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.

The Cause of Suffering.

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The second noble truth is not so easy and clear. Because here you are told that the cause of suffering is your own models, your own expectations, your own ideas, your own assumptions, your own desires, your own wanting things to be only your own way. This is the cause of suffering.

I feel that the second noble truth is extremely important because it is only when you realise it that the third and the fourth noble truths can follow.

One point is that when you see this, you have to take responsibility for what is happening inside yourself. This is not an easy teaching. To have complete self-reliance and to say: I create my own suffering and therefore only I can free myself. This is because there are some easier teachings where you are told: I will help you, you have only to trust or surrender to me and everything will be all right. You do not have to do anything, only have trust, faith, belief and so on. Hence this second noble truth is an extremely radical teaching. It is not an easy teaching.

What is also difficult and subtle is for you to fully realise this truth. Take the example I gave this morning. Someone had stolen from you what you consider as extremely precious, something that is more precious than your own life. And when you were sad and suffering, someone asked you: Why are you sad? Why are you suffering? So you said: That person took my most precious possession. When we are angry and are sometimes asked: Why are you angry? we answer: This person hurt me. He did such and such to me, that is why I am angry.

So you see the second noble truth is something very subtle to realise. When a person’s precious possession has been stolen, he says he feels sad because this man stole it. But can the person respond differently with something other than that reaction? Can he let go of his identification with what he considers as something very precious? If he can do that, then he will realise there is no suffering. So this is a very hard medicine. In fact, some medicines are not very pleasant, and not very sweet. So this medicine that is presented is also not very easy.

The Purpose of Meditation

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Why do we meditate? What is the purpose of meditation? So I’d like to say the idea of meditation is to free ourselves from the suffering that we create ourselves. The Buddha often said: I teach one thing – suffering and the way out of suffering. So meditation can be seen as the medicine for our sickness.

One very important aspect of meditation is learning to be aware, learning to be mindful, learning to be conscious. Otherwise we are becoming more and more like machines. Machines can function very well, but a machine doesn’t know how it is functioning, why it is functioning. Awareness is the complete opposite of that: just knowing, just being conscious, being aware of what is happening.

For example, what is happening right now? You may be physically present here but mentally you may be quite elsewhere. So where are you? With the help of awareness, come back here, to be present, to be conscious of what is happening right here and now. This is one very important aspect of meditation, learning to experience the present moment and also learning to be aware of and to work with the past and the future.

A Very Important Discovery

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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.

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.

This is how we can try to practise when we are doing formal meditation. Now learning to do this in everyday life as well may be more difficult, but this is the practice. So if you can be observant, if you can be aware in everyday life, you can catch yourself: seeing how in certain situations we like certain things, we want them to continue, we like to give them plusses; and in other situations we don’t like them, we want to get rid of them. Just as when doing formal meditation so in everyday life, when you like something, when you identify yourself with something, see for yourself what happens to you, what it does to you.

Then you will realise – and it is a very important discovery that you’ll make – that we can’t always be demanding how things should be. What we are doing is making demands of ourselves, how we should behave, how we must behave; making demands of others, how they should behave, how they must behave; and also demanding from life, how life should be, how life must be according to our own expectations. Making demands is one thing, but reality is another thing. This is a simple way of seeing how we create our own suffering. So here again, it is very important in everyday life just to see how we create our own suffering with the demands we are making.

I am Somebody

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According to the Buddha, the main cause of suffering is this idea we have that there is an “I” or a “me” in all this: that there is an ego. So the ego wants things his way or her way. The best way, I feel, to understand how the ego works is that we have this idea that I am Somebody. So it is really funny that the Somebody wants things his or her own way. The Somebody is such an important person. And when we have this idea, that we are a Somebody, it is very easy to be wounded, to be hurt.

Actually if you analyse the emotions, the emotions are created by this feeling of suffering. Take anger. If Somebody wants others to behave in his way, and then sees that others are not behaving according to his feeling of being Somebody, he gets angry, thinking: they should have behaved according to what this Somebody says.

We are amused. We think it is funny. But when we are Somebody, we do not feel it in that way. We are really hurt, we are really wounded, we are really despondent. Take fear. Fear is related to this. This Somebody might loose something and so Somebody has fear. What about anxiety? This is very important. Somebody might make mistakes. So you are anxious. And if Somebody wants only plusses from others – how can others give minuses to this Somebody? It is impossible. You see, when you analyse it this way, how absurd our behaviour is.

So to see this leads us maybe to develop this sense of absurdity, to see the absurdity of our self-importance. So this is very powerful, when you see the second Noble Truth in this way, how you are creating suffering for yourself; if you can see this clearly, then the way out of suffering also becomes clear to you.

We are all Human

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One aspect where we need to use loving-kindness is learning to relate to our shortcomings, our weaknesses. When we make a mistake, how do we relate to that using loving-kindness? Because we are all human – and it is very nice that we are all human – but as we are human, we are bound to make mistakes. And when we make mistakes, how can we use loving-kindness is such a situation? What do we do when we make a mistake? Immediately give a big minus?

So hereafter, when you make a mistake, please don’t give yourself a minus, and without giving yourself a minus, you can start to reflect. This reflection is a very, very important aspect of meditation. I will emphasise that, introducing it as we go along in this retreat.

Relating to yourself as your best friend, you have a dialogue with yourself: Now what happened to you? What made you do that? What made you say that word? You must ask this question in a very friendly, gentle, kind way so as to just come to understand yourself. Then you learn to see different aspects, different accents to your actions. So in this way it is something very beautiful that, rather than suffer, rather than beat ourselves, rather than feel guilty, we will learn from our mistakes.

