Living Meditation Home Page One-Day Retreat on Skilful Living
The Basics of Buddhist Meditation
Talks in Chi Lin Nunnery, Hong Kong
Day 4: 10th October 1998
4: Metta, Karuna, Mudita, Upekkha (2)
Godwin: I would like to welcome everyone once again.
Yesterday I spoke about the importance of four qualities, four beautiful qualities which the Buddha emphasised. They are Metta, loving-kindness; Karuna, compassion; Mudita, sympathetic joy; and Upekkha, equanimity.
According to the Buddha's teaching, when we develop these important spiritual qualities we become like gods. That's why they are sometimes called "The Divine Abodes". I would like to see them as four of our very beautiful friends. When we have these four friends within us they will make us beautiful, they will make us experience more joy and lightness and this can also affect others around us.
Yesterday I spoke of two of these qualities: Metta, loving-kindness and Karuna, compassion. Metta can be seen very briefly as learning to be your best friend and then also learning to be a friend to others. Metta helps us to open our heart to ourselves. It also enables us to open our heart to others.
Karuna is when you see suffering in yourself and when you see suffering in others, doing something to overcome your own suffering and doing something to overcome the suffering of others. This is developing the quality of Karuna, compassion.
In this modern world, where there is a lot of suffering, and the suffering manifests itself in many different ways, it is extremely important to develop this quality of Karuna in relation to others and in relation to your own suffering. In this connection the Buddha has said: Helping others is helping yourself; helping yourself is helping others. And eventually you see no difference between yourself and others.
So today I would like to speak about the third quality and the fourth quality: Mudita, sympathetic joy, and Upekkha, having an equanimous and non-reactive mind.
It is interesting that, as I said, Karuna is responding to suffering in whatever way it occurs. Mudita is being happy because others are happy. This is sometimes not easy because the opposite of this quality of Mudita is jealousy and envy, especially when you see others doing better than yourself. Is it possible for us to really be happy and joyful that others are experiencing happiness and joy?
Another aspect of Mudita is making an effort to make others happy. In a way one can relate it to Karuna because when you see others suffering you try to do something about it and to get them to experience some joy and lightness, freed from their suffering. Then when that happens you can be extremely happy about it.
Now sympathetic joy or Mudita has another interesting aspect, which is learning to rejoice, learning to be happy about your own happiness. Though again this sounds simple, in practice sometimes for some people it is not easy. I know some people who when they experience happiness and joy say: I don't deserve this, I'm such a bad person, I don't deserve to be happy. And I know others who say: How can I feel happy? I feel guilty because there is such a lot of suffering around me so how can I experience joy? When I experience joy I feel guilty about it. Therefore it is extremely important to learn to develop this quality. To rejoice in your own happiness, to rejoice in your own goodness, to rejoice in seeing more and more the positive in yourself; and when you see more and more the positive in yourself, then you are bound to see more and more the positive in others.
As I said yesterday, every one of you should rejoice right now because you have made a commitment to follow a spiritual path, to be meditators. You should rejoice that you have made a commitment to lead a harmless life, learning not to harm yourself and not to harm others. And you should also rejoice that meditation sometimes, or most of the time, is trying to work with our unpleasant experiences, whether it is physical pain or mental pain. How many people in this world are really prepared to do this? So again to repeat: Shouldn't we rejoice that we have made a commitment, that we are prepared to work with our unpleasant experiences in whatever form they arise? And as I said, trying to learn from them. To ask the question: What can I learn from this?
And I'm very happy to find that some of you have been coming to these talks regularly. So again to rejoice that unless you had this motivation, this interest, you would not be doing that. So rejoice in this strong commitment, the motivation you have to listen to the Dhamma and to practise the Dhamma.
Being hard on ourselves, being critical about ourselves, giving ourselves minuses may come quite naturally for some people. That is why we need to deliberately and consciously cultivate this positive quality of rejoicing in some of the qualities that I mentioned. Sometimes I reflect that we all as human beings have the potentiality to become free. These qualities of freedom are within us. So meditation can be seen as a way of acknowledging this, realising this and allowing these factors of enlightenment to arise in us. So I hope you realise the importance of this beautiful quality, the divine-like quality of Mudita, sympathetic joy, in relation to ourselves and others.
The last quality is equanimity, having a non-reactive mind. Again, it is a thing that we have to cultivate, to work at. So when we are meditating, when we are doing formal sitting meditation, to be open to whatever happens in our mind and body. If there are pleasant experiences, if we are having a non-reactive mind, an equanimous mind, we should learn to relate to it without giving it a plus, and holding onto it and wanting it to continue. And when we have an unpleasant experience, whether it is physical pain or mental pain, the immediate reaction is to give it a minus and not to like it, resisting it, disliking it. So having an equanimous mind means, whether it is pleasant or whether it is unpleasant, no plus, no minus, no liking, no disliking - learning to see things just as they are.
