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, 2018

When a Thought Disappears

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There is a very interesting quotation by the Buddha himself in relation to his own thoughts: I would like to relate the details. One of his disciples told the Buddha: You have so many powers, you have so many miraculous powers. And the Buddha said: My greatest miracle is that when a thought arises, I know a thought has arisen; when a thought continues, I know that a thought continues when the thought disappears, I know the thought disappears.

This shows it is not the absence of thought which is important. I like that very much. So we can try to work on the third aspect: when a thought disappears. For someone to have that type of mind they have to have a very calm mind, an alert mind, just to know when a thought disappears.

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Suffering

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The First Noble Truth is the fact of suffering. How is suffering considered a Noble Truth? What is noble in suffering?

It is noble because when we suffer we can reflect on what is causing the suffering. So when you suffer don’t see it as something negative, see it as a Noble Truth.

But what is more important is the Second Noble Truth. It leads one to find out what is causing the suffering, or who is causing the suffering. Now this is a very difficult teaching for us to realise: that we are creating the suffering. It is very easy for us to hold others responsible for our suffering. Then we don’t have to do anything about our suffering, the others have to do something about it. So if you can see the Second Noble Truth very clearly, the Third and the Fourth just follow from that.

Sometimes I define meditation as discovering the medicine for the sickness we have created ourselves.

Using Thought to Reflect

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Thoughts can have a positive use, one can also use them creatively. How can we use them creatively? It is by using thought to reflect, to contemplate, to analyse. So this is a very important exercise, a very important meditation for us to develop, using thoughts to reflect. We should constantly reflect on our behaviour: How am I behaving? Is my behaviour creating suffering for myself, or creating suffering for others? Especially it is very important for us to see for ourselves how we create our own suffering. Then we realise that only we ourselves can bring about a change; then we take responsibility for our suffering and we can change that situation.

Thoughts Related to Suffering

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In everyday life it is very important to use awareness, just to know what thoughts are going through your mind and how this is affecting you, how it is related to emotions. So if you can really practise this, be constantly aware of this, then very slowly there can be a shift in what is happening to you.

We often say we have certain worries, we have certain problems: what happens to that worry, what happens to that problem when your thoughts are with something else? The problem may not be solved but still at that moment it is not a source of suffering. If someone close to us is sick then whenever we think about that person, that is creating the suffering, that is creating the worry, but when our thoughts are with something else that person would still be having that illness but it is not a source of suffering for us. So it shows how thinking, thoughts, are really directly related to our suffering.

This Sense of Ownership

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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.

My Thoughts

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We have a very strong conditioning to identify ourselves with thoughts and say: These are my thoughts. I am thinking. Again without realising it, it is the thoughts that have created the thinker. This is why I have been suggesting just to see thoughts as thoughts without an owner, without the idea that these are my thoughts but just thoughts arising and passing away.

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.

A very Spacious Mind

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It is very important to learn to work with our thoughts, to understand the thoughts, to really understand the nature and construction of thoughts. 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.

In the Tibetan tradition they use a very nice simile. They compare the mind to a spacious sky and the thoughts to clouds. The clouds do not affect the sky, the sky does not affect the clouds. So this shows that it is important to have that spaciousness, that spacious mind, allowing anything to arise and pass away.

Stories

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If you learn to handle thoughts, work with thoughts, you develop mastery over emotions. Another thing is that when you have an emotion it is only thoughts that make it bigger. They can really blow up the emotion you are having.

An interesting aspect is how we create stories out of our thoughts and we don’t realise that we create the stories but we become victims of the stories that we create ourselves. Sometimes the stories can even become films, movies in our own mind from what has happened in the past and about what is going to happen in the future. We are sometimes creating very destructive films, movies, and we are the director, we are the producer, we are the actor, and we are the victim, all in that drama. I will give an example of what such a story is and how the story can become a kind of reality at that moment.

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.

Thoughts just Pop Up

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Our thoughts arise mechanically. 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.

Just to Know

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I would like to suggest we might try to practise with our thoughts, to work on our thoughts. There is always a connection between thoughts and emotions. An interesting question to reflect on is: Can there be suffering without a thought? Can there be emotion without a thought? So I feel that in our practice we should really understand, penetrate, and work with our thoughts. From the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep there is this continuous thinking going on in our mind.

See the connection between thoughts and emotions; and then try to make discoveries about our thinking, especially concerning the area of giving plusses and minuses. So if you catch yourself giving minuses, observe it, catch it as soon as possible.

Just find out what you are thinking. It is a very interesting exercise, that during the day we ask ourselves: Now what is the thought I am having? Let us make an effort just to know, just to understand, just to explore, just to learn, just to discover about our thoughts, about our concepts.