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: July, 2014

Open to Change

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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 developing insight. That is to develop, to realize, to understand the change how things are impermanent, how things are changing from moment to moment. So while we are sitting, 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 is also 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 insight to be open to the change that you are experiencing internally and then whatever change that takes place in your mind and body, if you learn not to resist it and if you learn to be open to change and realize the change, there can be any changes taking place but there is 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, impermanence, and be open to it, any changes can take place but then you can still be free; because we have no control. Now I am told that very soon a typhoon will come here. Can you prevent that typhoon from coming? 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. I know it sounds very simple but this is the teaching.

Only Concentration

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There is this idea among meditators which is quite common that meditation is only developing concentration. In fact, in Sri Lanka when meditators come to the centre, I ask them what are you trying to achieve in meditation and the invariable answer is that they want to develop concentration. I know even here, as I said, some meditators have this idea that meditation is only developing concentration.

Certainly concentration has a place in meditation but there is another important aspect in meditation which is equally or more important. That is what is called Vipassana or developing insight. With this emphasis only of concentration I know that some meditators have even given up meditation and when you ask for the reason, they say they are unable to concentrate. And I know that many meditators sometimes are struggling with this idea of developing concentration. So in this way, meditation can be a battle and sometimes this can even create more suffering; the idea of meditation is to experience joy and freedom. And then even the word concentration may not be the right word because the word concentration has many meanings, many connotations.

When you use the word concentration, one thing it implies exclusion. Another is trying very hard to maintain and sustain that concentration. So this can create a lot of tension and restlessness in one’s practice. The Pali word Samadhi which is translated as concentration gives an entirely different meaning. For Samadhi to be there, the mind and the body has to be completely relaxed. And by trying too hard, one can never experience Samadhi because there again, with trying too hard and having strong expectations, this can also create problems. It’s interesting that according to the Buddhist texts, before one experiences Samadhi, you have to feel gentle, friendly, and also have an element of joy and bliss in one’s practice.

To Know when the Mind is Free

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In everyday life when we lead a very busy life, one thing we can do is not to learn to focus but generally have awareness in relation to thoughts that we have. Don’t try to be aware of all the thoughts during the day, it won’t be easy; but during the day as often as possible just to come back to your mind and realize, now what are the thoughts that I am having. The second suggestion is in relation to the thoughts, just find out during the day as often as possible, what are the emotions I am having, am I anxious, do I have stress, do I have fear; just to know, especially the emotions in relation to your thoughts. And the third suggestion is to be conscious, to be aware when no unpleasant emotions are there. So during the day there are times when we are free of these unpleasant emotions so unless we have awareness we even don’t know that our mind is free. And the last suggestion is during the day try to come back to the present, just to when you are doing something to really be present with what you are doing, not every action you do but even some actions, this will enable us to develop this quality of being in the present. So in this way we can use awareness to integrate in our way of living daily.

Little Things

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One important aspect of meditation of loving kindness is to sometimes think of the kindness that we have received from other people. Everyone here has received some kindness from other people. But do we ever reflect on these things; do we ever think of the good things, the kind things others have done to you? And this can give us lot of happiness, lot of joy that you have been receiving kindness from other people in different ways. So another quality of this aspect of kindness is learning to feel grateful for these things. Here again there are so many reasons why we can feel grateful for the things that are happening to us, the blessings that we receive in this life, but again we don’t think about them; we think only of the negative things and create suffering for ourselves and others. Shouldn’t we feel grateful that we can hear? Do we ever think about that? Do we ever feel grateful that we can see? Do we ever feel grateful that you are interested in teachings, in spiritual life? So it’s a very important quality for us to feel grateful for these small things, little things that we are receiving in life.

Learning to be Friendly

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I’d like to describe a very important meditation which is called meditation of loving kindness. It is learning to be friendly to ourselves, learning to be friendly to others. The phrase I like to use is meditation of loving kindness helps us to be our best friend. Sometimes without our knowledge we are our own enemy; we do things which create suffering for us and suffering for others. We are not even conscious of what we are doing to ourselves. So with meditation of loving kindness, as I said, you learn to make a connection with yourself; you learn to feel really friendly, gentle, kind and tender to ourselves. And if we can learn to relate to ourselves in this way, then we can learn to relate to others in the same way. It is learning to open our hearts to ourselves and learning to open our hearts to others.

Another important aspect of loving kindness is to develop the quality of forgiveness. Sometimes we can be carrying wounds in relation to what you have done to others and what others have done to you. And we can be holding on to these wounds and we can really suffer from a lot of guilt in relation to what we have done to others, and then hatred and ill-will in relation to what others have done to you. So it is very important to learn to heal these wounds by learning to forgive ourselves and learning to forgive others.

Just Knowing that Anger

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One aspect of awareness is to learn to work with our emotions, unpleasant emotions. Everyone here has problems with these unpleasant emotions. It can be anger, it can be fear, anxiety, stress; we are all having to deal with these emotions.

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. So 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 suppress that anger, rather than push away that anger, rather than deny that anger, not giving in to that anger, you are just knowing that anger and then we learn to work within ourselves.

