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Godwin Samararatne
Meditation for Everyday Life

Day 2: Loving-kindness


Godwin: Welcome to those who have come for the evening. It's very nice that you are here. I am happy that Paul has organised these weekly sittings and discussions. I am sure it is serving a very useful purpose.

So today we will discuss loving-kindness. I feel that it is a very important aspect in Buddhist meditation. There is a very interesting statement by the Buddha about the practice of meditation of loving-kindness: he was talking to a group of monks and he told them that if you can practice meditation of loving-kindness during the time it takes to snap your fingers you are worthy of being monks.

This statement has two implications: one is that if anyone can meditate for even such a short duration it is something very important, it is something very significant. And maybe another is, that there is no one who cannot meditate for such a short time on friendliness. So especially the second point is something very helpful for us.

It is interesting psychologically that meditation of loving-kindness begins with oneself. Now a question arises: Does it show that we are not friendly to ourselves? If you reflect on this question, you will realise that we are indeed unfriendly to ourselves, we indeed sometimes dislike ourselves, hate ourselves.

So let us find out how we become unfriendly to ourselves, how we hate ourselves. In what way do we develop these things? Maybe a common way is that we have expectations about ourselves and then, when we cannot achieve these expectations, we feel bad, we feel guilty, we feel disappointed, we start to hate ourselves. So this is one common aspect, where this not liking ourselves may arise.

And maybe another way we do this is - there is a term that I like to use - we learn to give ourselves minuses. So those who are unfriendly to themselves are very good in giving only minuses to themselves. There are very good reasons to give themselves plusses, but because they are not friendly to themselves, they can create a hell where only minuses exist, and such people generally like to give minuses to other people also.

So they live in this world where only minuses exist. And sometimes they can be very, creative. They can be very creative in a destructive way. They are so creative, they can look for reasons, look for situations, sometimes even imagine situations and then give big minuses. And in this way we start disliking ourselves, we start hating ourselves, we see ourselves as worthless, unsuccessful, useless. People who like to play the victim, that is, I think, the modern way to describe them. I learnt this word from someone in the West.

I think we are all familiar with how we become our own enemy in different ways, sometimes very gross, sometimes very subtle. So you see the importance of loving-kindness and the aspect of learning to be friendly to oneself. There has to be a shift, slowly, maybe minute by minute, second by second as the Buddha said: from seeing yourself as your own worst enemy, you have to learn to be your best friend. When you can learn to be your best friend, then you can learn to be a friend to others. And then this can generate a lot of joy, a lot of happiness, a lot of lightness.

Another aspect where we need to use loving-kindness is learning to relate to our shortcomings, our weaknesses. When we make a mistake, how do we relate to that using loving-kindness? Because we are all human - and it is very nice that we are all human - but as we are human, we are bound to make mistakes. And when we make mistakes, how can we use loving-kindness is such a situation? What do we do when we make a mistake? Immediately give a big minus?

So hereafter, when you make a mistake, please don't give yourself a minus, and without giving yourself a minus, you can start to reflect. This reflection is a very, very important aspect of meditation. I will emphasise that, introducing it as we go along in this retreat.

So relating to yourself as your best friend, you have a dialogue with yourself: Now what happened to you? What made you do that? What made you say that word? You must ask this question in a very friendly, gentle, kind way so as to just come to understand yourself. Then you learn to see different aspects, different accents to your actions. So in this way it is something very beautiful that, rather than suffer, rather than beat ourselves, rather than feel guilty, we will learn from our mistakes.

So please realise this: that this is not a matter of giving into that mistake. But rather understanding our mistakes and then learning from them, and then effecting a kind of natural transformation from that. If you can relate to your mistakes in this way, you will never carry them as wounds, which can be something very destructive, to hold on to these wounds, hold on to what has happened in the past.

In this way, when you see the mistakes of other people, when you see the faults of other people, then you can relate to them in this way with understanding, with loving-kindness, and this can also give a lot of understanding: without getting angry, without developing hatred, we develop more and more understanding about human nature, in whichever way it arises: whether in relation to ourselves, or in relation to others. So in this way we learn to forgive ourselves and to forgive others. This is a powerful way of healing those wounds that we carry in relation to our mistakes, and in relation to the mistakes of others.


Another very positive aspect of loving-kindness is that you learn to see more and more your good qualities, not only the failings, not only the minuses. It is very interesting that the Buddha encouraged this very much. Because you learn to rejoice in the good actions you are doing. The word rejoice is very beautiful, very significant. I am sure you have many, many reasons to rejoice about yourself. But I am sure if I ask you, you will find it very difficult to think of anything! So therefore I would just like to remind you about some things, and please learn to rejoice in them now.

