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.

Shortcomings

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There are two very important words: reaction and response. Reaction is an emotional reaction to a situation. Response is doing something meaningful, doing something creative without reacting emotionally.

When you see the mistakes of other people, without being self-righteous sometimes you can say: I may not have made that mistake, but I may be making worse mistakes, having wrong thoughts in my mind. Then when you see wrongdoings you relate to human frailties in an entirely different way.

It is good to have a dialogue with such people and just get them to reflect on what is happening to them. This may work, this may not work. If it works it’s fine; and if it doesn’t work, you should be able to see such human frailties and just understand that this is the way things are. So I would like to emphasise the importance of getting the person to see what he or she is doing, to get that person to reflect as far as possible by asking questions, rather than imposing your opinion on other people.

And I would also like to suggest that in such situations, without being self-righteous, to honestly tell such persons: I’m sure I’m having shortcomings in me and I’m full of imperfections because I’m still not an enlightened person, but I’m curious to know what makes you do this? That can touch people very deeply rather than the self-righteous way.

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Testing You

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Meditation on loving-kindness is related to all the techniques, because if you can learn to make friends with whatever is happening, in that moment there is freedom. The simple fact is that suffering comes when we resist something, whether in meditation or whether in everyday life. So loving-kindness, friendliness, gentleness, openness, allows us not to resist but just to flow with, just to be open to what is happening.

People who are unfriendly to you, people who are unkind to you, people who are unreasonable towards you; they should be our gurus, they should be our masters, they should be our teachers. As one of my friends put it, they really present you with a mirror. So when you meet such people you should be really grateful for them because they are testing you.

The important thing is, not to be concerned about what they are doing but to watch what is happening in your own mind. This is why we have been emphasising so much the practice of awareness, just knowing what is happening. Then when you realise that the problem is what is happening here in your own mind and not what is happening out there people may behave in any way but there is no reaction to that.

And this shows that we are all still human. According to the Buddha, until and unless we are enlightened we are all crazy. So we are living in a crazy world. The problem with us is that we are taking these crazy people too seriously! So the sane way to live in a crazy society is to realise this, to understand this and to have compassion towards the crazy people we have to be with. So this is how we can relate to such people – they should be our teachers. So I hope you meet more and more such masters, such teachers, such gurus in your life, because they are much better for you than this so-called teacher from Sri Lanka!

An Art of Living

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The simple thing about focusing on the breathing is that it is learning just to be aware. We try not only to learn about awareness in relation to breathing but to whatever is happening in our mind and body.

So it is very simple. If you are having thoughts you just know that thoughts are there. If the breathing goes fast you know now the breathing is fast. If you have unpleasant sensations in the body, you know there are unpleasant sensations in the body. The whole focus of the technique is just knowing what is happening from moment to moment. If your mind is calm, you know the mind is calm. If the mind is not calm, you know the mind is not calm.

If we are meditating to achieve a mind that is calm, then when calm comes we will hold onto the calm. This is how suffering is created. And so if there is calm there is also suffering. So what this meditation aims at is something very simple, knowing what is happening, just being friendly and saying okay to whatever is happening. And if you can meditate in this way, at the time you are meditating you are free from suffering.

And what is also important is to use the breath not only when we are sitting. This is why I have been saying, please make a connection with your breath. So in everyday life at different moments you can just come back to your breath. The breath is our friend, it will help us to experience the present moment, the here and the now. The idea is to sit and develop awareness, and then to use that awareness at other times. I would consider that to be more important than what is happening only when you are sitting, because it is in everyday life that suffering is created, problems are created, you have to face challenges.

Some meditators ask me: Am I doing it right? How do I know whether I am progressing in my practice? So I tell them the progress is not what is happening when you are sitting but how you relate it to everyday life. In Sri Lanka we have very rich people who are sometimes very unkind to their servants. So when they are learning meditation I tell them the way to know their progress is to see the way they are treating their servants at home. They are not very happy to hear such things!

So please realise our progress is in how we are relating in everyday life. It is a way of living. It is an art of living. It is a way of thinking. It is a matter of having a certain attitude towards life. So please see this clearly, please realise this. Please don’t associate meditation only with a particular posture, a particular time, a particular technique.

