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The Gentle Way of Buddhist Meditation
Dhamma Talks by Godwin Samararatne
Hongkong, 1997

Day 4 Retreat: 16th October 1997




It has been a learning experience for me listening to the problems regarding emotions. It is clear to me that emotions arise in the way you relate to yourself and the way you relate to others and the way you relate to the surroundings. So it shows relationship is a real challenge we have in life. Many persons presented problems relating to other people. So their problem was, they were concerned about what others were thinking of them. Especially fearing minuses. So the question arises: Why we have given such power to other people? Our happiness and unhappiness is dependent on other people. So I would like to raise this as a question: Why have we given so much power to other people?

Female 1: Otherwise it would be difficult to get on with each other.

Godwin: Anything else?

Male 1: If one has no self confidence, one does not know how to get hold of one's destiny.

Godwin: I think this seems to be an important reason. Because we lack self confidence, because we don't practise what is necessary for us, we depend on other people for that. Another question that arose in my mind today was, at least with the people I have been meeting in this regard, only women have been telling me how they are relating to other people creates this emotion of lack of self confidence, fearing the judgment of others, fearing to make mistakes where others will blame them. Now a question that arose in me is that, here, in this country, is it mostly common with women, or men also have this problem but they are shy to speak about it?

Male 2: Men have more of this kind of problem. Men know how to find ways to let out their emotions, for example, they would go out to drink with friends and when they get a bit drunk, they will just say anything, then they just let out the emotions in this way or another.

Godwin: I meet many men and I meet many women and I think everywhere in this world, this is a real problem human beings have to face. I didn't know that with men, one of the solutions they have found is drinking, but then it becomes a vicious circle because of their drinking, they are also given minuses and because of the minuses, they drink, so one thing leads to the other. Let us see how meditation helps us to work with these problems, whether it is in men or women, it doesn't matter.

I feel this is why meditation of loving kindness is so important, in the sense that you learn to be your best friend and if you can really make that connection with yourself, actually feel it, then I think our dependency on what others think of you becomes less because whatever we need from others, you get it from yourself. You will become self contained within oneself.

Another way meditation helps us to work with this situation is understanding the nature of pluses and minuses. It is again very interesting that human beings have this very very strong conditioning to give pluses, to give minuses in all situation but we never pause to question whether these pluses or minuses are valid, on what basis are we doing this. It is funny we really become victims of this mechanism but we never inquire into the way these pluses and minuses operate, under what condition they arise, what is really creating them, what is contributing to them. So when we explore this question, we realise that these are really related to thoughts, concepts which have come due to different reasons from the society that you have been brought up into. Then you see them as part of your conditioning, you see them as a strong habit that we have got used to. It is funny this is how we use thoughts. Now as we all know from the time that we wake up in the morning up to the time that we go to sleep, there are continuous thoughts, thinking going through our mind which never stop. If you become aware, if you become mindful of the thoughts that go through your mind, then you'll realize that most of the time the way we use thoughts is this habit of giving pluses and minuses. So that when you see this clearly, then the power that we have given to them may become less. So then you realize sometimes it is just an innocent thought that comes: ‘maybe the other person doesn't like me’, ‘maybe the other person is giving me minuses’, ‘maybe the other person thinks that I'm silly or ridiculous’. So if you are mindful, you'll realize it is just a thought that I'm having, who knows whether that thought corresponds to any reality. There is a strong imaginary aspect in our thoughts. So this imaginary aspect and the reality are two different things. So with awareness, with mindfulness, exploring, investigating may become clear to us and this will help us to work with and handle the thoughts and their power will become less.

Another very interesting aspect related to this is: With our thoughts, with our identifications, the images we have created of ourselves and others. We all have images of who we are, the type of persons you are. So in the same way, each person has a model, has an image of himself or herself. So I think what we are doing is that when other people accept your image, then you feel comfortable with them, you feel at ease with them. And then we make it a point to always, or most of the time, impose this particular image on other people. Then we also have images of other people. A Western psychologist has said that when two people meet, there are six people. Can you work out how two people become six people?

Male 1: Two real people and four imaginary people.

Godwin: Yes, exactly. It is a very interesting point for us to reflect. So sometimes when there are conflicts, actually it is the images that are in conflict but what they really are is another situation. So with meditation, with awareness, you understand this process that whenever there is a conflict, the conflict is the result of the image you have of the other person. Take the case of anger. So in relation to behaviour from another person: How do we get angry? Why do we get angry? We have an idea of how the other person should behave and when the other person's behaviour does not conform to the image we have, we get angry. Then we have an image of our usual behaviour and when our behaviour does not correspond to that image, then we feel guilty, we get angry, we get disappointed, we get hurt yourself because our behaviour does not correspond to that image we have formed of ourselves.

