There’s a very simple aspect in the Buddha’s teaching in relation to human behaviour. It is said that human beings have three strong drives which are motivating them to act in particular ways. One is greed, another is hatred, and a more subtle and difficult one is delusion. We all have those three drives in us, and the Buddha said that unless and until we really overcome our subjugation to these drives completely, we are still crazy. We relate to the outer world, the external world, through a private world that we have constructed ourselves. In other words, we are being subjective and not objective.
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.
When we see someone behaving in a way that we think he or she should not behave, we assume that the other person is acting with full responsibility and knows what he or she is doing. This is just a belief on our part. The other person sometimes doesn’t know why he or she is behaving in that particular way. Often we don’t know ourselves why we are acting in a particular way. Yet we assume that others always know what they are doing.
When we come across such a situation, rather than immediately giving a plus or minus to the other person, rather than getting angry and reacting to the other person, we can have a dialogue to find out why that person is behaving in a particular way. If you can do this with other people in such situations, you’ll be really helpful to them. Maybe for the first time they are encouraged to reflect on what they are doing. In relation to your own actions, rather then giving yourself a minus, try to have a dialogue with yourself about why you’re behaving in this particular way. This is a very important skill that we need to learn in relationships.
A challenge can arise in relationships when we see the shortcomings of other people. Whatever the relationship, sometimes we see the other person behaving differently from how we think they should behave. Normally what we do when we see other people’s weaknesses is that we become very judgmental. We want them to be different and we get angry with them. We give them a minus and try to correct them. This shows that we are demanding how other people should behave.
It is funny how in life we make demands on ourselves, how we should behave. We demand from ourselves that we behave according to our own model of perfection. In the same way we project our model of perfection onto others. Consequently we demand that their behaviour should correspond to the model of perfection that we hold in relation to them.
But do we stop at that? No, we even demand from life how it should be. Take for example the weather. When there is Dutch weather we demand that we should have Sri Lankan weather! When there is Sri Lankan weather we are very happy and when there is Dutch weather we are very unhappy.
Though we are grown up, we still have our toys in the form of external things that we have become dependant on for our amusement and our happiness. Like children, we keep on changing toys. When we have one toy we think: “Now this is going to make me happy”, but very soon we are unhappy with that particular toy and we start looking for other toys. Our whole lives we are looking for toys, and at the end of it we are still dissatisfied.
Meditation helps us to become our own toy: that is the only difference, but it’s a very big difference. Having loving-kindness and being our own best friend helps us to have a relationship with ourselves where we become our own toy and where we’ll be contented and happy with ourselves. That doesn’t mean that when we are with other people we are unhappy. It is more that when we are with ourselves we can be happy and contented with ourselves, and when we are with other people we can still be happy.
In everyday life when we lead a very busy life, one thing we can do is not to learn to focus but generally have awareness in relation to thoughts that we have. Don’t try to be aware of all the thoughts during the day, it won’t be easy; but during the day as often as possible just to come back to your mind and realize, now what are the thoughts that I am having. The second suggestion is in relation to the thoughts, just find out during the day as often as possible, what are the emotions I am having, am I anxious, do I have stress, do I have fear; just to know, especially the emotions in relation to your thoughts. And the third suggestion is to be conscious, to be aware when no unpleasant emotions are there. So during the day there are times when we are free of these unpleasant emotions so unless we have awareness we even don’t know that our mind is free. And the last suggestion is during the day try to come back to the present, just to when you are doing something to really be present with what you are doing, not every action you do but even some actions, this will enable us to develop this quality of being in the present. So in this way we can use awareness to integrate in our way of living daily.
Sometimes reflecting on death, the inevitability of death, helps us to forgive ourselves and to forgive others. It emphasises the need to heal the wounds we are carrying. This idea of death can be something very useful to cultivate and it can be very useful for our practice.
We can reflect on what are the things that we might miss when we die. This will help us to recognise our identifications, it will help us to recognise the things that we think we own. Things we consider “our” things; things we don’t like to leave. These identifications can be divided into three categories: the first is identification with ourselves, with our mind and body; the second is identification with other people; the third is identification with our possessions. While reflecting on them we realise that in an absolute sense we really don’t own them, and we can die to our identifications.