Why We Meditate

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We should be clear why we meditate: the purpose of meditation is to free ourselves from suffering. The Buddha often said: I teach the fact of suffering and the way out of suffering. So it is to really achieve a mind that is free and a heart that is boundless. And the techniques are rather simple but we complicate them because of the complicated minds we have. Human beings are very clever at complicating simple things! I often ask the question: What have human beings not complicated in life?

Learn from a Dog

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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.

A Beautiful Way to Live

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Thoughts are really words. Words and pictures, and they give rise to feelings. Let’s take a couple of examples. Let us think of breakfast tomorrow. Let us close our eyes and see what happens to our mind when we think of breakfast tomorrow.

So we see bread, we see coffee, whatever is usually there we see. Actually these are pictures that come, and then with the pictures some feelings will come depending on our likes and our dislikes. So actually our thoughts come in the form of images, words and feelings. It sounds so simple. And then what happens to us is that with these things, these pictures, films, we create our suffering.

What is interesting is that with techniques like focusing on breathing, when there are no thoughts none of these things are present, pictures, words, but we are just dealing with the sensations. Words and pictures are always from the past. We can never see pictures and images which we have not experienced before. So only when they are absent can something new happen. This is the beauty of some of the meditation techniques that they help us to have no pictures and so on.

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. So then when you leave this place you can continue to discover, you can continue to learn, you can continue to find out. 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.

Another Battle!

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When there’s friendliness, when there’s gentleness, when there’s openness, then the mind may start co-operating with us. Otherwise we tell the mind to behave in one way and it is going the other way and we get angry about it.

So it becomes a battle and becomes another big fight. Meditation for most people is a fight. Fighting the mind. I often tell meditators, you have enough battles in life, please do not make meditation another battle! So with friendliness we need to understand how our mind and body works, and then through that understanding, developing mastery is the next thing. When I spoke on loving-kindness I mentioned that one of the benefits is that when there is loving-kindness the mind becomes calm naturally.

 

The Mind in Opposition

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When we don’t want thoughts to arise they arise, and when we want thoughts to arise they don’t arise. When we don’t want emotions they arise and when we want emotions they don’t arise. Why is the mind acting in opposition to us? This is a very important question to reflect on. Is this the nature of the mind? Or have we conditioned the mind in this way?

I think what it shows is that we cannot tell the mind: Have thoughts, have no thoughts. It doesn’t work that way. It’s like telling a child: Do this, don’t do that. And the child likes to do what you don’t want him to do. So this is why I emphasise friendliness such a lot. If you want to understand a child you have to be very friendly and see what the child wants, so in the same way if we want to understand our mind we cannot be telling the mind to do this and don’t do that, but rather, with friendliness, try to understand it.

When a Thought Disappears

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There is a very interesting quotation by the Buddha in relation to his own thoughts: One of his disciples told the Buddha: You have so many powers, you have so many miraculous powers. And the Buddha said: My greatest miracle is that when a thought arises, I know a thought has arisen; when a thought continues, I know that a thought continues when the thought disappears, I know the thought disappears.

This shows it is not the absence of thought which is important. I like that very much. So we can try to work on the third aspect: when a thought disappears. For someone to have that type of mind they have to have a very calm mind, an alert mind, just to know when a thought disappears.

Images

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In a way we need to have images, even to have expectations. What is important for us to realise is in what ways we are using them destructively.

So that if we don’t have these qualities in us, if instead of loving-kindness we have hatred, hatred towards ourselves, hatred towards others, then it is very important to bring about a shift within ourselves by learning to be our best friend, learning to be a friend to others. In this way it is no harm having an image: I want to be a person who is friendly and tries to practise. Or you can still practise without an image but just developing these qualities and allow your behaviour to emerge from that.

So one can really practise at two levels: if you like to have an image, you can have it, but otherwise you can just practise without an image and allow your behaviour to arise from whatever spiritual qualities you have developed. What is important is to see whether that image corresponds to reality. This is what we have to work with. Images create problems sometimes if the images are unrealistic. When you have an image of how things should be and then what happens in reality is another thing, this is how suffering is created.