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The End of Suffering
Day 5: Motivation and Meditation
(Saturday, October 9th 1999)
Godwin: So first I'd like to welcome each one of you. Some people seem to think that when one becomes a meditator, one loses one's motivation for some things. Now on what basis do people come to that conclusion? It is believed that, as I said, with the practice of meditation you become indifferent to things, you become extremely passive and that the need for action becomes less and so on. So I'd like to suggest that with meditation, you lose motivation for some things and that you will develop motivation for other things.
Let me touch on the aspect of how meditation develops motivation for some things. As I said earlier, I think there is a belief that with this emphasis on being detached, being aloof, you lose your motivation for life. But I think with meditation you learn to find and develop an interest in life. Especially with the emphasis on the practice of awareness, you learn to live wholeheartedly. So whatever you do in life, you'll be doing that wholeheartedly, with complete and full attention on what is being done. By developing this skill, your quality of living will change.
Related to this is that with the practice of meditation you are bound to see things, to hear things, to feel things wholeheartedly, so it can really awaken your senses. With this aspect of awakening your senses, you are bound to see certain things external to you which you have failed to see before. Small things, little things which we normally take for granted, you are bound to notice them very sharply and very clearly. This can enable us to really appreciate the beauty around us. There is a section in the Buddhist texts where monks and nuns who have become enlightened describe the beauty in nature. And these descriptions are recounted in such a creative, perfect way that it really shows how you can develop this passion for the things that you hear and the things you feel and the things that you see.
And it's interesting that the same thing will happen in relation to noticing things within oneself. Certain aspects, certain areas in our personality which we might have taken for granted, which we have not noticed before, we are bound to notice them very sharply, very clearly. So you develop a motivation both for things external and for things internal.
Now what about things like eating? With meditation, would you become indifferent to what you are eating? Would you not enjoy what you are eating? In this connection, there is an interesting quotation from Ajahn Chah - I am sure some of you are familiar with his books. So he had said that when there is good food you can really enjoy it and when there is not so good food, you can also enjoy that. So what can happen is that you learn to enjoy life, but in a different way from identifying with such things.
In the Centre where I live in Sri Lanka, in the evening when it is clear, there is a beautiful sunset and watching the sunset is part of the schedule. So you are encouraged to appreciate beauty without necessarily identifying yourself with such beautiful things. So please remember that not identifying yourself with them doesn't mean that you have lost the motivation for them.
I think another area where you can develop motivation with the practice is that you can really become sensitive to the suffering of others, and you can also develop a sensitivity to your own suffering. What normally happens with people who are not meditators is that when they experience suffering, they have no method of working with it, they just wallow in that suffering and they continue to suffer in this way. And when they see suffering in others, they don't have the space, they don't have the time even to take notice of the suffering of others. So there is a beautiful quality that you develop, where you learn to have compassion for your own suffering and also to have compassion for the suffering of others. And when that happens, in certain situations where you have to act, you will be acting very sharply, very clearly, doing what is necessary in such situations.
So I would suggest that you develop a real motivation for relieving your own suffering and the suffering of others. And you will translate that compassion into action. Please realize that with meditation one does not become inactive, one does not become passive; rather you'll be acting, but again the quality of acting will be different.
There are two interesting English words which highlight the difference: responding and reacting. So with meditation you learn to develop this quality of responding to situations, acting without reacting. Reaction is an emotional state: when you see suffering in others, you can't handle it. But here I suggest you learn to develop this beautiful quality of responding, and therefore react less. As we are still human, in certain situations we might be reacting also, but that in itself can be a learning experience - to find out, to enquire, why did I react in that situation?
Another motivation that you may develop with the practice is that you may learn to enjoy your own company. In the meditation centre where I live in Sri Lanka we have a time for what is called individual and outdoor meditation. And here the emphasis is on trying to spend some time alone with ourselves. We hardly get an opportunity to do that in our everyday life. So what happens normally is that when we are with ourselves we easily become lonely and bored with ourselves. What does this indicate? It indicates that we have not really made a connection with ourselves. This is related to developing the quality of loving-kindness. And then what happens, which is something very beautiful, is that when you are alone with yourself you learn to enjoy your own company very much and when you are with others you can enjoy the company of others. I think this is a beautiful way of living.
Maybe now I will try to touch on a few points where with meditation you might lose the motivation for some things. One of the biggest problems modern man has is this tendency to be victims of consumerism. We are not clear what we really need and what comes from our greed, so what happens is that society can manipulate us, society can bring up situations where attachments, this tendency to own things, to possess things whether they are necessary or not, can arise. So with more and more meditation, you lose the motivation for just consuming things for the sake of consuming things. There is a beautiful word in Pali, the word is santutthi, a beautiful sounding word, it means that we learn to be contented. So our lives become very, very simple and we can be really contented with just simple things. As I said, the motivation for consuming things will not be there.