So please realise this: that this is not a matter of giving into that mistake. But rather understanding our mistakes and then learning from them, and then effecting a kind of natural transformation from that. If you can relate to your mistakes in this way, you will never carry them as wounds, which can be something very destructive, to hold on to these wounds, hold on to what has happened in the past.

In this way, when you see the mistakes of other people, when you see the faults of other people, then you can relate to them in this way with understanding, with loving-kindness, and this can also give a lot of understanding: without getting angry, without developing hatred, we develop more and more understanding about human nature, in whichever way it arises: whether in relation to ourselves, or in relation to others. So in this way we learn to forgive ourselves and to forgive others. This is a powerful way of healing those wounds that we carry in relation to our mistakes, and in relation to the mistakes of others.

Whatever Arises

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What does it mean that when there is insight, calm can come? One way of understanding this in relation to developing insight is that you can allow any thought to arise, any emotion to arise, any sensations to arise; and whatever arises, you just observe, you just watch, you just know. So from that practice sometimes calm can come naturally without your wanting to have calm and tranquility. And sometimes if calm is not there and you are unable to really develop insight in that way, then you can focus your attention on the breath and try to develop some calm and clarity and again start investigating and developing insight.

And in relation to insight, according to the Buddha’s teachings there are three characteristics, three important aspects which we have to develop if we are cultivating insight. The first is to develop the understanding, to realize, how things are impermanent, how things are changing from moment to moment. So while we are sitting now, your thoughts are changing from moment to moment; there is one thought, then another thought arises. So there is this continuous change taking place in relation to your thoughts. Sensations in your body are also changing from moment to moment. Your state of mind too is changing from moment to moment; sometimes you may feel happy, sometimes you might feel restless, sometimes you may feel calm. So whatever your state of mind, that is also changing.
It is a very important step to be open to the changes that you are experiencing internally, and then whatever changes take place in your mind and body, if you learn not to resist them and if you learn to be open to them and realize what is happening, there can be any changes taking place but there will be no suffering.

In the same way, externally, the world out there, the life out there is also always changing from moment to moment; sometimes good things happen to us, sometimes bad things happen to us, sometimes unexpected things happen to us. But here again, whatever is happening externally, if you can realize the fact of change, of impermanence, and be open to it, any changes can take place but you can still be free because you recognize that we have no control. Now I am told that very soon a typhoon will come here. Can you prevent that typhoon from coming to Hong Kong? But what we can do is to understand it, to be open to it and as it is said in the Buddha’s teachings, to see it just as it is. This is the teaching: I know it sounds very simple!

Avoid Two Extremes

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I would like to offer some suggestions on how to work with pain in meditation. One way is not to see the pain as a disturbance or as a distraction to meditation. So the pain becomes the object of meditation. When the pain is there, you can try to explore, investigate and find out about the pain. In everyday life, when we have pain what we do is try to get rid of the pain, but by doing that we never learn about pain. So here when pain comes you should consider it a blessing for it gives you an opportunity to work with pain and to understand it. You can explore when there is physical pain whether you can observe and work with the reaction to the pain. Sometimes it is the reaction that is creating the suffering in relation to the pain – by your not wanting the pain, considering the pain as a disturbance, and hating the pain. Having these reactions can create more suffering on top of the pain.

I have discovered that sometimes the pain can have a physical reason, and sometimes certain pains and tensions can be due to a psychological reason. If it has a physical reason, you can work with the pain in this way for some time and then change the posture.

However, in relation to pain you should avoid two extremes. One extreme is pampering the body, for example whenever there is pain you change the posture immediately or try to get rid of the pain. The other extreme is being very hard and severe on yourself, so that you continue to sit without changing the posture at all even when it is very painful indeed. I would suggest therefore discovering a middle way where you learn to be friendly and gentle to the body, to the pain, avoiding being hard and severe towards it, but at the same time not pampering the body. In practical terms, this means to work with the pain when you are sitting and then if necessary to change the posture as I have explained earlier.

If the pain does not have a physical reason, we may have to explore the emotion behind the pain that is creating the pain. Thus in meditation what we are trying to do is not to get rid of the pain but to learn to see even when pain is there, how far we can relate to the pain without necessarily suffering as a result of the pain.

Your Way

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Be open to any change that may arise physically and mentally and even externally. If we insist that change should 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 if you can be open to change in whatever form it arises, internally or externally, 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 on to 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.

From Moment to Moment

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It is interesting that in the Noble Eightfold Path which the Buddha presented as a way of experiencing freedom from suffering, mindfulness comes before samadhi. So it shows very clearly that what is important is learning to be mindful, learning to be aware, just knowing what is happening from moment to moment. From that the samadhi can come naturally. So in practical terms, when we are trying to learn to be aware of our breath, what we can try to do is to be aware of whatever is happening in our mind and body. Even if you realize that your mind is not concentrated, that your mind is not calm, just knowing it, just accepting it can make such a difference.

Back to the Present Moment

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Work can be seen as an opportunity to develop spiritual qualities like patience, caring, and compassion for others. I could draw up a long list of spiritual qualities relating to work. So it is possible to see the work you do as something you can use as a practice to help yourself and other people.

In your daily activities you can use your friend the breath to experience the reality of the present moment, even if only for a few minutes. You can make this connection throughout the day, especially when there is a build-up of work and tension and stress. Just pause for a few minutes. You can do it seated on your chair. You don’t even have to close your eyes, people do not need to know you are meditating. Thinking of your friend the breath, you can come back to the reality of the present moment and stop this build-up of tension that has been happening so far.