Poems

A selection of poems by Thich Nhat Hanh to incorporate into your practice.

Selected by Plum Village Dharma Teachers

Bhumisparsha

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Death comes
with his impressive scythe
and says,
“You should be afraid of me.”
I look up and ask,
“Why should I be afraid of you?”
“Because I will make you dead.
I will make you nonexistent.”
“How can you make me nonexistent?”

Death does not answer.
He swings his impressive scythe.

I say, “I come and I go. Then I come again. And I go again.
I always come back. You can neither make me exist nor nonexist.”
“How do you know that you will come again?” Death asks.
“I know because I have done that countless times,” I say.
“How do I know that you are telling the truth?
Who can be the witness?” Death frowns.

I touch the Earth and say,
“Earth is the witness. She is my mother.”

Suddenly, Death hears the music.
Suddenly, Death hears the birds singing from all directions.
Suddenly, Death sees the trees blossoming.
Earth makes herself apparent to Death
and smiles lovingly to him.
Death melts in the loving gaze of Earth.

O my beloved,
touch Earth every time you get scared.
Touch her deeply,
and your sorrow will melt away.
Touch her deeply,
and you will touch the Deathless.

Published in Thich Nhat Hanh, Call Me by My True Names (1993)

Earth Touching

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Here is the foot of a tree.
Here is an empty, quiet place.
Here is a cushion.
Brother, why don’t you sit down?

Sit upright.
Sit with solidity.
Sit in peace.
Don’t let your thoughts lift you up into the air.
Sit so that you can really touch the Earth
and be one with her.

You may like to smile, brother.
Earth will transmit to you her solidity,
her peace, and her joy.
With your mindful breathing,
with your peaceful smile,
you sustain the mudra of Earth Touching.

There were times when you didn’t do well.
Sitting on Earth, but it was as if you were floating in the air,
you who used to go in circles in the triple world
and be drawn into the ocean of illusion.
But Earth is always patient
and one-hearted.
Earth is still waiting for you
because Earth has been waiting for you
during the last trillion lives.
That is why she can wait for you for any other length of time.
She knows that finally you will come back to her one day.
She will welcome you
always fresh and green, exactly like the first time,
because love never says, “This is the last”;
because Earth is a loving mother.
She will never stop waiting for you.

Do go back to her, brother.
You will be like that tree.
The leaves, the branches, and the flowers of your soul
will be fresh and green
once you enter the mudra of Earth Touching.
The empty path welcomes you, sister,
fragrant with grass and little flowers,
the path paved with paddy fields
still bearing the marks of your childhood
and the fragrance of mother’s hand.
Walk leisurely, peacefully.
Your feet should deeply touch the Earth.
Don’t let your thoughts lift you up into the air, sister.
Go back to the path every moment.
The path is your dearest friend.
She will transmit to you
her solidity,
her peace.

With your deep breathing,
you sustain the mudra of Earth Touching.
Walk as if you were kissing the Earth with your feet,
as if you were massaging the Earth.
The marks left by your feet
will be like the marks of an emperor’s seal
calling for Now to go back to Here;
so that life will be present;
so that the blood will bring the color of love to your face;
so that the wonders of life will be manifested,
and all afflictions will be transformed into
peace and joy.

There were times when you did not succeed, sister.
Walking on the empty path, but you were floating in the air,
because you used to get lost in samsara
and drawn into the world of illusion.
But the beautiful path is always patient.
It is always waiting for you to come back,
that path which is so familiar to you,
that path which is so faithful.
It knows deeply that you will come back one day.
It will be joyful to welcome you back.
It will be as fresh and as beautiful as the first time.
Love never says, “This is the last.”

That path is you, sister.
That is why it will never be tired of waiting.
Whether it is covered now with red dust
or with Autumn leaves
or icy snow—
do go back to the path, sister,
because I know
you will be like that tree,
the leaves, the trunk, the branches,
and the blossoms of your soul
will be fresh and beautiful,
once you enter the mudra of Earth Touching. 

