When you are reacting, just know that you are reacting, to take that as a learning experience and learn not to react to it. And when you are not reacting just know that you are not reacting, and see for yourself the results, the benefits of it. So if you can really learn to be open to both the reactive mind and the non-reactive mind and to see the difference between the two, that can be considered something very important.
As I often emphasise the importance of being human, I would like to suggest that as we are still human there are moments when we like and moments when we dislike – such reactions can still be there. So here again I would suggest that if you are reacting, just to realise that you are reacting and then to find out in your own experience, when you are liking something, when you are holding onto it, how it creates suffering for yourself. And when you are resisting something, when you are disliking something, how it again creates suffering. So from our reactions, from a reactive mind, we can also learn.
Having a non-reactive mind is a thing that we have to cultivate, to work at. So when we are meditating, when we are doing formal sitting meditation, to be open to whatever happens in our mind and body. If there are pleasant experiences, if we are having a non-reactive mind, an equanimous mind, we should learn to relate to it without giving it a plus, and holding onto it and wanting it to continue. And when we have an unpleasant experience, whether it is physical pain or mental pain, the immediate reaction is to give it a minus and not to like it, resisting it, disliking it. So having an equanimous mind means, whether it is pleasant or whether it is unpleasant, no plus, no minus, no liking, no disliking – learning to see things just as they are.
Being hard on ourselves, being critical about ourselves, giving ourselves minuses may come quite naturally for some people. That is why we need to deliberately and consciously cultivate this positive quality of rejoicing in some of the qualities: Metta, loving-kindness; Karuna, compassion; Mudita, sympathetic joy; and Upekkha, equanimity.
Sometimes I reflect that we all as human beings have the potentiality to become free. These qualities of freedom are within us. So meditation can be seen as a way of acknowledging this, realising this and allowing these factors of enlightenment to arise in us.
Karuna is when you see suffering in yourself and when you see suffering in others, doing something to overcome your own suffering and doing something to overcome the suffering of others. This is developing the quality of Karuna, compassion.
In this modern world, where there is a lot of suffering, and the suffering manifests itself in many different ways, it is extremely important to develop this quality of Karuna in relation to others and in relation to your own suffering. In this connection the Buddha has said: Helping others is helping yourself; helping yourself is helping others. And eventually you see no difference between yourself and others.
I would like to share with you an experience I had on one of the retreats I gave in a foreign country. So on the last day I was having a talk with the meditators and one of them told the group that whatever she has learnt from me on the course she has already learnt from her dog.
So I became curious about her dog. I told her, please tell something more about your dog, and she said: Well, you tell us to just live in the present and this is what my dog does; you tell us to feel grateful, and my dog is always grateful. And she went on to describe the behaviour of the dog and what happens in the retreat. Then I asked her: Is there no difference between your dog and me? She said, Yes, you talk a lot, but my dog can’t talk at all! I like that story very much.
Make your own discoveries about your thoughts, make your own discoveries about your emotions, make your own discoveries about how suffering is created. We are so fortunate to have this mind and body. Sometimes I tell meditators that we can be our own laboratories and we can make experiments, we can make discoveries, we can learn from them.
Without taking anything for granted our whole life becomes learning; and we should develop a taste for it, we should develop a curiosity for it, we should find this very interesting, entertaining, sometimes amusing. Then we have this openness that we can learn from anything, we can learn from anyone, not only from the so-called teachers, but life itself becomes the teacher, our mind and body become our teacher, and I think it is a beautiful way to live.
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.
Is it possible for us to really be happy and joyful that others are experiencing happiness and joy?
Mudita is being happy because others are happy. This is sometimes not easy because the opposite of this quality of Mudita is jealousy and envy, especially when you see others doing better than yourself.
Another aspect of Mudita is making an effort to make others happy. In a way one can relate it to Karuna because when you see others suffering you try to do something about it and to get them to experience some joy and lightness, freed from their suffering.
Now sympathetic joy or Mudita has another interesting aspect, which is learning to rejoice, learning to be happy about your own happiness. Though again this sounds simple, in practice sometimes for some people it is not easy. I know some people who when they experience happiness and joy say: I don’t deserve this, I’m such a bad person, I don’t deserve to be happy. And I know others who say: How can I feel happy? I feel guilty because there is such a lot of suffering around me so how can I experience joy? When I experience joy I feel guilty about it. Therefore it is extremely important to learn to develop this quality. To rejoice in your own happiness, to rejoice in your own goodness, to rejoice in seeing more and more the positive in yourself; and when you see more and more the positive in yourself, then you are bound to see more and more the positive in others.
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.