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.

Month: August, 2013

Awareness

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I will mention some advantages, some benefits of the practice of awareness. For example, what is happening right now? You may be physically present here but mentally you may be quite elsewhere. So where are you? With the help of awareness, come back here, to be present, to be conscious of what is happening right here and now. This is one very important aspect of meditation, learning to experience the present moment and also learning to be aware of and to work with the past and the future.

Another important aspect of awareness is learning to use awareness to explore, to investigate what is happening in our mind and body from moment to moment. In this way, in any experience we have, in any situation we have to face in life, we can make an effort to learn from it, to make our own discoveries. This is very, very important. And if we can learn to do this, we can meditate in any situation. It can be a pleasant experience, it can be an unpleasant experience; we can even learn, find out about the unpleasant experiences we have.

Related to that is another aspect of awareness, learning to work with our emotions, particularly our unpleasant emotions. Everyone here has problems with these unpleasant emotions. It can be anger, it can be fear, anxiety, or stress; we are all having to deal with these emotions. So one way of working with these unpleasant emotions is learning to be conscious, just learning to be aware of these emotions, whatever these emotions are. When we are experiencing anger, for example, can we be conscious of the anger, can we be aware: now I am experiencing anger? So rather than suppressing that anger, rather than pushing away that anger, rather than denying that anger, not giving in to that anger, we are just knowing that anger, and then we learn to work with it within ourselves.

So the important thing is not the person, not the situation that is creating the anger but rather to deal with your anger, with what is happening inside yourself. If you can learn to use awareness in this way, then meditation becomes a real healing, an art of healing. Then we realize that meditation is not something we do only when we are sitting. In this way, we can learn to meditate at any time in our daily life, our conscious, everyday life.

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Be Kind

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A very important aspect of loving-kindness is learning to do kind things, learning to do compassionate things for others. When you develop more and more loving-kindness within yourselves, then naturally your actions, your speech, your words are related to this positive aspect of loving-kindness. And when you learn to be friendly to others, when you learn to be kind to others, when you learn to feel for others, this can also give lots of joy and happiness because when you see others: being happy because of your own actions this can bring lots of joy, lots of lightness to yourself.

Why do we Meditate?

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A question that we can reflect on is, why do we meditate? What is the purpose of meditation?
So I‟d like to say the idea of meditation is to free ourselves from the suffering that we create ourselves. The Buddha often said: I teach one thing – suffering and the way out of suffering.
So meditation can be seen as the medicine for our sickness. Today, we will be discussing some aspects of this medicine, how we can use this medicine and how we can heal ourselves.
One very important aspect of meditation is learning to be aware, learning to be mindful, learning to be conscious. Otherwise we are becoming more and more like machines.
Machines can function very well, but a machine doesn’t know how it is functioning, why it is functioning. Awareness is the complete opposite of that: just knowing, just being conscious, being aware of what is happening.

Feeling Grateful

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I emphasise the importance of feeling grateful. I think we take this very important spiritual quality for granted. When I was in Bodhgaya, the place where the Buddha is said to have become enlightened, I was reflecting on what is known about what the Buddha did after he had attained enlightenment. One of the things which is recorded is that he contemplated for seven long days the Bodhi tree which had given him shelter. Without closing his eyes to sleep, he stayed looking at the tree, showing his gratitude. Often we take the good fortune we have for granted. We take for granted that we have eyes to see, ears to hear and food to eat.

When this was mentioned in Nilambe, the meditation centre where I live, there was a nun from Thailand who made a very interesting point. She said that not only should we feel grateful for the positive things, but we should also feel grateful for the challenges, for the opportunities in life to work with ourselves. So for instance, when we get angry we can feel grateful that we have an opportunity to study anger. Sometimes when we have physical pain we start hating the pain and the body, but it is possible instead to feel grateful. We can make it an object of our meditation. In this way we learn to be grateful for positive things, the blessings we have; and we can also be grateful for the difficult situations we face, because they can be very valuable learning experiences.

Reaction and Response

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There are two very important words: reaction and response. Reaction is an emotional reaction to a situation. Response is doing something meaningful, doing something creative without reacting emotionally. So you can have a kind of dialogue with annoying  people in a very friendly, open way, trying to understand their behaviour. But it should be done in a very skillful way rather than speaking in a very angry way, in a judgmental way, as if you are thinking you are right and these people are wrong. Naturally there is a hostile reaction to that.

