By Godwin Samararatne
The Gentle Way of Buddhist Meditation
Dhamma Talks by Godwin Samararatne
Day 1: 6th October 1997
(Chi Lin Nunnery)
Why We Should Meditate
I’m very happy to see some old faces, some old friends and I’m also very happy to see so many new faces. So what I propose to do now is to give a talk on why we should meditate and then we can have a discussion. After the discussion we can meditate for some time and then we will end the session with chanting. Pali chanting and Chinese chanting.
So the question is why should we meditate? What is the importance of meditation? Why is it emphasized so much in the Buddha’s teaching? So these are some of the questions that I’m going to explore in my talk.
The word meditation comes from the Pali word Bhavana which means cultivating the mind, developing the mind, mental culture. So the whole emphasis is on the mind. When you read the Buddhist text, you are so amazed about the Buddha’s profound and deep statement about the human mind. It is amazing that he should have made this statement 2,600 years ago. In fact, modern psychologists, psychotherapists are also deeply inspired by the Buddha’s statement on the human mind.
Meditation: Knowing the Mind, Shaping the Mind, Freeing the Mind
The idea of meditation has been expressed by a writer in these terms: knowing the mind, shaping the mind and freeing the mind. I like to repeat the words : Meditation is knowing the mind, shaping the mind and freeing the mind. So knowing the mind is understanding how the mind is working. If we do not know our mind, really we are like machines. So therefore it is extremely important to know, to understand, how our mind works and when we know our mind, then we can shape the mind. Shaping the mind is developing mastery over our mind and if we do not develop mastery over our mind, what happens is we become slaves to our own mind. So when we become slaves to our mind, then thoughts and emotions control us and that results in more and more suffering. Therefore it is very important to learn to shape the mind and when you learn to shape the mind, then you can achieve a mind that is free. So the importance of meditation is learning to achieve a mind that is free, a mind that is happy, a mind that is peaceful, a mind that has loving kindness.
Achieving a Completely Healthy Mind
It is interesting the things we do to keep our body healthy. We feed our body, we keep the body clean, when the body becomes sick, we go to the doctor and get medicine to cure the illnesses. We do so many things to keep the body healthy. An interesting question is what do we do to keep our mind healthy? Have you given thoughts to this very important question? We have to be clear about what makes our mind sick, what makes our mind unhealthy. What are the symptoms of the human sicknesses of the mind? So meditation is learning from them and achieving a mind that is completely healthy. Some areas where the mind becomes sick, we can consider some emotions as contributing to the illnesses of the human mind. I like to mention some of these emotions and I’m sure everyone here can relate to them. Anxiety, stress, fear, insecurity, sadness. I can draw up a long list which I think, as I have said, we all can relate to. Sometimes we don’t realize that they make our mind sick. If we do not know that they can create our sickness, we can continue to have that sickness without finding a solution to the sickness. In one of my talks, I will be speaking about emotions and I will present to you how meditation helps us to work with emotions. When I speak about emotions, I will be interested to hear from you what emotions really bother you in this country. So I will be presenting some practical ways of working with these unpleasant emotions and then finding a way to be free from these emotions.
Taste & Experience Buddhism
Another very important aspect of meditation is that meditation helps us to experience things that arise. There are some who know very well what the Buddha taught, so they are very knowledgeable about Buddhism but they have not experienced anything from Buddhism because they have not meditated. They are like some people who know about meals but they have hardly tasted the food from the meals. So meditation helps us to taste it and when you have tasted it, you achieve a kind of taste for the freedom of the mind. And when you taste it, you really see for yourself how we can free ourselves.
Become Completely Self-Reliant
Related to this is another point, that meditation helps us to become completely self reliant. When you meditate you realize that we have to take responsibility for what is happening in our mind. Sometimes I define meditation with my own words as finding the medicine for the sickness we have created ourselves. So as we create the sickness ourselves, we have to find the medicine. When you are sick, if you want to heal yourself, you cannot tell the others to take the medicine. Buddha emphasized this point very much: to be self reliant, to rely on own efforts. The Buddha said: self effort is the best effort. And when we develop self effort, when we become self reliant, then what happens is we learn to become completely self confident about ourselves. When we have this self confidence and then when we see for ourselves that the medicine is helping, then that gives us more confidence in the medicine and it also helps us to develop faith, confidence in the person who discovered the medicine.
So in my talk so far I have been telling you some benefits, some aspects of meditation. And I have been trying to tell you the importance of meditation. I have been trying to answer the question : why we should meditate. So now I like to pause and then if there are any questions about what I have been saying about meditation, we can discuss them. So please ask questions. When I try to teach meditation to children, I tell them sometimes that meditation is asking questions and finding the answers ourselves. Asking questions like: “Why do we get angry? How is stress created?” So to raise such questions and to find an answer, meditation can be seen as trial and error so therefore I would like that you ask some questions and then we might try to find the answers ourselves.
Audience: When we do the meditation and after that, I would sleep. When I fall asleep, I found some vibration in my head, just like someone hit my head but it doesn’t hit. What happened? Why does it happen?
