By Godwin Samararatne
The Gentle Way of Buddhist Meditation
Dhamma Talks by Godwin Samararatne
Day 3: 8th October 1997
Importance of Dhamma
Most people believe that materials are important. Happiness lies in material things. In fact, the more materials you get, the more dissatisfied you are; the more dissatisfied you are, the more materials you want to get. Buddha has given a very powerful simile to describe this condition. He compared this to a dog with a bone. So the dog doesn’t let go of the bone and is just holding on to it and is still hungry and still dissatisfied and still suffers from fear in losing that bone. Related to this serious problem of materialism is another aspect of this, another manifestation of this, now called consumerism. So it’s a real challenge for modern man to live in consumer societies and still how not to be affected by the consumerism around you. As I see it, consumerism has many aspects but I see two dangerous aspects in consumerism. One is people are not clear about what they need and what their greed is. It’s interesting, according to the Dhamma, we need certain things, food, clothing, shelter and medicine, what is called the four requisites. So the four necessary things are things that human beings need. So there’s a place for material things but then as I said, when they become our goals and then when you are confused about greed and need, this is where it can lead to dissatisfaction and suffering as I mentioned.
Another dangerous aspect of consumerism is that the society that you live in starts manipulating you, and the danger is that you don’t know that you are being manipulated. So you become like puppets, puppets in the hands of society that can create your own desires, can create your own greed and it leads to more and more frustration. So isn’t this a sad situation of the human condition where human beings have the potentialities of becoming free, of becoming enlightened? We have the Buddha nature in us but this aspect is not looked at and then we become victims of the society that we live in. The simile that has come to my mind about this situation is that though we are grown up, we have become still dependent on what I call “toys”. I’m interested to know the toys that human beings go into in this culture, this country. What I mean by toys are external things where you think are happiness, joy, peace and you start acquiring toys and you change one toy for another and your whole life is being spent on getting toys and then you are dissatisfied. So can I hear from you some of the toys that you are interested in acquiring.
We Become Our Own “Toy”
Godwin Samararatne: In a way houses are necessary but then you are not satisfied with a small house, so the house becomes bigger and bigger and then that can become a toy and you are still dissatisfied. May be a beautiful new house but you’re not happy. May be until you go into a bigger house. That can be a problem.
Godwin Samararatne: Now that toy has even been introduced to Sri Lanka. Anyway we can draw up a long list of toys. An interesting question is: is meditation also a toy? Is there a relationship between these toys and meditation?
Godwin Samararatne: I would suggest that with meditation, you become your own toy. This is the importance of the Dhamma. This is the importance of the Buddha’s wonderful teaching. When you become your own toy, you can be happy, contented, peaceful with yourself. So the need for external toys, external things drop away because you find the joy and happiness from within. A very important aspect of this is learning to enjoy your own company. When mediators come to the centre I live in Sri Lanka, I tell them to spend some time alone and see what happens when you are alone and see what happens when you are alone with yourself. It’s interesting. Some of the people who come there have never spent some time completely alone with themselves, without any toys. So what happens? They become lonely, they become bored. What does it show about ourselves? We cannot stay with us for more than 10 or 15 minutes at least and we want to escape from ourselves. So the importance of the Dhamma is that you realize that, you work through that and as I said, you learn to be your best friend. You learn to be self-contained, self-contented with oneself. Such a person is described in the Dhamma as someone who is at home wherever he is. So such a person can be happy with oneself, being alone, and such a person can be happy with others.
Not to Create Suffering Because of Making Mistakes
I like to touch on another aspect which shows the importance of the Dhamma is that with the practice of the Dhamma in any situation in life, you can see the Dhamma in any situation in life, as I said yesterday, even unpleasant experiences will become learning experiences. I know in this culture, people are afraid to make mistake because of the emphasis on wanting to be perfect. With this model of perfection, what happens is that when we make a mistake, we beat ourselves, we hate ourselves, we lose our self-confidence, we see ourselves as worthless. In my language, you see only minuses in yourself and when you see minuses in yourself, you see minuses in others so that you can create a hell for only minuses. So the importance of the Dhamma is that it enables us not to create suffering in this way because of our mistakes but as I said, we learn to ask the question: what can I learn from my mistakes? What does it indicate about myself? So that this kind of inquiry has to be done in a very friendly, gentle, understanding way without any minuses. Then our mistakes themselves help us to grow in the spiritual path. Isn’t that a beautiful way of living? Learn from our mistakes and then when you see mistakes in others, you also learn to relate to the mistakes of others in an entirely different way. So we learn to appreciate our humanness, not the idea of perfection. Then we learn to appreciate the humanness of others. So the importance of the teaching is that we see clearly how we create our own suffering and through that realization, then it becomes clear, only we can be free of the suffering ourselves. Then we become self-reliant. Then we learn to have self-confidence that whatever arises, I know how to handle them with the help of the Dhamma. Then you learn to be your own teacher. And as the Buddha said, you learn to be a light unto yourself.