We should never be self-righteous in our life. When you see the mistakes of other people, without being self-righteous sometimes you can say: I may not have made that mistake, but I may be making worse mistakes, having wrong thoughts in my mind. Then when you see wrongdoings you relate to human frailties in an entirely different way.

So it is good to have a dialogue with such people and just get them to reflect on what is happening to them. This may work, this may not work. So if it works it’s fine; and if it doesn’t work, you should be able to see such human frailties and just understand that this is the way things are. So I would like to again emphasise the importance of getting the person to see what he or she is doing, to get that person to reflect as far as possible by asking questions, rather than imposing your opinion on other people.

And I would also like to suggest that in such situations, without being self-righteous, to honestly tell such persons: I’m sure I’m having shortcomings in me and I’m full of imperfections because I’m still not an enlightened person, but I’m curious to know what makes you do this? That can touch people very deeply rather than the self-righteous way.

Medicines

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I visited a New Age centre once and I was amazed at the number of different courses that were available there. In the West there is now a supermarket of medicines, and this makes it difficult to choose. It can make it confusing because all the medicines offered have their advantages and their disadvantages. This raises the question, how to find out whether the medicine is working?

Sometimes in meditation you can have very unpleasant experiences: the medicine does not always provide relief, it is not always pleasant, some injections can be very painful. In meditation and generally in spiritual life what you discover about yourself can be very painful, it can be very unpleasant. So you have to have a lot of courage, you have to have a lot of commitment, you have to have a lot of dedication in spite of all this to continue to take the medicine. In that sense we should be happy, we should be grateful that we have made a commitment to take the medicine, and that we make an effort to continue taking it.

On the positive side you can try to find taking the medicine itself interesting. This is a very positive approach, because usually we are very goal-oriented, and we do certain things only to achieve our ends, and we consider the end itself as the only thing that is interesting. It is like someone climbing a mountain who wants only to reach the top: if you are preoccupied with reaching the top you miss the fun in the process of climbing. But climbing itself can be such an adventure, such a challenge. In the same way, just taking the medicine itself is something you can enjoy. This is something that I think is very important.

We should learn to take the medicine in a different way, in a very light-hearted way, without being too much preoccupied with what is going to happen when we are completely cured. Learning to play with the medicine, but at the same time having a seriousness about this play. With this playfulness, with this complete openness to whatever is arising, we might be able to see the painful experiences as challenges, as opportunities, as learning experiences.

For me it is a joy to see people take the medicine and that there is a healing process that is taking place. Then I see their faces changing like flowers that are blooming. When the medicine is working you will experience more joy and lightness. And you can develop a real confidence in the medicine. When you discover that the tools are really working you become completely self-confident, you become completely self-reliant. Then you become really grateful to the one who discovered the medicine. That gratitude comes right from your heart, because you know by experience that the medicine is wonderful and that it is working.

The beauty of a spiritual community is that we are sharing the spiritual path together, we are exploring and taking the medicine together. This can help us in our own practice, but this kind of sharing should not be done in a very authoritarian way, as if you know everything. One can do it in a very humble way, saying: “This is what I’m doing, this is what seems to be helping me, please try it out”. Anyway this is what I am trying to do.

Seeing the Good in Ourselves

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Meditation on loving-kindness can help us to learn to see the positive in ourselves. For that we need to consciously bring up and reflect on our own goodness and the positive qualities we have. When we see the positives we develop self-respect, whereby we see more and more of our own goodness and the kind things that we do. I think it is very important to develop self-esteem or self-confidence, because with the self-destructive aspect in us we lose this ability to appreciate ourselves.

Seeing the good in ourselves can create a lot of joy and happiness. I feel that this is very important in the spiritual path. This is the first step of loving-kindness, using meditation of loving-kindness in order to generate a lot of joy and happiness. And of course, when you are happy this can also be infectious, it can affect other people. But the first step is to have this joy, happiness and lightness. The next step is to see your feelings as impermanent, because when you hold on to them they can cause suffering. It is important to realize that they don’t belong to us. In Buddhist terms, you see anicca, impermanence and anatta, the absence of a seperate self.

