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: April, 2015

Models, Ideals, Images

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As children we have been asked, or we have been told in various ways, to be different from what we are. We have been given models, ideals, images of how we should be. So naturally there is a split between what you are and what you should become. We begin with this and then people take it into their spiritual lives too. They attend certain meditation retreats, and the meditation teacher says: You must be calm, you must have loving-kindness, you must have this or that, and so on. Naturally you cannot always achieve this. Then there is more self-hatred, more feeling oneself as worthless, as being a failure. So what do you do with such meditation teachers?

This is why I now emphasise as a first step – mind you, as a first step – to accept who you are honestly and very sincerely. To accept our humanness. To accept the fact that you are still imperfect, and to work from that fact by having loving-kindness towards what you are. This does not mean that you give in to what you are, but you work with these areas with friendliness, gentleness and tenderness. This is another aspect in developing loving-kindness.

Motivation for Relieving Suffering

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An area where you can develop motivation with the practice is that you can really become sensitive to the suffering of others, and you can also develop a sensitivity to your own suffering. What normally happens with people who are not meditators is that when they experience suffering, they have no method of working with it, they just wallow in that suffering and they continue to suffer in this way. And when they see suffering in others, they don’t have the space, they don’t have the time even to take notice of the suffering of others. So there is a beautiful quality that you develop, where you learn to have compassion for your own suffering and also to have compassion for the suffering of others. And when that happens, in certain situations where you have to act, you will be acting very sharply, very clearly, doing what is necessary in such situations.

So I would suggest that you develop a real motivation for relieving your own suffering and the suffering of others. And you will translate that compassion into action. Please realize that with meditation one does not become inactive, one does not become passive; rather you’ll be acting, but again the quality of acting will be different.

There are two interesting English words which highlight the difference: responding and reacting. So with meditation you learn to develop this quality of responding to situations, acting without reacting. Reaction is an emotional state: when you see suffering in others, you can’t handle it. But here I suggest you learn to develop this beautiful quality of responding, and therefore react less. As we are still human, in certain situations we might be reacting also, but that in itself can be a learning experience – to find out, to enquire, why did I react in that situation?

With Awareness

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There are two meditation techniques which are connected with awareness. One is being aware of our breathing itself; and the other is using general awareness while the body is breathing: we can be aware of our thoughts coming and going, and come back to our breath as an anchor. In this way we can learn to have some mastery of our thoughts, otherwise they can control us. And we can do the same with our emotions.

We can use the breath and awareness to experience the present moment, the here and the now. It’s interesting to reflect that most of the time in our daily life, we are either with something which has happened in the past or we are thinking about something which is going to happen in the future. And this happens mechanically, without our knowledge. So if for even a few seconds, a few minutes, we can be in the present with the help of the breath, those moments are moments of freedom.

I often like to speak of using our breath as a friend. And the breath is a very good friend because every time we are with the breath, it reminds us of the present moment. And breath is the only friend who is with us all the time; even when we are sleeping, the breath is there. So until the last moment, the friend is always with us, and our last breath we spend with our friend. So in this way, if we can make a connection with our friend, the friend will always help us. Another aspect of this technique is that once we have developed awareness with the help of our friend, then we can continue to have that awareness in our everyday life.

Another meditation which is related to the use of awareness is to meditate without an object. In this technique you allow any thought to arise, any emotion to arise, even the emotions that you don’t like. You allow any sensation to arise from your body and just know what is happening from moment to moment in relation to your mind and body. It is simply allowing our minds to do anything they like and just knowing, just being conscious, just being aware of what is happening in our minds and bodies. It is like a very friendly mother allowing her child to do what it wants and she just watches, just knowing what the child is doing. In the same way, we watch and know what is happening in our mind and body.

Two Extremes

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Now I would like to say something about effort. Here there are two extremes that we need to avoid. One is trying too hard. The other is not trying at all. There are some very beautiful similes used in this connection in the texts. During the Buddha’s time there was a monk who was trying very hard in walking meditation so that even the bottom of his feet were bleeding. When the Buddha spoke to him, the Buddha realised that he was a musician. He used to play a lute, which is a stringed instrument. So the Buddha asked him: Now when playing a musical instrument if the strings are too loose or too tight, the music will not be right. So the Buddha said that effort also should not be too loose and it should not be too tight. This is what is called right effort.

