Friends of Godwin Samararatne

Learn to be your best friend and also to be a friend of others. Learn to forgive yourself and others and then heal any wounds that you are carrying.

Reflecting on Death

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Sometimes reflecting on death, the inevitability of death, helps us to forgive ourselves and to forgive others. It emphasises the need to heal the wounds we are carrying. This idea of death can be something very useful to cultivate and it can be very useful for our practice.

We can reflect on what are the things that we might miss when we die. This will help us to recognise our identifications, it will help us to recognise the things that we think we own. Things we consider “our” things; things we don’t like to leave. These identifications can be divided into three categories: the first is identification with ourselves, with our mind and body; the second is identification with other people; the third is identification with our possessions. While reflecting on them we realise that in an absolute sense we really don’t own them, and we can die to our identifications.

Another aspect of dying to reflect on is that when we die we have to face it all by ourselves. We may have spiritual friends, we may have other people, but at that moment we are alone. This is why I encourage you as meditators to spend some time alone, to spend some time with yourself and to make a connection with yourself. In a way this can be seen as learning to live with yourself, to be happy on your own and enjoy your own company. Then when the moment comes for you to leave you can face that situation in a different way. Because you have made a connection with yourself, your dependencies may be less.

Another question to reflect on is: “Do we know what death and dying is?” We are really reacting just to the word. In ancient Greece Socrates was executed by being given poison to drink. Before he was given the poison some of his friends and relatives came, but at this stage he was very keen, very impatient to take the poison. His friends and relatives were puzzled and they asked him why he behaved in such a way. He gave a very good reply, showing his humility: “I really don’t know what dying is, I’m very keen to find out!” So this is the kind of humility we should have: we don’t know!

Always in the Present

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One aspect of a mirror-like mind is that it always functions in the present. A mirror cannot reflect something that is going to happen in the future; it cannot reflect something that has happened in the past. The question arises, is it possible always to be in the present in everyday life? So what does it mean to be in the present? We need to clarify this. Experiencing the present moment is like seeing the candle in front of you now, hearing the cough now, being aware of the breath and the sensations in the body now. But in everyday life we need to use the past and the future. This is a real challenge we have: how to use the past and the future, and still reflect them just as they are.

If you completely let go of your past you will not be able to go back to your homes: this shows that we need to use the past. If you don’t think about the future, if you don’t plan, you would not have been able to come here. When we think about the past, when we are recalling, and when we are anticipating the future, we are doing it now. We must realise that when we are thinking about the past, and when we are thinking about the future, we are always doing it in the present moment. The only thing is that we give a reality to the past it doesn’t have. We don’t realise it cannot be changed and we allow the past to create negative emotions and suffering for us. This is also how anxiety about the future can arise. The future has not come yet, but while in the present we think certain things will happen. In this simile of a mirror-like mind all this thinking about the future and about the past is happening now.

Minuses Most of the Time

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The people I meet who suffer the most are those who give themselves minuses most of the time. Such people can create a hell for themselves, and in that hell only minuses exist. Minuses about ourselves, minuses about others, minuses about the world. When that happens we use a very common phrase, we say: I suffer from depression.

So you see the connection between plusses, minuses and emotions? Isn’t this interesting? Isn’t this fascinating? Shouldn’t we find it curious? Isn’t meditation something very worthwhile? Isn’t there an element of lightness in it? Isn’t this an adventure? Isn’t this the most beautiful adventure we can have, understanding, exploring, investigating, as I said this morning, the inner world?

This is why I suggest you do it before you are depressed, because then you can really understand this process, you can really see very clearly what we are all doing to ourselves. This is what is called Dhamma insight. With more and more such insights, with more and more discoveries, the chances of becoming depressed become less.

Only Thinking

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Most of the time we use only one sense, that is thinking. According to Buddhist psychology this is the sixth sense, but we have other senses which we sometimes neglect. So we can awaken the sense of seeing by looking at things, looking at flowers, looking at little objects, looking at the sky, the clouds. In fact we can develop concentration in this way. I know some meditators who find it easier to concentrate in this way rather than concentrate on the breath, where they can have complete awareness of what they are seeing, and they are fully experiencing the present moment in that situation. And when we see something beautiful we have joy.

In fact in the Buddhist texts there are many references to seeing something beautiful. On one occasion the Buddha was walking with Ananda, his attendant, and at some point he said: Look back, what beautiful scenery we are passing through! There is a section in the Pali texts where it describes how monks and nuns became enlightened, and in that section some of them describe how the beauty of nature was very inspiring, because most of these monks and nuns were living in forests. And sometimes, as we are living in towns, big towns, where we don’t see nature very often, we are losing this sensitivity for appreciating something beautiful, for learning to relate to nature in this way.

You Just Know

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If you are having thoughts you just know that thoughts are there. If the breathing goes fast you know now the breathing is fast. If you have unpleasant sensations in the body, you know there are unpleasant sensations in the body. So as I have been emphasising, the whole focus of the technique is just knowing what is happening from moment to moment. If your mind is calm, you know the mind is calm. If the mind is not calm, you know the mind is not calm.

