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The End of Suffering
Day 1: Introduction to Meditation
(Tuesday, October 5th 1999)
Godwin: Firstly, I would like to extend a warm welcome to everyone. I am very happy to be back here once again. I always enjoy a visit here with you all. I was happy to hear that people are becoming more and more interested in meditation. So first of all I'll be giving an introduction to meditation, as was requested. After that we will have a discussion, or a question and answer session. We will then take a short break, and afterwards we can meditate for a while, and end with some Pali and Chinese chanting.
Importance of Awareness
A question that we can reflect on is, why do we meditate? What is the purpose of meditation? So I'd like to say the idea of meditation is to free ourselves from the suffering that we create ourselves. The Buddha often said: I teach one thing - suffering and the way out of suffering. So meditation can be seen as the medicine for our sickness. Today, we will be discussing some aspects of this medicine, how we can use this medicine and how we can heal ourselves.
One very important aspect of meditation is learning to be aware, learning to be mindful, learning to be conscious. Otherwise we are becoming more and more like machines. Machines can function very well, but a machine doesn't know how it is functioning, why it is functioning. Awareness is the complete opposite of that: just knowing, just being conscious, being aware of what is happening.
So I will mention some advantages, some benefits of the practice of awareness. For example, what is happening right now? You may be physically present here but mentally you may be quite elsewhere. So where are you? With the help of awareness, come back here, to be present, to be conscious of what is happening right here and now. This is one very important aspect of meditation, learning to experience the present moment and also learning to be aware of and to work with the past and the future.
Another important aspect of awareness is learning to use awareness to explore, to investigate what is happening in our mind and body from moment to moment. In this way, in any experience we have, in any situation we have to face in life, we can make an effort to learn from it, to make our own discoveries. This is very, very important. And if we can learn to do this, we can meditate in any situation. It can be a pleasant experience, it can be an unpleasant experience; we can even learn, find out about the unpleasant experiences we have.
Related to that is another aspect of awareness, learning to work with our emotions, particularly our unpleasant emotions. Everyone here has problems with these unpleasant emotions. It can be anger, it can be fear, anxiety, or stress; we are all having to deal with these emotions. So one way of working with these unpleasant emotions is learning to be conscious, just learning to be aware of these emotions, whatever these emotions are. When we are experiencing anger, for example, can we be conscious of the anger, can we be aware: now I am experiencing anger? So rather than suppressing that anger, rather than pushing away that anger, rather than denying that anger, not giving in to that anger, we are just knowing that anger, and then we learn to work with it within ourselves.
So the important thing is not the person, not the situation that is creating the anger but rather to deal with your anger, with what is happening inside yourself. If you can learn to use awareness in this way, then meditation becomes a real healing, an art of healing. Then we realize that meditation is not something we do only when we are sitting. In this way, we can learn to meditate at any time in our daily life, our conscious, everyday life.
Now there are two meditation techniques which are connected with awareness. One is being aware of our breathing itself; and the other is using general awareness while the body is breathing: we can be aware of our thoughts coming and going, and come back to our breath as an anchor. In this way we can learn to have some mastery of our thoughts, otherwise they can control us. And we can do the same with our emotions.
As I said earlier, we can use the breath and awareness to experience the present moment, the here and the now. It's interesting to reflect that most of the time in our daily life, we are either with something which has happened in the past or we are thinking about something which is going to happen in the future. And this happens mechanically, without our knowledge. So if for even a few seconds, a few minutes, we can be in the present with the help of the breath, those moments are moments of freedom.
I often like to speak of using our breath as a friend. And the breath is a very good friend because every time we are with the breath, it reminds us of the present moment. And breath is the only friend who is with us all the time; even when we are sleeping, the breath is there. So until the last moment, the friend is always with us, and our last breath we spend with our friend. So in this way, if we can make a connection with our friend, the friend will always help us. Another aspect of this technique is that once we have developed awareness with the help of our friend, then we can continue to have that awareness in our everyday life.
Another meditation which is related to the use of awareness is to meditate without an object; earlier I described the meditation technique using an object. So in this technique you allow any thought to arise, any emotion to arise, even the emotions that you don't like. You allow any sensation to arise from your body and just know what is happening from moment to moment in relation to your mind and body. It is simply allowing our minds to do anything they like and just knowing, just being conscious, just being aware of what is happening in our minds and bodies. It is like a very friendly mother allowing her child to do what it wants and she just watches, just knowing what the child is doing. In the same way, we watch and know what is happening in our mind and body.