Our Friend

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When we breathe, it is very interesting, we always breathe in the present, we always breathe in the here and the now. Sometimes I like to refer to our breath as our friend. If we make a connection with our breath as a friend, then whenever we think of our friend, our friend will help us to experience the present moment. Whenever we are lost in thoughts about the past and the future, and there is confusion and disorder in our mind, we have only to think of our friend and immediately we can experience the present moment.

Another important aspect is that, as we all know, we are sometimes affected by our thoughts. Most of the time thoughts control us. Here again our friend can help us to learn to let go of the thoughts, maybe even for the first time; to learn to control the thoughts rather than allow the thoughts to control us by being with our friend and experiencing the present moment, letting go of the thoughts about the past, letting go of the thoughts about the future.

And related to our thoughts are our emotions. There’s a very strong connection between our thinking, between our thoughts, and emotions. So sometimes thoughts can create emotions, and then what happens is that when we have these emotions we can make them bigger than they really are. Here again, if we can remember our friend immediately it will help us to recover from our emotions. Because if we can spend a few minutes with the breath in such a situation it will help us to find some space in our mind and then that space can help us to recover from whatever emotions we are experiencing. You can experiment with this. You can try it for yourself.

Another useful thing our friend can show us is our state of mind. We all know what happens to our friend when we are affected by a strong emotion like anger, fear, excitement, stress and insecurity. What happens to our breath? It moves very, very fast. So it can be a very useful signal, a very reliable signal to show us what is happening in our mind. If we have problems with an emotions like anger, our friend will immediately show to us from the way the breathing moves that we are getting angry. So it can be a very useful signal, as I said, and then if you can listen to the signal, heed the signal, you’ll be able to recover from that anger or whatever emotion immediately.

Changes

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It is a very important step to be open to the changes that you are experiencing internally, and then whatever changes take place in your mind and body, if you learn not to resist them and if you learn to be open to them and realize what is happening, there can be any changes taking place but there will be no suffering.

In the same way, externally, the world out there, the life out there is also always changing from moment to moment; sometimes good things happen to us, sometimes bad things happen to us, sometimes unexpected things happen to us. But here again, whatever is happening externally, if you can realize the fact of change, of impermanence, and be open to it, any changes can take place but you can still be free because you recognize that we have no control. Now I am told that very soon a typhoon will come here. Can you prevent that typhoon from coming to Hong Kong? But what we can do is to understand it, to be open to it and as it is said in the Buddha’s teachings, to see it just as it is. This is the teaching: I know it sounds very simple!

Another very important insight which we can develop is in relation to our suffering and what causes our suffering. So here again, when we experience suffering, when we experience conflict, when we experience disappointment, when we experience frustration, if you can accept it as a fact you may then realize that the suffering comes in relation to resisting something, not wanting that to happen, wanting something different to happen.

Toys

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Most people believe that material things are important, that happiness lies in material things. In fact, the more material things you get, the more dissatisfied you are; and the more dissatisfied you are, the more material things you want to get! Buddha has given a very powerful simile to describe this condition. He compared it to a dog with a bone. So the dog won’t let go of the bone and is just holding on to it, and is still hungry and still dissatisfied, and still suffers from fear of losing that bone.

Related to this serious problem of materialism is another aspect, another manifestation of this, called consumerism. It’s a real challenge for people to live in consumer societies and yet not be affected by the consumerism around them. Consumerism has many aspects, but I see two dangerous aspects in consumerism. One is that people are not clear about what they actually need and what is just their greed. According to the Dhamma we need certain things: food, clothing, shelter, and medicine – they are called the four requisites. The four necessary things are things that human beings really need. So there’s a place for material things, but then when they become our goals and when we are confused between greed and need, this is where they can lead to dissatisfaction and suffering.

Another dangerous aspect of consumerism is that the society that you live in starts manipulating you, and the danger is that you don’t know that you are being manipulated. So you become like puppets, puppets in the hands of a society that creates desire, creates greed, and this all leads to more and more frustration. So isn’t this a sad situation when human beings have the potentiality of becoming free, of becoming enlightened? We have the Buddha-nature in us, but this aspect is not recognised and instead we become victims of the society that we live in.

The simile that has come to my mind about this situation is that though we are grown up we have become dependent on what I call toys. I’m interested to know what toys human beings go after in this culture, in this country. What I mean by toys are external things where you think you will find happiness, joy, and peace. You start acquiring toys, and then you change one toy for another, and your whole life is spent on getting toys and yet still you are dissatisfied.