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Meditation for Everyday Life
Day 7: Everyday Life
Godwin: One interesting point to reflect on is the fact that we have to do so many things to keep our body healthy. We never say that one has to forget these things. We never say that they are difficult. But we have given such priority, such importance to keeping our bodies healthy.
But what will we do to keep our mind healthy? And when medicine is offered to keep your mind healthy, then you might forget it. Sometimes we give reasons, but it is interesting to find out, why is there this difference? Why don't we consider them equally important or consider the mind even more important? Sometimes I invite friends in Sri Lanka to come to the meditation centre, and they have many reasons why they are not able to come and so on. But if a doctor tells them: You have to enter the hospital immediately, you need to take some very important tests, they would not tell the doctor: No, no, I have so much to do, I cannot come!
So what we have to do is remember the priorities that we have made in life. We have to be very clear in our minds about this. The priorities we have in life - it is okay to have different priorities - but what is the priority we have given to the spiritual life? So I would say, everything revolves around that question.
Another aspect of this is to explore the question: How to find a motivation, an interest for meditation, in everyday life? There I would say, I think much depends on the way we relate to meditation. If we can find meditation interesting, if we can experience meditation as discovering, learning, experimenting, exploring, then we have a different relationship to meditation. Because if you are enjoying something, if you find it interesting, then naturally you feel like doing it.
One thing that prevents us from having this connection is having strong expectations about results. In this connection the Buddha has said something very beautiful, very interesting. He says: When a gardener plants some trees, plants and so on, if he is a good gardener, he should enjoy what he is doing and he should not be concerned or worried about when the flowers will bloom, thinking: Are the flowers coming? are the vegetables coming? Because then he loses that joy and liveliness and the fun of it. But if he can really enjoy what he is doing, find it interesting, find it challenging - that is good enough.
So in everyday life if you can enjoy working with the monsters, discovering about the monsters, making friends with them, seeing them as a challenge, then the monsters will leave you alone. But until then can you find it interesting, challenging, something meaningful to do?
It is okay to have a goal in life. In meditation maybe we have a particular goal, we want to achieve the end of suffering. But I would like to suggest that you forget the goal when you are practising. There is a simile that comes to my mind: if a man is climbing a hill and all the time he is thinking what will happen when he reaches the top of the hill, he cannot enjoy what is happening when he is in the process of climbing.
So what is more important is what is happening in the process of climbing. You have falls, you have injuries, you see some beautiful things, sometimes you see ugly things. What is important is the process of climbing, not what happens at end of the climbing, at the end of the practice. In the practice there should be just what is happening right now, and not what is going to happen after some time, the results and the changes, but just enjoying what is happening right now, from moment to moment, as far as that is happening in everyday life.
And in the process of climbing, in the process of our practice, sometimes we might fall. Some times we have a big problem, a big crisis, and then we forget meditation, and then we are really affected by what has happened in a certain situation. So when such a thing happens, please do not get surprised. One of my Sri Lankan friends describes the spiritual path as like climbing a coconut tree. When you climb a coconut tree, sometimes when you come to the top and are within reach, you are very close to the fruit, suddenly - boom! - it falls down.
So my friend tells me: In the process of climbing you go up and you go down, what is important is not to get down from the coconut tree but to be in the tree - it doesn't matter whether you're climbing up or you are climbing down.
Another thing which will help us in our practice is to have a group of spiritual friends. Some of you who are living close by are very fortunate to have this Centre, so that you can come here for weekly sitting classes, meet teachers, meet Paul. So this can be very good for your practice. It is always good to have some spiritual friends. So if you do not have such a place, maybe you can sit with your family, relate to your family or some friends, some neighbours, as your spiritual friends, it can even be just 2 or 3 people, but what is important is to meet regularly. Sit with them, talk with them, sharing can be a very helpful thing for our practice.
Something which I like to emphasise very much is the importance of taking the medicine yourself, and then also finding time to share this medicine with others. There are a lot of people suffering in this world, and I think there will be more and more suffering for different reasons. So if we have discovered how to work with this situation, we should really make an effort to share that with other people who are suffering. Just to tell others when you meet: This is what I am doing, this is the medicine I am taking, these are the results I am having, and so on, and then just encourage them to try it out.
You can invite some of these people to your house and then you can really start a small spiritual group, even 2 or 3 people. And that can be something very helpful to you, something helpful to others and this will also keep you on the coconut tree. Because we need a kind of reminding, a help from other people, this spiritual friendship is something very beautiful. We are growing together, helping each other. Because otherwise our mind can be very subtle, it can play very subtle tricks on us.
