree. My branches reach up to touch the clouds, and my roots go way down deep in the earth drinking from the water under the ground.

Sometimes I am happy like the sunshine, and I make everyone smile. Sometimes I am sad and lonely like a gray cloudy day, and I just want to hide in a tree and cry. But when I cry my tears are like cool rain on a hot afternoon, and afterwards I feel fresh and new. I know whenever I feel sad, or scared, or mad I can go to the earth and she will always be there for me. The rocks and creatures, the plant and flowers, the sun and the dark starry sky are all there for me. I breathe in the cool, fresh earth. I breathe out all my fears, my sadness, my anger. I accept myself. I accept myself when I am happy and joyful, and I also accept myself when I have difficulties, when I am angry or sad. I smile to myself, and I see that I am a wonderful flower living on the earth. I am a part of the earth, and the earth is a part of me.

(bell, stand up)

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An Introduction to the practice of Touching the Earth for Children: Mara and Buddha under the Bodhi Tree

The Buddha was a person, just like you and me. As a prince, he was called Siddhartha Gautama and he lived in the north of India and Nepal about 2500 years ago. He had everything he could want: a beautiful palace, riches, the best foods, luxurious vacations and plenty of power. But he wasn’t happy. He knew something important was missing in his life. He still hadn’t been able to tame his mind, he hadn’t learned how to be peaceful, happy and free. Anger, fear and confusion kept him from being truly happy.

So he decided to become a monk and he went to live and practice in the forest. He had been practicing for six years when he finally felt he was near Enlightenment. He had been feeling more and more peaceful, aware of his thoughts and feelings and was feeling much happier with his simple life, and now he was on the verge of completely breaking through his suffering to total liberation and happiness. So that night, he sat down under the Bodhi Tree and vowed not to get up until he was fully awakened.

But usually whenever we want to do something that is very important to us, we meet challenges. Siddhartha sat in deep concentration under the Bodhi tree and guess who came to disturb him? Mara. That’s right! The bad guy, the force that pulls us away from what we want, from what we know is right. Mara is out there, but he or she is also inside of us, just like the Buddha is inside each of us. So that night, Mara was determined to prevent Siddhartha from becoming enlightened. So he sent his beautiful daughters and the finest musicians to play and dance for him. In your case, it could be an ice-cream truck passing by, or your favorite TV program or movie. Mara comes in many disguises, and when we really want to focus on something (like our homework, building something, etc) Mara distracts us and tries to pull us away from what we want. But you know what Siddhartha did? He kept sitting peacefully, fully concentrated on his in-breath and out-breath.

Shall we sit beautifully like Siddhartha and breathe in and out quietly to help him resist Mara? And you know what? The dancing daughters and musicians, the ice-cream truck, the TV show, disappeared. So that was Mara’s first challenge: distraction and desire.

Well, you know Mara didn’t give up easily. Next, he sent his army of soldiers on foot and on horseback, all armed with terrible spears, bows and arrows. They lined up in formation and all took aim at Siddhartha. He remained solid, unafraid. Arrows, spears whizzed through the air and lightening speed! But, amazingly, as soon as they came near Siddhartha, they turned into flowers and fell at his feet!

Let’s breathe in and out three times like Siddhartha to help him stay calm. And guess what? With this all the soldiers disappeared. Because when we are calm, peaceful and clear-minded, when we have love in our hearts, other people’s unkindness doesn’t have to hurt us. We don’t have to let it wound us or make us angry and sad. If we know how to look at other people’s arrows, of meanness, jealousy, and exclusion,  as their misunderstanding, their suffering, then we won’t get hit by their arrows. Instead, they will turn into flowers that fall at our feet. So that was Mara’s second challenge: fear.

Mara wasn’t finished with Siddhartha yet, because as you probably know, when we want to do something that is really important to us, the greater the challenges we face. This time Mara used his worst weapon yet: DOUBT. He himself came before Siddhartha, and with hands on his hips asked, “What makes you think you can be enlightened? Who do you think you are? You’re just a nobody!”

This is a terrible thing to do to someone-make them doubt themselves. We should try our best to speak in a way that gives people self-confidence. Anyway, you know what Siddhartha did when Mara questioned him like this? He wasn’t shaken. He sat very still and put one hand down and touched the earth. Let’s all do that, one hand in your lap and one hand touching the earth.

Let us breathe three times with Siddhartha, to help him get through this most difficult challenge. Siddhartha calmly said

“I call on the Earth as my witness that I can become enlightened.”

And right away, the earth shook and the Earth Goddess sprang up from the ground in all her glory and splendor. She put her hand on Siddhartha’s shoulder with all her support and love and she looked at Mara “Don’t you mess with this Siddhartha here. No, Mara, you are wrong! This monk is going to be enlightened and help all beings find peace and freedom.” And with that Mara disappeared, totally defeated.

And sure enough as the morning star appeared in the sky, Siddhartha attained Enlightenment and understood that everyone has the nature of Enlightenment but they don’t know it. That means you and me. So this story reminds us that the Earth is always there for us, ready to support us and help us when we have difficulty.

Now we are going to practice Touching the Earth so that we can connect to the people and things that always love and support us. The Earth is so huge and so powerful, we just have to lay our head down on her and rest, relax completely and we will feel her energy and strength come into us. So anytime you feel upset, lonely, scared or confused, go to the Earth. Release your feelings onto the Earth and open yourself up to her support and healing energy.

So after I read one sentence, we’ll join our palms and bring them to our forehead, then our heart, in this way uniting body and mind, and then kneel down, resting our forehead on the earth (the child’s pose in yoga) with our palms turned up in a gesture of receiving, of openness, of resting, while we listen to and visualize what is being read. When you hear the bell, you stand up and bow. We will touch the earth three times, first to Mother Earth, then to our parents, then to enjoy and appreciate who we are.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.

Song for Touching the Earth: There’s old Buddha

You can teach the children this song when you teach them about touching the earth. Or anytime. They love it because its participatory (words in parantheses are sung back by children):

There’s old Buddha, sitting under the Bodhi tree (Bodhi Tree)

There’s old Buddha, his mind as quiet as it could be (it could be)

Sittin’ like a wise old frog (frog)

Sittin’ like a bump on a log (log)

Sittin’ with a smile on his face (face)

Kinda like empty space

Doesn’t mind rain, doesn’t mind thunder

What could bother old Buddha I wonder? ____________ (kids suggest something that might bother Buddha)

He wasn’t bothered by _________ (2x)

He let that __________ just roll on by, just roll on by!