Meditation for Everyday Life Home Page     Next Talk

Godwin Samararatne
Meditation for Everyday Life

Day 1: Awareness

 

Godwin: First we will go over the schedule, and then touch on some aspects of meditation. So at 6 o'clock there is a wake-up bell. Is this very early by German standards? Not early? By Sri Lanka standards it is very late! So, when you hear the wake-up bell, that is the time to start your meditation. To observe what is happening in your mind when you hear the bell. Do you feel happy? Do you feel unhappy? Maybe when you go to the toilet, there will be someone inside the toilet. How do you see that? How do you relate to that? Will you become impatient? Or can you have loving-kindness to the person who is inside the toilet? This is the practice.

And then we start the day with bodywork. The idea of bodywork is to wake up physically and mentally. So, Paul will be doing the bodywork and I know that we work together very well, combining bodywork with meditation. I know that this bodywork has been very much appreciated. So I am happy that we have agreed to do bodywork this time also. After that there will be a session of meditation, and then there will be breakfast.

Eating

Eating can also be a very important meditation. What happens in our minds when we eat? How far can we be present? How far can we observe what is happening in our minds when we are eating? We may have our likes and our dislikes. So, just get to know them, just observe them. And I like to emphasise three aspects in relation to eating: one is chewing our food. I think we hardly chew our food. We don't make a conscious effort to eat slowly. And to know what exactly it means to taste or chew. So, chewing our food, tasting our food are very important aspects. And about tasting your food, I would like you to experiment, at what point do you really taste your food? Maybe in the evening discussion we can go into that aspect.

Another thing is, we make decisions when we eat. Sometimes very important decisions. What are the decisions we make when we eat? What am I eating here? Because we have a lot of choices. So when you have choices you make decisions. Am I going to take Sri Lankan tea or am I going to take coffee? And then with coffee also, you have the different varieties. Are you going to take butter or are you going to take cheese? So we make these decisions, but we make the decisions mechanically. So when you eat and when you make decisions, please be conscious: Now I am going to do this. And then sometimes we ask ourselves: Now should I go and get some more bread? Then you should know: Now I have decided to get more bread.

Another important aspect to look at in relation to eating is the quantity of food. And according to the Buddha there are two extremes to be avoided. One is eating too much and the other is eating too little. So now, how does one find out whether you are avoiding these two extremes? Interesting question. It is by learning to listen to your body, listen to your stomach! So, while eating it is very, very important to learn just to be conscious of what is happening in your body.

Now Paul said something about loving-kindness. It can help to get visas, it can help to go through borders. I am emphasising this very strongly in this retreat. So when we eat - and we will eat in silence - how can you have loving-kindness while eating? For the whole retreat will be in silence: how can one have loving-kindness in silence? In some retreats you are asked to avoid eye contact, not to look at other people. But, I would like to suggest to have eye contact and to see whether one can make an effort to make contact with others, but in complete silence. And if you can have the openness of loving-kindness you will also be able to help

the others around you. So please make an effort to make a connection with others in this way and also to have that feeling of loving-kindness to those who are around you. These are some aspects of eating meditation.

Working Meditation

Then there is what is called working meditation after breakfast. Working meditation is very important, because it is one way of integrating meditation with daily life. I was in a Zen centre in Hong Kong and when I went there I saw the monks and the nuns: most of the time they were working. I was introduced to the teacher and I asked the teacher: Don't you meditate, don't you do some sitting meditation? He looked at me and said: This is what meditation is. And he said something very interesting: By working meditation we are trying to develop parami - the parami are qualities of perfection.

So what are the qualities of perfection you can develop while doing working meditation? One important aspect of working meditation, a quality that you can develop, is again loving-kindness. So, when you work in the kitchen; can you do that work with loving-kindness, and have the thought: May the meditators who are eating enjoy the food that I am preparing? If you are washing the toilet, while washing the toilet you can think: May the persons who are using the toilet experience some joy and happiness. These are small things, simple things. But if you can have this concern while working and care for the other spiritual friends around you, this is the way we can develop these parami, these qualities of perfection.

