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: December, 2013

Is this my Anger?

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Someone went to a Zen master and said: “I have a big problem.” The Zen master asked: “Well, what is your big problem?” “My big problem is that I get angry”. “So”, the Zen master replied, “where is your anger now?” Of course, the anger was not there. The Zen master continued: “If it is your anger, you should be able to produce it!”

This brings up an important perspective: the realisation that our emotions don’t really belong to us. Because we have a strong sense of ownership, we think we own things, we also think that we own these emotions. This is my anger, this is my fear. Of course, what you own, what you think you own, you don’t want to give up.

The Buddhist perspective here is that emotions are empty of a separate self. There is no real owner. All things arise due to causes and conditions and all things pass away due to causes and conditions. This idea is also presented in the Buddha’s teaching in another way, which I like very much. One can treat these monsters, or even pleasant emotions, as our visitors, our guests. We are the host, and as a good host we should be open to any visitor who comes. When visitors come, as a good host we are not surprised, rather we are friendly and we welcome the visitors. When they leave we just say, “Bye-bye, please come back again”. This sounds very simple. When the visitor comes, when the visitor stays, when the visitor goes, the host remains the same: no problem. Just visitors coming, visitors going. This brings up the Buddhist perspective of impermanence: everything changes, there is coming and going, going and coming.

Feelings

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What is very unfortunate is that while human beings are becoming more and more like machines they are also losing a sense of the importance of feelings. So when human beings don’t experience the very important aspect of feelings in themselves then they cannot feel love for themselves, they cannot feel love for others, they cannot feel warmth for themselves, warmth for others. Perhaps that explains why there is such a lot of violence in the modern world. So we become more and more violent towards ourselves, and more and more violent towards others. All this is related to an absence of awareness, to not knowing what is happening in our mind and body. So this is the first point I want to make about the importance of mindfulness or awareness.

Open to Emotions

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It’s interesting to draw up a list of the emotions that sometimes bother us. You can ask yourselves what are these monsters: what are the names of these emotions? It is a long list: fear, shame, lust, jealousy, greed, anger, distrust, sadness, guilt, self-pity, insecurity, loneliness, doubt, and so on. A long list, and I don’t think there is anyone who likes the emotions on this list.

A tool for working with them is to see them as opportunities, learning experiences, and opening ourselves to them. By hating, disliking and resisting them we give them a lot of power. I know it is not an easy thing but slowly, slowly, I think we need to learn to be open to these emotions.

Related to this is that when they are there, not to be surprised! Often in our model of perfection there is no place for such emotions, and we feel we should not have them. I suppose only enlightened people may not be having these unpleasant emotions. But as we are still human, as we are still imperfect, we should not be surprised when they come. Not being surprised and being open are related. There is a phrase that I use very often: learning to be friendly to them.

Not Mine

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One aspect of thought is that we have a very strong conditioning to identify ourselves with them and say: These are my thoughts. I am thinking. Again without realising it, it is the thoughts that have created the thinker. This is why I have been suggesting on a few occasions just to see thoughts as thoughts without an owner, without the idea that these are my thoughts but just thoughts arising and passing away.

So it is funny how we have this idea of ownership. We start owning everything: thoughts, emotions, sensations, persons, possessions. And when we start owning things we don’t like to let go of the things we own. This is why we find it difficult to let go of emotions because we think this is my anger, my fear, my anxiety, my sadness; so whatever we consider mine we don’t want to let go. This is the deeper aspect of the Dhamma, to indicate to us actually there is no owner. There are just thoughts, there are just sensations, there are just emotions.

It is this sense of ownership which is creating our suffering. Nothing should happen to my mother – anything can happen to other people’s mothers. Nothing should happen to my body, but other people’s bodies – there’s no problem whatsoever. And then in the same way we have this identification with possessions: my cup, it should stay with me; but other cups, there is no problem. We even draw the same distinction about animals. This is my cat; this is the neighbour’s cat. So the neighbour’s cat should not come and attack my cat. How can the neighbour’s cat do that? So it is an interesting question to reflect on: what happens at the time of death to all the things we think we own? If we really own them we should be able to take them with us even after death, but we can’t.

