By Godwin Samararatne

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

Day 6: 11th October 1997
Meditation and Emotions


Godwin Samararatne:

I would like to once again welcome you.

The subject of today’s talk is about emotions. What can be described as unpleasant emotions which create our suffering. We can consider some such emotions: anger, fear, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, feeling of guilt, jealousy. I think everyone here can relate to these emotions. I think no one here has not really experienced them. And I think everywhere in the world these emotions that I mentioned, people go through them.

So it is actually these emotions which create our suffering, which create conflict in us. So it is very important to find out how meditation helps us to work with these emotions. So I hope to present some tools to work with them. Some of these tools you might have heard me mentioning before.

Be Open to Unpleasant Emotions

So what is the first tool? The first tool is very difficult in a way, as I have been saying a few times, is learning to be open to these unpleasant emotions. It is a very strong conditioning not to like them, in a way to hate them, to dislike them and so on, because they are unpleasant when we experience them. So as I said, it is very important to learn to be open to them, to learn to be friendly towards them. So we have to learn to do this gradually, gently, tenderly in our practice.

Learning About Emotions

The next tool is learning to explore, investigate, discover, make an effort to learn about them. Because we don’t like them, because we hate them, we never make an effort to learn about them, to discover about them. We can learn a great deal about these emotions. One thing that we can learn is to see the connection between thoughts and emotions. So we see how emotions are created, and when we understand and see how emotions are created, to a great extent, we can work with them, handle them. And when we are prepared to learn about them, discover about them, then we learn to be open to them as I said earlier.

Invite Unpleasant Emotions

Another interesting tool related to this is that when we don’t have these emotions, invite them and allow them to come. It is very very interesting that when we invite them, they don’t come. Because when we fear them, when we don’t like them, we give them more power and more energy. So when we are open, when we invite them, the power and energy we have given is taken away. Maybe today when we are meditating, we will invite the monsters that we don’t like.

Knowing the Absence of Unpleasant Emotions

Another very important tool is when these unpleasant emotions are not there, to know that they are not there. As I said, as we have given them power and as we don’t like them, what happens is, we are afraid of them and by being afraid of them, when they are absent, we hardly know that they are absent. So by knowing when they are absent, we learn to be more and more positive. To give a practical example, when we have a toothache, we really suffer from the toothache but when we don’t have a toothache, do we ever say ÔWow! I don’t have a toothacheÕ? Even when we don’t have a toothache, we think maybe it will come tomorrow. So it is too good to believe that they can be absent. So I would like to emphasize this tool very much, that when these unpleasant emotions are not there, just to know that they are not there. Maybe now you may not be having these unpleasant emotions, so please know that they are not there now.

Unpleasant Emotions Are Visitors Who DonÕt Belong to Us

Another very deep tool is to realize they don’t really belong to us. We have a sense of ownership even with these emotions. So when there is anger, you think it is my anger. When there is fear, you think it is my fear. So as you know, what we consider “mine” which we think we own, we don’t like to let go. This point is presented in the Dhamma in a very interesting way which means learning to relate to these emotions as our visitors, as our guests. So we have to be a very friendly good host and we can really learn from the visitors who come. We should realize that these visitors come, and they stay and they go away. So when they come, we must say, ÔWelcome, please come, it’s nice to have you here, how long will you be staying? It would be interesting to see how long you are going to stay.Õ And when they leave you say, ÔGoodbye, welcome to come again.Õ Isn’t it a beautiful way of relating to our visitors? So there is a kind of playfulness, light heartiness, joy, if you can relate to these emotions in this way.

Experience Emotions without Words

Maybe one more tool is when we experience these emotions, we have given them words. So sometimes we are conditioned by the words themselves. So a very interesting tool is when these emotions come, to relate to them, to experience them without the word. Take away the word and see what actually you are experiencing. So that by giving a word we relate to it from the past but when we take away the word, you are really experiencing it from moment to moment. We are really being present with the emotion.

Summary of Tools

So let me go over the tools that I presented. So the first one is learning to be open to them. The next one is to make an effort to learn about them, to experiment about them. Another tool is when they are not there, to invite them. Another is when they are absent, just to know that they are absent. Another is to relate to them without a sense of ownership, just to see them as visitors who come and go. Another is to take away the word and really see what actually you are experiencing.

Develop Self-confidence

Now what is important is when you have discovered these tools and when you know that they work, you develop lot of self- confidence about handling these emotions. The biggest problem is that we don’t have self-confidence and when we don’t have self-confidence, in a way we are already defeated, we have already become victims of them. So when you have self-confidence, then you become open to them, then you come to a stage whether these emotions are there or not there make no difference.

