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.

Category: Meditation and Mindfulness

Life and Death

In nature you get death and life co-existing together. They are not separate. They are inter-related, inter-connected. This is how we should see life and death. Not to see them as separate but to see how they are connected, inter-related. Then ideally, whether you live or die it makes no difference. Then you know the way to live and you know the way to die.

Death is the most certain thing in life, and what is unfortunate is that we forget the most certain thing in life and get involved in other things that are uncertain. But if you can be with this most certain thing in life, then when we encounter it, either in ourselves or in others it doesn’t affect us in the same way.

In Buddhist meditation this reflection on death plays a very important role in the practice. In Sri Lanka, in forest meditation centres, when you visit such places you see skeletons being used by meditating monks to remind them of the fact of impermanence and the fact of death.

Be Grateful

We should all be grateful that we have been able to discover the Buddha’s teaching, and I think it is also a good practice to feel grateful for the Buddha. One meditation that people in some traditional Buddhist countries practise is to reflect on the Buddha’s good qualities. Sometimes this can be a very powerful and inspiring experience: to reflect on the depth and the wisdom and the loving-kindness of the Buddha, and how these come through in the teaching.

Imperfect Human Beings

It is O.K. to have expectations because it is quite natural to have such expectations, but realise that having expectations is one thing, reality is another thing.

When a bad thing happens, learn not to be surprised. Because we have to deal with human beings who can be forgetful and we have also to deal with human beings who are not so responsible. We should be surprised only if we find someone who is perfect! But there are no people who never forget and are always responsible. We should remember that we are living in a world of imperfect human beings.

Another suggestion, which is very important, is that you must show that you are a cobra. But you must learn to play it like a game. You must say to yourself: Now I’m going to call this man who has forgotten to attend to this very important letter and I am going to speak to him very firmly, in a very tough way. You should know very well you only pretending; you are consciously doing it but inside you have no hatred towards him. Some people only understand such language. So you can state really firmly that next time you do such a thing I will reduce your salary!

Another interesting suggestion is to try to have a dialogue with that person. It’s a very interesting exercise just to raise questions in such a situation. Now tell me: What happened to you? Why did you forget? Is it because you were not really interested, or you had other more important things to remember? Are you normally forgetful? Just get him to reflect on what has happened. So it enables that person to reflect on his own actions. This can sometimes be extremely helpful and it can reveal to him something that he might not have looked at before.

The Medicine

It is interesting that one meaning of sati, mindfulness, is recollecting and remembering. So we have to remember. If you are sick and if the medicine bottle is there but you have forgotten to take the medicine, you can’t be healed. So you have to remember to take the medicine at the right time. And I must say, sometimes the medicine in this practice is not very sweet. The medicine is not always pleasant, as you know. There are some medicines which are not sweet at all, not tasty at all, but sometimes such medicines can be very powerful. Like an injection: it is very unpleasant but it can work very quickly.

The Only Way

The Buddha said: Mindfulness or awareness is the only way. So with mindfulness we can investigate, we can explore. And this is how one can use mindfulness for exploration. There is a very interesting text which brings out the connection between mindfulness or awareness and wisdom. So awareness is compared to the surgeon’s probe, probing the wound or area the surgeon has to operate on. And the surgeon’s scalpel which is used to remove that wound or whatever the surgeon wants removed is compared to insight or wisdom. So with awareness you can probe, and with insight or wisdom, you can cut it out. To take a simple example, when you are angry you can try to explore why you are angry. Then you’ll realise: I’m angry because I am demanding how things should be. Then when you see the problem is with you, wisdom or insight arises immediately. This sounds very simple but really this is the teaching.

How Fear Comes

How does this feeling of Somebody cause fear to arise? What is the connection? So here, when Somebody is threatened, when this Somebody feels that something might happen to me, that I am in danger, that is how fear comes.

How does this feeling of Somebody generate anxiety about the future? So with this feeling of Somebody, you feel that in the future everything should go according to the idea this Somebody has. And if you are uncertain about that, then this is how anxieties arise.

