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: May, 2014

Bound to Have Problems

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The ability to laugh at ourselves, to develop this humour towards life, to have this lightness, is something really beautiful. In life we are bound to have difficulties, we are bound to have problems, however much we meditate, however much we follow a spiritual path. We cannot avoid problems, we cannot avoid difficult situations. When you read the life of the Buddha it is surprising the problems and difficulties he had. He had problems with his relatives, his disciples gave him difficulties, followers of other religions gave him difficulties. Even though they were great people religious teachers like the Buddha and Jesus had difficulties, so who are we to expect to have no difficulties? Jesus Christ was crucified. Look what they did to a great man like Socrates. Problems will be there and we should be grateful for such situations, it is an opportunity to learn how to deal with our difficulties.

A good question in such a difficult situation is: “What can I learn from this?” In my own life, life has been my best teacher. I have met gurus, I have met enlightened people, I have met masters, but my present position is: “My best teacher is life.” And what is interesting about life is you can never come to a conclusion about it. You can’t say: “Now I’m sure that in the rest of my life I will not have any problems.”

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Life is a Big Joke

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We take life so seriously. I always stress the importance of feeling light, of being playful and having the ability to laugh at life and ourselves. That is a really important spiritual quality!

One day I was talking to a very wise monk in Sri Lanka who lives in a forest hermitage. Suddenly he told me: “Sometimes I see life as a big joke. Sometimes it can be a very bad joke! But still it’s a joke.” Our problem is that we take this joke too seriously. We take this life as something that should be perfect. With that we loose this lightness and playfulness in our attitude to life and in our attitude to practice.

This idea about playfulness came to me one day when in Sri Lanka I was asked to teach meditation to a group of young Buddhist monks. They were around fifteen years old, wearing robes and living in a temple. Before we talked about meditation I had a friendly chat with them and I asked them: “What is it that you don’t like in this temple, and in the schedule?” They said: “Getting up in the morning for meditation.” I said: “I’m very happy, it is a very honest answer! Now tell me, what is it that you enjoy in this temple?” Everyone gave big smiles and they said: “Playing with the dogs!” Then I said immediately: “Well, you see, meditation is playing with your mind!” They liked this very much. I met some of them later on and they said that the meditation had become very light, especially focusing on breathing. They said that it was like playing with the breath: sometimes it is there, sometimes it is not there. So then there was a lightness to the practice.

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. So please see this clearly, please realise this.. Please don’t associate meditation only with a particular posture, a particular time, a particular technique.

Suffering on Top of the Pain

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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 as I have explained earlier.

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.

When there is Insight, Calm can Come

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What does it mean that when there is insight, calm can come? One way of understanding this in relation to developing insight is that you can allow any thought to arise, any emotion to arise, any sensations to arise; and whatever arises, you just observe, you just watch, you just know. So from that practice sometimes calm can come naturally without your wanting to have calm and tranquility. And sometimes if calm is not there and you are unable to really develop insight in that way, then you can focus your attention on the breath and try to develop some calm and clarity and again start investigating and developing insight.

And in relation to insight, according to the Buddha’s teachings there are three characteristics, three important aspects which we have to develop if we are cultivating insight. The first is to develop the understanding, to realize, how things are impermanent, how things are changing from moment to moment. So while we are sitting now, your thoughts are changing from moment to moment; there is one thought, then another thought arises. So there is this continuous change taking place in relation to your thoughts. Sensations in your body are also changing from moment to moment. Your state of mind too is changing from moment to moment; sometimes you may feel happy, sometimes you might feel restless, sometimes you may feel calm. So whatever your state of mind, that is also changing.

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.

Distorted Pictures

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In our relationships in everyday life, we relate in two different ways to 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.

Learning Non-Doing

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Please spend some time with your body. Feeling the body, becoming conscious of the body. Feel the different sensations and all the movements in your body.

Learn to gently let go of your thoughts and come back to your body. Learning to feel the body. See the difference between feeling the body and thinking about the body.

Let us learn to feel friendly, gentle, tender and soft towards the body. Just accepting the body as it is.

Learning to listen to the body. Allowing the body to tell us what it likes. Just listen to it with gentleness, like listening to the wind or the birds.

Just feel what it is to sit in this posture. Just feel what it is to sit completely still.

When the body is still, the mind may become still, and you may feel the stillness around you. Just allow the body to breathe naturally.

Please spend some time allowing the body to breathe the way it likes to breathe. Not controlling it. Not manipulating it. Not directing it.

You don’t have to do anything. Learning non-doing with the help of the breath.

Now please become aware of the different sensations, the different movements in the body as the body is breathing. Do you feel any sensations in the area of the nostrils, the area of your chest, or in the abdomen? Just be with those sensations and movements with each breath.

When the body inhales, you know that the body inhales. When the body exhales, you know that the body exhales.