Another simile the Buddha gave is that when you want to catch a small bird, if you grasp the bird too tightly you might kill the bird in the process, and if you grasp it in too loose a way the bird might escape. So in this way right effort can also be called effortless effort.

Now what happens when you try too hard? Naturally there is tension. You might even get a headache, you might feel tired and you might feel restlessness and disappointment because you are trying too hard, and with a strong expectation. Practising in this way you can never achieve what you want, so then you feel bad, you give yourself a minus, you start hating yourself and so on.

And if you do not try at all, what happens? Then you might feel sleepy, drowsy, you might get into a dream-like state. So here again it is by learning, by experimenting, by finding out for yourself that you know whether you are trying too hard or not trying at all. And sometimes we need to exercise more effort, sometimes we need to relax effort. So one thing which will help us is that if we can have a meditative mind, then when we are not meditating awareness becomes natural, it becomes effortless.

Passive Observer

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We have to learn to let go of things that we are holding onto, that arise from our memories. When they arise from our memory we start judging them, especially by giving minuses, and then we push them away. In the technique of the mirror-like mind we are there with all these things, allowing anything we are holding onto in our memory to come up. We are just being a passive observer, allowing these things to come and allowing them to go. Things that arise can be in the form of emotions, they can be in the form of memories, they can even be sensations in the body. We don’t realise what we carry in our body, but we carry all our past experiences in our body. Tensions and unpleasant sensations sometimes are related to repressed emotions. When pain and unpleasant sensations arise in the body, just like the mirror you learn to observe them, just to create space for them, just to make friends with them.

Eating

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I would like to say something about eating. How eating can be a meditation. So here as you know one important aspect of eating is again, trying to be present while eating. It’s a very important aspect of our life but most of the time in everyday life we eat in such a mechanical way, we even don’t know sometimes what we are eating.

Before we start to eat, I would like to suggest to spend a few minutes just feeling grateful for those who have prepared the meal. This is very much emphasised in traditional Buddhist countries. So you develop the important quality of feeling grateful.

And then what normally happens when we start to eat is that we have thoughts. So here if you have awareness it’s like when you are doing sitting meditating, you catch the thoughts that are arising and then let go of them and come back to eating.

One thing we should make a special effort to do is to chew our food properly. If we can really consciously chew our food it will even help our digestion. And then also you’ll realise that you don’t need lots of food because you eat consciously and even a little food can fill you.

Another aspect to emphasise is tasting. At what point do we really taste our food? I would like you to experiment and discover for yourself at what point you really start tasting the food. Another is swallowing our food, to consciously swallow our food.

Another thing that happens when we eat our food is we like certain food and dislike other food, or we neither like nor dislike the food. But most of these reactions happen habitually. So at least to be aware, to be conscious of this as a strong habit.

Another thing about food is the quantity of food. The Buddha advised meditators to avoid two extremes. One extreme is eating too much; the other extreme is eating too little. So again following the middle way in relation to eating.

This Sense of Self

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What happens is because of this sense of self, we have images, models, of how things should be according to my way. It is always my way. Naturally in everyday life things don’t always happen according to my way. That is how suffering is created in everyday life, with this idea of my way. So whenever you are suffering in everyday life, you can try to find out: what has been my idea, what has been my view of how things should be? Then you’ll realise how this sense of self is directly related to the suffering that you are experiencing. In this simple, practical way you can work with this idea of my way and then when that my way is not there, when there is emptiness, notice how there is an absence of suffering.

Another way of saying the same thing is that with this sense of self that we have we feel that we are Somebody. Here again suffering and unpleasant emotions arise with this idea, with this concept that you are Somebody. With this feeling of Somebody we would like others to behave according to the idea this Somebody has. And then naturally when others don’t behave in this way this is why we get angry. So you see the direct connection between this idea of Somebody, this sense of self, and getting angry.

And how does this feeling of Somebody cause fear to arise? What is the connection? When Somebody is threatened, when this Somebody feels that something might happen to me, that I am in danger, that is how fear comes.

How does this feeling of Somebody generate anxiety in the future? With this feeling of Somebody, you feel that in the future everything should go according to the idea this Somebody has. And if you are uncertain about that, then this is how anxieties arise.

So these are some simple, practical examples, how this idea of Somebody is related to self, how suffering and these negative emotions arise. No-self or emptiness is when this feeling of Somebody becomes a Nobody!

Humour Towards Life

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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.”