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Working with Meditation
Retreat in Hong Kong
Day 3, 15th October 1997
Benefits of Loving-kindness Meditation
Godwin: What I propose to do now is to touch on some aspects of loving-kindness. After that, if you have any questions or difficulties about loving-kindness we can discuss them.
I delivered a talk on the same subject at the nunnery. I don't want to repeat the same things I said there. So what I would like to talk about is what is in the text which was translated and given to you. There are some benefits that are mentioned there, the benefits of loving-kindness. I'd like to discuss the implications of those benefits, the practical aspects of the benefits.
Sleep and Wake up Peacefully
So it is interesting, the first benefit that is mentioned is that you can sleep peacefully. There is a difference between sleeping peacefully and sleeping well. This is related to the second benefit, which is that you wake up peacefully, and that is related to the third benefit where it is said you don't have any nightmares, any unpleasant dreams.
What are these unpleasant dreams we have, these nightmares? I would suggest that they are related to the emotions we are repressing, perhaps related to the wounds that we are holding onto. So with loving-kindness you heal these wounds, then you don't have these nightmares or unpleasant dreams, and then you can sleep peacefully and wake up peacefully.
In Sri Lanka, sometimes I work with people who suffer from insomnia, and the way I try to help them is by the practice of this simple method of loving-kindness before they go to sleep. It has been interesting for me to see that it works most of the time.
Other People Like You
Now another benefit that is mentioned is that other human beings like you. Why do human beings like you? Because you are friendly towards them, so naturally when you are friendly to others they are friendly towards you. If you are not friendly to others they will not be friendly to you. So it is a very simple point that when you are friendly to others, others will respond in the same way. I think this is very important because we have a lot of problems and difficulties in relationships due to the way we are relating to other people. So if we can be friendly to ourselves and friendly to others this can generate a lot of joy, a lot of happiness.
Non-human Beings also Like You
Another interesting benefit that is mentioned is that non-human beings also like you. What are these non-human beings? One can interpret this in different ways, but perhaps we can include animals, perhaps we can include plants and trees. We can include non-human beings who may be here in this world but which we cannot see. I think it is a fact that animals can really feel your loving-kindness and they can respond in the same way. I was saying the other day that we have monks in Sri Lanka who meditate in deep forests where there are wild animals, where there are animals who can harm you, but it is interesting how the monks get on with these animals. I know in one place the chief monk talks to these wild animals and they seem to obey the requests or orders of the monks. So I think animals are disturbed when you have fear, but when you have loving-kindness, when you are friendly towards them, I think they can feel that.
They have done some research which shows that even plants can feel your emotions, they can react to your emotions. So here again, I think loving-kindness may be able to affect them in some ways.
In the modern world we have a lot of problems with the environment, what is called the ecological crisis, and so on. I see it as a manifestation of our own self-destructiveness which comes through in this way. When you have loving-kindness you learn to develop a sensitivity to yourself, your surroundings, your environment, so this is a very simple way of protecting the environment, by making a connection with the environment. See yourself as part of the environment and not as something separate from it.
Another benefit that is mentioned is that your face becomes serene. See some of the Buddha images here, they have captured the serenity of that expression. So it shows that our state of mind can affect our appearance. If it can affect our face, it can affect our body also. So when you have a serene face you don't have to use cosmetics. You can save all that money! And the serenity that comes with loving-kindness can never be captured through cosmetics. In a way, when you have a serene face I think it can affect other people. This is what is beautiful about loving-kindness, that it becomes infectious. Hatred can become infectious and at the same time loving-kindness can be infectious.
Experience a Calm Mind
There is another very interesting benefit that is mentioned, which is related to meditation. It is said that with loving-kindness it is easy to experience samadhi, one-pointedness. This is why I emphasise friendliness so much in the practice, because when we are practising, if you are hating things, if you are resisting things, if you are fighting things, it is not easy to have a mind that is calm. This calmness comes naturally when there is friendliness, when there is gentleness, when there is openness. So this is a very important point to remember in our practice; we are learning to use friendliness and gentleness in whatever technique we are practising.
