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: December, 2019

Feeling Light

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We take life so seriously. I always stress the importance of feeling light, of being playful and having the ability to laugh at life and ourselves. That is a really important spiritual quality!

One day I was talking to a very wise monk in Sri Lanka who lives in a forest hermitage. Suddenly he told me: “Sometimes I see life as a big joke. Sometimes it can be a very bad joke! But still it’s a joke.” Our problem is that we take this joke too seriously. We take this life as something that should be perfect. With that we loose this lightness and playfulness in our attitude to life and in our attitude to practice.

This idea about playfulness came to me one day when in Sri Lanka I was asked to teach meditation to a group of young Buddhist monks. They were around fifteen years old, wearing robes and living in a temple. Before we talked about meditation I had a friendly chat with them and I asked them: “What is it that you don’t like in this temple, and in the schedule?” They said: “Getting up in the morning for meditation.” I said: “I’m very happy, it is a very honest answer! Now tell me, what is it that you enjoy in this temple?” Everyone gave big smiles and they said: “Playing with the dogs!” Then I said immediately: “Well, you see, meditation is playing with your mind!” They liked this very much. I met some of them later on and they said that the meditation had become very light, especially focusing on breathing. They said that it was like playing with the breath: sometimes it is there, sometimes it is not there. So then there was a lightness to the practice.

What Cannot be Changed

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You should be clear what you can change and what cannot be changed. One area where change is possible is ourselves. Beginning from there, we can also see what can be changed outside. And to be realistic as far as possible as to what cannot be changed. We have a saying in this connection displayed at the Nilambe Meditation Centre: May I have the courage to change what can be changed, the patience to bear what cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.

The Breath

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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.

Relationship

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I think the question of relationships is the greatest challenge human beings have. Because no human being can avoid relationships. Even a hermit living alone by himself or by herself has to have relationships. Relationship to nature. Relationship to the environment. Relationship to themselves. So in this sense no one can avoid relationships.

Now, the first point about relationships is to find out how you relate to yourself. Some of you might have heard of the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. He has written a play about relationships. And in this play he made the statement: Hell is other people. Do you agree? What is the Buddhist response to that statement? Hell is inside us. So this is why in Buddhist teachings it is very, very difficult, because you are considered to be responsible for what you are doing. It is very easy to blame other people. But when we blame other people we never try to work on ourselves, so that one can continue to blame other people and not really look at oneself.

So it is very important to find out how you relate to yourself in the sense: Do you see yourself as your best friend? Or do you have a tendency to be hard on yourself, to give minuses? Do you have no trust in yourself? If you do not have trust and confidence in yourself, you can never have trust and confidence in others. This is why in the Buddhist teaching what is called self-understanding, self-knowledge, is so much emphasised. To find out the way you are relating to yourself.

So for this you have to make a connection with yourself. You have to learn to observe your behaviour. You have to find out your real motives, your intentions prior to your actions. You have to learn to be very objective about yourself. You have to be very honest, sincere, and authentic about yourself. So in relationships this is, I would suggest, something very important to be clear about.

And also be clear about your own expectations, about your own idealism, about your own models. Because if you have very unrealistic models about other people, about yourself, about how the world should be, you will always be disappointed. And if you suffer from a kind of void in you, then whatever other people do to you, giving affection, giving attention, it is not good enough.

Creative in a Destructive Way

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Sometimes we can be very creative in a destructive way with our thoughts. So it is very important to know when we are using thoughts destructively and how to use thoughts constructively.As an example of a story that we create:

At the breakfast table someone is sitting next to us and the person is making a very unpleasant noise. Why is this person sitting next to me? And why is she making this noise? I have been eating now for 20 minutes, but she is continuing to make the same noise. I think she is doing this to agitate me!

We are laughing. But this is exactly what we do. In this story, you see how many monsters can come at the same time – with just this woman sitting there. We can have anger, and because of anger we can have guilt, and because of anger and guilt we can be confused, and because we are confused we can feel jealous when we look around and see other people sitting so calmly. You see how from this little noise, four or five monsters can come within a few minutes. Aren’t we funny? See how we can be so destructive with our thoughts!

Three Benefits

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There are three benefits to doing meditation of loving-kindness before you go to sleep: you sleep peacefully, you wake up peacefully, and you do not see nightmares. So when you go to bed – everyone has to go to bed every night – just for a few seconds say: May I be well, may I be happy, may I sleep peacefully, just have these thoughts of loving-kindness until you fall asleep.

Thoughts just Pop Up

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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.

Things Arise

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When we see something, immediately our past associations arise, and from our past associations our likes, our dislikes, and our identifications arise: all our desires will arise, and our ego will arise, and similarly our prejudices and our biases arise. All these things arise, and this prevents us from seeing things just as they are, without distortion. This is a very important and interesting area to watch in relation to the working of perception.

Take food for example: it is very interesting to find out at what point we taste our food. In a way, it is when we first see the food; and then we start eating with all our past associations, with our likes and dislikes. Even before we start eating we have tasted our food mentally. This is an example of how perceptions give rise to concepts, or how our prejudices arise.

We need awareness to really enjoy things. If we have awareness we can start enjoying even small things like a flower, a leaf, an ant, the sound of a bird drinking something. It can make such a difference if your awareness, your attention is there while you are seeing, tasting, hearing and so on. You might be able to see something as if for the first time. This is a beautiful quality one can develop with awareness. If you can see things as if for the first time you really become alive when that happens.