Formal Meditation

So, after working meditation there is again a session of meditation. We will be meditating in three postures: sitting, standing and walking. Then there is a time for individual and outdoor meditation. So, I would like to say something about this. One thing is, we should learn to make a relationship with ourselves. And the phrase that I often use is: learning to be your best friend. What happens when we are alone with ourselves? Very soon we become bored with ourselves and we feel lonely by ourselves. What does this show? It shows, that we cannot enjoy our own company, that we can stand ourselves only for a few minutes. After that we get tired of ourselves. It shows how little connection we have with ourselves. So, when you are alone, see if it is possible to make a connection with yourself, and as I said, to feel that you are your own best friend. And if that connection is made, then you learn to enjoy your own company. So, this is a very important aspect of individual and outdoor meditation.

Another aspect is learning to develop sensitivity to nature. We are very fortunate that we are living in very beautiful surroundings. I would like to emphasise very much the importance of awakening our senses. According to Buddhist psychology we have 6 senses and one of the senses is thinking. So most of the time we use only one sense: thinking, thoughts. I would like to emphasise that you should please make an effort to develop especially the sense of seeing, the art of looking at things, the art of looking at a tree, looking at a plant, a flower, looking at the sky. And then the art of listening, listening to the sounds. And, it is possible that there will be moments when there are no sounds. When exercising the art of looking, the art of hearing, and the art of feeling, please try to reduce concepts, words, and thoughts, and allow these senses to waken up.

Another aspect of individual and outdoor meditation which I emphasise very much is learning to experiment by yourself; exploring, learning, discovering by yourself. I often say that we are very fortunate to have this mind and body. Without taking anything for granted, just learn to discover. So there are many areas that we can learn about concerning the mind: the area of thoughts, the area of emotions, and what happens when you see something external.

Another aspect of individual and outdoor meditation would be to develop the quality of reflection. Sometimes I might suggest certain themes for you to reflect on. So, these are some aspects of individual and outdoor meditation.

And then there will be lunch, after lunch there will be a break, a period of rest, and there will be meditation followed by bodywork; another session of individual and outdoor meditation, and then the evening meal. After the meal there will be a short sitting and then we will have a discussion before we do some chanting - it can be very beautiful for a group to chant together. After chanting we will end the day by doing meditation of loving-kindness.

It is very interesting that the meditation of loving-kindness has many benefits. According to the texts, they say: there are 11 benefits of loving-kindness. It is interesting that three are related to sleep. One is, that you sleep peacefully. Now sleeping peacefully is not sleeping soundly. You can sleep soundly, you can start talking, you can start snoring, you can start moving, but sleeping peacefully is something entirely different. So, when you end the day with loving-kindness, you can fall asleep with loving-kindness, then you sleep peacefully. And the other effect relating to that is very interesting: you don't see unpleasant dreams, you don't see nightmares. This is another aspect of sleeping peacefully. And then, you wake up peacefully. This is why we will be ending the day with meditation of loving-kindness.

So, now any questions about the schedule, about what I have been saying? And those, who are unable to follow English: Is there anything that was not clear about what I have been saying. You can ask Paul and he will explain.

Silence

I would like to say something about silence. Why is silence emphasised in meditation? One thing is, I would like you to discover the connection between silence and awareness. So please find out for yourselves whether there is a relationship between silence and awareness. Another is, silence can create a lot of space in our mind. So, try to enjoy the space that silence may create in our minds.

It is interesting that in English the letters that we use for the words listen and silence are the same. It shows that there is a connection between listening and being silent. So if you can be silent, you can listen. And what are the things that we can listen to when we are silent? One thing: you can listen to the sounds around us. If we start to speak it will not be possible to hear the sounds. And what is more important is, you can also learn to listen to yourselves. Someone has defined meditation as learning to listen to life. Can we listen to our thoughts and can we listen to our emotions? This is a very important skill to learn: just to listen to our emotions. Can we listen to our body? So, with more and more silence we will be learning to listen to what is happening outside and we will also be learning to listen more and more to what is happening inside.

Silence does not mean that you will not be relating to the people around you. Normally we speak, we communicate with other people verbally, through speech. See whether you can have a deeper communication in silence and with loving-kindness. Just try this experiment.

So I would like to suggest that we do a short sitting now. (There follows a short meditation period).

Awareness

Today what we are trying to do is to practice awareness, mindfulness. So, let us explore the question: Why is awareness or mindfulness emphasised so much in meditation? And I would like to also hear from you, what you have experienced today, what you might have discovered today about awareness. (Nobody speaks). I see you are practising noble silence!

Retreatant: Should I label the sound or should I say this is a noise?

Godwin: Please do not say that is a noise, just say it is sound. There is an important difference between sound and noise.

Retreatant: Why did I have tension in meditation while concentrating?