Gives You a Sense of Protection
Then another benefit mentioned is that it gives you a sense of protection. So it is interesting that loving-kindness can be so powerful it can in some ways protect you from situations. An aspect related to protection is that it also gives a sense of security, confidence. In one of the statements in the text it is mentioned that those who have loving-kindness feel at home wherever they are. So you don't feel threatened, you don't feel insecure because of loving-kindness. You feel at home with yourself, you feel at home with others.
You can Die Peacefully
Another benefit that is mentioned is that when you die, you die unconfused, you die with a clear mind. So why is it considered an advantage to die consciously? Can anyone suggest a reason for it?
Retreatant: Is it because the last thought in our mind will affect where we go after we die?
Godwin: Yes, in a way. Any other possible reasons?
Retreatant: Is it because we have fear when we die because we have not experienced death, and with loving-kindness we can bring ourselves out from the fear and pain?
Godwin: Interesting. Anything else?
When we die, we have a last chance to become enlightened. Because at the moment of death, if you can really practise meditation, if you can really practise conscious dying, that will give us a great opportunity to free ourselves, so to create that opportunity is part of the practice.
There is a very interesting book from the Tibetan tradition: The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Is it translated into Chinese?
Godwin: Has anyone read it?
Retreatant: I read some of it.
Godwin: It's a very interesting book. It shows how your experience at the time of death is determined by the way you have lived. So in simple terms, as I understand it, at that moment our emotions, especially unpleasant emotions, can surface and they can take many forms. At that moment we don't recognise that they are simply emotions but as they manifest themselves externally we react to these external forms that we see.
So you see how this is related to meditation. How it is important to recognise how our mind works, how it works with our emotions, to recognise them, and so on. And what is interesting is, it is said that enlightenment also manifests itself and we have to recognise it, and if you don't recognise it your last chance is lost. So in practical terms, in our meditation we also should recognise our positive states of mind, just to know that they are there. So when you know them, when you recognise them, then when they manifest themselves you just know that it is the free mind, the enlightened mind that is manifesting in this way.
So it shows clearly that when you have awareness, when you are conscious at the time of dying, you can know all these things, recognise these things, and as I have said, we have a last chance to free ourselves from what is happening.
And in a way this also relates to the wounds we carry in our mind. Sometimes when I travel I meet people who work with dying people, because I am very interested in this theme of death and dying. I used to work with cancer patients who are dying. So the biggest problem at the time of death is the wounds that we have not looked at, the wounds that we have pushed away, the wounds that we have repressed, because they can surface in a very strong and intense way. Why should they manifest in such a strong way when we are dying?
Retreatant: Is it because our mind is weak at the time?
Godwin: Yes. What happens is that at the time of death our mind and body may become weak. While we are living we can consciously push these things away and deny them, repress them, lead very busy lives; but at the time of death you cannot escape from what is happening.
So this is why I emphasised that while we are living, while we are strong we should look at our wounds and try to heal them. It is interesting that these things are also mentioned in ancient Buddhist literature. Anyway, this is the 10th benefit that is mentioned, conscious dying, showing the importance of it. And it is interesting that there is this connection between loving-kindness and death.
And the last benefit that is mentioned is that after death we will be born in the realm of the gods, a pleasant destination. But what is important for us to remember and realise is that we can see the benefits in this life itself.
These are some of the benefits that are mentioned in this text. Now let us see if we can include anything more, add to this list from our own experience. Do we have any suggestions?
Benefits Suggested by Other Participants
Retreatant: You will have no enemies, you will not have anyone whom you cannot get on with, and no hatred against another person.
