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Working with Meditation
Retreat in Hong Kong
Day 7, 19th October 1997
Summary and Conclusion
Godwin: As this is the last discussion I'd like to share with you some of the things I have learned during the last few days from the meditators I have been meeting. These are some of the things that I have already spoken about but I'd like to emphasise them so that you can really make an effort to work with them.
Suffering from Guilt
One problem I encountered with many meditators is that they are suffering from guilt. Maybe there are some historical or social reasons why there seems to be a lot of guilt in this culture, because in old cultures like the Tibetan culture, Sri Lankan culture and some other cultures there is not even a word for guilt! I read somewhere that his holiness the Dalai Lama was surprised when he encountered so many Westerners suffering from guilt.
People who generally suffer from guilt from the past, they seem to remember mostly the wrong things they have done in the past. So they seem to have a selective memory in this connection. The good things they have done they have completely forgotten and they remember only their shortcomings, only their failures, and they don't realise that they are punishing themselves with the guilt that they are holding onto.
It is unfortunate that traditional Buddhism also sometimes seems to be emphasising this, especially with the doctrine of kamma. This is why I never speak about kamma, because what happens is you think you have done some wrong things and you think you are going to suffer because of kamma. So it is really unfortunate that the Buddhist doctrines are used to create more suffering. And of course they only think of bad kamma, they never think of good kamma!
So the whole idea of Buddhism, as I have been emphasising, is to develop more joy and freedom from suffering, so I'm very sorry to see that Buddhism is used to create more and more suffering. Just to give an example, when I was in Hong Kong I met a woman, a very good woman, a very kind-hearted woman. A Buddhist teacher had told her that there was a devil inside her and this teacher had said: I can see it in your face. So when I met her she was really suffering from what she had heard from this Buddhist teacher.
So this brings up something about the tradition, that we have to be clear what is taught in the culture and what is really taught in the teachings. It's interesting how to some extent even in Sri Lanka I meet Buddhists who seem to emphasise more the suffering aspect, so I tell them: Please, that is only the first Noble Truth, what about the other Noble Truths? So this is one area I would like you to reflect on, and as I have been emphasising, please use loving-kindness, gentleness, learning to be your best friend, seeing your worth, seeing your potentialities, seeing that you have the Buddha-nature in you.
Another point related to this is the fear of making mistakes. I'm not asking you to deliberately make mistakes, but when we have made a mistake we should learn how to relate to that mistake. So this is why I have been emphasising to see them as learning experiences, as valuable experiences, feeling grateful for such situations because we can learn from them.
Meditation in Daily Life
Another thing that I discovered here is that people associate meditation only with sitting, or a particular time, a particular posture and so on. But as I have been emphasising, if you are really serious about meditation it has to be a way of living, especially in everyday life, in relationships that you are having whether in the place of work, at home, or whatever. They should be areas of meditation for you to work with. So it's really a way of understanding, it's a way of knowledge, it's a way of developing wisdom, and then try to integrate that with your daily life.
So I saw that some meditators here associate meditation only with sitting, so that when they sit it is something special. When you sit, if you think it is something special you're bound to have special problems. Even the way you are breathing, you try to do it differently. And then when you sit you want to immediately achieve states of calm and have special experiences, but at other times you're not worried about these. So it is clear there's a kind of fragmentation, a duality between the person who is sitting and the person outside sitting practice.
So as I said, if you can see meditation as something that you do most of the time - it's just being aware, it's just understanding what is happening - then when you sit it is just continuing that. This is why we had one day for working with thoughts, one day for working with emotions, for us to see how we use thoughts destructively, how we use emotions destructively, to see how they work, the conditions for their arising, so that in everyday life we'll be able to handle our thoughts and our emotions when they arise.
So some teachers say that when you are sitting, please see the sitting as nothing special because nothing special is happening. There are the same thoughts, sensations, emotions, sounds. So how can it be different? The difference is there when we know what is happening, when we understand it, when we are clear about it.