See Emotions Just as They Are

Now what happens is when we have pleasant states of mind, pleasant emotions, we like them, we give them a big plus. And when we try to hold onto them and when we cannot succeed, then again, suffering. And when there is unpleasant emotions, as I said, we don’t like them, so we give them a minus. So can we relate to these states of mind without a plus, without a minus, just learning to see them just as they are.

Now if you have any questions, please ask them, specially practical questions relating to the tools and maybe your own experience in working with them.


Audience: When there is emotion in general which appears in the mind, there is not much problem, we can deal with it with the tools that you told us before. However, if there are big wounds in our heart and when these wounds come out, great emotions develop, then naturally we react to them and we become nervous and sad. So are there any other tools we can make use of in order to deal with this sort of big emotion as opposed to general emotions.

Godwin Samararatne: Can you give an example of what you have in mind?

Audience: It could be wounds which hurt many years ago or many lifetimes ago. It’s just like a rat being pricked by needles.

Godwin Samararatne : Yeah. When I spoke about loving kindness yesterday I spent lot of time telling you how to heal these wounds. So I don’t like to repeat them but just to remind you that when you have these wounds, if it is wounds in relation to what you have done to others, it is just learning to forgive yourself, accepting your humanness, accepting your imperfections. And if it is wounds in relation to what others have done to you, it is again forgiving them by realizing their humanness, their imperfections.

Anything else please.

Audience: Recently, something happened to me and I watched my own emotions and it was very funny. It was like some very good cold water running through my heart, and it was a very big disappointment at the time, but after observing that I survived quickly. And my question is whether it is true that emotions have more to do with the heart and thoughts have more to do with the brain.

Godwin Samararatne : I think it doesn’t matter, my dear friend, whether it’s in the brain or the heart. These are theoretical questions. We have to be very simple. In using the tools, we have to have a very simple, practical, direct approach. This is the beauty of the Buddha’s teaching. I would like to repeat these words, it is very simple, very practical, it is very direct.

Anything else please.

Audience: You said earlier that we should not give words to emotions. So how do we observe the emotions?

Godwin Samararatne: Very good practical question. I like such questions. Suppose you are experiencing boredom. So you take away the word boredom and find out what you are actually experiencing. Is it a sensation that you are calling boredom? Is it a particular thought that you are considering as boredom? Is it a particular feeling which you have categorized as boredom? So when we can find out like this, boredom can become very interesting.

Audience: Master, my question is: all human beings have many bad habits like gambling, womanizing, drinking, smoking. How do we handle these bad habits?

Godwin Samararatne : Very interesting list. Actually, one of the aspects of meditation is working with habits. What has happened to us is that we have become dependent on these habits. So what happens is that we respond to these habits in a very very mechanical way. The word comes and then we just give in to them. So one suggestion I like to offer is, again this is very important in the practice of awareness, just to know when these habits arise, to be conscious of them, to be aware of them so at least we can work with the mechanical aspect of these habits. The second suggestion I like to offer is to see for yourself how it creates suffering for yourself, how it can create suffering for others and does it give you joy, lightness and positive spiritual qualities?

The third suggestion is when you are not experiencing these things, when you have not given in to these habits, just to see the difference when they are absent in your mind. Then you see in your own experience when they are present what it does to you and when they are absent what it does to you. So then they will naturally drop away on their own. And as I said earlier, it is also very important to develop self-confidence: I know I have these habits but let me make a real effort to work with them. To make a real commitment, dedication, devotion. To work with these habits can be something very very useful.

And maybe the last suggestion. It is helpful to associate with spiritual friends, noble friends. And it is helpful to share your experiences with them and they can be also very very supportive in the spiritual path you are following.

One last suggestion is please don’t feel guilty, don’t feel bad, don’t consider yourself as a sinner because you are doing these things. Don’t see them as problems but see them as a challenge that you need to work with.

Audience: We shouldn’t put words to our emotions but if I have anger and I put it down and I’m suppose to observe it but when I do not have emotion how can I observe without emotion?

Godwin Samararatne: Supposing we are working with anger. I think anger is a common emotion that we can all relate to. So then when we don’t have anger, just to know: Ah, I don’t have anger now. You can take your mind backwards and say, the whole of this morning I did not get angry. At the end of the day you might say : Oh, today, the whole day I was free of anger. You’ll be surprised what a good person you have been and then you’ll feel more and more positive about this.

Audience: With emotions, it’s never too late to revenge. Sometimes you can put it down and forgive but it arises again, so what can you do about it?