Life Becomes Your Teacher
One last point on this point. I have had the good fortune to meet many masters, many gurus, many teachers from many traditions. Do you know which master, which guru has inspired me? It is life itself. Life becomes our best teacher. So thanks to the Dhamma, when you realize the importance of the Dhamma, life becomes your teacher. And sometimes life can be a very hard teacher also, but it is always a good teacher. It can indicate to us what we are really are. So now I will stop and if you have any questions, please ask them. In the last few days, you have been asking very good practical questions relating to life, so I hope today also. I touched on some areas which are related to your life here, so please feel free to ask any questions and let us see how the Dhamma, how the Buddha’s teachings can help us to work with these problems.
Audience: I remember in the Nikaya or Agamma, Buddha always taught his students to be their own uniba, it means an island. Even when he was dying, the last lesson he gave his students was: be your own island. I think this bears very direct similarity to what you told us. We always have to learn form ourselves.
Godwin Samararatne: Yes and also and I said, from life. So it means that when we live, if you are really sensitive and open, and if you are really practising the teaching, then as I said, you learn how to relate to everything, what happens to you in life, what happens in relation to others, to the teaching. So as I said these experiences we have in life, they are used for our spiritual growth. There’s a teacher who said that compost. Compost have things which are not considered useful, considered as dirty which we throw away. So all these things, if we can collect them, they can be used for the growth of vegetables and fruits. So I would say that what we learn from life, our mistakes can be seen as compost, that they can be used for our own spiritual growth. It’s only then, as it was said, that we can be an island to oneself, that you can be self-reliant on oneself but what is important is if you have the conclusion that you know everything, that is the end of learning. So it is very important to have this “don’t know” mind whereby we can learn from anything and we can learn from anyone. This is something very very important in the Buddha’s teaching. Any other questions?
Audience: How can we be our own toy and be satisfied with ourselves, how can we be our good friends?
Godwin Samararatne: It is interesting that for different reasons, we become our own enemies. And then we think that the enemy is outside ourselves. So we are trying to find the enemy outside ourselves without realizing the biggest enemy is inside ourselves. One aspect of being your enemy is as I said, seeing only your mistake, seeing only your shortcomings, seeing only your minuses. This can be a very very self-destructive aspect where you are your own enemy.
Another aspect related to this point is that you don’t see the positive side in you, you don’t see the good things that you have been doing. I meet many good people and they are following the spiritual path, but because of this tendency to be self-destructive, they don’t see their own worthiness, they don’t see their value, they refuse to see the Buddha nature in them. So when you realize this, when you know this, that you are your own enemy, then you learn to work on this condition, on this situation. This is the importance of awareness which we discussed yesterday. So with awareness, you catch yourself, you realize what you are doing to yourself, that you are your own enemy.
And another aspect is this very beautiful meditation of loving kindness. I emphasize this meditation very much. On Friday, I think I will be talking about meditation on loving kindness and it is psychologically very interesting. This meditation of loving kindness begins with oneself. So it shows that we cannot be friendly to others unless we are friendly to ourselves. So meditation on loving kindness helps us to be our own best friend, it helps us to make a connection with ourselves.
Another aspect of meditation on loving kindness is it helps us to forgive ourselves. As I said earlier, accept our humanness and when we learn to accept our humanness, then we learn to accept the humanness of others. So then it helps to be friendly with ourselves and friendly to others.
Another aspect of being your best friend is that we don’t realize how we affect our own body in a unwholesome, unskilful way with our behaviour. So when you make this connection with yourself, there is a change that takes place, a transformation takes place so that whatever you do, your words, your thoughts, will be always be related to the skilful, the wholesome way, which should be helping you in your spiritual path. I’ll be speaking more about this on the day I will be speaking on loving kindness and on that day, we will be distributing a very very important little booklet on the practice of loving kindness. Any other question?
