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, 2019

Contentment

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In the kitchen in our Centre we have a poem: “He who knows his need, and yet is without greed, whatever be his creed, he is a saint indeed”. This was composed by a friend of mine and what made him compose this was what he saw in India. He told me that he was going to one of the Indian temples and outside the temple there was a beggar who was seated and he had a piece of cloth in front of him for the money and the beggar had his eyes closed. When my friend saw this beggar’s face with his eyes closed, he was so impressed, inspired by the serenity, the calmness with which the beggar was sitting like this. He was so curious that he stood alongside him and just spent some time with him. And suddenly this man got up, picked up some of the coins and threw the other coins onto the ground. Then he went to a shop nearby, he took something to eat, something to drink and he disappeared. So this incident really had a strong impact on my friend and when he was reflecting on this incident this poem came to his mind.

I’m not telling you to throw away your money, but what I am suggesting is to use the money functionally. We need money, we need material possessions but what is important is that they’re possessing us now. So what we need to do is not to allow them to control us but for us to learn to control them. Then there is a change which takes place inside you, then a very beautiful spiritual quality comes into being, which is contentment. It is rarely that I meet someone who is really contented with himself, with herself, with whatever they’re having. This spiritual quality is very much emphasised in the Dhamma. There’s a beautiful Pali word for this: santutthi. Contentment is the greatest wealth. It’s very interesting.

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Consumerism

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In the talks I gave at the nunnery I spoke about consumerism, materialism and so on. We are living in such a culture in which we can be spoilt very easily. Very easily you can start pampering yourself, sometimes without even knowing what you are doing to yourself. So it becomes a kind of self-indulgence without your realising it. This is why I suggested that sometimes you have to say No to things in a friendly, gentle way. Sometimes you have to say Yes.

In relation to saying Yes, now when you think you need something you should ask the question: Do I really need this, or am I buying this, or want to get this, just because of society, the expectation in society that I should be wearing this or I should be like this or I should live like that?

So it is really funny, we have given a lot of power to other people, we have given a lot of power to society, social values, and then we don’t realise how we have become victims of this, we don’t realise that society is manipulating our greed. We don’t know what is greed and what is need, what it is that you really need.

Without Selecting

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We are repressing, pushing away, denying, not looking at unpleasant experiences. So we have this kind of duality, that meditation, spiritual life, is having pleasant experiences and that we should not have unpleasant experiences: a battle, a split, a division, a duality.

I would suggest – please don’t be surprised – that the pleasant experiences are not so important, what are more important are the unpleasant experiences, because there is no problem with pleasant experiences. The problem is with the unpleasant experiences, and we don’t realise that by repressing, by pushing them away, by not looking at them we give them more power. So it’s a kind of vicious circle, it’s a kind of dependent origination: how one thing is leading to another, and how it is leading to suffering. This is why I have been emphasising so much to be open to unpleasant experiences; let them arise, don’t push them away. The power that we have given them by repressing them and by pushing them away because we are afraid of them, when you take away that power you’ll realise that they are no problem.

In a way you can relate this to some of the exercises I gave in relation to nature. Seeing things very sharply, seeing things very clearly, because when you learn to observe external things very clearly then you learn to see everything, all the things that you can see, the pleasant ones, the unpleasant ones, you just notice whatever there is without exclusion, without selecting.

Nothing Special

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Some people associate meditation only with sitting, or a particular time, a particular posture and so on. But if you are really serious about meditation it has to be a way of living, especially in everyday life, in relationships that you are having whether in the place of work, at home, or whatever. They should be areas of meditation for you to work with. So it’s really a way of understanding, it’s a way of knowledge, it’s a way of developing wisdom, and then try to integrate that with your daily life.

When you sit, if you think it is something special you’re bound to have special problems. Even the way you are breathing, you try to do it differently. And then when you sit you want to immediately achieve states of calm and have special experiences, but at other times you’re not worried about these. So it is clear there’s a kind of fragmentation, a duality between the person who is sitting and the person outside sitting practice.

If you can see meditation as something that you do most of the time – it’s just being aware, it’s just understanding what is happening – then when you sit it is just continuing that.

Some teachers say that when you are sitting, please see the sitting as nothing special because nothing special is happening. There are the same thoughts, sensations, emotions, sounds. So how can it be different? The difference is there when we know what is happening, when we understand it, when we are clear about it.

Joy and Freedom

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The whole idea of Buddhism 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.

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. 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.

Guilt

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One problem I encountered with many meditators is that they are suffering from guilt. Maybe there are some historical or social reasons why there seems to be a lot of guilt in this culture, because in old cultures like the Tibetan culture, Sri Lankan culture and some other cultures there is not even a word for guilt! I read somewhere that his holiness the Dalai Lama was surprised when he encountered so many Westerners suffering from guilt.