Godwin: That is because it is the first day today and tomorrow it shouldn't be there.

Godwin: I will try to touch on some aspects of why awareness is so important. One is that without awareness we will be like machines, mechanical, automatic, just reacting. I think in this modern world, maybe because of more and more mechanisation, this is what is happening to human beings. They are functioning very effectively like machines. But the danger is, the machines do not know what they are doing. So, this is one aspect of being mechanical. Another aspect of being mechanical is: machines don't have feelings. And this is also happening to human beings. So, this is why also today I have been emphasising very much the need to feel. With awareness we learn not to be mechanical, not to be habitual, but to be conscious and to know what is happening. And as I was saying: awareness helps us to feel.

Another aspect of awareness is - and it is possible that some of you might have the have had a glimpse of this for a few minutes - where you have the experience of the present moment, the here and now. It is interesting when we experience the present moment that we realise, that most of the time in our life and throughout the day, we are either in the past recalling things or we are in the future anticipating things. Just reflect on this aspect, that we are most of the time with something that cannot be changed because it is past or we are with something that has not happened yet. And it is precisely because of this that problems arise. In fact, suffering or emotions mostly arise when we are recalling or when we are anticipating. So, moments of being aware are in a way considered as moments of freedom.

But a question arises: is it possible for us to function while always being in the present? Because if you forget your past, you will not be able to go back home. You will not be able to recognise people. And you will not be able to use a language. And if you do not think about the future, you will not be here because you have to do some planning. Not only you, even I would not be here because we have a lot to plan for the visa! So, the question is: how to use the past and the future without creating problems, without creating suffering?

So here we have to learn that when we think about the past, when we think about the future, we do it now. To take a simple example: let us think of the evening meal that we have had. When we think about the evening meal we do it now. Let us think of breakfast tomorrow - we can think of tomorrow morning's breakfast now. So, if we can realise that when we think of the past, all the problems we have had, all the difficulties we have had, then we can think: I am being here now and I am just recalling what has happened, which I do not experience now, which is not the reality now. And when we think of breakfast, we realise that breakfast is not now, but thinking of the breakfast is now, so then the power we have given to it, perhaps the greed that might come is less.

So ideally, you will be able to use the past functionally, and you will be able to plan very creatively, functionally, but not allow the past and the future to create all these emotions and this suffering. When we plan we have this thought: Will the plan be all right, will it work? Then, when we are eating we are thinking of the plan, when we are going for a walk we cannot see the tree, because we are thinking of the plan. Sometimes we cannot go to sleep, because we are thinking about the plan for tomorrow. So this is the problem. Can we consciously, with awareness, think now that I want to plan and then: that's it!

Another important aspect of awareness is that with awareness we can know what is happening in our mind and body. And as I emphasised yesterday, we can start exploring, we can start investigating, we can learn, we can find out, we can discover. In this way, we can learn, we can investigate, we can discover about anything in our life. It can be your sickness, it can be the sickness of another person, it can be your death, it can be your anger, it can be the fact of getting hurt, or even it can be a tension that you have in relation to a situation. So like this we can learn from anything and we can make discoveries about anything, using awareness and then exploring.

The Buddha in one text makes this point in the form of a simile. He says that awareness is like a surgeon's scalpel, and the surgeon is operating on a wound with this instrument to find out where the source of the injury is. So, with awareness you probe, you inquire, you find out, and then with the scalpel, the surgeon's knife, you cut it off, you remove it. The Buddha says: With awareness you can investigate and with understanding and wisdom you can cut it off.

So we will take a practical example which we can all relate to. Supposing we have become angry. With awareness we explore: why am I angry? Then you realise, you have the insight: I am getting angry because I have an expectation, an idea how the other person should behave. So when you realise that the problem is with you, and if you can bring awareness to that anger, with this realisation, the anger will drop away on its own after some time.

Awareness & Emotions

Another point is, how to use awareness working with emotions. One day I will speak about emotions, especially unpleasant emotions, because this is the greatest problem we have in everyday life. So I will be offering more tools on that day, but just for today: one can use awareness to work with emotions in this way.

So we will discuss the emotion of anger: how, when there is anger, one can use awareness in another way. Normally we do two things when we are visited by any emotion like anger. If you are a meditator, you might try to repress it or control it. You might try to push it away or you might even pretend not to have it. And if you are not a meditator you might express the anger by throwing a plate!