I think another thing I discovered is that most of these things are common to our humanness, but I'd like to spotlight some aspects because they are relevant to this culture. One is repressing, pushing away, denying, not looking at unpleasant experiences. So again we have this kind of duality, that meditation, spiritual life, is having pleasant experiences and that we should not have unpleasant experiences: again a battle, again a split, again a division, again a duality.
I would suggest - please don't be surprised - that the pleasant experiences are not so important, what are more important are the unpleasant experiences, because there is no problem with pleasant experiences. The problem is with the unpleasant experiences, and we don't realise that by repressing, by pushing them away, by not looking at them we give them more power. So it's a kind of vicious circle, it's a kind of dependent origination: how one thing is leading to another, and how it is leading to suffering. So this is why I have been emphasising so much to be open to unpleasant experiences; let them arise, don't push them away. So then the power that we have given them by repressing them and by pushing them away because we are afraid of them, when you take away that power you'll realise that they are no problem.
In a way you can relate this to some of the exercises I gave in relation to nature. Seeing things very sharply, seeing things very clearly, because when you learn to observe external things very clearly then you learn to see everything, all the things that you can see, the pleasant ones, the unpleasant ones, you just notice whatever there is without exclusion, without selecting.
It is interesting in the Dhamma you get this phrase: externally and internally. Then you learn to notice so many things that are happening inside you, internally. Then when you see more and more things that are happening inside you then you see more and more your real qualities, and your shortcomings, they become also very clear to you. And as I said, it is very important to experience them completely and fully and see how they create suffering. The Buddha emphasised this very much, for us to experience these things fully and completely and see how that is creating suffering. Now we even don't know that they are creating suffering, we are just accepting the Buddha's word or just because someone says so.
So when we have things like anger, fear, jealousy and so on we must see what it does to us. If there's a resistance to these emotions, there's a dislike of them, then we don't really experience them. The simple point is, if you don't experience them how can you work on them? And then when they are not there, just to know that they are not there, then you naturally see the difference. Then, as it is said in the Dhamma, a natural unfolding takes place in your practice.
Greed and Need
I think another aspect of this is pampering ourselves. One of my friends said the word pampering is too mild, maybe we should say we are spoiling ourselves. In the talks I gave at the nunnery I spoke about consumerism, materialism and so on. We are living in such a culture in which we can be spoilt very easily. Very easily you can start pampering yourself, sometimes without even knowing what you are doing to yourself. So it becomes a kind of self-indulgence without your realising it. This is why I suggested that sometimes you have to say No to things in a friendly, gentle way. Sometimes you have to say Yes.
In relation to saying Yes, now when you think you need something you should ask the question: Do I really need this, or am I buying this, or want to get this, just because of society, the expectation in society that I should be wearing this or I should be like this or I should live like that?
So it is really funny, we have given a lot of power to other people, we have given a lot of power to society, social values, and then we don't realise how we have become victims of this, we don't realise that society is manipulating our greed. We don't know what is greed and what is need, what it is that you really need.
In the kitchen in our Centre we have a poem: "He who knows his need, and yet is without greed, whatever be his creed, he is a saint indeed". This was composed by a friend of mine and what made him compose this was what he saw in India. He told me that he was going to one of the Indian temples and outside the temple there was a beggar who was seated and he had a piece of cloth in front of him for the money and the beggar had his eyes closed. When my friend saw this beggar's face with his eyes closed, he was so impressed, inspired by the serenity, the calmness with which the beggar was sitting like this. He was so curious that he stood alongside him and just spent some time with him. And suddenly this man got up, picked up some of the coins and threw the other coins onto the ground. Then he went to a shop nearby, he took something to eat, something to drink and he disappeared. So this incident really had a strong impact on my friend and when he was reflecting on this incident this poem came to his mind.