Godwin: Very good one. In a way it is related to saying that human beings like you. To have enemies is when human beings don't like you. Anyway, as you say, to have no enemies is something very special. So what will happen is that you will have only friends and no enemies. What a wonderful way to live!
Retreatant: It helps me to make clear decisions. That is, when there is hatred in my mind, then I always make the wrong decision because I would make a decision from my own point of view and not consider what others think.
Godwin: Very good. So when there is hatred, when there is anger, please don't take a decision because that decision will always be coming from a confused mind, not from a clear mind. Not only decisions but also words. So I would suggest that if we get angry with someone then at that very moment we should just keep our mouths shut, because whatever we speak it doesn't come from a clear mind, so it can be confusing and can make matters worse. So the state of the mind in such a situation is very important.
On some occasions someone does something wrong and then we get angry and we try to correct that person with anger. I would suggest that to a great extent that type of reaction, trying to correct persons with anger, will not work. So these are very important practical aspects of loving-kindness in everyday life.
Anything more to add?
Retreatant: Before I learned about loving-kindness meditation, I easily got angry with others, but after I learned loving-kindness meditation I found the good thing about it is that the duration of anger gets shorter, and slowly the anger disappears altogether. Another benefit is that as you continue to train yourself you will find hating another person is really quite silly because it causes suffering for yourself. The more hatred you have, the more problems you create for yourself.
Godwin: Very good. Two good points. The first point is very important: how soon we recover from these emotions, hatred, anger, or whatever. I think you should not have as an ideal that you will not get angry, but if you need an ideal, the ideal should be how soon you recover from the anger.
There is a beautiful teaching in one of the Buddhist texts which gives three similes for three types of anger. The first type of anger is compared to letters written on stone which never change, never go away. The second type of anger is compared to letters written on sand. The third type of anger is compared to letters written on water. Isn't that beautiful? That quickness: the anger is there and also it is already over.
And the second point is also very good, that it is silly, it is really foolish for us to hold on to anger and cause ourselves more suffering. I think this is compared to someone who is spitting in the wind, because when you spit in the wind it comes back on your own face.
Anything else? It is very interesting that we can think creatively and add to the list of benefits like this.
Retreatant: It makes me feel warm, happy and pleasant all the time.
Godwin: That is true. This feeling of warmth is very important because now human beings are for various reasons becoming more and more cold. As I said at the nunnery, with mechanisation human beings are becoming more and more like machines, and one aspect of this is that they lack feelings. So having this warmth, having feelings for other people and for ourselves, is something very important, very beautiful.
Another point I thought of which might be relevant to some of the people I have been meeting at the interviews is that loving-kindness can develop a sense of self-confidence. Can anyone see the connection between self-confidence and loving-kindness?
Retreatant: When you have loving-kindness you will do things quite easily that will help others, and you will think more of others and less of yourself. With this way of living, one can say one has no regrets at all in life, and when one can say that, this is self-confidence.
Godwin: I think another point about self-confidence is that we lose self-confidence when we consider ourselves as unsuccessful, worthless, useless, always failing. So it is a very negative self-image we have of ourselves, mostly as failures.
With more and more loving-kindness, especially towards ourselves, we can see how it works: we can see our own potentialities and we can become more and more self-reliant, and this can give us a lot of self-confidence in the sense that we can handle whatever arises. So it is not that difficulties will not arise; anger will arise, problems will arise, difficulties will arise, but you have the confidence if they arise: I know how to handle them, I know what to do.
Anyway, we can perhaps think of some more points. So it shows how important meditation on loving-kindness is, especially in everyday life, the changes that one can bring about in oneself, the transformation that one can bring about for oneself and, as I said, it is also bound to affect others around you.
So now any questions, any difficulties you have? If you have any difficulties, please present them because it is important to discuss them.
