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

Day 5 Retreat: 17th October 1997

Thought and Meditation



I will touch on some aspects where we can work with our thoughts in the context of meditation.

One thing we can discover is that our thoughts arise mechanically. They just pop up. Take what is happening now. You are listening to me but you are in your thoughts that are going through your mind. You don't want these thoughts to arise but they just pop up and then we do something very interesting, some thoughts we allow them to arise and pass away, while others, we get hold of them, we identify ourselves with them. They can overwhelm us, they can control us. So this is one of the things that we can know with awareness, so that when thoughts arise, without getting hold of them, if you can just allow them to go away, then there is no problem. So this is one aspect for us to learn and discover.

Another is the connection, relationship, between thoughts and our state of mind. So as I said, when we get hold of our thoughts, when we identify ourselves with the thoughts, then our state of mind changes. That is why I have been suggesting for us to learn that when thoughts come, just learning not to react to them.

Another interesting area which we have been working with is the connection between thoughts and emotions. What comes first, thoughts or emotions?

(Everyone answered: Thoughts)

I hope that you really discovered it, that you really learnt it.

So in other words, if you learn to handle thoughts, work with thoughts, we develop mastery over emotions. Another thing is when we have an emotion, it is only thoughts that make it bigger. It can really blow up the emotion you are having.

Another interesting aspect is how we create stories out of our thoughts and we don't realize that we create the stories but we become victims of the stories that we create ourselves. Sometimes the stories can even become films, movies in our own mind, from what has happened in the past and what is going to happen in the future, we can be creating sometimes very destructive films, movies and we are the director, we are the producer, we are the actor and we are the victims, all in that. I will give an example of what the stories and how the story can very soon become a kind of reality at that moment.

This is a story from the Buddhist literature. So there was a young monk who wanted to give up his robes. He hasn't told his chief monk about his plans but one day the chief monk was having a headache, so he told this young monk to give him a massage, to rub some oil on his head. So while massaging his head, he was thinking: Now, maybe in a month or two I will be giving up my robes. And after I give up my robes, maybe I will find a job and when I find a job, I will get some money and when I find enough money, maybe I will find a girl and get married to this girl and sometimes these wives can be very very impossible people and if my wife becomes difficult or impossible, I'll give her a good beating. And he beat this old monk on his head.

We are laughing but this is what we also do with our thoughts. So it shows that these thoughts can be so creative that they can create fantasies for us and we take the fantasy as real. And there is a connection, relationship, between the stories and emotions. In the Dhamma, there is a very interesting Pali word to describe this process which takes place in our mind. And what it means is constructing, manufacturing, concocting, projecting, all these things we do with our thoughts, and it is said there is a direct relationship between concepts and suffering. This is how our suffering is created. So this is why it is very very important to learn to work with thoughts, to understand the thoughts, to understand really the nature and construction of thoughts so that as I said earlier, if we can learn to have a very spacious mind, allowing these thoughts to come to go, emotions to come and go, sensations to arise and pass away, and we are in that spaciousness, not reacting to it and at that moment, it is freedom. In the Tibetan tradition, they use a very very nice simile. It has compared the mind to a spacious sky and the thoughts to clouds. So the clouds do not affect the sky, the sky does not affect the clouds. So this shows that it is important to have that spaciousness, spacious mind, allowing anything to arise and pass away.

Another aspect of thought is that we have a very strong conditioning to identify ourselves with them and say: ‘These are my thoughts. I am thinking.’ Again, without realizing it is the thoughts that have created the thinker. This is why I have been suggesting on a few occasions, just to see thoughts as thoughts without a owner, without the idea that these are my thoughts but just thoughts arising and passing away.

So it is funny how we have this idea of ownership. We start owning everything, thoughts, emotions, sensations, persons, possessions. So when we start owning things, we don't like to let go of the things we own. This is why we find it difficult to let go of emotions because we think this is my anger, my fear, my anxiety, my sadness, so whatever we consider mine, we don't want to let go. This is the deeper aspect of the Dhamma, to indicate to us, actually there is no owner. There are just thoughts, there are just sensations, there are just emotions. It is this sense of ownership which is in a way creating our suffering. Nothing should happen to my mother, anything can happen to other mothers. Nothing should happen to my body but other bodies, there's no problem whatsoever. And then in the same way, we have this identification with possessions: My cup. It should be with me but other cups, there is no problem. We even draw the distinction about cats. This is my cat. This is the neighbour's cat. So the neighbour's cat should not come and attack my cat. How can the neighbour's cat do that? So it is an interesting question to reflect: What happens at the time of death about all the things we think we own? If you really own them, we should be able to take them with us even after death.