So, in most situations we either repress or we express. It is very important, using awareness, not to repress it, not to express it, just to be aware of that anger, just being with it. If it stays, let it stay, if it goes away, let it go away. You just be with the anger. And what is important is, learning not to react to the anger with anger. I know these things sound so simple, but the Dhamma, the Teaching, is simple, not complicated.

Awareness & Being Alive

Another aspect of awareness - I hope you might have had a glimpse of this aspect of awareness - you can see things very sharply, very clearly, as if for the first time, as I said a few times during practice today. So when you can experience things in this way you really start to be alive, you start to be awake.

We can really learn from children. You have to just watch a child. When the child sees something, how the eyes open, and the curiosity, and how the child is completely present. It can be a simple thing like a flower, anything can really make a child be simply present, just being alive with that seeing, hearing. We all had this beautiful quality of a child, a child-like me. When we are grown up we have lost this beautiful quality. So this is why I have been encouraging you to develop that quality, to awaken your senses in relation to nature.

We can really use nature in this way, as I was saying this morning, to awaken our senses. Generally speaking human beings use only one of the senses: our intellect, our thinking. Sometimes I meet people who really live only in their heads with their thoughts, with the intellect. So this is why it is also important that we should do this bodywork, so that we can forget our head, what we carry in our head, and feel our body, be conscious of the body. Also we should try to cultivate the other senses. Now I think we are really neglecting the sense of smell.

We are very fortunate to live in these beautiful surroundings. I would like to emphasise this, so please make an effort to develop our senses, especially the sense of seeing, the sense of hearing, and the sense of feeling. And if you can live in this way even for a few minutes, you can realise that you really become alive, you really become awake, you really start to start living again. In the Dhamma there is a very important book, called the Dhammapada. It has some very interesting verses or poems. And there is a verse there that says if you are not aware you are like a dead person.

Another aspect of awareness is when we learn to observe, when we learn to observe even little things, small things that we normally take for granted. And when we learn to see and observe these things externally, the small things, the little things, then we might also learn to see things in ourselves, which we normally don't look at, which we take for granted. This is why in regard to meditation the Satipatthanasutta says: Internally and externally. When there is awareness in relation to external things, you learn to be aware of internal things, and when you learn to be aware of internal things, you learn to be aware of external things.

So again, what is happening to modern man for different reasons is, we are really denying our senses and using only a fragment of our mind, the intellect. Certainly intellect, thinking has a place, but what has happened is that this fragment has been given undue importance. In this connection a very interesting book has been written called Emotional Intelligence. Does anyone know this book? It was written by a Buddhist, Daniel Goleman, although he does not say he is a Buddhist. It has become a best-seller.

And the point he makes is, that there is an emphasis of high IQ but what is important is not so much high IQ but high EQ, emotional intelligence. Since he wrote this book, in America and in other places in the world, they are teaching children how to work with their emotions. Not to develop only the IQ and the intelligence, but to develop intelligence and insight in working with our emotions.

Awareness & Morality

Another aspect of awareness is, that it can help us to develop a discipline, a morality, an ethical way of behaviour. Again in the Dhamma they attach a very great importance to what is called sila. Sila means a skilful way of living, a holy way of living, a way of living where you don't inflict suffering on yourself or suffering on others. So that even while you are here, if you have awareness, naturally you will behaving in a way that you will take into consideration the people around you.

To take an example, when you open the door or when you close the door, if you do it with awareness you will realise that if you bang the door you will disturb others, so naturally there comes a different way of behaving. These are small things, but they go a long way. If there is a need to speak, you will speak in such a considerate way and only if it is really important to speak, otherwise you realise that while speaking you will be disturbing the other people around you.

So you see how there is a natural kind of morality, that arises from this skill of having awareness in relation to your behaviour, and the same thing will arise in relation to your speech, because you will be very, very careful, you will be aware of your speech, and then hurting others, creating problems for others, will become less and less. So naturally there will be a change, a shift in your thoughts, in your words, and in your actions.

There is a story I would like to relate which brings out this aspect very clearly. There was once a highly respected monk, a meditating monk living in a certain place, and people really admired him and really respected him for the way that he was living, for the way he was making a commitment to his spiritual life. And a rich woman in that area heard about this monk and she wanted to give him a very special gift. So there was a goldsmith in the village and she told this goldsmith: Please make a bowl out of gold. There was also a chief robber in the village. He heard that the goldsmith is making a bowl out of gold.

