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Godwin Samararatne
Introduction to Meditation

Talks in Hong Kong - Day 5, 10th October 1997

Meditation on Loving-kindness


Godwin: I would like to welcome you once again. As you know, the subject of the talk today is meditation on loving-kindness. The word loving-kindness translates the Pali word metta. It is sometimes translated as loving-kindness, or 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 oneself; to feel at ease with oneself, feel at home with oneself. So to feel as if you are coming home to yourself.

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 doing this you learn to become your enemy in a way, and this can create a lot of suffering for yourselves 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 yourself, and learning to open your heart to others. What I'm going to say you can relate to your own experience. Please make an effort to do that, then my talk will be a meditation in 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 that they continue to carry these wounds within themselves. So if you carry these wounds within without healing them you can create suffering for yourself and suffering for others, without knowing that the suffering is in relation to the wounds you are carrying.

They can also affect our body in a number of ways. We can be having certain tensions in different parts of our body. This is related to these wounds, this is related to these repressed emotions. These wounds can also create certain illnesses. Another way they can affect us is that they can disturb our sleep. Do we have fearful dreams, do we get angry in our dreams, or do we cry in our sleep? Then another way they can affect us is that suddenly we can be overcome by emotion and we don't know why. Suddenly we feel like crying; suddenly there is fear; suddenly there is sadness. And we cannot find the reason for it.

Another way they can affect us is that when we die the emotions, the wounds, can come up. It is interesting to find out why they should surface at the time of death. While we are living we may not look at them, we may repress them, we may push them away, but at the time we die, when our minds and bodies become weak, these wounds can surface.

So it shows that with these unhealed wounds we cannot live peacefully, we cannot sleep peacefully, and we cannot die peacefully. Therefore it is extremely important to learn to heal these wounds. Meditation of loving-kindness can help us to heal these wounds by learning to forgive ourselves and learning to forgive others. Forgive ourselves by realising that we are only human. Forgive others by realising that they are only human too. Also learning to let go of the wounds by realising 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 in the present?

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 resist them. By doing that we give them more power, more energy. In such situations we can use meditation of loving-kindness to learn to make friends with these unpleasant emotions. One very simple way of making friends with them is by learning to say to yourself: it is okay not to be okay - that is, to say okay to unpleasant situations.

See the Positive Elements in Ourselves

Another aspect of loving-kindness is learning to see the positive elements in ourselves, to see the goodness in ourselves, to see the Buddha-nature in ourselves. One way of being our own enemy is by 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 ourselves, it is very important to learn to give plusses to ourselves, learning to see our goodness, learning to see the Buddha-nature in ourselves. And when we learn to do this what happens is that we see the positive elements in others too, we learn to give more and more plusses to others, we see more and more the Buddha-nature in others - and then you will 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 this positive aspect of loving-kindness. And when you learn to be friendly to others, when you 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 being happy because of your own actions this can bring lots of joy, lots of lightness to yourself.

Don't Allow Others to Exploit You

But having loving-kindness is not about allowing others to exploit you, allowing others to do what they like to you. It is very important to learn that there are times when you have to assert yourselves, when you have to learn to be firm with others. In this connection I would like to relate a story that I like very much and after relating 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 firewood, and when she saw the cobra she thought it was a rope. She used the rope to bundle the firewood 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 firewood home. Then after some difficulty the cobra escaped with lots of pain, with lots of wounds on its body.

Then the cobra went to meet his meditation master, and the cobra told the master: See what has happened; I adopt the practice of loving-kindness, but see the wounds, see the pain that I'm experiencing in my body! So the master very calmly, very gently told the cobra: You have not been practising loving-kindness, you have been practising foolish loving-kindness. You should have just shown by hissing that you are a snake! So it is very important that in everyday life we also learn what the cobra should have learnt.

So now it is time for questions – any questions relating to loving-kindness, especially in everyday life; any difficulties, any problems you have with it.

Questions and Answers

Retreatant: Master, if we practise giving ourselves all the plusses, seeing the good side in ourselves all the time, where is the line to be drawn?

Godwin: When we have got used to giving minuses, 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? This is the important issue. So in such a situation just to realise: I'm only giving minuses to myself; aren't there good things that I've done? So we are learning to 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, we learn to see things as they are, as the Buddha said. This is the important thing.

Then, as I said, we learn to see the goodness in others which helps us to appreciate them. Also when you see goodness in others, learning to rejoice in it. So in this way you learn very important spiritual qualities which are helping your practice.

