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The Experience of Meditation
One-Day Retreat in Hong Kong
12th October 1997
2: How to Integrate Meditation with Daily Life
Godwin: 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 the list of priorities we have in life. If one is 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 and as I have been emphasising very much, is this very important aspect of just knowing what is happening in your mind and body, otherwise you are becoming more and more like a machine. Machines can function very efficiently but the machine does not know that it is functioning, it has no understanding, no knowledge.
So knowing and understanding how our mind and body work is something we can do in everyday life. The things that we do habitually, mechanically, like brushing our teeth, combing our hair, dressing, all these small acts, little acts, please make an effort to do consciously, to know that you are doing them, to have your complete and full attention on them when you do those things. Whether you are at home, whether you are travelling in a car, whether you are in your 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 emphasised here is our thoughts. So during the day just be aware, just 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 the mind, they never stop. So we have to make an effort to learn about these things. By learning about your thoughts you can try to understand the type of person you are, you can gain self-knowledge, self-understanding. This is 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. What happens to people is that they suffer from these emotions and they don't know why they are suffering, and so 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 emphasising, and it is very important in everyday life, is to find out about, to make what is unpleasant, what is disturbing you, what is bothering you, the object of meditation. 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 listen to it as if for the first time; otherwise we will consider it as a noise, we will consider it as a disturbance, we might get angry, we will 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. You have to have relationships with people at home, you have to have relationships 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 realise 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. But because we are creating our own suffering then 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.
Once we have discovered that meditation is the medicine, 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, not 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, they are 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 is materialism, consumerism. 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 is simply your greed. The society you live in can create desires in you, needs in you, which are not really necessary.
A very important aspect of meditation in everyday life is learning to lead a 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 or when there is a need to buy things, when you see the things you should ask: Now is this really necessary for me? Why do I really need this? Is it because other people are wearing this or other people are using that or do I really need it? So you need to really ask that question when living in a consumer society.
Then you'll realise your joy, your happiness, your lightness come not from external things, not from goods, not from what you possess, not from 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 independent of external things. They drop away. And as I said, joy and lightness come from within yourself.
Another very important meditation, especially when practised in everyday life, is meditation on loving-kindness. So one aspect of loving-kindness is learning to be your own best friend. If you can really make that connection with yourself 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 you can really be friendly to others. First 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 this subject, and on that day we distributed a booklet on loving-kindness, so please read it. But I would 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 we can be holding on to certain experiences, certain wounds that have been created, and this can create a lot of suffering for ourselves in everyday life.
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 unwholesome for you.
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 relationships with others.
There are so many human beings who are suffering unnecessarily. So when you see human beings suffering you should try to relate to them with gentleness, with kindness, sometimes smiling with them, sometimes doing a kind act which 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. Before coming here I spent some time in India and while I was in the place where the Buddha became enlightened I was reflecting on what the Buddha did after his enlightenment. According to the tradition, after he became enlightened he spent 7 days just 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 any 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 realise that you should feel grateful for some of the things you enjoy in this country. But do we ever think about this? In those countries there are people without food. So shouldn't we feel grateful when we have food to eat?
There is another aspect of feeling grateful: as I said earlier in the discussion, when we have unpleasant experiences we should also feel grateful for them because we can learn from them, they become our teachers.
Another aspect of meditation in everyday life is to have spiritual friends around you. I'm very happy that you have some groups here so that you can go to these groups and can spend some time with others, meditate with them and discuss with them. So feel grateful that you are 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 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. And 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. It 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 is, as I said in the beginning, that one has to be very clear about the practice. Are you really making a commitment to 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 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 sure about is to have a clear understanding of the teachings and to know how to apply them in different situations in life. This is the point that I am emphasising.
I don't think there is any need for me to say anything more. So I would 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 a very important meditation. Just reflect on a particular theme which will help you and which will help others. This 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 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 would like to thank everyone. Firstly, I would like to thank the organisers who have done a very excellent job. I am very impressed with the way they organised things so well, so nicely. We should really feel grateful for the fact that there are organisers who are able to organise things so well. We should also feel grateful for this nunnery for giving us permission to use this place, it's a nice place.
I would also like to thank the interpreters, translators, who did a very difficult job. I had the feeling sometimes they improved what I said! I would also like to thank our yoga master for teaching yoga under such difficult circumstances.
Lastly, I would like to thank those 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.
Guided Loving-Kindness Meditation
We'll now end with meditation on 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.be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings be peaceful.