By Godwin Samararatne
The Gentle Way of Buddhist Meditation
Dhamma Talks by Godwin Samararatne
Day 5: 10th October 1997
Loving Kindness Meditation
I like to welcome you once again. As you know, the subject of the talk is meditation on loving kindness. The words “loving kindness” come from the Pali word “Metta”. It is sometimes translated as loving kindness, as compassion and it literally means friendliness.
Loving Kindness Begins with Ourselves
It is psychologically very interesting that the meditation of loving kindness has to begin with oneself. So it is extremely important to learn to be friendly to oneself. The phrase I like to use is: learning to be your best friend in a most friendly way. To make this very important connection with ourself. Feel at ease with oneself. Feel at home with oneself. So to feel yourself as if you are coming home to yourself. So it is only when we make this connection with ourselves that we can really feel friendly to others. It is only then that we can really open our hearts to others. If we do not make this connection with ourselves, what happens is we start to hate ourselves, we start to dislike ourselves. It becomes a habit to give ourselves minuses. In this way, you learn to become your enemy in a way and this can create a lot of suffering for ourselves and also suffering for others. So this is one very important aspect of loving kindness, learning to be friendly to oneself, learning to open your heart to oneself and learning to open your heart to others. When I speak, with what I’m going to say, you can relate to yourself in your experience. Please make an effort to do that, then my talk will be a meditation by itself.
Forgiveness & Wounds in Our Heart
Another important aspect of loving kindness is using forgiveness. Human beings carry what I call “wounds”. Wounds created by what you have done to others and wounds created by what others have done to you. I think everyone here, including myself, can relate to this. What happens with some human beings is they carry these wounds within themselves. So if you carry these wounds without healing them, again as I said earlier, we can create suffering for oneself, suffering to others, without knowing that the suffering is in relation to the wounds you have created. It can also affect our body in two ways. We can be having certain tensions in different parts of our body. It is related to these wounds, it is related to the repressed emotions. These wounds also can create certain illnesses. Another way it can affect us is that they can affect our sleep. Do we have fearful dreams, do we get angry in our dreams or be crying in our sleep? So another way it can affect us is that suddenly we can be affected by these emotions and we don’t know why we are affected by these emotions. Suddenly we feel like crying. Suddenly there is fear. Suddenly there is sadness. And one cannot find the reason for it.
Another way it can affect us is that when we die the emotions, the wounds can come up. It is interesting to find out why at the time of death they should surface. While we are living, we may not look at them, we may repress them, we may push them away, but at the time that we die when our mind and body become weak, these wounds can surface. So it shows that we cannot live peacefully, we cannot sleep peacefully, we cannot die peacefully. Therefore it is extremely important to learn to heal these wounds. So meditation of loving kindness can help us to heal these wounds by learning to forgive ourselves and learning to forgive others. Forgive ourselves for realizing that we are only humans. Forgiving others by realizing that they are only humans. Also learning to let go of them by realizing that they happened in the past. We cannot change the past, so why should we carry the past as a burden to create more and more suffering for ourselves and others.
Make Friends with Unpleasant Situations
Another very important aspect of loving kindness is learning to use loving kindness to relate to unpleasant situations, unpleasant emotions when they are there. When we have unpleasant emotions, when we have physical pain, mental pain, we don’t like them, we hate them, we dislike them, we resist them. In a way by doing that we give them more power, more energy. In such situations, we can use meditation on loving kindness by learning to make friends with these unpleasant situations. One very simple way of making friends with them is by learning to say to yourself: it is OK not to be OK (i.e. say OK to unpleasant situation).
See Positive Elements in Us
Another very important aspect of loving kindness is learning to see the positive elements in us, to see the goodness in us, to see the Buddha nature in us. One way of being our own enemy is seeing only our mistakes, seeing only the negative things, only giving minuses to ourselves. So it is extremely important to learn to see the positive elements in us, it is very important to learn to give pluses to ourselves, learning to see our goodness, learning to see our Buddha nature in us. And when we learn to do this, what happens is we see the positive elements in others, we learn to give more and more pluses to others, we see more and more the Buddha nature in others and then you come to a stage where you won’t see a difference between yourself and others.
Be Kind to Others
Another very important aspect of loving kindness is learning to do kind things, learning to do compassionate things for others. When you develop more and more loving kindness within yourselves, then naturally your actions, your speech, your words are related to the positive aspect of loving kindness. And when we learn to be friendly to others, when we learn to be kind to others, when you learn to feel for others, this can also give lots of joy and happiness because when you see others happy because of your own actions, this can bring lots of joy, lots of lightness in ourselves.