Published in Thich Nhat Hanh, Call Me by My True Names (1993)

Interbeing

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Interbeing
The sun has entered me.
The sun has entered me together with the cloud and the river.
I myself have entered the river,
and I have entered the sun
with the cloud and the river.
There has not been a moment
when we do not interpenetrate.
But before the sun entered me,
the sun was in me—
also the cloud and the river.
Before I entered the river,
I was already in it.
There has not been a moment
when we have not inter-been.
Therefore you know
that as long as you continue to breathe,
I continue to be in you.

Published in Thich Nhat Hanh, Call Me by My True Names (1993)

Oneness

By Thich Nhat Hanh

“The moment I die,
I will try to come back to you
as quickly as possible.
I promise it will not take long.
Isn’t it true
I am already with you,
as I die each moment?
I come back to you
in every moment.
Just look,
feel my presence.
If you want to cry,
please cry.
And know
that I will cry with you.
The tears you shed
will heal us both.
Your tears are mine.
The earth I tread this morning
transcends history.
Spring and Winter are both present in the moment.
The young leaf and the dead leaf are really one.
My feet touch deathlessness,
and my feet are yours.
Walk with me now.
Let us enter the dimension of oneness
and see the cherry tree blossom in Winter.
Why should we talk about death?
I don’t need to die
to be back with you.

Published in Thich Nhat Hanh, Call Me by My True Names (1993)

A Teacher Looking for His Student

(At the edge of the forest the wild plum trees have burst into flower)

I have been looking for you, my child, 
Since the time when rivers and mountains still lay in obscurity. 
I was looking for you when you were still in a deep sleep 
Although the conch had many times echoed in the ten directions.
Without leaving our ancient mountain I looked at distant lands 
And recognized your steps on so many different paths.
Where are you going, my child? 

There have been times when the mist has come
And enveloped the remote village but you are still 
Wandering in far away lands. 
I have called your name with each breath,
Confident that even though you have lost your
Way over there you will finally find a way back to me. 
Sometimes I manifest myself right on the path
You are treading but you still look at me as if I were a stranger 
You cannot see the connection between us in our former lives 
You cannot remember the old vow you made. 
You have not recognized me 
Because your mind is caught up in images concerning a distant future. 

In former lifetimes you have often taken my hand
and we have enjoyed walking together. 
We have sat together for a long time at the foot of old pine trees. 
We have stood side by side in silence for hours 
Listening to the sound of the wind softly calling us 
And looking up at the white clouds floating by.
You have picked up and given to me the first red autumn leaf 
And I have taken you through forests deep in snow. 
But wherever we go we always return to our
Ancient mountain to be near to the moon and stars 
To invite the great bell every morning to sound,
And help living beings to wake up. 

We have sat quietly on the An Tu Mountain with the 
Great Bamboo Forest Master
Alongside the frangipani trees in blossom. 
We have taken boats out to sea to rescue the boat people as they drift. 
We have helped Master Van Hanh design the Thang Long capital 
We have built together a thatched hermitage, 
And stretched out the net to rescue the nun Trac Tuyen 
When the sound of the rising tide was deafening 
On the banks of the Tien Duong river. 
Together we have opened the way and stepped
Into the immense space outside of space. 
After many years of working to tear asunder the net of time,
We have saved up the light of shooting stars 
And made a torch helping those who want to go home
After decades of wandering in distant places. 

But still there have been times when the
Seeds of a vagabond in you has come back to life 
you have left your teacher, your brothers and sisters 
Alone you go…
I look at you with compassion 
Although I know that this is not a true separation 
(Because I am already in each cell of your body) 
And that you may need once more to play the prodigal son. 

That is why I promise I shall be there for you
Any time you are in danger. 
Sometimes you have lain unconscious on the hot sands of frontier deserts.
I have manifested myself as a cloud to bring you cool shade. 
Late at night the cloud became the dew 
And the compassionate nectar falls drop by drop for you to drink. 
Sometimes you sit in a deep abyss of darkness
Completely alienated from your true home. 
I have manifested myself as a long ladder and
Lightly thrown myself down
So that you can climb up to the area where there is light 
To discover again the blue of the sky and the
Sounds of the brook and the birds.

Sometimes I recognised you in Birmingham, 
In the Do Linh district or New England. 
I have sometimes met you in Hang Chau, Xiamen, or Shanghai 
I have sometimes found you in St. Petersburg or East Berlin. 
Sometimes, though only five years old, I have
Seen you and recognized you.
Because of the seed of bodhicitta, you carry in your tender heart. 
Wherever I have seen you, I have always raised
My hand and made a signal to you,
Whether it be in the delta of the North, Saigon or the Thuan An Seaport.
 
