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: February, 2015

Grateful for these Small 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.

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Develop More Joy

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People who generally suffer from guilt from the past, they seem to remember mostly the wrong things they have done in the past. So they seem to have a selective memory in this connection. The good things they have done they have completely forgotten and they remember only their shortcomings, only their failures, and they don’t realise that they are punishing themselves with the guilt that they are holding onto.

It is unfortunate that traditional Buddhism also sometimes seems to be emphasising this, especially with the doctrine of kamma. This is why I never speak about kamma, because what happens is you think you have done some wrong things and you think you are going to suffer because of kamma. So it is really unfortunate that the Buddhist doctrines are used to create more suffering. And of course they only think of bad kamma, they never think of good kamma!

So the whole idea of Buddhism, as I have been emphasising, is to develop more joy and freedom from suffering, so I’m very sorry to see that Buddhism is used to create more and more suffering. Just to give an example, when I was in Hong Kong I met a woman, a very good woman, a very kind-hearted woman. A Buddhist teacher had told her that there was a devil inside her and this teacher had said: I can see it in your face. So when I met her she was really suffering from what she had heard from this Buddhist teacher.

So this brings up something about the tradition, that we have to be clear what is taught in the culture and what is really taught in the teachings. It’s interesting how to some extent even in Sri Lanka I meet Buddhists who seem to emphasise more the suffering aspect, so I tell them: Please, that is only the first Noble Truth, what about the other Noble Truths? So this is one area I would like you to reflect on, and as I have been emphasising, please use loving-kindness, gentleness, learning to be your best friend, seeing your worth, seeing your potentialities, seeing that you have the Buddha-nature in you.

Another point related to this is the fear of making mistakes. I’m not asking you to deliberately make mistakes, but when we have made a mistake we should learn how to relate to that mistake. So this is why I have been emphasising to see them as learning experiences, as valuable experiences, feeling grateful for such situations because we can learn from them.

Some Benefits of Awareness

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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.

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.

Friendly, Gentle, Kind

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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

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One aspect of awareness is to learn to work with our emotions, unpleasant emotions. Everyone 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.

Bliss that Comes from Harmlessness

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Now, why do I emphasise loving-kindness so much? It is based on a very simple model of what I consider Buddhist meditation. It is something very simple, very practical and very direct. What we need to do firstly is to develop a lot of loving-kindness – loving-kindness to oneself and loving-kindness to others. And if we can really do that, then we experience a lot of joy, a lot of bliss, a beautiful lightness both in the mind and the body.

And when you experience that, the moral aspect or the ethical aspect is looked after by itself. Because when we have loving-kindness, when we have compassion, it is not possible to harm oneself or to harm others. It is not possible to be destructive to oneself or to be destructive to others. Thus a kind of natural morality or natural ethical behaviour arises..

There is a beautiful phrase emphasising this connection in the Dhamma. The two Pali words are anavajja sukha, which means the bliss that comes from harmlessness. When you never harm yourself nor will you harm others, and that can really bring a lot of bliss, a lot of joy. This is the first step, and I must say, a very important step.

And after that, as you go deeper, you realise that even loving-kindness is anicca, or impermanent and constantly changing. And that loving-kindness does not belong to anyone. There is no I or me that is practising loving-kindness. So you experience emptiness. This is my simple model of what I consider Buddhist meditation. And I feel that every human being who is motivated in this way is capable of achieving it. Only the other day I was thinking that we all have the necessary qualities of freedom and enlightenment. But these qualities are covered up, or as it is said in the Dhamma, they are obscured. But with more and more loving-kindness, these qualities arise..

A Mind that is Calm

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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, like the story I related about the wise old Chinese man. So please see this clearly, please realise this. Perhaps after I go over the techniques I might go over with you that aspect of everyday living. Please don’t associate meditation only with a particular posture, a particular time, a particular technique.

In a Light-Hearted Way

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The self-destructive force in us can be so strong that it is difficult to be friendly to ourselves. The self-destructive feelings can really overwhelm us. This is why awareness is so important in the practice of meditation. When you realise that you have this self-destructive tendency, and this aspect arises together with the minuses, you should immediately catch it. You realise that it is a very strong tendency, a strong conditioning, a habit. It is important to realise that it is only a habit, it is only a conditioning. It is not representing something real. When you see it as a habit you don’t give it such a power and energy as when you take it as real.

A very interesting exercise is to ask yourself every day: “How many minuses have I given myself today?” Then try and see also the differences in the minuses you are giving yourself: big ones and small ones. Finally, rather than feeling bad about it, you can laugh at it. Then there is a lightness and even a joy. In the practice of meditation I think it is very important that we work with ourselves in a light-hearted way, even with our shortcomings, rather than be heavy, beat ourselves, or be very serious and intense.