The Buddha is shown sitting with his hands in many different positions or "mudras." My favorite is that of the Shakyamuni Buddha who is shown seated in the traditional cross-legged "lotus" position with his right hand reaching down to touch the Earth.
According to tradition, on the night of Shakyamuni's awakening, as he sat in deep meditation under the bodhi tree, the tempter Mara visited him with numerous threats and distractions, including vast armies of demons and seductive dancing girls. When these failed to unseat the aspiring Buddha, as a last ditch effort Mara challenged his right to sit upon "the throne of enlightenment."
"Who bears witness to your attainment of Buddhahood?" demanded Mara.
In answer, Shakyamuni is said to have reached the fingers of his right hand down to touch the ground. "I call the Earth as my witness," he declared.
One legend has the Earth quaking. Another says that "myriad thousand-fold flower blossoms" rained down from heaven. Still another shows the Earth Goddess herself emerging with her body half out of the ground to confirm the Buddha's attainment. Every legend agrees, however, that the Earth itself bore witness to the appearance of a Buddha, or "World Honored One."
Sometimes as a form of worship do prayers that involve movement. These are called prostrations. In Plum Village in France where the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh lives, the people remember the Shakyamuni Buddha's story, and because they love and respect the Earth, they do a meditation called Touching the Earth. They kneel and put their heads, arms and hands on the Earth, and as they do so they breath and remind themselves of how they are connected to the Earth and all that is, has been, and will be.
The Touching the Earth prostration is one way to intentionally touch the Earth with your body. If you would like to try it here is how:
Sit on your knees or in a lotus pose if you are very flexible
Hold your palms together with fingers pointing up and thumbs slightly tucked in, this is called the lotus mudra because it is thought to look like a lotus flower bud.
Lower your head to the ground and stretch your bent arms forward with your palms up to receive blessings.
Breathe in and out slowly ten times then raise yourself to a seated position again, breathe in and out several time and repeat two more times.
As you do so, consider that to practice Touching the Earth is to return to the Earth, to our roots, to our ancestors, our parents, and all our teachers, and to recognize that we are not alone but connected to a whole stream of spiritual and blood ancestors.
The gestures we make can remind us that we are the continuation of our grandparents, parents, and teachers that that we are also the seed of future. We are their continuation and with them, will continue into the future generations. We touch the earth to let go of the idea that we are separate and to remind us that we are the Earth and part of Life.
When we touch the Earth we can imagine ourselves becoming smaller, with the humility and simplicity of a young child. We can recognize that we are just one small strand in the web of creation, but at the same time we are part of the universe.
When we touch the Earth we can imagine ourselves becoming great, like an ancient tree sending her roots deep into the earth, drinking from the source of all waters. When we touch the Earth, we breathe in all the strength and stability of the Earth, and breathe out all our fear and sadness and feelings of not being good enough. As our bodies touch the Earth, we know that we are part of one circle as big as the universe.
Wherever you are today, you might consider devoting some time to touching the Earth in your own way. TOUCH THE EARTH
Greet your circle. Look around. Has anything changed? Are the colors changing? How does your circle smell today?
Move around your circle touching and being touched by all that is there
How does your circle feel today? Touch your circle by exploring with different parts of your body how your circle feels. What happens if you take off your shoes? If you touch something with your cheek? With the inside of your arm? Can you find
______ Something rough
______ Something smooth
______ Something dull
______ Something pointy
______ Something soft
______ Something hard
______ Something bumpy
______ Something squishy
______ Something crumbly
______ Something wet
Write down what you found for each of these touch sensations.
Touch is a two-way street. YOU touch something and at the same time something TOUCHES you! What kinds of feelings and thoughts do you have as you touch the things you have come to know? The word "connect" can mean to join or fasten things together, to establish communication. By touching things in your circle, do you feel more connected?
Gather a few kinds of leaves from your circle. Place them in a small bag or container that you can easily reach into. Pull out one leaf. Sit and hold your leaf. Trace its shape with your fingers, feel its texture. Is it furry or smooth or sticky? Notice if you can feel the veins on your leaf. Are the edges smooth or toothed? When you feel you "know" your leaf, return it into the bag you brought to the circle.
Now try to finding your leaf inside the bag. No Peeking! Just use your hand and fingers and your memory of the leaf you know. Can you find it?
How might the sense of touch connect your more to people and places in your daily life? Do we value and take more care of that with which we are connected? How might we value touch more in our lives?
Before you leave maybe you will want to "touch the Earth" once more inside your circle to say thank or goodbye to this place you are beginning to know so well.
Forever Oneness,who sings to us in silence,~ Bee Lake ~
who teaches us through each other.
Guide my steps with strength and wisdom.
May I see the lessons as I walk,
honor the Purpose of all things.
Help me touch with respect,
always speak from behind my eyes. Let me observe, not judge.
May I cause no harm,
and leave music and beauty after my visit.
When I return to forever
may the circle be closed
and the spiral be broader.
(an Aboriginal poet)
This photo of Buddha with his hands in the "touching Earth" mudra is one I took in a Buddhist monastery in Sikkim.