Audience: You warned us of the dangers of consumerism and materialism, obviously there is certain renunciation to those things. Could you give us some advice on how to begin the renunciation so it’s not all at once and such an overpowering obstacle?
Godwin Samararatne: As I said, these are one of the greatest challenges we have: how to live in a materialist society where there is consumerism and still not be affected by them. So I’ll try to offer some practical suggestions. So one suggestion that I would like to offer is that when you see things which you think you need them, again this is the importance of awareness, to catch yourself and to ask the question: do I really need it? And ask the very profound question: Why do I need this? When this obsession comes to possess something, we never ask the question: do I really need it? Why am I needing it? So when you are living in a consumer society and when you raise this question, you realize that it is because others are using them, and because others are using them, you want to be like them. So without your knowledge, you get caught in what is called the rat race. So your whole life becomes a competition, to compete with others.
Another practical suggestion I like to offer is learning to say “yes” to some things and learning to say “no” to certain things. What happens to us is that due to different reasons, we have been used to pampering ourselves. Pampering is always saying yes to whatever, the body or the mind. So what is important in the practice is again finding out that you’re pampering yourself and then to say no in a very gentle friendly way. So it is very important in life, learning to say no to certain things. This is the only way to work on some other things that we have become dependent on.
The third suggestion I like to offer is, in a way, an indirect one. So with more and more practice, as I said, when you learn to be your best friend, when you have made a connection with yourself, then naturally you don’t have to make an effort. You can live in a consumer society but then you are not affected by the environment. In this connection, there is a beautiful Buddhist symbol. The Buddhist symbol is being like a lotus. Where does the lotus grow? In muddy water. Now the lotus flower is able to grow in that muddy water without being affected by the muddy water around it. So this is the importance of the Buddha’s teaching, that when you live within society, within the environment, you will be able to steady your way and not be affected by what is happening externally because a shift has been taking place inside you.
I think there is time for one more question.
Audience: I always feel bored when I’m alone. Can you tell us your actual experience on how you enjoy your life alone?
Godwin Samararatne: To give a brief answer, when we are alone, when we feel lonely, when we feel bored, so what we do is, when these states of mind would arise, we give in to them, we try to change that by doing something. So the simple answer is hereafter when you have loneliness, when you have boredom, don’t escape from them, go through the loneliness, go through the boredom. Yesterday I said a very important aspect of meditation is learning to go through unpleasant experiences, whether it is physical or mental. So in the beginning, it will be very unpleasant but then, this is the importance of the practice. So you have to go through the unpleasant experience and then, when you go through that, then from loneliness you experience what is aloneness which is entirely different from loneliness, thereby we learn to enjoy our own company.
So thank you very much for asking very useful practical questions. So now let us take a small break. So today the break I would like to suggest, to reflect. Reflection can be a very important part of meditation. So the reflection I would like to suggest is to reflect on the things that we have discussed today. And in that reflection, to see what was discussed, how it can be relevant, how can it relate to yourself. So I like to suggest that during the break, to use reflection in this way. And then after that, after some time, I will ring the bell, and when you can come back, I will present a very important meditation today. So you can do this reflection whilst seated or even when walking, whichever you prefer, you can just start the reflection.[Break]
Please sit in a comfortable position because it is very important that in meditation not to move when we are meditating. Please have your spine erect but relaxed.
Please allow the mind to do what it likes. If thoughts are arising, let any thoughts arise, thoughts about the past, thoughts about the future.
So let us learn to make friends with thoughts and just know from moment to moment what thoughts are arising in your mind. So it is very important to be alert and to be awake from moment to moment.
Now can you allow any emotion to arise, especially emotions we don’t like, that we push away, that we repress, that we control. Can we allow such emotions to arise? If they are arising, can we just allow them?
If you are having any such unpleasant experience, can we learn to make friends with them, can we learn to relate to them without a minus?
And if there are no unpleasant emotions, just to know there are no unpleasant emotions.
So thoughts, emotions, sensations, learning to see them just as they are, like a mirror-like mind. No plus, no minus, just being with whatever is happening. Be alert and awake.
Learning to feel friendly towards our thoughts, learning to feel friendly towards our emotions, learning to be friendly towards our sensations whatever the sensation is.
Now please open your eyes slowly and when you change the posture, please do it with awareness. And please do not think the meditation is over.
Let us now do some chanting. It is very nice that a group of spiritual friends can chant together, so please everyone just join the chanting