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: March, 2016

The Idea of Mediation

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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.

If Everything was Permanent

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Before Prince Siddhartha became a Buddha one of the things that he encountered was the fact of death, old age and disease. When he encountered them there was a need for him to find a way out of them. Death and impermanence are very important in our lives, although sometimes we are not very happy to look at them because change or impermanence can be a source of frustration. We may be very attentive in one meditation session and perhaps we give ourselves a plus for it; but in the next session we are not attentive, we are not present, and we give ourselves a big minus. This kind of suffering can come from such comparing.

But if everything was permanent, how could a flower grow? How could the sun rise? How could I speak? How could I be silent? Changes which do not create suffering for us are no problem. But changes like death, like sickness, like old age, like the break-up of a relationship cause us suffering. Yet all these things can be seen equally as change. For example, when you have a relationship and suddenly the other person leaves you, or does something that disappoints you, you forget about the fact of change, and you want that person to live up to the fixed image you have of her or him.

Getting something that you don’t want certainly can create suffering. But it is interesting to find out that even when we get something we want that can also give rise to suffering. Initially there may be satisfaction, but afterwards the feeling of satisfaction lessens and you start looking for something new, another toy, something different which can give you back that initial feeling of satisfaction.

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.

Don’t Exclude Other Things

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An important reason why the breath is used as a meditation object is that it helps us to develop awareness. This kind of meditation is called in Pali anapanasati. It is awareness or mindfulness or attention in relation to the in-breath and the out-breath. A problem meditators have is that they try to exclude other things, they try to exclude sounds, for instance. When they hear sounds they become a problem. When they have thoughts they also hate the thoughts. Poor thoughts!

Any sensations in the body, they think this is a disturbance or a distraction in the meditation. But it is very simple: the first emphasis must be on awareness. Just being aware of whatever is happening. This gives us a very interesting experience: you hear sounds, so you are aware of the sounds, and then see with the sounds what happens to you. We see we can convert sounds into noise, which is then disturbing us. It can be a very deep realisation, that the problem arises because of the way we relate to things.

When I talk about sounds, I sometimes speak about an experience we have in the meditation centre at Nilambe. There is a bell to wake you up at 4:45 in the morning. Thus you can just imagine what association the sound of the bell has! But it is the same sound which is heard to indicate lunch. No difference. Where is the problem? It rests in its meaning, the associations we make. So it is not the sound, not what you hear, but how you relate to it.

What I Call a Problem

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Whenever we have a problem, it’s a very interesting exercise to try to find out what is the model, what is the expectation, what is the image that I’m having which I am resisting now. So you realize that what you call a problem is, in a way, not the problem; but rather the problem is the idea, the image you have of how things should be different.

Sometimes it’s also good to reflect very consciously: this is the problem I have; now in what way can I find a solution, in what way can I respond to that problem, what I call a problem? Sometimes we have problems which cannot be solved. Take a practical example: sometimes in Sri Lanka a mother would come to me with a deformed child, or a mentally retarded child, and for such conditions there is no cure. So what can she do?

It is very important to know what can be changed in our lives, and what cannot be changed in our lives. If something can be changed, you can try to reflect about it clearly, and if things cannot be changed, you have to accept that. We have to have the wisdom to see the difference very clearly, what can be changed and what cannot be changed.

Not Only Slowing Down

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When you have awareness, when you want to think quickly, when you have to act quickly, you should be able to do that. Sometimes in the retreats that I give, I ask the meditators to walk fast. And sometimes they tell me that when they walk fast, it’s easier to develop awareness. And with more awareness and with more meditation, your mind becomes very clear, so with a mind that is very clear, you can really act quickly when you want to.

In Sri Lanka I have a friend who is a lawyer who is practising meditation in a very serious way, and because of his meditation he has been doing very well as a lawyer. It has helped him to think quickly and act quickly, so that even other lawyers realize the change in him and they are also asking how to meditate. So please realize and remember, meditation is not only slowing down, but when you want to, you can act quickly and you can think quickly and you can respond quickly. When I walk in the streets of Hong Kong, I have to walk very fast!

Owning Everything

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It is funny how we have this idea of ownership. We start owning everything: thoughts, emotions, sensations, persons, possessions. And when we start owning things we don’t like to let go of the things we own. This is why we find it difficult to let go of emotions because we think this is my anger, my fear, my anxiety, my sadness; so whatever we consider mine we don’t want to let go. This is the deeper aspect of the Dhamma, to indicate to us actually there is no owner. There are just thoughts, there are just sensations, there are just emotions.

It is this sense of ownership which is creating our suffering. Nothing should happen to my mother – anything can happen to other people’s mothers. Nothing should happen to my body, but other people’s bodies – there’s no problem whatsoever. And then in the same way we have this identification with possessions: my cup, it should stay with me; but other cups, there is no problem. We even draw the same distinction about animals. This is my cat; this is the neighbour’s cat. So the neighbour’s cat should not come and attack my cat. How can the neighbour’s cat do that? So it is an interesting question to reflect on: what happens at the time of death to all the things we think we own? If we really own them we should be able to take them with us even after death, but we can’t.

These are really very deep, profound aspects of the Buddha’s teaching. To see the connection between our sense of ownership, with the sense of I and me, and how that is creating suffering. So these are some areas, some aspects that we can find out about for ourselves in the practice of meditation in everyday life.

Come Back to Your Mind

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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.

What We Do with Our Thoughts

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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.

We Can’t Always Get What We Want

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As I often emphasise the importance of being human, I would like to suggest that as we are still human there are moments when we like and moments when we dislike – such reactions can still be there. So here again I would suggest that if you are reacting, just to realise that you are reacting and then to find out in your own experience, when you are liking something, when you are holding onto it, how it creates suffering for yourself. And when you are resisting something, when you are disliking something, how it again creates suffering. So from our reactions, from a reactive mind, we can also learn.

When you are reacting, just know that you are reacting, to take that as a learning experience and learn not to react to it. And when you are not reacting just know that you are not reacting, and see for yourself the results, the benefits of it. So if you can really learn to be open to both the reactive mind and the non-reactive mind and to see the difference between the two, that can be considered something very important.

This is how we can try to practise when we are doing formal meditation. Now learning to do this in everyday life as well may be more difficult, but this is the practice. So if you can be observant, if you can be aware in everyday life, you can catch yourself: seeing how in certain situations we like certain things, we want them to continue, we like to give them plusses; and in other situations we don’t like them, we want to get rid of them. Just as when doing formal meditation so in everyday life, when you like something, when you identify yourself with something, see for yourself what happens to you, what it does to you.

Then you will realise – and it is a very important discovery that you’ll make – that we can’t always be demanding how things should be. What we are doing is making demands of ourselves, how we should behave, how we must behave; making demands of others, how they should behave, how they must behave; and also demanding from life, how life should be, how life must be according to our own expectations. Making demands is one thing, but reality is another thing. This is a simple way of seeing how we create our own suffering. So here again, it is very important in everyday life just to see how we create our own suffering with the demands we are making.