Questions and Answers
Retreatant: The difficulty I have about practising loving-kindness is at the moment of anger itself. As you said, when I have a hating mind it is better not to make a decision and not even to say a word. My problem is that when I work in the office, when some of my staff do something wrong I immediately get angry and say something to them. Afterwards I know that I shouldn't have said it because I just add more suffering to the sufferings of the others and that's a mistake. I should have told them how to handle the mistake rather than raise my voice. I try very hard but it is always difficult to control myself at that moment of anger.
Godwin: Not only you, we can all relate to that experience. So you have raised a very important, practical question. Sometimes I think you need to speak firmly to people with whom you work. Before I went to the meditation centre, I was a librarian. So I tried to practise loving-kindness with the members of the staff there. It was not easy. People would come late, thinking: He is practising loving-kindness, so we can get up an hour late. He is practising loving-kindness, so don't send in an application for leave, just stay at home! I realised loving-kindness didn't work because some people understood only a different language. The only thing to do is to be very clear, that now I am going to be firm, speak to them very firmly. In doing that there is no wound made, there is no defilement created inside, there is just saying something that has to be said.
Anyway, the second part of the question has a very practical aspect. It is that when we get angry unexpectedly, what do we do? The first suggestion is: Don't be surprised! Because you are still practising, you are not enlightened, so don't be disappointed, don't feel guilty, don't get angry with yourself because you got angry. This is very important. It can happen to meditators, especially when we take to meditation, that we form an image: I am a meditator now. I am practising loving-kindness. This is how I should behave. It is good to have an ideal but an ideal is one thing, reality is another.
So at that moment when you have not been aware and you got angry, what you can do is just be with that anger without feeling bad: no need to give yourself a minus. Please realise that. It is very important. But what has to be done is after you recover from that anger, maybe after five minutes, maybe after ten minutes, maybe after thirty minutes, it doesn't matter even if on the following day, when you have recovered then you reflect on that anger. And this kind of reflection has to be done in a very friendly, gentle way. Just to ask the question: What really happened to me? So you take your mind backwards and try to see the incident objectively, and also see the different aspects of that incident. So our anger becomes the object of meditation. In this way our shortcomings, our failures, become learning experiences.
What is also important when we practise this way is that we don't have this fear to make mistakes; otherwise we become so concerned to do things perfectly, correctly, that this can generate such a lot of tension, such a lot of suffering. Please realise that this is not giving in to our shortcomings, but relating to them in an entirely different way, a more meaningful way, a more creative way, in a way that will reduce our suffering and enable us also to do what is necessary. So then you say to yourself: Now let me see, next time I face such a situation how will I behave? And just wait and see. So you are waiting for such opportunities to see how your behaviour is. To put it in another way, although you have got angry there is no wound. So we come to a state where, when we have got angry, there is less suffering as a result, and I think this is a very important state.
Retreatant: You said there might have been things done wrongly in the past where we did not forgive others and did not forgive ourselves, and usually we suppress these things in our heart. At this moment, how do I know whether I have suppressed these things in the past and need to bring them out to heal them?
Godwin: Very good. Let's take a practical situation where a wound has been created in relation to what you have done to another person; you have acted incorrectly and then you suffer from guilt. The first point is to realise how the wound was created in the first place. So when you enquire into that question you realise the wound has been created by your idea: This is how I should have behaved. You realise the problem is with your model of how you should behave. It is helpful to understand this because this can help us to heal the wound. This is the first point.
The second point is to realise that we are still human, we are still imperfect, so therefore, as I have been saying very often, we need to learn to forgive our humanness, to forgive our imperfections.
Another suggestion is to realise that these things happened in the past. I cannot change the past, so why I am holding onto something that has happened in the past?
The last point - I hope I can communicate this - is that we carry the wounds in our memory. And as they are related to memories, the more we try to forget them the more they come. We have no control over our memory. The control we have is not in relation to the memory itself but how we respond to the memory. This is where meditation comes in. This is where we can work with it in practical terms. So when the memory comes in relation to what you have done, what you can observe is your reaction to the memory: guilt.