As I often emphasise the importance of being human, I would like to suggest that as we are still human there are moments when we like and moments when we dislike - such reactions can still be there. So here again I would suggest that if you are reacting, just to realise that you are reacting and then to find out in your own experience, when you are liking something, when you are holding onto it, how it creates suffering for yourself. And when you are resisting something, when you are disliking something, how it again creates suffering. So from our reactions, from a reactive mind, we can also learn.
When you are reacting, just know that you are reacting, to take that as a learning experience and learn not to react to it. And when you are not reacting just know that you are not reacting, and see for yourself the results, the benefits of it. So if you can really learn to be open to both the reactive mind and the non-reactive mind and to see the difference between the two, that can be considered something very important.
This, as I said, is how we can try to practise when we are doing formal meditation. Now learning to do this in everyday life as well may be more difficult, but this is the practice. So if you can be observant, if you can be aware in everyday life, you can catch yourself: seeing how in certain situations we like certain things, we want them to continue, we like to give them plusses; and in other situations we don't like them, we want to get rid of them. Just as when doing formal meditation so in everyday life, when you like something, when you identify yourself with something, see for yourself what happens to you, what it does to you.
Then you will realise - and it is a very important discovery that you'll make - that we can't always be demanding how things should be. What we are doing is making demands of ourselves, how we should behave, how we must behave; making demands of others, how they should behave, how they must behave; and also demanding from life, how life should be, how life must be according to our own expectations. Making demands is one thing, but reality is another thing. This is a simple way of seeing how we create our own suffering. So here again, it is very important in everyday life just to see how we create our own suffering with the demands we are making.
The Four Noble Truths
This brings us to the Buddha's discovery of the Four Noble Truths.
In brief, the First NobleTruth is the fact of suffering. And there is no human being who is not familiar with the First NobleTruth. Everyone here, including myself, has experienced the First NobleTruth. Maybe some of you are experiencing it even now.
An interesting question arises: Why is suffering a Noble Truth? What is noble in suffering? It is an interesting, useful question to reflect upon. I suggest that it is noble because if from the suffering you can go on to the Second NobleTruth, then you can find a way out of suffering. So in everyday life when we are suffering, if you can tell yourself: I'm experiencing the First Noble Truth, that is an interesting way of relating to suffering. What happens to most people is that they just stick only in the First NobleTruth, only get to know suffering.
The Second NobleTruth is more difficult because we have to find out how we are creating our own suffering by our likes and our dislikes, by the demands that we are making. I would suggest that this is a very important realisation for us to have because if we can see that we are creating our own suffering, if you have the realisation that only you can free yourself from the suffering that you create yourself, that brings us to the Third NobleTruth and the Fourth NobleTruth.
So if you have any questions about the Four Sublime States I talked about, and also the Four Noble Truths which I briefly mentioned, please ask them. And I must tell you that in the last few days you have been asking very useful, practical questions.
Questions and Answers
Retreatant: I don't understand the relationship between the Four Sublime States that you have talked about. For example, when you mentioned equanimity you said that we should not distinguish between liking or disliking any outside circumstances, but when you talk about loving-kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy, we have to feel for others, we have to feel for external circumstances, so we have to get involved in what happens outside. So how can you reconcile the three qualities where we have to get involved with what happens outside while the fourth quality is that we should not distinguish?
Godwin: Very good question.
I like practical examples. So let's take a simple example where you are walking on the road and you see someone fallen on the road. Then if you have loving-kindness and if you have compassion, there is a need and an urge to respond. Here again there are two very important words: reacting and responding. So reacting would be getting emotionally involved, having fear, insecurity, you might even start crying. And if there is such a reaction, you will not be able to respond clearly concerning what to do about that person. But with an equanimous mind you learn to do something appropriate about it, just responding without reacting. So this is how the four qualities come together. I hope it's clear.
Retreatant: If we deal with the situation as you have just said, then if we go on in this way I feel that we may get cold and very indifferent to what is happening outside. Only handling the situation and not feeling anything. So what is your suggestion?
Godwin: Well, this is why my response to the earlier question was that you have to have Metta and Karuna when you see that the person has fallen on the road. If there is no Metta and Karuna you'll just see the person fallen on the road and you will just walk by. It's only because of Metta and Karuna that you feel the need to do something, to act, to show some concern and care for that person. And from that sense of concern and care the response to act just happens. This is what is beautiful when you cultivate these qualities. When there is a need to use them in such situations there is just the response.