Godwin Samararatne: When we meditate, many things happen in our mind and body, sometimes very very unusual and strange. So what is important, what we are learning in meditation is : whatever is happening in our mind and body, just to know it is happening. And also learning to accept them, learning not to react to them. There are different stages in meditation so you may be experiencing certain stages. Sometimes finding a reason may not necessarily be helpful but rather, as I often say, to learn to make friends with them and to see them as learning experiences and also not to see them as problems and difficulties. So what I like to suggest is, whatever happens when you are meditating, that can be an unpleasant experience sometimes but just to know it, it’s just a sensation and just to say OK to it, make friends with it and then it will pass. So I like you to continue and ma
Audience: I find your point on how children meditate very interesting. I want to learn something more about teaching children meditation. Firstly, I want to ask: how do children accept the concept of meditation and how do they practice meditation? And the second question is: you just mentioned the way to learn meditation is to learn to ask questions and to answer them, when we ask ourselves questions, what are we going to do then?
Godwin Samararatne: So the first question is about teaching meditation to children. It is very interesting that trying to teach meditation to children, it has enabled me to learn from them because they have very simple uncomplicated minds. It is interesting for me to see the difference between trying to teach meditation to children and to adults. In a way meditation can be seen as developing a child-like mind and learning to see things as if for the first time, learning to be curious about things and being very honest and genuine about themselves. So I really enjoy being with children and trying to teach them meditation. So to answer your question, I never tell them that it is meditation. I ask them: now would you like to play with our breath? As you know, children love playing, so I suggest let’s play with our breath. So I tell them now please see this as a good game. The game is: can you be aware of your breath from moment to moment? And sometimes I tell them to play hide and seek. Sometimes you are with the breath and sometimes you are not with the breath. So let us play the game for 10 to 15 minutes and see what happens. And it is so inspiring for me to see how completely still they sit during those 10 to 15 minutes, how they seem to be enjoying it, very happy smiling friendly faces. When I see adults meditating, I see different expressions on their faces. And what also inspires me most is when I ask them : do you have any questions, do you have any problems, do you have any difficulties, most of the time they say no. It’s an interesting question to find out what we have done to our mind. It’s a very serious question that we should explore. In fact it is really connected to meditation, related to meditation. So this was the first question and the second question was about, what is it?[After we have asked ourselves questions, what do we do?]
Good question. Take the case of Siddhattha who became the Buddha. Do you know the question that came to his mind? Very simple questions: Why do people die? Why do people get old? Why do people become sick? Why do people become monks and nuns? So by finding an answer to these simple questions that he asked, he ended by becoming the Buddha. I will give another example. Newton, the scientist. Do you know the simple question that enabled him to discover the very profound scientific theory? Why do apples fall? Simple question but it ended in making a very profound, very important scientific discovery. Someone have said that a genius is one who is continuing to have the curiosity of a child, and we all have this beautiful capacity as children, and as adults we have lost this questioning aspect in us. So relating to meditation, asking questions like: Why do I get angry? When you ask that question and when you try to find an answer, what is the answer you discover? I like to hear the answer from you.
Audience: My friend makes me angry.
Godwin Samararatne: It’s always the other person. So the point is my friend is not behaving in the way I want the friend to behave. So you see from the simple question, you discover the problem is not with my friend but with me by having an expectation of how my friend should be. So as I said earlier about meditation, then you learn to take responsibility for your anger, and we stop blaming others and we start taking responsibility. And that’s how a change, a transformation can take place in ourselves from the single question: why do I get angry? I’m happy you are asking questions, so I hope there will be more questions.
Audience: I am calm right now but when my kids get poor marks in school, I get angry although I love my children.
Godwin Samararatne: I like such practical questions. I think all parents can relate to that question. I know certainly that this happens in Sri Lanka also. So how does meditation help in such situation? One thing you said is that you are now feeling calm, so one point to remember is that we should not expect to be always calm. We can learn from a mind that is calm. We can also learn from a mind that is not calm. If you expect to be always calm, as it happened in your case, when you are not calm, you suffer as a result. You are angry about yourself. You are disappointed about yourself. You give yourself a minus. So I would suggest that in the situation that you described, when you get angry, just know that you are angry. And tomorrow I will be speaking about the importance of the practice of awareness or mindfulness — a very important aspect of meditation. So the first suggestion I like to offer is just to be aware of the anger, because if you are aware of the anger and just to stay with the anger, you will not be able to perhaps express that anger in a violent way. So just being aware of the anger and not expressing the anger enables us to develop some sort of control, mastery over our anger, so this is the first point. The second suggestion is by being with that after some time, you may recover from the anger. And when you recover from that anger, you ask the question: why did I get angry with my son? I love him so much, and here I’m getting angry, perhaps I’m making him angry. So when you explore that question you realize in a way, the problem is that you have an expectation how your son should be in class. These are reasonable expectations for parents to have but it’s another matter to find how far that expectation is realistic. How far is my son capable of meeting my expectations? Shouldn’t I find out from my son why he is not doing well in class? This is something very very important because with more and more meditation, we learn to try to understand other persons’ behaviour and try to see things from the perspective of the other person rather than project your own expectations on others. So if you can talk to your son in a very friendly, gentle, understanding way: my dear son, what are the difficulties you have in class? This is something very important which the Buddha emphasized, to have a spiritual friendship with everyone that you have to relate to. It is very important for parents to have this kind of friendly relationship with children so that the child is in a position to talk to the parents honestly, in a friendly way, on the difficulties the children are having. I feel this extremely important. I know in Sri Lanka, some children are completely alone, there’s no one that they can look for because they are afraid to talk honestly to their parents, they are afraid to talk about their difficulties to teachers, so they are completely lost and it is really sad when children are unable to confide when they are in difficult situations. So I like to stress and emphasize that it is very important in such situation to make a connection with the child and then try to understand what the child is going through, and this would be something very helpful, meaningful rather than getting angry. I think there is time for one more question.
