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The Gentle Way of Buddhist Meditation
Dhamma Talks by Godwin Samararatne
Day 1: 6th October 1997 (Chi Lin Nunnery)
Why We Should Meditate
I'm very happy to see some old faces, some old friends and I'm also very happy to see so many new faces. So what I propose to do now is to give a talk on why we should meditate and then we can have a discussion. After the discussion we can meditate for some time and then we will end the session with chanting. Pali chanting and Chinese chanting.
So the question is why should we meditate? What is the importance of meditation? Why is it emphasized so much in the Buddha's teaching? So these are some of the questions that I'm going to explore in my talk.
The word meditation comes from the Pali word Bhavana which means cultivating the mind, developing the mind, mental culture. So the whole emphasis is on the mind. When you read the Buddhist text, you are so amazed about the Buddha's profound and deep statement about the human mind. It is amazing that he should have made this statement 2,600 years ago. In fact, modern psychologists, psychotherapists are also deeply inspired by the Buddha's statement on the human mind.
Meditation: Knowing the Mind, Shaping the Mind, Freeing the Mind
The idea of meditation has been expressed by a writer in these terms: knowing the mind, shaping the mind and freeing the mind. I like to repeat the words : Meditation is knowing the mind, shaping the mind and freeing the mind. So knowing the mind is understanding how the mind is working. If we do not know our mind, really we are like machines. So therefore it is extremely important to know, to understand, how our mind works and when we know our mind, then we can shape the mind. Shaping the mind is developing mastery over our mind and if we do not develop mastery over our mind, what happens is we become slaves to our own mind. So when we become slaves to our mind, then thoughts and emotions control us and that results in more and more suffering. Therefore it is very important to learn to shape the mind and when you learn to shape the mind, then you can achieve a mind that is free. So the importance of meditation is learning to achieve a mind that is free, a mind that is happy, a mind that is peaceful, a mind that has loving kindness.
Achieving a Completely Healthy Mind
It is interesting the things we do to keep our body healthy. We feed our body, we keep the body clean, when the body becomes sick, we go to the doctor and get medicine to cure the illnesses. We do so many things to keep the body healthy. An interesting question is what do we do to keep our mind healthy? Have you given thoughts to this very important question? We have to be clear about what makes our mind sick, what makes our mind unhealthy. What are the symptoms of the human sicknesses of the mind? So meditation is learning from them and achieving a mind that is completely healthy. Some areas where the mind becomes sick, we can consider some emotions as contributing to the illnesses of the human mind. I like to mention some of these emotions and I'm sure everyone here can relate to them. Anxiety, stress, fear, insecurity, sadness. I can draw up a long list which I think, as I have said, we all can relate to. Sometimes we don't realize that they make our mind sick. If we do not know that they can create our sickness, we can continue to have that sickness without finding a solution to the sickness. In one of my talks, I will be speaking about emotions and I will present to you how meditation helps us to work with emotions. When I speak about emotions, I will be interested to hear from you what emotions really bother you in this country. So I will be presenting some practical ways of working with these unpleasant emotions and then finding a way to be free from these emotions.
Taste & Experience Buddhism
Another very important aspect of meditation is that meditation helps us to experience things that arise. There are some who know very well what the Buddha taught, so they are very knowledgeable about Buddhism but they have not experienced anything from Buddhism because they have not meditated. They are like some people who know about meals but they have hardly tasted the food from the meals. So meditation helps us to taste it and when you have tasted it, you achieve a kind of taste for the freedom of the mind. And when you taste it, you really see for yourself how we can free ourselves.
Become Completely Self-Reliant
Related to this is another point, that meditation helps us to become completely self reliant. When you meditate you realize that we have to take responsibility for what is happening in our mind. Sometimes I define meditation with my own words as finding the medicine for the sickness we have created ourselves. So as we create the sickness ourselves, we have to find the medicine. When you are sick, if you want to heal yourself, you cannot tell the others to take the medicine. Buddha emphasized this point very much: to be self reliant, to rely on own efforts. The Buddha said: self effort is the best effort. And when we develop self effort, when we become self reliant, then what happens is we learn to become completely self confident about ourselves. When we have this self confidence and then when we see for ourselves that the medicine is helping, then that gives us more confidence in the medicine and it also helps us to develop faith, confidence in the person who discovered the medicine.
So in my talk so far I have been telling you some benefits, some aspects of meditation. And I have been trying to tell you the importance of meditation. I have been trying to answer the question : why we should meditate. So now I like to pause and then if there are any questions about what I have been saying about meditation, we can discuss them. So please ask questions. When I try to teach meditation to children, I tell them sometimes that meditation is asking questions and finding the answers ourselves. Asking questions like: "Why do we get angry? How is stress created?" So to raise such questions and to find an answer, meditation can be seen as trial and error so therefore I would like that you ask some questions and then we might try to find the answers ourselves.
Audience: When we do the meditation and after that, I would sleep. When I fall asleep, I found some vibration in my head, just like someone hit my head but it doesn't hit. What happened? Why does it happen?
Godwin: When we meditate, many things happen in our mind and body, sometimes very very unusual and strange. So what is important, what we are learning in meditation is : whatever is happening in our mind and body, just to know it is happening. And also learning to accept them, learning not to react to them. There are different stages in meditation so you may be experiencing certain stages. Sometimes finding a reason may not necessarily be helpful but rather, as I often say, to learn to make friends with them and to see them as learning experiences and also not to see them as problems and difficulties. So what I like to suggest is, whatever happens when you are meditating, that can be an unpleasant experience sometimes but just to know it, it's just a sensation and just to say OK to it, make friends with it and then it will pass. So I like you to continue and maybe on Sunday we have a day's programme and we can see whether it will happen or not.
Audience: I find your point on how children meditate very interesting. I want to learn something more about teaching children meditation. Firstly, I want to ask: how do children accept the concept of meditation and how do they practice meditation? And the second question is: you just mentioned the way to learn meditation is to learn to ask questions and to answer them, when we ask ourselves questions, what are we going to do then?
Godwin: So the first question is about teaching meditation to children. It is very interesting that trying to teach meditation to children, it has enabled me to learn from them because they have very simple uncomplicated minds. It is interesting for me to see the difference between trying to teach meditation to children and to adults. In a way meditation can be seen as developing a child-like mind and learning to see things as if for the first time, learning to be curious about things and being very honest and genuine about themselves. So I really enjoy being with children and trying to teach them meditation. So to answer your question, I never tell them that it is meditation. I ask them: now would you like to play with our breath? As you know, children love playing, so I suggest let's play with our breath. So I tell them now please see this as a good game. The game is: can you be aware of your breath from moment to moment? And sometimes I tell them to play hide and seek. Sometimes you are with the breath and sometimes you are not with the breath. So let us play the game for 10 to 15 minutes and see what happens. And it is so inspiring for me to see how completely still they sit during those 10 to 15 minutes, how they seem to be enjoying it, very happy smiling friendly faces. When I see adults meditating, I see different expressions on their faces. And what also inspires me most is when I ask them : do you have any questions, do you have any problems, do you have any difficulties, most of the time they say no. It's an interesting question to find out what we have done to our mind. It's a very serious question that we should explore. In fact it is really connected to meditation, related to meditation. So this was the first question and the second question was about, what is it?
[After we have asked ourselves questions, what do we do?]
Good question. Take the case of Siddhattha who became the Buddha. Do you know the question that came to his mind? Very simple questions: Why do people die? Why do people get old? Why do people become sick? Why do people become monks and nuns? So by finding an answer to these simple questions that he asked, he ended by becoming the Buddha. I will give another example. Newton, the scientist. Do you know the simple question that enabled him to discover the very profound scientific theory? Why do apples fall? Simple question but it ended in making a very profound, very important scientific discovery. Someone have said that a genius is one who is continuing to have the curiosity of a child, and we all have this beautiful capacity as children, and as adults we have lost this questioning aspect in us. So relating to meditation, asking questions like: Why do I get angry? When you ask that question and when you try to find an answer, what is the answer you discover? I like to hear the answer from you.
Audience: My friend makes me angry.
Godwin: It's always the other person. So the point is my friend is not behaving in the way I want the friend to behave. So you see from the simple question, you discover the problem is not with my friend but with me by having an expectation of how my friend should be. So as I said earlier about meditation, then you learn to take responsibility for your anger, and we stop blaming others and we start taking responsibility. And that's how a change, a transformation can take place in ourselves from the single question: why do I get angry? I'm happy you are asking questions, so I hope there will be more questions.
Audience: I am calm right now but when my kids get poor marks in school, I get angry although I love my children.
Godwin: I like such practical questions. I think all parents can relate to that question. I know certainly that this happens in Sri Lanka also. So how does meditation help in such situation? One thing you said is that you are now feeling calm, so one point to remember is that we should not expect to be always calm. We can learn from a mind that is calm. We can also learn from a mind that is not calm. If you expect to be always calm, as it happened in your case, when you are not calm, you suffer as a result. You are angry about yourself. You are disappointed about yourself. You give yourself a minus. So I would suggest that in the situation that you described, when you get angry, just know that you are angry. And tomorrow I will be speaking about the importance of the practice of awareness or mindfulness -- a very important aspect of meditation. So the first suggestion I like to offer is just to be aware of the anger, because if you are aware of the anger and just to stay with the anger, you will not be able to perhaps express that anger in a violent way. So just being aware of the anger and not expressing the anger enables us to develop some sort of control, mastery over our anger, so this is the first point. The second suggestion is by being with that after some time, you may recover from the anger. And when you recover from that anger, you ask the question: why did I get angry with my son? I love him so much, and here I'm getting angry, perhaps I'm making him angry. So when you explore that question you realize in a way, the problem is that you have an expectation how your son should be in class. These are reasonable expectations for parents to have but it's another matter to find how far that expectation is realistic. How far is my son capable of meeting my expectations? Shouldn't I find out from my son why he is not doing well in class? This is something very very important because with more and more meditation, we learn to try to understand other persons' behaviour and try to see things from the perspective of the other person rather than project your own expectations on others. So if you can talk to your son in a very friendly, gentle, understanding way: my dear son, what are the difficulties you have in class? This is something very important which the Buddha emphasized, to have a spiritual friendship with everyone that you have to relate to. It is very important for parents to have this kind of friendly relationship with children so that the child is in a position to talk to the parents honestly, in a friendly way, on the difficulties the children are having. I feel this extremely important. I know in Sri Lanka, some children are completely alone, there's no one that they can look for because they are afraid to talk honestly to their parents, they are afraid to talk about their difficulties to teachers, so they are completely lost and it is really sad when children are unable to confide when they are in difficult situations. So I like to stress and emphasize that it is very important in such situation to make a connection with the child and then try to understand what the child is going through, and this would be something very helpful, meaningful rather than getting angry. I think there is time for one more question.
Audience: We have thoughts, we have desires, and suffering. Is it true by meditating you can stop having these thoughts, desires and suffering.
Godwin: It's not so easy. It's interesting you mentioned about thoughts. I feel that it is the most important area in the human mind because from the time we wake up to the time that we go to sleep, what happens? There is continuous thoughts going through our mind. I think everyone here can relate to that. Here, when I'm talking you have your own thoughts going through your mind. I often raise this question: what are you thinking about from morning to night? Can anyone suggest an answer? What are we thinking about from morning to night, without ever stopping. So you see the importance of asking simple questions. What do we think about?
Audience: Most of the time, we think of ourselves, the "I" and "mine", all the time.
Godwin: Absolutely right, even when we are thinking of others, they are always related to you. Isn't that interesting? And the next question is in relation to ourselves and others, what do we do with our thoughts? What we are doing is we make judgement. And the simple way I describe that is we give pluses and we give minuses. When you remember some good thing you have done, you feel happy, big plus. When we remember some wrong things we have done, some mistake that we have done, some bad things we have done, big minus. And we do the same in relation to the others. The bad things, the wrong things the others have done, we give them minuses. Good things others have done, we give them pluses. So isn't it interesting from morning to night, we become teachers giving pluses and minuses? I know some people who live in a hell they have created and in that hell, only minuses exist. They have thoughts only about their mistakes, about their shortcomings. And in relation to the others, we have similar thoughts, so by that we can create a hell and we can really feel sad and live in depression, so this is how we create our own suffering with our thoughts. And you will realize there is a connection with thoughts and emotions. An interesting question to find out is: what comes first, the thought or emotion? Have you discovered the answer? What comes first, the thought or the emotion? Do you see the importance of meditation? So anyway, I will be discussing these things as we go along. Going back to the question, what we can do is what I will be talking tomorrow -- the importance of awareness. With awareness, just to observe the thoughts that are going through our mind and just to realize how we are using thoughts destructively which create suffering for ourselves and suffering for others. And also we can use thoughts creatively which I will be talking about later on. And the question you asked about desires, there again you see a relationship, connection between thoughts and desires. As I said, this is the importance of meditation. This is why the Buddha made such important, very very profound statements about how the mind is working. and through that understanding by using awareness, you see how we create our own suffering, our own problems. Through that realization is to free ourselves from suffering and problems, this is what meditation is. So we will be discussing these very important issues as we go along in the next few days.
Anyway I'm very happy that you asked some very good questions and now I would suggest you take a small break. So you can go out, and come back when we ring the bell, and then we can meditate. So I suggest, please make an effort to be silent and also please make an effort to be mindful. Just to walk slowly and just to know what is happening when you are walking. And as we have discussed about thoughts, just to know what thoughts you are having in your mind, just be alert, be attentive. So during the next 5 minutes, please also let us learn just to watch, just to discover what is happening in our mind and body from moment to moment and when you hear the gong, please come back slowly and in silence. Thank you very much.
[Break] - [Guided meditation] - [Chanting]
Thank you very much for the beautiful chanting. So tomorrow's talk will be about the practice of mindfulness and after the talk, we will distribute a book on a text which is based on the practice of mindfulness. So I like to suggest that tomorrow, during the day, please make an effort just to know what is happening in your mind and body from moment to moment as far as possible. Just try to know the thoughts that you will be having during the day tomorrow. And please see how we give pluses and minuses to ourselves and others and please see the connection between thoughts and emotions. And I would also like to suggest to please make an effort to be friendly, to be gentle, to be kind towards our mind and body. If you practise these things, what I will be presenting tomorrow will make sense in your own experience. So once again, I like to thank you very much for asking questions and then responding to my suggestions. So I'm looking forward very much to meeting you tomorrow also. And may you all be well, may you all be happy, may you all be peaceful and may you learn to be free of suffering and when you go to sleep, may you sleep peacefully and wake up peacefully.
Day 2: 7th October 1997
Importance of awareness
I like to welcome you once again. Like yesterday, I'll be giving a talk and then after that, a discussion, then we'll be meditating and then ending with some chanting.
The subject of today's talk as you know is "The importance of the practice of mindfulness", which is something very very important for the practice of meditation.
I am very happy to see some of you reading the little booklet we are bringing out today on the Satipatthana Sutta which really deals with the practice of mindfulness. It is also very nice to see some of you meditating.
Absence of Mindfulness or Awareness: We Become Machines
Yesterday I suggested you make an effort to do some practice of mindfulness today, so that what I'm going to say will make some sense in your experience. If we do not practise mindfulness or awareness, what will happen to us is we become more and more like machines. We will be doing things mechanically, habitually, repetitively and automatically. I think in this modern world there are lots of technology and machines, so that I think in a way human beings are being more and more machine like, automatic. So by doing this we are forgetting the reality, the art of living. And what is very unfortunate is when human beings are becoming more and more like machines, they are also losing the importance of feelings. So when human beings don't feel the very important aspect of feelings in them, then they cannot feel love for oneself, they cannot feel love for others, they cannot feel warmth for oneself, warmth for others. Perhaps let me explain why there is such a lot of violence in the modern world. So we become more and more violent to ourselves and more and more violent towards others, all these are related in a way to the absence of awareness, to the absence of knowing what is in our mind and body. So this is the first point I want to make about the importance of mindfulness or awareness.
Experience the Present Moment
Another very important aspect of mindfulness is that it helps us to experience the present moment, the "here" and the "now". In a way it is funny to think that most of the time during the day we either live in the past about what has happened or we live in the future on what is going to happen. The past and the future are not real but only the present is real, so it shows that human beings, because of their lack of awareness, are living in an unreal world which does not correspond to reality. To make this clearer, let me give an example of what is happening now. Physically you can be present here, you may even see me but mentally you can be completely elsewhere. So to be completely present, to know what I'm saying, you have to be here and now and being present, otherwise as I said, physically you'll be present but mentally you'll be elsewhere. A meditation master described his practice as: When I eat I eat, when I walk I walk, when I sleep I sleep. The words sound very simple but it means that he was most of the time being present with what he was doing. An interesting question arises: what did he mean when he said "when he sleeps he sleeps"? One interpretation of this is that even when we are asleep, with the dreams that we see, we are in a way half awake. So we don't really experience deep sleep. However, for most of us, when we are awake during the day, what happens? We are half asleep! This is what we call "living". So if you really want to start living, you have to develop this very very important quality of being present, of being alert, of being awake. That is why the Buddha is called the fully awakened one. The whole practice of meditation and practice of mindfulness is a way of awakening our mind, awakening the Buddha nature in us. And when we awaken the Buddha nature in us, the quality of living becomes so different. Now please realize that being in the present doesn't mean that we don't have to use what we consider as the past and the future. Sometimes we have to plan about the future. If you did not plan about the future, you couldn't have been present here. And if you forget the past, you'll not be able to go back to your home. So again what is important for us to realize is that through awareness to see for ourselves how we are using the past and the future. Psychologists say that sometimes depression and sadness are due to the way we are relating to the past, and anxiety in relation to the future. So here again with awareness, we need to understand how we use the past and the future consciously and deliberately, and then at other times being present in the here and now.
Use Awareness in Everyday Life
Related to that is something which I'm going to emphasize very much and I consider very important. It is to use awareness in everyday life. Even small things like brushing our teeth, combing our hair, drinking, eating. As I said earlier, we have been so used to doing these things like machines. So if you can really learn to practise awareness, mindfulness in everyday life, then meditation becomes a way of life.
I live in a lay meditation centre in Sri Lanka. What we emphasize in our centre is: how to integrate daily life, how to integrate your ordinary life with meditation. Otherwise what happens is that life is one thing, meditation is another. So if you are really serious about the practice, as I said, meditation has to be a way of living. So when you read the text that we are distributing today and the text which mentions the practice of awareness, you'll see the Buddha telling us to be mindful of most of the things that happen to us during the day. You'll be surprised to read that the Buddha says even when we are in the toilet, be mindful, be aware, be conscious of what is happening in the toilet. I call this the toilet meditation. Sometimes when I visit some rich homes and when I go to their toilets I see lots of books, magazines and things like that in the toilet, so I would suggest that next time when you are in your toilet, you'll see such a difference if you can just be conscious, just be present while you are in the toilet.
Another very important aspect is eating. We do such a lot for the purpose of eating but do we really eat consciously? Is your awareness present while you are eating? Are you conscious of what you are tasting? Are you conscious of what you are chewing? Now chewing is a very very important aspect. If you can make an effort to consciously chew our food, you'll realize a difference when you are eating. So when you consider this, you'll realize that meditation is related to ordinary things, not extraordinary things, not special things. Some have the wrong idea that meditation is having some special experience, some extraordinary experience. But when you consider some of the meditation techniques, they are ordinary things, simple things like being aware of the breath, being conscious of walking, being aware of eating. So meditation is simple, practical, ordinary things in life which we do consciously and then these ordinary things become extraordinary. If you can learn to do these ordinary things, then you'll realize that even for ordinary things you can do as if for the first time. Then you see others. Can you see them as if you are seeing for the first time? Can you relate to yourself as if you are relating to yourself as if for the first time without our past images, without our past judgments about ourselves and others? Can you see a tree or flowers or Buddha image as if for the first time? Please try that and you'll see that the quality of seeing is so different, it becomes so alive, it becomes so fresh, it becomes so innocent.
There is a very important book. It is called "The Dhammapada". And in "The Dhammapada" it is said that if you are not aware, if you are not mindful, if you are not awake, you are like people who are dead. So being like a dead person and being like a machine are the same.
Explore & Investigate Unpleasant Experience
Another very important aspect of awareness is learning to explore, investigate with awareness our unpleasant experience. There is a beautiful simile which I like in one of the Buddhist texts. It compares the doctor who is a surgeon and is trying to operate. So the doctor has to find out where he has to operate, where the wound is. So to find out, he has to use an instrument. So once with this instrument he finds out what the problem is, then with the surgeon's knife, he cuts it off, he heals it, he cures it. So what the simile is saying is that with awareness we can find out, we can explore, we can investigate, we can discover and with wisdom, we can work with the problem that we discovered. So in everyday life, we have problems like anger, anxiety, fears, sadness, guilt, so all these things really create suffering for us. Like the surgeon's instrument, we can find out, we can learn, we can discover, we can explore, we can experiment with them. And then when you explore you'll realize that you are creating the problem, and then when you see that, you can use wisdom to free yourself from that. You can use wisdom to understand what is happening in our mind and body. So through this understanding, we can bring about a change or even working with them, investigating them, exploring them. That unpleasant experience itself becomes an object of meditation. So please realize that meditation is not always having pleasant, positive experiences. Actually unpleasant experiences do not create any problems for us unless we of course identify ourselves with them. But the real challenge we have is also learning how to work with these unpleasant experiences, how to work with physical pain, how to work with mental pain. This is much more important than just experiencing pleasant positive experiences. I'll be giving a separate talk on emotions so when I speak on emotions I might try to relate, speaking about emotions in this culture. What are the emotions that bother you? What are the emotions that create suffering for you? So I'll be presenting tools, presenting ways and means of working with these tools using meditation. I'm afraid I have to stop now. So I've touched on some important aspects of mindfulness and awareness. Like yesterday, I would like to hear questions, specially practical questions relating to your life.
Audience: When we notice emotion arising, like anger, who exactly is observing this anger?
Godwin: This is the beautiful thing, quality of awareness. So with this quality of awareness, we can know: Ah, now I am angry and now I have fear and now there is no fear. So this was the point I was trying to make. If you do not have awareness, you don't know what is happening in your mind and then by this knowing, we can understand and then develop wisdom and then develop mastery over what is happening in our mind.
The question you want to know is who is observing the anger. This itself is a very important area to inquire. Thing like this can be a very powerful technique. When we are angry, when we have fear, when we have doubts, ask the question: who is experiencing this? And when you really inquire into it deeply, you'll realize that there is no "who" apart from what you are experiencing. Then you'll realize that these states of mind arise and pass away due to certain conditions, but we have a sense of ownership and say: this is my anger, my fear, my joy, my sadness. So this question on "who" helps us to realize that there is no owner but just conditions arising and conditions passing away. This is the deepest aspect of the Buddha's teaching.
Audience: When we see our own children doing something wrong we will get angry, but if we see other people's children doing something wrong, we won't get angry and the same applies to our wife or spouse. So is it correct to say that we should get angry with everything we see or what attitude should we take to handle the situation?
Godwin: Very good question. Because you realize that you are angry only when your child behaves in a particular way, or only when your wife behaves in a particular way, but others' children can behave in any way. You have a very important realization. And the important realization is as I said earlier, people with whom we identify ourselves with, people whom we think we own, they should behave in one way, other people can behave in any other ways. So we can even carry the point further. When your son becomes sick you become sad. When the neighbour's son becomes sick, no problem. When your mother dies, sadness. When your friend's mother dies, no problem. Aren't we funny ? So when you inquire into this: why am I doing this? Then you'll realize that we have this sense of ownership. This is mine. It belongs to me. And for what belong to me, only things expected by us should happen to them, for others, there is no problem. So the real practice again, the real deep practice is: can we see everything as far as possible without the sense of ownership? Can we relate to suffering in whatever form it arises? It can be with your son, it can be with the neighbour's son, it can be with anyone. This is real loving kindness. I'll be speaking on loving kindness and on that day, we'll be distributing a very important book on loving kindness and in that book it is said that the best way, the most noble way is like a mother having affection to her only child. If we can relate to every one in this way, isn't that a beautiful way to live? There is a beautiful phrase in this connection: boundless compassion, compassion which has no boundary, which has no division. So slowly, gently, gradually, this is what we have to develop, developing the qualities of the heart. I'll be speaking more about this when we are talking about loving kindness which is something I emphasize very much. As I said earlier, human beings now are losing these qualities of the heart. So it is very important for us to at least to know this and make an effort to open our hearts to ourselves, to open our hearts to others.
Audience: During my meditation sometimes I get a little confused. It seems that I'm watching my thoughts or my own mind and be aware of what I'm thinking. Now can you tell us is this the right direction: to watch with our mind, what our mind is working on?
Godwin: As I said earlier, you can say it is mindfulness or awareness that helps us or you can say it is the mind watching the mind but what is important is not the way to understand but the practical watching, the practical observing, the practical mindfulness that is more important than the theoretical question : is it the mind watching or is it the awareness watching? But what is important is to develop this quality of alertness, of vigilance, of being awake, of knowing what is happening, this is what is important. So after the discussion, we'll be trying to practise this.
Audience: You said earlier that we do things mechanically. I can observe that I am a machine but I don't want to be a machine. For example, breakfast. I have the same breakfast every day and I know I'm like a machine. How can we not behave like a machine although we observe the fact that we are acting like a machine?
Godwin: I'm happy my friend Peter has asked that question. A very very important practical question: how to start the day with breakfast? So I'll give some practical suggestions: how to relate to such a situation without being like a machine. I know with breakfast you have very little time. But even with little time, please try tomorrow when you eat breakfast how far you can practise these things:
When you see the food on the table, it can be fruits, it can be bread, it can be anything. Spend a few minutes just trying to see it as if for the first time. Look at the fruits and the bread very closely and see the different aspects of what you see at that time.
Another very beautiful practice in traditional Buddhist countries is before we eat, to feel grateful for those who have prepared the meal or at least to feel grateful that I'm able to eat my breakfast. There are people in this world who do not have breakfast early in the morning. So to feel grateful. As you know, machines cannot feel grateful.
The third suggestion is, as I said earlier, please feel the difference, make an effort tomorrow when you eat your breakfast, take your time and try to consciously chew your food, eating very slowly and consciously. There is a saying among the Red Indian Americans that they drink their food which means that they chew their food until it becomes liquid. And you'll realize that when you chew your food slowly and consciously, you don't require much food, this is a very important discovery you might make.
Another very important point the Buddha had told meditators about eating is to avoid two extremes. Do you know what the two extremes are? One extreme is eating too much and the other extreme is eating too little. So how to know you are eating the right quantity? Very interesting question. How do we know it? By listening to the body while eating. If you are listening to music while you are eating, you'll not be able to listen to your stomach. I like this phrase very much: listening to your body, listening to yourself, listening to your thoughts, listening to your emotions. So if you can eat your breakfast in this way, it's a wonderful beginning of the day and then during the day you can have this kind of awareness as far as possible, not the whole time, not to have moment to moment of awareness. But if you can have moment to moment awareness, it is excellent. Then during the day, as I have said, you'll be living not as machines but as human beings.
One last suggestion is at the end of the day, it is a very good practice to take your mind backwards and find out how you spent the day. Find out the moments when you are conscious, when you are aware and the moments when you were like a machine. And just find out how many times you got angry and also find out the times when you are not angry, this is very important. So when you do this kind of reviewing, sometimes you'll be surprised what a good person you have been. And this kind of reflection, this kind of reviewing can bring about a self transformation in a very natural way because you learn to see more and more inwards rather than outwards.
So now we have to stop our discussion. Now what I would like to suggest is to take a small break and during this break you can go to the toilet, you can do some walking but as we did yesterday and as we were discussing mindfulness, please find out in this break how far you can be conscious, how far you can be mindful of what is happening in your mind and body. To do this exercise you have to be completely silent. So with a silent mind, please make an effort to get an idea of what mindfulness is and then when you come back, I will try to give a guided meditation in the practice of mindfulness, so this would be a kind of preparation for the meditation. Thank you very much. I will ring the bell in a few minutes, then please come back. Continue to have this awareness, mindfulness.
To begin with, we try to feel happy. Feeling happy that you came here at 7:30 to listen to a talk and now that you are practising meditation. So let us spend some time now just feeling happy with ourselves, that we get this opportunity to learn to meditate.
Feeling happy that you are trying to develop this quality of mindfulness, awareness, of being awake.
Try to feel that happiness in the area of your heart. Let us now feel grateful that we have got this opportunity to meditate.
Feeling grateful is a very important spiritual quality that you may develop.
Can we feel grateful that we can sit completely still? And can you become conscious, aware that your body is sitting completely still, completely relaxed?
Let us now experiencing what it is to be in the present. So can you be with the peace and stillness in this room? Can you feel it now? Not thinking about the past, not thinking about the future but feeling the peace in this room now.
The past is gone, we cannot change the past. The future has yet to come. So let us experience the joy of the present moment.
So if thoughts about the past and thoughts about the future would arise in your mind, gently let go of them and come back to the present moment, the here and the now.
So with awareness, you are learning to let go of your thoughts, you are learning to control your thoughts, you are learning to develop mastery over your thoughts, by learning to let go of them and then come back to the present moment.
Just feeling, just knowing the stillness, the peace in this room.
Maybe you don't even hear any sound.
Now please open your eyes consciously and mindfully. And you change your posture, please do it slowly, consciously, mindfully. Please do not think that the meditation is over.
Let us now do some chanting. The chanting can be also a meditation. Using the chant to experience the present moment and also there will be some pauses between the chants, just feel the stillness, the space that the chanting creates in your mind.
So firstly there'll be Pali chant and then there'll be Chinese chant.