If we are meditating to achieve a mind that is calm, then when calm comes we will hold onto the calm. This is how suffering is created. And so if there is calm there is also suffering. So what this meditation aims at is something very simple, knowing what is happening, and as I have been saying very often, just being friendly and saying okay to whatever is happening. And if you can meditate in this way, at the time you are meditating you are free from suffering.

And what is also important is to use the breath not only when we are sitting. This is why I have been saying, please make a connection with your breath. So in everyday life at different moments you can just come back to your breath. The breath is our friend, it will help us to experience the present moment, the here and the now. The idea is to sit and develop awareness, and then to use that awareness at other times. I would consider that to be more important than what is happening only when you are sitting, because it is in everyday life that suffering is created, problems are created, you have to face challenges.

Some meditators ask me: Am I doing it right? How do I know whether I am progressing in my practice? So I tell them the progress is not what is happening when you are sitting but how you relate it to everyday life. In Sri Lanka we have very rich people who are sometimes very unkind to their servants. So when they are learning meditation I tell them the way to know their progress is to see the way they are treating their servants at home. They are not very happy to hear such things!

So please realise our progress is in how we are relating in everyday life. It is a way of living. It is an art of living. It is a way of thinking. It is a matter of having a certain attitude towards life, like the story I related about the wise old Chinese man. So please see this clearly, please realise this. Perhaps after I go over the techniques I might go over with you that aspect of everyday living. Please don’t associate meditation only with a particular posture, a particular time, a particular technique.

What’s Noble about Suffering?

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Why did the Buddha call suffering a noble truth? How does suffering become a noble truth? What is so noble about suffering?

It’s because we have to experience suffering to feel the need to be free of it. Unless we know that we are sick, the need to take medicine will not arise. There are people who are sick, but they do not know that they are sick. Hence the need to find and use the medicine does not arise. We deserve a big plus that we know there is a sickness and that we are trying to discover the medicine and use it. A big plus!

Just Knowing

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It is interesting that in the Noble Eightfold Path which the Buddha presented as a way of experiencing freedom from suffering, mindfulness comes before samadhi. So it shows very clearly that what is important is learning to be mindful, learning to be aware, just knowing what is happening from moment to moment. From that the samadhi can come naturally. So in practical terms, when we are trying to learn to be aware of our breath, what we can try to do is to be aware of whatever is happening in our mind and body. Even if you realize that your mind is not concentrated, that your mind is not calm, just knowing it, just accepting it can make such a difference.

All the Monsters

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The real challenge we have in everyday life is when facing anxiety, stress, anger, and all the other monsters. This is why I have been emphasising very much that they should be your objects of meditation.

They should be precious learning experiences for you, and they should be your teachers. So the practice is not to suppress them. This is a very important point to remember. It is not to get rid of them. But rather just to see them as our compost, using them for our growth when they are there. This is another very interesting perspective to have in relation to meditation in daily life.

I

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According to the Buddha, the main cause of suffering is this idea we have that there is an “I” or a “me” in all this: that there is an ego. So the ego wants things his way or her way. The best way, I feel, to understand how the ego works is that we have this idea that I am Somebody. So it is really funny that the Somebody wants things his or her own way. The Somebody is such an important person. And when we have this idea, that we are a Somebody, it is very easy to be wounded, to be hurt.

Actually if you analyse the emotions, the emotions are created by this feeling of suffering. Take anger. If Somebody wants others to behave in his way, and then sees that others are not behaving according to his feeling of being Somebody, he gets angry, thinking: they should have behaved according to what this Somebody says.

We are amused. We think it is funny. But when we are Somebody, we do not feel it in that way. We are really hurt, we are really wounded, we are really despondent. Take fear. Fear is related to this. This Somebody might loose something and so Somebody has fear. What about anxiety? This is very important. Somebody might make mistakes. So you are anxious. And if Somebody wants only plusses from others – how can others give minuses to this Somebody? It is impossible. You see, when you analyse it this way, how absurd our behaviour is.

So to see this leads us maybe to develop this sense of absurdity, to see the absurdity of our self-importance. So this is very powerful, when you see the second Noble Truth in this way, how you are creating suffering for yourself; if you can see this clearly, then the way out of suffering also becomes clear to you.

Like a Gardener

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One suggestion I would like to offer is not to be concerned and preoccupied about progress and results in your meditation, but rather to see what you are doing as interesting. One of the teachers gave a very beautiful simile on this. He said: It is like a gardener who is planting things. If he is a good gardener, he should enjoy what he is doing. This means he simply enjoys the process of learning to take care of the plants. He finds it interesting, and maybe even challenging sometimes. So when a gardener plants something, he can never know when the flowers will come, or when the fruits will arrive. This is the type of relationship we might try to cultivate with meditation.

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