Godwin Samararatne: Good question. Because again we can relate to such experience. So I like to offer some suggestions how to work with such situations. The first suggestion is: don’t be surprised. This is the way with emotions, sometimes they don’t come, and then sometimes they come. So when they come, please don’t be surprised. When emotions go, we come to the conclusion “now it is all over”. So the problems is with our conclusion that they should not come. The second suggestion is, I mean I can go over the tools again so when they arise again, to be aware of them and to use different tools but without giving yourself a minus. This is what is important. But arising from that question I like to emphasize something very very important which is that we should not, as I said, come to the conclusion that I will not be having these emotions again, but rather when they come, if you can feel grateful for them, if you can see them as an opportunity, if you can learn from them, then as I said earlier, you come to a state: where whether they come or whether they don’t come makes no difference. So that is what we should try to aim at rather than have this conclusion: Now they are over. According to the Buddhist teachings, these things completely stop only when we have become enlightened. So as I said yesterday, we are trying to be enlightened people even before we are enlightened. This brings up a point that I have been emphasizing very much in my lectures: Learning to accept our humanness, learning to accept our imperfections. It is very very important in our practice.

No more questions? Are all your questions and problems solved?

Audience: I want to know how to deal with sadness. Sometimes one just can’t let go because you would even feel it in your dreams particularly when relatives pass away.

Godwin Samararatne: I don’t want to go over the tools again. I like to repeat that whether it is sadness, whether it is fear, whether it is anxiety, whether it is guilt, it is the same medicine. So about dreams, it shows that the sadness has become fairly deep that it even comes up in a dream. So please remember, please be open to the days when you don’t dream about sadness. When the sadness is not there, just to be open that the sadness is not there.

There might be two types of sadness. One type of sadness is in relation to a particular incident. There may be another type of sadness which is not related to an incident but then you just generally feel sadness. So if it is related to a particular incident, that incident should become an object of meditation. To see clearly that that incident has been created by your expectations of how things should have been. And if it is just sadness that comes without a reason, what you might try to do is one thing, is to feel the sensations in the body while you are experiencing the sadness because with sadness, sometimes our thoughts can make it worse. So if you can be with the sensations, this may be helpful.

Another tool as I have been mentioning a few times is to come back to your breath because it is happening now. And it is interesting that all sadness is in relation to the past. Sadness is in relation to the past and anxiety is in relation to the future. So making a connection with your breath and learning to be in the present helps us to handle the past and the future. So by doing that, we learn to handle these emotions which are always related to the past and the future. And in conclusion I like to again mention in one of the tools that I referred to earlier, when sadness is not there, try to invite sadness and you might find that it may not come.

Time for one last question.

Audience: Your advice is that we should not label emotions with words and you already told us that if there is no anger, just to know there is no anger but when we say there is no anger, we are putting words to describe a certain experience, so isn’t that contradictory?

Godwin Samararatne: Very good question. I like that question. So if you consider the tools, you’ll see sometimes we need to use words, sometimes we don’t have to use words. So this is why there is a variety of tools, so if one works, if one doesn’t work, you can experiment with the others. So what is important is you have to find out which tools are really helping you. So once you discover the tools that are helping you, you have to use them. It’s interesting that these tools are related to each individual. We human beings have different conditions, different personalities. This is why I have been trying to present tools where it can cover all types of human beings. So the last point I want to make is that it is very very important in the spiritual path, in the meditation, for you to experiment, for you to find out for your own self. The Buddha emphasized this very much, to be self reliant, to be your own teacher, to be your light to yourself.

So now let us take a small break and during this break I like to suggest that you reflect on some of the tools that I mentioned and then discover for yourself what emotions are bothering you. So it is very very important to learn to reflect on such themes. The reflection is thinking about a particular theme and when you think about it, if other thoughts come, you should learn to let go of that and come back to the theme that you are really reflecting on. So I like you to do this. It doesn’t matter whether you are walking but whatever you are doing, just to learn to develop this important meditation of reflecting. And when you hear the bell, please come back.


So let us do meditation relating to what we have been discussing. Those who have problems with unpleasant emotions, please allow them to arise now. So if these emotions that you don’t like arise, let us see how far we can make friends with them. Let us see how far we can just allow them, just let them be. Just to relate to them as a visitor who has come. And if you don’t have any unpleasant emotions, just to know that you don’t have any unpleasant emotions.

Can we learn to relate to them without giving them a minus.

Can you really say to yourself, it is O.K not to feel O.K.

Can you feel grateful that this emotion is there so that you can learn to work with it.

Can you now feel confidence, self-confidence that if they come again, you know how to work with them, you know how to handle them.

Now please open your eyes.

[End of meditation]

We can do some nice chanting now.

Actually chanting is also a very powerful tool to work with emotions, especially if you can be completely in the present while you are chanting. Please see for yourself how chanting will help you. It will help you to create space in your mind.