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: June, 2015

Problems Will Be There

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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.”

No Space

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When we have strong pre-occupations, when our mind is full of thoughts, we can hardly see anything externally. You might be passing through the most beautiful place but you hardly notice the beauty because your mind is full of these pre-occupations and thoughts.

In the same way we can’t see what is in our own mind because there is no space, there is no clarity. This is why I also gave an exercise of learning to awaken the senses by seeing things very sharply, hearing things very clearly. Then that can create space in your mind. And then you can learn to see things very sharply, very clearly. You’ll be able to hear things sharply and clearly. You’ll be able to feel things very clearly, and also there’ll be clarity and space in our mind. However much these things are told, they may not make any sense until you have a glimpse, a small experience of these matters. So this is the beauty of meditation, that you can see for yourself, not because someone says so, or because something is mentioned in the books. So the whole emphasis in meditation is for you to see it, for you to experience it for yourself.

Suffering Without Thought

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An interesting question to reflect upon is whether suffering can arise without a thought. Most of our problems are related to thoughts, the way we use our thoughts.

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.

Like the Spacious Sky

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Have a mind like the spacious sky and let the thoughts be like clouds: the clouds do not affect the sky, the sky does not affect the clouds. In our practice we can try to be like this. Allow any thought to arise without judging it. I am putting it in a very simple way. I know judging is a very strong conditioning that we need to work with, but this is what the practice is: not reacting to thoughts when they come. In the same way that they come, they will go again when you are having this spacious abiding in a non-reactive mind.

This technique can be seen as developing a mind like a mirror, just reflecting things as they are. This simile, the mirror-like mind, I have come across in many spiritual traditions. When something that is considered beautiful comes before a mirror, it is reflected just as it is, and the same thing happens with something that is considered ugly. Applying this to our everyday lives, when a positive emotion comes we just allow that positive emotion to be there as it is. When joy is there, just be with the joy. And when monsters come, just reflect the monster as it is. Sadness, just the sadness; fear, just the fear. Just reflecting it as it is. No plus to the joy, no minus to the sadness, both simply reflected as they are.

In everyday life we may be able to do this. If you are reacting to your emotions, you can explore and investigate your reactions. It does not matter if you react. This is one aspect of what can be described as having a mirror- like mind.

Seeing Something Beautiful

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Most of the time we use only one sense, that is thinking. According to Buddhist psychology this is the sixth sense, but we have other senses which we sometimes neglect. So we can awaken the sense of seeing by looking at things, looking at flowers, looking at little objects, looking at the sky, the clouds. In fact we can develop concentration in this way. I know some meditators who find it easier to concentrate in this way rather than concentrate on the breath, where they can have complete awareness of what they are seeing, and they are fully experiencing the present moment in that situation. And when we see something beautiful we have joy.

In fact in the Buddhist texts there are many references to seeing something beautiful. On one occasion the Buddha was walking with Ananda, his attendant, and at some point he said: Look back, what beautiful scenery we are passing through! There is a section in the Pali texts where it describes how monks and nuns became enlightened, and in that section some of them describe how the beauty of nature was very inspiring, because most of these monks and nuns were living in forests. And sometimes, as we are living in towns, big towns, where we don’t see nature very often, we are losing this sensitivity for appreciating something beautiful, for learning to relate to nature in this way.

Thoughts Arise Mechanically

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I will touch on some aspects of how we can work with our thoughts in the context of meditation.

One thing we can discover is that our thoughts arise mechanically. They just pop up. Take what is happening now. You are listening to me but you are absorbed in the thoughts that are going through your mind. You don’t want these thoughts to arise but they just pop up; and then we do something very interesting: some thoughts we allow just to arise and pass away, while others, we get hold of them, we identify ourselves with them. They can overwhelm us, they can control us. So this is one of the things that we can discover with awareness, that when thoughts arise, without getting hold of them, if you can just allow them to go away then there is no problem. This is one aspect for us to learn about and explore.

Another is the connection, the relationship, between thoughts and our state of mind. So as I said, when we get hold of our thoughts, when we identify ourselves with the thoughts, then our state of mind changes. That is why I have been suggesting that we learn not to react when thoughts come.

Reflect on Death

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In traditional Buddhist countries one is encouraged to reflect on death. I think it is a very important reflection. Otherwise we forget about the most certain thing in life and we assume that we are going to live forever. So when you encounter death it can really give you a shock, you will be taken by surprise.

There are some interesting stories about people who have been able to laugh at life, and they were able to laugh at death in the same way. At present I am reading a book about how people met their death. It is fascinating how many of them have been able to really laugh at death and dying. There is a Zen story that comes to my mind, about a meditation master who was dying. When he realised he was dying he called all his students and asked them: “In what posture have you seen people dying?” His students replied: “In so many different postures.” The Zen master continued: “I am going to die in a most unusual posture.” After that he stood on his head and then he died! It shows that one can be playful about life and even about death.

We Have Images

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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!

A Story

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This is a story from the Buddhist literature. So there was a young monk who wanted to give up his robes. He hadn’t told his chief monk about his plans but one day the chief monk was having a headache, so he told this young monk to give him a massage, to rub some oil on his head. So while massaging his head the young monk was thinking: Now, maybe in a month or two I will be giving up my robes. And after I give up my robes, maybe I will find a job, and when I find a job I will get some money, and when I find enough money maybe I will find a girl and get married to this girl. But sometimes these wives can be impossible people and if my wife becomes difficult or impossible, I’ll give her a good beating. And he beat the old monk on his head!

We are laughing, but this is what we also do with our thoughts. So it shows that these thoughts can be so compelling, and that they can create fantasies for us and we take the fantasy as real. So there is a connection, a relationship, between the stories and emotions. In the Dhamma there is a very interesting Pali word to describe this process which takes place in our mind: papanca. What it means is constructing, manufacturing, concocting, projecting, all these things we do with our thoughts, and it is said there is a direct relationship between concepts and suffering. This is how our suffering is created.

So this is why it is very important to learn to work with our thoughts, to understand the thoughts, to really understand the nature and construction of thoughts. As I said earlier, if we can learn to have a very spacious mind, allowing these thoughts and emotions to come and go, allowing sensations to arise and pass away, and we are in that spaciousness, not reacting to anything then at that moment there is freedom.

Non-Reactive Mind

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However much you try to be with the breath, it is just not possible? I can really understand that. One suggestion I would like to offer is that when these thoughts come during your meditation, try to focus attention not on the thoughts but on your state of mind. Can you at least have a non-reactive mind for some time with these thoughts coming and going?

So the emphasis is more on the non-reactive mind. And you are just being with that, thoughts coming and going. Does that make sense? This is why I have been speaking a lot about thoughts, because we all have thoughts from morning till night, so it is very important to learn to work with our thoughts.