So these are some simple, practical examples, how this idea of Somebody is related to self, and how suffering and these negative emotions arise. No-self or emptiness is when Somebody becomes a Nobody!

My Way

Because of this sense of self we have images, models, of how things should be according to my way. It is always my way. Naturally in everyday life things don’t always happen according to my way. That is how suffering is created in everyday life, with this idea of my way. So whenever you are suffering in everyday life, you can try to find out: what has been my idea, what has been my view of how things should be? Then you’ll realise how this sense of self is directly related to the suffering that you are experiencing. So in this simple, practical way you can work with this idea of my way and then when that my way is not there, when there is emptiness, notice how there is an absence of suffering.

Another way of saying the same thing is that with this sense of self that we have we feel that we are Somebody. Here again suffering and unpleasant emotions arise with this idea, with this concept that you are Somebody. So with this feeling of Somebody we would like others to behave according to the idea this Somebody has. And then naturally when others don’t behave in this way this is why we get angry. So you see the direct connection between this idea of Somebody, this sense of self, and getting angry.

Open to Change

We need to be open to any change that may arise physically and mentally and even externally. If we insist that change should only take place according to our own idea, then when there is change which does not correspond to that idea it leads to suffering. But by realising that this is the nature of existence, that it changes and that we have no control over change, then we can be open to change in whatever form it arises, internally or externally, and this will result in freedom.

And according to the Buddha, this fact of change and impermanence and this idea of no-self are very well inter-connected, inter-related. He has a very interesting argument. If we own things, if there really is an ego, a self, then we should be able to order things: Now things should happen in this way, according to my ideas. But as there is no self, no ego, we cannot do that. So therefore we have to see from the fact of change that there is no self-identity, no agent, only the process of change itself.

It is interesting that whenever there is suffering, there is suffering because you want things your way, and this your way or my way is the result of the feeling that you are Somebody. So whenever we are suffering, just find out what is the idea, what is the model that you are holding onto which is now being challenged. It is always some idea of how it should be, how it must be according to the ideas the self has.

Physical Pain

When there is physical pain, accepting it, working with it as a sensation and so on, you’ll realise the physical pain is there but it is not a source of suffering. You can have mental suffering, certain defilements like maybe greed, maybe anger, maybe fear, and all these things. So as with physical pain, if you can learn not to identify yourself with that mental pain, if you can really use the idea of no-self, that there is no-one really owning that state of mind, then those defilements or those negative things will be there but you’ll be relating to them in an entirely different way.

In the Buddhist tradition normally it is understood that it is only when these things are completely absent that we can be truly free from suffering. That seems to be a goal that is not easy to reach, but if you can see mental pain and physical pain in this way then it is within the reach of all of us. So this again shows it is not what is happening but how we relate to it that makes all the difference. Maybe that is why in the same tradition it is said the ordinary mind is the enlightened mind.

So I hope that in everyday life when you have physical pain and mental pain, if you have discovered the tools, if you have discovered the medicine, to a great extent you may be experiencing the pain but not suffering as much.

And what is important is that when you have such experiences you develop self-confidence. It also means having trust and confidence in the medicine and the Buddha who discovered the medicine. So when you have this self-confidence, when you have this trust, when you have this self-reliance, then anything can arise but you know what to do about it.

I’m Always Happy

A friend of mine was a Professor in a University. He said: I’m always happy, I don’t have to practise anything. He had money; he had good health; he had a good family. So in a way he was very happy and contented. Suddenly he had a heart attack and he fell sick. What a difference it made to him! He became so sad, so depressed. He had lots of fear of death and dying. It was so sad, tragic to see that man in that condition. So it’s only when one encounters such suffering that one can really see suffering and all its implications.

In such a situation if someone were to go to him and say: Would you like to find a way out of your suffering? naturally he would say: Please, please tell me. So we can be living in a world that we have created which does not correspond to reality, a kind of dream world, and then in real life when that world is shattered, that is when you see reality. And when that happens, sometimes it is too late. So this is the importance of the practice. When we start practising, one aspect of the practice is that we are preparing our minds for any situation in life. Then we will never be taken unawares. So this is my response to people who follow that philosophy.