One thing is that you have come to meditation. That's a reason to rejoice! What a commitment you have made for meditation: you have left your house for a few days, you have left your job for a few days, and come here and practice this noble silence. Other things: getting up early in the morning, and sitting when there is a lot of pain. How many people are prepared to do this? How many people have the opportunity to do this? But we never take into consideration these simple points. So please rejoice now! Please give yourself a big plus.

Another reason to rejoice is that you are leading harmless lives. That you are making an effort not to create problems or suffering for yourself, or suffering for others, and that you are making an effort to work with these aspects of suffering and through meditation trying to work on suffering. So isn't that a very beautiful commitment that you have made for the spiritual life?

And the kind of life that we are leading here, the last few days, and the days to come, is really trying to lead a harmless life, trying not to create any suffering for ourselves, trying to avoid suffering for others. What a beautiful way to live! So that's another very good reason to rejoice.

Another difficult aspect in meditation is to work with yourself, because in meditation what comes up is sometimes not very pleasant. Sometimes there is physical pain; sometimes there is psychological pain. Because in everyday life, you are so busy that there is no space, no opportunity for them to come up. But here in such situations, practising silence, being alone with yourself, these monsters come up. We are creating an opportunity for them to arise. So again, please prepare to do this, please prepare to really work with them.

The usual thing you do when you have such problems - isn't it right? - you go to the therapist. So here, what are you doing: here you are learning to be your own therapist. If there is a therapist here, he will not be very happy! But that is another matter. So learning to be your own therapist is another good reason to rejoice.

Just reflect on what it means to be your own therapist: it means that you have self-confidence; you are trying to develop tools to really work with whatever happens mentally, physically. Having complete self-reliance on yourself. This is something Buddha emphasised very much. The school where I went to was a Buddhist school. In schools they have mottoes. And the Buddhist motto that the school where I went to uses, I mean in Pali I still remember that: Atta hi attano natho, self-help is the best help.

This is extremely difficult. Because we do not like to rely on ourselves, we like external props to hang on to. This gives a kind of security. So I think this is another very positive reason for us to rejoice. I can go on like this, until you get bored with rejoicing! But please reflect on these very simple points that I made. Do we ever think of these things? You see how we are not really our own best friends.

Another beautiful thing is rejoicing in the happiness of others. So when you see other people happy that makes you yourself very happy. When you are happy, you are happy about that, and when you see others happy, you are happy about the happiness of others. It is called mudita, sympathetic joy.

A very destructive emotion that we have is jealousy and envy, which is the complete opposite of rejoicing in the happiness of others. So that this also teaches us, enables us to see, the positive in ourselves, and the positive in others.

So isn't it really a powerful practice, when there are minuses in ourselves, we know how to work with them. And when we see minuses in others, we know how to work with them. And then we know to relate to the plusses in ourselves, and to the plusses in others also.

Another aspect of loving-kindness is a quality that we take for granted, the quality of feeling grateful. I was in Bodhgaya, the place where the Buddha was enlightened. Now according to the story of what the Buddha did after he became enlightened, one thing was to spend 7 days looking at the Bodhi tree which had given him shade, which had helped him to get enlightened. And he showed his gratitude by standing and gazing at the tree for 7 days. Do we ever feel grateful for things like a tree, or for something which has helped us? But when we develop this quality of loving-kindness, we learn to appreciate and feel grateful for things, for little things, for small things, which we normally take for granted.

Something that we can all be grateful for is, to have a human birth, which according to the Dhamma is something very, very precious. Why is human birth considered so precious? Only a human being has the potential, has the qualities necessary to become a Buddha. Has the necessary qualities to become free. So please realise that: we all have the qualities within us to be free.

In a way one of the things in meditation, in the spiritual life, is to realise this: to see that we have all these qualities within us, just to see them, just to realise them, and this can make such a difference to our self-perception, it can make such a shift of attitude in us. So in this way, as with rejoicing, we can find so many reasons why we feel grateful.

You should feel grateful that there is such a place as this here, where you can come and meditate and be peaceful, that there are Dhamma books to read, and spiritual friends to discuss things with. What a thing to feel grateful for. In this centre I see that you are so fortunate, because you can be exposed to many teachers of different traditions, and that's a thing to really feel grateful for, that you can be exposed to different teachings, different aspects of spirituality.

When I was in the centre in Sri Lanka one day a blind monk came to the centre. So when this blind monk spent a few days in our centre, for the first time I realised: how grateful I should be that I have eyes to see. Do you ever feel grateful that you have eyes to see? Do you ever feel grateful that you can hear? There are people who cannot hear.

