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.

Nothing Special

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Some people associate meditation only with sitting, or a particular time, a particular posture and so on. But if you are really serious about meditation it has to be a way of living, especially in everyday life, in relationships that you are having whether in the place of work, at home, or whatever. They should be areas of meditation for you to work with. So it’s really a way of understanding, it’s a way of knowledge, it’s a way of developing wisdom, and then try to integrate that with your daily life.

When you sit, if you think it is something special you’re bound to have special problems. Even the way you are breathing, you try to do it differently. And then when you sit you want to immediately achieve states of calm and have special experiences, but at other times you’re not worried about these. So it is clear there’s a kind of fragmentation, a duality between the person who is sitting and the person outside sitting practice.

If you can see meditation as something that you do most of the time – it’s just being aware, it’s just understanding what is happening – then when you sit it is just continuing that.

Some teachers say that when you are sitting, please see the sitting as nothing special because nothing special is happening. There are the same thoughts, sensations, emotions, sounds. So how can it be different? The difference is there when we know what is happening, when we understand it, when we are clear about it.

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Joy and Freedom

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The whole idea of Buddhism is to develop more joy and freedom from suffering, so I’m very sorry to see that Buddhism is used to create more and more suffering. Just to give an example, when I was in Hong Kong I met a woman, a very good woman, a very kind-hearted woman. A Buddhist teacher had told her that there was a devil inside her and this teacher had said: I can see it in your face. So when I met her she was really suffering from what she had heard from this Buddhist teacher.

This brings up something about the tradition, that we have to be clear what is taught in the culture and what is really taught in the teachings. It’s interesting how to some extent even in Sri Lanka I meet Buddhists who seem to emphasise more the suffering aspect, so I tell them: Please, that is only the first Noble Truth, what about the other Noble Truths? So this is one area I would like you to reflect on, and as I have been emphasising, please use loving-kindness, gentleness, learning to be your best friend, seeing your worth, seeing your potentialities, seeing that you have the Buddha-nature in you.

Another point related to this is the fear of making mistakes. I’m not asking you to deliberately make mistakes, but when we have made a mistake we should learn how to relate to that mistake. This is why I have been emphasising to see them as learning experiences, as valuable experiences, feeling grateful for such situations because we can learn from them.

Guilt

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One problem I encountered with many meditators is that they are suffering from guilt. Maybe there are some historical or social reasons why there seems to be a lot of guilt in this culture, because in old cultures like the Tibetan culture, Sri Lankan culture and some other cultures there is not even a word for guilt! I read somewhere that his holiness the Dalai Lama was surprised when he encountered so many Westerners suffering from guilt.

People who generally suffer from guilt from the past, they seem to remember mostly the wrong things they have done in the past. So they seem to have a selective memory in this connection. The good things they have done they have completely forgotten and they remember only their shortcomings, only their failures, and they don’t realise that they are punishing themselves with the guilt that they are holding onto.

It is unfortunate that traditional Buddhism also sometimes seems to be emphasising this, especially with the doctrine of kamma. This is why I never speak about kamma, because what happens is you think you have done some wrong things and you think you are going to suffer because of kamma. So it is really unfortunate that the Buddhist doctrines are used to create more suffering. And of course they only think of bad kamma, they never think of good kamma!

A Lightness in Your Being

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Normally when we see things our complete attention is not there. So what we can do, and this is what is sometimes very useful about nature, is that we can cultivate this way of looking at things by examining something very clearly, very closely, and at that time your whole attention, your whole awareness, is on that object that you are seeing.

If we can learn to do this in relation to seeing our senses are really awakened. There’s a freshness that arises, there is a lightness in your being. I think as children we had this quality, but maybe with our pre-occupations, with our anxieties, with our thoughts, they are there most of the time and we try to see things with such a mind, so we hardly notice things.

When we develop this quality we can see small things, little things, much more clearly, so that these ordinary things can become extraordinary. In the Buddhist texts there are some very beautiful references to monks and nuns living in the forest and they describe very minutely what they hear, what they see.

