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Godwin Samararatne
Living with Awareness

Retreat Talks in Fa Yim Kok, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Day 2: 16th October 1998

2: The Advantages of Meditation Practice

Godwin: I will talk about a few things we have been trying to do today, what are the benefits, what are the advantages we gather from our practice and in what way it will help us in everyday life.

One thing is that we are so used to doing things, manipulating things, controlling things. So this strong conditioning comes up when we are meditating where even in relation to our breathing, without allowing the body to breathe naturally, we try to control it, we try to breathe differently and so on. Even in walking meditation sometimes this conditioning can come up. So what we tried to do today, which is not very easy, was just being, learning non-doing in relation to meditation. This is one of the things we were trying to do.

Another is that when we are meditating we like some experiences, we dislike other experiences. We like the pleasant experiences to continue and we like the unpleasant experiences not to be there. So our meditation becomes a big battle. Wanting things, not wanting things, accepting things, rejecting things. So what we tried to do today was to learn to have a completely open mind to whatever arises. When we have pleasant states of mind, we just know that there are pleasant states of mind. We learn not to hold on to them. If it is there, it is there. If it goes away, we allow it to go away. And if some unpleasant experiences arise, here again it is a very strong conditioning we have to hate them, to dislike them, to get rid of them. So in the practice we did today, as I said, we were learning to be open to pleasant experiences and to be open to unpleasant experiences, and learning, which is not very easy, actually to see no difference between these two states of mind by just knowing, by just being aware.

And then what we were doing today was to be aware in relation to what is happening, what is arising internally in us. It can be unpleasant emotions, it can be unpleasant sensations, it can be what you consider as negative thoughts. We learn just to allow them, we learn just to let them be by using awareness. Now in everyday life we might have two sorts of problems. One is, of course, what is happening internally, but the problem is mostly in relation to what is happening externally. Here we are fortunate that nothing difficult arises externally, but in everyday life that is not so. So if you can learn how these problems arise, what happens inside yourself, then you learn to watch and to work with what is happening inside your minds in everyday life.

This is a very important tool, a very important skill to develop because then whatever is happening externally, we learn to look inside ourselves and to work with what is happening inside us in relation to what is happening outside. What we normally try to do in everyday life is to modify, to change, to try to control what is happening externally to suit us, but as we all know we are unable to do this because we have little control over external events. So the practice, interestingly enough, is not to try to do that. Of course, if you can do it in certain situations it is good, but what is more important is learning to bring about a change within us, inside us. So ideally, whatever happens externally, when a transformation has taken place inside you, then you are able to relate to it, not to be surprised by what is happening but, as we are practising here, learning not to react to it.

It is interesting that in certain cultures what is happening externally can be more unpredictable, because unexpected things often happen. Maybe here it's not so bad because you get the impression that everything is under control, and to a great extent you can predict what will happen. But in a country like Sri Lanka it is entirely different. You never know what's going to happen. Always the unexpected can happen. I will give just one or two examples.

Now here I have been travelling on the railway system, there is no problem, there is always a train. You can time a visit and you'll be able to catch a particular train and you'll be there. In Sri Lanka this doesn't happen. You may not even know whether there is a next train. So you go to the train station and they say today the train is two hours late or there is some problem with the rail track and today there is no train. So this is very good for the practice because you learn to be open to uncertainty.

This is a very deep but very profound aspect of the Buddha's teaching, to be open to uncertainty, to be open to the unexpected, because this is the real nature of life. So realising that this is the real nature of life we cease trying to control the environment in particular ways. Of course it can give a sense of security when you think that everything is under control and there is no problem, but this kind of security is a very fragile, false kind of security.

According to the Buddha's teaching, real security comes when we can be open to insecurity. When we are open to insecurity, then whatever happens, to a great extent you'll not be surprised and then you can see that as an object of meditation, you can make an effort to learn from that. So in a way what we are doing, what we have been doing today, is a kind of preparation for that. Internally we are allowing anything to arise, any unexpected things to arise, such as an emotion, a sensation, or a thought. So whatever arises we learn to see them, as the Buddha said, just as they are.

Another aspect of what we tried to do today is that by trying to continue to have awareness in all postures, in all situations, we are learning to see meditation as a way of living. Otherwise what happens is that we associate meditation only with a particular posture, or with a particular time that we are meditating. The danger when we practise in that way is that when the person is sitting there is one kind of individual, but when the same person is interacting with society another kind of individual arises. So there is a big gap between the meditator sitting and the person functioning in everyday life. What we have been trying to do today is to make this gap smaller and smaller so that meditation becomes, as I said, a way of living. Then any situation in life can be a meditation, can become an object of meditation. So if we are really serious about the practice we have to slowly, slowly make an effort so that meditation becomes a way of living.

