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: August, 2019

Only a Habit

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The self-destructive force in us can be so strong that it is difficult to be friendly to ourselves. The self-destructive feelings can really overwhelm us. This is why awareness is so important in the practice of meditation. When you realise that you have this self-destructive tendency, and this aspect arises together with the minuses, you should immediately catch it. You realise that it is a very strong tendency, a strong conditioning, a habit. It is important to realise that it is only a habit, it is only a conditioning. It is not representing something real. When you see it as a habit you don’t give it such  power and energy as when you take it as real.

A very interesting exercise is to ask yourself every day: “How many minuses have I given myself today?” Then try and see also the differences in the minuses you are giving yourself: big ones and small ones. Finally, rather than feeling bad about it, you can laugh at it. Then there is  lightness and even  joy.

In the practice of meditation it is very important that we work with ourselves , even with our shortcomings, in a light-hearted way rather than be heavy, beat ourselves, or be very serious and intense.

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Guilt from the Past

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People who generally suffer from guilt from the past,  seem to remember mostly the wrong things they have done. So they seem to have a selective memory in this regard. 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!

So the whole idea of Buddhism, as I have been emphasising, is to develop more joy and freedom from suffering, so I’m very sorry to see that Buddhism is used to create 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.

 

The Expectation

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

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 do  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, 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.

The Other Person’s Point of View

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A very valuable skill is to learn to see an action or a word from another person not from your own point of view, but from the other person’s point of view. It is very difficult because we are so fixed with our own plusses and minuses, with our own assumptions, our own beliefs and our own value judgements. To be able to forget all that and try to understand another person from his or her point of view we need to have a lot of space and a lot of understanding about human nature.

When we see the shortcomings and the faults of other people it is important to realise that we’re not free from them either. When we judge others, when we give minuses to other people, when we give advice to other people, we tend to forget that we also have similar qualities ourselves.

Self-Reliant

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Meditation helps us to become completely self-reliant. When you meditate you realise that you have to take responsibility for what is happening in your mind. Sometimes I define meditation in my own words as finding the medicine for the sickness we have created ourselves. So as we create the sickness ourselves we have to find the medicine. When you are sick, if you want to heal yourself you cannot tell others to take the medicine.

The Buddha emphasised this point very much: to be self-reliant, to rely on one’s own efforts. The Buddha said: self-effort is the best effort. And when we develop self-effort, when we become self-reliant, then what happens is we learn to become completely self-confident about ourselves. When we have this self-confidence then when we see for ourselves that the medicine is helping then that gives us more confidence in the medicine and it also helps us to develop faith and confidence in the person who discovered the medicine.

Make Friends with our Monsters

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Often in our model of perfection there is no place for negative emotions, and we feel we should not have them. I suppose only enlightened people may not be having these unpleasant emotions. But as we are still human, as we are still imperfect, we should not be surprised when they come. Not being surprised and being open are related. There is a phrase that I use very often: learning to be friendly to them.

When I say this I am reminded of a myth which is presented in one of the Buddhist texts. It is about a demon who was living among human beings. When a human being got angry the demon used this anger as food, so as you can just imagine he had plenty of food. But demons can get bored with the same food every day, and one day this demon thought: “Maybe I should go to the heavens where the gods live and see whether they will have any food for me”. So he goes to heaven, he looks around and he finds that the throne of the chief god is vacant. Nobody was there so he sat himself down uninvited on the throne. When the gods arrived and saw this they got angry. And when they got angry, the demon for the first time had a taste of divine food.

In the beginning when this demon had sat down on the throne he was very small, but when the gods were getting angry with him, shouting and resenting his presence, he became bigger and bigger. The boss, the chief god, realised something was happening. He came to see what was going on and he spoke to the demon in a very friendly, a very gentle way. He welcomed the demon and said: “Would you like anything to drink?” and so on. You can guess what happened to the demon when the chief god became friendly to him: the demon could no longer feed himself on the divine food and so he shrank.