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

What is the Purpose of Meditation?

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A question that we can reflect is, why do we meditate? What is the purpose of meditation? I’d like to say, the idea of mediation is to free ourselves of 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 the sickness that we suffer from.

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 machine doesn’t know how it is functioning, why it is functioning. So, awareness is the complete opposite of that; just knowing, just being conscious, just being awake of what is happening.

I will mention some advantages, some benefits of the practice of awareness; for example now, what is happening right now. You can be physically present here but mentally you can be elsewhere. So where are you? Again, with the help of such tools, come back here, to be present, to be conscious of what is happening here right now. This is one very important aspect of meditation, learning to experience the present moment and also learning to work with , to be aware of 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, any experience we have, any situation we have to face in life, we can make an effort to learn, to discover, find out, make our own discoveries; which is very, very important.

And if you can learn to do this, any situation can be a situation where we can meditate. It can be a pleasant experience, it can be an unpleasant experience; even learning, finding out about the unpleasant experiences we have.

They Just Come Up

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Thoughts often arise involuntarily, mechanically and habitually. What is happening, if we observe our thoughts, is that they just come up. They pop up just like that. They arise because of our habits and our conditioning. After they have arisen we get hold of them. A self-destructive person will give himself minuses, or remember the minuses that other people have given him, in a mechanical way. Someone with a self-destructive aspect may occasionally have a positive thought that comes up, but because of their habits they let it go, or just ignore it. But they hold on to their negative thoughts. It is really funny to see what we do with our thinking.

There is another thing we do with our thoughts: we create stories. We then give reality to the story that we have created, and even though the story is not real, we become a victim of the reality that we have created ourselves. This is really a destructive and dangerous mechanism. These stories can give rise to uncertainty, insecurity, anger, guilt, and so on. I think that all our so-called monsters can arise thanks to the stories we create. This is a clear example of how we create our own suffering without realising it.

This shows the importance of awareness. 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 We Might Miss When We Die

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Sometimes reflecting on death, the inevitability of death, helps us to forgive ourselves and to forgive others. It emphasises the need to heal the wounds we are carrying. This idea of death can be something very useful to cultivate and it can be very useful for our practice.

We can reflect on what are the things that we might miss when we die. This will help us to recognise our identifications, it will help us to recognise the things that we think we own. Things we consider “our” things; things we don’t like to leave. These identifications can be divided into three categories: the first is identification with ourselves, with our mind and body; the second is identification with other people; the third is identification with our possessions. While reflecting on them we realise that in an absolute sense we really don’t own them, and we can die to our identifications.

Another aspect of dying to reflect on is that when we die we have to face it all by ourselves. We may have spiritual friends, we may have other people, but at that moment we are alone. This is why I encourage you as meditators to spend some time alone, to spend some time with yourself and to make a connection with yourself. In a way this can be seen as learning to live with yourself, to be happy on your own and enjoy your own company. Then when the moment comes for you to leave you can face that situation in a different way. Because you have made a connection with yourself, your dependencies may be less.

Another question to reflect on is: “Do we know what death and dying is?” We are really reacting just to the word. In ancient Greece Socrates was executed by being given poison to drink. Before he was given the poison some of his friends and relatives came, but at this stage he was very keen, very impatient to take the poison. His friends and relatives were puzzled and they asked him why he behaved in such a way. He gave a very good reply, showing his humility: “I really don’t know what dying is, I’m very keen to find out!” So this is the kind of humility we should have: we don’t know!

Hell is Other People

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I think the question of relationships is the greatest challenge human beings have. Because no human being can avoid relationships. Even a hermit living alone by himself or by herself has to have relationships.  Relationship to nature. Relationship to the environment. Relationship to themselves. So in this sense no one can avoid relationships.

Now, the first point about relationships is to find out how you relate to yourself. Some of you might have heard of the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. He has written a play about relationships. And in this play he made the statement: Hell is other people. Do you agree? What is the Buddhist response to that statement? Hell is inside us. So this is why in Buddhist teachings it is very, very difficult, because you are considered to be responsible for what you are doing. It is very easy to blame other people. But when we blame other people we never try to work on ourselves, so that one can continue to blame other people and not really look at oneself.

So it is very important to find out how you relate to yourself in the sense: Do you see yourself as your best friend? Or do you have a tendency to be hard on yourself, to give minuses? Do you have no trust in yourself? If you do not have trust and confidence in yourself, you can never have trust and confidence in others. This is why in the Buddhist teaching what is called self-understanding, self-knowledge, is so much emphasised. To find out the way you are relating to yourself.

So for this you have to make a connection with yourself. You have to learn to observe your behaviour. You have to find out your real motives, your intentions prior to your actions. You have to learn to be very objective about yourself. You have to be very honest, sincere, and authentic about yourself. So in relationships this is, I would suggest, something very important to be clear about.

And also be clear about your own expectations, about your own idealism, about your own models. Because if you have very unrealistic models about other people, about yourself, about how the world should be, you will always be disappointed. And if you suffer from a kind of void in you, then whatever other people do to you, giving affection, giving attention, it is not good enough.