A very interesting practice in everyday life is, whenever you suffer, whenever you are disappointed, whenever you are frustrated, at that moment, you can see for yourself that the image which you are having is now clashing from what is actually happening. This is why the Buddha emphasized: Learning to see things as they are. But what we are doing is, we want to see the way things as they should be, as they must be according to our way, my way. So in a way, what we are doing is we are demanding how we should behave, we are demanding how others should behave, we are demanding how life should be. So if these demands are met, life is wonderful, life is O.K., it is beautiful. If these demands are not met, suffering, frustration, disappointment, hurt, most of the emotions can arise as a result of that. So I would suggest that an enlightened human being goes about life without any images and because of that, he or she can never suffer.

Another aspect related to this is if you can really understand the nature of life, then you realize it is not possible to have a conclusion about how life should be. In the Dhamma there is something very very deep which is: To be open to the uncertainty of life. But we have this idea of certainty because we assume things can be controlled but when we think deeply, we realize that in actual fact, we have no control. In cultures, in countries where things work perfectly, without any problems, one thing that arises is that it gives a kind of sense of security because everything is happening perfectly, no problems, everything under control. Living in countries like India, Sri Lanka, you have to be open to uncertainties. I will give a practical example which I experienced. When I was in Europe, I was in a train and they made an announcement in the language of that country and people were very very anxious, looking at their leaflets and lots of talk about it, lots of disappointment, so I asked them what the announcement is. They said the train was going seven minutes late. In Sri Lanka, if there is a train you'll be very fortunate. So this is very good training. Most of the time unexpected things happen. You go to the bus stand, then they say no bus now. You want to go by train, they say now there is no train, it is one hour late. I get the impression that these things don't happen here. Am I right? Everything under control and it gives a sense of security, then when something unexpected happens, disappointment, suffering. So that living in cultures like this naturally you tend to be conditioned to do things perfectly. You fear to make mistakes because no mistakes happen! So with this idea of perfection, this is why we like other people to accept that you are perfect, this is why you fear maybe they are giving you minuses so that your model of perfection is affected by that. So this is why I often emphasized this open to humanness, open to imperfection so that when we become more and more open to our humanness, our imperfection, then if you are getting minuses from other people, then you are not surprised. You realize: Well, that's part of the conditioning. I'm still human, so it's O.K.

I like to pause now and if you have any questions, I'm sure you might have some questions, some clarifications about this, so I think we will try to have a useful discussion about our emotions and how to really work with our emotions in the context of the practice.

So it is interesting when asking questions, you are afraid: ‘Could this be a good question? Will people laugh at my question? Will they think I'm stupid?’ As Peter said, are we not silly? I mean this is where it is beautiful that we are in a group of spiritual friends so at least we should be open to anything, allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from these mistakes, at least this is the beauty of a retreat like this. So I would like to hear some silly questions. I don't want these profound perfect questions. For a change, to some silly questions I will be happy to give some silly answers.

Male 2: In Hong Kong, we do have certain set of images to live by and we always do things in conformity with these images. For example, if we go to a cafe and order a certain type of Chinese tea but the waiter gives me another type and if we accept the wrong tea, the acceptance depends on whether we accept it without a grudge.

Godwin: That is certainly true. We can accept because it is one thing, because we want to conform with others, so you pretend it is good and you accept it but I think the real acceptance is: Can we really say O.K. to it or not even saying O.K. or doing something about it?

Male 2: My statement is really if I accept, the acceptance would either be with a grudge or with understanding, not with conformity.

Godwin: So it is not a silly point but a profound point. It is so profound that we are still trying to understand what the question is! I'm only joking.

Anything else? So please present difficulties, problems you have in everyday life in relation to working with emotions. As someone said today, living here, there are no emotions coming.

Male 2: Because we have to be silent, that's why there's no emotion!

Male 3: He said no talk, no emotions. He got the point. Better than us.

Godwin: So please, in everyday life, what are the emotions that come up? So we can discuss ways and means of how meditation can help us to cope with emotions in such situation.

Male 4: I would like to give one example, that is, in my office, I always try to work to conform with what my clients expect me to do. It's not because I care how they judge me. Actually I don't care as long as I've done my job right, then I'm happy. But the reality is that if I don't do things in conformity with their expectations, they will complain about me or to me which results in spending a lot of time explaining the situation. So that gives me a lot of pressure. I know that it is all created by my mind and I can handle the situation if there should be any unjustified complaints but the fact is that I try to avoid these troubles, so I try to do everything perfectly.

Godwin: A good question.

Female 2: It's very common in Hong Kong.