So these are really very very deep profound aspects of the Buddha's teaching. To see the connection with our sense of ownership, with the sense of "I" and "me" and how that is creating the suffering. So these are some areas, some aspects that we can find out for ourselves in the practice of meditation in everyday life. So in everyday life, it is very important to use awareness, just to know what thoughts are going through your mind and how it is affecting us, how it is related to emotions. So if you can really constantly practise this, be aware of this, then very slowly there can be a shift from what is happening to you.

We are saying we have certain worries, we have certain problems, what happens to that worry, what happens to that problem when your thoughts are with something else? The problem may not be solved but still at that moment, it is not a source of suffering. If someone close to you is sick, then whenever we think about that person, that is creating the suffering, that is creating the worry but when our thoughts are with something else, that person would be still having that illness but it is not a source of suffering. So it shows how thinking, thoughts, are really directly related to our suffering.

So I presented certain aspects, areas, where we use thoughts destructively. Yesterday, we discussed about images that arise in relationships and images are created again by our concepts and our thoughts, but thoughts can also have a use, one can also use them creatively. How can we use them creatively? It is by using thought to reflect, to contemplate, to analyse. So this is a very very important exercise, very important meditation for us to develop. Using thoughts to reflect. This question of reflection, we should constantly reflect on our behaviour: How am I behaving? Is my behaviour creating suffering for oneself, creating suffering for other? Especially it is very important for us to see for ourselves how we create our own suffering. So it is only when we see very clearly how we create our own suffering, then you realize only we can bring about the change, then we take responsibility for our suffering and then we can change that situation. This brings up the four noble truths the Buddha discovered.

The first noble truth is the fact of suffering. How is suffering considered a noble truth? What is noble in suffering ? What is your response?

Female 1: Because if we do not understand suffering, we would not practise.

Godwin: You can say that. It is noble because when we suffer, then as I said, we can reflect on what is causing the suffering. So when you suffer, don't see it as something negative, see it as a noble truth. But what is more important is the second noble truth. It is from that to find out: Now what is causing the suffering? Who is causing the suffering? Now this is a very very difficult teaching for you to realize that you are creating the suffering, because it is very easy sometimes for us to hold others as responsible for our suffering, then you don't have to do anything about your suffering, others have to do something about it. So if you can see the second noble truth very clearly, the third and the fourth just follow from that.

Sometimes I define meditation as discovering the medicine for the sickness we have created ourselves. So during the last few days, we have been discovering the medicine and I am very happy looking at the faces, the medicine seems to be helping, working. Now what is important is to continue to take the medicine in everyday life. This is what we will be doing tomorrow, being the last day. So tomorrow I would like you to go over the medicine that we have been taking, the different techniques we have been practising, reflect on the different discussions we have been having. So before you leave, you must be very very clear whether you are clear about the medicine that you have to take. So tomorrow we will have a discussion on how to integrate meditation in daily life. So reflect on all the problems, all the difficulties you may encounter, or you are encountering in everyday life and then we will discuss how one can find the solution from the Buddha's teaching.

Now any questions about what I have been saying. Please ask questions, don't think whether it is a good question, bad question, silly question, profound question, just ask.

Female 2: Talking about meditation, I want to know whether we meditators should act like a stone? It seems that all the meditators behave like a stone. To me, the feeling is like many stones. Because this morning when I was doing the standing meditation and I just stood by the window and saw the nature, it was so beautiful, the wind moving and they danced, and I thought: Can we do dancing meditation and it was so peaceful? So I want to know.

Godwin: Was I behaving also like a stone?

Female 2: Frankly, yes, but luckily you do laugh sometimes and you laugh very genuine and you laugh very brilliant so I don't think you are really like a stone most of the time.