Now this is where awareness is relevant: with awareness we learn that there is guilt, and as we have also been practising, we learn to say okay to that guilt, we learn to feel friendly with that guilt, just to allow that guilt. Then after some time you might remember that incident again and then again guilt will come, so again we create space for that guilt to be there. It can also be interesting sometimes to deliberately and consciously bring the memory up and see how we are relating to it. Then one day you have the experience, the memory comes but there is no guilt, and when that happens it shows that the wound is healed. Then the memory might come but the corresponding emotion will not be there. We might even deliberately and consciously bring up the memory and the corresponding emotion will not be there.
One last suggestion is to realise that holding onto such wounds is something very self-destructive. So these are ways and means of healing such wounds. Whether it is guilt, whether it is grief, whether it is hatred, the tools are the same.
Retreatant: Today I deliberately brought some memories up to see if there are wounds or not but there was no reaction. Could it be a delusion? Would such a thing happen?
Godwin: This shows they have been healed. So no need to feel worried, thinking: I don't have wounds, or, why don't I have wounds? You can give yourself a plus because most people still have wounds. So just to say: I don't have wounds, it's good.
I think on one occasion I said to those who do not have wounds, please send loving-kindness to those who are trying to heal their wounds, because some people are really struggling with wounds. I know it is so strong in them, so deep in them, that it takes a lot for them to heal these memories. I know this by experience, through working with meditators.
Retreatant: Are love and hate the same thing?
Godwin: Can you give us some examples? I am a simple man. I like practical examples.
Retreatant: You mentioned that if our wound is hatred we can deliberately bring it up and look at the hatred, and if we have no reaction to it that means the wound is healed. But what about love: can we dig up situations where we have loved others, and then see if we have any emotion when we dig out this memory of love? For instance, not only after a parting of ways, but if for some reason you have sacrificed yourself for his or her good there can be deep emotions when these memories are dug out. Should they be treated in the same way as we deal with anger?
Godwin: When you remember such things, or when you can deliberately and consciously bring them up without any unpleasant emotions, what you will be having is pleasant emotions. You can feel happy about what you have done for another person.
I would suggest that it is important for us also sometimes to think of the good things we have done. This can give us lots of joy, lots of happiness, lots of lightness, and it will also be an incentive to do more and more such actions of love. In Sri Lanka we used to have a custom - now it is no longer there - to keep what is called a book of merits. The idea is that you note down the good things you have done, the skilful things you have done, and at the time you are dying someone reads from the book. Because usually we give more power, more energy to our mistakes, so I think this is very important. In fact it is mentioned in the Dhamma, to deliberately and consciously acknowledge our goodness, so when these memories come up you should acknowledge those positive emotions.
So now something about tomorrow's practice. One thing is that tomorrow we will try to make it a day of silence as far as possible. But this does not mean that if you have to speak for something functional, something important, that you should not speak. But as far as possible let's make it a day of silence. This is one suggestion I would like to offer.
Secondly, today it was a day of loving-kindness, tomorrow we will make it a day of emotions. So tomorrow we will make an effort to allow emotions to arise, whether pleasant, as in the case you mentioned, or unpleasant, let them arise. So with pleasant emotions that arise, this might give more joy, more happiness as we allow that to happen, and with unpleasant emotions we learn how to work with them, how to use them, because I know some meditators here are still struggling with unpleasant emotions that are coming up.
So tomorrow practise not to push them away because they are unpleasant, not to control them, not to deny them, but just to allow them to arise if there is a need for them to arise. When they arise can you allow them, can you make friends with them, can you love them? What can we learn from them? So let's use some of these tools tomorrow and see what happens. In the evening we can use our very practical experiences during the day for a discussion on emotions, and then explore more about this question of emotions.
There is a connection between silence and emotions. With more and more silence, I think it allows emotions to arise, maybe both types of emotion. So let's see what happens tomorrow.
Now let us do some chanting.