He was waiting until the bowl was made, and the day it was presented to the monk he went to the temple. When the monk saw the robber immediately he realised why he had come. So he went to his room, came out and threw the bowl in the direction of the robber. The robber was very surprised, but he was a very thoughtful person. He thought: Now what sort of man is he? I have been waiting for so many months to steal the bowl and the day he gets it he just throws it away.

So he became very curious and he went to the monk and said: What kind of person are you? I was waiting all this time to steal that bowl and then you just threw it away. So the monk calmly said: I am a meditator. Then the robber asked: Can I also meditate? And the monk said yes he could also meditate. Then the robber was even more shocked, because in the past whenever he went to a spiritual teacher they told him: First you have to give up your profession. So then the robber said: You are the first spiritual teacher who says I can still have my profession and also practice meditation. This is wonderful! Can you tell me something about what your practice of meditation?

So the monk in very simple terms said: Just be mindful of what you are doing, just be aware of what you are doing. The robber thought: This sounds simple, but let me find out whether I can do it. So after a few days he thought: Now it is time for me to practice my profession. Now I should break into a house, and he went off to do it. But then, as he was trying to break into the house, he thought of the words of the monk: I should be aware of what I am doing. So when he realised what he was doing, he could not proceed further. He went back to the monk and he said: I want to ordain and become a monk.

So this story, very clearly, but in simple terms, explains what I was saying about how awareness brings about a change in our behaviour.

Two Kinds of Meditation

In Buddhist meditation there are two aspects. One aspect is experiencing a mind that is calm, a mind that is still and tranquil. The other aspect is, to develop insight, develop wisdom. Awareness helps us to experience both these aspects of meditation. So we can use our awareness to focus on an object like the breath, which we will be trying to do tomorrow maybe a little bit more like we did it today. And then when we are with the breath even for a few minutes we might experience some calm, some tranquillity, some stillness.

And with this general awareness you can have an understanding, a glimpse that there is only awareness, there is no ego, there is no "I", there is no me apart from this awareness, where the subject and the object just become one, where you have a non-dual experience; and with that experience will come insight and wisdom. And this can also happen with the breath, where you may have a glimpse that there is only the breath, but there is no "I", no me, that is breathing. So here I tried to touch on some aspects of why awareness is important in the practice of meditation.

I think the Buddha emphasised very much that for people who live a layperson's life, that they should integrate spiritual life and meditation into their daily life. In Sri Lanka I live in a meditation centre, which is mainly for lay people. And there what we try to emphasise is how to integrate meditation with daily life. So as we progress in the retreat, especially the last two or three days, I will be emphasising and focusing on this aspect of how to integrate what we learn here into daily life. This is why we do work, what we call working meditation, because in everyday life we need to work. And while we are here, if we can work with a meditative mind then in everyday live we should be able to do that also. This is a very good way of integrating meditation with daily life.

This is why I will also be emphasising very much working with the emotions, because one of the problems in everyday life is when unpleasant emotions come up. So I will give you tools from the Buddha's teaching, how to work with these emotions when they arise in everyday life.

Loving-kindness

There is a connection between awareness and loving-kindness. That is why I was also suggesting today that with whatever is happening in your mind and body, how far can you be aware of it, and how far can you be friendly to what is happening? I was also emphasising today especially learning to be friendly to unpleasant sensations, to unpleasant experiences. It can be tension, it can be anxiety, it can be pain. How far can you be friendly to them and again use awareness? Today I will just briefly touch on some aspects of loving-kindness. Tomorrow the emphasis will be on loving-kindness and so then maybe you can make an effort to develop it more, and in the evening we will have a discussion about it.

I feel one important aspect of loving-kindness is learning to be your own best friend. We don't realise that sometimes we are our own best enemy. How we live in such a way that we create our own suffering in different ways, and in doing that we don't realise that we are the enemy, but we assume that the enemy is outside. Only if you can really feel friendly to yourself can you really learn to be friendly to others.

Another aspect of loving-kindness is using loving-kindness to forgive or to heal the wounds that we carry. So you will be learning how to heal these wounds by forgiving yourself, and how to heal wounds by forgiving others. Also, as I said earlier, we will be learning to be friendly to physical pain and mental pain as far as possible.

So these are some areas that we will going into tomorrow and I hope you will experience and start working on these areas and then experience what it is to be your best friend, what it is to be friendly to others, what it is to forgive and heal these wounds that you are carrying within yourselves.

Now let us do some chanting and after chanting we can end with meditation of loving-kindness.