Godwin: Good question, A big plus to you. So what I would suggest is, what I'm saying doesn't mean that you should not act with responsibility. So one thing we have to learn is how to act with responsibility without the pressure. So that you are doing your best but doing that best is done in a relaxed way, not with tension, not with stress. This is one thing we need to learn and then when you do your best and then you have made a mistake, then you can be very very clear and honest in your own mind: When I did my best but my best was not the best of that other person, so what can I do? So it at least makes your mind very clear, it makes your conscience very clear, so that it also will not give rise to any conflict. So this is all we can try to do and then we tried, if it succeeds, it's good. If it fails, it is also good. And then in such a situation, if you have made a mistake and then some problem arises, what is also important for us to learn is when a wound has been created, to heal that wound as quickly as possible rather than just hold onto the wound and suffer for your whole life because you have made some mistakes.

Anything else?

Female 2: But in Hong Kong you may be fired by the boss. It is the source of the pressure.

Male 3: Accept the fact that I'm fired. No suffering.

Godwin: If you have done your best and if you're fired, I mean in your own mind you are very very clear about what has happened. So I feel, it is very very important in life to understand our limitations. This doesn't mean that we justify our limitations but that is a fact: I'm doing my very best but then my very best does not correspond to what others think as their best, so what can you do? Actually, these are real challenges we have in life: How to face them?

Another aspect to such situation, I don't know if what I'm going to say makes sense, some of these set backs, some of these difficulties, some of these problems you have in such a situation can be, later on, a blessing. This is also very interesting. I'm reminded of a Chinese tale that I like to share with you, perhaps you already know the story. In a particular village, there was a very wise old man and he had some beautiful horses. So one day one of the beautiful horses was missing, gone away. So the whole village came to this man and said, ‘Oh, how unfortunate! It is that your best horse that has ran away. It seems you are very unlucky.’ Maybe in Buddhist term, it is bad Kamma and so on. He said, ‘No, it is merely that my horse has ran away. What you are saying is an opinion, a judgment on what has happened. My horse has ran away, that's all.’ So in my terms, you'd say no need to give a minus to this. Then after some days, this horse came with another beautiful horse. Then the same villagers came and said, ‘Oh, you're very lucky, you're very fortunate, you lost one horse, now you have two horses.’ He said, ‘Stop all this. I now have two horses, that is all.’ In my terms, no need to give a plus. This old man had a son and so with this new horse he was trying to train this new horse and in training the new horse, the son fell from the horse and broke his leg. So the friends came and said, ‘Bad Kamma again.’ And then what happened was there was a war and so soldiers came to the village to take away all the young people in the village for the war, only his son was saved from this. This is a very very good story to learn to see things just as they are, hopefully without pluses and without minuses. I suppose the wise old man did not have any image of what should happen and what shouldn't happen. Has anyone heard of this story? Everybody.

Male 5: Everybody know this story but nobody can practise like the old man.

Male 4: But the story was not presented in the way that you did. The way you presented the story is very striking because you emphasized the point that there should not be any concept. The fact is that he lost a horse. The fact is that he gained a horse and no other judgment. But the traditional way of telling this story is about good luck and bad luck. When fortunate things happen, you do not expect it is really fortunate. When unfortunate things happen, you do not expect it is really unfortunate, you have to wait and see it to the end. That is the traditional way of telling the story, so it is very materialistic because the traditional way of telling us is that at the end this old man gains. There's a fruit.

Godwin: I think another aspect of this story I like is that he did not have any expectations of what should happen or what shouldn't happen. So no images. He had no images of what should happen and what shouldn't happen. This is one point. The other point is there is a shift that takes place inside. When there is understanding and realization inside, anything can happen externally. This is the important thing. So we cannot control what is happening externally but when there is a change inside, then you will be able to handle whatever is happening externally. I think this is another aspect of the story.

Any other questions?

Male 6: In Hong Kong society even though you can achieve 99% almost perfection, with the 1% you have committed as a mistake, people would grab hold of that 1% fault and go on and on against you. I fully understand the way you told us how to deal with these situations but I cannot say from the bottom of my heart whether I can do it.

Godwin: I think what you said does not apply only to Hong Kong society. For some reason everywhere in the world there seems to be too much emphasis, too much power given to the mistakes, to the negative things, that the good things are taken for granted. This happens very often in relationships. You do good things and with so many good things, you do one mistake and that one mistake becomes more important than all the good things that you have done. So people will be talking about that one mistake but not all the good things that has been done by that person. So it brings up the interesting question: Why do human beings give so much power to the mistakes, to the negative things and the positive things are taken for granted? I like to hear from you whether you have any thoughts about this.

Female 3: People seldom have any heart for things.

Godwin: Maybe so. Anything else?