Another aspect of dying to reflect on is that when we die we have to face it all by ourselves. We may have spiritual friends, we may have other people, but at that moment we are alone. This is why I encourage you as meditators to spend some time alone, to spend some time with yourself and to make a connection with yourself. In a way this can be seen as learning to live with yourself, to be happy on your own and enjoy your own company. Then when the moment comes for you to leave you can face that situation in a different way. Because you have made a connection with yourself, your dependencies may be less.
Another question to reflect on is: “Do we know what death and dying is?” We are really reacting just to the word. In ancient Greece Socrates was executed by being given poison to drink. Before he was given the poison some of his friends and relatives came, but at this stage he was very keen, very impatient to take the poison. His friends and relatives were puzzled and they asked him why he behaved in such a way. He gave a very good reply, showing his humility: “I really don’t know what dying is, I’m very keen to find out!” So this is the kind of humility we should have: we don’t know!
One aspect of a mirror-like mind is that it always functions in the present. A mirror cannot reflect something that is going to happen in the future; it cannot reflect something that has happened in the past. The question arises, is it possible always to be in the present in everyday life? So what does it mean to be in the present? We need to clarify this. Experiencing the present moment is like seeing the candle in front of you now, hearing the cough now, being aware of the breath and the sensations in the body now. But in everyday life we need to use the past and the future. This is a real challenge we have: how to use the past and the future, and still reflect them just as they are.
If you completely let go of your past you will not be able to go back to your homes: this shows that we need to use the past. If you don’t think about the future, if you don’t plan, you would not have been able to come here. When we think about the past, when we are recalling, and when we are anticipating the future, we are doing it now. We must realise that when we are thinking about the past, and when we are thinking about the future, we are always doing it in the present moment. The only thing is that we give a reality to the past it doesn’t have. We don’t realise it cannot be changed and we allow the past to create negative emotions and suffering for us. This is also how anxiety about the future can arise. The future has not come yet, but while in the present we think certain things will happen. In this simile of a mirror-like mind all this thinking about the future and about the past is happening now.
The people I meet who suffer the most are those who give themselves minuses most of the time. Such people can create a hell for themselves, and in that hell only minuses exist. Minuses about ourselves, minuses about others, minuses about the world. When that happens we use a very common phrase, we say: I suffer from depression.
So you see the connection between plusses, minuses and emotions? Isn’t this interesting? Isn’t this fascinating? Shouldn’t we find it curious? Isn’t meditation something very worthwhile? Isn’t there an element of lightness in it? Isn’t this an adventure? Isn’t this the most beautiful adventure we can have, understanding, exploring, investigating, as I said this morning, the inner world?
This is why I suggest you do it before you are depressed, because then you can really understand this process, you can really see very clearly what we are all doing to ourselves. This is what is called Dhamma insight. With more and more such insights, with more and more discoveries, the chances of becoming depressed become less.
Most of the time we use only one sense, that is thinking. According to Buddhist psychology this is the sixth sense, but we have other senses which we sometimes neglect. So we can awaken the sense of seeing by looking at things, looking at flowers, looking at little objects, looking at the sky, the clouds. In fact we can develop concentration in this way. I know some meditators who find it easier to concentrate in this way rather than concentrate on the breath, where they can have complete awareness of what they are seeing, and they are fully experiencing the present moment in that situation. And when we see something beautiful we have joy.
In fact in the Buddhist texts there are many references to seeing something beautiful. On one occasion the Buddha was walking with Ananda, his attendant, and at some point he said: Look back, what beautiful scenery we are passing through! There is a section in the Pali texts where it describes how monks and nuns became enlightened, and in that section some of them describe how the beauty of nature was very inspiring, because most of these monks and nuns were living in forests. And sometimes, as we are living in towns, big towns, where we don’t see nature very often, we are losing this sensitivity for appreciating something beautiful, for learning to relate to nature in this way.