Gathas


Robert Aitken in his wonderful book, The Dragon Who Never Sleeps, Parallax Press, 1992, shares many beautiful gathas born from his life as a Buddhist. A gatha is a Buddhist vow that expresses the interconnectedness and interdependence of a person with the entire world. Here’s a sample from his book:


When birdsong is loud in the trees
I vow with all beings
to put down my work and to listen,
recreated as song.


As written by Roshi Aitken, the gatha form provides a wonderful model for a person from any perspective on life to express interdependence with nature. The first line sets up a situation in nature beginning with the word When or Whenever. For example:


When watering the flowers in my garden
When I hear the coyotes howl in the night
When I see a flower blooming in the sidewalk
When I see an owl dead by the roadside


The second line in Robert Aitken’s gathas is always the same: “I vow with all beings.” This is the basic commitment of the Buddhist gatha. If it is meaningful for you, use it. If it is not meaningful, you may substitute any other commitment or promise words. For example:


I promise to God and myself
I promise to myself
I make a commitment to the earth
I pledge myself


The last two lines tell what is being promised and they always begin with to. Here’s a gatha I wrote:


When I hear a mockingbird’s song by my window
I promise to him and to me
to put aside worries of future
and sing for joy to the day.


Gathas focus on the small everyday things of life and express how all beings and things are interconnected. The gatha form has become a very meaningful way for me to express the interconnectedness I feel when observing nature. I am thankful to Robert Aitken for opening the form up to modern writers and for sharing so personally.