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Working with Meditation
Retreat in Hong Kong
Day 1, 13th October 1997
What We can Try to do During the Retreat
Godwin: 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 the opportunity to do this. So I would like to offer some suggestions for what we can try to do during the next few days.
So what we will be doing is trying to learn to develop certain spiritual qualities, learn to develop certain skills which will help us on the spiritual path.
Experiment in a Light-hearted Way
We will try to experiment with our meditation practice in a very light-hearted way. This is one of the guidelines I like to emphasise. It is learning to see the practice as something we can enjoy, so that we can develop a taste for it. While I say this I would also like to emphasise that we should learn to open ourselves to any unpleasant experiences, physical pain and mental pain. Normally we don't like unpleasant experiences. We don't like to look at the dark side within us. So I would like to suggest that during the next few days we should make an effort, that if they are arising naturally just to allow them to arise, without repressing them, without trying to push them away, without trying to deny them, without feeling bad about them. If they arise, let them arise and learn to make friends with them, seeing them as learning opportunities.
Another quality to develop is the practice of awareness, being alert, being awake. Now in this connection I would like to suggest that what we might try to do is to see how far we can have continuity of awareness, 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 can 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 you learn to see no difference between yourself and others.
Now I would like to go over the schedule and I will emphasise some other skills, some other qualities that we can develop.
As you know we wake up at 4:45 in the morning. So when you wake up, actually your practice should begin then. At home when you 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? You can observe your mind and see if you are suffering, or can you see the situation and not suffer due to it? So in relation to such a situation we learn to develop another very important quality, that 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 emphasise, to see these challenges, to see these situations as learning experiences. So meditation should begin right here.
Group Meditation & Breakfast
Then we will be meeting here at 5:00 a.m. for group meditation - that is a beautiful time of the morning to practise meditation.
And then we will have breakfast. Here again eating can be a very important meditation. We have a very good opportunity to develop awareness whilst eating. With awareness we can observe our likes, our dislikes, the judgements we make. And while eating I would like to emphasise awareness of three aspects: chewing, swallowing, and tasting. I would like you to find out at what point you really taste your food. Also let us learn to assess the quantity of food we need, trying to avoid eating too much and trying to avoid eating too little, learning to discover the middle way in relation to eating.
Another quality we can develop tomorrow at breakfast is that while we are eating our food we can practice loving-kindness. Not thinking only of ourselves but being aware of others, seeing in what way we can help others, being open to the needs of others. We can try to develop that quality whenever we are eating together as a group. Isn't that beautiful?
After breakfast we will be doing what is called working meditation. Now working meditation is learning when we do work to do it mindfully, to work consciously, and to have our complete and full attention on what we are doing. And what is important is learning to see work not as something different from 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 this as work that helps you to develop loving-kindness towards the meditators who will be eating the food? So let me cook with loving-kindness! This can be an attitude that we can develop in working meditation. If you are sweeping the place, feel that you're sweeping the place so it can look very clean and very beautiful so that the other meditators can feel comfortable. Please learn to see working meditation as compassion in action, implementing loving-kindness through your actions.
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 moving 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. 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, or 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 are 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 it, we learn to go through it. And going through such feelings we will start to make a connection with ourselves where we learn to be our own best friend, we learn to be self-contained within ourselves.
Another aspect is learning to develop a sensitivity to nature. I was very happy when I came here and 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 things make me 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 important quality, develop a sensitivity to nature and learn to see that actually there is 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 on, I will be suggesting other things we can do during individual and outdoor meditation.
Lunch, Rest & Interviews
Then after that we will have lunch. And after lunch there will be a time for a rest. As we 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. During these two times of individual and outdoor meditation, in the morning and in the afternoon, I would like to meet each of you. So we'll be having a piece of paper somewhere so you can write your name. I would 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 your problems and difficulties.
After that there's yoga. Actually you can see a connection between yoga and meditation. One thing is that with yoga exercises we learn to be aware of the body. It is very important to make a connection with our body, 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 the sitting posture or due to other reasons you might have tension, pain, and discomfort in your body, and some of the yoga exercises will help you to work through them. You are fortunate to have a very good yoga teacher to help you here.
Snack and Evening Activities
After yoga there is group meditation. And after group meditation there is a snack. I like the word snack, not calling it dinner. Normally I think you are used to dinners, so tomorrow when you have only a snack to eat it will be a very interesting learning experience!
After the snack we will have a short sitting. After the 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 bed, as we have to get up early.
Practice of Silence
Another important thing that we will be developing is the practice of silence. In the Dhamma it is called noble silence. So we are developing the very noble quality of being silent. Talking, speaking is a very strong habit that we have. And you'll also see a connection between silence and awareness. 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 would like to suggest that we can still relate to other people, connect with other people in silence with loving-kindness. Normally we know only how to communicate with words. So during this retreat we can learn how to communicate with others in silence. One way of doing this is to learn to be aware of the people around you. Another way is to smile at the people around you. So these are ways of making a connection with other people. And then when you look around, when you observe 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 would like to make is that there are very interesting doors here. One has to have lots of awareness while opening and closing the doors otherwise you can make a big noise. So this will help us to develop awareness and to learn to develop sensitivity to other people. In a way this is also making a connection with other people. Let me open the door very slowly and close it 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 we can develop.
In the little booklet that has been translated on loving-kindness, there is a 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. To snap your fingers takes only a fraction of a second. So it shows that even for a fraction of a second you can really have the feeling of loving-kindness. You can make such a difference when you're doing such acts of loving-kindness, small actions with lots of loving-kindness.
So I would like to pause and if you have any questions, any clarifications you need, you have the opportunity to ask them.
[Questions and answers were not recorded that day]