Beginner's Mind

Another aspect of what we have been trying to do today is that we have no model, no prior idea or expectation of what should happen or what should not happen. It is interesting that if we have such an idea, a model, an image in everyday life, and if what happens does not correspond to that model, then suffering arises. And this is exactly how suffering is created when we are meditating. So if we meditate with an idea, a model of what should happen and what should not happen, and if the meditation does not correspond with this idea, this model, this can also create suffering. It's not only that, but we might even start hating ourselves because we cannot achieve what we think we should achieve. I know some persons who have given up meditation because they tell me that they cannot succeed in meditation, they say they cannot concentrate when they're meditating or whatever.

So here we meditate with what can be described as a beginner's mind, a don't-know mind, and whatever arises - it can be pleasant, it can be unpleasant - that becomes the object of meditation. And this continues whether you are sitting, standing, walking, lying down - in all the postures. We are learning, we are finding out, we are having this awareness in all situations.

In a way, we have to have a kind of expectation of what we are going to achieve eventually in meditation, but while practising I would suggest just to forget that, and then whatever happens becomes the practice. The simile I have thought of is like someone who is climbing a mountain. The idea is, one day, to reach the top of the mountain but if we are so much concerned, pre-occupied with what we are going to see when we reach the top, then what is happening while climbing we don't see clearly. But in this process of climbing, the adventures we have, the falls we have, the wounds we might sustain, all this we can really learn from, this can be the practice. So in the same way, we can have some idea of what we will eventually achieve in meditation but I would consider, I would suggest that what is more important is to learn about, to discover, to explore, to be open to what is happening from moment to moment.

Maybe another point related to this is that when we practise in this way we are always trying to achieve results in the future. So that we are practising in order to become free or whatever in the future. But in the way that I am describing the practice, the way that I am suggesting, the results are not in the future but the results are right now, right in front of us.

So these are some aspects of what we were trying to do today. Maybe the important insights we can develop about impermanence, about change and especially about the most important aspect in the Buddha's teaching, to experience emptiness or no-self, are also related to the way we are practising. So I will touch on these aspects during the coming days, exploring and emphasising them.

Another point related to what we have been trying to do is to make discoveries, to learn, to find out. In this way you become very self-reliant, you develop lots of self-confidence. Sometimes there is a nice phrase that is used: you become a spiritual warrior.

There are two types of warriors. One is the person who worries all the time, or most of the time. But in the practice what is encouraged is to be a spiritual warrior, to have trust, to have confidence in yourself, to have courage. So in this practice that we have been trying to do here, we develop these qualities and therefore we are open like a spiritual warrior to any situation, to any experience because we know that we can handle it, we know what to do. We don't have to push things away, we don't have to deny things, there is no need to refuse to look at things. So with this courage, with this trust, with this confidence, we are prepared, we are being open to whatever arises because we know that whatever arises we can handle it, we can use the Buddha's teachings in any situation.

There is no need to agree with me! If you want to raise any questions, please feel free to do so.

Questions and Answers on Tiredness and Drowsiness

Retreatant: I want to know, is awareness related to whether you are physically tired or not?

Godwin: When we are tired I think we all have the experience that it is not easy to practise awareness, we don't have enough energy within us to practise awareness. So when we feel tired and when we don't have energy, we might try to use some techniques, some devices, where we can try to develop some energy. This is the question you are raising?

Retreatant: Yes.

Godwin: We will take a practical example which you can relate to, because here in Hong Kong I know that you have to work from morning to about 7:00 or 7:30 in the evening. And here I have seen people working and they are really working throughout the day. Again a very interesting contrast to what happens in Sri Lanka.

After working so hard, when you go home you are really tired. Now an interesting question arises: When you go back home, how can you practise awareness? Here again, if you are really interested in the practice what you can do is maybe to take a shower and then try to recover to some extent from this feeling of tiredness. On the last day I hope to speak about how to integrate meditation with daily life and then I'll offer some tools on how you can try to work during the day without getting too tired, by having certain breaks, and how you can use meditation then.

So after taking a shower, if you can do some of the yoga exercises then at least this type of thing might help you to recover from this feeling of tiredness. And maybe do a simple meditation. I think that to have the motivation to sit may be asking too much, so this is why I have been encouraging you to use reflection. It is an interesting exercise just to reflect on how you spent the day. This can be a very useful kind of meditation, a useful kind of reflection to do each day, even for 10 or 15 minutes. Anyway this is my response to the question of feeling tired and the practice of awareness.

Anything else?

Retreatant: My experience is the opposite to this question. I can be physically tired but I can also be aware because awareness does not involve much energy. Sometimes when I translate I'm physically tired, so tired that I cannot even straighten my back, but still I can listen to the words and then translate. The physical tiredness does not disturb the awareness in my experience. Physically I might have no strength but my mind has awareness.

Godwin: I can relate very much to what you said.

Retreatant: This is because he is on a higher level of attainment.

Godwin: I think I would agree that he has attained a high state but I will just make a suggestion and maybe you can try it out when you are feeling tired.