Day 3: 8th October 1997
Importance of the Dhamma
Most people believe that materials are important. Happiness lies in material things. In fact, the more materials you get, the more dissatisfied you are; the more dissatisfied you are, the more materials you want to get. Buddha has given a very powerful simile to describe this condition. He compared this to a dog with a bone. So the dog doesn't let go of the bone and is just holding on to it and is still hungry and still dissatisfied and still suffers from fear in losing that bone. Related to this serious problem of materialism is another aspect of this, another manifestation of this, now called consumerism. So it's a real challenge for modern man to live in consumer societies and still how not to be affected by the consumerism around you. As I see it, consumerism has many aspects but I see two dangerous aspects in consumerism. One is people are not clear about what they need and what their greed is. It's interesting, according to the Dhamma, we need certain things, food, clothing, shelter and medicine, what is called the four requisites. So the four necessary things are things that human beings need. So there's a place for material things but then as I said, when they become our goals and then when you are confused about greed and need, this is where it can lead to dissatisfaction and suffering as I mentioned.
Another dangerous aspect of consumerism is that the society that you live in starts manipulating you, and the danger is that you don't know that you are being manipulated. So you become like puppets, puppets in the hands of society that can create your own desires, can create your own greed and it leads to more and more frustration. So isn't this a sad situation of the human condition where human beings have the potentialities of becoming free, of becoming enlightened? We have the Buddha nature in us but this aspect is not looked at and then we become victims of the society that we live in. The simile that has come to my mind about this situation is that though we are grown up, we have become still dependent on what I call "toys". I'm interested to know the toys that human beings go into in this culture, this country. What I mean by toys are external things where you think are happiness, joy, peace and you start acquiring toys and you change one toy for another and your whole life is being spent on getting toys and then you are dissatisfied. So can I hear from you some of the toys that you are interested in acquiring.
We Become Our Own "Toy"
Godwin: In a way houses are necessary but then you are not satisfied with a small house, so the house becomes bigger and bigger and then that can become a toy and you are still dissatisfied. May be a beautiful new house but you're not happy. May be until you go into a bigger house. That can be a problem.
Godwin: Now that toy has even been introduced to Sri Lanka. Anyway we can draw up a long list of toys. An interesting question is: is meditation also a toy? Is there a relationship between these toys and meditation?
Godwin: I would suggest that with meditation, you become your own toy. This is the importance of the Dhamma. This is the importance of the Buddha's wonderful teaching. When you become your own toy, you can be happy, contented, peaceful with yourself. So the need for external toys, external things drop away because you find the joy and happiness from within. A very important aspect of this is learning to enjoy your own company. When mediators come to the centre I live in Sri Lanka, I tell them to spend some time alone and see what happens when you are alone and see what happens when you are alone with yourself. It's interesting. Some of the people who come there have never spent some time completely alone with themselves, without any toys. So what happens? They become lonely, they become bored. What does it show about ourselves? We cannot stay with us for more than 10 or 15 minutes at least and we want to escape from ourselves. So the importance of the Dhamma is that you realize that, you work through that and as I said, you learn to be your best friend. You learn to be self-contained, self-contented with oneself. Such a person is described in the Dhamma as someone who is at home wherever he is. So such a person can be happy with oneself, being alone, and such a person can be happy with others.
Not to Create Suffering Because of Making Mistakes
I like to touch on another aspect which shows the importance of the Dhamma is that with the practice of the Dhamma in any situation in life, you can see the Dhamma in any situation in life, as I said yesterday, even unpleasant experiences will become learning experiences. I know in this culture, people are afraid to make mistake because of the emphasis on wanting to be perfect. With this model of perfection, what happens is that when we make a mistake, we beat ourselves, we hate ourselves, we lose our self-confidence, we see ourselves as worthless. In my language, you see only minuses in yourself and when you see minuses in yourself, you see minuses in others so that you can create a hell for only minuses. So the importance of the Dhamma is that it enables us not to create suffering in this way because of our mistakes but as I said, we learn to ask the question: what can I learn from my mistakes? What does it indicate about myself? So that this kind of inquiry has to be done in a very friendly, gentle, understanding way without any minuses. Then our mistakes themselves help us to grow in the spiritual path. Isn't that a beautiful way of living? Learn from our mistakes and then when you see mistakes in others, you also learn to relate to the mistakes of others in an entirely different way. So we learn to appreciate our humanness, not the idea of perfection. Then we learn to appreciate the humanness of others. So the importance of the teaching is that we see clearly how we create our own suffering and through that realization, then it becomes clear, only we can be free of the suffering ourselves. Then we become self-reliant. Then we learn to have self-confidence that whatever arises, I know how to handle them with the help of the Dhamma. Then you learn to be your own teacher. And as the Buddha said, you learn to be a light unto yourself.
Life Becomes Your Teacher
One last point on this point. I have had the good fortune to meet many masters, many gurus, many teachers from many traditions. Do you know which master, which guru has inspired me? It is life itself. Life becomes our best teacher. So thanks to the Dhamma, when you realize the importance of the Dhamma, life becomes your teacher. And sometimes life can be a very hard teacher also, but it is always a good teacher. It can indicate to us what we are really are. So now I will stop and if you have any questions, please ask them. In the last few days, you have been asking very good practical questions relating to life, so I hope today also. I touched on some areas which are related to your life here, so please feel free to ask any questions and let us see how the Dhamma, how the Buddha's teachings can help us to work with these problems.
Audience: I remember in the Nikaya or Agamma, Buddha always taught his students to be their own uniba, it means an island. Even when he was dying, the last lesson he gave his students was: be your own island. I think this bears very direct similarity to what you told us. We always have to learn form ourselves.
Godwin: Yes and also and I said, from life. So it means that when we live, if you are really sensitive and open, and if you are really practising the teaching, then as I said, you learn how to relate to everything, what happens to you in life, what happens in relation to others, to the teaching. So as I said these experiences we have in life, they are used for our spiritual growth. There's a teacher who said that compost. Compost have things which are not considered useful, considered as dirty which we throw away. So all these things, if we can collect them, they can be used for the growth of vegetables and fruits. So I would say that what we learn from life, our mistakes can be seen as compost, that they can be used for our own spiritual growth. It's only then, as it was said, that we can be an island to oneself, that you can be self-reliant on oneself but what is important is if you have the conclusion that you know everything, that is the end of learning. So it is very important to have this "don't know" mind whereby we can learn from anything and we can learn from anyone. This is something very very important in the Buddha's teaching. Any other questions?
Audience: How can we be our own toy and be satisfied with ourselves, how can we be our good friends?
Godwin: It is interesting that for different reasons, we become our own enemies. And then we think that the enemy is outside ourselves. So we are trying to find the enemy outside ourselves without realizing the biggest enemy is inside ourselves. One aspect of being your enemy is as I said, seeing only your mistake, seeing only your shortcomings, seeing only your minuses. This can be a very very self-destructive aspect where you are your own enemy.
Another aspect related to this point is that you don't see the positive side in you, you don't see the good things that you have been doing. I meet many good people and they are following the spiritual path, but because of this tendency to be self-destructive, they don't see their own worthiness, they don't see their value, they refuse to see the Buddha nature in them. So when you realize this, when you know this, that you are your own enemy, then you learn to work on this condition, on this situation. This is the importance of awareness which we discussed yesterday. So with awareness, you catch yourself, you realize what you are doing to yourself, that you are your own enemy.
And another aspect is this very beautiful meditation of loving kindness. I emphasize this meditation very much. On Friday, I think I will be talking about meditation on loving kindness and it is psychologically very interesting. This meditation of loving kindness begins with oneself. So it shows that we cannot be friendly to others unless we are friendly to ourselves. So meditation on loving kindness helps us to be our own best friend, it helps us to make a connection with ourselves.
Another aspect of meditation on loving kindness is it helps us to forgive ourselves. As I said earlier, accept our humanness and when we learn to accept our humanness, then we learn to accept the humanness of others. So then it helps to be friendly with ourselves and friendly to others.
Another aspect of being your best friend is that we don't realize how we affect our own body in a unwholesome, unskilful way with our behaviour. So when you make this connection with yourself, there is a change that takes place, a transformation takes place so that whatever you do, your words, your thoughts, will be always be related to the skilful, the wholesome way, which should be helping you in your spiritual path. I'll be speaking more about this on the day I will be speaking on loving kindness and on that day, we will be distributing a very very important little booklet on the practice of loving kindness. Any other question?
Audience: You warned us of the dangers of consumerism and materialism, obviously there is certain renunciation to those things. Could you give us some advice on how to begin the renunciation so it's not all at once and such an overpowering obstacle?
Godwin: As I said, these are one of the greatest challenges we have: how to live in a materialist society where there is consumerism and still not be affected by them. So I'll try to offer some practical suggestions. So one suggestion that I would like to offer is that when you see things which you think you need them, again this is the importance of awareness, to catch yourself and to ask the question: do I really need it? And ask the very profound question: Why do I need this? When this obsession comes to possess something, we never ask the question: do I really need it? Why am I needing it? So when you are living in a consumer society and when you raise this question, you realize that it is because others are using them, and because others are using them, you want to be like them. So without your knowledge, you get caught in what is called the rat race. So your whole life becomes a competition, to compete with others.
Another practical suggestion I like to offer is learning to say "yes" to some things and learning to say "no" to certain things. What happens to us is that due to different reasons, we have been used to pampering ourselves. Pampering is always saying yes to whatever, the body or the mind. So what is important in the practice is again finding out that you're pampering yourself and then to say no in a very gentle friendly way. So it is very important in life, learning to say no to certain things. This is the only way to work on some other things that we have become dependent on.
The third suggestion I like to offer is, in a way, an indirect one. So with more and more practice, as I said, when you learn to be your best friend, when you have made a connection with yourself, then naturally you don't have to make an effort. You can live in a consumer society but then you are not affected by the environment. In this connection, there is a beautiful Buddhist symbol. The Buddhist symbol is being like a lotus. Where does the lotus grow? In muddy water. Now the lotus flower is able to grow in that muddy water without being affected by the muddy water around it. So this is the importance of the Buddha's teaching, that when you live within society, within the environment, you will be able to steady your way and not be affected by what is happening externally because a shift has been taking place inside you.
I think there is time for one more question.
Audience: I always feel bored when I'm alone. Can you tell us your actual experience on how you enjoy your life alone?
Godwin: To give a brief answer, when we are alone, when we feel lonely, when we feel bored, so what we do is, when these states of mind would arise, we give in to them, we try to change that by doing something. So the simple answer is hereafter when you have loneliness, when you have boredom, don't escape from them, go through the loneliness, go through the boredom. Yesterday I said a very important aspect of meditation is learning to go through unpleasant experiences, whether it is physical or mental. So in the beginning, it will be very unpleasant but then, this is the importance of the practice. So you have to go through the unpleasant experience and then, when you go through that, then from loneliness you experience what is aloneness which is entirely different from loneliness, thereby we learn to enjoy our own company.
So thank you very much for asking very useful practical questions. So now let us take a small break. So today the break I would like to suggest, to reflect. Reflection can be a very important part of meditation. So the reflection I would like to suggest is to reflect on the things that we have discussed today. And in that reflection, to see what was discussed, how it can be relevant, how can it relate to yourself. So I like to suggest that during the break, to use reflection in this way. And then after that, after some time, I will ring the bell, and when you can come back, I will present a very important meditation today. So you can do this reflection whilst seated or even when walking, whichever you prefer, you can just start the reflection.
Please sit in a comfortable position because it is very important that in meditation not to move when we are meditating. Please have your spine erect but relaxed.
Please allow the mind to do what it likes. If thoughts are arising, let any thoughts arise, thoughts about the past, thoughts about the future.
So let us learn to make friends with thoughts and just know from moment to moment what thoughts are arising in your mind. So it is very important to be alert and to be awake from moment to moment.
Now can you allow any emotion to arise, especially emotions we don't like, that we push away, that we repress, that we control. Can we allow such emotions to arise? If they are arising, can we just allow them?
If you are having any such unpleasant experience, can we learn to make friends with them, can we learn to relate to them without a minus?
And if there are no unpleasant emotions, just to know there are no unpleasant emotions.
So thoughts, emotions, sensations, learning to see them just as they are, like a mirror-like mind. No plus, no minus, just being with whatever is happening. Be alert and awake.
Learning to feel friendly towards our thoughts, learning to feel friendly towards our emotions, learning to be friendly towards our sensations whatever the sensation is.
Now please open your eyes slowly and when you change the posture, please do it with awareness. And please do not think the meditation is over.
Let us now do some chanting. It is very nice that a group of spiritual friends can chant together, so please everyone just join the chanting.
Day 4: 9th October 1997
Mindfulness on Breathing
I like to welcome you once again. As you notice, the talk this evening is on focusing our attention on our in-breath and our out-breath. This is one of the most well known and popular meditation techniques in all the Buddhist traditions. And it is also said that the Buddha became enlightened with the help of this technique. So let us see why this technique is so important.
Just to Know What Is Happening in Our Mind and Body
In Pali, this technique is described as Anapanasati, which means mindfulness of the in-breath and the out-breath. So in this meditation, the whole emphasis is on developing awareness and developing mindfulness. As we know, breathing takes place mechanically. So what is happening mechanically, we are trying to develop mindfulness, awareness. And as the whole emphasis is on mindfulness, what is very important for you to remember is that whatever is happening in our mind and body when we are practising this technique, we should learn to just to know, just to be mindful, just to be conscious of what's happening. So when you have thoughts, please don't consider them as a disturbance or as a distraction, but rather be aware that you are having thoughts. If you are hearing sounds, you just know you are hearing sounds. So if you are feeling different sensations in the body, whatever sensations you are experiencing, just know that you are experiencing different sensations. So you know these things are happening, you become mindful of these things and then just come back to your breath. So there is no need to have a battle when we are meditating on this technique. I often say that you have enough battles in life, please do not make meditation another battle. The whole idea of meditation is to experience freedom, to experience joy, to experience lightness, to be free of suffering but if you make it a battle, meditation itself becomes a source of suffering. So please remember this, please realize this, that the whole emphasis of this technique is just knowing or just being mindful or just being conscious of what is happening and then to spend more and more time with your breath, without a battle.
Experience the Present Moment
Another very important aspect of this technique is that it helps us to experience the present moment even for a few minutes. Because breathing is always taking place now, it is always happening now, if we are mindful or conscious of breathing even for a few minutes, you can experience what it is to be here, what it is to be present. Otherwise, most of the time we are lost with either the past or the future and we even don't know whether we are in the past or the future. So there can be lot of confusion, lot of disorder in our minds but this technique, just by being in the present, it helps us to experience the present moment even for a few moments.
See Our Breath as Our Friend
Another important point to remember is that we need to make a connection with our breath and the way we can make a connection with our breath is to see our breath as our friend. So let us see in what way the breath is our friend. One thing is that he or she is the only friend who is with us all the time. I don't think we have any friend who is with us all the time. So breath is the only friend who is with us all the time, always. Another reason is even when we are sleeping, our friend is active. Do you have any friends who will be with you when you are sleeping? But the breath, whether you are sleeping or whether you are not sleeping, it's always with us.
Our "Friend" Helps Us to Recover from Emotions
Another reason why he or she is our best friend is, as I said earlier, it is always helping us to experience the present moment. And the moment you experience the present moment, those moments are moments of freedom. Related to that is that our friend, the breath, whenever we are having an emotion, if you at that moment think of your friend, please try that, there is an immediate recovery from that emotion and then you can experience some space because you come back to the present moment. A friend of mine asked me yesterday that when he is at the traffic lights, he becomes impatient. I think we can all relate to this situation, especially when we are late for an appointment and you see only the red light. So poor red light. You can be angry with the red light, you can be impatient about the red light and this can create lots of suffering for us. So I told my friend, the next time he finds himself in such a situation, just relax, spend some time with your breath. So earlier you were hating the red light, now you can feel grateful for the red light because thanks to the red light, you can be with your friend, the breath. So I like to repeat that whenever you are having any unpleasant emotions, it can be stress, it can be anger, it can be fear, it can be anxiety, it can be guilt, any unpleasant emotion that create our suffering, no sooner you think of your friend and spend sometime with the in-breath and the out-breath, what happens to that emotion? I will tell you a simple reason why we can find relief in such a situation. The simple reason is when we are having an emotion, what make it bigger, what make it worse are our thoughts. So that in such a situation, if you can spend a few minutes with our friend, there is no room for thoughts to arise and there is an immediate recovery.
Our "Friend" Can Help Us When We Die
Another moment, a very important moment our friend can help us is at the time we die. In fact in one of the texts, it is said that if you learn to practise this technique and if you learn to make a connection with your breath, at the moment you are dying and if you are conscious, immediately your attention can come to the breath. I'm very much interested in this work people do with dying people, helping dying people to die peacefully. It is interesting that one of the techniques they used is focusing on breathing. So isn't it really valuable our friend helps us to live peacefully and helps us to die peacefully.
Forget Our Identification
Another beautiful aspect of our friend is that when we are with our friend even for a few minutes, all our identifications, that you are Chinese, Sri Lanka, German, English, all this is forgotten. In this world, there are these different divisions, racial divisions, religious divisions. Some of the problems in the modern world, maybe they recognize these divisions. So when you are with the breath, all these identifications drop away and then it is just the in-breath and the out-breath. So breathing is just breathing whether it is a Buddhist, whether it is a Christian, whether it is a Hindu, it is just the breath.
Experience the Calmness & Wisdom
Another aspect, maybe the last one, as time is running out, is that when we are with the breath, we can experience some calm, some space, some stillness in our mind. In Buddhist terms, this aspect is described as Samadhi, which is calm, tranquility, stillness. So it is interesting that this technique has the aspect of experiencing Samadhi, calm, and also as I said, it helps us to experience some insight, some wisdom. As I said, it helps us to see thoughts as just thoughts, just to mirror our thoughts, just experiencing the sensations, just experiencing sounds, so we can have this very important Buddhist insight: learning to see things just as they are.
How This Technique Help Us in Everyday Life
An interesting question is: does this technique help us in everyday life or only helps us when we are sitting on a cushion? So I would suggest that as I said, whilst sitting, we have this insight, we develop the skills, we develop awareness, we develop a non-reactive equanimous mind and then, what is more important, is to have such a mind in everyday life. So what I try to do in my talk is to present some points, some aspects about the importance of this technique of being aware of our breathing. Maybe there are more points but I think I have no time. I would like to now invite any questions about what have been said and any questions about this practice.
Audience: I would like to know what is the difference between the meditation we are learning now and the meditation that are taught by other religion?
Godwin: It's a very theoretical question but I always prefer simple practical question but still I will respond to that theoretical question. When you say other religion, it can include so many religions. So in religion where there is always some emphasis on meditation, there is always an emphasis on making the mind calm and making the mind still. In fact, in Christianity, there is this beautiful saying: Become still and be like God. So that in different religion, they may use different techniques but the principle is using those techniques to experience some calmness, some stillness, some spaciousness. Another similarity is that any tradition where there is meditation, there has to be an element of awareness, there has to be an element of knowing, understanding what is happening in the mind. So I would suggest that these two aspects are there in any spiritual tradition where there is meditation.
Anything else? I would like some practical questions relating to the technique.
Audience: How can I know what to do with the breathing and how to feel the effects of the breathing?
Godwin: You don't have to experience the effects of breathing. In fact when I give a guided meditation, I would try to suggest what has to be done. What has to be done is something very simple. Just feel what happens when the body is breathing. So using the sensations and the movements in the body, to be conscious, to be aware. So I would like to repeat that you don't have to do anything special. It is just being conscious of your in-breath and your out-breath.
Audience: When we are meditating, we may feel tired and sleepy. What should we do in that situation?
Godwin: Very good practical question. So one suggestion is, just open your eyes. Another is, it is interesting in the Buddhist text, it is emphasized to have your spine erect. So if you can have your spine erect, then to a great extent it is very difficult to feel sleepy or drowsy. Another suggestion is, I mean you are welcomed to stand up. So you can try some of these things and then I would say that they should immediately work. Anything else?
Audience: The first question is, in Chinese, we say that we have got only one mind and we cannot use one mind for two things at the same time. And during our daily life, we have to attend work and most of the time we are very busy, so how can we deal with our work and make friends with our breathing at the same time? And the second question is you said earlier that breathing is our best friend and is with us all the time even when we are sleeping, so when we have dreams or when we are in deep sleep, how can we take care of our breathing at that time?
Godwin: I'll start with the last question. What is interesting about our friend is that there are times when we can ignore it. Because when you are dreaming and when we are sleeping, to think of your breath, we have to have awareness and consciousness. Unless you are a very advance meditator, you can have some element of awareness while you are sleeping and dreaming, otherwise I mean who is the person who has awareness when you are sleeping and dreaming. So my response is, this is a situation where you can just leave our friend alone and he or she would not mind it at all. So the first question was that in everyday life we have to do different things. Now when we have to do different things, how can we do different things and still take care of our friend. As I said, to think of your friend, you have to stop your work. This is why I said when the traffic lights are red, when you are just doing nothing, just be conscious of your friend rather than be impatient about the red light. When you are having a particular emotion and when you are bothered about that emotion and at that moment, you will not be trying to do different things and at that moment, just come back to the breath. But still I like to respond, what we might try to do as meditators when we have to do different things. So here what happens is when we have to do different things, what can affect us is that we might have the idea: I have to do many things but it is possible I might make a mistake. Sometimes this is what creates the tension. As I said yesterday, in cultures where the emphasis is on doing things perfectly, rightly, you want to do always, everything rightly and perfectly. So I think in a way, in such situations, if you can just let go of this idea of perfection, this can be helpful. This is one suggestion.
Another interesting point is that although we have to do different things, we can, as you rightly said, do only one thing at a time. So that if we can learn to be conscious of whatever we are doing at a particular situation, then one can develop what is called moment to moment awareness in relation to what has to be done.
Maybe one last suggestion which can be very helpful is when you are working, when you have to do different things, as I said earlier, what is important is to become conscious of your state of mind. Are you anxious, are you stressful, are you insecure, are you relaxed? So it is very important for those who are really interested in everyday practice to constantly check out your state of mind. Whether you are working or whether you are not working, try to develop this practice of constant watching, awareness of what is happening in your mind. So when you have to do different things, after being aware of different things, just watch your state of mind. Is it reacting or is it responding? These are two very interesting words: reacting, responding. Responding is doing what is necessary without reacting. Reacting is getting anxious, getting fearful, getting stressed, tense and so on. So as you are still human and as you're still practicing, it is human that we will start to react in certain situations. So if you are able to be conscious even at the time you are reacting, at least later on, when there is space, where there is clarity, when you have recovered from that emotion, you can look back and find out: why did I react? Why couldn't I have responded to that situation? Then as I said yesterday, we learn from our mistakes, we can learn even from our reactions. So this kind of inquiry has to be done without giving yourself a minus. You do have to do this kind of enquiry in a very friendly, gentle, playful way. And then you can experiment with it, you say now tomorrow let me go and see how will I work. Will I react, will I respond? And in the reaction, how long will it last? So you are going with an open mind to see what is going to happen. These are very interesting, beautiful aspects of meditation, to see it as experimenting, experimenting with yourself. So when you try one experiment, you don't take up a position. So without taking up a position, you're just learning, finding out, exploring, experimenting. We can experiment, explore, learn from any situations.
So there's time for one last question please.
Audience: I am aware of myself being aware of the thoughts, then in that case, I cannot concentrate on my meditation, so what can I do?
Godwin: So the question is, if as I understood it correctly, if you are observing the thoughts, that is not meditation. If that is not meditation, what exactly was the question you didn't understand.
Interpreter: His question is when he meditates, he is aware of the passing thoughts and at that stage, he is O.K, he can still concentrate but when he is aware that he is aware of the passing thoughts, then that affects his concentration.
Godwin: So this is another point we have to remember, this word "concentration". Those who are listening to me carefully will remember I have not used the word "concentration" at all, but rather than "concentration", the words I use are "awareness", "mindfulness", "just knowing". I purposely avoid the word "concentration" because this is what is creating the vacuum. This is what is creating the suffering. So what I would suggest is, whatever is happening, if the mind is concentrated, just know that the mind is concentrated and when the mind is not concentrated, just know the mind is not concentrated. What is the problem? It is very important when we sit for meditation, not to have an expectation, an idea, a model of what should happen or what should not happen. In the Zen tradition, there is a beautiful word for it, to have the beginner's mind, or the "don't know" mind. And expectation is what creates suffering in our life. When we have expectations and when they do not correspond to our expectations, we are suffering in life and this is how suffering is created in meditation. It is very interesting. So when we meditate without having any expectation, you will just try to know what is happening from moment to moment. And it is very very important not to give pluses and minuses when we are meditating. So someone is expecting to concentrate and then when you think you are concentrated, you give yourself a big plus and holding on to the concentration and that's how tension is created. And when the mind is not concentrated, big minus. So in meditation also we are rating, giving pluses, giving minuses, giving pluses, giving minuses. This is what we are doing in ordinary life, so at least in meditation, please learn just to be open to whatever is happening.
So now I like to suggest that you take a small break and during the break, please make an effort to have mindfulness and when you move around, please make an effort to move slowly and with awareness so that you begin preparing your mind for the meditation. Please learn to walk slowly please.
Godwin: Please sit in a relaxed position. It is very important to sit with a relaxed body. Please realize we are not going to do something special so you can just relax.
So let us spend some time with our body. Just feel the body. The different sensations, the different movements in your body.
If there are thoughts, just let go of the thoughts and come back to the body. So feeling the body is one thing, thinking about the body is another, please see the difference. Here, we are learning to feel our body.
Let us learn to feel friendly and gently and kind towards our body.
Let us now feel what it is to sit with our body completely still.
Now please allow the body to breath naturally.
No need to control our breath or to manipulate our breathing, not to manipulate our natural breathing.
Let us spend a few minutes just learning to allow the body to do what it likes.
Now just feel what happens in the body when the body is breathing, the different sensations, the different movements in the body when the body is breathing.
Do you feel any sensation in the area of the nostrils? Do you feel any sensation in the area of the chest? Do you feel the rise and the fall of the abdomen?
Experiencing the present moment with the help of the sensations and movements in your body because they are happening now.
When the body is inhaling you know that the body is inhaling. When the body is exhaling you know that the body is exhaling.
Not thinking about the past, not thinking about the future. Experiencing the joy of the present moment with the help of the in-breath and the out-breath.
Please do not try to stop thoughts or control thoughts.
If thoughts are there, just know you are having thoughts and come back to your friend, the breath.
Just feel relaxed with your breath.
Let us feel friendly and gentle towards our mind and body.
No pluses to what is happening, no minuses to what is happening. Just knowing whatever is happening.
Now please open your eyes slowly and when you change your posture, please do it slowly, consciously. And please don't think that the meditation is over. Just continue to know what is happening in the mind and body from moment to moment.
Now let us do some chanting. So when you are chanting, please have your body still and please don't make any noises because chanting itself is a meditation. Like using the breath to experience the present moment, using the chanting to experience the present moment and to create space in our mind through our chanting. I like to suggest not to look at the paper because these are simple words and you will be able to pick up the words.
Day 5: 10th October 1997
Loving Kindness Meditation
I like to welcome you once again. As you know, the subject of the talk is meditation on loving kindness. The words "loving kindness" come from the Pali word "Metta". It is sometimes translated as loving kindness, as compassion and it literally means friendliness.
Loving Kindness Begins with Ourselves
It is psychologically very interesting that the meditation of loving kindness has to begin with oneself. So it is extremely important to learn to be friendly to oneself. The phrase I like to use is: learning to be your best friend in a most friendly way. To make this very important connection with ourself. Feel at ease with oneself. Feel at home with oneself. So to feel yourself as if you are coming home to yourself. So it is only when we make this connection with ourselves that we can really feel friendly to others. It is only then that we can really open our hearts to others. If we do not make this connection with ourselves, what happens is we start to hate ourselves, we start to dislike ourselves. It becomes a habit to give ourselves minuses. In this way, you learn to become your enemy in a way and this can create a lot of suffering for ourselves and also suffering for others. So this is one very important aspect of loving kindness, learning to be friendly to oneself, learning to open your heart to oneself and learning to open your heart to others. When I speak, with what I'm going to say, you can relate to yourself in your experience. Please make an effort to do that, then my talk will be a meditation by itself.
Forgiveness & Wounds in Our Heart
Another important aspect of loving kindness is using forgiveness. Human beings carry what I call "wounds". Wounds created by what you have done to others and wounds created by what others have done to you. I think everyone here, including myself, can relate to this. What happens with some human beings is they carry these wounds within themselves. So if you carry these wounds without healing them, again as I said earlier, we can create suffering for oneself, suffering to others, without knowing that the suffering is in relation to the wounds you have created. It can also affect our body in two ways. We can be having certain tensions in different parts of our body. It is related to these wounds, it is related to the repressed emotions. These wounds also can create certain illnesses. Another way it can affect us is that they can affect our sleep. Do we have fearful dreams, do we get angry in our dreams or be crying in our sleep? So another way it can affect us is that suddenly we can be affected by these emotions and we don't know why we are affected by these emotions. Suddenly we feel like crying. Suddenly there is fear. Suddenly there is sadness. And one cannot find the reason for it.
Another way it can affect us is that when we die the emotions, the wounds can come up. It is interesting to find out why at the time of death they should surface. While we are living, we may not look at them, we may repress them, we may push them away, but at the time that we die when our mind and body become weak, these wounds can surface. So it shows that we cannot live peacefully, we cannot sleep peacefully, we cannot die peacefully. Therefore it is extremely important to learn to heal these wounds. So meditation of loving kindness can help us to heal these wounds by learning to forgive ourselves and learning to forgive others. Forgive ourselves for realizing that we are only humans. Forgiving others by realizing that they are only humans. Also learning to let go of them by realizing that they happened in the past. We cannot change the past, so why should we carry the past as a burden to create more and more suffering for ourselves and others.
Make Friends with Unpleasant Situations
Another very important aspect of loving kindness is learning to use loving kindness to relate to unpleasant situations, unpleasant emotions when they are there. When we have unpleasant emotions, when we have physical pain, mental pain, we don't like them, we hate them, we dislike them, we resist them. In a way by doing that we give them more power, more energy. In such situations, we can use meditation on loving kindness by learning to make friends with these unpleasant situations. One very simple way of making friends with them is by learning to say to yourself: it is OK not to be OK (i.e. say OK to unpleasant situation).
See Positive Elements in Us
Another very important aspect of loving kindness is learning to see the positive elements in us, to see the goodness in us, to see the Buddha nature in us. One way of being our own enemy is seeing only our mistakes, seeing only the negative things, only giving minuses to ourselves. So it is extremely important to learn to see the positive elements in us, it is very important to learn to give pluses to ourselves, learning to see our goodness, learning to see our Buddha nature in us. And when we learn to do this, what happens is we see the positive elements in others, we learn to give more and more pluses to others, we see more and more the Buddha nature in others and then you come to a stage where you won't see a difference between yourself and others.
Be Kind to Others
Another very important aspect of loving kindness is learning to do kind things, learning to do compassionate things for others. When you develop more and more loving kindness within yourselves, then naturally your actions, your speech, your words are related to the positive aspect of loving kindness. And when we learn to be friendly to others, when we learn to be kind to others, when you learn to feel for others, this can also give lots of joy and happiness because when you see others happy because of your own actions, this can bring lots of joy, lots of lightness in ourselves.
But Not Allow Others to Exploit You
Having loving kindness is not allowing others to exploit you, not allowing others to do what they like to do. It is very very important to learn that there are times when we have to assert ourselves, when we have to learn to be firm with others. In this connection, I like to relate a story that I like very much and relating on the story I will end my talk.
The story is about a cobra who was practising loving kindness. So there was this cobra in a forest practising loving kindness saying: may all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be free of suffering. There was an old woman who could not see properly. She was collecting fire wood and she saw the cobra, she thought it was a rope. She used the "rope" to bundle the fire wood she had collected. As the cobra was practising loving kindness, the cobra allowed the old woman to do this. The old woman carried the bundle of fire wood home. Then the cobra escaped with some difficulties, with lots of pain, with lots of wounds in the body. And the cobra went to meet the cobra's master. So the cobra told the master, ‘See what has happened. I adopt your loving kindness. See the wounds, see the pain that I'm experiencing in my body.’ So the master very calmly, gently told the cobra, ‘You have not been practising loving kindness, you have been practising foolish loving kindness. You should have just shown, hissed, that you are a snake, you are a cobra.’ So it is very important that in everyday life we also have to learn what the cobra should learn.
So now it is time for questions. Any questions relating to loving kindness, specially in everyday life, any difficulties, problems you have.
Audience: Master, if we practise in giving ourselves all the pluses, all the good sides in ourselves, where is the line to be drawn?
Godwin: When we have got used to giving minus, when we have got used to seeing the unpleasant elements in us, when we are relating to ourselves as an enemy, how do we work with this situation? So this is the important issue. So in such situation, just to realize: I'm only giving minuses to myself, aren't there good things that I've done? So we are learning to also see the good things factually, objectively, without of course being conceited about it but simply as a fact. So we learn to see the goodness, we learn to see the positive side so you see, learning to see things as they are as the Buddha said. This is the important thing. Then as I also said, we learn to see the goodness in others which also helps us to appreciate. Also when we see goodness in others, learning to be happy when you see goodness in others. So in this way, you learn very important spiritual qualities which are helping our practice.
I like to ask a question and I ask this whenever I visit a country. Which is easier to do: to forgive oneself or to forgive others? So please reflect on yourself and give an answer from your heart.
Audience: It's not easy to forgive oneself.
Godwin: Does everyone agree?
(By show of hands, audience indicated who considered it easier to forgive oneself and who considered it easier to forgive others).
Godwin: Thank you. What does it indicate? It indicates in a way those who find it difficult to forgive themselves, it means that they are very hard on themselves. So they are too stone-hearted on themselves to say: I don't deserve to be forgiven. And then others who find it difficult to forgive others, they can be very very hard on others. So you see the importance of developing softness, you realize the importance of being gentle, you feel the importance of feeling tender to oneself and to others. So when you develop these qualities, naturally, you can forgive yourself and you can forgive others. So as I said, what we have to learn and I think it is extremely important, is to learn to accept our humanness, learn to accept we are imperfect human beings, that we still have shortcomings. In the same say, we have to realize that we are living in a world where people are imperfect, where people are humans, so you're bound to see the shortcomings, human frailties arising from others and from yourself. So according to the Buddha's teaching, we have greed, we have hatred, we have delusion in us and in others. So because of greed, hatred and delusion, we shall have shortcomings and make mistakes. Only someone who are completely enlightened will not have these shortcomings but as long as we are not enlightened, we are human, we are imperfect. So I feel that it is extremely important to learn to realize this, to accept this and learn to forgive ourselves and to forgive others and then when you can see in these terms, as I said, you will be able to forgive yourself and forgive others.
Audience: Due to the impermanence in life, there are all kinds of suffering. What can we do about it?
Godwin: Actually I would like to discuss only loving kindness because it is the subject that we are discussing. So I will give a very brief response to the question of impermanence. We suffer from impermanence because we don't accept impermanence, we don't accept change. We will take one example. We are healthy and then because of the law of impermanence or the law of change, we become sick. So we suffer because we have expectations: I should not fall sick. So in this way, when we have this resistance to change, to impermanence, there will be suffering so the way out is to be open to change, to be open to impermanence, to accept that as a fact of life. So this is where again the Buddha said: Learning to accept things just as they are, and not as they should or should not be.
Audience: You said we should learn to love this friend, but when we see the bad thoughts or bad desires in us, how can we love this friend when this friend is so bad? Isn't that like covering ourselves in a way?
Godwin: Very good question. We again take a couple of practical examples. Take the example of anger, when we get angry, what happens? We are angry about our anger. We start sometimes, hating ourselves because we are getting angry and then we suffer from guilt because we have got angry. So because of this anger and because you are relating to this in this way, you can suffer for days. So in using loving kindness you relate to the anger in an entirely different way. So rather than beat yourself, rather than giving yourself a minus, rather than suffering and feeling guilty, in a very friendly gentle way, as I have been saying so often, you'll find out: How did I get angry? So as I have been saying a few times, we can learn from that anger, we can use that anger for our spiritual growth. This is what I mean by being friendly. The way I'm suggesting helps us to work with the anger in an entirely different way, rather than giving in to them. It's not really pampering ourselves, but by learning to work with the anger in a different way, in a more effective way rather than suffering too much as a result of that anger. And another point is, when you are friendly to yourself and when you are open to yourself, you'll be also realizing when you're not angry, which is also very important. So then we come to a stage when we are livid, we know what to do with the anger and when we are not angry, we know we are not angry.
Any other question?
Audience: Learning to practise forgiveness is easier to say than to do specially when it comes to people who are close to you like parents, very very good friends, brothers and sisters. It is very difficult to forgive them. When it comes to friends who are not so close to you, not so friendly, then it's easier to forgive them. What can we do?
Godwin: Very interesting question which I think all of us can relate to. It is interesting actually to reflect why with people to whom we are close that they can create wounds. The simple reason is because they are close to us, maybe friends, relations, then we have an image expecting how they should behave. A good simile to understand this is that we put them on a pedestal by saying he's my best friend, so therefore my best friend should behave this way. She's my mother so therefore she should behave this way. So you see the demands we are making from them because they are close to us and poor people, they fall from the pedestal that you have put them on, and when they fall from the pedestal we don't realize that we are the persons who put them on a pedestal and we get disappointed, we suffer. And someone can carry these wounds throughout one's life. So one should really see what it does to yourself because of your ideas about how others should behave. To put the same thing another way, we forget that they are also humans.
There is time for one last question.
Audience: Do you mean we should not have any expectations of others or should we not be attached to people?
Godwin: I think it is natural that we have expectations but what we forget is how far our expectations are realistic. How far are you prepared to meet up with your expectations about yourself? How far others can meet up with your expectations? How realistic are your expectations? This is what one has to be clear about. I know some people who are very idealistic. Very idealistic about themselves, very idealistic about others and they live in a very idealistic world. This idealistic world that we have created is one thing and what we are realizing is another thing. So as one has to hold into this idealistic world, as long as we hold onto this perfect world, we are bound to create wounds in relation to your own behaviour and in relation to the behaviour of others. According to the Buddha, until and unless we are enlightened, we are all crazy. Crazy in the sense that we can't see things as they are. The problem with us is we take this crazy world seriously. And also a reminder of a very interesting saying in Tibetan Buddhism: Enlightened people behave like ordinary people. Ordinary people try to be like enlightened people.
I'm very happy that you asked very good practical questions on loving kindness. So now we take a small break and after the break, we will be having a meditation on loving kindness. So during the break I would suggest to please use a few minutes just to learn to be friendly to:
Learning to open your heart like opening a flower.
And can you feel yourself as your best friend?
Can you really feel it, feel it in every part of your body, your whole being?
Feeling yourself as your best friend, can you really say these words with some feeling: May I be well?
Really wishing yourself, that you will be well physically and mentally.
May I be happy. Feel happy that you are learning to do meditation of loving kindness.
May I be peaceful. Can you really feel the peace and the stillness in this room?
Feel the peace in every part of the body.
Let us now look at our wounds. Look to the wounds in relation to what you have done to others, we try to forgive us by feeling that you are your best friend, by accepting we are humans. And those who do not have such wounds, feel happy that you do not have such wounds.
You can feel the area of your heart and say to yourself: I forgive myself. I forgive myself.
Those who have wounds in relation to what others have done to them, let us think of them and forgive them. Those who don't have such wounds, feel happy that you don't have such wounds.
I forgive you. Forgiving you, may you be well, may you be happy, may you be free of suffering.
Can we really say these words from our heart?
When we are leaving our wounds, may we experience more joy, more lightness, more friendliness.
I understand this is a day for ancestors, let us think of the ancestors and especially our parents whether they are alive or whether they are dead.
Can we live with thoughts of loving kindness to our parents?
Can we feel grateful to our parents?
[End of meditation]
Let us do some chanting. I'm happy that the chanting is improving every day, both the Pali chanting and the Chinese chanting.
Day 6: 11th October 1997
Meditation and Emotions
I would like to once again welcome you.
The subject of today's talk is about emotions. What can be described as unpleasant emotions which create our suffering. We can consider some such emotions: anger, fear, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, feeling of guilt, jealousy. I think everyone here can relate to these emotions. I think no one here has not really experienced them. And I think everywhere in the world these emotions that I mentioned, people go through them.
So it is actually these emotions which create our suffering, which create conflict in us. So it is very important to find out how meditation helps us to work with these emotions. So I hope to present some tools to work with them. Some of these tools you might have heard me mentioning before.
Be Open to Unpleasant Emotions
So what is the first tool? The first tool is very difficult in a way, as I have been saying a few times, is learning to be open to these unpleasant emotions. It is a very strong conditioning not to like them, in a way to hate them, to dislike them and so on, because they are unpleasant when we experience them. So as I said, it is very important to learn to be open to them, to learn to be friendly towards them. So we have to learn to do this gradually, gently, tenderly in our practice.
Learning About Emotions
The next tool is learning to explore, investigate, discover, make an effort to learn about them. Because we don't like them, because we hate them, we never make an effort to learn about them, to discover about them. We can learn a great deal about these emotions. One thing that we can learn is to see the connection between thoughts and emotions. So we see how emotions are created, and when we understand and see how emotions are created, to a great extent, we can work with them, handle them. And when we are prepared to learn about them, discover about them, then we learn to be open to them as I said earlier.
Invite Unpleasant Emotions
Another interesting tool related to this is that when we don't have these emotions, invite them and allow them to come. It is very very interesting that when we invite them, they don't come. Because when we fear them, when we don't like them, we give them more power and more energy. So when we are open, when we invite them, the power and energy we have given is taken away. Maybe today when we are meditating, we will invite the monsters that we don't like.
Knowing the Absence of Unpleasant Emotions
Another very important tool is when these unpleasant emotions are not there, to know that they are not there. As I said, as we have given them power and as we don't like them, what happens is, we are afraid of them and by being afraid of them, when they are absent, we hardly know that they are absent. So by knowing when they are absent, we learn to be more and more positive. To give a practical example, when we have a toothache, we really suffer from the toothache but when we don't have a toothache, do we ever say ‘Wow! I don't have a toothache’? Even when we don't have a toothache, we think maybe it will come tomorrow. So it is too good to believe that they can be absent. So I would like to emphasize this tool very much, that when these unpleasant emotions are not there, just to know that they are not there. Maybe now you may not be having these unpleasant emotions, so please know that they are not there now.
Unpleasant Emotions Are Visitors Who Don’t Belong to Us
Another very deep tool is to realize they don't really belong to us. We have a sense of ownership even with these emotions. So when there is anger, you think it is my anger. When there is fear, you think it is my fear. So as you know, what we consider "mine" which we think we own, we don't like to let go. This point is presented in the Dhamma in a very interesting way which means learning to relate to these emotions as our visitors, as our guests. So we have to be a very friendly good host and we can really learn from the visitors who come. We should realize that these visitors come, and they stay and they go away. So when they come, we must say, ‘Welcome, please come, it's nice to have you here, how long will you be staying? It would be interesting to see how long you are going to stay.’ And when they leave you say, ‘Goodbye, welcome to come again.’ Isn't it a beautiful way of relating to our visitors? So there is a kind of playfulness, light heartiness, joy, if you can relate to these emotions in this way.
Experience Emotions without Words
Maybe one more tool is when we experience these emotions, we have given them words. So sometimes we are conditioned by the words themselves. So a very interesting tool is when these emotions come, to relate to them, to experience them without the word. Take away the word and see what actually you are experiencing. So that by giving a word we relate to it from the past but when we take away the word, you are really experiencing it from moment to moment. We are really being present with the emotion.
Summary of Tools
So let me go over the tools that I presented. So the first one is learning to be open to them. The next one is to make an effort to learn about them, to experiment about them. Another tool is when they are not there, to invite them. Another is when they are absent, just to know that they are absent. Another is to relate to them without a sense of ownership, just to see them as visitors who come and go. Another is to take away the word and really see what actually you are experiencing.
Now what is important is when you have discovered these tools and when you know that they work, you develop lot of self- confidence about handling these emotions. The biggest problem is that we don't have self-confidence and when we don't have self-confidence, in a way we are already defeated, we have already become victims of them. So when you have self-confidence, then you become open to them, then you come to a stage whether these emotions are there or not there make no difference.
See Emotions Just as They Are
Now what happens is when we have pleasant states of mind, pleasant emotions, we like them, we give them a big plus. And when we try to hold onto them and when we cannot succeed, then again, suffering. And when there is unpleasant emotions, as I said, we don't like them, so we give them a minus. So can we relate to these states of mind without a plus, without a minus, just learning to see them just as they are.
Now if you have any questions, please ask them, specially practical questions relating to the tools and maybe your own experience in working with them.
Audience: When there is emotion in general which appears in the mind, there is not much problem, we can deal with it with the tools that you told us before. However, if there are big wounds in our heart and when these wounds come out, great emotions develop, then naturally we react to them and we become nervous and sad. So are there any other tools we can make use of in order to deal with this sort of big emotion as opposed to general emotions.
Godwin: Can you give an example of what you have in mind?
Audience: It could be wounds which hurt many years ago or many lifetimes ago. It's just like a rat being pricked by needles.
Godwin: Yeah. When I spoke about loving kindness yesterday I spent lot of time telling you how to heal these wounds. So I don't like to repeat them but just to remind you that when you have these wounds, if it is wounds in relation to what you have done to others, it is just learning to forgive yourself, accepting your humanness, accepting your imperfections. And if it is wounds in relation to what others have done to you, it is again forgiving them by realizing their humanness, their imperfections.
Anything else please.
Audience: Recently, something happened to me and I watched my own emotions and it was very funny. It was like some very good cold water running through my heart, and it was a very big disappointment at the time, but after observing that I survived quickly. And my question is whether it is true that emotions have more to do with the heart and thoughts have more to do with the brain.
Godwin: I think it doesn't matter, my dear friend, whether it's in the brain or the heart. These are theoretical questions. We have to be very simple. In using the tools, we have to have a very simple, practical, direct approach. This is the beauty of the Buddha's teaching. I would like to repeat these words, it is very simple, very practical, it is very direct.
Anything else please.
Audience: You said earlier that we should not give words to emotions. So how do we observe the emotions?
Godwin: Very good practical question. I like such questions. Suppose you are experiencing boredom. So you take away the word boredom and find out what you are actually experiencing. Is it a sensation that you are calling boredom? Is it a particular thought that you are considering as boredom? Is it a particular feeling which you have categorized as boredom? So when we can find out like this, boredom can become very interesting.
Audience: Master, my question is: all human beings have many bad habits like gambling, womanizing, drinking, smoking. How do we handle these bad habits?
Godwin: Very interesting list. Actually, one of the aspects of meditation is working with habits. What has happened to us is that we have become dependent on these habits. So what happens is that we respond to these habits in a very very mechanical way. The word comes and then we just give in to them. So one suggestion I like to offer is, again this is very important in the practice of awareness, just to know when these habits arise, to be conscious of them, to be aware of them so at least we can work with the mechanical aspect of these habits. The second suggestion I like to offer is to see for yourself how it creates suffering for yourself, how it can create suffering for others and does it give you joy, lightness and positive spiritual qualities?
The third suggestion is when you are not experiencing these things, when you have not given in to these habits, just to see the difference when they are absent in your mind. Then you see in your own experience when they are present what it does to you and when they are absent what it does to you. So then they will naturally drop away on their own. And as I said earlier, it is also very important to develop self-confidence: I know I have these habits but let me make a real effort to work with them. To make a real commitment, dedication, devotion. To work with these habits can be something very very useful.
And maybe the last suggestion. It is helpful to associate with spiritual friends, noble friends. And it is helpful to share your experiences with them and they can be also very very supportive in the spiritual path you are following.
One last suggestion is please don't feel guilty, don't feel bad, don't consider yourself as a sinner because you are doing these things. Don't see them as problems but see them as a challenge that you need to work with.
Audience: We shouldn't put words to our emotions but if I have anger and I put it down and I'm suppose to observe it but when I do not have emotion how can I observe without emotion?
Godwin: Supposing we are working with anger. I think anger is a common emotion that we can all relate to. So then when we don't have anger, just to know: Ah, I don't have anger now. You can take your mind backwards and say, the whole of this morning I did not get angry. At the end of the day you might say : Oh, today, the whole day I was free of anger. You'll be surprised what a good person you have been and then you'll feel more and more positive about this.
Audience: With emotions, it's never too late to revenge. Sometimes you can put it down and forgive but it arises again, so what can you do about it?
Godwin: Good question. Because again we can relate to such experience. So I like to offer some suggestions how to work with such situations. The first suggestion is: don't be surprised. This is the way with emotions, sometimes they don't come, and then sometimes they come. So when they come, please don't be surprised. When emotions go, we come to the conclusion "now it is all over". So the problems is with our conclusion that they should not come. The second suggestion is, I mean I can go over the tools again so when they arise again, to be aware of them and to use different tools but without giving yourself a minus. This is what is important. But arising from that question I like to emphasize something very very important which is that we should not, as I said, come to the conclusion that I will not be having these emotions again, but rather when they come, if you can feel grateful for them, if you can see them as an opportunity, if you can learn from them, then as I said earlier, you come to a state: where whether they come or whether they don't come makes no difference. So that is what we should try to aim at rather than have this conclusion: Now they are over. According to the Buddhist teachings, these things completely stop only when we have become enlightened. So as I said yesterday, we are trying to be enlightened people even before we are enlightened. This brings up a point that I have been emphasizing very much in my lectures: Learning to accept our humanness, learning to accept our imperfections. It is very very important in our practice.
No more questions? Are all your questions and problems solved?
Audience: I want to know how to deal with sadness. Sometimes one just can't let go because you would even feel it in your dreams particularly when relatives pass away.
Godwin: I don't want to go over the tools again. I like to repeat that whether it is sadness, whether it is fear, whether it is anxiety, whether it is guilt, it is the same medicine. So about dreams, it shows that the sadness has become fairly deep that it even comes up in a dream. So please remember, please be open to the days when you don't dream about sadness. When the sadness is not there, just to be open that the sadness is not there.
There might be two types of sadness. One type of sadness is in relation to a particular incident. There may be another type of sadness which is not related to an incident but then you just generally feel sadness. So if it is related to a particular incident, that incident should become an object of meditation. To see clearly that that incident has been created by your expectations of how things should have been. And if it is just sadness that comes without a reason, what you might try to do is one thing, is to feel the sensations in the body while you are experiencing the sadness because with sadness, sometimes our thoughts can make it worse. So if you can be with the sensations, this may be helpful.
Another tool as I have been mentioning a few times is to come back to your breath because it is happening now. And it is interesting that all sadness is in relation to the past. Sadness is in relation to the past and anxiety is in relation to the future. So making a connection with your breath and learning to be in the present helps us to handle the past and the future. So by doing that, we learn to handle these emotions which are always related to the past and the future. And in conclusion I like to again mention in one of the tools that I referred to earlier, when sadness is not there, try to invite sadness and you might find that it may not come.
Time for one last question.
Audience: Your advice is that we should not label emotions with words and you already told us that if there is no anger, just to know there is no anger but when we say there is no anger, we are putting words to describe a certain experience, so isn't that contradictory?
Godwin: Very good question. I like that question. So if you consider the tools, you'll see sometimes we need to use words, sometimes we don't have to use words. So this is why there is a variety of tools, so if one works, if one doesn't work, you can experiment with the others. So what is important is you have to find out which tools are really helping you. So once you discover the tools that are helping you, you have to use them. It's interesting that these tools are related to each individual. We human beings have different conditions, different personalities. This is why I have been trying to present tools where it can cover all types of human beings. So the last point I want to make is that it is very very important in the spiritual path, in the meditation, for you to experiment, for you to find out for your own self. The Buddha emphasized this very much, to be self reliant, to be your own teacher, to be your light to yourself.
So now let us take a small break and during this break I like to suggest that you reflect on some of the tools that I mentioned and then discover for yourself what emotions are bothering you. So it is very very important to learn to reflect on such themes. The reflection is thinking about a particular theme and when you think about it, if other thoughts come, you should learn to let go of that and come back to the theme that you are really reflecting on. So I like you to do this. It doesn't matter whether you are walking but whatever you are doing, just to learn to develop this important meditation of reflecting. And when you hear the bell, please come back.
So let us do meditation relating to what we have been discussing. Those who have problems with unpleasant emotions, please allow them to arise now. So if these emotions that you don't like arise, let us see how far we can make friends with them. Let us see how far we can just allow them, just let them be. Just to relate to them as a visitor who has come. And if you don't have any unpleasant emotions, just to know that you don't have any unpleasant emotions.
Can we learn to relate to them without giving them a minus.
Can you really say to yourself, it is O.K not to feel O.K.
Can you feel grateful that this emotion is there so that you can learn to work with it.
Can you now feel confidence, self-confidence that if they come again, you know how to work with them, you know how to handle them.
Now please open your eyes.
[End of meditation]
We can do some nice chanting now.
Actually chanting is also a very powerful tool to work with emotions, especially if you can be completely in the present while you are chanting. Please see for yourself how chanting will help you. It will help you to create space in your mind.
Day 7: 12th October 1997
Meditation in Everyday Life
I like to welcome you to this one day meditation. I like to offer some suggestions about the practice today.
The first suggestion I like to offer is that every one of you should feel happy that you are able to come here. Today is a holiday and after working very hard for some days, the fact that you have decided to come, you should really feel happy about yourself. Usually we feel bad about ourselves but it is also very important to feel good about ourselves. So I like to emphasize this point, just to feel good about yourself that you are able to come here for meditation.
The next suggestion is try to feel grateful that you are able to come. I know some who want to come today but for different reasons they are unable to come. You should feel grateful that you are able to come and that you are here, present.
Quality of "Just Knowing"
As I have been saying, in meditation a very very important aspect is the practice of awareness, mindfulness, just knowing what is happening. So in this one day meditation, we will try to develop this very important quality of just knowing whatever is happening in our mind and body from moment to moment as far as we can. And even if it is unpleasant experience, even if it is something you consider strange, just to know that it is happening rather than be worried: Am I doing it rightly? Is it normal to experience these things? It is not necessary to have such thoughts but just knowing that this is what I am feeling, this is the sensation I am experiencing.
Another important aspect related to this is to be mindful, to be aware with loving kindness, just knowing what is happening with friendliness. It can be like a mother who is just watching, observing her only child with friendliness. So let us learn today to watch, to observe, to find out, just to know what is happening in our mind and body like a mother watching her only child, with friendliness, with gentleness, with openness.
Learn to Slow Down
Related to mindfulness is another suggestion I like to offer, is let us learn to slow down today. I know in Hong Kong you have to move very fast because the speed here is very fast. Today we will make it a point to learn to relax and just to do things very slowly. Slowly and also in a very relaxed way.
Practice of Silence
Another suggestion I like to offer is the practice of silence. I know it is very difficult for some people to be silent because it is a very very strong habit that we have. So today let us make an effort just to be silent with ourselves and you will see a connection between awareness, mindfulness, and silence. The more aware you are, the more silent you become and the more silent you become, mindfulness will come naturally. You'll enjoy the space that silence creates in your mind.
Learn to Be Alone with Ourselves
Another aspect of silence is learning to be alone with ourselves. So today, please try to be silent and just being alone with yourselves. As I said in one occasion in one of the talks, we have become so dependent on external things, so today we will try just to be friendly and to see whether we can be in our own company and enjoy our own company. Learning to be our best friend. So it is very very important to make this connection with ourselves where we see ourselves as our best friend, the most precious friend we have, we try to make a connection with oneself.
So today there will be some group discussions. So any problems, any difficulties you have, we can discuss the problems or difficulties you may be experiencing but still it is very very important in meditation to be self reliant, to have our own methods. The Buddha said self-effort is the best effort and being self-reliant. Another very important suggestion I like to offer is that we will try to develop self-confidence today. To have self-confidence that you can handle whatever is arising in your mind and body. In meditation, this is very very important, to have this self-reliance, to have this self-confidence, just to know what is happening in the mind and the body and then learning from them, being open to them. So today we will try to be like children, trying to learn, making discoveries about what is happening in our mind and body. It is very very important to have this childlike quality and learning, finding out, being curious about what are happening in our mind and body, which are something we take for granted. So see meditation as a voyage of self discovery and if you can have this openness, then we can learn from any experience we are having today. As I said, it can be pleasant, it can be unpleasant but learning to ask the questions: What I can learn from this? What does it show to me? And so this kind of attitude to meditation is very very important.
Don’t Expect to Achieve Something Special
One last suggestion is: please do not have much expectation that you are going to achieve something very special. Meditation is nothing special. It's just being open to ordinary things. It's nothing extraordinary. Please remember that. Please realize that. This is something beautiful about meditation. So it is not results that we are going to achieve but the practice itself, that is the result, knowing what is happening is the result, not what comes after. Please remember this. Maybe in this culture there is lots of emphasis on being goal oriented, of achieving result. So in meditation, the result is the practice. This is what is very very interesting about the meditation. So the result is just being open, knowing what is happening from moment to moment. So you are experiencing every moment.
These are some very practical suggestions I like to offer you for today. So as you can see from the program, there is yoga, there is walking meditation, there is standing meditation, there is group discussion, chanting, there will be so many things happening today. So let see everything as part of the practice. Even when we have lunch, let us learn to make it part of the practice. I will tell you how to eat our lunch with a meditative mind.
Let us now do our sitting meditation. So those who like to stand and move your body before the sitting, you are free to do that.
Now please sit in a comfortable position
Now please close your eyes and please spend some time just learning to relax yourself, just to relax your body. Just to feel comfortable with yourself.
Now please spend some time feeling happy you are meditating now. Feeling good about what you are trying to learn.
Now what you are going to do in the present meditation is something very very simple. So until you hear the bell, just know from moment to moment what you are hearing, the thoughts that you are having, the sensations you are experiencing in the body. So it is something very simple that everyone can do. What is important is to be alert, to be awake, to be present, to be alive from moment to moment.
If anyone becomes sleepy and drowsy, please open your eyes.
We hear sounds, we have thoughts, we experience sensations, we may be having emotions, just knowing from moment to moment all these things that are happening. Making friends with them, learning to say O.K to them.
If you are having any unpleasant sensations in the body, just be open to them, make friends with them, just to be aware of them.
It's like learning to say O.K to the noises that you are hearing.
Do you know each thought that arises and passes away in your mind ?
Please open your eyes and when you change your posture, just know you are doing that and feel the different sensations in the body. So please continue to know what is happening in your mind and body from moment to moment.
One can meditate in four postures, sitting, standing, walking, lying down. So today we will be trying to practise in three postures, sitting, standing, walking.
Now let us do some standing meditation for some time. Please stand slowly, knowing that you are going to stand and observing the intention to stand. Now just feel what it is to stand. Feel the different sensations, the different movements in your body. If you are experiencing any unpleasant sensations, painful sensations in the body just to know them and just to be open to them, just to say OK to them. And if you are experiencing any pleasant sensations in the body, just to know that you are having pleasant sensations.
Try to feel every part of your body, the different sensations, the different movements in your body. And learn to feel friendly, gentle and kind to your body. And when thoughts come, learn to let go of them and come back to the body. So please use your body to experience the present moment, the here and the now.
Please learn to feel the body rather than think about the body, please see the difference.
And just feel what it is to stand completely still.
Learn to gently let go of the thought and come back to your body. To be in the present with the help of your body, the feelings, the sensations, the different movements.
Finding the sensations and the feelings in the body more interesting than your thoughts.
Now we will be doing some walking meditation. So the idea of walking meditation is again, conscious walking. So you can walk slowly and just being mindful of your walking. So when you walk, you have to feel the different sensations in the body while you are walking. The thoughts will come but please learn to let go of the thoughts and come back to the present, that is walking. So now we have to organize how we can do walking meditation. I would suggest that we can do it in two groups. One group can walk on the stage and the other group can walk here. So the two groups can get into two circles following one after the other. And while you are walking I will try to offer some suggestions about the practice.
Whatever you are doing, please do it slowly, consciously with mindfulness.
So please walk slowly, consciously. Feeling the sensations in your feet. Using walking to experience the present moment.
Please have your hands in front, folded.
Please walk slowly so that you can be conscious of all the movements, the sensations in your body when you are walking. So let go of your thoughts and come back to the present with the help of walking. Just walking in a very relaxed way.
Learning to enjoy the simple act of walking.
Please look at the feet of the person in front.
Please look at the feet of the person in front without looking everywhere.
When you are lifting your feet you know that you are lifting your feet.
Just feel the earth with your feet.
Learning to relax with your walking.
Learning to walk consciously.
Can you walk as if you are walking on lotus flowers, gently, tenderly.
Being conscious of each step.
Now please stand wherever you are.
Now please stand completely still with your eyes closed.
You can use the sound to experience the present moment.
Just being in the present with the help of hearing.
Can we hear the sounds very sharply, very clearly as if for the first time?
Now it's time for yoga. So I like to mention a few points about the connection between meditation and yoga. One thing is when you do yoga, you learn to be aware, mindful of your body, you learn to relax your body, you learn to be friendly and kind towards the body, you learn to use yoga exercises to experience the present moment. These are some aspects of yoga in connection with meditation. If there is anyone who will not be doing yoga, please refrain from speaking. You can do some walking meditation in some place you like to. You can sit on a chair or somewhere calmly just observing your mind, what is happening in your mind from moment to moment. So please make use of this opportunity for those who are not doing yoga. Now the yoga Master will take over. Thank you.
Meditation: Knowing the Breathing
During meditation please don't walk out of this room.
So I like you to continue to be aware of your body. You can close your eyes and just feel the different sensations, the different movements in your body.
Learning to feel the body, learning to feel friendly towards the body.
Feel grateful that you have this body and that we can use the body for our practice.
Now just feel what it is to sit in this posture.
Can you feel relaxed with this posture?
If you can relax your body, you can relax your mind.
Feeling relaxed is not resisting anything in the body and in the mind.
Let us now spend some time with our breath. So please allow your body to breath naturally.
Let the body breath the way the body likes to breath.
When the body is exhaling you know that the body is exhaling. When the body is inhaling you know that the body is inhaling.
Having your complete and full attention on the in breath and the out breath.
It is natural that you will have thoughts. Know that you are having thoughts. Don't resist them, don't dislike them, but pay more and more attention on the in breath and the out breath.
If you are having any unpleasant sensations in the body, please learn to be mindful of them, to be aware of them, learning to make friends with them, learning to say OK to unpleasant sensations.
(Chanting) - (Bell)
Eating as a Meditation
In a few minutes we will be eating our lunch. So I like to tell you how eating can be a meditation. Here again, we will make an effort to eat mindfully, to eat consciously, to eat in the present as far as possible when you are eating. And please make a conscious effort to chew your food. So slowly, consciously chewing your food. And when you are eating, observe the likes and the dislikes you might have in your mind. Just to know the likes and dislikes when they arise. And when there are no likes and dislikes also to know that there are no likes, no dislikes. All this can be discovered and learned only if you can eat in silence.
It is also important to learn to avoid the two extremes. Avoid eating too much and for eating too little. For meditation it is very important to know the right quantity of food. And you can only learn the right quantity of food if you can listen to the body while you are eating.
Now when you turn, don't try to turn very quickly but slowly. Be aware of all the movements in your standing. Observing the intention to stand. And please do conscious walking from here to the place you are going to eat. So please walk slowly and in complete silence.
We'll be meeting again after one hour for group discussions. So thank you very much.
So you can patiently wait for the lunch to arrive. So this can be also a very important practice.
What I would like to discuss with you is what actually happen when you are meditating and doing walking meditation, doing yoga and so on. Just to share your experience and ask questions in relation to your experience while you were meditating this morning.
So can I ask are there any problems, questions about sitting meditation? In the morning I said just sit and just try to know what is happening in your mind and body. So any questions, any difficulties about this?
Question: When I meditate my head kind of vibrates and my body also moves, and the intention is to incline forward or to the left and at times to the right. I like to know if there is any problem with that, any side effects with that.
Godwin: Actually I like to meet you individually. I saw what has happened to your body so I like to meet you individually and talk to you about more aspects, more details about what is happening.
Question: I want to know if there is any "should be" or "should not be" when we meditate. For example, when I'm doing the sitting meditation, I can't stop thinking. It seems that when I'm doing the walking meditation, the situation is better but when I'm sitting, when thinking comes out, I have a conflict whether to stop it or just allow it.
Godwin: I'm happy you have raised that question because it is a very very common problem. It is not possible to stop thinking. The more we try to stop thinking, the more thoughts we have. That is why when I gave the guided meditation, I said: it is natural that thoughts will arise. So in the first meditation we did, what we are trying to do is also to be aware, to be mindful of the thoughts themselves. Thoughts, sounds, sensations whatever there is in the mind and the body. So in that meditation if you have thoughts, there is no need to have a conflict.
And in the second meditation we did, in which we were trying to be aware of our breath, when thoughts come, we should be aware, mindful that thoughts are coming, to make friends with them, not to have a conflict and then come back to the breath. But then we can be aware of the breath for a few minutes, then again thoughts will come. This is the nature of the mind that we don't have any control. So meditation is understanding how our minds work, making friends with our mind and whatever is happening, and training to slowly, gently coming back to the breath. So it is very very important, even when we are not sitting, to continue to be aware and mindful of the thoughts that we are having. So even while sitting, while eating, we are having thoughts. So whatever we are doing, it's a very good practice to be conscious of our thoughts, not only when we are meditating. And we can learn a great deal about our thoughts by just watching, just knowing: What are the thoughts that I'm having? So most thoughts are either about ourselves and about others. And sometimes the thoughts are negative about yourself, negative about others, so it's just to know how we are having negative thoughts about ourselves and others and how when have negative thoughts, what emotions are created. So these are very important insights to develop by watching thoughts. Do we have thoughts more about the past? Do we have more thoughts about the future? Why do I have more thoughts about the past? What happens when I think about the future? Do I have anxiety? So this is why we have to find out, learn about the thoughts and how the thoughts can create emotions and how they can create suffering. This is a very very important aspect of the practice. So it is not only stopping thoughts but understanding, learning, discovering about them.
So any other questions? Any other difficulties?
Question: While I meditate, I had lots of thoughts and some are so obvious you don't need to observe them but some are delicate minor ones. Is it necessary to observe these thoughts?
Godwin: We should try to observe every thought. On one occasion when I gave a guided meditation, I said, ‘Can you be conscious of every thought that arises in your mind?’ And it is very important to learn to observe thoughts without judging them: this is delicate, this is not delicate, this is good, this is bad. Without judging, without giving pluses and minuses. Can we just observe the thoughts as they arise and as they pass away?
Question: I am able to get more aware when doing standing meditation as well as the walking meditation rather than the sitting meditation and I want to know how we can actually apply what we have learned in the meditation practices in our daily life.
Godwin: I'll be giving a talk in the evening about this very very important theme. It is very very important to integrate meditation with daily life. So I'll be talking about this later on.
Question: I've been meditating for over a year and I have lots of problems like my body moving, left ankle hurts and after meditating for a while when I try to get up, I have difficulties but after I walked for a while, it is O.K. Now my left shoulder hurts. So I'm having all these problems. I want to know if I'm doing the meditation in the right way.
Godwin: I don't see them as problems. In the morning I tried to make it very clear that meditation is just knowing whatever is happening in our mind and body without being concerned: ‘Am I doing it right? Am I doing it wrong? Is it very strange that this should happen?’ I repeated a few times: ‘Just to know what is happening and can you say O.K to whatever is happening specially if it is unpleasant.’ Anyway I like to repeat that it is extremely important to learn to work with unpleasant sensations in whatever forms they arise in the body. Just by knowing them and learning to make friends with them, not to see them as problems, but that is the practice because while meditating if you learn to handle these unpleasant sensations that arise, then in everyday life when they arise, we know how to handle them. So it is very very helpful that these unpleasant sensations arise when you are meditating.
So there is time for one last question.
Question: Whilst doing the standing meditation, my body had a kind of movement. I want to know what was happening.
Godwin: As I said a few minutes ago, just know that the body is moving.
Now I like to meet another group. Thank you very much. Thank you for asking the questions. Thank you very much.
Now as I said please continue to observe the thoughts. This group that I spoke to when they are walking, so please continue to have mindfulness of whatever is happening in our mind and body.
So I like to know what actually happened when you were meditating in the morning.
Question: I was thinking about anxiety. I had anxiety for some time but when I try to call it and to look at it, it doesn't come or not in such a strong form as I used to suffer from. That is the first question. And the second question is that if one has anxiety over some problems and he cannot recall the anxiety when facing the problem, then when the problem crops up, there is no time to practise, to have enough experience to face the problem and examine the anxiety and to get rid of it and to face the problems squarely.
Godwin: So my answer to the first question: Is there can be a problem because you wanted anxiety to come and it didn't come? So what's the problem? Isn't it interesting when we have anxiety it's a problem and even when you don't have anxiety it's a problem?
Question: My question is when we have some problems, anxiety for example and it occurs from time to time, we want to get experience how to handle it. And when you want experience to practise on it, it doesn't occur as it occurred before so there's no preparation, experience to solve the problem.
Godwin: I think you were present when I presented the tools on how to work with emotions. So I like you to go back home and I saw you making notes, so please go over the notes and then find out for yourself, experiment with the tools and see how you can work with anxiety. Anyway, just a brief comment on how to work with these emotions when they come, because I know some of you were not present when I presented these tools on how to work with emotions.
So one thing that we learned today is, whether it is anxiety, whether it is fear, whether it is anger, whether it is physical pain, just learning to know that these things are there. And as I suggested in relation to physical pain, learning to say O.K to these anxiety or fear. Learning to feel friendly towards these unpleasant emotions can help us to work with them. So this is one of the tools that I presented and if those who are interested in the other tools I presented, maybe you can get a copy of the talk that I gave on emotions and how to work with them.
I like to know from this group what happened when you were doing yoga.
Question: I want to talk about a personal experience of mine. Once I read some sutta, I went to meditate for about 10 minutes. What happened was that there were lights flashing in my eyes. It was golden light. Whether I opened my eyes or closed my eyes, the light still flashed for more than half an hour. So I was a bit scared of this phenomenon that arose. I did not know whether this phenomenon was normal or abnormal and I would like to know how to handle this phenomenon.
Godwin: Seeing vision, seeing such things are different phases in the practice. Sometimes these visions, these pictures you see are very pleasant, sometimes they are very unpleasant. So as I was saying very often today, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, just know that you are seeing lights, you are having this experience without thinking: ‘Is it abnormal? Is it normal?’ If you react in that way, you are getting involved with what is happening. So what you need to do is not to get involved but just to know and I was saying, just to say O.K and then after some time, the feeling of lights or whatever will stop.
The question I raised for this group is yoga. Please I like to hear your experience about yoga.
Question: I found some postures are difficult but that didn't really matter because I have done it before. But when I did yoga this morning, I found that there was not enough space for everybody, there were too many people in this hall and I realized anger arose in my mind. For example when the person next to me stretched his leg too far, I would say to myself, ‘Why does he have to stretch so far?’
Godwin: This is why this morning I said that today we have to be open to learn from whatever happened to you. Learning to see everything as part of the practice. So whether you get angry, whether you get annoyed, when you are reacting, just to observe that and see how you are creating suffering for yourself by what others are doing. So in that situation the anger is the object of meditation. So then you learn to make that the object of meditation and see how far you can let go of that anger. And as I was also saying earlier, these are unpleasant experiences we have physically, mentally and not only when we are doing yoga, in other situations as well. So just knowing them and making friends with them is a very important aspect of the practice. So if you can practise in this way, anything can be a learning experience, anything can be a meditation. So if you can have that openness, then without getting angry with your neighbour, you feel grateful for this person because he or she is giving you an opportunity to work with anger. The person who is annoying you, irritating you becomes your teacher at that time. It is a beautiful way to live. When I give my talk I will speak about this aspect.
Anything else? Maybe one other comment about yoga. Another experience about yoga? The yoga Master is also here.
Question: Whether our practice is yoga or breathing, I would like to know when we focus our mind, do we focus on breathing from the lung or breathing from the abdomen.
Godwin: I said allow the body to breath naturally. So if you try to breath with some part of your body, that is not allowing the body to breath naturally. So it is very very important to learn to allow the body to breath naturally. Then when the body is breathing naturally, you're just being conscious of the breathing, that is all. It is like when we are doing walking meditation, we just allow the body to walk and we are just being aware of walking. We don't try to walk in a different way. So in meditation it is very very important to learn to be natural, not to interfere with the natural process of what is happening when we are meditating whether it is walking, breathing or whatever.
Anything else, any other questions?
Question: About 7 or 8 years ago I had minor pains in one particular side of my lung. This pain has already gone but this week I came here to meditate and last night I realized that this pain returned and this morning I also realized that this pain was there. I would like to know why this pain arose, whether I used the wrong method or posture.
Godwin: I feel that when you are meditating, perhaps you are trying too hard and maybe you are trying to breath in a different way so that when one tries to breath in an unusual different way, it may be a strain on the lung. So it is very important when we are meditating, to learn to meditate in a very relaxed way, not to try too hard. If you try too hard it can be a strain on the body and also the mind. So in next meditation please try to sit in a very relaxed way and don't make it a strain to any part of the body. Anyway if the pain comes again, stop focusing on breathing and send thoughts of loving kindness, friendliness, gentleness to the lung.
Question: While we are practising sitting meditation or walking meditation, we can train our consciousness and mindfulness but how can we do that in our daily life.
Godwin: This evening I'll be giving a talk about meditation in everyday life. I think the same question was asked a few minutes ago.
Audience: I would like to relate to the experience of the lady who raised it earlier about the pain in the lung. I also experienced a similar kind of pain this week but according to my own experience, I tolerated the pain for a few days and today I do not have the pain anymore, so I think that this could be just an old wound and nothing to do with the meditation itself.
Godwin: Thank you very much for sharing that with us. It brings up a very very important point, that when we have unpleasant experiences, to go through the unpleasant experiences, to be open to them and then they may drop away on their own. It's a very valuable experience you have shared, thank you very much.
Question: When I practise sitting meditation, my body moves to all four directions, front and back, left and right. I asked others what to do and they advised me not to pay attention to the movements so I just continued sitting with the movements. I do not know whether this is right or wrong. That is the first question. And the second question is when I sit, my back is not straight. When I try to make my spine erect, the movements intensify and I do not know what I should do in that situation.
Godwin: When the body starts moving, as I have been saying, just to know that the body is moving. And I like to suggest you can also try to control the movements, see whether you can stop that movement on your own. As I said earlier, these are passing stages in the practice. If you see this as problems, you get stuck with this. So to get into the next stage, as it was said earlier by that meditator, we should learn to say O.K to it, we should learn to feel friendly with those things rather than have the question: "Is it right? Is it wrong? Is it normal? Is it abnormal?" By doing that we are getting involved and we get stuck. So this is one of the suggestions I like to make.
And about having your spine erect, it's nice to try to have your spine erect but it should be very relaxed, not artificial, it's not tense. So try to find a posture where you feel relaxed and natural with that posture rather than experience tension and discomfort with your posture. So you need to experiment, explore the sitting posture more and more.
So thank you very much and can I meet the last group now please.
I like to know from this group what happened when you were eating your lunch, silently and with awareness. What further discoveries did you make.
Question: While I was having lunch, being mindful and keeping silent, I found lunch tasted specially good and I was very grateful to the people who prepared the food because I did not know we have lunch provided here so I didn't need to go out and buy my lunch. So that is the first thing. And I want to share some of my own experience in meditation. I haven't been meditating for too long but from my experience, different parts of the body ached when I started meditating, and also we may be in different stages but we try not to hang onto whatever comes, otherwise we will get stuck. As for the movements in the body, my own experience is that, having practised meditation for a while if you want your body to move to the left, it moves to the left and likewise, if you want it to move to the right, it moves to the right. So if you want to stop the movement, you can just tell your body to stop the movement by practising.
Godwin: Thank you very much for both points that you have made. The first point is very interesting that when we eat with mindfulness, we can taste the food. Eating becomes such a special experience. Otherwise we eat like machines, not even knowing what is happening when we are eating. So I am very happy that you mentioned that and it's also nice that you mentioned that you felt gratitude, grateful. This is a very important quality that we need to develop. In fact in traditional Buddhist countries, before we eat, we spend some time feeling grateful for those who have prepared the food and who have been responsible for the food. So I would like to suggest to everyone here to spend even a few minutes, few seconds before you start to eat feeling grateful for those who are responsible, feeling grateful that you are able to eat.
About the second point is exactly what I meant when I said that we should also control this phenomenon of movements. So it's a very good connection to make with your body. To give it very friendly, gentle orders: Now please stop moving. Sometimes when you gave such orders the body might respond to it. So I would suggest sometimes we can allow the body to do that and just be aware of it, feel friendly with that and sometimes to tell the body: Now you've had enough, so please stop. The body might respond but for that to happen, you should have a very good connection, sensitivity with the body. Thank you very much for those two points.
Question: I want to thank you for the different practices and meditation during this week. In the past I have used similar techniques to deal with emotions and unpleasant experiences and when I did that I felt pleasant. But what I want to know is that you also mentioned in your talk that we should learn from our unpleasant emotions and making them a learning experience. I want to know how do we know what we learnt from the unpleasant experience is right or wrong.
Godwin: Very simple answer. Without resisting if you can say O.K and make friends with it, that's it. Put it in other words, in Buddhist terms, when we have unpleasant emotions, the normal tendency is to suffer as a result of it but here, by making them as learning experiences, we learn not to suffer and see them as our teachers and feeling grateful for them because if they do not arise, how can we learn to work with them.
Question: This is the first time I've done meditation and sometimes my feet become numb. When that happens should I terminate the meditation immediately or should I continue to meditate? When I meditate I use the traditional method of having my legs crossed but you mentioned that the posture should be natural. That is the first question. The second question is: how do I know how long should I meditate for? How long is enough?
Godwin: About the first question, when you feel numb in the body, again as I said earlier many times, just to feel that it is numb and learning to say O.K to it. And if it becomes unbearable, you can just change the posture. In a way the problem is not with the numbness but how we relate to it, how we react to the numbness is the problem. So again we should be grateful for the numbness because we learn when the numbness is there, learning how not to react to the numbness even when the numbness is there. So this is why I mean that all these unpleasant experiences are really valuable teachers for us because if you do not feel numb you do not know how to handle it, how to work with it.
About the second question, actually meditation has to be a way of life. This is what I will be trying to tell you in the talk, that there is no beginning meditation and stopping meditation. Meditation should not be confined to a particular posture, a particular time because from the time that we wake up to the time we go to sleep, our mind is moving, we are having thoughts, we are having states of mind. So ideally we should have this constant awareness, constant alertness, constant checking out what is happening in our mind throughout the day. Then as I said, meditation becomes a way of life. Life and meditation are not two things, they are just one.
Question: You mentioned that we should learn to call upon some of our unpleasant emotions and to make friends with them and learn from them. I tried that during the meditation and I focused on anger. So I thought of a person I hate very much and tried to get that angry feeling but I found that that anger did not come. Can we apply this in real life? If I keep on meditating, will I be able to apply this in life and in turn later on, I will hate this person less?
Godwin: Thank you very much for sharing that experience. This is one of the tools I presented when I spoke about emotions. It is extremely interesting that these unpleasant emotions that we don't like, when we invite them, they don't come and when we don't want them to come, they come. So this shows the importance of openness, and then with more and more openness and waiting for these emotions to come, they don't come. So I'm very very happy that you had this very important insight. You can use the same principle in relation to thoughts. When we don't want thoughts to come, they come and if you invite them, let any thought come, you'll experience that they don't come. And as you said, with this kind of practice, I'm sure that the anger you have towards that person will become less and less. And as I said in relation to meditation on loving kindness, I would like to suggest to think of that person and try to forgive that person, accepting his humanness, otherwise, you're still carrying a wound in relation to what he has done to you. We should learn this very important quality of forgiveness. Forgiveness to oneself and forgiveness to others because these things have happened in the past, you cannot change the past, why should we carry the past as a burden, unnecessary burden which is creating suffering for us.
Question: During the meditation this morning, I found my back perspired a lot. I got all wet. The second question is when I focus on breathing, my breathing becomes very quick. When I try to focus on something else, then my breathing returns to normal.
Godwin: The first question about the perspiration in the back, just know that there is perspiration in the back and let it be there. Make friends with that perspiration. About the second question that when you focus on breathing, the breathing becomes fast and when you focus on something else, the breathing becomes normal, so I would suggest in the beginning allow the body to breath naturally, forget about focusing on the breathing but just sit and then let the body breath the way it likes. So please spend some time just learning what is called "non doing", allowing the body to do what it likes in relation to breathing. Don't see it as a meditation but just see it as some exercise that you are trying to develop, just non doing, allowing the body to breath the way it likes. There is a meditation Master in Sri Lanka who says that when we sit, when we think meditation is something special, then we have special problems. So here we are trying to give special attention to the breath and then the breath behaves in an unusual way and when you ignore the breath, it becomes normal. So don't see meditation and breathing as something special and just be with it. And even when you are outside, when you think you are not meditating, just continue to have a connection with the breath, to continue to be aware of the breath at other times also.
Thank you very much for the three groups for asking very practical useful questions and also thank you very much for those who have shared some positive experiences with us. So it is very nice that we can sit here as a group of spiritual friends, just sharing each other's experience. This is something very very valuable. So now you can prepare for yoga and I hope during yoga you'll have challenges, difficulties as it was mentioned earlier, I hope you learn to make them the objects of meditation. And hopefully during yoga, your body may relax and then when we do sitting meditation, let us sit with that relaxed body and relaxed mind and see what happens. Thank you very much.
Godwin: Now please allow the mind to do what it likes. So let any thought arise, thoughts about the past, thoughts about the future. And let us learn to observe the thoughts without judging them, no plus, no minus, just thoughts arising and just thoughts passing away but please be alert, awake from moment to moment.
Learning to make friends with our thoughts. Learning to create space for our thoughts.
For those who have problems with thoughts, please learn that there is nothing wrong with thoughts if you can be aware, if you can know what thoughts are arising and passing away.
In this meditation you don't try to stop thoughts, you don't try to control thoughts, you create space for any thought to arise. What you are learning now is to develop a non - reactive mind in relation to the thoughts.
Now let us learn to make friends with the emotions that we don't like. So please allow these emotions that you don't like to arise and see, like the thoughts, whether you can make friends with them, create space around them, just to allow them.
If anyone is feeling sleepy or drowsy, please open your eyes because it is very important to be alert, to be awake.
It is very important for us to learn not to push away, not to control unpleasant emotions but to allow them to arise and to make friends with them and to create space for them. So let us learn this very important aspect.
Let us now learn to do the same in relation to unpleasant sensation. So allow the unpleasant sensations in the body to arise. What you consider as strange feelings, unusual feelings, what you consider as abnormal sensations, so let them arise. It can be in any part of the body.
Can we learn to relate to these sensations without giving a minus. Just to relate to them as just sensations.
Thoughts, emotions, sensations, learning to see them just as they are. Learning to relate to them without a plus, without a minus.
This is learning to have loving kindness to our thought, to our emotions, to our sensations. Then they don't become problems for us. Then they become our friends. This is what we are trying to do with this meditation.
Talk: How to Integrate Meditation with Daily Life
Now I'm going to give a talk on how to integrate meditation with daily life. So please listen carefully with your complete attention.
Make a Commitment
We have to be clear about our priorities in life. So we have to be clear where the practice of meditation figures in this list of priorities you have in life. If you are really prepared to make a commitment for the practice of meditation, that person will never say I don't have time to meditate. So please be clear on this point.
Just Knowing What Is Happening
The second point is, as we have been trying to do today, as I have been emphasizing very much today, is this very important aspect of just knowing what is happening in our mind and body, otherwise you are becoming more and more like machines. Machines also can function very efficiently but the machine does not know that it is functioning, no understanding, no knowledge. So knowing, understanding how our mind and body work, we can only do in everyday life. The things that we do habitually, mechanically, like brushing our teeth, combing our hair, dressing up, all these small acts, little acts, please make an effort to do consciously, to know that you are doing it, to have your complete and full attention when you do those things. So whether you are at home, whether you are travelling in a car, whether you are in the place of work, just to know, just to be aware of what is going through your mind and body from moment to moment as far as possible. It is the only way to integrate meditation with our daily life.
Be Conscious of Thoughts
Another aspect that I emphasized here is our thoughts. So during the day, just be aware, just to be conscious: "What are the thoughts that I'm having? Are they about the past? Are they about the future? Are they about me? Are they about others?" From the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, we have these continuous thoughts going through our mind, they never stop. So we have to make an effort to learn about these things. By learning about the thoughts, you try to understand the type of person you are, self knowledge, self understanding. This is very very important for the meditation.
Another problem in everyday life related to this is our emotions, unpleasant emotions that create suffering for us, create conflict for us. So unless we are meditators, we really don't know how these emotions are created. So what happens to these people is they suffer from these emotions and they don't know how they are suffering, why they are suffering and they continue to suffer in this world. So if you can understand the mechanism, the relationship, the conditions that create these emotions, how they are directly related to thoughts, then you can work with them, you make them the objects of meditation.
Another aspect that I have been emphasizing and it is very very important in everyday life is to find out, to learn, to make the object of meditation what is unpleasant to you, what is disturbing you, what is bothering you. You might remember today when we were meditating, we heard some big noise outside. At that stage, I suggested to you, let us listen to that sound. I suggested we could hear that noise as if for the first time, otherwise we consider it as a noise, we consider it as a disturbance, we might get angry, we suffer as a result of that noise outside. So when we learn to make that the object of meditation, we can learn from any situation, any experience in life. The same thing applies to people we have problems with. This is one of the greatest challenges we have in everyday life: relationships. So you have to have relationship with people at home, you have to have relationship with people at the place of work. We cannot move away from relationships. So let us take the case of someone in everyday life making your life miserable, creating problems for you, creating suffering for you. An interesting way of relating to such a person is to relate to that person as your teacher, as your guru. So you learn to use that person to observe your own mind, to see your own reactions to that person. Then you realize that the problem is not with that other person but how you are relating to him, how you are reacting to that person. This is the beauty of the Buddha's teaching. If the suffering is outside, we can never free ourselves from suffering. So because we are creating our own suffering that we can free ourselves of the suffering. Sometimes I define meditation as finding the medicine for the sickness that we create ourselves. So as we create the sickness, we have to discover the medicine. So once we discover the medicine as meditation, we have to use it, we have to apply it in everyday life. And sometimes as you know medicine can be very unpleasant, it is not always sweet, always nice but if you want to cure yourself, even if it is not pleasant, you have to take the medicine. So these unpleasant experiences we have, physical pain, mental pain, it is unpleasant certainly but as I have been saying, we have to learn from them, they have to be our object of meditation.
Materialism & Consumerism
Another challenge you have in everyday life, as I said on one occasion, is materialism, consumerism. So when you live in a rich country like this, you cannot separate, you don't know, it's not clear what you really need and what your greed is. The society you live in can create desires for you, needs for you which are really not necessary.
A very important aspect of meditation in everyday life is learning to lead a very simple life. It is something very beautiful to be simple, learning to be simple in our way of living. So when there is an urge, when there is a need to buy things when you see things you should ask: "Now is this really necessary for me? Why do I really need this? Is it because other people are wearing that or other people are using that or do you really need it?" So one needs to really ask that question when you live in a consumer society. Then you'll realize your joy, your happiness, your lightness comes not from external things, not from goods, not from what you possess, not what you buy, but from something that comes from within yourself. This is the beauty of meditation. The need for external things drops away because you have become so independent on external things. They drop away. And as I said, joy and lightness come within yourself.
Loving Kindness Meditation
Another very important aspect of meditation, especially practised in everyday life, is meditation on loving kindness. So one aspect of loving kindness is learning to be your best friend. So if you can really make that connection, you'll never do things which are unskilful for you, unwholesome for you, which create your own suffering and suffering for others. And it is only when you are friendly to yourself that we can really be friendly to others. Firstly we have to open our hearts to ourselves, then we can open our hearts to others. There are many aspects of loving kindness, in fact I gave a talk on that and on that day, we distributed a booklet on loving kindness, so please read that. But I like to just mention two aspects of loving kindness, one is forgiveness and the other is feeling grateful. So in everyday life we need to forgive ourselves and to forgive others. If we cannot forgive ourselves and forgive others, then what happens is that you can be holding on to certain experience, certain wounds that have been created, and this can create lot of suffering for us in everyday life. So as we are human, we are bound to make mistakes. So when you make mistakes, there is no need to suffer and no need to feel guilty and beat yourself for having made mistakes, rather learn to forgive yourself and learn from these mistakes. And other human beings, as they are also human, as they are also imperfect, they are also bound to make mistakes. So if you cannot forgive other people what happens is that you are holding onto hatred and ill will, which is very very unwholesome for you. So when we develop more and more friendliness to others, more and more friendliness to ourselves, and more and more forgiveness to others and ourselves, then we learn to be kind to others, we learn to have loving kindness in our relationship with others. There are so many human beings who are suffering unnecessarily. So when you see human beings suffering, we should try to relate to them with gentleness, with kindness, sometimes smiling with them, sometimes doing a kind act can make such a difference to them and you. And if you can really open up to loving kindness, you'll see so many opportunities in life. In society where you can act in such a way and this can generate lots of happiness for you and happiness for others.
Another very important quality I mentioned in relation to loving kindness is this quality of feeling grateful, gratitude, which we take for granted. Before coming here, I spent some time in India and then I was reflecting on what the Buddha did after he became enlightened while I was in that place. And there, according to the traditions, according to the account, after he became enlightened, he spent 7 days looking at the tree which gave him shelter. Just reflect on this: Buddha spending 7 days showing his gratitude for a tree. So it shows what a very important quality feeling grateful is. Do we feel grateful for things? Do we feel grateful for other people? Do you feel grateful that you have discovered the Dhamma, that you have a group of spiritual friends? Do we ever make an effort to develop this quality of feeling grateful? Do we ever feel grateful that we can see? There are people who cannot see.
Do you feel grateful that you can hear? There are some people who cannot hear. Do you feel grateful that you are healthy and that you can practise meditation without a problem? So these are small things, little things, which we take for granted. You should visit very poor countries like India and Sri Lanka and then you might realize that you should feel grateful for some of the things you enjoy in this country. But do we ever realize about this? In those countries, there are people without food. So shouldn't you feel grateful when you have food to eat?
And there is another aspect of feeling grateful. As I said earlier in the discussion, when we have unpleasant experiences, we should also feel grateful because you can learn from them, they become our teachers.
To have Spiritual Friends
Another aspect of meditation in every day life is to have spiritual friends around you. So I'm very happy that you have some groups here so that you can go to these groups and can spend some time with them, meditate with them and discuss with them, so feeling grateful that you have a group of spiritual friends helping each other.
When you practise in this way in everyday life, you can really see the result, you can really see that the medicine the Buddha has given us really heals, it really works. Then you have more and more faith, more and more confidence in the medicine. Then you have more and more confidence in yourself. Then you really feel grateful for the Buddha who discovered this medicine, and you feel happy that you have discovered it and that you are using it and you are feeling the result. And what is beautiful about the Buddha's medicine is that it can be applied in any situation in life. This can be applied when you are sick. It can be applied when you encounter death in any way. It can be applied when we are hurt, frustrated, disappointed. It can be applied when we have very serious problems, very serious conflicts. The only thing, as I said in the beginning, is one has to be very clear about the practice. Are you really making a commitment for your practice? Have you really made a commitment to take the medicine? I think it is also important that while you are taking the medicine, that you should also encourage others to take the medicine by just sharing with them. This is what I am doing. Please see for yourselves.
Determination to Take the Medicine
Some of the suggestions I have been making so far about integrating meditation with daily life, are they too difficult, are they unreasonable, are they not within your reach? Buddha never said anything which normal human beings cannot do. The only thing you have to be clear about the teaching is to have a clear understanding of the teachings and knowing how to apply in different situations in life. So this is the point that I am emphasizing. I don't think there is any need for me to speak anything more. So I like you to now just spend some time reflecting on some of the things that I have been mentioning. This kind of reflection is also very very important meditation. Just reflect on a particular theme which will help us and which will help others. It helps us to look at ourselves, to find out where we really stand in life. It helps us to find out whether we are really wasting our life. According to the Buddha's teaching, to get a human birth is something very precious. So are we really making use of the preciousness of human birth? In what way can we use this preciousness? So let us reflect on this very important theme for a few minutes. And in reflecting on that, we can make a determination: Now from today onwards, I'm making a real determination to take the medicine and then free myself from the suffering that I create myself. And also an aspiration: Let me also get opportunities so that I can share the medicine with others, so by doing that, I can make others happy. So let us close our eyes and really reflect on this.
May you continue to use the medicine and free yourself from the sickness that you create yourself.
As this is my last talk, I like to thank everyone. Firstly, I like to thank the organizers who have done a very excellent job. I am very impressed with the way they organize things so well, so nicely. We should really feel grateful for the fact that there are organizers who are able to organize things so well. We should also feel grateful for this nunnery for giving us permission to use this place, it's a nice place. Lastly, I like to thank every one of you who have been attending the talks and who have been participating in today's meditation day. It makes me really happy to see your interest, your commitment for the Dhamma, for the practice. So I hope, as I was saying, that you continue to have this commitment for the practice. Let us now do some chanting and end with loving kindness meditation.
We'll now end with meditation of loving kindness.
Please feel the area of your heart. Please spend some time just feeling that area.
Can you feel that your heart is opening up like a flower, feeling gentleness, softness and tenderness?
Can you feel that you are your best friend, can you really feel it in the area of your heart and every part of your body?
As your best friend, can you really forgive yourself for whatever mistakes you have made in the past. If you do not have to forgive yourself, just feel happy that you are not carrying any wound.
As your best friend, can you forgive others for whatever mistakes they have done, letting go of any hatred or ill will you are carrying in relation to them?
May you all be well. May you all be happy. May you all be peaceful. May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings be peaceful.
I forgot to thank the interpreters, translators, who did a very difficult job. I had the feeling sometimes they improve what I said. I also would like to thank our yoga master for teaching yoga under difficult situation.
Chi Lin Nunnery
The Gentle Way of Buddhist Meditation
Dhamma Talks by Godwin Samararatne
Day 1 Retreat: 13th October 1997
Fa Yim Kok, Lantau Island
Some Suggestions of
What We Can Try to Do During the Retreat
We should be really happy to have this opportunity to spend some days here with a group of spiritual friends in this very beautiful place. We should also learn to feel grateful that we have this opportunity to do this. So I like to offer some suggestions of what we can try to do during the next few days.
So what we will be trying to do is to learn to develop certain spiritual qualities, learn to develop certain skills which will help us in the spiritual path.
Experiment in Lighthearted Way
We will try to experiment with it in a very lighthearted way. This is one of the guidelines that I like to emphasize. It is learning to see the practice as something we can enjoy. That we can learn to develop a taste for it. While I say this, I like to also emphasize that we should also learn to open ourselves to any unpleasant experiences, physical pain, mental pain. Normally we don't like unpleasant experiences. We don't like to look at the dark side in us. So I like to suggest that during the next few days, we should make an effort naturally, that if they are arising, just allow them to arise as well, without repressing them, without trying to put them away, without trying to deny them, without feeling bad about them. If they arise, let them arise and learning to make friends with them, learning to see them as learning opportunities.
Another quality is the practice of awareness, being alert, being awake. Now in this connection I like to emphasize that what we might try to do, to see how far we can have the continuity of awareness as far as possible, moment to moment awareness as far as possible, whether you are in this room or whether you are outside should not make a difference. Then we learn to see meditation as a part of life. It's a way of living. It's an art of living.
Another spiritual quality that we need to develop is loving kindness. Here, we are in a beautiful situation where we are with a group of spiritual friends, so how can we relate to each other, how can we develop sensitivity to each other? The Buddha said helping others is helping yourself, helping yourself is helping others. So it is beautiful to develop this quality, while trying to help yourself you are helping others and then eventually, learn to see no difference between ourselves and others. Now I like to go over the schedule and I will emphasize some other skills, some other qualities that we can develop.
So as you know we wake up at 4:45 in the morning. So when you wake up, actually your practice should begin. At home, when we wake up, it's a different situation from when you are waking up here. To give a practical example, when you go to the toilet, there will be someone in the toilet. Now how do you relate to that situation? So you can observe your mind and see whether you are having suffering or can you see the situation and not suffer as a result of the situation? So in relation to such a situation, we learn to develop another very important quality of patience, learning to wait. And maybe there'll be other situations, other challenges you might have to face when you wake up. So this is what I want to emphasize, to see these challenges, to see these situations as learning experiences. So meditation should begin.
Group Meditation & Breakfast
Then we will be meeting here at 5:00 a.m. for group meditation and it will be a beautiful time of the morning to practise meditation. And then we will have breakfast. Here again eating can be a very very important meditation. We have a very good opportunity to develop awareness whilst eating. And with awareness we can observe our likes, our dislikes, judgments we make. And while eating I like to emphasize three aspects: chewing, swallowing, tasting. I like you to find out at what point we really taste our food. And also let us learn to keep the quantity of food, trying to avoid eating too much and trying to avoid too little, learning to discover the middle way in relation to eating.
Another quality we can develop tomorrow in breakfast is that as we are eating food, we can develop loving kindness while we are eating. Not thinking of only ourselves but seeing how others are eating, in what way can you help others, to be open to the needs of others. We will try to develop that quality also while we are eating as a group. Isn't that beautiful?
After breakfast, we will be having what is called working meditation. Now working meditation is learning when we do work, we do it mindfully, to work consciously, to have your complete and full attention on what you are doing. And what is important is learning to see work as not something different to meditation.
Another very important aspect of working meditation is learning to develop certain qualities while we are working. Can you see working meditation as developing compassion in action, loving kindness in action? If you are working in the kitchen, can you see there's some work that helps me to develop loving kindness to those meditators who are eating? So let me cook with loving kindness, that can be a quality that we can develop in working meditation. If you are sweeping the place, feel that I'm sweeping the place so it can look very clean and look very beautiful so that meditators can feel comfortable. So please learn to see working meditation as action in compassion, implementing loving kindness with the action.
Then we have group meditation. So during group meditation, we will be practising three postures: sitting, standing and walking. And let us see how far we can have continuity of awareness from one posture to the other.
Individual & Outdoor Meditation
Then we have what is called individual and outdoor meditation. So one aspect of individual and outdoor meditation is learning to spend some time alone with ourselves. So you have some very beautiful places here so please find one such place where you can be completely alone with yourself. And see when you are alone with yourself how you are relating to yourself. See whether after some time you might feel lonely, you feel bored with yourself. It is very interesting that we cannot spend some time alone with ourselves without suffering from loneliness and boredom. We don't seem to like ourselves! It shows that some of the things we do is an escape from ourselves. So tomorrow let us learn not to escape from ourselves but to be with ourselves, and if we feel lonely, bored, without giving in to them, we learn to go through them. And going through them, we will start to make a connection with ourselves where we learn to be our best friend, we learn to be self-contained within ourselves.
Another aspect is learning to develop sensitivity to nature. I was very happy when I came here, I saw the moon. I was able to see the stars in the sky. I was able to hear the insects around us. I was able to see some beautiful trees, some beautiful flowers. All these make me very very happy. I think in this modern world, we have lost this sensitivity to nature, we have lost the way to commune with nature. So I would suggest that you develop this very very important quality, to develop a sensitivity to nature and learning to see actually no difference between yourself and nature, learning as I said, to be a part of nature, seeing things very clearly, very sharply, hearing things sharply and clearly. As we go along, I will be suggesting other things we can do during individual and outdoor meditation.
Lunch, Rest & Interview
Then after that we will have lunch. And after lunch there will be a time for a rest. As you will be waking up very early, we need to rest and we should learn to feel friendly to our body. And after rest, we have another session of individual and outdoor meditation. And during these two times, individual and outdoor meditation in the morning and in the afternoon, I would like to meet each one of you. So we'll be having a piece of paper somewhere so you can write your name. I like to meet about four persons in the morning and four persons in the afternoon. So please come and see me and you can discuss with me any difficulties, any problems you have in meditation and if you have any personal problems, I would also like to hear and then try to use meditation to help you with the problems and difficulties.
After that, there's yoga. Actually you see a connection between yoga and meditation. One thing is with yoga exercises, we learn to be aware of the body. It is very very important to make a connection with our body, again learning to be friendly to our body, learning to be kind to our body. Another important aspect of yoga is learning to relax. When you can learn to relax, it will help you very much in meditation, relaxing the mind, relaxing the body. It is possible that maybe due to a sitting posture or due to other reasons, we might have tension, pain and discomfort in your body and some of the yoga exercises will help you to work through them and you are fortunate to have a very good yoga teacher to help us here.
Snack and Activities at Night
And after yoga, there is group meditation. And after group meditation, there is a snack. So again I like the word snack without calling it dinner. But normally I think you are used to dinners, so tomorrow when you have to eat a snack, it will be a very interesting learning experience.
After the snack, we will have a short sitting. After sitting we will have a discussion. After discussion, we will do some chanting and end the day with loving kindness meditation.
So by 9:00 p.m. we will go to sleep, as we have to get up early.
Practice of Silence
Another important thing that we will be practising is the practice of silence. In the Dhamma it is called the noble silence. So we are developing a very noble quality of being silent. Talking, speaking is a very very strong habit that we have. And you'll also see a connection between silence and awareness. And silence enables us to be with ourselves, be with our mind and body all the time or most of the time. Now a question arises: How can we be silent and still practise loving kindness? Here, I like to suggest that we can still relate to other people, connect with other people in silence with loving kindness. Normally, we know only to communicate with words. So during this retreat we learn how to communicate with others in silence. One way of doing this is to learn to feel the people around you. Another way is to smile with the people around you. So these are making connection with other people. And then when you look around, when you look at people, you might see opportunities where you can give a helping hand in complete silence. So I would like you to develop this quality of communicating with others without words, in silence and see whether one can make a deeper connection non-verbally.
Practice with the Door
Now another point I like to make is that there are very interesting doors here. So one has to have lots of awareness to open the doors and to close the doors otherwise you can make a big noise. So this will help us to develop awareness and learn to develop sensitivity to other people. In a way this is also making a connection with other people. Let me open very slowly and close slowly so others will not be disturbed by what I am doing. You see from this small act of opening the door and closing the door what spiritual qualities that we can develop. In the little booklet that has been translated on loving kindness, there is a very very interesting reference there. The Buddha was addressing a group of monks and the Buddha was telling the monks that if you can practise loving kindness during the time it takes to snap your fingers, you're worthy of being monks. So to snap your fingers takes only a few seconds. So it shows even for a few seconds, you can really have feeling, have loving kindness. You can make such a difference when you're doing these few acts of loving kindness, small acts with lots of loving kindness.
So I like to pause and if you have any questions, any clarifications to make, you have the opportunity to do so.
[Questions and answers were not recorded]
Day 2 Retreat: 14th October 1997
Sharing on What Happened on That Day
For the discussion, I think what we may try to do is to share each other's experience with what happened today.
I feel it is very important to learn to share our experiences very honestly to a group of spiritual friends. Sharing both what we consider to be pleasant experiences and also unpleasant experiences. So it is opening up ourselves to our spiritual friends. Normally we are very nervous, self-conscious to speak about ourselves, thinking that others will judge us, whether we have done the right thing and so on. One should not fear about it because one is sharing one's experiences which is a fact.
So let us begin with 4:45 a.m. So what was your experience when you woke up at 4:45 this morning?
Female 1: I didn't get up.
Godwin: Because you did not sleep.
Female 1: Yes.
Godwin: Very good, very good. Thank you for sharing that very honestly. Anything else? Any other experiences?
Female 2: I felt sleepy and tired because I did not sleep last night and I wanted to stay in bed, but just for a short time.
Godwin: So you came for meditation? Anything else?
Female 3: I also could not sleep well last night because I was woken up by chanting downstairs (she was sleeping in the other temple) but I woke up and came.
Godwin: Maybe we should do chanting rather than ringing the bell. Anyone else wants to say something?
Female 4: I think we should thank Mrs. Siu because I know she made a special effort to get up especially early so that she can wake us up.
Godwin: How did you feel when you woke up?
Mrs. Siu: I was very happy to get up this morning. I saw many stars in the sky and I saw many things.
Godwin: This brings up the importance of loving kindness. Also brings up the importance of taking responsibility for others.
What about waiting for the toilet? Was anyone angry, impatient, suffering? Yes or no?
I would like to share my own experience. I think I also woke up early. I was also able to enjoy the stillness and the beauty at that time outside.
So what is the experience with meditation? We started at 5 o'clock. Any questions, any problems, any difficulties about the simple meditation that we practise, just knowing what is happening.
Male 1: I was like half awake in this morning's meditation. I just went through it in a hazy way. But for reasons unknown, in the meditation just before, I discovered one thing, I felt it was different to how I felt this morning. Before, it was like wasting a lot of my energy. I felt exhausted in having to, as teacher told us, be aware of our body, movement and mental activity. It was like waiting for them to come out but they just never came out. In the session of sitting we just had, when I felt stillness, then I knew how to use what teacher told us, how to be aware how my body works and knowing it very clearly.
Godwin: Thank you for sharing that experience. It is nice to hear the unpleasant experiences in the morning and what can be considered as a pleasant experience in the evening. So if we did not have the unpleasant experience, you won't have made this discovery about the pleasant experience in the evening. So it shows that we can learn from unpleasant experiences, we can learn from pleasant experiences. Therefore we should learn to be open to both unpleasant experiences and pleasant experiences.
Anyone else like to share their experience of this morning's meditation?
Female 5: When we meditate at home, is it better that we don't choose the time when we are too tired to do meditation. In this morning I was too sleepy. I was not strong enough to concentrate.
Godwin: Whether you are at home or here, I would like to suggest that try to experiment when you are tired as well, otherwise it is very easy to say, ‘I feel tired, so I know my meditation doesn't work, so let me sleep.’ That's how we pamper ourselves. Always saying yes to what the body is wanting.
So we need to break that conditioning in a very friendly, gentle, kind way. So it means some days to say yes to the body and some days to say no to the body. So tomorrow morning also if you still feel tired, you must tell the body: ‘Yesterday I gave in to you, I said yes, today, I'm going to say no.’ So it is very very important to learn to have this kind of dialogue with the body, with oneself. So learning to say no and then you come to the hall, you come to meditate and you're seeing what is happening.
There is a very interesting dialogue in the Buddhist texts between the Buddha and a monk who was feeling lazy, drowsy, tired when meditating. So the Buddha offered some very interesting suggestions on how to work with that condition.
So the first suggestion the Buddha offered was: change your posture so if you are sitting, do some standing meditation, do some walking meditation. And I like to suggest in that situation to do some very fast walking, or also to walk backwards because to walk backwards you have to be very alert and awake. Immediately you start walking backwards, you will be awake. By the way, this reminds me of a very strict meditation Master in Thailand. He gave this suggestion to meditators. So, in that centre, there was a well, a deep well. So he told his meditators to sit on the edge of the well. So if he was tired, he would be killed. Unfortunately, there are no wells here!
Another suggestion the Buddha offered was if that did not work, rub your earlobes. I would see that as trying to stimulate the body. And the Buddha said if that does not work, go out and look at the stars. Maybe the discussion took place in the evening like this when there are stars. I would suggest that as trying to stimulate the mind by something external. If that does not work, try to think of something very inspiring from the Dhamma that will really develop a sense of urgency.
If that does not work, please induce a bright light. Some meditators see bright light, so maybe this monk was seeing bright light so he said induce a bright light and again it can stimulate him. And if that doesn't work, go to sleep.
Why did he say go to sleep? Why was the Buddha encouraging that monk to sleep?
Female 2: Is it because the body when it gets tired needs to get a rest?
Godwin: Yes, in a way. This technique, this experimentation will help him to find out whether it has a psychological reason or it has a physical reason. So it shows that sometimes and maybe most of the time feeling tired is not something physical but it is psychological. So with these different techniques, Buddha was encouraging this monk to find out whether it has a physical reason or a psychological reason. Then if the techniques fail, it shows it has a physical reason, then we should learn to feel kind to the body.
And from the Buddha's instructions, it is also very interesting that he encouraged monks and meditators to experiment, to explore, find out for yourself. In a way, this is what I am encouraging you to do by observing, by learning, make your own discoveries about your own mind and body and how they work. Our mind and body are so close to us but in a way they are so far away from us because we have not learned, we have not discovered, we have not experimented. So this is why in meditation one should see the practice as not achieving certain states of mind but rather learning, discovering, exploring. It is a beautiful way to relate to meditation.
So from the morning meditation, we had tea from 6:00 to 6:30 and I suggested you go out and seeing things very sharply, seeing things very clearly. Anyone likes to share some experience in this regard?
Male 2: I would like to share some of my viewpoint on what you taught today. I find the meditation technique that you taught today quite useful. You told us to watch the mind just like a mother watching her son. With this kind of mentality, I really felt great during the meditation. On my breathing, whatever thought arose, my feelings and senses, I can use the mentality of a mother watching her son and I can feel I can be detached from those thoughts and be calm.
Godwin: It is important to have that kind of attitude, that we are learning to be friendly, gentle and then just knowing what is happening. And whatever is happening, again learning to be friendly without resisting them, and as Jack said, immediately you can find some relief, some release if you have that friendly attitude. So it is resistance which is creating the suffering. It is the same thing what comes internally or even external events. It is when we resist external events that sometime suffering comes. So here is an attitude where without resisting, with friendliness, you just know what is happening. Feeling friendly doesn't mean giving in to what is happening but working with it with friendliness and gentleness, so we ought to see the difference. It is very important to realize that it is not giving in but rather a way of working with it.
From 6:00 to 6:30, any one had any experiences?
Male 1: When I have food, all my mindfulness disappeared. My whole mind was on food.
Godwin: I'm talking about drinking tea at 6:00 to 6:30, we did not have food. So we are still with the tea break.
Male 3: At 6:30, he ate noodles!
Godwin: O! He started eating! Did any one have any experiences with nature at that time? I suggested seeing things, hearing things very sharply, very clearly at that time.
Male 3: At that time, I tried to put your direction into practice by looking at things sharply and clearly but no matter how I tried, everything looked the same to me as usual. No sharper, no clearer.
Godwin: Very good. So we should try tomorrow also. So I'll say what I have in mind about seeing things very clearly.
Suppose we are looking at a tree. So can we have our complete and full attention on seeing that tree at that time? And is it possible to see that tree as if for the first time? This is really a very interesting aspect.
Is it possible to see things with less thought or no thought? Because when we see things with our pre-occupations, we don't really see anything very clearly. So it means really learning to awaken our senses. We have not made an effort to cultivate this awakening of our senses, the sense of hearing, the sense of seeing. So we have to make a conscious effort sometimes.
I think another aspect we have neglected is the sense of smelling. So tomorrow let us all make an effort to awaken our senses, seeing very clearly, hearing things and also allow smelling to arise. There are some white flowers here and those white flowers give a very very beautiful scent. So slowly slowly let us make an effort, let us experiment with it, let us play with it and developing our senses in this way.
You can also try with the Buddha image here, just looking at the Buddha image with our complete and full attention, with less thought or no thought.
After that, there was yoga. I'm sure you experienced something when doing yoga.
Female 2: There were many mosquitoes.
Godwin: Very good, so there were many mosquitoes. Important discovery. So during yoga, you were only with the mosquitoes?
Female 5: There were many ants.
Godwin: So mosquitoes, ants.
Female 5: They were marching.
Godwin: And marching.
Female 6: This is the first time I've done yoga with nature. It is also the first time that I tried to put my mind on my body when doing yoga and I found it was very peaceful and still.
Godwin: Anyone else like to say what happened during yoga? Were the postures difficult? You can say yes or no.
Female 2: Yes.
Godwin: So you were not only with the mosquitoes, you were also with some of the postures. That's good to hear.
Female 5: I found that because I enjoy the atmosphere, I forgot that it was difficult. Actually, it seems to be difficult but I seem to enjoy it so I didn't think whether it was difficult or not.
Godwin: Because you enjoyed it. An interesting point. So when you enjoy something you really do not see whether it is difficult or not. Did you experience physical pain? Yes or no?
Male 1: Yes.
Godwin: Very good. That shows yoga is working. It shows you have a body and that body can have pain. It also shows that you should continue with the yoga because you have not practised such exercises. Anyone else want to say something about yoga?
Male 4: The postures changed too quickly so I felt that the exercises were interrupted and not smooth.
Godwin: So maybe Jack should take this into consideration. Anyone else experienced the same thing as him?
Female 7: I have practised yoga for quite a while and when doing yoga, you have to do a series of postures, not to do a particular posture a few times. I would like to explain this because that is the purpose of yoga. It is a series of postures, so it had to be kept changing.
Godwin: How did you feel when doing yoga?
Female 8: I didn't feel much pain because Jack said just do it according to your ability so I didn't push myself.
Godwin: Very good. The person next to you, I like to ask what happened to you when you were doing yoga.
Female 9: It's a bit difficult. It could be because I'm a bit fat.
Godwin: Anyway, what is happening to our body is coming from our head, but what happened to your body when you were doing the yoga?
Female 9: Although some of the postures were a bit difficult for me but I still enjoyed the yoga and I found the blood circulation smooth.
Godwin: So there you are, these are the benefits of yoga, the blood circulation. So that is the sense of yoga.
What about you?
Female 10: Very good. When you saw me last year, I was very fat. Am I thinner this year? Yoga makes a deep impression on me. Teacher has made a connection between Buddhism, yoga and meditation. I feel that it is more comfortable to meditate after doing yoga and the mindfulness gets stronger. Yoga is the prelude but meditation is the essence. Apart from benefits to the body and meditation, yoga also makes one healthy and the healthiness comes as a by-product.
Godwin: In a way, yoga can also be a meditation. The word yoga means union, so it's a union between the mind and body, integration of the mind and body, harmonizing the mind and body.
Going back to the question you asked, what is the answer you like to receive?
Female 9: You should know without saying.
Godwin: I think you have put on a little more weight, just a little bit more fat.
Female 11: I think she is slimmer than last year.
Godwin: So two persons are giving two different answers, so you should not take what others think seriously. What is your own feeling? What do you think of yourself?
Female 10: I feel I'm healthier. Before, I did not even have the strength to carry a water melon. Also my spine is straight when I sit and I get less tired.
Godwin: Am I fatter or thinner than last time?
Female 10: More handsome !
Godwin: Thank you. So this is the beauty of a discussion like this where a group of spiritual friends get together, can laugh, have lightness, and at the same time learn from our experiences.
From yoga, we come to breakfast. Would it make a difference eating in silence, eating in awareness?
Female 12: Nothing special.
Godwin: Talking about silence, how are you relating to silence? Is it disturbing you, is it O.K.? Any thoughts about silence? Any experiences about silence?
Male 1: Very difficult.
Godwin: But I don't see you practising silence!! Anyway the fact that it is difficult shows it is a very strong habit that we have. And you know it is very very difficult to stop a strong habit. Some meditators told me when they stop talking to others, they start talking to themselves. And some meditators told me when other people are silent, she felt the others were punishing her.
So I think in a way because it is difficult, we should still experiment with such situations and then ideally, you realise how space is created by silence.
I think another aspect of talking is perhaps to prevent certain things from arising. Things you have put away, repressed, controlled. In some very intense silent retreats, some meditators told me how with silence, they suddenly have unexpected memories arising from childhood which have been completely forgotten. And sometimes some of these unexpected memories that come up can be extremely helpful for one to understand one's behaviour. Just to give an example of an experience of a woman. I like to share that experience with you. There was a woman in a 10-day retreat, she was from England. Suddenly she had a memory that as a 7-year-old girl, she had tried to commit suicide by shooting herself in a dark room. She had completely forgotten this experience, maybe because it was very unpleasant for her. But it was a very helpful memory for her because she was afraid of the darkness. Another thing is that she was very self destructive to herself. She would take risks about her body and so on. So then I had a discussion with her and we realized the suicidal tendency in trying to destroy herself is manifesting itself in different ways.
Another aspect of talking and silence is that when we talk, we feel as if we are somebody. So when we are silent, we feel as if we are nobody and we feel uncomfortable with this feeling of nobody.
So another important aspect of silence is that it helps us to be alone with our mind and body all the time. So it has some very very important interesting aspect, so I certainly agree that it is difficult but certainly, it is worthwhile.
There is an interesting story from the Tibetan tradition where in a place one has to practise complete silence for one year and after one year, the student can go and speak to the Master and mention only two words. So after one year, the student went to the Master and said: "More food". So for probably for one year he was thinking only of food.
Anyway, these are some thoughts about silence so I like to suggest that tomorrow there will be times when you have to speak, and when you have to speak we should learn to speak with awareness, what is called ‘right speech’. So silence is important, right speech is important.
So there are so many things we can learn from our speech. When we speak to another person, do we really listen to that other person? Can you speak clearly? Can you speak very briefly what you have to say rather than continuing to speak and sometimes confusing yourself and confusing others? How far can we be aware and mindful when we speak? We can learn these skills here. In everyday life, this is one of the greatest problems we have, that we have problems because of our speech, especially in relationships, how we can hurt each other with wrong speech. So as I said, silence is important as it has many important aspects and also right speech is important because that also has many aspects. The Buddha encouraged us to speak gentle words, kind words, helpful words, words which can be healing to others. On the other hand, we can hurt another person, it can be more harmful, it can hurt another person more than something physical.
So the time for discussion is over. So I like to say something about tomorrow. Today, in a way, there was a lot of time for you to rest and you realized that you might have been tired and you have not been able to sleep well so I hope today you had a good rest and you will try to sleep well tonight.
Day 3 Retreat: 15th October 1997
Benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation
What I propose to do now is to touch on some aspects of loving kindness. After that, if you have any questions or difficulties about loving kindness, we can discuss them.
I delivered a talk on the same subject at the nunnery. I don't want to repeat the same things I said there. So what I like to talk about is in the text which is also translated and was given to you. There are some benefits that are mentioned, benefits of loving kindness. I'd like to discuss the implications of those benefits, the practical aspects of the benefits.
Sleep and Wake Up Peacefully
So it is interesting the first benefit that is mentioned is that you can sleep peacefully. There is a difference between sleeping peacefully and sleeping well. This is related to the second benefit, which is, you wake up peacefully and that is related to the third benefit where it is said you don't have any nightmares, any unpleasant dreams.
What are these unpleasant dreams we have, the nightmares? I would suggest that they are related to the emotions we are repressing, perhaps related to the wounds that we are holding on. So with loving kindness, you heal these wounds, then you don't have these nightmares, unpleasant dreams and then you can sleep peacefully and wake up peacefully.
In Sri Lanka, sometimes I work with people who suffer from insomnia, and the way I try to help them is the pratice of the simple method of loving kindness before you go to sleep. It has been interesting for me that it works most of the time.
Other People Like You
Now another benefit that is mentioned is that human beings like you. Why do human beings like you? Because you are friendly towards them, so naturally when you are friendly to others, they are friendly towards you. If you are not friendly to others, they will not be friendly to you. So it is a very very simple point that when you are friendly to others, others will respond the same way. I think this is very important because we have lot of problems, difficulties in relationships, the way we are relating to other people. So if we can be friendly to ourselves and friendly to others, this can generate lot of joy, lot of happiness.
Non-human Also Like You
Another interesting benefit that is mentioned is that non-human also like you. What are these non-human? One can interpret them in different ways but perhaps we can include animals, perhaps we can include plants, trees. We can include non-human beings who may be there in this world which we cannot see. I think it is a fact that animals can really respond and feel your loving kindness and they can respond in the same way. I was telling the other day that we have monks in Sri Lanka who meditate in deep forests where there are wild animals, where there are animals who can harm you, but it is interesting how these monks get on with these animals. I know in one place, the chief monk talks to these wild animals and they seem to obey the request or order of the monks, the orders the monks make to the animals. So I think animals are disturbed when you have fear but when you have loving kindness, when you are friendly towards them, I think they can feel that.
They have done some research, now even plants can feel your emotions. They can react to your emotions. So here again, I think loving kindness may be able to affect them in some ways, in different ways.
In the modern world, we have a lot of problems about the environment, what is called the ecological crisis and so on. I see it as a manifestation of our own self-destructive aspect in us, which comes through in this way. When you have loving kindness, you learn to develop a sensitivity to yourselves, your surroundings, your environment, so these are very simple ways of protecting the environment, making a connection with the environment. See yourself as part of the environment and not something separate from it.
Face Becomes Serene
Another benefit that is mentioned is that your face becomes serene. I don't know if the face becomes handsome. But serenity is, what is the Chinese world for it? It is a beautiful word. See some of the Buddha images, they have captured the serenity of that expression. So it shows our state of mind can affect our face. If it can affect our face, it can affect our body. So when you have a serene face, you don't have to use cosmetics. You can save all the money! And with loving kindness, the serenity that comes can never be captured through cosmetics. In a way when you have a serene face, I think it can affect other people. This is what is beautiful about loving kindness, that it becomes infectious. Hatred can become infectious and at the same time, loving kindness can be infectious.
Experience Calm Mind
There is another very interesting benefit that is mentioned, which is related to meditation. It is said that with loving kindness, it is easy to experience Samadhi, one-pointedness. This is why I emphasize friendliness so much in the practice because when we are practising, if you are hating things, if you are resisting things, if you are fighting things, it is not easy to have a mind that is calm. This calmness comes naturally when there is friendliness, when there is gentleness, when there is openness. So this is a very important point to remember in our practice and we are learning to use friendliness, gentleness in whatever technique we are practising.
Give You a Sense of Protection
Then another benefit mentioned is that it gives you a sense of protection. So it is interesting that loving kindness can be so powerful, it can in some ways protect you from situations. An aspect related to protection is that it also gives a sense of security, confidence. In one of the statements it is mentioned in the text that those who have loving kindness they feel at home wherever they are. So you don't feel threatened, you don't feel insecure because of loving kindness. So you feel at home with yourself, you feel at home with others.
Another benefit that is mentioned is that when you die, you die unconfused, you die with a clear mind. So why is it considered an advantage to die consciously? Can anyone suggest a reason for it?
Female 1: Is it because the last thought in our mind will affect where we go after we die?
Godwin: Yes, in a way. Any other possible reasons?
Female 2: Is it because we have fear when we die because we have not experienced death, and with loving kindness we can bring ourselves out from the fear and pain?
Godwin: Interesting. Anything else?
When we die, we have a last chance to become enlightened. Because at the moment of death, if you can really practise meditation, if you can really practise conscious dying, that will give us a great opportunity to free ourselves, to make that opportunity as part of the practice.
There is a very interesting book from the Tibetan tradition, the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Is it translated into Chinese?
Male 1: Yes.
Godwin: Has anyone read it?
Male 1: I read some.
Godwin: It's a very interesting book. It shows how your experience at that time is determined by the way you have lived. So in simple terms as I understand it, at that moment, our emotions, unpleasant emotions can surface and they can take many forms. So at that moment, we don't recognize that there are emotions but as they manifest themselves externally, we react to the external things that we see. So you see how it is related to meditation. How it is important to recognize how our mind works, it works with our emotions, to recognize, so on. And what is interesting is, it is also said that enlightenment also manifests itself and we have to recognize it, and if you don't recognize it, your last chance is lost. So in practical terms, in our meditation, we also should recognize our positive states of mind, so just to know that they are there. So when you know them, when you recognize them, then when they manifest themselves, in other words, it is just to know that it is the free mind, the enlightened mind that is manifesting in this way. So it shows directly when you have awareness, when you are conscious at the time of dying, you can know all these things, recognize these things and as I have said, we have a last chance to free ourselves from what is happening.
And in a way, these also relate to the wounds we carry in our mind. Sometimes when I travel, I meet people who work with dying people because I am very interested in this theme of death and dying. I used to work with terminally ill cancer patients who are dying. So the biggest problem at that time is the wounds that we have not looked at, the wounds that we have pushed away, the wounds that we have repressed, can surface in a very strong intensive way. Why should they manifest in a strong way when we are dying?
Male 2: Is it because our mind is weak at the time.
Godwin: Yes. What happens is at the time of death, our mind and body may become weak. So that when we are living we can consciously push these things away and deny them, repress them, lead very very busy lives, but at the time of death, you cannot escape from what is happening. So this is why I emphasized that while we are living, while we are strong, to look at our wounds and try to heal them. It is interesting that these things are also mentioned in ancient Buddhist literature. Anyway, this is the 10th benefit that is mentioned, conscious dying, the importance of it, and it is interesting there is a connection between loving kindness and death.
And the last one that is mentioned is that after death we will be born in the realm of the gods, a pleasant place. But what is important for us to remember and realize is that we can see the benefits in this life itself. Now this is some of the benefits that are mentioned in this text. Now let us see if we can include anything more, add to this list from our own experience. Do we have any suggestions?
Benefits Suggested by Other Participants
Male 3: Have no enemies, will not have anyone whom you cannot get on with and no hatred against another person.
Godwin: Very good one. In a way it is related to saying that human beings like you and because human beings like you, to have enemies is when beings don't like you. Anyway as you put it, to have no enemies is something very special. So what will happen is you will only have friends and no enemies. What a wonderful way to live!
Male 3: Sometime it is not a friend nor an enemy. Not an enemy but also not a friend.
Godwin: A neutral, neither friend, not unfriendly. Anyway, you don't bother them, they don't bother you, no problems, that is the point.
Male 3: Sometimes they bother me but I won't bother them back.
Godwin: Yes, that can happen. But if you are not really friendly but neutral, they then will leave you alone. That is an interesting way of seeing the benefits, anything else?
Male 2: It helps me to make clear decisions, that is when there is hatred in my mind, then I always make the wrong decision because I would make a decision from my own point of view and not consider what others think.
Godwin: Very very good. So when there is hatred, when there is anger, please don't take a decision because that decision will be always coming from a confused mind, not a clear mind. Not only decisions but also words. So I would suggest that if we get angry with someone then at that angry moment, we can just keep our mouth shut, because whatever we speak, it doesn't come from a clear mind, so it can be so confusing and can make matters worse. So the state of the mind in such situation is very very important. In some occasions, someone does something wrong and then we get angry and then we try to correct that person with anger. I would suggest that to a great extent, that type of reaction in trying to correct persons with anger, with reaction, may not work. So these are very important practical aspects of loving kindness in every day life.
Anything more to add?
Male 4: Before I learned about loving kindness meditation, I got angry easily with others but after I have learnt loving kindness meditation, I found a good thing about it is that the duration of anger gets shorter and slowly it will disappear. Another benefit is that as you continue to train yourself, you will find hating another is really quite silly because it causes suffering for yourself. The more hatred you have, the more problems you create for yourself.
Godwin: Very good. Two good points. The second point is very very important: How soon we recover from these emotions, hatred, whatever. I think we should not have as an ideal that you will not get angry but if you need an ideal, the ideal should be how soon I recover from them. There is a beautiful simile in one of the Buddhist texts, it gives three similes to three types of anger. The first type of anger is compared to letters written on stone, they never change, they never go away. The second type of anger is compared to letters written on sand. The third type of anger is compared to letters written on water. Isn't that beautiful? That quickness, it is there and also it is already over. And the first point is also very good, that it is silly, because it is really silly, it is really foolish for ourselves to hold on to this anger and then we are suffering. I think it is compared to someone who is spitting up because you spit up, it comes back to your face. Is this in that booklet?
Male 3: No.
Godwin: But this is a very good one. Big plus to you.
Anything else? It is very interesting we can think creatively and add to this list.
Female 1: It makes me feel warm, happy and pleasant all the time.
Godwin: That is true. This feeling of warmth is very very important because now human being are, for different reasons, becoming more and more cold. As I said at the nunnery, with more and more mechanization, human beings are becoming more and more like machines and one aspect of becoming more and more like machines is they lack feelings. So having this warmth, having feelings for other people, for ourselves, is something very very important, very beautiful.
Another one which I thought of which may be related to some of the people I have been meeting at the interviews is that this can develop a lot of self confidence. Can anyone see the connection between self-confidence and loving kindness?
Male 4: When you don't have enemies around you, then it is already very powerful.
Godwin: That's true. Very powerful. Anything else about self confidence?
Male 3: When you have loving kindness, you will quite easily do things that will help others, and you will think more for others and less for yourself. With this way of living, one can says one has no regrets at all in life and when one can say that, this is self confidence.
Godwin: I think another aspect of self confidence is that we lose self confidence when we consider ourselves as unsuccessful, worthless, useless, we may fail, so it is a very very negative self image we have of ourselves, more as failures.
So with more and more loving kindness specially to oneself, we can see how it works and we can see our own potentialities and we can become more and more self reliant, and this can give us a lot of self confidence in the sense that we can handle whatever arises. So it is not that they will not arise, anger will arise, problems will arise, difficulties will arise but you have the confidence, if they arise: I know how to handle them, I know what to do.
Anyway, so we can perhaps think of some more. So it shows anyway how important meditation on loving kindness is specially in everyday life, how the changes that one can bring about oneself, the transformation that one can bring about oneself and as I said, it is also bound to affect others around you.
So now any questions, any difficulties you have? So if you have any difficulties, please present them because it is important to discuss them.
Male 2: The difficulty I have about practising loving kindness is at the moment of anger. As you said, when I have a hatred mind, it is better not to make a decision and not even to say a word. My problem is when I work in the office, when some of my staff did something wrong, I immediately got angry and said something to them. Afterwards, I knew that I shouldn't have said it because I just add more suffering to the sufferings of others and it would be a mistake. I should have told them how to handle the mistake rather than to raise my voice, but I tried very hard but it is always difficult to control myself at that moment of anger.
Godwin: Not only you, we can all relate to that experience. So you have raised a very important practical question. Sometimes in a way people with whom you work, sometimes I think you need to speak firmly to them. Before I went to the meditation centre, I was a librarian. So I tried to practise loving kindness with those members of the staff, people who were working. It was not easy. People would come late. "He is practising loving kindness. So we got up an hour late. He is practising loving kindness, so don't send application for leave, just stay at home." So I realized it didn't work because some people understood only a different language. The only thing, again you have to be very very clear, that now I am going to be firm, tell him very firmly and in doing that, there is no wound, there is nothing inside, there is just saying something that has to be said.
Anyway, the second part of the question has a very practical aspect. It is that when we get angry unexpectedly, what do we do? The first suggestion is: Don't be surprised. Because you are still practising, you are not enlightened and don't be disappointed, don't feel guilty, don't get angry about yourself because you got angry. So this is very very important, otherwise what happens is, specially this can happen to meditators, when we take to meditation, we form an image:’I am a meditator now. I am practising loving kindness. This is how I should behave.’ It is good to have an image but an image is one thing, reality is another. So at that moment when you have not been aware and you got angry, what you can do is just be with that without feeling bad, no need to give yourself a minus. Please realize that. It is very very important. But what has to be done is after you recover from that anger, may be after five minutes, may be after ten minutes, may be after thirty minutes, it doesn't matter even if on the following day, when you have recovered from that, then you reflect on that action. And that kind of reflection has to be done in a very friendly gentle way. Just to ask the question: What really happened to me? So you take your mind backwards and then try to see that incident objectively and also seeing the different aspects of that incident. So our anger becomes our object of meditation. So our shortcomings, our failures, become learning experience. So that what is also important when we practise this way, we don't have this fear to make mistakes, otherwise we become so concerned on doing things perfectly, correctly and this can generate such a lot of tension, such a lot of suffering. Please realise that this is not giving in to them but relating to our shortcomings in an entirely different way, a more meaningful way, a more creative way, in a way where it will reduce more suffering and we can also do what is necessary. So then you say: ‘Now let me see, next time I face a situation, how I will behave.’ And just wait and see. So you are waiting for such opportunities to see how your behaviour is. To put it in another way, because you have got angry, there is no wound. So in a sense we come to a state where when we have got angry, there is less suffering as a result, and I think this is a very important state. Anything else?
Male 5: You said there might have been things done wrongly in the past where we did not forgive others and did not forgive ourselves and usually we will suppress these things in our heart. At this moment, how do I know whether I have suppressed these things in the past and bring them out to heal them. I would like to ask this.
Godwin: Very good. Let's take a practical situation where a wound has been created in relation to what you have done to another person, you have acted incorrectly and then you suffer from guilt. So the first point is to realize how the wound was created in the first place. So when you enquire into that question, you realize the wound has been created by your idea: This is how I should have behaved. So you realize the problem has been with your model of how you should behave. So it is helpful to understand this because this can help us to heal this wound. This is the first point. The second point is to realize, as I said earlier, we are still human, we are still imperfect, so therefore as I have been saying very often, learn to forgive our humanness, to forgive our imperfections.
The next suggestion is to realize that these things happened in the past. We cannot change the past so why I am holding onto something that has happened in the past.
Maybe the last point, I hope I can communicate this, is we carry the wounds in our memory. And as they are related to memories, the more we try to forget it, the more it comes. We have no control over our memory. The control we have is not in relation to memory but how we respond to the memory. This is where meditation comes in. This is where we can work with it in practical terms. So when the memory comes in relation to what you have done, what you can observe is our reaction to the memory: guilt. Now this is where awareness is relevant, so with awareness, we learn that there is guilt, and as we have also been practising, we learn to say O.K. to that guilt, we learn to feel friendly with that guilt, just to allow that guilt. Then again after some time, you might remember that incident and then again guilt will come, so again we are creating space for that guilt to be there. I can be also interesting sometimes to deliberately and consciously bring it up and see how we are relating to that memory. When one day you have the experience, the memory comes but there is no guilt and when that happens, it shows that the wound is healed. Then the memory might come but the corresponding emotion will not be there. We might deliberately and consciously bring up the memory and the corresponding emotion will not be there.
One last suggestion is to realize that holding onto such wounds is something very very self destructive. So these are ways and means of healing such wounds. So whether it is guilt, whether it is grief, whether it is hatred, the tools are the same.
Male 5: Today, I deliberately brought things up to see if there are wounds or not but there was no reaction. Could it be a delusion? Would such a thing happen?
Godwin: This shows they have been healed. So don't worry. So no need to feel unhappy: ‘I don't have wounds. Why don't I have wounds?’ In a way you can give yourselves a plus because most people have wounds. So just to say: ‘I don't have wounds, it's good, nice.’
I think on one occasion I said those who do not have wounds, please send loving kindness to those who are trying to heal the wounds, because some people are really struggling with wounds. I know it is so strong in them, so deep in them that it takes a lot for them for healing. I know it by experience working with meditators.
Female 2: Love and hate are the same thing.
Godwin: Can you give us some examples? I am a simple man. I like practical examples.
Female 2: You mentioned if our wound is hatred, we can deliberately bring it up and look at the hatred, and if we have no reaction to it, that means the wound is healed. But what about love, can we dig up situations where we have loved, where we have loved ones and then see if we have any emotion when we dig out this memory of love? For instance, not a parting of ways but for some reason you sacrifice yourself for his or her good, there can be deep emotions when they are dug out. Should it be treated in the same way as we deal with anger?
Godwin: No, certainly not. When you remember such acts or when such acts you deliberately and consciously bring up without any unpleasant emotions, what you will be having is pleasant emotions. So you can feel happy about what you have done to another person. I would suggest that it is important for us also to sometimes think of the good things we have also done. This can give us lots of joy, lots of happiness, lots of lightness and this will also be an incentive to do more and more such actions of love. In Sri Lanka, we have an old custom, now it is no longer there, to have, they call it, a book of merits. So you note the good things you have done, the skilful things you have done and at the time that person is dying, they read out the book. Because usually we give more power, more energy to our mistakes so I think it is very important, in fact this is mentioned in the Dhamma, to deliberately and consciously, to think when they come up, just to feel those emotions.
So now something about tomorrow's practice. So one thing is that tomorrow we will try to make it a day of silence as far as possible. But this does not mean if you have to speak for something functional, something important that you should not speak, but as far as possible, let's make it a day of silence. This is one suggestion I like to offer. Today, it was a day of loving kindness, tomorrow we will make it a day of emotions. So tomorrow, we make an effort to allow emotions to arise, whether it is pleasant as in the case you mentioned or unpleasant, let them arise. So with pleasant emotions that arise, this might give more joy, more happiness, allow that to happen and with unpleasant emotions, we learn how to work with them, how to use them because I know some of the meditators here are still struggling with unpleasant emotions that are coming up. So tomorrow if you learn not to push them away because they are unpleasant, not to control them, not to deny them, but just to allow them to arise if there is a need to arise. When they arise, love it and can you make friends with it, can you love it? What can we learn from it? So let's use some of these tools tomorrow and see what happens. So in the evening, we can have a very practical experience for discussion on emotions and then discuss more about this aspect of emotions.
There is a connection between silence and emotions. With more and more silence, I think it allows for emotions to arise, maybe both types of emotions. So let's see what happens tomorrow.
Now let us do some chanting.
Day 4 Retreat: 16th October 1997
It has been a learning experience for me listening to the problems regarding emotions. It is clear to me that emotions arise in the way you relate to yourself and the way you relate to others and the way you relate to the surroundings. So it shows relationship is a real challenge we have in life. Many persons presented problems relating to other people. So their problem was, they were concerned about what others were thinking of them. Especially fearing minuses. So the question arises: Why we have given such power to other people? Our happiness and unhappiness is dependent on other people. So I would like to raise this as a question: Why have we given so much power to other people?
Female 1: Otherwise it would be difficult to get on with each other.
Godwin: Anything else?
Male 1: If one has no self confidence, one does not know how to get hold of one's destiny.
Godwin: I think this seems to be an important reason. Because we lack self confidence, because we don't practise what is necessary for us, we depend on other people for that. Another question that arose in my mind today was, at least with the people I have been meeting in this regard, only women have been telling me how they are relating to other people creates this emotion of lack of self confidence, fearing the judgment of others, fearing to make mistakes where others will blame them. Now a question that arose in me is that, here, in this country, is it mostly common with women, or men also have this problem but they are shy to speak about it?
Male 2: Men have more of this kind of problem. Men know how to find ways to let out their emotions, for example, they would go out to drink with friends and when they get a bit drunk, they will just say anything, then they just let out the emotions in this way or another.
Godwin: I meet many men and I meet many women and I think everywhere in this world, this is a real problem human beings have to face. I didn't know that with men, one of the solutions they have found is drinking, but then it becomes a vicious circle because of their drinking, they are also given minuses and because of the minuses, they drink, so one thing leads to the other. Let us see how meditation helps us to work with these problems, whether it is in men or women, it doesn't matter.
I feel this is why meditation of loving kindness is so important, in the sense that you learn to be your best friend and if you can really make that connection with yourself, actually feel it, then I think our dependency on what others think of you becomes less because whatever we need from others, you get it from yourself. You will become self contained within oneself.
Another way meditation helps us to work with this situation is understanding the nature of pluses and minuses. It is again very interesting that human beings have this very very strong conditioning to give pluses, to give minuses in all situation but we never pause to question whether these pluses or minuses are valid, on what basis are we doing this. It is funny we really become victims of this mechanism but we never inquire into the way these pluses and minuses operate, under what condition they arise, what is really creating them, what is contributing to them. So when we explore this question, we realise that these are really related to thoughts, concepts which have come due to different reasons from the society that you have been brought up into. Then you see them as part of your conditioning, you see them as a strong habit that we have got used to. It is funny this is how we use thoughts. Now as we all know from the time that we wake up in the morning up to the time that we go to sleep, there are continuous thoughts, thinking going through our mind which never stop. If you become aware, if you become mindful of the thoughts that go through your mind, then you'll realize that most of the time the way we use thoughts is this habit of giving pluses and minuses. So that when you see this clearly, then the power that we have given to them may become less. So then you realize sometimes it is just an innocent thought that comes: ‘maybe the other person doesn't like me’, ‘maybe the other person is giving me minuses’, ‘maybe the other person thinks that I'm silly or ridiculous’. So if you are mindful, you'll realize it is just a thought that I'm having, who knows whether that thought corresponds to any reality. There is a strong imaginary aspect in our thoughts. So this imaginary aspect and the reality are two different things. So with awareness, with mindfulness, exploring, investigating may become clear to us and this will help us to work with and handle the thoughts and their power will become less.
Another very interesting aspect related to this is: With our thoughts, with our identifications, the images we have created of ourselves and others. We all have images of who we are, the type of persons you are. So in the same way, each person has a model, has an image of himself or herself. So I think what we are doing is that when other people accept your image, then you feel comfortable with them, you feel at ease with them. And then we make it a point to always, or most of the time, impose this particular image on other people. Then we also have images of other people. A Western psychologist has said that when two people meet, there are six people. Can you work out how two people become six people?
Male 1: Two real people and four imaginary people.
Godwin: Yes, exactly. It is a very interesting point for us to reflect. So sometimes when there are conflicts, actually it is the images that are in conflict but what they really are is another situation. So with meditation, with awareness, you understand this process that whenever there is a conflict, the conflict is the result of the image you have of the other person. Take the case of anger. So in relation to behaviour from another person: How do we get angry? Why do we get angry? We have an idea of how the other person should behave and when the other person's behaviour does not conform to the image we have, we get angry. Then we have an image of our usual behaviour and when our behaviour does not correspond to that image, then we feel guilty, we get angry, we get disappointed, we get hurt yourself because our behaviour does not correspond to that image we have formed of ourselves.
A very interesting practice in everyday life is, whenever you suffer, whenever you are disappointed, whenever you are frustrated, at that moment, you can see for yourself that the image which you are having is now clashing from what is actually happening. This is why the Buddha emphasized: Learning to see things as they are. But what we are doing is, we want to see the way things as they should be, as they must be according to our way, my way. So in a way, what we are doing is we are demanding how we should behave, we are demanding how others should behave, we are demanding how life should be. So if these demands are met, life is wonderful, life is O.K., it is beautiful. If these demands are not met, suffering, frustration, disappointment, hurt, most of the emotions can arise as a result of that. So I would suggest that an enlightened human being goes about life without any images and because of that, he or she can never suffer.
Another aspect related to this is if you can really understand the nature of life, then you realize it is not possible to have a conclusion about how life should be. In the Dhamma there is something very very deep which is: To be open to the uncertainty of life. But we have this idea of certainty because we assume things can be controlled but when we think deeply, we realize that in actual fact, we have no control. In cultures, in countries where things work perfectly, without any problems, one thing that arises is that it gives a kind of sense of security because everything is happening perfectly, no problems, everything under control. Living in countries like India, Sri Lanka, you have to be open to uncertainties. I will give a practical example which I experienced. When I was in Europe, I was in a train and they made an announcement in the language of that country and people were very very anxious, looking at their leaflets and lots of talk about it, lots of disappointment, so I asked them what the announcement is. They said the train was going seven minutes late. In Sri Lanka, if there is a train you'll be very fortunate. So this is very good training. Most of the time unexpected things happen. You go to the bus stand, then they say no bus now. You want to go by train, they say now there is no train, it is one hour late. I get the impression that these things don't happen here. Am I right? Everything under control and it gives a sense of security, then when something unexpected happens, disappointment, suffering. So that living in cultures like this naturally you tend to be conditioned to do things perfectly. You fear to make mistakes because no mistakes happen! So with this idea of perfection, this is why we like other people to accept that you are perfect, this is why you fear maybe they are giving you minuses so that your model of perfection is affected by that. So this is why I often emphasized this open to humanness, open to imperfection so that when we become more and more open to our humanness, our imperfection, then if you are getting minuses from other people, then you are not surprised. You realize: Well, that's part of the conditioning. I'm still human, so it's O.K.
I like to pause now and if you have any questions, I'm sure you might have some questions, some clarifications about this, so I think we will try to have a useful discussion about our emotions and how to really work with our emotions in the context of the practice.
So it is interesting when asking questions, you are afraid: ‘Could this be a good question? Will people laugh at my question? Will they think I'm stupid?’ As Peter said, are we not silly? I mean this is where it is beautiful that we are in a group of spiritual friends so at least we should be open to anything, allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from these mistakes, at least this is the beauty of a retreat like this. So I would like to hear some silly questions. I don't want these profound perfect questions. For a change, to some silly questions I will be happy to give some silly answers.
Male 2: In Hong Kong, we do have certain set of images to live by and we always do things in conformity with these images. For example, if we go to a cafe and order a certain type of Chinese tea but the waiter gives me another type and if we accept the wrong tea, the acceptance depends on whether we accept it without a grudge.
Godwin: That is certainly true. We can accept because it is one thing, because we want to conform with others, so you pretend it is good and you accept it but I think the real acceptance is: Can we really say O.K. to it or not even saying O.K. or doing something about it?
Male 2: My statement is really if I accept, the acceptance would either be with a grudge or with understanding, not with conformity.
Godwin: So it is not a silly point but a profound point. It is so profound that we are still trying to understand what the question is! I'm only joking.
Anything else? So please present difficulties, problems you have in everyday life in relation to working with emotions. As someone said today, living here, there are no emotions coming.
Male 2: Because we have to be silent, that's why there's no emotion!
Male 3: He said no talk, no emotions. He got the point. Better than us.
Godwin: So please, in everyday life, what are the emotions that come up? So we can discuss ways and means of how meditation can help us to cope with emotions in such situation.
Male 4: I would like to give one example, that is, in my office, I always try to work to conform with what my clients expect me to do. It's not because I care how they judge me. Actually I don't care as long as I've done my job right, then I'm happy. But the reality is that if I don't do things in conformity with their expectations, they will complain about me or to me which results in spending a lot of time explaining the situation. So that gives me a lot of pressure. I know that it is all created by my mind and I can handle the situation if there should be any unjustified complaints but the fact is that I try to avoid these troubles, so I try to do everything perfectly.
Godwin: A good question.
Female 2: It's very common in Hong Kong.
Godwin: Good question, A big plus to you. So what I would suggest is, what I'm saying doesn't mean that you should not act with responsibility. So one thing we have to learn is how to act with responsibility without the pressure. So that you are doing your best but doing that best is done in a relaxed way, not with tension, not with stress. This is one thing we need to learn and then when you do your best and then you have made a mistake, then you can be very very clear and honest in your own mind: When I did my best but my best was not the best of that other person, so what can I do? So it at least makes your mind very clear, it makes your conscience very clear, so that it also will not give rise to any conflict. So this is all we can try to do and then we tried, if it succeeds, it's good. If it fails, it is also good. And then in such a situation, if you have made a mistake and then some problem arises, what is also important for us to learn is when a wound has been created, to heal that wound as quickly as possible rather than just hold onto the wound and suffer for your whole life because you have made some mistakes.
Female 2: But in Hong Kong you may be fired by the boss. It is the source of the pressure.
Male 3: Accept the fact that I'm fired. No suffering.
Godwin: If you have done your best and if you're fired, I mean in your own mind you are very very clear about what has happened. So I feel, it is very very important in life to understand our limitations. This doesn't mean that we justify our limitations but that is a fact: I'm doing my very best but then my very best does not correspond to what others think as their best, so what can you do? Actually, these are real challenges we have in life: How to face them?
Another aspect to such situation, I don't know if what I'm going to say makes sense, some of these set backs, some of these difficulties, some of these problems you have in such a situation can be, later on, a blessing. This is also very interesting. I'm reminded of a Chinese tale that I like to share with you, perhaps you already know the story. In a particular village, there was a very wise old man and he had some beautiful horses. So one day one of the beautiful horses was missing, gone away. So the whole village came to this man and said, ‘Oh, how unfortunate! It is that your best horse that has ran away. It seems you are very unlucky.’ Maybe in Buddhist term, it is bad Kamma and so on. He said, ‘No, it is merely that my horse has ran away. What you are saying is an opinion, a judgment on what has happened. My horse has ran away, that's all.’ So in my terms, you'd say no need to give a minus to this. Then after some days, this horse came with another beautiful horse. Then the same villagers came and said, ‘Oh, you're very lucky, you're very fortunate, you lost one horse, now you have two horses.’ He said, ‘Stop all this. I now have two horses, that is all.’ In my terms, no need to give a plus. This old man had a son and so with this new horse he was trying to train this new horse and in training the new horse, the son fell from the horse and broke his leg. So the friends came and said, ‘Bad Kamma again.’ And then what happened was there was a war and so soldiers came to the village to take away all the young people in the village for the war, only his son was saved from this. This is a very very good story to learn to see things just as they are, hopefully without pluses and without minuses. I suppose the wise old man did not have any image of what should happen and what shouldn't happen. Has anyone heard of this story? Everybody.
Male 5: Everybody know this story but nobody can practise like the old man.
Male 4: But the story was not presented in the way that you did. The way you presented the story is very striking because you emphasized the point that there should not be any concept. The fact is that he lost a horse. The fact is that he gained a horse and no other judgment. But the traditional way of telling this story is about good luck and bad luck. When fortunate things happen, you do not expect it is really fortunate. When unfortunate things happen, you do not expect it is really unfortunate, you have to wait and see it to the end. That is the traditional way of telling the story, so it is very materialistic because the traditional way of telling us is that at the end this old man gains. There's a fruit.
Godwin: I think another aspect of this story I like is that he did not have any expectations of what should happen or what shouldn't happen. So no images. He had no images of what should happen and what shouldn't happen. This is one point. The other point is there is a shift that takes place inside. When there is understanding and realization inside, anything can happen externally. This is the important thing. So we cannot control what is happening externally but when there is a change inside, then you will be able to handle whatever is happening externally. I think this is another aspect of the story.
Any other questions?
Male 6: In Hong Kong society even though you can achieve 99% almost perfection, with the 1% you have committed as a mistake, people would grab hold of that 1% fault and go on and on against you. I fully understand the way you told us how to deal with these situations but I cannot say from the bottom of my heart whether I can do it.
Godwin: I think what you said does not apply only to Hong Kong society. For some reason everywhere in the world there seems to be too much emphasis, too much power given to the mistakes, to the negative things, that the good things are taken for granted. This happens very often in relationships. You do good things and with so many good things, you do one mistake and that one mistake becomes more important than all the good things that you have done. So people will be talking about that one mistake but not all the good things that has been done by that person. So it brings up the interesting question: Why do human beings give so much power to the mistakes, to the negative things and the positive things are taken for granted? I like to hear from you whether you have any thoughts about this.
Female 3: People seldom have any heart for things.
Godwin: Maybe so. Anything else?
Male 2: I present a converse situation to what Male 6 said. Some people never do anything right but somehow everything is forgiven when he brings you a cup of tea.
Male 4: He is not answering your question.
Godwin: So going back to my question.
Female 4: I think sometimes people always think of the mistake and keep reminding you because of jealousy, so they want to heighten the mistake.
Godwin: Anything else? Any other possible explanations.
Male 4: In my experience, it all boils down to greed. It's because, for example, my clients expect me to win a legal battle because if I win the legal battle, he will get what he wants. When I do not win the legal battle for him, then he has many complaints because his mind is muddled by greed because he does not get what he wants. And the same applies to many other things that I have seen. When a person has greed in his mind and if he does not get what he wants and although I've done my best, he won't listen.
Godwin: So as we realize that this is something in ourselves and we should in our own way, try to practise this in a different way. So one suggestion I like to offer is that whenever you see someone doing something good, I think we should make it a point to just to mention it, to appreciate it. Parents who bring up children, I mean this is a very very common problem where parents tell the children only when they make a mistake. When they do something good, that is not mentioned. So a child is brought up with the idea: I'm always doing wrong things. When a similar discussion took place in a foreign country I was in, in that audience, there was a teacher who had been counselling parents. She told us she gave an exercise to the parents. They were told to draw up a list of all the naughty things, bad things the children would do. So without a problem, they drew up a long list. Then the parents were told now please draw a list of the good things your children are doing. It was very very difficult for them to do that! They had to think hard on what the good things that they were doing. Isn't that interesting?
And this also happens in relationships. Sometimes I have to counsel in Sri Lanka, husbands and wives who have problems. It's a big joke amongst my friends. They say this man has no experience in married life and he is counselling married people. One complaint of wives is when cooking is not so good, the husband would be critical and make a big fuss about the food, but when the food is good, she tells me that he practises the noble silence!
There is a very interesting discussion in the Buddhist texts about spiritual friends. So what a real spiritual friend does is when someone does wrong, you point out in a very friendly way that’s wrong and when you do something good, when you do something right, you point out that you are doing something good, something right. This is what we need to learn, not only give power and energy to the minuses but also acknowledge the pluses. So I would suggest, we as meditators, we should try to cultivate this very important quality. And it is also very important to see the good things in us also. This tendency to see only the negative, only the minuses in ourselves is a very very strong factor which can create a lot of emotions and suffering for us. So when we learn to see the more and more positive in us, when we see more and more pluses in us, then we will be able to see more and more positive things and pluses in others.
There are four qualities mentioned in the Dhamma. They are called sublime states or divine abodes. So they are Metta, the first one is loving kindness. The second one is Karuna which means when you see someone suffering you try to help that person. The third quality is very very interesting, Mudita, when other people are happy, you rejoice in their happiness, and I would say that you can also rejoice in your own happiness. So this quality of Mudita is something very very important we need to cultivate. A meditation Master has put this very very clearly, he said that we have a tendency to see what is wrong in us, we never look for what is right in us. The society might have harmful, destructive values but we should try to cultivate these virtues, these values which might be against what is happening in society. This is why the Buddha's teaching, meditation is compared to going up stream, that it is not easy, most people just flow with the stream. So living in a society where these things are prominent, where they are given power, it is not easy, it is difficult but this is where we have to make an effort. This is where the practice is important. This is why a group of spiritual friends is important, that at least we are as a group trying to practise these virtues, these qualities though in the country, in the society, something else is happening.
Anyway, something about tomorrow. Tomorrow I like to suggest we might try to practise about your thoughts, to work on our thoughts. There is always a connection between thoughts and emotions. An interesting question to reflect is: Can there be suffering without a thought? Can there be emotion without a thought? So I feel that in our practice, we should really understand, penetrate, to work with our thoughts. So as I said, from the time that we wake up up to the time we go to sleep, there is this continuous thinking going through our mind. So tomorrow I like to suggest that we forget our friend, the breath, and then continuously observe our thoughts and see the connection between thoughts and emotions and then try to make discoveries about our thoughts, about our thinking, especially the area of pluses and minuses in relation to the thoughts that we have. So tomorrow if you catch yourself giving minuses, observe it, catch it as soon as possible. When we were coming here to this centre, I think there was a question mark in red and I think I asked someone what that question mark meant. I was told that question mark meant: Just find out what you are thinking. So it is a very interesting exercise that during the day, suddenly, to find out: Now what is the thought I am having. So whether you are here or whether you are outside, let us make an effort to just to know, just to understand, just to explore, just to learn, just to discover from our thought, about our thoughts, about our concepts. And then we can have a discussion about thoughts in the evening.
So now we can do some chanting.
Day 5 Retreat: 17th October 1997
Thought and Meditation
I will touch on some aspects where we can work with our thoughts in the context of meditation.
One thing we can discover is that our thoughts arise mechanically. They just pop up. Take what is happening now. You are listening to me but you are in your thoughts that are going through your mind. You don't want these thoughts to arise but they just pop up and then we do something very interesting, some thoughts we allow them to arise and pass away, while others, we get hold of them, we identify ourselves with them. They can overwhelm us, they can control us. So this is one of the things that we can know with awareness, so that when thoughts arise, without getting hold of them, if you can just allow them to go away, then there is no problem. So this is one aspect for us to learn and discover.
Another is the connection, relationship, between thoughts and our state of mind. So as I said, when we get hold of our thoughts, when we identify ourselves with the thoughts, then our state of mind changes. That is why I have been suggesting for us to learn that when thoughts come, just learning not to react to them.
Another interesting area which we have been working with is the connection between thoughts and emotions. What comes first, thoughts or emotions?
(Everyone answered: Thoughts)
I hope that you really discovered it, that you really learnt it.
So in other words, if you learn to handle thoughts, work with thoughts, we develop mastery over emotions. Another thing is when we have an emotion, it is only thoughts that make it bigger. It can really blow up the emotion you are having.
Another interesting aspect is how we create stories out of our thoughts and we don't realize that we create the stories but we become victims of the stories that we create ourselves. Sometimes the stories can even become films, movies in our own mind, from what has happened in the past and what is going to happen in the future, we can be creating sometimes very destructive films, movies and we are the director, we are the producer, we are the actor and we are the victims, all in that. I will give an example of what the stories and how the story can very soon become a kind of reality at that moment.
This is a story from the Buddhist literature. So there was a young monk who wanted to give up his robes. He hasn't told his chief monk about his plans but one day the chief monk was having a headache, so he told this young monk to give him a massage, to rub some oil on his head. So while massaging his head, he was thinking: Now, maybe in a month or two I will be giving up my robes. And after I give up my robes, maybe I will find a job and when I find a job, I will get some money and when I find enough money, maybe I will find a girl and get married to this girl and sometimes these wives can be very very impossible people and if my wife becomes difficult or impossible, I'll give her a good beating. And he beat this old monk on his head.
We are laughing but this is what we also do with our thoughts. So it shows that these thoughts can be so creative that they can create fantasies for us and we take the fantasy as real. And there is a connection, relationship, between the stories and emotions. In the Dhamma, there is a very interesting Pali word to describe this process which takes place in our mind. And what it means is constructing, manufacturing, concocting, projecting, all these things we do with our thoughts, and it is said there is a direct relationship between concepts and suffering. This is how our suffering is created. So this is why it is very very important to learn to work with thoughts, to understand the thoughts, to understand really the nature and construction of thoughts so that as I said earlier, if we can learn to have a very spacious mind, allowing these thoughts to come to go, emotions to come and go, sensations to arise and pass away, and we are in that spaciousness, not reacting to it and at that moment, it is freedom. In the Tibetan tradition, they use a very very nice simile. It has compared the mind to a spacious sky and the thoughts to clouds. So the clouds do not affect the sky, the sky does not affect the clouds. So this shows that it is important to have that spaciousness, spacious mind, allowing anything to arise and pass away.
Another aspect of thought is that we have a very strong conditioning to identify ourselves with them and say: ‘These are my thoughts. I am thinking.’ Again, without realizing it is the thoughts that have created the thinker. This is why I have been suggesting on a few occasions, just to see thoughts as thoughts without a owner, without the idea that these are my thoughts but just thoughts arising and passing away.
So it is funny how we have this idea of ownership. We start owning everything, thoughts, emotions, sensations, persons, possessions. So 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. It is this sense of ownership which is in a way creating our suffering. Nothing should happen to my mother, anything can happen to other mothers. Nothing should happen to my body but other bodies, there's no problem whatsoever. And then in the same way, we have this identification with possessions: My cup. It should be with me but other cups, there is no problem. We even draw the distinction about cats. This is my cat. This is the neighbour's cat. So the neighbour's cat should not come and attack my cat. How can the neighbour's cat do that? So it is an interesting question to reflect: What happens at the time of death about all the things we think we own? If you really own them, we should be able to take them with us even after death.
So these are really very very deep profound aspects of the Buddha's teaching. To see the connection with our sense of ownership, with the sense of "I" and "me" and how that is creating the suffering. So these are some areas, some aspects that we can find out for ourselves in the practice of meditation in everyday life. So in everyday life, it is very important to use awareness, just to know what thoughts are going through your mind and how it is affecting us, how it is related to emotions. So if you can really constantly practise this, be aware of this, then very slowly there can be a shift from what is happening to you.
We are saying 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 you 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 be still having that illness but it is not a source of suffering. So it shows how thinking, thoughts, are really directly related to our suffering.
So I presented certain aspects, areas, where we use thoughts destructively. Yesterday, we discussed about images that arise in relationships and images are created again by our concepts and our thoughts, but thoughts can also have a use, one can also use them creatively. How can we use them creatively? It is by using thought to reflect, to contemplate, to analyse. So this is a very very important exercise, very important meditation for us to develop. Using thoughts to reflect. This question of reflection, we should constantly reflect on our behaviour: How am I behaving? Is my behaviour creating suffering for oneself, creating suffering for other? Especially it is very important for us to see for ourselves how we create our own suffering. So it is only when we see very clearly how we create our own suffering, then you realize only we can bring about the change, then we take responsibility for our suffering and then we can change that situation. This brings up the four noble truths the Buddha discovered.
The first noble truth is the fact of suffering. How is suffering considered a noble truth? What is noble in suffering ? What is your response?
Female 1: Because if we do not understand suffering, we would not practise.
Godwin: You can say that. It is noble because when we suffer, then as I said, we can reflect on what is causing the suffering. So when you suffer, don't see it as something negative, see it as a noble truth. But what is more important is the second noble truth. It is from that to find out: Now what is causing the suffering? Who is causing the suffering? Now this is a very very difficult teaching for you to realize that you are creating the suffering, because it is very easy sometimes for us to hold others as responsible for our suffering, then you don't have to do anything about your suffering, others have to do something about it. So if you can see the second noble truth very clearly, the third and the fourth just follow from that.
Sometimes I define meditation as discovering the medicine for the sickness we have created ourselves. So during the last few days, we have been discovering the medicine and I am very happy looking at the faces, the medicine seems to be helping, working. Now what is important is to continue to take the medicine in everyday life. This is what we will be doing tomorrow, being the last day. So tomorrow I would like you to go over the medicine that we have been taking, the different techniques we have been practising, reflect on the different discussions we have been having. So before you leave, you must be very very clear whether you are clear about the medicine that you have to take. So tomorrow we will have a discussion on how to integrate meditation in daily life. So reflect on all the problems, all the difficulties you may encounter, or you are encountering in everyday life and then we will discuss how one can find the solution from the Buddha's teaching.
Now any questions about what I have been saying. Please ask questions, don't think whether it is a good question, bad question, silly question, profound question, just ask.
Female 2: Talking about meditation, I want to know whether we meditators should act like a stone? It seems that all the meditators behave like a stone. To me, the feeling is like many stones. Because this morning when I was doing the standing meditation and I just stood by the window and saw the nature, it was so beautiful, the wind moving and they danced, and I thought: Can we do dancing meditation and it was so peaceful? So I want to know.
Godwin: Was I behaving also like a stone?
Female 2: Frankly, yes, but luckily you do laugh sometimes and you laugh very genuine and you laugh very brilliant so I don't think you are really like a stone most of the time.
Godwin: I have been emphasizing the practice of loving kindness and the practice of loving kindness is completely opposite to being like a stone. It is really developing friendliness, feelings, this is why I always emphasise when I say: Can you feel that you are your best friend? Can you really feel for other people around you? So stones cannot feel I'm afraid. You described nature. You have been emphasizing very much to make a connection with nature. And I am happy to say that there is a beautiful atmosphere of people helping each other, being friendly with each other, so I don't get the impression that they are, specially people working in the kitchen, behaving like stones. I think what you are confusing is detachment and having no feelings. So here, the whole emphasis on feeling. I have been emphasizing the experience of joy, lightness, friendliness, and then I think Jack has been emphasizing the importance of feeling the body. Perhaps he will tell you that some of you maybe relating to your body as stones and only with yoga. So that it is confusing, non-reacting mind, non-suffering mind with feelings. I wanted to mention this on the last day, I should also like to repeat that there is a beautiful atmosphere here, a group of spiritual friends interacting with each other. In fact one of the meditators told me this morning when we came, he had difficulties with feelings but when people started smiling at him and showing friendliness, for the first time, he experienced some feelings. That was very nice for me to hear from him.
Female 2: Master, you have not answered my question. Can we do dancing meditation?
Godwin: Oh dancing, I did not hear the word dancing. During individual and outdoor meditation, you are free to dance on your own, the only thing is not force it, it should come naturally from your heart, otherwise the dance is not something real, it is just because you want to dance, you dance. When there is joy, when there is lightness, when there is loving kindness, I think whether you dance or whether you don't dance, it does not matter, this is what is beautiful about it.
Female 3: Can mind power be as strong and firm as a stone?
Godwin: I wouldn't like to call that as stone. I would say rather than seeing it as a stone, it should be seen as something warm, it should be seen as something gentle, soft, tender. These are the spiritual qualities that come with the practice. So it is completely different from the aspect of a stone which is something with no feelings. Something beautiful about human beings is that we have this ability to feel and we should allow this feeling to arise but then this feeling should be worked with, understood, it has to be understood.
Female 4: You said earlier we should not create an image of ourself. When we practise meditation on loving kindness, we create an image of ourself that we are of loving kindness, so are the two contradictory?
Godwin: Very good question, very good question. So in a way, we need to have images, even expectations. What is important for us to realize is, in what way are we using them destructively. So that here, we don't have these qualities in us, instead of loving kindness, we have hatred, hatred to ourselves, hatred to others, so it is very very important to bring about a shift in us by learning to be your best friend, learning to be a friend to others. In a way, it is no harm having an image: I want to be a person who is friendly and try to practise. Or you can still practise without an image but just developing these qualities and from that, allow your behaviour to emerge from that, so one can really practise at two levels if you like. 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 that 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. Again, this is how suffering is created, where you have an image of how things should be and then what happens in reality is another thing and this is how suffering is created. So there are different aspects of this question. I'm very happy good questions are being asked. Very good.
Female 2: When you get enlightened, then we have no more thoughts?
Godwin: I think in a way there is nothing wrong with thoughts. This is what I have been trying to impress on you. So what I have been trying to impress on you is: How we use thoughts destructively? So this is what you have to see in everyday life: When we use thoughts destructively, how that is creating suffering. I also said how one can use thoughts creatively. So thoughts have a really very positive use. So I would suggest an enlightened person would have thoughts but such a person will not use thoughts destructively.
There is a very interesting quotation by the Buddha himself in relation to his own thoughts. Anyway, I would like to mention the details. One of his disciples told the Buddha, ‘You have so many powers, you have so many miracles, you can have miraculous powers in you.’ And the Buddha said, ‘My greatest miracle is when a thought arises, I know a thought has arisen, when a thought continues, I know when a thought continues, when the thought disappears, I know the thought disappears.’ So this shows it is not the absence of thought. I like that quotation very much, so we can try to work on the third aspect: When a thought disappears. So for someone to have that type of mind, you have to have a very very calm mind, alert mind, just to know when a thought disappears.
So that's about thoughts of an enlightened person. I think we should not worry too much about enlightened people.
Female 2: Actually, my question was because when I watched the grasshoppers for some time, it's so still, it's so calm, it seems that it is, the grasshopper is in meditation and I start to think: What is difference between his meditation and my meditation? So this thing about our thoughts.
Godwin: So you can think about the grasshoppers and you can leave the enlightened person alone. I think we have enough problems with the unenlightened mind of ours. So anything else?
Female 5: Today, during the meditation, I tried to put more effort on observing the thoughts and I discovered that when I put more effort on observation, there's less passing thoughts. It's just like you said, when you want to invite the emotions they do not come, when you invite the thoughts, they do not come also. It's very interesting.
Godwin: It's a very important discovery. When we don't want thoughts to arise, they arise and when 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. Is this the nature of the mind? Or have we conditioned the mind in this way? Any thoughts about this?
Male 1: Sometimes we have to force it to arise.
Male 2: Does it work?
Male 1: Think the thing you like to think about. Like if you want to have a coffee, you can say, ‘The coffee is tasty.’ Then it would be tasty.
Godwin: 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 this. And the child likes to do what you don't want him to do. So this is why again I emphasize such a lot on friendliness. So 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 this, but rather, with friendliness, try to understand it. So 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. For meditation, for most people, it 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 another 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.
Male 1: Your teaching of loving kindness is like teaching us to be a bodhisatta. I would like to practise this too but the difficulty is I cannot be a bodhisatta. For example, I go pass a beggar in the street. I wish to give him $10.00, but then after thinking, I would only give him $5.00 because I need the other $5.00 for my lunch box. My question is how to be a bodhisatta.
Godwin: I am very happy that you are now 50% bodhisatta! Because from $10.00, you give $5.00, you are 50% bodhisatta! So mathematically, you are 50% bodhisatta. So I'm sure very soon you will make the other 50%. So one day, you will come, you give the beggar the $10.00 and you forget about the lunch.
Male 1: What about my lunch box ?
Male 2: Dhammika told us of an incident when he was walking along with you. You came upon a beggar and you gave him everything from your pocket and then you had no money left and you had to walk a long way to where you needed to go. This is something we should learn. Do you remember?
Male 3: My thoughts are formed by words. I do not know whether the thoughts of others are also formed by words.
Godwin: Very interesting discovery you have made that 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. Peter ?
Male 1: The usual things. Nothing unusual.
Godwin: So it means that we see bread, we see coffee, whatever is there we see, so 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. So it sounds so simple and then what happens to us is with these things, this creates our suffering, pictures, films. What is interesting is that techniques like focusing on breathing, so that when there are no thoughts, so none of these things are present, pictures, words, but just dealing with the sensations. And these 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, something new can happen. So this is the beauty of some of the meditation techniques that help us to have no pictures and so on. This is what I have been encouraging you to do. 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 in us. Sometimes I tell meditators that they can be our laboratories and we can make experiments, we can make discoveries, we can learn from them. Without taking anything for granted, then our whole life becomes learning and we should develop a taste for it, you 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 becomes the teacher, your mind and body become your teacher and I think it is a beautiful way to live.
Yesterday we were talking about relationships. Just watching the dogs that come here shows very interesting relationships there. What have we learnt from just watching the three dogs that come here? Have you watched them?
Female 6: Very friendly.
Godwin: Yeah, but two were friendly and one was always there.
Male 4: One is an opponent of the other two. One is the enemy of the other two.
Godwin: Yes, it is very interesting to see their relationship.
Female 7: Just like humans.
Godwin: Yes, just like humans. Fascinating to watch them.
Female 7: The same greed and hatred. I think I will not give them anymore bread because they fight over it.
Godwin: Talking about dogs, I like to share with you an experience in 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 from the course, she has 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, that's what my dog does.’ And she went on to describe the behaviour of the dog and what happens in the retreat. Then I asked her, ‘Is there is no difference between me and your dog?’ She said, ‘Yes, you talk but my dog doesn't talk.’ I like that story very much. Anything else? Any question?
Female 8: You taught us the practice of loving kindness and how we should be friendly with ourselves and others and how we should reflect on wounds that we have and forgive others. But how do we know we are really being sincere in forgiving ourselves and in forgiving others?
Godwin: Very good question. I will give a practical example. Supposing you have a wound in relation to what you have done to another: Guilt. So before healing the wound, whenever a thought came in relation to our act, whenever the thought came, you would suffer from guilt. So the wound will be healed when the memory comes on reflection and then there is no guilt. In the same way, someone has been very unfriendly and unkind to you and whenever the memory comes in relation to his or her act, you feel hatred, you feel anger, you feel ill will. So the wound is healed when the memory comes about that person but no hatred, no ill will comes. I'm happy you reminded us of wounds, so tomorrow is the last day you have for healing wounds. So I would like to suggest you to try to heal them and leave all the wounds here when we go out of here.
Female 9: About wounds to others, for example, one of my male friends thinks I wounded him but this is not so, I did nothing wrong. How can I help him to get rid of the wound?
Godwin: So other people have wounds in relation to our behaviour. We might try to heal their wounds by trying to explain to them, and if you have really created the wound, say sorry to them and then try to help them to heal their wound. You can always try. Sometimes we find it difficult, they may find it difficult to heal them but what is important is not for you to suffer as a result of that because what can you do about it, you have done your best, and then the other person doesn't want to do that. So let us not create a wound in our own mind in relation to that wound.
So I like to say something about what we should do tomorrow. So one thing I suggest, try to go over different things we tried to do here in the last few days and if there are any doubts, any difficulties, please raise them in tomorrow's discussion or when we meet individually. And also please reflect on how you can integrate meditation in everyday life and if there are any questions, problems, in relation to that, you can prepare the questions and you can present them in the discussion. So tomorrow's discussion will be related to that.
And the last suggestion is, I like you to go over the different techniques we have practised and if you have any questions, any difficulties, you can also present them. So I wouldn't be telling you what to do tomorrow, so you are free to do whatever technique you like to practise and explore by yourself tomorrow. It is very important to learn to be your own teacher, learning to be a light unto yourself as the Buddha said.
So let's us do some chanting.
Day 6 Retreat: 18th October 1997
Integrate Meditation with Daily Life
We thought we can have a shorter sitting because we thought we can have a longer discussion as it is the last discussion we are having. So we will go over the techniques we have practised here. And with these techniques, if you have any difficulties, please present them. Though there are different techniques, the principles are the same. I present different techniques because people have different temperaments. So what I try to do is to relate to the meditators individually and find out what technique is more suitable for them.
Before we speak about the techniques, we should be clear why we meditate. The purpose of meditation is to free ourselves of 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 has human beings not complicated in life? So one of the techniques we presented was focusing on the breathing. Any difficulty about this technique?
Female 1: When I observe the breathing, I find that my mind was not calm and the breathing was fast.
Godwin: So I will say something about this technique. For whatever question you have, perhaps what I say might cover by it. The simple thing about this technique is that it is learning to be aware, so that we try not only to learn about awareness in relation to breathing but 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 my breathing is fast. If you have unpleasant sensations in the body, you know there are unpleasant sensations in the body so as I have been emphasizing, the whole focus of the technique is just knowing what is happening from moment to moment. If our mind is calm, you know the mind is calm. If the mind is not calm, you know the mind is not calm. So 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 if there is calm, there is also suffering. So what this meditation does is something very simple, knowing what is happening and as I have been saying very often, just being friendly and saying O.K. 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. And as I said the friend, our breath, will help us to just 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 more important than what is happening 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 to it in everyday life. In Sri Lanka, we have very very rich people sometimes being very unkind to their servants in their house. So when they are learning meditation, I tell them the way to know their progress is to see the way they are treating your servants at home. They are not very happy to hear such things. So please realize the progress is in how we are relating to it in everyday life. So it is a way of living. It is an art of living. It is a way of thinking. It is a way of having an attitude towards life, like the story I related about the wise old Chinese man. So please please see this clearly, please realize this. Perhaps after I go over the techniques, I might go over with you that aspect of everyday life. So again to repeat, please don't associate meditation with a particular posture, a particular time, a particular technique.
Another technique I presented was, meditation on loving kindness, which I emphasize very much. And 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 suffering comes when we resist something, whether in meditation or whether in everyday life. So loving kindness, friendliness, gentleness, openness, allow us not to resist, but just to flow, just to be open to what is happening.
Anyway, any problems about meditation on loving kindness? It's a funny question: Any problems about loving kindness meditation.
Female 2: Sometimes you treat other people with loving kindness but other people may not treat you with loving kindness.
Godwin: Very good question. This is what happens in everyday life. This is one of the greatest challenges we have in everyday life. People who are unfriendly to you, people who are unkind to you, people who are unreasonable to 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 show you the mirror. So when you meet such people, you should be really grateful for them because they are testing you. So the important thing is, not to be concerned about what they are doing, but to watch what is happening in our own mind. This is why we have been emphasizing so much the practice of awareness, just knowing what is happening. Then when you realize that the problem is what is happening here and not what is happening out there, people can behave in any way but there is no reaction to that. And as we have been emphasizing, this shows that human beings are human. According to the Buddha, until and unless we are enlightened, we are all crazy. So we are living in a crazy would. So the problem with us is we are taking these crazy people too seriously! So the sane way to live in a crazy society is to realize that, to understand this and to have compassion to the crazy people we have to be with. So this is how we can relate to such people, so they should be our teachers. So hope you meet more and more such masters, such teachers, such gurus, in your life and they are much better than the so-called teacher from Sri Lanka!!
So any other questions about loving kindness?
Female 3: Sometimes I feel that someone has done something wrong, for example, in the office, I see people wasting paper, so I get a bit angry with them although I understand that they may be ignorant about this but still the anger is there.
Godwin: It is interesting for me the example you gave. In Sri Lanka, people get angry when they waste their food because food is such a precious important thing. So it is interesting that when you see people wasting paper, so how does a meditator use such a situation?
So one way of working with such a situation is to see your own reactions to such a situation. Are you angry? Are you annoyed? Are you irritated? In what way are you reacting to that. So sometimes it is interesting that you can experiment with it. One day you go and you see such people, you see now, how long will the anger last, half an hour? One hour? Because of some paper? So you should look for such people and see how you are reacting to such situations. So that becomes a learning experience to you.
Now this doesn't mean that meditators are always passive, looking at oneself. There are two very important words: reaction, response. Reaction is an emotional reaction to such a situation. Response is doing something meaningful, doing something creative without reacting. So if you can have a kind of dialogue with such people in a very friendly open way, try to understand their behaviour. But it should be done in a very very skilful way rather than when you speak to them, speak in a very angry way, in a judgmental way as if you are thinking you are righteous and these people are wrong and naturally there is a reaction to that. We should never be self righteous in our life. When you see mistakes of other people, without being self righteous, sometimes you say: I may not have that mistake but I may be having worse mistakes, worse ones, wrong things in my mind. Then when you see wrong doings, you relate to human frailties in an entirely different way. So it is good to, if you like to, 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. So if it works, it's fine and if it doesn't work, you should be able to see such human frailties and just to understand that this is the way things are. So I like to again emphasize this 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 impose your opinion on other people. And I would also like to suggest in such situation, without being self righteous, to be humble in situations. To honestly tell such person: 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.
Anything else about loving kindness?
Male 1: My question is related to the previous question that has just been raised, this thing about not being self righteous when you deal with a person whom you think is not acting correctly. The problem is between me and my wife. I have tried the method you have just explained to us to make her understand where her shortcomings are but the more friendly I am in dealing with the situation, the more self righteous she feels so I'm getting nowhere with this.
Male 2: He said he got more and more humble and his wife got more and more self righteous, but don't believe him!
Godwin: And I think I agree because I know his wife also!
Anyway I think I'm forced to relate my usual story about the cobra. I think most of you have heard of this story. Anyway, anyone not heard of it?
The story is that there was a cobra who was practising loving kindness meditation in a forest all by herself and an old woman came along and then the woman mistook the cobra for a rope. So as the cobra was practising loving kindness, she allowed the woman to use her as a rope for the fire wood she had collected. So the old woman went home and this cobra escaped with lots of difficulties, lots of pain, wounds and so on and went to the meditation teacher and told the meditation teacher, ‘See what happened. I was practising loving kindness. I'm suffering as a result of the loving kindness.’ And the teacher said, ‘You have been practising idiotic compassion, not loving kindness. We have to learn to hiss sometimes. So sometimes we need to hiss to assert ourselves, to be firm but again be clear that you are being firm and that your motive, what is inside, is really compassion.’ So the point I'm making is, loving kindness doesn't mean that you are always passive, allowing others to exploit you. So it's again with wisdom that you should know when to assert yourself and when to be gentle. And you should also allow your wife to be the cobra.
Another technique that we practised which is very very important, I feel, is what is called objectless meditation. Once you are established in awareness and you are stable in your mind, then we are in a position to allow anything to arise, allow any thought to arise, allow any emotion to arise especially emotions we don't like, any sensations to arise, and we learn just to observe, just to be with whatever is happening in that spacious mind. This is a very very useful meditation in everyday life. In everyday life, in different situations, just to know what thoughts you are having, just to know what emotions you are having, just to know what sensations you are having, and seeing what they are and learning not to react to them, making them the objects of meditation, making them learning experiences. So in everyday life, you are having an emotion like anger, fear, stress, we learn to make that an object of meditation. Meditation has different levels but at least to a great extent, we should try to integrate this with everyday life. This is why we had two full days, one full day to work with emotions, another full day to work with thoughts, because these are the two aspects, the two areas which we have to deal with in everyday life. So any question about this practice?
Male 3: Regarding the objectless meditation, practically, how can we create a spacious mind in order to do such meditation?
Godwin: So using a technique like breathing, we learn to develop awareness, we learn to develop non-reactive mind, we learn to be open as I said with this technique like focusing on breathing and once you know now you are fairly stable, then you can open up to whatever is happening. And what is beautiful in this technique is even when there are times when you don't have a spacious mind and when you react, as I said, when you have emotion, that becomes an object of meditation, you learn about it, you investigate it. So if you are unable to do it at that time, it will not be very easy, but at least later on, we can reflect on what happened and we can learn from them. So our mistakes, our failures, they're used as our teachers, they're used for our spiritual growth. It is a very very beautiful way to live. Usually when we make a mistake, we give ourselves a big minus, we feel guilty, we suffer from anger, all different reactions. But in this way, there is no need to have such reaction for them, you learn about what happened to you, so it develops self knowledge, you feel grateful for these emotions and reactions that you have had. I like to emphasize this very much because I know in this culture, there's lots of suffering as a result of our failures, our mistakes. So hereafter, please don't suffer as a result of them, make them the object of meditation, make an effort to learn from them, because again, we can use them as a mirror because they are showing us where we are. So please be very clear on this point. Then you come to a state whether these unpleasant emotions are there or whether there are pleasant emotions, it makes no difference. No big plus when pleasant experiences are there and no big minus when unpleasant experiences are there. As the Buddha said: We learn to see things just as they are.
Any other questions about this technique?
Female 4: You taught us not to fight with our thoughts in everyday life, particularly during meditation, we should not fight against all the sensations. During meditation, I find after sitting for about half an hour, my legs become so painful that I have to put all my attention on the pain and it's like putting up a fight with those sensations. And if I try to accept the sensations, then all my attention is on how to accept those sensations and therefore, I have no room to do any observation of the thoughts. So I would like to know when I should make a decision to change my posture because I do not want to change my posture too often because I might have to go through the pain in order to improve the sitting. It confused me because I have to make a decision sometime and I do not know what decision should I make.
Godwin: A few points, one is using pain is a very very useful experience for meditation. In everyday life, when we experience physical pain, what do we do? We try to do something about it immediately, change the posture or whatever and then get rid of the pain because it is unpleasant. So by doing this, we never learn about pain, which is the most important part of the human condition. We don't know what types of pain we might have to experience in the future, so this is why I have been repeating so much so often, meditation is learning to be open to unpleasant experiences. So please don't see them as a disturbance or a distraction. So this is one point. So nothing is more important than the pain itself, thoughts or whatever, because that is what you are experiencing, so feel grateful for the pain because you can learn about the pain in a meditative situation.
We have to avoid two extremes. One extreme is always saying yes to the body. This is pampering the body. Is there lots of pampering of the body in this country? A good question to reflect. The body said, ‘I want it.’ Immediately go for it because it is all available here. So it is very very important to learn to say no sometimes. So saying yes always is pampering. Always saying no is being too hard on ourselves. So it is very very important to have the balance, when to say yes, when to say no. So in relation to physical pain when you are meditating, immediately you change the posture, I would say that is pampering and going through the pain, not trying to change the posture, grinding your teeth, enduring the pain, I would say it is the other extreme. So the middle way is learning, experimenting, exploring the pain and then when it's unbearable, change the posture, stand up, very simple.
Female 4: I think it is rather difficult to know what is the point that you have to be strict.
Godwin: Just play with it, just experiment with it, it's not as critical as you think. Don't be so serious about the practice. Yesterday you were speaking of people being like stones. This is the result if you are too serious. So this is why I'm emphasizing lightness, joy, experimenting, playing with meditation. I think this brings up another aspect of meditation which I like to mention. I think again this is related to this culture, that people are goal oriented, you want to achieve results. So it is very very interesting, in everyday life you have goal to achieve, results to achieve and immediately we chase the goals when we are meditating. So naturally you go through the same stress, the same anxiety, the same tension, the same restlessness because you want to achieve some goals, some results. Buddha has something very very interesting in this connection, a simile. He said meditation is like being a gardener, so like a gardener you are enjoying planting the trees, vegetables, flowers and the gardener is not bothered when the flowers will come, when the fruits will come but is enjoying what he is doing. I have thought of a similar simile. The simile is trying to reach the top of a mountain when you're climbing. If you are concerned, you are pre-occupied by what you are going to see when you reach the top, you'll miss the fun when climbing. So when you are climbing, what is going to happen to you, the falls, the adventures, the problems, those become the practice and not be concerned about what is there when you reached the top. So what is happening now is the practice and not what is going to happen later on. So it doesn't matter whether it is pleasant experiences, unpleasant experiences, see them as practice, that's the practice, not getting rid of them.
Any other question?
Female 5: Your teaching is mainly divided into two areas, that is the technique of observing the breathing and the other is observing what is happening in our mind. Is there a suggestion that we should practise observing the breathing first and then observe what is happening in our mind or the other way round? Which one should we do first?
Godwin: I would say it depends but as I said earlier focusing on breathing helps you to develop awareness, non-reactive mind and so on and once you develop these skills, then you can practise objectless meditation. And I would like to make it clear that we should practise both of these techniques, continue to practise these two techniques independently because in a sense they compliment each other. I also like to make it clear now what I have been saying so far you might have the impression that meditation is only practising techniques but there is also a very important area which I presented on a few occasions here, learning to reflect, learning to contemplate. This is very very important especially to our behaviour. To reflect in a very very friendly, gentle way about the way we behave, words that we used. So we can learn a great deal from all this in relation to the way we are behaving. The judgments we make. So if we can develop this quality of reflection, one can see the Dhamma from any experience in life, any experience can be a meditation. It can be a sickness, it can be some disappointment, it can be some frustration, it can be some happiness, it can be anything but just learning to reflect, to contemplate, to understand, is very very important. So in this connection I like to suggest a technique which you can practise in everyday life. In the evening after work when you go back home, I know everyone who goes home is tired but please try to recover from that by maybe taking a shower, doing something just for a few minutes and take your mind backwards and then just reflect on how you spent the day. From the time you woke up to the time of that reflection, just to try to go over all the things. See now, how many times did I get angry during the day, what are the occasions when there was stress, when were the situations when I lost control of my emotions. You are not doing as if you were a teacher, trying to beat yourself but in a very friendly, gentle, understanding way, just going over what happened, and what is more important is also to reflect on the times when they are not there. Reflect on the good things you have done, the generous things we have done, the friendly things you have done, the nice words you have used. You should also include these. This is more important, equally important. And if you can be also more open to these positive things, you'll be surprised to know what a good person you are. So this type of reflection will enable us to know more about ourselves, to know about our behaviour in a very objective clear way and when you do this, a natural transformation will come in your behaviour without trying to do anything.
I think another thing we learned is yoga. So please don't forget yoga in everyday life. You don't have to do one hour of yoga but in the morning when you wake up, then just spent five minutes, ten minutes, doing some of these physical exercises, movements. It will really awake you physically and mentally. In the evening when you go back home, take a shower and do a few exercises, immediately there will be a recovery.
Any questions about yoga? The yoga master is here.
Female 4: If our yoga teacher can give us some notes it would be good because I will forget when I get home.
Godwin: Yes, give them notes.
Yoga teacher: I have already prepared some. I will distribute them tomorrow. I don't want to give them in advance because I want them to concentrate on the practice.
Godwin: Do you want him to demonstrate anything about yoga? You can ask him to show you. Stand on your head. Anyway, so please try to combine meditation with yoga because physically, it is one of the things I like to mention, that it is very very important to relax the body. I find that sometimes the way you meditate, I mean I can see on your face, I mean it is not relaxed. As I said, it is too serious, too tense, may be trying to achieve something. So when the body is relaxed, the mind becomes relaxed, then both the mind and body are relaxed and you can meditate in a very relaxed easy way. And talking to some of the meditators here I find that they are mostly in their heads and not in their body so much. So it is very very important to make a connection with the body, feel the body, learn to listen to our body, to come back to the body as often as possible.
Female 6: The thing I observed when doing yoga is the question of ownership, this concept of the self, because I found the body acts very independently. It would not always do things the way you want. I want to bend over like Jack but I can't do it. It is not up to me, the body has its independence.
Godwin: It is a very good point to realize our limitations and then as you rightly said, we have no control and if we are the master, we can say do this, the body should behave like this, we can't say that. So this why we have to learn to surrender to what is happening. This is why on one occasion I said we have to be open to uncertainty because we have no control over what is happening in our mind and body and the environment and life.
Anything else? We can spend more time today as it is the last night.
Female 7: I don't quite agree because even with Jack when he first started, it can't be he could do all the postures he can do now so you have to gradually learn with your body.
Godwin: That's true but it doesn't mean that Jack can say: Now my body don't fall sick, my body don't die, please don't have any white hair like Godwin's hair. Even the Buddha could not control what happened to his body. The Buddha's body became sick, the Buddha's body became old, the Buddha's body died. The only difference was whatever happened in the body, it caused no suffering for him because he was not identifying himself with it.
Female 1: You told us that we should hear and see things when we go outside. I would like you to tell us more about how we see things.
Godwin: Normally when we see things, our complete attention is not there. So what we can do and this is what is sometimes very useful about nature, is that you can cultivate this way of looking at things by examining something very very clearly, very closely and at that time, your whole attention, you whole awareness, is on that object that you are seeing. So then if we can learn to do this in relation to seeing, our senses are really awaken. There's a freshness that arises, there is a lightness in your being. I think as children we had this quality, but maybe with our pre-occupation, with our anxiety, with our thoughts, they are there most of the time so we try to see them with such a mind, so we hardly notice things. So when you develop this quality, we can see small things, little things, much more clearly so that these ordinary things can become extraordinary. In the Buddhist texts, there are some very beautiful references to monks and nuns living in the forest and how they are describing very minutely what they hear, what they see. So another word for this is to develop a kind of sensitivity in a positive sense to seeing things, hearing things, smelling things, feeling things, so your whole living is alive, is afresh, is new, is innocent. In the Dhammapada, a very important book in the Dhamma, it is said that if you do not cultivate this awareness, this alertness, we are like dead people. So we become alive with this quality. I think maybe you might have experienced this, before chanting, when we hear the sounds, how we can really make the sounds the object of meditation. If we can really hear them sharply, clearly as if for the first time where space is created in your mind only for the sounds and the same quality of living is in whatever we do, when we are eating, we'll be really alive, we be really conscious, really present when we are eating. So this is what I'm trying to emphasize.
Female 8: Sometimes when we are meditating, we have vibration, movement of the body, what should we do?
Godwin: Sometimes just to allow the body to move. Sometimes you need to control it, to say: Now stop it. Sometimes to allow it, sometimes to control it, to stop it. Only thing is you should not react to it and say: This is a funny feeling, this is strange, am I doing it right? That is unnecessary. When we meditate, so many things happen in our mind and body but whatever happens, just learning to be aware, learning to say O.K.
I like to hear something about chanting. What is your experience with chanting.
Female 4: I am not answering your question yet, I want to put a question.
Godwin: But I like to hear the answer and then you can put the question. What about chanting?
Male 4: I think Chinese chanting is fast and when I chant, I don't feel peaceful, not in here but elsewhere.
Godwin: But we are talking about chanting here.
Female 7: I felt very comfortable when chanting in the temple next door this morning.
Male 5: I'm not talking about chanting here but the traditional chanting. It makes me annoyed with the bell ringing all the time, bell ringing for this, bell ringing for that, as though I'm being controlled.
Female 4: I want to talk about the chanting here.
Godwin: Thank you.
Female 4: I feel very irritated about the ding ding. It's very interesting sometimes when I concentrate on the chanting, it feels that the ding ding is very far away but sometimes, I don't know when, I am still not so aware of my mind, sometimes the ding ding really gets very irritating to my brain, like something hitting me. I don't like it.
Godwin: So you are saying about when you hear chanting. What happens when you hear your own voice chanting.
Female 4: The whole atmosphere.
Godwin: With your own voice?
Female 4: Sometimes I can feel mine and also sometimes the whole. I just, the feeling is very interesting because sometimes it is irritating to my mind and sometimes it doesn't.
Godwin: Many experience has plus, minus and this is why we have to say now plus, now pleasant, now unpleasant, O.K., this is life. So you see chanting shows what life is. It doesn't go one way, it's beautiful. You see one can learn from anything. This is what I say, this is a way of life, pleasant things come, unpleasant things come. Can we be open to them?
I like to share my thoughts about chanting. I love Chinese chanting. I don't know, it's really makes me, how shall I put it, really enjoy, really being present. Sometimes without my knowledge, my body is moving, wonderful. And I like the bells because in Sri Lanka, we don't use bells so it is some magic for me.
Female 6: Actually the bell is a device to develop our awareness too because the sound of the bell is very clear. Secondly it vibrates slowly and reduces its volume to the end so your awareness can follow the bell from the time it is hit right to the end of it when the sound finally vanishes.
Godwin: Very good point. Any question?
Female 4: I still have one question. Talking about awareness, I want to know, during awareness, I have many many imaginations. The imaginations keep coming out. Is this one of the nature of awareness?
Godwin: Can you give an example of what you mean by imaginations which makes you happy?
Female 4: For example, when I look at the grass and I look at small plants and when they move, I feel like dancing with them so it's a kind of imagination. I don't know whether it's thoughts or not.
Godwin: It doesn't matter but if you can just dance, just dance and enjoy it, it doesn't matter what it is.
Female 4: And even when I look at the clouds I see many many things and so, I want to know if the imagination is a kind of thought.
Godwin: Find out for yourself. I mean this is what I have been encouraging people to do. So when you imagine, you can find out: Now am I thinking? What is happening? So these are ..... I think the question was not translated. You can translate yourself.
So tomorrow I like you to experiment with it and come and share with me the discovery you have made. This is what I have been trying to encourage. By the way, the last few days is for you to make your own discoveries. And if you learn to make your own discoveries, as I said on one occasion, when you leave this place, you will continue to make discoveries about life, about anything. One danger about imagination is that you may not be able to be clear what is imagined and what is reality. I know some people have breakdowns because they don't know how to distinguish what is imagined, what is real.
Female 4: I told you about the grasshoppers last night. In my imagination, I don't know the grasshoppers are meditating or not but I imagined, and so this is very interesting.
Godwin: This is why I said the danger is, that you might come to a stage where you don't know whether you are imagining or whether what is real and that can cause serious problems for you. I mean this is what is beautiful about the meditation techniques. There is nothing to imagine, something real, something objective and then when there is unreality, imaginations, let go, come back to the reality. Sounds, it is something pleasant, everyone can hear sensations. When I meet people who have psychological problems, these are the techniques that I give them and for the first time, they can distinguish what is real, what is unreal.
So tomorrow we will be having a different schedule as you know. There's lot of working meditation we have to do, clearing up. And of course I know you have not been practising silence but tomorrow you are free to really speak out openly, but I like to make this suggestion, it is very very important to everyday life. So when you speak, see how far you can be aware of your speech because in everyday life, this is area where there's lots of problems, difficulties, suffering, where we use our speech incorrectly. So silence is important, right speech is important. So please make an effort. It will be a very good training for everyday life. When you are speaking tomorrow, just to know that you are speaking, to observe the tone of your speech. When others are speaking, do you really listen attentively, clearly. Also tomorrow while we are working, as we have been trying to do, see how far you can see work as a meditation and not something different from meditation. So we will have a last session, I think what is called, conclusion, so we might have some more minutes to speak about everyday life, some aspects on meditation, if there is a need for it.
I am very happy that you presented questions clarifying some problems, difficulties you have in meditation. So I hope you are very clear about the medicine now. So now the important thing is to make a commitment to use the medicine in everyday life. I like to tell you really make use of the medicine, the medicine really work and help you. You will see the medicine helps us to work with the sickness that we create ourselves. And I also like to suggest that while you use the medicine, please make an effort to share the medicine with others. There's lot of people suffering in this world. So it is very very important for us while we take the medicine, for us to share it with others.
We will do some chanting.
Day 7 Retreat: 19th October 1997
Summary and Conclusion
As this is the last discussion, I'd like to share with you some of the things I learned during the last few days about the meditators I have been meeting. These are some of the things that I have already spoken about but I'd like to emphasize them so that you have to really make an effort to work with them.
Suffering from Guilt
One problem I encountered with many meditators is suffering from guilt. Maybe there are some historical or social reasons why there seems to be a lot of guilt in this culture because in old cultures like the Tibetan culture, Sri Lanka culture and other cultures, there is even no word for ‘guilt’. I read somewhere that his holiness the Dalai Lamma was surprised when he encountered many Westerners suffering from guilt. So people who generally suffer from guilt, from the past, they seem to remember mostly the wrong things they have done in the past. So we seem to have a selective memory in this connection. So the good things they have done they have completely forgotten and they remember only their shortcomings, only their failures, and they don't realize that they are punishing themselves with the guilt that they are holding on. In a way it is unfortunate that traditional Buddhism is also sometimes seems to be emphasizing this, specially with the doctrine of Kamma. This is why I never speak about Kamma because what happens is you think you have done some wrong things and you think you are going to suffer because of Kamma. So it is really unfortunate that the Buddhist doctrines are used to create more suffering. And of course they only think of bad Kamma, they never think of the good Kamma. So the whole idea of Buddhism as I have been emphasizing is to develop more joy, freedom from suffering, so I'm very sorry to see that Buddhism is used to create more and more suffering. Just to give an example, when I was in Hong Kong, I met a woman, a very good woman, a very kind-heartened woman. A Buddhist teacher had told her that there was a devil inside her and this teacher said, ‘I can see it in your face.’ So when I met her she was really suffering from what she heard from this Buddhist teacher. So this brings up something about the tradition, that we have to be clear what is taught in the culture and what is really taught in the teachings. It's interesting to some extent even in Sri Lanka I meet Buddhists who seem to emphasize more on the suffering aspect, so I tell them, ‘Please, that is only the first noble truth, what about the other noble truths?’ So this is one area I like you to reflect and as I have been emphasizing, please use loving kindness, gentleness, learning to be your best friend and seeing your worth, seeing your potentialities, seeing that you have the Buddha nature in us.
Fearing of Making Mistake
Another point related to this is the fear of making mistakes. I'm not asking you to deliberately make mistakes but when we have made a mistake, we should learn how to relate to that mistake. So this is why I have been emphasizing to see them as learning experiences, as valuable experiences, feeling grateful for such situations because we can learn from them.
Integrate Meditation with Daily Life
Another thing that I discovered here, I've mentioned this, is to associate meditation only with sitting, or a particular time, particular posture and so on. So as I have been emphasizing, if you are really serious about meditation, it has to be a way of living, specially in everyday life, in relationships that you are having whether in the place of work, at home or whatever. They should be areas of meditation for you to work with. So it's really a way of understanding, it's a way of knowledge, it's a very of developing wisdom and then trying to integrate that in our daily life. So what happened, I saw that some meditators here they associate meditation only with sitting, so that when they sit, it is something special. So when we sit, if you think it is something special, you're bound to have special problems. Even the way you are breathing, you try to do it differently. And then when you sit, you want to achieve suddenly states of calm and special experience, but in other times, you're not worried about it. So it is clear it's a kind of fragmentation, a duality between the person who is sitting and the person who is outside. So as I said, if you can see meditation as something that you do most of the time, it's just being aware, it's just understanding what is happening, then when you sit, it is just continuing that. This is why I was emphasizing we have one day for working on thoughts, one day for working on emotions, so for us to see how we use thoughts destructively, how we use emotions destructively, to see how they work, the conditions arising, so that with that in everyday life, we'll be able to handle our thoughts and our emotions when they arise.
So some teachers say that when you are sitting, please see the sitting as nothing special because nothing special is happening. They are the same things, thoughts, sensations, emotions, sounds. So how can it be different? The difference is there when we know it, when we understand it, when we are clear about what is happening.
Repressing Unpleasant Experiences
I think another thing I discovered, I must say that most of these things are humanness but I'd like to spotlight on some aspects because it is relevant to this culture I think. Another is I think is repressing, pushing away, denying, not looking at unpleasant experiences. So again we have this kind of duality, that meditation spiritual life is having pleasant experiences and that we should not have unpleasant experiences, again a battle, again a split, again a division, again a duality. I would suggest, please don't be surprised. The pleasant experiences are not so important, what are more important are unpleasant experiences because there is no problem with pleasant experiences. So the problem is with the unpleasant experiences and we don't realize that by repressing, by pushing them away, by not looking at them, we give them more power. So it's a kind of vicious circle, it's a kind of dependent origination. How one thing is leading to another and how one thing is leading to suffering. So this is why again I have been emphasizing so much, be open to unpleasant experiences, let them arise, don't push them away. So then the power that we have given, we give them power by repressing and by pushing because we are afraid, but when we take away the power, you'll realize that they are no problem.
In a way I can relate this to some of the exercises I gave in relation to nature. Seeing things very sharply, seeing things very clearly because when you learn to observe external things very clearly, then you learn to see everything, all the things that you can see, the pleasant ones, unpleasant ones, you just notice whatever there is without exclusion, without selecting. It is interesting in the Dhamma you get this phrase, externally and internally. Then you learn to notice so many things that are happening inside you, internal. Then when you see more and more things that are happening inside you, then you see more and more your real qualities, our shortcomings, they become also very very clear to us. And as I said, it is very important to experience them completely and fully and see how they create suffering. The Buddha emphasized very much for us to experience these things fully and completely and see how that is creating suffering. Now we even don't know that is creating suffering, we are just accepting the Buddha's word or just because someone says it. So when we have things like anger, fear, jealousy and so on, we must see hat it does to us. If there's a resistance to them, there's a dislike to them, we don't really experience them. The simple point is if you don't experience them, how can you work on them. And then when they are not there, just to know that they are not there and just to see the difference, so then you naturally see the difference and then as it is said in the Dhamma, the natural unfolding arises in your practice.
Greed and Need
I think another aspect is pampering. One of my friends said the word pampering is too mild, maybe we should say we are spoiling ourselves. In the talks I gave at the nunnery, I spoke about consumerism, materialism and so on. So we are living in such a culture in which very very easily you can be spoilt. Very easily you can start pampering yourself, sometimes without even knowing what you are doing to yourself. So it becomes a kind of self indulgence without realizing. So this is why I suggested that sometimes you have to say no to things in a friendly gentle way. Sometimes you have to say yes. In relation to saying yes, now when you need something you should ask the questions: Do I really need this or am I buying this or I want to get this just because the society, the expectation in society that I should be wearing this or I should be like this or I should like that. So it is really funny as we give lot of power to other people, we have given lot of power to society, social values and then we don't realize we became victims of this, we don't realize the society is manipulating our needs, our greed. So we don't know what is greed, what is need, what is what you really need. In the kitchen in our centre, we have a poem: "Those who see the difference between the need and the greed, whatever his creed he is a saint indeed". This was composed by a friend of me and what made him compose this is what he saw in India. He told me that he was going to one of the Indian temples and outside the temple there was a beggar who was seated and he had a piece of cloth in front of him for the money and the beggar had his eyes closed. When my friend saw this beggar's face with his eyes closed, he was so impressed, inspired by the serenity, the calmness that the beggar was sitting like this. So he was so curious that he stood with him and just spent some time with him. And suddenly this man got up, picked up some coins and threw the other coins on the floor and he went to a shop nearby, he took something to eat, something to drunk and he disappeared. So this incident really had a strong impact on my friend and when he was reflecting on this incident, this poem came to his mind. I'm not telling you to throw away your money, but what I am suggesting is to use the money functionally. We need money, we need material possessions but what is important is they're possessing us now. So what we need to do is not to allow them to control us but for us to learn to control them. So when there is a change which takes place inside you, then a very beautiful spiritual quality comes into being, which is contentment. It is rarely that I meet someone who is really contented with himself, with herself, with whatever they're having. This spiritual qualify is very much emphasized in the Dhamma. There's a beautiful Pali word for this: Santutthi. Contentment is the greatest wealth. It's very interesting.
Contentment: No Complaints
And another aspect related to contentment is having no complaint. Human beings are very good at complaining. We can complain about anything, even people who try to help us if they make one mistake, we start complaining about them. So if you can lead your life in a way where you have no complaints, and then when you die, you can say: I have no complaints. There is an interesting story in this connection. There was a zen student under a zen Master and he was practising for many years. So one day the zen Master called his student and said, ‘I have taught whatever I can, now you must go and meet another teacher.’ So he gave an address of another zen teacher. So when he found the place and when he found this teacher, she was a poor woman, not very impressive at all, just a woman there. So he thought he was in the wrong place but then he realized it was the right place, the right teacher, and she was also not teaching him anything, she was doing her things normally. So as a meditator, he just started observing this woman. So when he started observing this woman, two words came to his mind: No Complaints.
So these are just some suggestions that I like to share with you for your continuation of your practice. And I'm very happy to say that you have a very good organization, that you have a group and you have a good teacher, you have very good spiritual friends so one really benefit from such a group. So I like to ask everyone to help this organization, to help this group. So in a way it will be helping yourself, in a way, it will be helping others.
Now, I like to say one thing. It is also related to the Buddha's teachings. Some of you have been calling me Master. I just allowed you to do that. Actually in the Dhamma, in the Pali tradition, the word ‘teacher’ is not used. Two beautiful words are used: spiritual friend. This is how I like to see myself, as a spiritual friend. And it's a very beautiful relationship to have. When you say you are the Master, then again a big division between the Master and the student but when you are a spiritual friend and we are spiritual friends, then we are exploring together, investigating together, learning together, sharing from each other, it's a beautiful way to relate to each other. And then there's another danger I like to also warn you about. So with the Master you just accept whatever the Master says. You accept him as authority. There is no place for authority in the Buddhist teaching. I like to conclude by quoting from a very well known Buddhist text. A group of spiritual people called Kalamas who were exposed to different teachers came to the Buddha and said, ‘We are confused, so many teachers are saying so many different things. What should we do? Please help us.’ The Buddha said something very radical at that time. So he told this groups of people, ‘Don't accept anything just because it is in the traditions.’ What a statement to make! ‘Don't accept anything just because it is in the scriptures. Don't accept anything just because it is logical, reasonable, rational. Don't accept anything just because a teacher tells you but accept only when you know in your own experience what is conducive to happiness, what is creating suffering and what can help you to overcome suffering.’ When you know that in your own experience, then accept that experience. So experience is our teacher. Life is the best teacher you can have. So with these words, I like to conclude what I'm saying about the Dhamma.
Now I like to thank some people. Firstly I like to thank everyone who is here. I think everyone here gave real commitment to the practice and it was nice that there was a nice group, atmosphere building up. And I like to thank the organisers. It's a very good team, they are working very well as a team and their organisation is excellent. Unlike Sri Lanka, everything here is very clear! Everything is written, everything is on paper! It's very very impressive for me, for someone from Sri Lanka.
Male 1: That's why we are suffering!
Godwin: I feel that these organizers are not suffering.
Special thanks for the very sweet lady who was at the kitchen. Always with a smile.
Male 2: No complaint too!
Godwin: And I must also make special thanks to those who helped her. I was very impressed to see how they were working. And watching them working and helping in the kitchen, the impression I got was that they are really enjoying what they do. So as I said, working meditation, work can give us lots of sources of happiness. It can be seen as action in loving kindness. Of course, I like to thank the yoga teacher.
Yoga Teacher: Please don't call me Master! Just a yoga friend!
Godwin: Very good, very good. So we should thank our yoga friend. And I should also like to make special mention of the interpreters. It was a very difficult job because sometimes they had to even come for interviews. So they had to stop their practice and then sometimes listen to the problems of other people. So I had a feeling that they did an excellent job, no complaints.
So let us now do some chanting and then loving kindness meditation.