Another thing which will happen is that with practice you become more peaceful; the need to be violent with others, the need to have unnecessary quarrels with others, becomes less. So you might even deliberately avoid such situations because there is no motivation to confront others and unnecessarily create suffering for ourselves and suffering for others.
So I just touched on some aspects where with the practice we can develop motivation for some things and then we'll be losing motivation for other things. I'd like to pause at this stage as there may be questions and I would like to have more time for discussion.
Retreatant: In our daily life we have to work in our office and if we do not work for the aim of earning more money then we may lose the incentive to gain promotion. And also when we try to solve some problems in the office and try to get a promotion, we have to consult other people in the relevant field and obtain the correct advice in order to solve the problems and obtain promotions, etc. If we do not do that, then we may suffer in the end. But if we continue to do that, it may be due to greed, because we have already earned what we need and we still want more. So how can we practice while we are working in the society but still with the aim of enlightenment, like the practice of a monk?
Godwin: A very good question and it has a direct bearing, a direct connection to the theme of the talk. So there are two points: as a practitioner, as a lay person, what is the place of money, what is the place of earning? And then can a meditator make an effort to improve his job and try to get promotions?
There is a very interesting text where the Buddha speaks all about how lay people can practice, and in relation to money he says something very interesting. One suggestion he offers is that we should try to save some money for the future. And a part of the money that you earn has to be spent for the family. But the other suggestion is extremely important: part of the salary should be used for helping others, to alleviate the suffering of others by helping them and also to develop the important quality of generosity in oneself. So, one learns to use money functionally in this way without necessarily having the urge to be greedy for money.
The second point, in relation to gaining promotions in the place where you are working, you can always try to get promotion. If you have to sit for exams in order to get promoted, you can still do that. But here again what it's important for you to be very clear about is that you can do your best, but who knows? - you might either pass the exam or fail the exam; you might get the promotion or not get the promotion. But being clear about this, you can try to obtain these things. If you get the promotion you are very happy about it and if you don't get the promotion, you are not unhappy about it because you know the nature of promotions, the nature of exams are such that you can't always be successful.
The Buddha also had said something very interesting to the monks. Monks have to give up everything and have to be contented with just four requisites - food, clothing, medicine and shelter. And the Buddha warns them to be very careful that they are not harbouring greed in relation to these four things. So this shows that what is important is the way we relate to things rather than the presence or the absence of them.
Retreatant: I would like to ask one question about meditation which is not related to the topic tonight. It is about samadhi and vipassana. That is, when I meditate, I try to develop calmness first, that is samadhi. And then when calmness is developed, I usually begin to attach to the calmness and it is very difficult for me to observe the sensations or thinking or feelings at that time. So I try to lessen the calmness or the samadhi so that I can observe the sensations, but once I have done that I go back to all this calmness and become unable to observe the sensations again. So I would like to know how to balance calmness and observation, how to balance samadhi and vipassana so that I can practice in the middle way.
Godwin: In fact, I gave a talk on this particular subject, perhaps my second or third talk. So I'll try to say something very briefly. What I would suggest is that when you have achieved what you call samadhi, rather than try to observe sensations use that mind that is calm and clear to develop insight. So here it amounts to using reflection. Sometimes a useful question is, who is having samadhi? So with that exploration, with that enquiry, you might have an experience of emptiness or anatta, absence of self.
And you said that when you observe sensations, the mind that is calm disappears. That is a very important realization because you develop the insight that things change, even samadhi changes. And the third and last point is, to realize how by identifying yourself with the calm, it can result in suffering. So in this way you develop understanding of the centrality of change, you have an insight into how suffering is created, and you can have a realization of emptiness, of selflessness.
Retreatant: Master, you mentioned before that as we practice meditation, our wish to consume will become less and less. But the problem of following this practice is that if everyone consumes less and less, then there will be less business around in this society. Then some businessmen who rely on people's consumption will earn less and they might suffer as a result. So if we practice loving-kindness, what do we do?
Godwin: Interesting question! It's like saying that some people are building a hospital, so if all the people who are patients become well, what are they going to do with the hospital? It is something similar to that. One point is that this aspect of consumerism is so strong in modern man that some people won't even realize that they are becoming a consumer. Because they have become so dependent on it they are not even conscious of how this consumerism operates or functions in their mind.
Maybe another point is that when people who are manipulating us to encourage consumerism realize that they are no longer successful, they might stop this unnecessary, destructive manipulation. So that'll be something very positive thanks to us meditators.