Another word for this is to develop a kind of sensitivity in a positive sense to seeing things, hearing things, smelling things, feeling things, so your whole living is alive, is fresh, is new, is innocent. In the Dhammapada, a very important book in the Dhamma, it is said that if we do not cultivate this awareness, this alertness, we are like dead people. We become alive with this quality.

To Reflect, to Contemplate, to Understand

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If we can develop the quality of reflection we can see the Dhamma in any experience in life; any experience can be a meditation. It can be a sickness, it can be some disappointment, it can be some frustration, it can be some happiness, it can be anything, but just learning to reflect, to contemplate, to understand, is very important.

In this connection I would like to suggest a technique which you can practise in everyday life. In the evening after work when you go back home, I know everyone who goes home is tired, but please try to recover from that by maybe taking a shower or something similar, and then just for a few minutes take your mind back and reflect on how you spent the day.

From the time you woke up to the time of that reflection, just try to go over all the things. See now, how many times did I get angry during the day, what were the occasions when there was stress, were there situations when I lost control of my emotions? You are not doing this as if you were a judge, trying to beat yourself, but in a very friendly, gentle, understanding way, just going over what happened.

And what is more important is also to reflect on the times when such disturbances were not there. Reflect on the good things that you have done, the generous things you have done, the friendly things you have done, the nice words you have used. You should also include these. This is more important or at least equally important.

If you can be more open to these positive things you’ll be surprised to know what a good person you are. So this type of reflection will enable us to know more about ourselves, to know about our behaviour in a very objective, clear way and when you do this a natural transformation will come in your behaviour without your trying to do anything.

Results to Achieve

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In everyday life you have goals to achieve, results to achieve, and sometimes you chase after goals even when you are meditating!

So naturally you go through the same stress, the same anxiety, the same tension, the same restlessness because you want to achieve some goals, some results. Buddha has something very interesting to say in this connection, he gave a simile. He said meditation is like being a gardener; so like a gardener you are enjoying planting the trees, vegetables and flowers, and the gardener is not bothered when the flowers will come, when the fruits will come but is enjoying what he is doing.

I have thought of a similar simile. The simile is trying to reach the top of a mountain which you are climbing. If you are concerned, you are pre-occupied by what you are going to see when you reach the top you’ll miss the fun while climbing. So while you are climbing, what is happening to you, the falls, the adventures, the problems, those become the practice, and don’t be concerned about what will be there when you have reached the top. What is happening now is the practice, and not what is going to happen later on. So it doesn’t matter whether they are pleasant experiences or unpleasant experiences, see them as practice, that’s the practice, not getting rid of them.

Pain

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Working with pain is a very useful experience in meditation. In everyday life when we experience physical pain, what do we do? We try to do something about it immediately, change the posture or whatever, and then get rid of the pain because it is unpleasant. So by doing this we never learn about pain, which is a most important part of the human condition. We don’t know what types of pain we might have to experience in the future, so this is why I have been repeating so often, meditation is learning to be open to unpleasant experiences. Please don’t see them as a disturbance or a distraction.

Nothing is more important than the pain itself, either thoughts or whatever else, because that is what you are experiencing. So feel grateful for the pain because you can learn about the pain in a meditative situation.

We have to avoid two extremes. One extreme is always saying Yes to the body. This is pampering the body. The body says: I want it. We immediately go for it. So it is very important to learn to say No sometimes. Saying Yes always is pampering. Always saying No is being too hard on ourselves. So it is very important to have the correct balance, when to say Yes, when to say No.

So in relation to physical pain when you are meditating, if you immediately change the posture I would say that is pampering; and going through the pain, trying not to change the posture, grinding your teeth, enduring the pain, I would say that is the other extreme. So the middle way is learning, experimenting, exploring the pain, and then when it’s unbearable change the posture, stand up: very simple.

See Things Just as They Are

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Using a technique like focusing on breathing we learn to develop awareness, we learn to develop a non-reactive mind, we learn to be open, and once you know that now you are fairly stable then you can open up to whatever is happening. And what is beautiful in this technique is that even when there are times when you don’t have a spacious mind and when you are reacting, when you have some emotion, then that becomes an object of meditation, you learn about it, you investigate it. So if you are unable to do it at that time when it will not be very easy, at least later on you can reflect on what happened and can learn from it.