I can tell you what I mean. Now in Sri Lanka, a Sri Lankan might come and spend some time at the Meditation Centre, and then when they leave the place they say: Now I am going to really make a commitment to the practice. I'm going to get up, as we get up in the Centre, at 4.45 in the morning. And then he leaves the place with a lot of inspiration, a lot of commitment and devotion to the practice. After some time I meet him and I ask him: How is the practice? Do you still get up at 4.45? Ah, he tells me, the first week I got up at 4.45, the second week or the third week the thought came: Godwin said: We must be kind to the body!
So you see how we use the Dhamma to do what we like, this is what I mean by playing tricks. The mind can be really very subtle. So you have to have the tricks, know the tools, to trick the mind yourself, otherwise it will definitely trick you. I ask him: Do you do any sitting meditation now? No, he replies, because you said that one can practice awareness without sitting!
Now I would like to say something about sitting meditation. I mean if you can sit maybe in the morning for some time and in the evening, it is a good habit to cultivate. But if you are unable to sit, please do not think that that is the end of the practice. This can easily happen. You think, I do not feel like sitting and then when you give up sitting, you give up the practice of meditation also. This is why I emphasise the practice of reflection, which you can do without sitting: the importance of learning to look at your thoughts, your emotions, your state of mind, so that you can learn to do this in everyday life.
The Four Noble Truths in Everyday Life
This is why I also emphasise that we can use the Buddha's Four Noble Truths in everyday life. I think it can be a very powerful practice. Any time during the day while you are working or doing anything, you can just ask yourself: Now, what is happening? Am I with the first Noble Truth, am I with the second Noble Truth or am I with the third or the fourth? You can just ask these questions as constantly as possible during the day, and this is more than enough for your practice, I would like to say.
What a beautiful way to live, just reminding yourselves, just being with the Buddha's Four Noble Truths as often as possible during the day. And what is more beautiful, and what is more effective is, in any situation in life - I would emphasise in any situation in life - you can apply the Four Noble Truths, and if you can do that you can see Dhamma everywhere, you can see Dhamma in any situation.
So I would like to emphasise that when there is any situation where you are suffering, just reflect and find out what is the cause that is creating the suffering. And immediately you will see: this in the beauty of the Buddha's teaching. Not in the future, but just at that moment you will realise: This is because I am having the idea of wanting it my way, wanting if differently, resisting what is actually happening, not seeing something just as it is.
And during moments when there is freedom from suffering, try to remember, to remind yourself, to ask: Why is there an absence of suffering? Immediately you will see: because there is no attachment, there is no desire, there is no more wanting, there is no liking, there is no disliking. So immediately you can see what conditions are creating that freedom from suffering.
So is there any reason why you are unable to do this? What is beautiful about the Buddha's teaching is that practice is really within the reach of any human being who has the motivation in that direction.
Questions about Meditation in Everyday Life
So again are there any questions that you have, especially about the challenges, the problems, you are encountering in everyday life?
Retreatant: You have said we should investigate the moments when we are free of suffering. Sometimes I am free of suffering or happy, but I am looking forward to something that I am going to enjoy. What about this?
Godwin: It all depends on what you are looking forward to. If you are looking forward to some pleasurable thing that you are longing for, at that moment you will feel some excitement, you will feel some pleasure arising, thinking: Maybe when I have that I will really enjoy it. And what is very significant is, when you get it, what next? What is beautiful about the first Noble Truth is, one way suffering is created is not getting what we want. I think we can all relate to that. But what happens when the next step comes, when we do get something we want? - This is a very, very deep teaching of the Buddha - when you get what you want, what is the next step? Wanting something different? Wanting something more? So this longing continues and at the end of it there is still dissatisfaction and discontent.
This aspect is very clearly presented in a beautiful and powerful simile in one of the Buddhist texts: it is like when you have a wound you feel like scratching it, and when you scratch it you get a nice feeling, a very pleasant feeling, and you continue to scratch, but the wound never heals. So if you really want to heal the wound, you have to stop scratching and go through that unpleasant sensation and from that something healing can arise.
Now this reminds me that I wanted to speak about sexuality on the day we discussed relationships, but we got so much involved that day that even I forgot about it, and I think you must have forgotten also, otherwise you would have talked about it. Because sexuality is one of these issues in everyday life, a very big issue. So does anyone have any problems about sexuality? Any questions about sexuality?
Retreatant: I have found out something and I do not know why it is: When I am in a relationship and it is just friendship, sometimes it happens that the friendship is very open. But as soon as sexuality comes in, it changes and I do not know why.
Godwin: You have not discovered why. And what may be the possible reasons for this do you think? The wanting? Expectations? Maybe another aspect related to that is, now when generally speaking there is an open friendship perhaps we do not make so many demands from the other person, but in a sexual relationship I think what might be happening is, the other person is used as a kind of investment, because - as I said in relation to the wound - the pleasure that you get from the other person, sometimes that is the only aspect in it. When that happens there can be problems, because you do not see other aspects of the relationship, but only this one aspect. So this can give rise to conflicts as both are only getting pleasure from each other, and there is nothing else.