Maybe the third thing what one has to be clear is, are you concerned about businessmen or are you concerned about the victims? While your urge to spend has decreased, your good heart, your good nature has increased and you will spend some of your money in donations to charity. Then there will be more money for hospitals, for education, so the economic system will run just the same. When you don't spend your money with your left hand, your right hand will do it in another way.
Retreatant: I have come here to listen to Master's talks for a few days and Master has emphasized our awareness in daily life. I totally agree with that but I find it quite difficult to practice during daily life. I may be able to practice while I'm waiting for a bus or while I'm travelling on the bus, but while I'm at work, I find that the pace is very fast so it's difficult for me to maintain awareness at that time. So the most I can do is to reflect on what I did afterwards, but I'm unable to maintain my awareness in the office. So is this the only method, using reflection afterwards or is there any other suggestion?
Godwin: So, I'd like to offer some suggestions. One suggestion is that when you are working in the office, just spend a few minutes, even four or five minutes might be enough, to be with your body and with your breath. This has two advantages: one is it helps you to develop awareness and the second is that it helps you to create some space from the stress that can arise as a result of just continuing to work without such spaces.
Another suggestion is - again just a few minutes may be enough - for you to observe your state of mind: are you relaxed, are you calm, are you anxious, is there stress? - just to know what is happening in the mind during the day. A third suggestion related to meditation of loving kindness is, again just for a few minutes, to spend some time feeling friendly to yourself and also radiating thoughts of friendliness to others in the office. In the main text that the Buddha presented which describes how to develop mindfulness, it is mentioned that even when we go to the toilet we should try to be aware of what we do in the toilet. So however busy you are in the office, you go to the toilet maybe once or twice in the day and it's a very nice situation, you are completely alone with yourself and then you can do some toilet meditation! So it is very interesting how the Buddha offered us some very practical suggestions for our daily life.
And then the last suggestion is that when you go back home, just spend a few minutes reflecting on how you spent the day. Again to find out those moments when you were reacting, when you were having emotions. And also it's very important to reflect on the times when you were free of such emotions, such reactions. And then you can make a resolution: now tomorrow let me continue to do the same and maybe try to increase the times when I can practice awareness.
Retreatant: How can we make progress faster during meditation?
Godwin: Don't try to make progress very fast. What is more important is the practice. So from the practice progress comes naturally. There is a beautiful simile that the Buddha uses: it's like being a gardener, so you do your gardening and you really enjoy the gardening you do, and the flowers and the fruits, let them arise when the season is ready for that.
Retreatant: Master, you have mentioned before that practising awareness and observing when the emotions arise is very important and you also mention that we should not suppress our emotions. I appreciate that, I understand that and I try to do it. But, for example during daily life when I have an argument with my family, although I try to be aware of the arising of the anger and try to calm myself down, I cannot distinguish whether I am suppressing the emotion or whether I am observing the emotion and letting it pass. So, do you have any suggestion on this point?
Godwin: It is a very good practical question. So when you are having an argument with someone in your family, what you might try to do is: if emotions are arising just focus your attention on the emotions rather than on the person in the family with whom you are having an argument. The second suggestion is that we suppress our emotions by judging them: I should not be having this emotion. It's a very strong conditioning that we have. So we need to work with that conditioning by trying not to judge the anger, not to give it a minus, not to see it as a failure but just being with that emotion, whatever the emotion is.
The third suggestion is: you must try to learn to see the member of the family as a very good teacher, not to feel anger and hatred towards that member of the family but to feel grateful towards him or her because he or she is giving you an opportunity to work with your emotions. The last suggestion is that you should wait for such opportunities, for an argument to start, because you can use that as an object of meditation. See it as a very interesting and useful experiment. And as I said, the member of the family is providing you with an opportunity to experiment with yourself. And if you can practice in this way, then there is a lightness to your practice, then there is joy in your practice.
So now you can take a break before we start the meditation. Please try to maintain silence and learn to move slowly and with awareness; and then you can come back after about five minutes for meditation.
In my talk I mentioned the importance of seeing yourself as your best friend. So let us now try to make that connection. So can you really see yourself as your best friend and try to feel it in every part of your body, your whole being; just feeling at ease, feeling comfortable with your mind and body, with whatever is happening.
Buddham saranam gacchami
Dhammam saranam gacchami
Sangham saranam gacchami
Now we will do some Chinese chanting and I hope everyone will join in.
Thank you very much for coming and also for asking some useful questions. So I hope to see you tomorrow, and when you go to sleep, may you sleep peacefully and wake up peacefully.