Psychologically this is really interesting. What we are trying to do with an open attitude towards our negative emotions is to learn to make friends with our monsters. A phrase you can say to yourself which can be helpful sometimes is: “It’s okay not to feel okay.” It is really about being friendly with yourself, accepting what is happening. I know it is not easy, but slowly, slowly, something interesting might happen. Your monsters might lose some of their strength. Helpful here is our friend the breath and the sensations in our body. These two friends help us to experience the present moment, and they can prevent emotions from blowing up.

Think Quickly, Act Quickly,

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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.

Developing Insight.

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There is this idea among meditators which is quite common that meditation is only developing concentration. In fact, in Sri Lanka when meditators come to the centre, I ask them what are you trying to achieve in meditation and the invariable answer is that they want to develop concentration. I know even here, as I said, some meditators have this idea that meditation is only developing concentration.

Certainly concentration has a place in meditation but there is another important aspect in meditation which is equally or more important. That is what is called Vipassana or developing insight. With this emphasis only of concentration I know that some meditators have even given up meditation and when you ask for the reason, they say they are unable to concentrate. And I know that many meditators sometimes are struggling with this idea of developing concentration. So in this way, meditation can be a battle and sometimes this can even create more suffering; the idea of meditation is to experience joy and freedom. And then even the word concentration may not be the right word because the word concentration has many meanings, many connotations.

When you use the word concentration, one thing it implies exclusion. Another is trying very hard to maintain and sustain that concentration. So this can create a lot of tension and restlessness in one’s practice. The Pali word Samadhi which is translated as concentration gives an entirely different meaning. For Samadhi to be there, the mind and the body has to be completely relaxed. And by trying too hard, one can never experience Samadhi because there again, with trying too hard and having strong expectations, this can also create problems. It’s interesting that according to the Buddhist texts, before one experiences Samadhi, you have to feel gentle, friendly, and also have an element of joy and bliss in one’s practice.

Unpleasant

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I feel that actually we can learn a great deal from what we consider as unpleasant experiences. So in meditation, if we can learn to relate to these unpleasant experiences in a positive way, then in everyday life we can learn to relate to unpleasant situations in whatever form they arise.

Because it is natural that in our daily life, in everyday situations, unpleasant experiences will arise just as in our meditation. So in everyday life, if we can see such experiences also as objects of meditation, then we can really learn something very important, how to handle these unpleasant situations in everyday life, especially learning to relate to unpleasant emotions. It can be fear, it can be anger, it can be sadness, it can be guilt; in whatever way they arise, I feel that it is very important for us to learn how to handle them.

The Joy of the Present Moment

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It’s interesting that in focusing on breathing, you realise that breathing is something objective, it is a fact. Having thoughts which are related to the past and the future can generate unpleasant emotions, but with the help of focusing on breathing you can learn to let go of the past and let go of the future and experience the joy and the bliss of the present moment.

This reminds me of an incident which is recorded in the Buddhists texts, in the Buddha’s time – a non-Buddhist visits a monastery where meditating monks are living, and this person was very impressed, very inspired by the serenity of the monks, by the way they were relaxed and joyful in their behaviour. So he goes to the Buddha and asks him: Pray tell me what you teach your disciples?.

Then the Buddha said: I teach them not to worry about the past, because it is gone; and not to be anxious about the future because it is yet to come – rather to experience the joy of the present moment. And with that they have been able to exude this joy, peace and compassion in their behaviour.

Now living in the present can raise a question: is it possible always to live in the present? What about planning? What about using the past? If you let go of the past you will not be able to find your homes, you will not be able to use language, you will not be able to recognize anything. So what is meant here, what one has to experience, is that with this process of recalling and anticipating you do it now. This is a very important point for one to experience and realise, that what is considered as the past is just a thought in the present, and what is considered the future is also just a thought in the present. So when you realise this, when you experience this, you will be able to relate to the past and the future in an entirely different way, where you can use the past and the future functionally and not allow the past and the future, in this process of recalling and anticipating to generate unpleasant emotions which create our suffering.