These are really very deep, profound aspects of the Buddha’s teaching. To see the connection between our sense of ownership, with the sense of I and me, and how that is creating suffering. So these are some areas, some aspects that we can find out about for ourselves in the practice of meditation in everyday life.

Experiences

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I feel that actually we can learn a great deal from what we consider as unpleasant experiences. So in meditation, if we can learn to relate to these unpleasant experiences in a positive way, then in everyday life we can learn to relate to unpleasant situations in whatever form they arise. Because it is natural that in our daily life, in everyday situations, unpleasant experiences will arise just as in our meditation. So in everyday life, if we can see such experiences also as objects of meditation, then we can really learn something very important, how to handle these unpleasant situations in everyday life, especially learning to relate to unpleasant emotions. It can be fear, it can be anger, it can be sadness, it can be guilt; in whatever way they arise, I feel that it is very important for us to learn how to handle them.

And again both in meditation and everyday life, when we have pleasant experiences, when we have positive experiences, we like those experiences to continue. Here again, we have no control and if we identify ourselves with only pleasant experiences, calm experiences, when they change what happens is that we suffer in reacting to such situations.

And in our relationships in everyday life, we also relate in two different ways to these pleasant and unpleasant experiences. When we like someone we really don’t see that person just as he or she is. We will be seeing mostly only the positive and pleasant aspects of that person. And if we don’t like someone, then again we’ll be seeing mostly the negative in that person and we will not see the positive in such a person.

There is a very interesting statement by the Buddha in this connection. Some monks told him that there were people who were criticizing his teaching. Then the Buddha said something very fascinating. He told them that when you hear someone criticizing my teaching, if you don’t like that, if you resist that, you will not really hear what is being said. And when you hear someone praising my teachings, if you are very happy and elated by that, you will not be able to really hear what is being said. So it shows very clearly, both in our meditation and in our everyday life, how these strong likes and strong dislikes can distort the picture.

Have a Dialogue

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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.

Concepts

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Awareness helps us to recognise objects that come into our field of perception, and so with awareness we can see how perceptions arise in relation to the senses. In that process of interaction with the external world we see how perceptions give rise to concepts, and concepts give rise to our suffering and our problems. This is a very interesting process to watch.

When we see something, immediately our past associations arise, and from our past associations our likes, our dislikes, and our identifications arise: all our desires will arise, and our ego will arise, and similarly our prejudices and our biases arise. All these things arise, and this prevents us from seeing things just as they are, without distortion. This is a very important and interesting area to watch in relation to the working of perception.

Take food for example: it is very interesting to find out at what point we taste our food. In a way, it is when we first see the food; and then we start eating with all our past associations, with our likes and dislikes. Even before we start eating we have tasted our food mentally. This is an example of how perceptions give rise to concepts, or how our prejudices arise.

Be Open to Change

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Be open to any change that may arise physically and mentally and even externally. If we insist that change should take place according to our own idea, then when there is change which does not correspond to that idea it leads to suffering. But by realising that this is the nature of existence, that it changes and that we have no control over change, then if you can be open to change in whatever form it arises, internally or externally, this will result in freedom.

And according to the Buddha, this fact of change and impermanence and this idea of no-self are very well inter-connected, inter-related. He has a very interesting argument. If we own things, if there really is an ego, a self, then we should be able to order things: Now things should happen in this way, according to my ideas. But as there is no self, no ego, we cannot do that. So therefore we have to see from the fact of change, that there is no self-identity, no agent, only the process of change itself.