Retreatant: How can we cultivate these four qualities during meditation?
Godwin: Another good, practical question.
This is how it can be done. Now what I suggest sometimes is that we choose one of these four qualities. Maybe today we can do what we did yesterday when the quality I chose then was loving-kindness.
If today one wants to develop Karuna, then suppose that when you are sitting there is physical pain, there is suffering in yourself. So rather than continue to suffer as a result of that physical or mental pain, you try to do something about it, you learn to be friendly in relation to it, you learn to let go of it. This would be practising Karuna in relation to meditation. And when you do that you can immediately experience sympathetic joy and feel happy: very nice, joy instead of suffering; I tried to do something about it and now there is a change taking place. So you can experience joy about the pain, happiness about it. Then you can experience the last quality, realising maybe I should not hold on to this joy, I should have a non-reactive mind to the joy. So you see how in one particular situation, a simple situation, one can develop Metta, Karuna, Mudita, and Uppekha, all four qualities.
So maybe today when we meditate I might try to offer some guidelines for developing all four aspects.
Retreatant: Can I just come back to the big qualities, Metta and Karuna? Are they not the natural reactions, feelings, that one would have when one sees a child fallen down on the road?
Godwin: I repeat the same point and take the example of the child. So when you walk along the road, instead of a man you see a child fallen. So it's the same principle, because with a child you can really react, you can even start crying, you can even feel sad: Oh see what has happened to the child! And when you are getting involved like this you will not be in a position to help that poor child. So in the same way as doing something for the man who has fallen, here you would show some concern and then you would do something about it.
This is why I used the two words, please get the two words very clear: reacting and responding. And as I said earlier, if we are reacting emotionally we can learn from that. What made me become so sad? What made me become so depressed? What made me so insecure? Because you might have had the thought: maybe my own child could be like this sometime. So we can create a huge story from that simple incident that you have seen on the road. If that happens, you can reflect on it: Why am I reacting? So that becomes an object of meditation.
And maybe in another situation you might be able to respond. Respond very clearly, very calmly, with a still mind, doing what has to be done. So you see the difference very clearly: Ah, see what happens when I react and see what happens when I respond. Just see the difference.
And the same principle applies to what is happening internally. When we are meditating, someone who is habitually reactive can be reactive to what is happening in meditation also. To take an example, supposing your knees are in pain. You can say my knees are in pain, who knows, my knees might break, I know some meditators who have broken their knees - and you can create a huge story from the pain in the knees. And from the pain in the knees you can have anxiety, you can have fear, you can have insecurity, you can have all these unpleasant emotions. So responding would be just observing the pain and learning to make friends with it, and if it becomes unbearable you change the posture.
Thank you very much for asking questions. Now let's take a small break before meditation. And during the break, please try to continue to move slowly with awareness and also practise silence.
I was very happy to hear some of my friends telling me that they noticed the very peaceful, calm atmosphere here. I was very happy to hear that, so try and maintain that as far as possible.
[ Break ]
Guided Meditation on the Sublime States
So let us begin with meditation of loving-kindness, Metta.
We will try to radiate, extend lots of friendliness in all directions.
May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings be peaceful. May all beings be free of suffering.
Let us now think of the people whom we know are suffering. Maybe physical suffering, maybe mental suffering.
Let us feel for those people who are suffering. Let us feel concern for those people who are suffering.
May they be free of the suffering that they are experiencing.
Can you really wish this from your heart?
Can you now feel happy that you are trying to develop qualities of loving-kindness and compassion for others? Rejoice in this.
Can you be happy with yourself that you are trying to develop these qualities of the heart?
Let us now try to develop the important quality of a non-reactive mind. Whatever is happening in our mind and body right now, can we relate to that without liking, without disliking?
If we are experiencing physical pain, physical discomfort, can we relate to it without reacting?
If your mind is not calm, can you just know that the mind is not calm and not react to it, not give it a minus?
If you are experiencing pleasant experiences, can you not like it; and if you are experiencing unpleasant experiences, can you relate to it without disliking it?
Just being open to whatever is happening.
Learning to see things just as they are.
[ Bell ]
Let's see how far you can continue to have a non-reactive mind in relation to what is happening in your mind and body.
We will do some nice chanting now.
Before we start to chant, let us create some space in our mind by just feeling the peace and the stillness in this room.
[ Chanting ]
May every one of you here be well, be happy, be peaceful, and be free of suffering.
And when you go to sleep, may you sleep peacefully and wake up peacefully. Thank you.