I'm not telling you to throw away your money, but what I am suggesting is to use the money functionally. We need money, we need material possessions but what is important is that they're possessing us now. So what we need to do is not to allow them to control us but for us to learn to control them. Then there is a change which takes place inside you, then a very beautiful spiritual quality comes into being, which is contentment. It is rarely that I meet someone who is really contented with himself, with herself, with whatever they're having. This spiritual qualify is very much emphasised in the Dhamma. There's a beautiful Pali word for this: santutthi. Contentment is the greatest wealth. It's very interesting.
Another aspect related to contentment is having no complaints. Human beings are very good at complaining. We can complain about anything, even people who try to help us - if they make a mistake, we start complaining about them. So if you can lead your life in a way where you have no complaints then when you die you can say: I have no complaints.
There is an interesting story in this connection. There was a Zen student under a Zen Master and he was practising for many years. So one day the Zen Master called his student and said: I have taught you whatever I can, now you must go and meet another teacher. So he gave an address of another Zen teacher.
When he found the place and when he found this teacher, she was a poor woman, not very impressive at all, just a woman there. So he thought he was in the wrong place. But then he realised it was the right place, the right teacher: she was not teaching him anything, she was just doing her work normally, but as a meditator he started observing this woman. So when he started observing this woman two words came to his mind: no complaints.
So these are just some suggestions that I would like to share with you for the continuation of your practice. And I'm very happy to say that you have a very good organisation, that you have a Dhamma group and you have a good teacher, you have very good spiritual friends so you can really benefit from such a group. So I would like to ask everyone to help this organisation, to help this group. In that way it will be helping yourself and it will be helping others.
ow I would like to say one thing: it is also related to the Buddha's teachings. Some of you have been calling me Master. I just allowed you to do that. Actually in the Dhamma, in the Pali tradition, the word teacher is not used. Two beautiful words are used: spiritual friend. This is how I would like to see myself, as a spiritual friend. And it's a very beautiful relationship to have. When you say you are the Master, then again a big division between the Master and the student, but when we are spiritual friends then we are exploring together, investigating together, learning together, sharing with each other, it's a beautiful way to relate to each other.
And then there's another danger I would like to also warn you about. With the Master you just accept whatever the Master says. You accept him as an authority. There is no place for such authority in the Buddhist teaching.
I would like to conclude by quoting from a very well known Buddhist text. A group of spiritual people called the Kalamas who were exposed to different teachers came to the Buddha and said: We are confused, so many teachers are saying so many different things. What should we do? Please help us. The Buddha said something very radical at that time. He told this group of people: Don't accept anything just because it is in the traditions. Don't accept anything just because it is in the scriptures. Don't accept anything just because it is logical, reasonable, rational. Don't accept anything just because a teacher tells you, but accept only when you know in your own experience what is conducive to happiness, what is creating suffering and what can help you to overcome suffering. When you know that in your own experience, then accept that experience. What a statement to make! Experience is your teacher. Life is the best teacher you can have!
So with these words, I would like to conclude what I'm saying about the Dhamma.
Now I would like to thank some people. Firstly I would like to thank everyone who is here. I think everyone here gave real commitment to the practice and it was nice that there was a good group atmosphere that was built up. And I would like to thank the organisers. It's a very good team, they are working very well as a team and their organisation is excellent. Unlike Sri Lanka, everything here is very clear! Everything is written down, everything is on paper! It's very impressive for someone from Sri Lanka.
Special thanks for the very sweet lady who was in the kitchen. Always with a smile. And I must also give special thanks to those who helped her. I was very impressed to see how they were working. And watching them working and helping in the kitchen, the impression I got was that they are really enjoying what they do. So as I said, our working meditation can give us lots of sources of happiness. It can be seen as action in loving-kindness. Of course, I would also like to thank the yoga master, Jack.
Yoga Teacher: Please don't call me Master! Just a yoga friend!
Godwin: Very good, very good. So we should thank our yoga friend. And I should also like to make special mention of the interpreters. It was a very difficult job because sometimes they had to be present even for the interviews. So they had to stop their practice and then sometimes listen to the problems of other people. So I had a feeling that they did an excellent job, and with no complaints!
So let us now do some chanting and then we will end with loving-kindness meditation.