But Not Allow Others to Exploit You
Having loving kindness is not allowing others to exploit you, not allowing others to do what they like to do. It is very very important to learn that there are times when we have to assert ourselves, when we have to learn to be firm with others. In this connection, I like to relate a story that I like very much and relating on the story I will end my talk.
The story is about a cobra who was practising loving kindness. So there was this cobra in a forest practising loving kindness saying: may all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be free of suffering. There was an old woman who could not see properly. She was collecting fire wood and she saw the cobra, she thought it was a rope. She used the “rope” to bundle the fire wood she had collected. As the cobra was practising loving kindness, the cobra allowed the old woman to do this. The old woman carried the bundle of fire wood home. Then the cobra escaped with some difficulties, with lots of pain, with lots of wounds in the body. And the cobra went to meet the cobra’s master. So the cobra told the master, ÔSee what has happened. I adopt your loving kindness. See the wounds, see the pain that I’m experiencing in my body.Õ So the master very calmly, gently told the cobra, ÔYou have not been practising loving kindness, you have been practising foolish loving kindness. You should have just shown, hissed, that you are a snake, you are a cobra.Õ So it is very important that in everyday life we also have to learn what the cobra should learn.
So now it is time for questions. Any questions relating to loving kindness, specially in everyday life, any difficulties, problems you have.
Audience: Master, if we practise in giving ourselves all the pluses, all the good sides in ourselves, where is the line to be drawn?
Godwin: When we have got used to giving minus, when we have got used to seeing the unpleasant elements in us, when we are relating to ourselves as an enemy, how do we work with this situation? So this is the important issue. So in such situation, just to realize: I’m only giving minuses to myself, aren’t there good things that I’ve done? So we are learning to also see the good things factually, objectively, without of course being conceited about it but simply as a fact. So we learn to see the goodness, we learn to see the positive side so you see, learning to see things as they are as the Buddha said. This is the important thing. Then as I also said, we learn to see the goodness in others which also helps us to appreciate. Also when we see goodness in others, learning to be happy when you see goodness in others. So in this way, you learn very important spiritual qualities which are helping our practice.
I like to ask a question and I ask this whenever I visit a country. Which is easier to do: to forgive oneself or to forgive others? So please reflect on yourself and give an answer from your heart.
Audience: It’s not easy to forgive oneself.
Godwin: Does everyone agree?
(By show of hands, audience indicated who considered it easier to forgive oneself and who considered it easier to forgive others).
Godwin: Thank you. What does it indicate? It indicates in a way those who find it difficult to forgive themselves, it means that they are very hard on themselves. So they are too stone-hearted on themselves to say: I don’t deserve to be forgiven. And then others who find it difficult to forgive others, they can be very very hard on others. So you see the importance of developing softness, you realize the importance of being gentle, you feel the importance of feeling tender to oneself and to others. So when you develop these qualities, naturally, you can forgive yourself and you can forgive others. So as I said, what we have to learn and I think it is extremely important, is to learn to accept our humanness, learn to accept we are imperfect human beings, that we still have shortcomings. In the same say, we have to realize that we are living in a world where people are imperfect, where people are humans, so you’re bound to see the shortcomings, human frailties arising from others and from yourself. So according to the Buddha’s teaching, we have greed, we have hatred, we have delusion in us and in others. So because of greed, hatred and delusion, we shall have shortcomings and make mistakes. Only someone who are completely enlightened will not have these shortcomings but as long as we are not enlightened, we are human, we are imperfect. So I feel that it is extremely important to learn to realize this, to accept this and learn to forgive ourselves and to forgive others and then when you can see in these terms, as I said, you will be able to forgive yourself and forgive others.
Audience: Due to the impermanence in life, there are all kinds of suffering. What can we do about it?
Godwin: Actually I would like to discuss only loving kindness because it is the subject that we are discussing. So I will give a very brief response to the question of impermanence. We suffer from impermanence because we don’t accept impermanence, we don’t accept change. We will take one example. We are healthy and then because of the law of impermanence or the law of change, we become sick. So we suffer because we have expectations: I should not fall sick. So in this way, when we have this resistance to change, to impermanence, there will be suffering so the way out is to be open to change, to be open to impermanence, to accept that as a fact of life. So this is where again the Buddha said: Learning to accept things just as they are, and not as they should or should not be.
Audience: You said we should learn to love this friend, but when we see the bad thoughts or bad desires in us, how can we love this friend when this friend is so bad? Isn’t that like covering ourselves in a way?
Godwin: Very good question. We again take a couple of practical examples. Take the example of anger, when we get angry, what happens? We are angry about our anger. We start sometimes, hating ourselves because we are getting angry and then we suffer from guilt because we have got angry. So because of this anger and because you are relating to this in this way, you can suffer for days. So in using loving kindness you relate to the anger in an entirely different way. So rather than beat yourself, rather than giving yourself a minus, rather than suffering and feeling guilty, in a very friendly gentle way, as I have been saying so often, you’ll find out: How did I get angry? So as I have been saying a few times, we can learn from that anger, we can use that anger for our spiritual growth. This is what I mean by being friendly. The way I’m suggesting helps us to work with the anger in an entirely different way, rather than giving in to them. It’s not really pampering ourselves, but by learning to work with the anger in a different way, in a more effective way rather than suffering too much as a result of that anger. And another point is, when you are friendly to yourself and when you are open to yourself, you’ll be also realizing when you’re not angry, which is also very important. So then we come to a stage when we are livid, we know what to do with the anger and when we are not angry, we know we are not angry.
Any other question?
Audience: Learning to practise forgiveness is easier to say than to do specially when it comes to people who are close to you like parents, very very good friends, brothers and sisters. It is very difficult to forgive them. When it comes to friends who are not so close to you, not so friendly, then it’s easier to forgive them. What can we do?
Godwin: Very interesting question which I think all of us can relate to. It is interesting actually to reflect why with people to whom we are close that they can create wounds. The simple reason is because they are close to us, maybe friends, relations, then we have an image expecting how they should behave. A good simile to understand this is that we put them on a pedestal by saying he’s my best friend, so therefore my best friend should behave this way. She’s my mother so therefore she should behave this way. So you see the demands we are making from them because they are close to us and poor people, they fall from the pedestal that you have put them on, and when they fall from the pedestal we don’t realize that we are the persons who put them on a pedestal and we get disappointed, we suffer. And someone can carry these wounds throughout one’s life. So one should really see what it does to yourself because of your ideas about how others should behave. To put the same thing another way, we forget that they are also humans.
There is time for one last question.
Audience: Do you mean we should not have any expectations of others or should we not be attached to people?
Godwin: I think it is natural that we have expectations but what we forget is how far our expectations are realistic. How far are you prepared to meet up with your expectations about yourself? How far others can meet up with your expectations? How realistic are your expectations? This is what one has to be clear about. I know some people who are very idealistic. Very idealistic about themselves, very idealistic about others and they live in a very idealistic world. This idealistic world that we have created is one thing and what we are realizing is another thing. So as one has to hold into this idealistic world, as long as we hold onto this perfect world, we are bound to create wounds in relation to your own behaviour and in relation to the behaviour of others. According to the Buddha, until and unless we are enlightened, we are all crazy. Crazy in the sense that we can’t see things as they are. The problem with us is we take this crazy world seriously. And also a reminder of a very interesting saying in Tibetan Buddhism: Enlightened people behave like ordinary people. Ordinary people try to be like enlightened people.
I’m very happy that you asked very good practical questions on loving kindness. So now we take a small break and after the break, we will be having a meditation on loving kindness. So during the break I would suggest to please use a few minutes just to learn to be friendly to:
Learning to open your heart like opening a flower.
And can you feel yourself as your best friend?
Can you really feel it, feel it in every part of your body, your whole being?
Feeling yourself as your best friend, can you really say these words with some feeling: May I be well?
Really wishing yourself, that you will be well physically and mentally.
May I be happy. Feel happy that you are learning to do meditation of loving kindness.
May I be peaceful. Can you really feel the peace and the stillness in this room?
Feel the peace in every part of the body.
Let us now look at our wounds. Look to the wounds in relation to what you have done to others, we try to forgive us by feeling that you are your best friend, by accepting we are humans. And those who do not have such wounds, feel happy that you do not have such wounds.
You can feel the area of your heart and say to yourself: I forgive myself. I forgive myself.
Those who have wounds in relation to what others have done to them, let us think of them and forgive them. Those who don’t have such wounds, feel happy that you don’t have such wounds.
I forgive you. Forgiving you, may you be well, may you be happy, may you be free of suffering.
Can we really say these words from our heart?
When we are leaving our wounds, may we experience more joy, more lightness, more friendliness.
I understand this is a day for ancestors, let us think of the ancestors and especially our parents whether they are alive or whether they are dead.
Can we live with thoughts of loving kindness to our parents?
Can we feel grateful to our parents?[End of meditation]
Let us do some chanting. I’m happy that the chanting is improving every day, both the Pali chanting and the Chinese chanting.