Godwin: I have been emphasizing the practice of loving kindness and the practice of loving kindness is completely opposite to being like a stone. It is really developing friendliness, feelings, this is why I always emphasise when I say: Can you feel that you are your best friend? Can you really feel for other people around you? So stones cannot feel I'm afraid. You described nature. You have been emphasizing very much to make a connection with nature. And I am happy to say that there is a beautiful atmosphere of people helping each other, being friendly with each other, so I don't get the impression that they are, specially people working in the kitchen, behaving like stones. I think what you are confusing is detachment and having no feelings. So here, the whole emphasis on feeling. I have been emphasizing the experience of joy, lightness, friendliness, and then I think Jack has been emphasizing the importance of feeling the body. Perhaps he will tell you that some of you maybe relating to your body as stones and only with yoga. So that it is confusing, non-reacting mind, non-suffering mind with feelings. I wanted to mention this on the last day, I should also like to repeat that there is a beautiful atmosphere here, a group of spiritual friends interacting with each other. In fact one of the meditators told me this morning when we came, he had difficulties with feelings but when people started smiling at him and showing friendliness, for the first time, he experienced some feelings. That was very nice for me to hear from him.

Anything else?

Female 2: Master, you have not answered my question. Can we do dancing meditation?

Godwin: Oh dancing, I did not hear the word dancing. During individual and outdoor meditation, you are free to dance on your own, the only thing is not force it, it should come naturally from your heart, otherwise the dance is not something real, it is just because you want to dance, you dance. When there is joy, when there is lightness, when there is loving kindness, I think whether you dance or whether you don't dance, it does not matter, this is what is beautiful about it.

Anything else?

Female 3: Can mind power be as strong and firm as a stone?

Godwin: I wouldn't like to call that as stone. I would say rather than seeing it as a stone, it should be seen as something warm, it should be seen as something gentle, soft, tender. These are the spiritual qualities that come with the practice. So it is completely different from the aspect of a stone which is something with no feelings. Something beautiful about human beings is that we have this ability to feel and we should allow this feeling to arise but then this feeling should be worked with, understood, it has to be understood.

Female 4: You said earlier we should not create an image of ourself. When we practise meditation on loving kindness, we create an image of ourself that we are of loving kindness, so are the two contradictory?

Godwin: Very good question, very good question. So in a way, we need to have images, even expectations. What is important for us to realize is, in what way are we using them destructively. So that here, we don't have these qualities in us, instead of loving kindness, we have hatred, hatred to ourselves, hatred to others, so it is very very important to bring about a shift in us by learning to be your best friend, learning to be a friend to others. In a way, it is no harm having an image: I want to be a person who is friendly and try to practise. Or you can still practise without an image but just developing these qualities and from that, allow your behaviour to emerge from that, so one can really practise at two levels if you like. You like to have an image, you can have it but otherwise, you can just practise without an image and allow your behaviour to arise from whatever spiritual qualities that you have developed. What is important is to see whether that image corresponds to reality. This is what we have to work with. Images create problems sometimes if the images are unrealistic. Again, this is how suffering is created, where you have an image of how things should be and then what happens in reality is another thing and this is how suffering is created. So there are different aspects of this question. I'm very happy good questions are being asked. Very good.

Female 2: When you get enlightened, then we have no more thoughts?

Godwin: I think in a way there is nothing wrong with thoughts. This is what I have been trying to impress on you. So what I have been trying to impress on you is: How we use thoughts destructively? So this is what you have to see in everyday life: When we use thoughts destructively, how that is creating suffering. I also said how one can use thoughts creatively. So thoughts have a really very positive use. So I would suggest an enlightened person would have thoughts but such a person will not use thoughts destructively.

There is a very interesting quotation by the Buddha himself in relation to his own thoughts. Anyway, I would like to mention the details. One of his disciples told the Buddha, ‘You have so many powers, you have so many miracles, you can have miraculous powers in you.’ And the Buddha said, ‘My greatest miracle is when a thought arises, I know a thought has arisen, when a thought continues, I know when a thought continues, when the thought disappears, I know the thought disappears.’ So this shows it is not the absence of thought. I like that quotation very much, so we can try to work on the third aspect: When a thought disappears. So for someone to have that type of mind, you have to have a very very calm mind, alert mind, just to know when a thought disappears.

