Humble yet illustrious, Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced Teek Nyaht Hahn) was a peace activist, poet, writer, zen master, and spiritual teacher who is revered amongst the most famous Buddhist monks of modern times.
From vital reconciliation action during the Vietnam War to the founding of the Plum Village Institute and the Van Hanh Buddhist University, to establishing six monasteries, over 1,000 sanghas (local mindfulness communities), and numerous meditation centers…
Hanh certainly left the world much richer than he found it before passing in 2022!
Thich Nhat Hanh was also a pioneer in bringing awareness and practice of Buddhism to the West, doing so partly through his series of meditations.
Designed to bring you to the present moment and release suffering, each is easy to follow and accessible for everyone – from first-time to seasoned meditators.
The following Thich Nhat Hanh meditations have brought countless lives moments of respite and others, prolonged peace. We hope the wisdom and lifestyle they contain will bring the same to you!
3 Thich Nhat Hanh Meditations
1. Thich Nhat Hanh Meditations: Sitting
Often the preference of beginner and established meditators, ‘seated‘ meditation is one of the most common postures to still and focus the mind.
Where walking meditations can risk a stimulation of the senses that may distract and laying meditations can induce drowsiness, meditating in an upright, comfortable seated position is found by many to foster greater alertness and focus conducive to sustained meditation.
Recognising the potential of the seated posture, Thich Nhat Hanh curated a series of various guided sitting meditations.
With the first step of each being to find a comfortable seated position, Hanh instructs us to sit with our spine straight and long, relaxed yet upright. Our legs may be crossed, seated in half or full lotus, hero, or thunderbolt pose. In the words of Hanh’s Plum Village:
‘ . . . imagine that there’s a thread going up through our spine and coming out through the crown of our head. Imagine somebody pulling up gently on that thread. We relax our shoulders, letting them just hang, our chest is open and our back is upright.’– PlumVillage.Org
We are also encouraged, especially as beginners, to use props such as cushions or blankets under our legs to help us remain comfortable for longer and to better support prolonged sitting. Our hands can rest comfortably on our legs, together or separately.
Our eyes may be closed or resting slightly open, gazing gently down towards a point in front of us.
And of course, for those with conditions of the back, knees or other complications that make seated meditation painful or inaccessible, the use of a chair or backrest is a recommended option.
Once a comfortable seated position has been found, the second step is to bring awareness to the breath, which will be the main focus of the meditation and the central tool used to calm the body and mind.
We let go of any striving for accomplishment, instead trusting that the goal of stillness will be achieved simply through a calm focus on the breath.
To help bring and maintain focus on the breath, we can repeat to ourselves reminders such as ‘Breathing in, I become aware of my breath. Breathing out, I’m aware of my out-breath.’ or more simply ‘In. Out.’
Inhaling and exhaling naturally, try to trace the breath’s journey from around the nostrils, through the nasal passage, down the throat and into the lungs, and back out again, noticing any changes to its temperature, texture, volume, or speed without judgment or reaction.
Anytime thoughts enter the mind, anxieties, daydreaming or future planning, don’t feel any sense of failure or frustration – it’s all a natural part of having a human mind.
Instead, be grateful for recognizing the distraction, and then smilingly bring your attention back to the breath.
There is no set time for seated breath focused meditation, and benefits can be experienced for any length of practice. For beginners, we recommend meditating for between 15 to 60 minutes.
2. Thich Nhat Hanh Meditations: Gatha Poems
Translating to ‘song’, Gatha poems are commonly used as the subject of meditations and tools for grounding in various spiritual practices.
These short poems, which are also known as “mindfulness verses,” are designed to be recited or contemplated upon as a means to attain spiritual growth.
Brief yet powerful, these short verses are thought to help still the mind, become present, cultivate gratitude and self-compassion, and deepen one’s understanding of the interconnected nature of all beings and things.
The descriptions and tales in Gatha poetry are intended to encourage practitioners to navigate the path toward spiritual realization and enlightenment.
Thich Nhat Hanh has written many popular gathas, each widely considered an effective tool used to cultivate self-awareness in daily life.
One of Hanh’s best-known Gathas is the “Breathing Gatha“, which guides the reader to breathe in and out with focus and mindful observation as they recite the words “I am here” with each inhalation and exhalation.
This Breathing Gatha serves as a reminder to relinquish any worries or desired of the past or future, instead immersing fully in the current moment.
Another poignant gatha is “Rain Gatha” which writing is designed to evoke a sense of interconnectedness and interdependence between practitioner and universe, reminding us that we are all a part of a larger natural cycle.
Here Hanh writes “I am water, I flow from cloud to cloud, I nourish the forest and fields. I am water, I flow through the river and the sea, I am part of the cycle of life.”
Encouraging readers not only to feel the connection between all things, but also to nurture and care for the earth and all living beings.
“Gatha of Washing Dishes” is a lesser-known verse by Hanh, which encourages us to practice mindfulness while doing daily tasks like washing dishes, reminding us to be present in the moment and to find joy in the simple things in life.
It goes as follows: Washing the dishes / is like bathing a baby Buddha. / The profane is the sacred. / Everyday mind is Buddha’s mind.
Varied yet signature, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Gathas are each an embodiment of his teachings that cultivate mindfulness and compassion in everyday life.
Concise yet profound, Hanh’s gathas are poignant reminders to slow down, to be present, and to live in harmony with oneself, and with the world around us.
3. Thich Nhat Hanh Meditations: Inviting The Bell
From mantras to chimes to tibetan bowls, meditation and sound have long been used side by side. In addition to those mentioned, the ringing of bells is commonplace across various meditation practices.
Often used to signal the opening or closing of meditation practices, it’s believed that bells act as ‘meditation enhancers, with the resonance they produce able induce certain states conducive to meditation.
In other traditions, focus on the sound and vibration of the bell itself is the meditation.
In Buddhist traditions such as those informing Hanh’s ‘Inviting the Bell’ meditation, bells are rung at random intervals during the day and at the start of formal meditation sessions, serving to remind meditators to become present whatever they are doing at that moment.
Before ringing the bell, we first prepare ourselves with mindful breathing in union with the recital of the following four-line verse (which can also be considered a Gatha poem, like above!):
Body, speech, and mind in perfect oneness.
I send my heart along with the sound of this bell.
May the hearers awaken from their forgetfulness
and transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow.
As we read one line we breathe in, and as we read the next line we breathe out, repeating until we’re calm, present and fully aware. Then we are ready to invite the bell to sound.
Hanh teaches that when sounding the bell, we should not use terminology like ‘hit it’, but instead should ‘invite’ the bell to sound, waking it first with a gentle ‘half sound’, which allows us time to prepare ourselves for the reception of the full sound.
On hearing the half bell sound, we bring to a close any conversations or thought cycles we are in, and cultivate a sense of calm by bringing the focus back to the breath and the body, to prepare for becoming completely present.
After the half sound has rung, the ‘bell master’ will allow time for at least one in-breath and one out-breath, before they invite the bell to its full ring. When the full sound occurs, everyone then takes three deep, mindful breaths in and out.
As we inhale, we say: “I listen, I listen.” When we exhale, we say: “Listen, listen. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.”
Any thoughts that arise during this meditation are let go to allow us to listen deeply to the resonance and sounds of the bell, which as Hanh writes ‘will bring you back to your true home – the here and now‘.