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Lions Roar : September 2018
ILLUSTRATIONSBYCAROLEHÉNAFF GATHAS ARE SHORT VERSES that call us to the present moment. Reciting gathas is a good way to meditate while engaged in any activity, be it sacred or mundane. Joining the breath, the mind, and the activity of the body, the practice invites us into a deep, direct experi- ence of our environment and our self. Dwelling in the present moment in this way, deeply aware of the action we are engaged in, we can develop greater understanding and love. The word gatha is related to the ZACHIAH MURRAY is the author of Mind- fulness in the Garden: Zen Tools for Digging in the Dirt and a member of the Order of Inter- being in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh. HOW TO PRACTICE Gathas By reciting the short verses known as gathas, says ZACHIAH MURRAY, we transform any activity into an opportunity to awaken to our true nature. Sanskrit term for “song” or “verse.” Gathas originated around 1300 BCE as metrical forms of Indo-Iranian religious poetry. Written by the Iranian poet and prophet Zoroaster, a text of hymns called Gathas was placed at the center of Zoro- astrian scripture and tradition as a form of reflective spiritual practice. Scholars believe that as Buddhism spread eastward from India, it was influenced by Zoroas- trian traditions, and gathas developed in various streams of Buddhism. The contemporary recitation of gathas has been popularized by Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. In his tradition, a gatha is a verse recited, usually mentally, not aloud, in rhythm with the breath. This is a mindfulness practice we can perform in daily life, or as a part of for- mal meditation or meditative study. Rich with wordplay and intentional ambigui- ties, these gathas are intended to awaken the innate inner wisdom of the practitio- ner, spurring her toward enlightenment. As a meditative tool, gathas have a close and parallel relative—mantra. A mantra is a sacred word or sound—usually in Sanskrit—that’s repeated, either aloud or in silence, to deepen one’s concentration in meditation. As such, a single mantra may be used while performing many dif- ferent activities or as a form of meditation itself. Gathas distinguish themselves from mantras in that each gatha is deeply inter- twined with a single activity, drawing the practitioner deeply into the flow and feel LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2018 23 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE