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Retreat at the Waldhaus
Day 3: Loving-Kindness
Godwin: Today has been a day of loving-kindness. And one of the meditators told me that people were smiling at one another. They even broke the silence and said something very kind to one of the meditators - so I thought one day of loving-kindness is enough!
Now, why do I emphasise loving-kindness so much? It is based on a very simple model of what I consider Buddhist meditation. It is something very simple, very practical and very direct. What we need to do firstly is to develop a lot of loving-kindness - loving-kindness to oneself and loving-kindness to others. And if we can really do that, then we experience a lot of joy, a lot of bliss, a beautiful lightness both in the mind and the body.
And when you experience that, the moral aspect or the ethical aspect is looked after by itself. Because when we have loving-kindness, when we have compassion, it is not possible to harm oneself or to harm others. It is not possible to be destructive to oneself or to be destructive to others. Thus a kind of natural morality or natural ethical behaviour arises..
There is a beautiful phrase emphasising this connection in the Dhamma. The two Pali words are anavajja sukha, which means the bliss that comes from harmlessness. When you never harm yourself nor will you harm others, and that can really bring a lot of bliss, a lot of joy. This is the first step, and I must say, a very important step.
And after that, as you go deeper, you realise that even loving-kindness is anicca, or impermanent and constantly changing. And that loving-kindness does not belong to anyone. There is no I or me that is practising loving-kindness. So you experience emptiness. This is my simple model of what I consider Buddhist meditation. And I feel that every human being who is motivated in this way is capable of achieving it. Only the other day I was thinking that we all have the necessary qualities of freedom and enlightenment. But these qualities are covered up, or as it is said in the Dhamma, they are obscured. But with more and more loving-kindness, these qualities arise..
The Practical Aspect
Now I would like to say something very practical about how to develop the meditation of loving-kindness. It is interesting that we have to begin with ourselves. You cannot be friendly to others if you are not friendly to yourself. So when you begin with yourself, where do you start? One has to start with the body. That is why in this retreat after Yoga I have been emphasising meditation relating to the body. Over the years I have met meditators who do not seem to like their bodies. Sometimes they even hate their bodies. When one hates the body or when one dislikes the body, this can create many problems.
One problem is that it is possible you can make your body sick in different ways. When we have a kind of self-destructive aspect, this can manifest itself in the body. It has been very interesting that when I travel in the West I hear there are even diseases related to eating food, or what are called eating disorders. And I have been told this is mostly due to the way people relate to their body. In Sri Lanka, the problem is that there is no food. And here in the West, because of food people become sick! This is very interesting for me. If I tell my friends in Sri Lanka about this, they might not believe it.
Another way this dislike for our body can affect us is that we push away and do not look at some aspects of our body. This can result in feeling a kind of physical split, where part of the body is denied. I meet meditators who feel such a split in two ways. Sometimes it is a horizontal split, other times it is a vertical split. And I am sure this split is there psychologically as well. They feel as if they are two different persons.
One more thing I have discovered over the years is that people have tensions in the body. These tensions that people carry, located in different parts of the body, are again due to the way they relate to emotions, or the way they have been relating to their body.
Therefore it is extremely important to begin the meditation of loving-kindness with our body. Really making friends with our body, really discovering our body, really learning to listen to our body, and learning to accept our body as it is, no matter what you discover in the body. This is why I have been emphasising: please be open to unpleasant sensations, tensions, pleasures or whatever you may discover in the body. This is briefly about the body.
Then we come to other aspects. The first is this idea of giving minuses to ourselves as I have mentioned a lot earlier. In giving minuses to ourselves, we find more ground to dislike ourselves and even to hate ourselves. This can have many reasons, but I would like to mention one very important reason, because this is related both to the physical splits and maybe also to self-destructiveness.
As children we have been asked, or we have been told in various ways, to be different from what we are. We have been given models, ideals, images of how we should be. So naturally there is a split between what you are and what you should become. We begin with this and then people take it into their spiritual lives too. They attend certain meditation retreats, and the meditation teacher says: You must be calm, you must have loving-kindness, you must have this or that, and so on. Naturally you cannot always achieve this. Then there is more self-hatred, more feeling oneself as worthless, as being a failure. So what do you do with such meditation teachers?
This is why I now emphasise as a first step - mind you, as a first step - to accept who you are honestly and very sincerely. To accept our humanness. To accept the fact that you are still imperfect, and to work from that fact by having loving-kindness towards what you are. This does not mean that you give in to what you are, but you work with these areas with friendliness, gentleness and tenderness. This is another aspect in developing loving-kindness.
The second concerns what I call psychological wounds that are created maybe in childhood, or wounds that are created in subsequent relationships. It is interesting how these wounds are created in relationships. When there is a relationship, naturally you have a model or come to a conclusion as to how the other person is. Usually you start with a big plus. Otherwise how can a relationship begin? Very soon - after how long I do not know - slowly but surely the minuses start coming in. And this happens in a very interesting way: with the plusses we put the other person on a pedestal - I have a wonderful girlfriend; or I have a wonderful boyfriend. And what happens after some time? They fall from the pedestal. It is natural that they fall, because you have put them on the pedestal. A big wound is created: I never thought he would behave in this way, I cannot accept it, I cannot believe it.
So the bigger the pedestal, the bigger the wound. And then what do you carry as a wound? Hatred, ill-will, disappointment, frustration, hopelessness - we hold on to it all.
We do this to ourselves too. Especially when we turn to meditation and spiritual life, we put ourselves on a pedestal, thinking: I am practising loving-kindness now; I am sure I will not get angry now. And then you want to overcome craving. In fact, I met a meditator today who says that he wants to completely overcome his craving. So then what happens? You fall from this high pedestal that you have placed yourself on. And the wound that is created is guilt. I meet many, many meditators who suffer very much from guilt. For some reason, guilt is a big issue here. And this can be extremely self-destructive, because with guilt you are really beating yourself. And you can also with guilt punish yourself. And you can punish yourself in different ways, in very subtle ways.
And when you have these wounds, what are the effects of these wounds? One thing is that they can affect relationships. Without your knowledge, you can be creating suffering for yourself and suffering for others and why this is so is not clear to you. As I have said earlier, they can also affect the body in two ways. They can cause what is called psychosomatic illnesses, and they can cause certain blocks in the body: tensions, pains, and so on. Also they can affect how we sleep - these things can come up in our sleep. Don’t we start crying in our sleep? Don’t we feel sad in our sleep? Sometimes without any reason we can have an emotion, we feel like crying, we feel sad, we experience panic but we cannot find any apparent reason for it.
What is more important is that at the time of death these wounds can come up. While living we can push them away, we can deny them, we can pretend that they are not there. But at the time of death they surface in a very strong way. Can anyone suggest a reason why this should happen at the time of dying?
Retreatant: Because we are too weak to push them away.
Godwin: Exactly. At this time we are mentally weak and physically weak. We can no longer push them away, thus they can surface in a very strong way. So unless you heal these wounds you cannot live peacefully, you cannot sleep peacefully, you cannot die peacefully. So do you realise the importance of healing these wounds?
The Healing of Wounds
How does meditation help us to heal these wounds? I will offer some suggestions how they can be healed. The first suggestion is to find out how these wounds have been created in the first place. And when you find out the reason for that, you realise, as I said earlier, it is related to your own expectations, your models and so on. The second suggestion is to realise that holding onto these wounds can be extremely self-destructive. Another way, as I have been suggesting, is learning to forgive oneself and to forgive others. As I often say: to realise that you are human and that others are human too.
Another way to work with these wounds is to understand how they arise. When we observe our thoughts and our emotions, we realise that these wounds surface in relation to our memory. As they are in our memory, is it possible to completely erase them? Is it possible just to forget them? You will experience that the more you try to forget, the more you will remember them. The more you try to push them away, the more powerful they become. And then what do you do?
This is what can be done in a practical way. When things arise in the memory, and you remember them in unexpected situations, understand that we cannot prevent this from happening, but as meditators we can observe this process. The memory of the wound brings anger. The memory of what we have done brings guilt.
So one thing we can do is just to observe, just to see what is happening. And if these emotions are arising, learn just to be with them - as I have been saying so often, creating space around them, making friends with them and saying: It is okay not to feel okay. This is meditation of loving-kindness.
Another thing that we can attempt is to sometimes deliberately and consciously bring up these wounds, these memories. Because that is a way of making friends with them. So that when they come up unexpectedly, the power and the energy that we give to them may become less. When you practise like this continuously, you will experience a day where the memory comes and no reaction to it arises. That is an indication that the wound is healing.
Other Aspects of Loving-Kindness
These are some ways and means of healing these wounds. And the most important thing, which perhaps is not so easy sometimes, is to realise that these things happened in the past, and to learn to let go of the past. We cannot change the past. It is over and gone. Only when your wounds are healed can you really experience some peace again, some joy and some lightness.
Another aspect of loving-kindness is using it to work with our emotions. This can be a very powerful tool. Using loving-kindness to help us to work with unpleasant physical sensations and unpleasant states of mind.
Another very important aspect of loving-kindness meditation is learning to see more and more of your plusses, or more and more of your positive qualities. When you see more and more your positive qualities, you are bound to see more and more the positive qualities of others. This can again generate a lot of joy and a lot of happiness, to see these positive qualities in ourselves and the positive qualities in others. Then you will be in a position to handle the minuses in you and the minuses in others in an entirely different way, with loving-kindness, with understanding and with compassion.
Another very important quality of loving-kindness is developing gratitude, or feeling grateful. When I was in Bodh Gaya, I heard this story of the Buddha and I read it many times. According to the story, the Buddha spent seven days showing his gratitude to the tree which gave him shelter while he was struggling for enlightenment. When I reflected on this, it really touched me very deeply. Feeling grateful to a tree? Spending seven days there for the sake of a tree?
If we reflect on our lives, do we show gratitude for what we receive from others? Do we express our gratitude either in words or with our expression when we get help from others? If a person can develop such gratitude towards a tree, how much more gratitude should we have for the people around us?
Do we feel grateful for the things that we are using? Do we feel grateful for some of the things that we normally take for granted? Do we feel grateful that we can see? There are people who cannot see. Shouldn’t we feel grateful that we can hear the birds? There are people who cannot hear at all, who cannot hear the birds. As I said this morning, shouldn’t we feel grateful and happy that we are discovering the Dhamma and we are making a commitment to practise the Dhamma? Shouldn’t we feel grateful for that? These little things we take for granted, but these little things go a long way. So please realise meditation is not about having special experiences, special qualities or extraordinary things. It is about seeing these simple things; seeing these ordinary things as something truly extraordinary.
The Benefits of Loving-kindness
Now I would like to very briefly go over some of the benefits that are mentioned in a particular text about the meditation of loving-kindness. There are 11 benefits that are mentioned - some of them are extremely interesting..
The first three are related to sleep: when you do meditation of loving-kindness you sleep peacefully, you wake up peacefully, and you do not have unpleasant dreams or nightmares. That is why in this retreat after the meditation of loving-kindness, I say: May you sleep peacefully, and may you wake up peacefully. I hope you have been sleeping peacefully. If you have not been sleeping peacefully, your meditation of loving-kindness has not been good. At least I am happy that you are waking up because I have seen everyone this morning!
Another interesting benefit that is mentioned which is very logical and makes common sense is that other human beings come to like you. It is natural that when you like human beings, and when you are friendly to others, they are bound to be friendly to you. So this is a very important tool to develop in relationships. If you want others to be friendly to you, you have to be friendly to them. When you have loving-kindness generally, this friendliness comes to you.
Another benefit is that non-humans like you too; not only human beings, but even non-humans. Who can these non-humans be? Animals, angels, plants, flowers, gods - they say the gods protect you. It is interesting how even gods protect you if you are full of loving-kindness. Good reason to practise loving-kindness! You get loving-kindness from human beings, you get loving-kindness from gods, you get loving-kindness even from animals.
Another benefit that is mentioned is that your face becomes serene. Thus you have no need for cosmetics. Loving-kindness is much cheaper!
Then there is another benefit that is mentioned in relation to this meditation; your mind becomes calm quite naturally. This has a very important implication. You can never experience calm by trying, by fighting, and by resisting. Calmness has to come with more and more friendliness. It has to come with more and more gentleness. Then the mind becomes calm naturally.
I will mention one more benefit: it is said that when we die, we die unconfused, we die with awareness. Can anyone suggest a reason why it is important that we should die consciously, that we should die unconfused?
Retreatant: So we do not to go to the hell!
Godwin: Well, that is a very negative way of putting it. Starting with a minus: hell. I think if we are unconfused, if there is awareness, we have a last chance to become enlightened. In fact, there is a very interesting book, The Tibetan Book of the Dead which presents some very interesting methods for conscious dying. The book explains that if we can die consciously, we have a really good chance of becoming completely free at the time of dying.
What this book is presenting is what we are trying to do here. To recognise our emotions, and to make friends with our monsters. They can manifest themselves externally as very unpleasant demons. Thus, if you can recognise that these demons are projections of your own emotions; if you have learned, as we are doing here, to understand them, to make friends with them, to create space for them, there is no problem with seeing these figures. It is really recognising them for what they are. This is why I have been emphasising that we must learn to see things just as they are.
Another thing that is mentioned in this book is that our enlightened mind, our free mind, also manifests itself at this time. If you can recognise it, and if you can just be with it, then that’s it. That is why I am also suggesting to allow the positive to emerge, to see our free mind, the Buddha mind, to be aware of it, and to know it. All these things help us when we are alive, and all these things will help us when we are dying.
Isn’t meditation and spiritual life something beautiful, something that we should be happy and grateful for? So do you have any questions? Please feel free to ask them. I would like to hear very practical questions that are related to your life in a very simple and practical way.
Questions about Loving-Kindness
Retreatant: How can I learn to love my anger?
Godwin: Yes that is a very good question, because we all have anger. Usually when we get angry, we follow it by getting angry with our anger. Then we feel guilty and we feel very bad. In a way, this is a good thing too. But if you can say to yourself with friendliness and gentleness that it is okay when the anger is there, you can learn about it, explore it, and make discoveries. So it is not giving into the anger, but learning from it.
I will speak later in the retreat about working with these emotions, and I have thought of a few tools. So when I speak on emotions, I will mention different tools with which to work with these unpleasant emotions. Simply, when anger is there you know anger is there, and you work with it without getting angry; and when anger is not there you know it is not there. I will speak more about this when we are talking about emotions. Any other questions?
Retreatant: What can I do about childhood wounds?
Godwin: You are raising a very important question. I did not speak about childhood wounds as I knew it would come up because I have been encountering this with many meditators that I have been meeting. So I will try to give you a full reply because I feel this is extremely important.
It might interest you that in Sri Lanka I do not meet people who speak to me about childhood wounds. So this was fascinating for me when I was meeting Westerners. They invariably speak about their childhood wounds in the context of meditation. In the beginning I told them just to be aware and to be forgiving. Then I realised it was not working because these wounds were really deep.
So I will share with you the ways and means I have discovered within my own limitations. Earlier when someone had a childhood wound related to his or her parents, I told the person just to forgive them and to have loving-kindness towards them. That person would get very angry when I spoke of forgiveness. Due to the anger, I have stopped doing it. Now I suggest to such meditators to go somewhere in the meditation centre or to the surrounding forest and bring out that anger about their parents. I would not tell my Sri Lankan friends about this, I do it very secretly! So I tell them to bring up the anger, and when they are able to do so to a great extent, I would then suggest how it is possible just to forgive them.
Sometimes I use some principles of a psychotherapy which I learned originally from Paul. So, in a meditative state of mind, with some calmness and clarity, some space, I get people to reflect on these three questions: What are the good things you have done for your parents? What are the good things they have done for you? What are the difficulties you have created for your parents? I have heard some very interesting answers. Sometimes when people reflect on these three questions, certain memories and things they have forgotten come up. It is fascinating that we have such a selective memory. With this selective memory we are holding onto only the minuses. So with this simple, practical exercise you bring up the plusses in your parents. And then you realise that you have also created some difficulties for your parents. When meditators come to me and say: Now I feel guilty! I know the meditation has worked.
This is one thing I try to do in working with those burdened with childhood problems. Another thing I try to emphasise is: Do you realise that your parents are only human? Do you realise that they have not been capable of behaving in another way? Don’t you realise that you may be the victim of another victim? As I mention this, I will share with you a very moving story I heard from a woman whom I was working with.
She had a most terrible childhood. Her mother was beating her physically and mentally, and hearing some other things she described I was horrified. Naturally, it affected her substantially and she carried a big wound in her mind because of her mother. She lost contact with her completely. After many, many years, when this woman was in her 50’s or 60’s, she made enquiries about her mother. Then, she heard that she was in a home for old people. She found out the address and met her there. When she met her mother, she hugged her and with all her heart said: I love you, Mother. Her mother was crying and not saying anything. Then this woman asked: Why can’t you say that you love me? to which her mother replied: How can I say I love you? I have never known what love is. When she heard those words, the wounds she had been carrying for many, many years healed there and then. So this story asks us what do we really know about our parents? It is easy to give them minuses.
Another thing I try to tell the meditators I meet is that anything could have happened in childhood, anything could have happened at birth. It is interesting to see the Western models regarding this issue, and how they change. With Freud it was childhood experiences, after Freud it was birth trauma and now I hear it is reincarnation therapy!
First you start digging and digging for childhood experiences. And even that is not enough: you have to go back to what happened at birth. And now you have to unearth what had happened in previous lives. People have a compulsion to go deeper and deeper. I met such a reincarnation therapist who had written a book about it in Germany during my previous visit, he was telling me very seriously that one life wasn’t enough, and that you have to go back at least three lifetimes!
So I tell people: Anything could have happened in previous lives, anything could have happened at birth, anything could have happened in childhood, but what are you doing about it now? It is very easy to blame previous lives; it is very easy to blame what happened at birth; it is very easy to blame your parents. But here and now, do you take responsibility for your life?
The model that is presented in meditation is this: Be in the present and whatever has to come naturally from the past, with gentleness let it come. It is very important to realise this. This is the importance of silence, one aspect of silence. Sometimes the need to talk is really to prevent certain things from coming up. In some of these intensive retreats people have shared with me some very deep memories coming up from the past, just popping up.
The whole emphasis is to allow things to arise. Once your mind is calm, spacious and stable - this is very important - you can allow anything, anything in relation to thoughts, emotions and sensations to arise. And how do we prevent these things from arising? It is again by giving a minus, by controlling and pushing them away. It is extremely important to learn to allow them to manifest without a minus, without controlling them. If they have to come, if there is a need for them to come, they will emerge. This shows the importance once again of awareness. When they arise, can you just be aware of them? And if these are strong emotions, can you just be with these emotions?
So this is what I try to suggest when I meet meditators who have childhood problems.