Audience: We have thoughts, we have desires, and suffering. Is it true by meditating you can stop having these thoughts, desires and suffering.
Godwin Samararatne: It’s not so easy. It’s interesting you mentioned about thoughts. I feel that it is the most important area in the human mind because from the time we wake up to the time that we go to sleep, what happens? There is continuous thoughts going through our mind. I think everyone here can relate to that. Here, when I’m talking you have your own thoughts going through your mind. I often raise this question: what are you thinking about from morning to night? Can anyone suggest an answer? What are we thinking about from morning to night, without ever stopping. So you see the importance of asking simple questions. What do we think about?
Audience: Most of the time, we think of ourselves, the “I” and “mine”, all the time.
Godwin Samararatne: Absolutely right, even when we are thinking of others, they are always related to you. Isn’t that interesting? And the next question is in relation to ourselves and others, what do we do with our thoughts? What we are doing is we make judgement. And the simple way I describe that is we give pluses and we give minuses. When you remember some good thing you have done, you feel happy, big plus. When we remember some wrong things we have done, some mistake that we have done, some bad things we have done, big minus. And we do the same in relation to the others. The bad things, the wrong things the others have done, we give them minuses. Good things others have done, we give them pluses. So isn’t it interesting from morning to night, we become teachers giving pluses and minuses? I know some people who live in a hell they have created and in that hell, only minuses exist. They have thoughts only about their mistakes, about their shortcomings. And in relation to the others, we have similar thoughts, so by that we can create a hell and we can really feel sad and live in depression, so this is how we create our own suffering with our thoughts. And you will realize there is a connection with thoughts and emotions. An interesting question to find out is: what comes first, the thought or emotion? Have you discovered the answer? What comes first, the thought or the emotion? Do you see the importance of meditation? So anyway, I will be discussing these things as we go along. Going back to the question, what we can do is what I will be talking tomorrow — the importance of awareness. With awareness, just to observe the thoughts that are going through our mind and just to realize how we are using thoughts destructively which create suffering for ourselves and suffering for others. And also we can use thoughts creatively which I will be talking about later on. And the question you asked about desires, there again you see a relationship, connection between thoughts and desires. As I said, this is the importance of meditation. This is why the Buddha made such important, very very profound statements about how the mind is working. and through that understanding by using awareness, you see how we create our own suffering, our own problems. Through that realization is to free ourselves from suffering and problems, this is what meditation is. So we will be discussing these very important issues as we go along in the next few days.
Anyway I’m very happy that you asked some very good questions and now I would suggest you take a small break. So you can go out, and come back when we ring the bell, and then we can meditate. So I suggest, please make an effort to be silent and also please make an effort to be mindful. Just to walk slowly and just to know what is happening when you are walking. And as we have discussed about thoughts, just to know what thoughts you are having in your mind, just be alert, be attentive. So during the next 5 minutes, please also let us learn just to watch, just to discover what is happening in our mind and body from moment to moment and when you hear the gong, please come back slowly and in silence. Thank you very much.[Break] – [Guided meditation] – [Chanting]
Thank you very much for the beautiful chanting. So tomorrow’s talk will be about the practice of mindfulness and after the talk, we will distribute a book on a text which is based on the practice of mindfulness. So I like to suggest that tomorrow, during the day, please make an effort just to know what is happening in your mind and body from moment to moment as far as possible. Just try to know the thoughts that you will be having during the day tomorrow. And please see how we give pluses and minuses to ourselves and others and please see the connection between thoughts and emotions. And I would also like to suggest to please make an effort to be friendly, to be gentle, to be kind towards our mind and body. If you practise these things, what I will be presenting tomorrow will make sense in your own experience. So once again, I like to thank you very much for asking questions and then responding to my suggestions. So I’m looking forward very much to meeting you tomorrow also. And may you all be well, may you all be happy, may you all be peaceful and may you learn to be free of suffering and when you go to sleep, may you sleep peacefully and wake up peacefully.