So now I'd like to describe a very important meditation which is called meditation of loving-kindness. It is learning to be friendly to ourselves and learning to be friendly to others. The phrase I like to use is that meditation of loving-kindness helps us to be our best friend. Sometimes without our knowledge we are our own enemy; we do things which create suffering for ourselves and suffering for others. We are not even conscious of what we are doing to ourselves. So with meditation of loving-kindness, you learn to make a connection with yourself; you learn to feel really friendly, gentle, kind and tender towards yourself. And if we can learn to relate to ourselves in this way, then we can learn to relate to others in the same way. It is learning to open our hearts to ourselves and open our hearts to others.
Another important aspect of loving-kindness is to develop the quality of forgiveness. Sometimes we can be carrying wounds in relation to what we have done to others and what others have done to us. And we can be holding onto these wounds, so that as a result we really suffer from a lot of guilt in relation to what we have done to others, and then hatred and ill-will in relation to what others have done to us. So it is very important to learn to heal these wounds by learning to forgive ourselves and learning to forgive others us.
Another important aspect of meditation of loving-kindness is to sometimes think of the kindness that we have received from other people. Everyone here has received some kindness from other people. But do we ever reflect on these things; do we ever think of the good things, the kind things others have done for us? Doing this can give us a lot of happiness, a lot of joy that we have been receiving kindness from other people in many different ways.
So another aspect of loving-kindness is learning to feel grateful for these things. Here again, there are so many reasons for us to feel grateful for the things that are happening to us, the blessings that we receive in this life, but we don't think about them; we think only of the negative things and create suffering for ourselves and others. Shouldn't we feel grateful that we can hear? Do we ever think about that? Do we ever feel grateful that we can see? Do we ever feel grateful that we are interested in these teachings, in spiritual life? That's why all of you have come this evening. So it's a very important quality for us to feel grateful for all these small things, little things that we are receiving in life.
So now I'd like to just go over some of the points that I made. I touched on four meditation techniques which can help us to experience some peace, some loving-kindness, some joy, and eventually to free ourselves from the suffering that we create. It's a different way of living from what we are normally used to.
The first point I made was the importance of awareness which is a very vital aspect of meditation: learning to live consciously and not to live unconsciously. And I mentioned some benefits of living in this way, living consciously. Then I mentioned how we can practice focusing on our breathing, where it helps us to develop more and more awareness. I described how this meditation on our breath can also have advantages, benefits in our life. Then I mentioned the meditation which does not have an object but rather involves having a general awareness of whatever is happening in our mind and body. So it's important for us to learn to use awareness to focus on an object and also it's important to learn to have this general awareness which I described. And lastly I mentioned the importance of meditation of loving-kindness in our life.
So this is a short introduction to meditation. And these are some aspects of the medicine that the Buddha discovered for the illnesses which create suffering for us. So when we can really use this medicine, then we can live in a very healthy way, in a peaceful way, in a happy way, with a lot of loving-kindness to ourselves and a lot of loving-kindness to others.
So thank you very much for listening with such attention and with such awareness. And if you have any questions about what I have been saying, about the medicine, you can now ask any questions.
Retreatant: Is there any difference between the meditation that you have just talked about and the traditional Chinese way of qigong?
Godwin: I must say that I don't know very much about qigong. But the little I know is that it is using your physical movements and using your energy in relation to the physical movements. So I'd like to say that it's a way of developing your awareness in relation to what is happening in your body. And also one can see that it's developing loving-kindness in relation to the body, so using your energy in a useful way. So I would say that you can use qigong along with meditation as they can really complement each other. Thank you for asking that question.
Retreatant: I want to ask: you said that we must be aware of what is happening from moment to moment in our everyday life, but I find sometimes my attention is not there. I want to be aware, but when I am busy working I cannot focus on what's happening at the moment.
Godwin: I am happy you have at least made an effort to practice awareness in daily life. So in everyday life, when we lead a very busy life, one thing we can do is not to learn to focus but rather to have a general awareness in relation to the thoughts that we are having. So don't try to be aware of all your thoughts during the day, that won't be possible; but during the day, as often as you can, just come back to your mind and see, now what are the thoughts that I am having?
The second suggestion is in relation to emotions: just find out during the day, as often as possible, what are the emotions I am having? Am I anxious, do I have stress, do I have fear? Just to know, especially the emotions you are having in relation to your thoughts.
And the third suggestion is to be conscious, to be aware when no unpleasant emotions are there. During the day there are times when we are free of these unpleasant emotions but unless we have awareness we don't even know that our mind is free. And the last suggestion is, during the day keep trying to come back to the present, just to be really present with what you are doing; not every action you do but at least some actions. This will enable you to develop this quality of being in the present. So in this way we can use awareness to enhance our way of daily living.
Retreatant: First of all I would like to thank you for sharing your experience with us, I am very grateful. My question is: there are at least four types of meditation, I am very confused and I do not know which is best for me. The first type of meditation is the type you have just introduced; and the second type of meditation is the traditional Chinese way, Zen meditation; then the third way is transcendental meditation, TM; and then a fourth way is yoga. So I am confused between these four types of meditation and I would like to know how I should choose which is best for me.