So that's about thoughts of an enlightened person. I think we should not worry too much about enlightened people.

Female 2: Actually, my question was because when I watched the grasshoppers for some time, it's so still, it's so calm, it seems that it is, the grasshopper is in meditation and I start to think: What is difference between his meditation and my meditation? So this thing about our thoughts.

Godwin: So you can think about the grasshoppers and you can leave the enlightened person alone. I think we have enough problems with the unenlightened mind of ours. So anything else?

Female 5: Today, during the meditation, I tried to put more effort on observing the thoughts and I discovered that when I put more effort on observation, there's less passing thoughts. It's just like you said, when you want to invite the emotions they do not come, when you invite the thoughts, they do not come also. It's very interesting.

Godwin: It's a very important discovery. When we don't want thoughts to arise, they arise and when want thoughts to arise, they don't arise. When we don't want emotions they arise and when we want emotions they don't arise. Why is the mind acting in opposition to us? This is a very important question to reflect. Is this the nature of the mind? Or have we conditioned the mind in this way? Any thoughts about this?

Male 1: Sometimes we have to force it to arise.

Male 2: Does it work?

Male 1: Think the thing you like to think about. Like if you want to have a coffee, you can say, ‘The coffee is tasty.’ Then it would be tasty.

Godwin: I think what it shows is that we cannot tell the mind: Have thoughts, have no thoughts. It doesn't work that way. It's like telling a child: Do this, don't do this. And the child likes to do what you don't want him to do. So this is why again I emphasize such a lot on friendliness. So if you want to understand a child, you have to be very friendly and see what the child wants, so in the same way, if we want to understand our mind, we cannot be telling the mind to do this and don't do this, but rather, with friendliness, try to understand it. So when there's friendliness, when there's gentleness, when there's openness, then the mind may start co-operating with us, otherwise we tell the mind to behave in one way and it is going the other way and we get angry about it. So it becomes a battle and becomes another big fight. For meditation, for most people, it is a fight. Fighting the mind. I often tell meditators, you have enough battles in life, please do not make meditation another battle. So with friendliness, we need to understand how our mind and body works and then, through that understanding, developing mastery is another thing. When I spoke on loving kindness, I mentioned that one of the benefits is that when there is loving kindness, the mind becomes calm naturally.

Anything else?

Male 1: Your teaching of loving kindness is like teaching us to be a bodhisatta. I would like to practise this too but the difficulty is I cannot be a bodhisatta. For example, I go pass a beggar in the street. I wish to give him $10.00, but then after thinking, I would only give him $5.00 because I need the other $5.00 for my lunch box. My question is how to be a bodhisatta.

Godwin: I am very happy that you are now 50% bodhisatta! Because from $10.00, you give $5.00, you are 50% bodhisatta! So mathematically, you are 50% bodhisatta. So I'm sure very soon you will make the other 50%. So one day, you will come, you give the beggar the $10.00 and you forget about the lunch.

Male 1: What about my lunch box ?

Male 2: Dhammika told us of an incident when he was walking along with you. You came upon a beggar and you gave him everything from your pocket and then you had no money left and you had to walk a long way to where you needed to go. This is something we should learn. Do you remember?

Godwin: No.

Male 3: My thoughts are formed by words. I do not know whether the thoughts of others are also formed by words.

Godwin: Very interesting discovery you have made that thoughts are really words. Words and pictures, and they give rise to feelings. Let's take a couple of examples. Let us think of breakfast tomorrow. Let us close our eyes and see what happens to our mind when we think of breakfast tomorrow. Peter ?

Male 1: The usual things. Nothing unusual.

