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: September, 2013

We Can Learn from Anything

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An important aspect of awareness is that we can use awareness to explore, to investigate, to learn, to find out what we are experiencing. So if you are experiencing physical pain, you can use awareness to start exploring the nature of pain. In ordinary life when we experience pain we merely try to get rid of it because it is unpleasant, but by reacting to pain in this way we never learn about pain, a very important part of the human condition. So with awareness, with this investigating faculty, we can make discoveries by ourselves about so many aspects of our mind and body.

If you can really make discoveries, start finding out, learning in meditation, then in everyday life you can continue to do that. What is beautiful is that we can learn from anything, we can learn from anyone. But we should have this openness and humility to try to learn, to try to discover the truth. Then meditation becomes interesting, because  anything can be a learning experience, anything can be your teacher.

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Demands

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It is really funny how we make demands upon life, how we make demands upon ourselves, how we make demands upon others. Naturally you cannot meet all the demands you are making of yourself, and naturally others can’t meet the demands you are making of them; and again quite naturally, life can’t meet the demands you are making of it.

Here we see in a very simple, direct way how we create our own suffering. We create our own problems without realising it by the way we are making demands, without ever posing the question: “How realistic are my demands?”

When we see someone behaving in a way that we think he or she should not behave, we assume that the other person is acting with full responsibility and knows what he or she is doing. This is just a belief on our part. The other person sometimes doesn’t know why he or she is behaving in that particular way. Often we don’t know ourselves why we are acting in a particular way. Yet we assume that others always know what they are doing.

When we come across such a situation, rather than immediately giving a plus or minus to the other person, rather than getting angry and reacting to the other person, we can have a dialogue to find out why that person is behaving in a particular way. If you can do this with other people in such situations, you’ll be really helpful to them. Maybe for the first time they are encouraged to reflect on what they are doing. In relation to your own actions, rather then giving yourself a minus, try to have a dialogue with yourself about why you’re behaving in this particular way. This is a very important skill that we need to learn in relationships.

My Air

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The breath is always a mirror, or to put it in another way, it always indicates to us our state of mind, our emotions. Not only when there is anger, but also when there is fear and anxiety it indicates our state of mind to us. And when the mind is calm and relaxed, what happens to the breath then? When we are meditating and the mind becomes calm sometimes we cannot even feel that we are still breathing.

I know some meditators who come running to me, saying: I think I have stopped breathing! That is one of the many problems meditators have! The breath, our friend is very useful, very objective; he or she is never mistaken.

Who is the friend who can always be objective? So in that sense the breath is like a mirror, it just reflects your condition objectively, just as you are.

All living beings have to breathe. It reminds us of the Buddhist idea of interconnectedness, interrelationship. What Thich Nhat Hanh calls interbeing can easily be realised by connecting with the breath. It is also related to the fact that we are breathing the same air. We cannot say that this is my air, which is separate from the air others breathe. You see what a deep, interesting, profound implication this has.

Something Factual

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If you analyse the different meditation techniques, you’ll see that most of them are an attempt to be with something factual. Maybe it’s being with the breath, being with the sensations in the body, or being with the sounds that are around. It is an attempt to distinguish reality from unreality.

What is interesting is that we can become so dogmatic about our beliefs. Yet most of our beliefs may be the result of  stories, the stories we have made up. When somebody comes and tells us that our stories are nonsense we become angry with that person. We don’t like it when our reality is challenged. This is how we hold onto beliefs, this is how we become dogmatic. Unfortunately it is impossible for us to really communicate with each other when we hold on so strongly to our beliefs. After a while our made-up stories develop into a fantasy, a kind of a daydream that we are trapped in. You can ask yourself what is the difference between a dream at night and a daydream. Actually there is no difference: it is only when we wake up that we realise: “Ah, I was dreaming”.

The wonderful thing about the breath is that it is something factual. It is something objective. You can’t create a story out of it. You can’t fantasise about the breath. It is a very clear situation where we can really draw the distinction.

Pain in Meditation

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I would like to offer some suggestions on how to work with pain in meditation. One way is not to see the pain as a disturbance or as a distraction to meditation. So the pain becomes the object of meditation. When the pain is there, you can try to explore, investigate and find out about the pain. In everyday life, when we have pain what we do is try to get rid of the pain, but by doing that we never learn about pain. So here when pain comes you should consider it a blessing for it gives you an opportunity to work with pain and to understand it. You can explore when there is physical pain whether you can observe and work with the reaction to the pain. Sometimes it is the reaction that is creating the suffering in relation to the pain – by your not wanting the pain, considering the pain as a disturbance, and hating the pain. Having these reactions can create more suffering on top of the pain.

I have discovered that sometimes the pain can have a physical reason, and sometimes certain pains and tensions can be due to a psychological reason. If it has a physical reason, you can work with the pain in this way for some time and then change the posture.