So our mistakes, our failures, they’re used as our teachers, they’re used for our spiritual growth. It is a very beautiful way to live. Usually when we make a mistake we give ourselves a big minus, we feel guilty, we suffer from anger, all different reactions. But in this way there is no need to have such reactions to our mistakes, instead you learn about what happened to you, so it develops self-knowledge and you feel grateful for these emotions and reactions that you have had.

I would like to emphasise this very much because I know in this culture there’s lots of suffering as a result of our failures, our mistakes. So hereafter please don’t suffer as a result of them, make them the object of meditation, make an effort to learn from them, because we can use them as a mirror showing us where we are. So please be very clear on this point. Then you come to a state that whether these unpleasant emotions are there or whether there are pleasant emotions it makes no difference. No big plus when pleasant experiences are there, and no big minus when unpleasant experiences are there. As the Buddha said: We learn to see things just as they are.

Using a technique like focusing on breathing we learn to develop awareness, we learn to develop a non-reactive mind, we learn to be open, and once you know that now you are fairly stable then you can open up to whatever is happening. And what is beautiful in this technique is that even when there are times when you don’t have a spacious mind and when you are reacting, when you have some emotion, then that becomes an object of meditation, you learn about it, you investigate it. So if you are unable to do it at that time when it will not be very easy, at least later on you can reflect on what happened and can learn from it.

So our mistakes, our failures, they’re used as our teachers, they’re used for our spiritual growth. It is a very beautiful way to live. Usually when we make a mistake we give ourselves a big minus, we feel guilty, we suffer from anger, all different reactions. But in this way there is no need to have such reactions to our mistakes, instead you learn about what happened to you, so it develops self-knowledge and you feel grateful for these emotions and reactions that you have had.

I would like to emphasise this very much because I know in this culture there’s lots of suffering as a result of our failures, our mistakes. So hereafter please don’t suffer as a result of them, make them the object of meditation, make an effort to learn from them, because we can use them as a mirror showing us where we are. So please be very clear on this point. Then you come to a state that whether these unpleasant emotions are there or whether there are pleasant emotions it makes no difference. No big plus when pleasant experiences are there, and no big minus when unpleasant experiences are there. As the Buddha said: We learn to see things just as they are.

Objectless Meditation

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A technique that is very important, I feel, is what is called objectless meditation. Once you are established in awareness and you are stable in your mind, then you are in a position to allow anything to arise, allow any thought to arise, allow any emotion to arise, especially emotions you don’t like, any sensations to arise, and learn just to observe, just to be with whatever is happening in that spacious mind.

This is a very useful meditation in everyday life. In everyday life, in different situations just to know what thoughts you are having, just to know what emotions you are having, just to know what sensations you are having, seeing what they are and learning not to react to them, making them the objects of meditation, making them learning experiences. So in everyday life when you are having an emotion like anger, fear, stress, you learn to make that an object of meditation.

Meditation has different levels but to a great extent we should try to integrate it with everyday life.

The Cobra

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The story is that there was a cobra who was practising loving-kindness meditation in a forest all by herself, and then an old woman came along and the old woman mistook the cobra for a rope. So asĀ  was practising loving-kindness, she allowed the woman to use her as a rope for the firewood she had collected. The old woman went home and this cobra escaped with lots of difficulties, lots of pain, lots of wounds, and so on.

She went to the meditation teacher and told the meditation teacher: See what happened. I was practising loving-kindness. I’m suffering as a result of the loving-kindness. And the teacher said: You have been practising idiotic compassion, not loving-kindness. You have to learn to hiss sometimes.

So sometimes we need to hiss, to assert ourselves, to be firm. But again be clear while you are being firm that your motive, what is inside, is really compassion. So the point I’m making is, loving-kindness doesn’t mean that you are always passive, allowing others to exploit you. With wisdom you should know when to assert yourself and when to be gentle.