One thing that I emphasise is these four aspects I mentioned previously, what are called the four sublime states. Even in a relationship where sex is involved, I think if you can use some of these four aspects it can be extremely helpful. So there is Metta: general concern, general caring, friendliness to each other. It goes deeper than just pleasure. Because what is involved is a kind of real genuine caring.
Then Karuna, compassion: so that when another person is suffering, you really feel for that person. So there is an immediate response to that suffering. And it can be mutual, so that when someone is suffering you help them, and when you are suffering the other person helps you. So this is a beautiful way of having a relationship in any form, where you are helping each other in such situations.
And the other beautiful quality is sharing happiness Mudita, so just to really see the other person happy and for the other person to see you happy. This is the complete opposite of envy and jealousy. Especially the element of jealousy, which can really create problems, this is the complete opposite of jealousy, where there is a real sympathetic joy for each other. And the last quality you can really use very creatively is where you respect each other's space. So these can be four very important guidelines for one to use in relationships, whatever the relationship is, it can be sexual or even if sexuality is not there.
Do not feel bad if you have sexual desires. Do not feel guilty about them. According to the Buddhist model, it is only when you have attained the 3rd stage of sainthood that sexual desire drops away completely. This is one point I would like to make. Another point is: do not see sexual desires as something different from other desires. We should ask ourselves: Why have we made a problem out of sexuality? When we have other desires it is not such a problem, but this one! We give it such power, such energy, and then we become victims of it. So what is necessary, is to take away the power and the energy and just to see it as any other challenge, and just to work with it as in the case of other emotions. So in this retreat we have discussed all problems: sexual problems, relationship problems, emotional problems.
Also I would like to say there can be a beautiful closeness, an intimacy without sexuality. I think this can be a beautiful relationship. In fact one of the Zen-masters has described enlightenment as feeling intimate with all things. So you can have an intimacy in that sense with people but the fact of sexuality may not enter into it.
Avoiding the Two Extremes
Generally speaking there are two extremes: one extreme is repression, the other extreme is complete expression. This can be related to anger: sometimes we repress anger, sometimes we express it. So one way of working with this is to avoid both these extremes, which means in practical terms neither repression - so you allow any thoughts or feelings to arise - nor expression, instead just allowing it, just being aware of it, just creating space around it.
Some people consider certain things bad. People who consider sexuality bad, they give it a minus - they repress it. People who consider it as something good, give it a plus - they express it. As I have often said: We should have no plusses, no minuses, just seeing it as it is.
Sounds very simple, very simple.
Maybe we could end with a well known Chinese story, which I like very much: There was a wise old man living in a village in China and he had some beautiful horses. One day one of the beautiful horses went missing. So the people in the village came and told this old man: Oh, this is bad karma. This is something very unfortunate, that you have lost the most beautiful horse you had. He said: Relax, relax. No need to give a minus to that. I have just lost a horse, that is all.
Then after some time this beautiful horse returned with another beautiful horse. So now he has two horses. Then his friends came and said: Now it must be a good karma, you are very, very fortunate, you lost one horse, but now you have 2 horses. He said: Relax, relax. No need for a plus. I now have two horses, that's all.
He had only one son. So the son started to train this new horse and what happened? His son broke his leg because the horse was very aggressive. Some times this can happen: good karma changes into bad karma. His friends came again, and said: So now your only son has broken his leg, that's very bad karma. He said: Relax, relax. My son has broken his leg, that's all.
Then there was a war, and the army people came looking for young people to take into the army. When they came to this man's house, they could not take the son because his leg was broken. But all his friends lost their sons because they were taken away. They said: What a fortunate man you are! You are the only man whose son has been saved, and all because of his broken leg, you have very good karma!
Now this is the Buddha's teaching - just to see things as they are.
Anything left? Enlightenment. Enlightenment. Here I would like to present a very simple, practical aspect of the Buddha's teaching that we can use in our daily practice. In simple terms, enlightenment is the absence of suffering. It sounds so ordinary. But this should be the most important issue in our lives.
It is a very simple, direct, practical area to work with. When there is suffering just to make that the object of meditation, to see it as the first Noble Truth. And then applying the fourth Noble Truth, so then you can relate to the suffering in an entirely different way. Thus in this way, working with it as the Buddha said: little by little, slowly, slowly, we can get to a state, where suffering becomes less and less, which means we are also getting closer and closer to enlightenment.
This is enough.
So may every one here little by little, slowly, slowly, become free of suffering. And there are two nice sounding Pali words for this: thokam thokam khane khane - Slowly, slowly, little by little.
So now we can do some nice chanting and after that we will see what happens. There has been some beautiful chanting here - it is very nice. I enjoy it so much, it is beautiful to be in a group chanting together.