Experiencing the present moment, the here and the now, with the help of the in-breath and the out-breath.

You hear sounds, you have thoughts, you feel other sensations. Don’t try to exclude them. Just let them be there, but the awareness is more and more on your breath.

Let us now let go of our awareness of the breath and learn to be aware of whatever is happening in our mind and body from moment to moment.

Just allow the mind to do what it likes. Like creating a lot of space for a child to do what it likes. Like a friendly mother, just watching, just knowing what the child is doing from moment to moment.

Sounds. Thoughts. Emotions. Sensations. Just letting them be.

No plus. No minus. Learning to see things just as they are. Having a mirror-like mind. Learning to reflect things just as they are. Not as they should or as they must be.

In the seeing just the seeing, not ‘I’ am seeing.

In the hearing just the hearing, not ‘I’ am hearing.

In the thinking just the thinking, not ‘I’ am thinking.

In the feeling just the feeling, not ‘I’ am feeling.

Just As It Is

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In the Buddhist tradition there are two aspects to meditation: one is called calm, tranquility, and the other is Vipassana or developing insight and wisdom. In developing calmness and tranquility, I would say that this is like polishing the dust off the mirror. This is what we do by practising with an object like breathing, where with the help of our friend the breath we learn to develop some calmness, some tranquility, some space, clarity and awareness. And when the dust is not there the mirror reflects things just as they are.

I would like to share with you some aspects of a mirror-like mind for you to apply to your own experience and your own situation in life. A mirror reflects what is considered beautiful just as something that is beautiful. For example, a flower comes before a mirror and the mirror would reflect the flower just as it is. Something that we consider not so beautiful, or not so pleasant, say a spider, would be reflected just as a spider. No discrimination between the flower and the spider.

So you can see how we are trying to apply this in our meditation. When we have a pleasant experience, we are aware of the pleasant experience just as it is. When we have an unpleasant experience, or what we consider as an unpleasant experience, we reflect it as it is. That is why I have been reminding you many times, if there is a pleasant sensation, just know that there is a pleasant sensation. And if there is an unpleasant sensation, can we make friends with it? Can we relate to it without resisting it? Can we be really open to what we consider unpleasant sensations?

Forgiving

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One aspect in relation to loving-kindness is learning to heal our psychological wounds by forgiving ourselves and forgiving others. These wounds may have been created in childhood or in subsequent relationships.

If we do not really heal our wounds, one thing that might happen is that this may create problems in our relationships which cause suffering for ourselves and for others. They can create certain destructive patterns in our relationships. They can also affect our bodies. They may create tensions in our bodies that are related to these repressed emotions or wounds. They can also create illnesses in us. They can also affect our sleep and dreams, so that we might get angry in our sleep, or we might cry in our sleep, or have frightful dreams.

These things can be related to the unhealed wounds that we carry. Or we can have sudden emotions, and we can’t find a reason for them. Suddenly we feel like crying, suddenly we experience fear or we feel panic.

It Sounds Very Simple!

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I’d like to say something about the connection between samadhi, deep concentration, and vipassana, insight. One practical thing which you can do is that when the mind is reasonably calm and stable, then you can investigate, explore any situation in life. So in everyday life when suffering arises – when conflicts arise, when unpleasant emotions arise – you can learn about it, you can explore it, you can investigate it and see how it is created by yourself. And then you can discover tools, how to work with these emotions, how to learn to be free of them.

So the idea is that when you have these pleasant, calm states of mind, not to hold onto them, not to identify yourself with them, but rather to use them in developing insight. I came across a very interesting quotation in one of the Buddhist texts where it says that sometimes calm can come first and insight later, sometimes insight can come first and then calm comes later; that’s a very interesting point. They can also sometimes come together. So sometimes this strong distinction we draw between calm and insight doesn’t seem to apply because they are really interconnected, interrelated.

What does it mean that when there is insight, calm can come? One way of understanding this in relation to developing insight is that you can allow any thought to arise, any emotion to arise, any sensations to arise; and whatever arises, you just observe, you just watch, you just know. So from that practice sometimes calm can come naturally without your wanting to have calm and tranquility. And sometimes if calm is not there and you are unable to really develop insight in that way, then you can focus your attention on the breath and try to develop some calm and clarity and again start investigating and developing insight.

And in relation to insight, according to the Buddha’s teachings there are three characteristics, three important aspects which we have to develop if we are cultivating insight. The first is to develop the understanding, to realize, how things are impermanent, how things are changing from moment to moment. So while we are sitting now, your thoughts are changing from moment to moment; there is one thought, then another thought arises. So there is this continuous change taking place in relation to your thoughts. Sensations in your body are also changing from moment to moment. Your state of mind too is changing from moment to moment; sometimes you may feel happy, sometimes you might feel restless, sometimes you may feel calm. So whatever your state of mind, that is also changing.

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!