Godwin: My first suggestion is that when you are not doing sitting meditation, try to use awareness as much as possible, as I mentioned in response to the question that was raised earlier. And the second suggestion is that when you can do sitting meditation, using the breath can be a very useful meditation, as they do in the Zen tradition. The third meditation I described is not transcendental meditation; in TM you use a mantra. So what I described was not having an object. Now in TM there is an object, but this, in contrast, is just general awareness of what is happening. And the third suggestion is that when you get angry, when you get annoyed, when you experience fear, when you have hatred, just learn to be friendly towards it any time you experience that.
Without taking the medicine, you don't know how the medicine works. So try to use the medicine that I have been presenting and then maybe after some time you can tell me your experience with the medicine. Maybe if you can come for tomorrow's talk then you can tell me what happened during the day using some of these medicines that I presented. Thank you.
Retreatant: During my daily life I have tried to train the awareness and consciousness and I find this medicine very useful. It helps me to calm my mind down and I find it very peaceful and I can also handle various situations with this calm mind. So I appreciate this technique. However, one problem that I encounter during my work is that when I train myself this way, I find that my reactions are slower than before. My work requires me to think a lot and requires me to react very quickly, so when I find my reaction is slower than before and my thinking process is slower than before, I do not know whether I have used the wrong technique or whether there is any problem in my training.
Godwin: I am very happy that you have experienced some benefits of using awareness in daily life. It really shows that the medicine can work. But what is important is that when you have awareness, when you want to think quickly, when you have to act quickly, you should be able to do that. Sometimes in the retreats that I give, I ask the meditators to walk fast. And sometimes they tell me that when they walk fast, it's easier to develop awareness. And with more awareness and with more meditation, your mind becomes very clear, so with a mind that is very clear, you can really act quickly when you want to.
In Sri Lanka I have a friend who is a lawyer who is practising meditation in a very serious way, and because of his meditation he has been doing very well as a lawyer. It has helped him to think quickly and act quickly, so that even other lawyers realize the change in him and they are also asking how to meditate. So please realize and remember, meditation is not only slowing down, but when you want to, you can act quickly and you can think quickly and you can respond quickly. When I walk in the streets of Hong Kong, I have to walk very fast!
I'm sorry that we have to stop this question and answer session now. If you still have a question, maybe after the session is over you can come and see me. So now I'd like to suggest that you take a break for about five minutes and please during this break try to be silent, because the silence helps you to be conscious, to be aware. And then you can come back and we will meditate for a while. So we'll ring the bell and you'll come back. I'd like to repeat, please be silent during this time and please make an effort to be conscious and to be aware. Thank you.
It was very peaceful. It was nice that some of you were sitting and others were moving very quietly, peacefully, with awareness, in silence, as I suggested.
The meditation we are trying to do is something very simple. Try to combine awareness with friendliness. So firstly, feel friendly and gentle towards yourself and whatever is happening in your mind and body: thoughts, sensations, emotions, just know them with friendliness and softness. Please realize that this is not concentration. But with friendliness, just know from moment to moment what is happening in your mind and body.
So please sit in a comfortable position so that you don't have to move or make a noise while you are sitting. If you are having thoughts, just know what thoughts you are having in a friendly way. Any emotions that you don't like, just be aware of those emotions with softness and friendliness.
Can you feel the peace and the stillness in this room?
Feel friendly and gentle towards your mind and body.
Now please open your eyes with awareness and when you change your posture and whatever else you do, please do it consciously and with awareness. And thank you very much for sitting very peacefully and completely still.
And now we can do some Pali chanting and I hope everyone will join in; they are very simple chants. So the first chant is chanting the three refuges. And while chanting, let us try to be in the present with the chanting. So I will lead the chanting and please join in with me:
Buddham saranam gacchami
Dhammam saranam gacchami
Sangham saranam gacchami
The second chant is Sadhu which is chanted in traditional Buddhist countries. It means 'well said'. As it is just one word, I'd like everyone to join in, please:
The last chant is Shanti which means peace, so we will try to experience that peace while we make that chant. As it is just also one word, please try to join in:
Now let there be some Chinese chanting, please.
Thank you very much for coming this evening and for asking some very useful, practical questions. And thank you very much for the nice chanting.
So until we meet tomorrow I hope you will continue to practice in the way that I suggested. The subjects that have been given to me for the next talks are some of the questions that I frequently hear meditators raise in relation to their practice, so I hope you will come and benefit from the discussions and the talks that we will be presenting. And may you sleep peacefully and wake up peacefully. Thank you very much.