However, in relation to pain you should avoid two extremes. One extreme is pampering the body, for example whenever there is pain you change the posture immediately or try to get rid of the pain. The other extreme is being very hard and severe on yourself, so that you continue to sit without changing the posture at all even when it is very painful indeed. I would suggest therefore discovering a middle way where you learn to be friendly and gentle to the body, to the pain, avoiding being hard and severe towards it, but at the same time not pampering the body. In practical terms, this means to work with the pain when you are sitting and then if necessary to change the posture .

If the pain does not have a physical reason, we may have to explore the emotion behind the pain that is creating the pain. Thus in meditation what we are trying to do is not to get rid of the pain but to learn to see even when pain is there, how far we can relate to the pain without necessarily suffering as a result of the pain.

Okay Meditation

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Here’s another meditation for you to consider: what I call the okay meditation! I got a few plusses when I gave that guided meditation. You can apply it in everyday life. You can apply it when you feel there is stress, anxiety, fatigue and so on. When you feel you are very tired, simply say: Okay, okay, and in that way practise the okay meditation. This is because when there is resistance, dislike, not wanting and fighting, it creates tension, which in turn creates more stress. So just spending a few minutes with the okay meditation can help us to create some space.

In a way, practising the okay meditation can also be seen as developing compassion and developing loving-kindness towards what is happening. This is the beauty of loving-kindness. It is learning to make friends not only with very pleasant things and beautiful things, for that is easy, but also how to make friends with things that we do not like. This is the real challenge we have in everyday life. And it is by learning to say: It is okay.

To See Suffering

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I would like to share an experience of a meditator at Nilambe. She had some deep wounds, deep problems. So being in isolation she was with them most of the time. As this is a meditation centre, a retreat centre, you have a lot of time by yourself and you can really become stuck in this inner world that you have created. So sometimes I encourage meditators to go and help people so as to see the suffering of others, because in Sri Lanka there are so many opportunities to witness different forms of suffering. She went to a home where there are retarded children, disabled children, and when she saw them with all their suffering, her own suffering was forgotten. She forgot her problems and picked them up and cared for them. There was an immense change in her.

Great Expectations

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How to find a motivation, an interest for meditation, in everyday life? There I would say, I think much depends on the way we relate to meditation. If we can find meditation interesting, if we can experience meditation as discovering, learning, experimenting, exploring, then we have a different relationship to meditation. Because if you are enjoying something, if you find it interesting, then naturally you feel like doing it.

One thing that prevents us from having this connection is having strong expectations about results. In this connection the Buddha has said something very beautiful, very interesting. He says: When a gardener plants some trees, plants and so on, if he is a good gardener, he should enjoy what he is doing and he should not be concerned or worried about when the flowers will bloom, thinking: Are the flowers coming? are the vegetables coming? Because then he loses that joy and liveliness and the fun of it. But if he can really enjoy what he is doing, find it interesting, find it challenging – that is good enough.

The Cause of Suffering

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The second noble truth is not so easy and clear. Because here you are told that the cause of suffering is your own models, your own expectations, your own ideas, your own assumptions, your own desires, your own wanting things to be only your own way. This is the cause of suffering.

I feel that the second noble truth is extremely important because it is only when you realise it that the third and the fourth noble truths can follow.

One point is that when you see this, you have to take responsibility for what is happening inside yourself. This is not an easy teaching. To have complete self-reliance and to say: I create my own suffering and therefore only I can free myself. This is because there are some easier teachings where you are told: I will help you, you have only to trust or surrender to me and everything will be all right. You do not have to do anything, only have trust, faith, belief and so on. Hence this second noble truth is an extremely radical teaching. It is not an easy teaching.

So you see the second noble truth is something very subtle to realise. When a person’s precious possession has been stolen, he says he feels sad because this man stole it. But can the person respond differently with something other than that reaction? Can he let go of his identification with what he considers as something very precious? If he can do that, then he will realise there is no suffering. So this is a very hard medicine. In fact, some medicines are not very pleasant, and not very sweet. So this medicine that is presented is also not very easy.

Once I met a Tibetan monk and I asked him: Did you suffer when you were tortured? According to the Dhamma, how do you see that? And he said: I knew that it was because these people were torturing me that I was suffering. But as a meditator I had been practising very hard with physical pain, sitting for two or three hours at a stretch. So when they were torturing me, I was trying to see how far I could work with the pain rather than hate the person torturing me. I tried my best to use the Buddha’s medicine when I was suffering. Sometimes I was very successful and I had real gratitude for the Buddha’s teaching for I saw that the medicine was working. And when the medicine was not working and I was suffering, I thought: May I be able to practise more.

Priorities

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We have to be clear in our minds about our priorities in life. What is the most important priority you have in life? And then you have to find out, if you have a list of priorities, where meditation fits in that list. If the commitment for meditation is amongst the first few priorities, ranking maybe first, second or third among those priorities, then that in itself will look after meditation. This is because if you know clearly your commitment to it, then you will never say: I do not have time for meditation.

Here what might be helpful is to find out whether you really like meditation, whether you find it interesting, whether you can develop a curiosity about it, and whether you have clearly developed a taste for it. Otherwise how can you have a commitment to meditation, be motivated towards it, if you find that it is such a big battle, very unpleasant and requiring a great effort when you are practising?

So here 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.