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Living with Awareness
Retreat Talks in Fa Yim Kok, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
Day 3: 17th October 1998
3: Anapanasati & Metta Meditation
Godwin: I would like to say something about awareness of breathing and also something about loving-kindness.
Awareness of the breath is a very simple technique - but somehow we manage to complicate it in many ways. And sometimes I think one problem might be with the word "concentration". In Chinese, the word "concentration", what does it mean, what is the picture that comes to your mind when the word "concentration" is used?
Retreatant: Put all the effort on something and forget other things.
Godwin: It's interesting that you have to try very hard, so that effort is very much emphasised in that word, in it's meaning. And maybe another meaning is ignoring and excluding things. So this is why by using the word concentration in this sense, the technique seems difficult. But you must see what the technique really means: essentially the meaning is simply awareness in relation to the in-breath and the out-breath. So the whole emphasis is on just knowing what is happening. This is referred to in one of the texts which says that when we practise this technique, then we experience the four foundations of awareness or mindfulness. What it means is: you become aware of the body, you become aware of the sensations, you become aware of the thoughts, you become aware of the state of mind.
But when we practise this technique, we think that we should not have thoughts, that we should not have other sensations, that we should not hear sounds, so we try to exclude them and only be with the breath, and that can create lots of tension and lots of suffering. I would suggest instead that we do it in this way: just knowing, just having awareness of what is happening and then allowing calm to come naturally. You can never get it by force, you can never get it by trying. This is maybe why in the text it is said that when there is loving-kindness the mind becomes calm naturally. So rather than hating things, rather than fighting things, resisting things, controlling things, you just know what is happening, then let calm arise naturally.
The idea of Buddhist meditation is to free ourselves from suffering but sometimes the way we practise this technique creates more suffering. When we practise this simple way we can experience the absence of suffering right at that moment. So when thoughts come you don't suffer, you just know it. When you hear sound you don't suffer, you know that you hear it. When there is physical pain you don't suffer, you just know that there is pain. When the mind is not calm you don't suffer, but you realise that the mind is not calm. When you realise that you are not with the breath but somewhere else, you don't suffer as a result of it, you realise that you have not had awareness, so you re-establish awareness and come back to the breath.
Another aspect of the technique that is forgotten is that after you have finished sitting meditation, when you leave the place, you should continue to have that same level of awareness in the other postures, in whatever you are doing, and then when you come back to sitting practise you just continue that awareness.
I would like to share with you a meditation technique that has been discovered in Burma. I would like you to experiment with it, try it out. So here when you have thoughts you just note them, you just label them: "thinking" or "thoughts". The technique is that you don't get involved in the individual thoughts, what you are thinking, but just realise that there is thinking. So you note it and then come back to the breath. When you hear a sound, you don't say it is an aeroplane or it is someone speaking but you just say "sounds". And whatever you experience in the body, you just see it as a sensation. So you note it, label it as just "sensation" or "feeling" and come back to the breath. With this technique you verbalise, but in the other technique which I teach you don't verbalise, you are just aware of what is happening.
So these are some points relating to this technique. At the Chi Lin Nunnery I spoke about the benefits of this technique. If you have any questions relating to this you can ask me later on.
Let me say something very briefly about meditation of loving-kindness because I have already spoken a lot about this technique. So here I would say one important aspect of meditation of loving-kindness is that it helps us to experience joy.
In the Buddhist model of meditation, first we work with what are called the hindrances or the obstacles. We can see them as unpleasant emotions. Then the next stage is working with them using loving-kindness or even using focusing on breathing. Then we can sometimes experience jhanas or the absorptions when these hindrances or unpleasant emotions are absent. So these absorptions or jhanas can be seen as positive emotions. And the next stage of meditation is that when there is joy, to remember not to identify with the joy but see that also as changing, as impermanent, and realise that we don't really own this positive state of mind. So this in simple terms is one way of understanding the Buddhist model of meditation.
Working with Emotions
If there are no questions, I would like to say what we might try to do tomorrow. So tomorrow is a day for working with emotions, both unpleasant emotions and pleasant emotions. In a way, what is more important is to learn to work with unpleasant emotions because this is what creates our suffering and this is what we have to work with in everyday life. I think we are all familiar with unpleasant emotions. There is no one who has not experienced them, including myself. It might be helpful to discover, to reflect and find out which unpleasant emotion really affects you most or bothers you most. So tomorrow it might be sometimes helpful, useful, to work with that particular emotion or those emotions that bother you in everyday life. I have already presented some tools. I will try to go over them and maybe mention some more.
One thing I have been emphasising is that when unpleasant emotions arise to learn to be friendly to them. By hating them, by disliking them, we give them more power. And in hating and disliking them we might also be pushing them away, repressing them, which is also not very good because they can come up in the most unexpected situations. So here again is the importance of awareness, just to know them, just to feel them with awareness.
Another very important tool related to this is that we have to learn not to give these unpleasant emotions minuses. So tomorrow if they arise please give yourself a big plus, because you are learning to work with them, so you deserve a big plus. In everyday life also when they arise, rather than give them a minus, if you can give them a plus and then make them the object of meditation, this can be a very powerful tool.
Another tool is learning about them, finding out about them, discovering about them as I have been emphasising. If you hate them and if you want to get rid of them, how can you learn about them? And if you are prepared to learn about them and if you are open to them, then tomorrow you wait until they arise. What do you think will happen when you really wait for them to arise?
Retreatant: They might not come.
Godwin: Exactly. So this is a very important realisation for you which you might experience tomorrow.
So when you fear them and you don't want them to come then they come. And as I said, if you are prepared for them, invite them, are open to them, they don't come. So I hope you will really experience that.
On the first day I said that what we will be trying to do in this retreat is to develop insight, to develop skills, not to have only pleasant and calm experiences. So these are the insights I had in mind, because when you are here, when you develop these insights, when you develop these tools, then when unpleasant emotions arise in everyday life you will know how to do deal with them.
Maybe another very important insight based on the Buddha's teaching is to realise that these things are impermanent. Whatever arises passes away. I hope tomorrow you'll also develop that insight. So please don't try to get rid of them through your will, by controlling, but when they are there just let them be there and let them go away; let the impermanence operate naturally. Another insight is to realise that they don't belong to you because they are visitors. So visitors come and go. It means that they don't belong to you.
I hope you will try some of these tools and then what is important is to hopefully develop self-confidence, self-reliance and trust. It means that you can say: Let them come, I know what to do with them. I would like to emphasise that this is very important.
So tomorrow we will not only be working with unpleasant emotions; we'll also be trying, with awareness, to find out when they are absent. This is another very important tool, very important insight, because we have given these unpleasant emotions such power, such energy, that when they are absent we hardly know that they are absent. So tomorrow please make a special effort just to check during the day, what is my state of mind? Am I having unpleasant emotions or am I having pleasant emotions? And then what is very important is that when there are unpleasant emotions, as I said, don't give them a minus. And when pleasant emotions are there, don't give a plus and hold on to them. Without a plus, without a minus, learning to see them just as they are. So tomorrow will be a very important day in this retreat.
We will do some chanting now.
Let us create some space in our mind.
Can you hear the chanting of the insects? You can hear it very faintly.
When we are with the sounds can we have fewer thoughts? To hear sounds we don't need thoughts.
[ Chanting ]
Thank you very much.
Let us just be in this very beautiful, friendly atmosphere.
Feeling grateful for this moment.
Can we feel as one family of spiritual friends?
Can we wish everyone in this room: May everyone in this room be well, be happy, and be peaceful.
Let us bow to each other.
May you all sleep well, sleep peacefully, and wake up peacefully.