These are small things, little things. This is the beauty of the Dhamma, of meditation: the spiritual life is not about having special, extraordinary experiences, but just being open to these small things, little things, and how that can really open your heart.

The Benefits of Loving-Kindness

I would like to just to talk about some of the benefits of loving-kindness meditation which are mentioned in a particular text. The first three are very interesting, very practical:

1: You sleep very peacefully. This is why we do meditation on loving-kindness before we go to sleep because then we can sleep peacefully.

2: And if you sleep peacefully you can wake up peacefully. That is the second benefit. In this world, how many people sleep peacefully and wake up peacefully? In Sri Lanka I try to help people with psychological problems, and amongst other problems, I try to help people who cannot sleep, people who suffer from insomnia, and this loving-kindness meditation invariably helps them to sleep.

3: The third benefit that is mentioned is you don't see unpleasant dreams or nightmares, and because of that you sleep peacefully and awaken peacefully.

4: Another interesting benefit is that your face becomes serene. Your face becomes like the face of the babies we have in this centre. So you don't have to spend money for cosmetics. You can save the money and practice loving-kindness. But it is a very interesting benefit, because it shows that loving-kindness can even affect your face.

And if it can affect your face it can affect your body. There are what are called psychosomatic illnesses. I hear that there are special clinics here only for psychosomatic illnesses. So if you can make your body sick with your minds, you can also heal your bodies to a great extent by loving-kindness. So in psychosomatic illness what is suggested is to examine the way you relate to yourself. The way you are relating to yourself is bringing up these illnesses, in other words find out how you are creating your own illnesses.

Perhaps one evening I might speak about relationships, because these are some of the greatest challenges we have in everyday life. So with loving-kindness when other people like you, they are friendly to you; because you are friendly to them, in the same way they are friendly to you. So this is a very simple practical way of improving problems of relationships.

5. Another interesting benefit that is mentioned is that not only human beings, but also non-humans start to like you. Who are these non-humans? They can be trees, plants, animals. And if there are beings which we cannot see - who knows? - even they might be affected by the vibrations that we generate in our mind and body.

There are some very interesting experiments in relation to how even trees and plants can respond to the emotions of human beings who are around them. By the way there is some interesting news about Nilambe, the centre I live in. We found that there is a leopard nearby! If you come you have to have lot of loving-kindness! Maybe I should tell you the story of how the leopard was discovered.

Once it happened that a young man from Germany, who had the idea of becoming a monk, a very serious meditator, wanted to spend some days in a cave all by himself, outside the centre in the forest. So he asked permission whether he might stay there. So I said it is okay, but I also heard that there is a leopard there. But if you think you are not afraid, and that you can stay there, you are most welcome to stay there.

So the first two days he was very happy, very peaceful, very, very peaceful. The third day suddenly there appeared the leopard just a few yards away from him. The leopard looked at him and their eyes met, and fortunately he had no fear at that moment and the leopard left. But after that, my friend left the cave and came running to me. I said it is okay, please come back and stay with us.

But it is interesting that there was a Western monk in the centre and he thought he would like to experiment with fear. Now, that is a very interesting practice. So he went there and just wanted to stay one night in the cave to see what happens. And he also came back the next morning, saying: The whole night I could not sleep!

In Sri Lanka there are meditating monks who live in the deep forest where there are wild animals, without being attacked by them, and the secret is that they practice loving-kindness towards the animals. And I think the animals can feel it, just as they can feel it when there is fear in you, and that is why they attack.

6. Another benefit that is mentioned among the benefits of loving-kindness is that your mind becomes one-pointed - I am not happy with the word "concentrated", which is the normal translation, the Pali word that is used is samadhi. So for meditation loving-kindness is very, very helpful. It is through friendliness and acceptance that one can really meditate. Otherwise, by hating and by fighting and by controlling we can never relax and we can never feel peaceful. This is why I have very often been mentioning that you should just be friendly to what is happening around you, without resisting, without disliking.

7. One other benefit that is mentioned is that you can die with complete awareness. Why is dying consciously so important? One reason is that it is the last chance you have to become enlightened. So if you have missed it during your life, it is the last chance when you are dying.

This discourse shows therefore that you can live peacefully, that you can sleep peacefully, and you can die peacefully if you practice loving-kindness.

Questions about Loving-Kindness

Now are there any questions please?

Retreatant: How can we forgive a person who continues to resort to violence?

Godwin: That's a very good question, and I like practical questions that we can all relate to. We have all encountered such situations in our life in one way or another. So how do we relate to such a situation as meditators practising loving-kindness?

