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, 2019

Thinking

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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.

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Receiving Kindness

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One important aspect of meditation of loving kindness is to sometimes think of the kindness that we have received from other people. Everyone here has received some kindness from other people. But do we ever reflect on these things; do we ever think of the good things, the kind things others have done to you? And this can give us lot of happiness, lot of joy that you have been receiving kindness from other people in different ways.

So another quality of this aspect of kindness is learning to feel grateful for these things. Here again there are so many reasons why we can feel grateful for the things that are happening to us, the blessings that we receive in this life, but again we don’t think about them; we think only of the negative things and create suffering for ourselves and others. Shouldn’t we feel grateful that we can hear? Do we ever think about that? Do we ever feel grateful that we can see? Do we ever feel grateful that you are interested in teachings, in spiritual life? So it’s a very important quality for us to feel grateful for these small things, little things that we are receiving in life.

The Present Moment

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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.

Still not Enlightened

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I sometimes say that if you make a mistake, you should remember: “Don’t be surprised, you are still not enlightened”. And when you see someone else make a mistake: “Don’t be surprised, they are not enlightened either”. This is a very simple, direct way of accepting ourselves, our humanness, our imperfection and accepting the imperfection and humanness of others.

Just Observe

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What does it mean that when there is insight, calm can come? One way of understanding this in relation to developing insight is that you can allow any thought to arise, any emotion to arise, any sensations to arise; and whatever arises, you just observe, you just watch, you just know. So from that practice sometimes calm can come naturally without your wanting to have calm and tranquility. And sometimes if calm is not there and you are unable to really develop insight in that way, then you can focus your attention on the breath and try to develop some calm and clarity and again start investigating and developing insight.

And in relation to insight, according to the Buddha’s teachings there are three characteristics, three important aspects which we have to develop if we are cultivating insight. The first is to develop the understanding, to realize, how things are impermanent, how things are changing from moment to moment. So while we are sitting now, your thoughts are changing from moment to moment; there is one thought, then another thought arises. So there is this continuous change taking place in relation to your thoughts. Sensations in your body are also changing from moment to moment. Your state of mind too is changing from moment to moment; sometimes you may feel happy, sometimes you might feel restless, sometimes you may feel calm. So whatever your state of mind, that is also changing.

It is a very important step to be open to the changes that you are experiencing internally, and then whatever changes take place in your mind and body, if you learn not to resist them and if you learn to be open to them and realize what is happening, there can be any changes taking place but there will be no suffering.

In the same way, externally, the world out there, the life out there is also always changing from moment to moment; sometimes good things happen to us, sometimes bad things happen to us, sometimes unexpected things happen to us. But here again, whatever is happening externally, if you can realize the fact of change, of impermanence, and be open to it, any changes can take place but you can still be free because you recognize that we have no control.

Food

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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.

My Best Teacher

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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.”

Just Doing Nothing

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It is very interesting that we are so used to doing things, controlling, manipulating and interfering. Because of this strong conditioning, we cannot leave the breath alone. Some meditators come and tell me that they are really controlling their breathing. It is sometimes not very easy to get them to let go of the control. But what the breath is teaching us is to leave it alone. And then that helps us to experience this non-doing – just doing nothing. Allowing the body to do what it likes.

It is certainly true that we are so busy now, we are so active, that we have no time to stop and reflect. This is one of the greatest challenges human beings have in this modern age where there is such a lot of activity, where one has to be extremely busy otherwise one is left behind. And in this activity, in this being busy, how does one create some inner space? How can one create some inner stillness? That is a real challenge. Because if you are doing a job – I mean, a picture came into my mind of people who get down from a train. They walk and run from the train like a horde of ants. But someone has to do the job. So if you are doing a job you have to be like the ants. Otherwise you arrive late at the office. In Sri Lanka there is a register people have to sign, and if you come in too late for work there is a red mark. So you cannot do slow walking meditation from the train. The red mark will be there!