I would like to ask a question, and I ask this whenever I visit a foreign country. Which is easier to do: to forgive oneself or to forgive others? So please reflect on this and give an answer from your heart.

Retreatant: It's not easy to forgive oneself.

Godwin: Does everyone agree?

Retreatant: No.

(By show of hands, the audience indicated who considered it easier to forgive themselves, and who considered it easier to forgive others).

Godwin: Thank you. What does this indicate? It indicates that those who find it difficult to forgive themselves, are very hard on themselves. So they are too stonehearted towards themselves saying: I don't deserve to be forgiven. And then those who find it difficult to forgive others, they are being very hard on others. So you see the importance of developing softness, you realise the importance of being gentle, the importance of feeling tender to oneself and to others. 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 accept our humanness, to accept that we are imperfect human beings, that we still have shortcomings. In the same way we have to realise that we are living in a world where other people are imperfect, where other people are still only human, so we're bound to see the shortcomings, human frailties, arising in others and in ourselves.

According to the Buddha's teaching there is greed, there is hatred, there is delusion both in us and in other people. So because of greed, hatred, and delusion, we all have shortcomings and make mistakes. Only someone who is completely enlightened will not have these shortcomings; but as long as we are not enlightened we are still only human, we are imperfect. So I feel that it is extremely important to realise this, to accept this and learn to forgive ourselves and to forgive others. Then when you can see things in these terms, as I said, you will be able to forgive yourself and forgive others.

Any other questions?

Retreatant: Due to the impermanence of 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 presently discussing. So I will give only a very brief response to the question of impermanence. We suffer from impermanence because we don't accept impermanence, we don't accept change. I will give an 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 the expectation: I should not fall sick. In this way, when we have this resistance to change, to impermanence, there will be suffering. The way out of this is to be open to change, to be open to impermanence, to accept that as a fact of life. So this is again what the Buddha taught: learning to accept things just as they are, and not as they should or should not be.

Retreatant: You said we should learn to love ourselves as a 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 up for ourselves in a way?

Godwin: Very good question. We will 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. Because of this anger and because you are relating to it in this way you can suffer for days.

So in using loving-kindness you relate to the anger in an entirely different way. Rather than beating 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 then 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 it. It's not really pampering ourselves, but it is 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 will also realise when you're not angry, which is also very important. So then we come to a stage that when we are angry we know what to do with the anger, and when we are not angry we know we are not angry.

Any other questions?

Retreatant: Learning to practise forgiveness is easier to say than to do, especially when it comes to people who are close to you like parents, 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 people to whom we are close can create such wounds. The simple reason is that because they are close to us, maybe friends or relations, then we have an image, an expectation about how they should behave.

A good simile to understand this is that first we put them on a pedestal by saying he's my best friend. So then my best friend should behave in a certain way. Or we think: She's my mother and therefore she should behave in this way, so you see the demands we are making on people because they are close to us and, poor people, they fall from the pedestal that we have put them on. And when they fall from the pedestal we don't realise that we are the persons who put them on the pedestal in the first place, and we get disappointed, we suffer. And a person can carry these wounds throughout their life. So you should really see what happens to you because of the ideas you have about how others should behave. To put the same thing another way, we forget that they are also human.

There is time for one last question.

Retreatant: 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 are our expectations realistic? How far are you prepared to meet up with your expectations about yourself? How far can others 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 so they live in a very idealistic world. This idealistic world that they have created is one thing and what they are experiencing is another thing. So as long as we hold onto this idealistic world, hold onto this perfect world, we are bound to create wounds in relation to our 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 I would like to give a reminder of a very interesting saying in Tibetan Buddhism: Enlightened people behave like ordinary people, while ordinary people try to behave like enlightened people!

I'm very happy that you asked very good, practical questions on loving-kindness. So now we will 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 yourself.

Guided Meditation

Learn to open your heart like opening a flower.

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 and happy.

Really wishing for 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 this peace in every part of the body.

Let us now look at our wounds. Look at the wounds in relation to what you have done to others. Try to forgive yourself by feeling that you are your best friend, by accepting that you are still only human. And those who do not have such wounds, feel happy that you do not have such wounds.

You can feel the area around 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, 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: may you be well, may you be happy, may you be free of suffering.

Can we really say these words from our heart?

As we are leaving our wounds behind may we experience more joy, more lightness, more friendliness.

I understand this is a day for remembering the ancestors, so let us think of our 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?

Let us do some chanting. I'm happy that the chanting is improving every day, both the Pali chanting and the Chinese chanting.