Touching the Earth: A yogic practice
-Thich Nhat Hanh
In Buddhism, there is a practice called “Touching the Earth” that can help us realise our wish to generate the energies of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity.
During the practice, we touch the Earth deeply six times, surrendering ourselves to the earth and to our own true nature. We touch the earth with our forehead, legs, and hands, so that our mind and body form a perfect whole, allowing us to transcend our small self. We surrender our pride, notions, fears, resentments, and even hopes, and enter the world of “things as they are.” Touching the Earth is an effective yogic practice. We return to our own source of wisdom and are no longer separate from Mother Earth.
I was taught this meditation as a novice monk: The one who bows and the one who is bowed to are the same. Both are without separate self. When we look deeply into a flower, we can see the sun, clouds, seeds, nutrients in the soil, and many other things. We understand that the flower cannot exist as a separate, independent self. It is made entirely of what we call “non-flower elements.” The one who bows and the one who is bowed to are of the same nature. I am made of non-me elements. The Buddha is made of non-Buddha elements. Nothing can exist by itself alone. Everything has to inter-be with everything else in the cosmos…
The place where we touch the Earth is like the jeweled net of Indra. In every intersection of Indra’s net is a jewel that reflects all the other jewels in the net. Looking at any one of these jewels, we see all the other jewels. Looking into a flower, we see the entire universe. All Buddhas in the ten directions appear before our eyes and also within us. In which direction should we bow? We join our palms and bow in the ten directions – east, west, south, north, northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest, above and below – and also an eleventh direction: within. Bowing our heads, we respectfully bow to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in the eleven directions: With undivided heart/ to the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha
that are in the Ten Directions/ and also in myself,/ that are in all Dharma realms/ transcending past, present, and future,/ touching the Earth and surrendering,/ I go for refuge with my whole body and mind.
When you touch the Earth in this spirit, isolation and alienation vanish, and your sense of a separate self will be replaced by a great feeling of oneness with all beings throughout space and time, those who have already manifested and those who have not yet manifested and connects you to the nature of awakening that is within you.
When you touch the Earth, lie close to the Earth and allow yourself to be her, you are absorbed into the Earth. If you practice indoors, use a mat, so you don’t get dust from the floor on you. Try to remain on the Earth or the mat for at least three or four minutes. The closer you can lie against the Earth, melting into the Earth, the better. You become nothing in order to become everything.
After you have been practicing touching the Earth for two or three months, you will feel deeply refreshed, strong and healthy. You will love life and be able to smile, because the energies of hatred and ill will in you will have greatly diminished.
There are six Earth-Touchings. In the first, we look deeply within. In the second, we see the connection between ourselves and other living beings, including those who live around us. By the fifth Earth-Touching, we are truly able to feel love for the people we have disliked. All hatred and anger will have disappeared, and we only want the person we hated to enjoy happiness and dwell in peace. We are able to reach that point because, first of all, we are able to love ourselves. Touching the Earth and reciting the six accompanying meditations generates in us deep love and acceptance. When we are able to love the person who has made us miserable, we realize what a miracle love is.