It is interesting that whenever there is suffering, there is suffering because you want things your way, and this your way or my way is the result of the feeling that you are Somebody. So tomorrow whenever we are suffering, just find out what is the idea, what is the model that you are holding on to which is now being challenged. It is always some idea of how it should be, how it must be according to the ideas the self has.

Four Beautiful Qualities

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According to the Buddhist teaching, when we develop four beautiful qualities – which the Buddha emphasised – we become like gods. These four qualities are Metta, loving-kindness; Karuna, compassion; Mudita, sympathetic joy; and Upekkha, equanimity. That’s why they are sometimes called “The Divine Abodes”. I would like to see them as four of our very beautiful friends. When we have these four friends within us they will make us beautiful, they will make us experience more joy and lightness and this can also affect others around us.

Metta can be seen very briefly as learning to be your best friend and then also learning to be a friend to others. Metta helps us to open our heart to ourselves. It also enables us to open our heart to others.

Karuna is when you see suffering in yourself and when you see suffering in others, doing something to overcome your own suffering and doing something to overcome the suffering of others. This is developing the quality of Karuna, compassion.

In this modern world, where there is a lot of suffering, and the suffering manifests itself in many different ways, it is extremely important to develop this quality of Karuna in relation to others and in relation to your own suffering. In this connection the Buddha has said: Helping others is helping yourself; helping yourself is helping others. And eventually you see no difference between yourself and others.

Karuna is responding to suffering in whatever way it occurs. Mudita is being happy because others are happy. This is sometimes not easy because the opposite of this quality of Mudita is jealousy and envy, especially when you see others doing better than yourself. Is it possible for us to really be happy and joyful that others are experiencing happiness and joy?

Another aspect of Mudita is making an effort to make others happy. In a way one can relate it to Karuna because when you see others suffering you try to do something about it and to get them to experience some joy and lightness, freed from their suffering. Then when that happens you can be extremely happy about it.

The last quality, Upekkha,  is equanimity, having a non-reactive mind. Again, it is a thing that we have to cultivate, to work at. So when we are meditating, when we are doing formal sitting meditation, to be open to whatever happens in our mind and body. If there are pleasant experiences, if we are having a non-reactive mind, an equanimous mind, we should learn to relate to it without giving it a plus, and holding onto it and wanting it to continue. And when we have an unpleasant experience, whether it is physical pain or mental pain, the immediate reaction is to give it a minus and not to like it, resisting it, disliking it. So having an equanimous mind means, whether it is pleasant or whether it is unpleasant, no plus, no minus, no liking, no disliking – learning to see things just as they are.

To Please Others

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I think a reason why there can be stress in our lives is because of the idea of doing things perfectly. We fear to make mistakes and this itself, the concern and preoccupation we have not to make any mistakes, can also create a lot of stress. And another factor perhaps related to this is, we have become very conscious of what others think of us. We have given such power to other people, and sometimes what others think of you can create your own happiness or unhappiness.

Sometimes I meet people who are always trying to please other people because, as I said, what others think of you has become extremely important, and this aspect of trying to please others can create a lot of tension and stress. So what has happened is that for different reasons which are related to the modern way of living, a lot of stress and tension has been created.

Perhaps another factor that comes to my mind is that with the advent of consumerism and materialism in the modern world, we have become extremely dependant on external things. Because of this dependency, again our happiness and our unhappiness are dependent on these external things. I like to see it as using toys. In the modern world, human beings have created a lot of toys to please themselves, to excite themselves, to get over their boredom and loneliness. So sometimes it’s a case of changing one toy for another and still they cannot get any satisfaction. The reason is that they have something lacking in themselves, so that whatever happens to them, whatever they get, is not good enough, something different should happen. So most of the time, or even all the time, people are dissatisfied.

So I see meditation in a way as learning to be our own toy. So if we can learn to really enjoy our own company, if we can be really happy with ourselves, if we can be really contented with ourselves, this would be a way of becoming independent of external toys. And in this way, stress can be reduced a lot.