Retreatant: What I mentioned before about tiredness that is not physical, it's because I am an office worker and I do a lot of thinking during my work, like thinking about how to arrange my work, how to structure the daily work. My experience is that when I get tired, my awareness is loose.

Godwin: I will try to briefly touch on both aspects: when the mind is tired and when the body is tired. So first let us take the situation where you feel that your body is very tired. Now here is something very interesting which we can learn from because sometimes, I wouldn't say everytime, sometimes the feeling of physical tiredness can have a psychological reason. Supposing, to give an example, you have not slept the previous night. So now what happens is you think: last night I did not sleep well. So you are assuming: Now I should be feeling tired. It is really not the body that is feeling tired but the thought which says you did not sleep well, and that thought can really affect you in this way. Sometimes it is interesting using awareness to find out: Now do I really feel tiredness in the body or do I feel some tiredness in the mind? Or are you projecting what is happening in your mind to the body and assuming that the body is also tired?

When I am in the Meditation Centre at Nilambe in Sri Lanka, some of you who have been there will remember that from the main road you have to climb some distance, so sometimes I come by bus and start climbing. Sometimes when I have climbed some distance I think I have walked a long distance and then I think, maybe I should feel tired. So then I try to find out: now actually is my body feeling tired?

In this connection there is the Buddha's famous suggestion about working with sleepiness and drowsiness. So he gives some techniques for working with this feeling of sleepiness and drowsiness and then he said if all these techniques fail, then you should just go to sleep! How I understand this is exactly what I am saying: to find out whether the feeling of being sleepy or drowsy has some physical reasons or has some psychological reasons. So if it has actually some physical reasons, then you have to learn to be kind to the body and you have to do something about it. But as I was saying, if it has some psychological reasons, then when you use these tools you'll realise that it is only your thoughts, the psychological aspect, that is creating the physical tiredness or drowsiness.

So now let me say something about mental tiredness, how during the day, working with the computer, or being busy planning and so on, you get tired and then it is not easy to be aware because of this mental tiredness. Here it is very important that when you are very busy, when you have to do very hard work using your mind, that you should learn to relax. Now during the day there can be very short breaks, even just 5 minute breaks, and during these short breaks there should be practised techniques that help you to recover from this build-up that happens during the day.

When I say this, I would like to mention a very good friend of mine in Kandy. He's one of the leading lawyers in Kandy. Now he is a very committed and serious meditator. In his house there are two meditation classes every week. This man has a family and lots of responsibilities, but he gets up at 3:30 in the morning for his practice. Now you can imagine how in a court of law he has to argue cases, he has to use his brain, he has to use his mind to win his lawsuits, so he can be in very intense situations. He says one of the benefits of meditation is that he can do this very sharply, very clearly. In the past he would get tired, but now with meditation, because he is relaxed, he is also calm and clear, he gets less tired or he doesn't get tired at all. And because of the changes that his colleagues saw in him a few more lawyers have now taken to meditation.

Anything else?

Retreatant: I want to ask about drowsiness during meditation. Sometimes I find that even though my body has been given enough rest, drowsiness still occurs. Previously I thought my drowsiness came about because I could not maintain awareness, but then I tried to make further discoveries and I found that maybe the drowsiness is because I was sitting quietly and there are no noises around and the breathing becomes fine. So the reason as to why I feel drowsy in that situation is probably because my awareness is not sharp enough. This is the discovery I have made. I have tried every week to practise awareness and sometimes I can maintain it, but not all the time. I would like you to give me some advice or suggestions on that.

Godwin: Generally speaking, drowsiness can have different causes depending on the type of person. One is the quality of that person's sleep in the night. Sometimes you might have slept for long hours but if the sleep is not deep and relaxing, during the day you can feel sleepy as a result.

Another reason for feeling drowsy in meditation is the quantity of food that you have eaten. Sometimes if you have eaten too much or too little it is also possible that you might feel drowsy.

Another reason which I have discovered while working with meditators is that sometimes they don't want to see what is arising in meditation. So sometimes sleepiness can be used as an excuse not to look at unpleasant things that are arising. It's an interesting reason. And sometimes when we feel relaxed while we are meditating, then also sleepiness comes.

So whatever the reasons are, one thing that can be attempted is to change the posture. This is one of the recommendations of the Buddha also. So if you are sitting, you can do some walking meditation, you can do some very quick walking meditation, or you can try to walk backwards. The idea is just to induce more energy using walking meditation.

Another thing that can be attempted, and this is where awareness is important, is to sharpen your awareness so that when signs of sleepiness are coming, you'll be able to catch it and then do something about it, either open your eyes or stand up or start walking.

The third thing which I mentioned when I spoke about effort yesterday is that sometimes when your effort is too weak, you can feel sleepy. So then you can make more effort to sustain awareness, you can try a little harder.

Now if there are no more questions we can do some chanting.

[ Chanting ]

May you sleep peacefully and wake up peacefully.