Godwin: So it means that we see bread, we see coffee, whatever is there we see, so actually these are pictures that come and then with the pictures, some feelings will come depending on our likes and our dislikes. So actually our thoughts come in the form of images, words and feelings. So it sounds so simple and then what happens to us is with these things, this creates our suffering, pictures, films. What is interesting is that techniques like focusing on breathing, so that when there are no thoughts, so none of these things are present, pictures, words, but just dealing with the sensations. And these words and pictures are always from the past. We can never see pictures and images which we have not experienced before. So only when they are absent, something new can happen. So this is the beauty of some of the meditation techniques that help us to have no pictures and so on. This is what I have been encouraging you to do. Make your own discoveries about your thoughts, make your own discoveries about your emotions, make your own discoveries about how suffering is created. We are so fortunate to have this mind and body in us. Sometimes I tell meditators that they can be our laboratories and we can make experiments, we can make discoveries, we can learn from them. Without taking anything for granted, then our whole life becomes learning and we should develop a taste for it, you should develop a curiosity for it, we should find this very interesting, entertaining sometimes, amusing. So then when you leave this place, you can continue to discover, you can continue to learn, you can continue to find out, then we have this openness that we can learn from anything, we can learn from anyone, not only from the so-called teachers, but life becomes the teacher, your mind and body become your teacher and I think it is a beautiful way to live.

Yesterday we were talking about relationships. Just watching the dogs that come here shows very interesting relationships there. What have we learnt from just watching the three dogs that come here? Have you watched them?

Female 6: Very friendly.

Godwin: Yeah, but two were friendly and one was always there.

Male 4: One is an opponent of the other two. One is the enemy of the other two.

Godwin: Yes, it is very interesting to see their relationship.

Female 7: Just like humans.

Godwin: Yes, just like humans. Fascinating to watch them.

Female 7: The same greed and hatred. I think I will not give them anymore bread because they fight over it.

Godwin: Talking about dogs, I like to share with you an experience in one of the retreats I gave in a foreign country. So on the last day, I was having a talk with the meditators and one of them told the group that whatever she has learnt from me from the course, she has learnt from her dog. So I became curious about her dog. I told her please tell something more about your dog and she said, ‘Well, you tell us to just live in the present and this is what my dog does, you tell us to feel grateful, that's what my dog does.’ And she went on to describe the behaviour of the dog and what happens in the retreat. Then I asked her, ‘Is there is no difference between me and your dog?’ She said, ‘Yes, you talk but my dog doesn't talk.’ I like that story very much. Anything else? Any question?

Female 8: You taught us the practice of loving kindness and how we should be friendly with ourselves and others and how we should reflect on wounds that we have and forgive others. But how do we know we are really being sincere in forgiving ourselves and in forgiving others?

Godwin: Very good question. I will give a practical example. Supposing you have a wound in relation to what you have done to another: Guilt. So before healing the wound, whenever a thought came in relation to our act, whenever the thought came, you would suffer from guilt. So the wound will be healed when the memory comes on reflection and then there is no guilt. In the same way, someone has been very unfriendly and unkind to you and whenever the memory comes in relation to his or her act, you feel hatred, you feel anger, you feel ill will. So the wound is healed when the memory comes about that person but no hatred, no ill will comes. I'm happy you reminded us of wounds, so tomorrow is the last day you have for healing wounds. So I would like to suggest you to try to heal them and leave all the wounds here when we go out of here.

Female 9: About wounds to others, for example, one of my male friends thinks I wounded him but this is not so, I did nothing wrong. How can I help him to get rid of the wound?

Godwin: So other people have wounds in relation to our behaviour. We might try to heal their wounds by trying to explain to them, and if you have really created the wound, say sorry to them and then try to help them to heal their wound. You can always try. Sometimes we find it difficult, they may find it difficult to heal them but what is important is not for you to suffer as a result of that because what can you do about it, you have done your best, and then the other person doesn't want to do that. So let us not create a wound in our own mind in relation to that wound.

So I like to say something about what we should do tomorrow. So one thing I suggest, try to go over different things we tried to do here in the last few days and if there are any doubts, any difficulties, please raise them in tomorrow's discussion or when we meet individually. And also please reflect on how you can integrate meditation in everyday life and if there are any questions, problems, in relation to that, you can prepare the questions and you can present them in the discussion. So tomorrow's discussion will be related to that.

And the last suggestion is, I like you to go over the different techniques we have practised and if you have any questions, any difficulties, you can also present them. So I wouldn't be telling you what to do tomorrow, so you are free to do whatever technique you like to practise and explore by yourself tomorrow. It is very important to learn to be your own teacher, learning to be a light unto yourself as the Buddha said.

So let's us do some chanting.

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