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!

A Lightness in Your Being

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Normally when we see things our complete attention is not there. So what we can do, and this is what is sometimes very useful about nature, is that we can cultivate this way of looking at things by examining something very clearly, very closely, and at that time your whole attention, your whole awareness, is on that object that you are seeing.

If we can learn to do this in relation to seeing our senses are really awakened. There’s a freshness that arises, there is a lightness in your being. I think as children we had this quality, but maybe with our pre-occupations, with our anxieties, with our thoughts, they are there most of the time and we try to see things with such a mind, so we hardly notice things.

When we develop this quality we can see small things, little things, much more clearly, so that these ordinary things can become extraordinary. In the Buddhist texts there are some very beautiful references to monks and nuns living in the forest and they describe very minutely what they hear, what they see.

Another word for this is to develop a kind of sensitivity in a positive sense to seeing things, hearing things, smelling things, feeling things, so your whole living is alive, is fresh, is new, is innocent. In the Dhammapada, a very important book in the Dhamma, it is said that if we do not cultivate this awareness, this alertness, we are like dead people. We become alive with this quality.

To Reflect, to Contemplate, to Understand

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If we can develop the quality of reflection we can see the Dhamma in any experience in life; any experience can be a meditation. It can be a sickness, it can be some disappointment, it can be some frustration, it can be some happiness, it can be anything, but just learning to reflect, to contemplate, to understand, is very important.

In this connection I would like to suggest a technique which you can practise in everyday life. In the evening after work when you go back home, I know everyone who goes home is tired, but please try to recover from that by maybe taking a shower or something similar, and then just for a few minutes take your mind back and reflect on how you spent the day.

From the time you woke up to the time of that reflection, just try to go over all the things. See now, how many times did I get angry during the day, what were the occasions when there was stress, were there situations when I lost control of my emotions? You are not doing this as if you were a judge, trying to beat yourself, but in a very friendly, gentle, understanding way, just going over what happened.

And what is more important is also to reflect on the times when such disturbances were not there. Reflect on the good things that you have done, the generous things you have done, the friendly things you have done, the nice words you have used. You should also include these. This is more important or at least equally important.

If you can be more open to these positive things you’ll be surprised to know what a good person you are. So this type of reflection will enable us to know more about ourselves, to know about our behaviour in a very objective, clear way and when you do this a natural transformation will come in your behaviour without your trying to do anything.

Results to Achieve

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In everyday life you have goals to achieve, results to achieve, and sometimes you chase after goals even when you are meditating!

So naturally you go through the same stress, the same anxiety, the same tension, the same restlessness because you want to achieve some goals, some results. Buddha has something very interesting to say in this connection, he gave a simile. He said meditation is like being a gardener; so like a gardener you are enjoying planting the trees, vegetables and flowers, and the gardener is not bothered when the flowers will come, when the fruits will come but is enjoying what he is doing.

I have thought of a similar simile. The simile is trying to reach the top of a mountain which you are climbing. If you are concerned, you are pre-occupied by what you are going to see when you reach the top you’ll miss the fun while climbing. So while you are climbing, what is happening to you, the falls, the adventures, the problems, those become the practice, and don’t be concerned about what will be there when you have reached the top. What is happening now is the practice, and not what is going to happen later on. So it doesn’t matter whether they are pleasant experiences or unpleasant experiences, see them as practice, that’s the practice, not getting rid of them.

Pain

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Working with pain is a very useful experience in meditation. In everyday life when we experience physical pain, what do we do? We try to do something about it immediately, change the posture or whatever, and then get rid of the pain because it is unpleasant. So by doing this we never learn about pain, which is a most important part of the human condition. We don’t know what types of pain we might have to experience in the future, so this is why I have been repeating so often, meditation is learning to be open to unpleasant experiences. Please don’t see them as a disturbance or a distraction.

Nothing is more important than the pain itself, either thoughts or whatever else, because that is what you are experiencing. So feel grateful for the pain because you can learn about the pain in a meditative situation.

We have to avoid two extremes. One extreme is always saying Yes to the body. This is pampering the body. The body says: I want it. We immediately go for it. So it is very important to learn to say No sometimes. Saying Yes always is pampering. Always saying No is being too hard on ourselves. So it is very important to have the correct balance, when to say Yes, when to say No.

So in relation to physical pain when you are meditating, if you immediately change the posture I would say that is pampering; and going through the pain, trying not to change the posture, grinding your teeth, enduring the pain, I would say that is the other extreme. So the middle way is learning, experimenting, exploring the pain, and then when it’s unbearable change the posture, stand up: very simple.