Sometimes you were the golden full moon hanging
Over the summit of the Kim Son Mountain, 
Or the little bird flying over the Dai Lao forest during a winter night. 
Often I have seen you 
But you have not seen me, 
Though while walking in the evening mist your clothes have been soaked.
But finally you have always come home. 
You have come home and sat at my feet on our ancient mountain
Listening to the birds calling and the monkeys screeching 
And the morning chanting echoing from the Buddha Hall. 
You have come back to me determined not to be a vagabond any longer.
 
This morning the birds of the mountain joyfully welcome the bright sun. 
Do you know, my child, that the white clouds
Are still floating in the vault of the sky? 
Where are you now? 
The ancient mountain is still there in this
Place of the present moment. 
Although the white-crested wave still wants to
Go in the other direction, 
Look again, you will see me in you and in every leaf and flower bud. 
If you call my name, you will see me right away. 
Where are you going? 
The old frangipani tree offers its fragrant flowers this morning. 
You and I have never really been apart. Spring has come. 
The pines have put out new shining green needles 
And on the edge of the forest,
The wild plum trees have burst into flower.

Published in The Mindfulness Bell, Issue #25, Winter 200

Looking for Each Other

By Thich Nhat Hanh

I have been looking for you, World Honored One,
since I was a little child.
With my first breath, I heard your call,
and began to look for you, Blessed One.
I’ve walked so many perilous paths,
confronted so many dangers,
endured despair, fear, hopes, and memories.
I’ve trekked to the farthest regions, immense and wild,
sailed the vast oceans,
traversed the highest summits, lost among the clouds.
I’ve lain dead, utterly alone,
on the sands of ancient deserts.
I’ve held in my heart so many tears of stone.

Blessed One, I’ve dreamed of drinking dewdrops
that sparkle with the light of far-off galaxies.
I’ve left footprints on celestial mountains
and screamed from the depths of Avici Hell, exhausted, 
crazed with despair
because I was so hungry, so thirsty.
For millions of lifetimes,
I’ve longed to see you,
but didn’t know where to look.
Yet, I’ve always felt your presence with a mysterious certainty.

I know that for thousands of lifetimes,
you and I have been one,
and the distance between us is only a flash of thought.
Just yesterday while walking alone,
I saw the old path strewn with Autumn leaves,
and the brilliant moon, hanging over the gate,
suddenly appeared like the image of an old friend.
And all the stars confirmed that you were there!
All night, the rain of compassion continued to fall,
while lightning flashed through my window
and a great storm arose,
as if Earth and Sky were in battle.
Finally in me the rain stopped, the clouds parted.
The moon returned,
shining peacefully, calming Earth and Sky.
Looking into the mirror of the moon, suddenly
I saw myself,
and I saw you smiling, Blessed One.
How strange!

The moon of freedom has returned to me,
everything I thought I had lost.
From that moment on,
and in each moment that followed,
I saw that nothing had gone.
There is nothing that should be restored.
Every flower, every stone, and every leaf recognize me.

Wherever I turn, I see you smiling
the smile of no-birth and no-death.
The smile I received while looking at the mirror of the moon.
I see you sitting there, solid as Mount Meru,
calm as my own breath,
sitting as though no raging fire storm ever occurred,
sitting in complete peace and in freedom.
At last I have found you, Blessed One,
and I have found myself.

There I sit.
The deep blue sky,
the snow-capped mountains painted against the horizon,
and the shining red sun sing with joy.
You, Blessed One, are my first love.
The love that is always present, always pure, and freshly new.
And I shall never need a love that will be called “last.”

You are the source of well-being flowing through numberless troubled lives,
the water from your spiritual stream always pure, as it was in the beginning.
You are the source of peace,
solidity, and inner freedom.
You are the Buddha, the Tathagata.
With my one-pointed mind
I vow to nourish your solidity and freedom in myself
so I can offer solidity and freedom to countless others,
now and forever.

Published in Thich Nhat Hanh, Call Me by

My True Names (1993)

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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