Male 2: I present a converse situation to what Male 6 said. Some people never do anything right but somehow everything is forgiven when he brings you a cup of tea.

Male 4: He is not answering your question.

Godwin: So going back to my question.

Female 4: I think sometimes people always think of the mistake and keep reminding you because of jealousy, so they want to heighten the mistake.

Godwin: Anything else? Any other possible explanations.

Male 4: In my experience, it all boils down to greed. It's because, for example, my clients expect me to win a legal battle because if I win the legal battle, he will get what he wants. When I do not win the legal battle for him, then he has many complaints because his mind is muddled by greed because he does not get what he wants. And the same applies to many other things that I have seen. When a person has greed in his mind and if he does not get what he wants and although I've done my best, he won't listen.

Godwin: So as we realize that this is something in ourselves and we should in our own way, try to practise this in a different way. So one suggestion I like to offer is that whenever you see someone doing something good, I think we should make it a point to just to mention it, to appreciate it. Parents who bring up children, I mean this is a very very common problem where parents tell the children only when they make a mistake. When they do something good, that is not mentioned. So a child is brought up with the idea: I'm always doing wrong things. When a similar discussion took place in a foreign country I was in, in that audience, there was a teacher who had been counselling parents. She told us she gave an exercise to the parents. They were told to draw up a list of all the naughty things, bad things the children would do. So without a problem, they drew up a long list. Then the parents were told now please draw a list of the good things your children are doing. It was very very difficult for them to do that! They had to think hard on what the good things that they were doing. Isn't that interesting?

And this also happens in relationships. Sometimes I have to counsel in Sri Lanka, husbands and wives who have problems. It's a big joke amongst my friends. They say this man has no experience in married life and he is counselling married people. One complaint of wives is when cooking is not so good, the husband would be critical and make a big fuss about the food, but when the food is good, she tells me that he practises the noble silence!

There is a very interesting discussion in the Buddhist texts about spiritual friends. So what a real spiritual friend does is when someone does wrong, you point out in a very friendly way that’s wrong and when you do something good, when you do something right, you point out that you are doing something good, something right. This is what we need to learn, not only give power and energy to the minuses but also acknowledge the pluses. So I would suggest, we as meditators, we should try to cultivate this very important quality. And it is also very important to see the good things in us also. This tendency to see only the negative, only the minuses in ourselves is a very very strong factor which can create a lot of emotions and suffering for us. So when we learn to see the more and more positive in us, when we see more and more pluses in us, then we will be able to see more and more positive things and pluses in others.

There are four qualities mentioned in the Dhamma. They are called sublime states or divine abodes. So they are Metta, the first one is loving kindness. The second one is Karuna which means when you see someone suffering you try to help that person. The third quality is very very interesting, Mudita, when other people are happy, you rejoice in their happiness, and I would say that you can also rejoice in your own happiness. So this quality of Mudita is something very very important we need to cultivate. A meditation Master has put this very very clearly, he said that we have a tendency to see what is wrong in us, we never look for what is right in us. The society might have harmful, destructive values but we should try to cultivate these virtues, these values which might be against what is happening in society. This is why the Buddha's teaching, meditation is compared to going up stream, that it is not easy, most people just flow with the stream. So living in a society where these things are prominent, where they are given power, it is not easy, it is difficult but this is where we have to make an effort. This is where the practice is important. This is why a group of spiritual friends is important, that at least we are as a group trying to practise these virtues, these qualities though in the country, in the society, something else is happening.

Anyway, something about tomorrow. Tomorrow I like to suggest we might try to practise about your thoughts, to work on our thoughts. There is always a connection between thoughts and emotions. An interesting question to reflect is: Can there be suffering without a thought? Can there be emotion without a thought? So I feel that in our practice, we should really understand, penetrate, to work with our thoughts. So as I said, from the time that we wake up up to the time we go to sleep, there is this continuous thinking going through our mind. So tomorrow I like to suggest that we forget our friend, the breath, and then continuously observe our thoughts and see the connection between thoughts and emotions and then try to make discoveries about our thoughts, about our thinking, especially the area of pluses and minuses in relation to the thoughts that we have. So tomorrow if you catch yourself giving minuses, observe it, catch it as soon as possible. When we were coming here to this centre, I think there was a question mark in red and I think I asked someone what that question mark meant. I was told that question mark meant: Just find out what you are thinking. So it is a very interesting exercise that during the day, suddenly, to find out: Now what is the thought I am having. So whether you are here or whether you are outside, let us make an effort to just to know, just to understand, just to explore, just to learn, just to discover from our thought, about our thoughts, about our concepts. And then we can have a discussion about thoughts in the evening.

So now we can do some chanting.

Talks: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]
Retreats: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]
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