That is the challenge we have – how to function in such a society, how to do things quickly, and at the same time have this inner space, this inner friendliness. This is a real challenge we have. I will talk about this on the last day – how to be like ants and still be a meditator when you go back to your place in society.

Healthy

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One interesting point to reflect on is the fact that we have to do so many things to keep our body healthy. We never say that one has to forget these things. We never say that they are difficult. But we have given such priority, such importance to keeping our bodies healthy.

But what will we do to keep our mind healthy? And when medicine is offered to keep your mind healthy, then you might forget it. Sometimes we give reasons, but it is interesting to find out, why is there this difference? Why don’t we consider them equally important or consider the mind even more important? Sometimes I invite friends in Sri Lanka to come to the meditation centre, and they have many reasons why they are not able to come and so on. But if a doctor tells them: You have to enter the hospital immediately, you need to take some very important tests, they would not tell the doctor: No, no, I have so much to do, I cannot come!

So what we have to do is remember the priorities that we have made in life. We have to be very clear in our minds about this. The priorities we have in life – it is okay to have different priorities – but what is the priority we have given to the spiritual life? So I would say, everything revolves around that question.

Another aspect of this is to explore the question: How to find a motivation, an interest for meditation, in everyday life? There I would say, I think much depends on the way we relate to meditation. If we can find meditation interesting, if we can experience meditation as discovering, learning, experimenting, exploring, then we have a different relationship to meditation. Because if you are enjoying something, if you find it interesting, then naturally you feel like doing it.

One thing that prevents us from having this connection is having strong expectations about results. In this connection the Buddha has said something very beautiful, very interesting. He says: When a gardener plants some trees, if he is a good gardener, he should enjoy what he is doing and he should not be concerned or worried about when the flowers will bloom, thinking: Are the flowers coming? Are the vegetables coming? Because then he loses that joy and liveliness and the fun of it. But if he can really enjoy what he is doing, find it interesting, find it challenging – that is good enough.

Stress

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Let us consider how meditation can help us to work with stress when it arises. One thing is that stress sometimes arises because of the thought, I might make a mistake: what would others think of me? So in this case what happens initially is that a thought comes and it is just a thought, but then we give reality to that thought and we become victims of the thought. You see the importance of awareness in daily life? So when such a thought comes, if you have awareness you can catch yourself and realize it is just a thought and it is not reality. Stress is created when we give unnecessary reality to our habitual and obsessive way of thinking. This is one way of working with our stress.

Another way is that when stress is there, what actually happens within us? Is there a particular sensation that you feel which you can work into what is called stress? Or as I said, is it always related to a thought? So you can really explore this, investigate this, find out for yourself what it is that we call stress and what really happens to us when we experience stress. It’s a very interesting exercise to be with the sensations, to be with whatever is happening in your mind and body, without the word stress; take away the word stress and just be with the actual experience, what is happening to you. So I’d like you to experiment with some of the tools, some of the suggestions that I am offering and find out for yourselves which ones will help you.

Another tool is trying to be aware of the breath. Because as we found out, sometimes our thoughts, sometimes the way we relate to sensations and so on, can really build up the stress that is arising. And it’s interesting that mostly stress is created by thoughts about the past or especially about the future, anticipating anxiety, failure and so on. So if you can really be with the reality of breathing, because that is happening right now, then you realize that even in the few minutes you spend with the breath, there is a complete recovery from any emotion that you have been having.

Another point is, what is the opposite of feeling stressed? I would suggest it is when we can really relax with whatever is happening; if you can really learn to feel at ease with what is happening, that is the complete opposite of stress. So it shows that modern man, unless one is a meditator, has not discovered the way just to relax with oneself. So how can we learn to relax with ourselves? Here again, one way is that if you can really make a connection with your breath and as I sometimes like to say, if you see your breath as a friend, then no sooner do you become aware of the breath, just relax with the breath, then stress and tension can just drop away.