The first response - it may not be very easy - but one thing we may try to practice from the Buddhist perspective is: not to be surprised in such situations. Why do I say this? Why are we surprised in such a situation? Because we have the idea, the image, the expectation that others should not resort to violence, especially against me.

There is a very interesting perspective, a Buddhist analysis of human nature. That our shortcomings - it can be hatred, it can be violence, in whatever form they arise - are due to three reasons. And the three reasons are greed, hatred and delusion. So as long as we have these three characteristics, we will behave sometimes violently, sometimes irrationally, in all the ways human beings are behaving in this world. When you see behaviour arising from greed, hatred and delusion - in other words, when you see such actions coming from imperfect human beings - should we be surprised? We should be surprised if people don't live in this way!

According to Buddhism we are living in a crazy world. In that sense we are all crazy. Only when we are enlightened do we become completely sane. Why do I say we are crazy? Because we have created a subjective world and we live in this subjective world which does not correspond to reality. Who can say here that you always see things just as they are? The problem with us is we take this crazy world too seriously. So when we see crazy behaviour please don't be surprised. This is the first point I would like to make.

The second point to reflect on is the person who resorts to violence and continues to resort to violence. Perhaps he does not know any other way of relating to human beings. My guess is he must be a very unhappy man with a lot of suffering, which perhaps he may not be aware of.

So if you can see a human being's reality in this way, rather than feel angry about them, we learn to feel sympathetic to them. We feel sorry for such people, who do not know any other way of behaving, but only being destructive to themselves, and destructive to others, the complete opposite of the spiritual way of living. Sometimes with such people, it can be extremely difficult to even reach them or communicate with them, because they are completely closed to any suggestions.

So let us analyse it from the point of view of our suffering. Such a thing has happened to you and it has affected you, you carry a wound in relation to what the other person has done. And if you carry such a wound, every time you remember that man, what happens? You are angry with that man; you are hurt by that man. So in relation to what he did you can be suffering, and this can be a very destructive thing, this wound you are suffering from.

So as you cannot help him, as a person who is practising loving-kindness, you can make an effort to learn to help yourself. If someone is anxious to heal such a wound, what are the tools that he can use in healing that wound? One is to reflect in the first place how this wound has been created. Then you realise: the wound has been created by the image, by the expectation I had of how others should behave towards me.

Another way to heal the wound is to realise that this has happened in the past, it is gone, I cannot change it, but I am carrying the pain of the past in the way I carry this wound around in myself. So you have to make a choice: do I continue to suffer, or do I try to stop this suffering I am having by letting go of the past? And then try to understand his behaviour and as far as possible to forgive him. There is a very interesting statement by Christ in this connection that I like, he said: forgive them, because they do not know why they are acting in that way.

Because sometimes we humans assume that a person knows why he is acting in such a way, but if you get a chance to have a dialogue with him, perhaps he might say: I don't know why I did it, it just happened to me. Don't we in certain situations act in a certain way and we really don't know why, we cannot find out the reason?

So this may be difficult, but it is really worthwhile, if you can heal the wound in this way, a burden that you may have been carrying for many, many years, it can give you such release and such lightness.

Maybe you have to stop any further connection with him, but still you may make a connection indirectly by wishing him: May he one day realise what he is doing, may he some day understand what he is doing, and through that let him not continue the same destructive behaviour as he had in the past. These are some suggestions. Any other questions please? Please ask. That was a very good question, a very practical question.

Retreatant: How can we have loving-kindness when anger comes up?

Godwin: That is also a very important question. Because I feel it is very, very important to combine awareness with loving-kindness. In this connection there is a very beautiful Mahayana statement where it says: Can you develop awareness like a mother watching her only child? Can we watch ourselves in the same way as a mother watching her child? You have to watch yourself in the same way.

So going back to the situations you described where you are distracted, disturbed by what other people are doing here, and also back in everyday life you are disturbed, distracted by what is happening outside yourself. Now how does one use both awareness and loving-kindness in relation to that?

For instance here, when you want to be silent, if someone is speaking, then what you can learn to do is to observe the anger, to be aware of that anger. Your tension, your anger is in relation to what is happening inside you, and not what the person is doing. It is because of your sensitivity that you developed that anger.

So this is where loving-kindness comes in. So you say to yourself: I am angry, I am annoyed, I am a meditator, but it is okay to get annoyed. It is okay to get irritated, because that person is giving me an opportunity to work with this situation now. So let me feel grateful to that person because he is creating this situation for me, so that I can learn to work with my anger: May that person be well, happy, and peaceful as I work with this anger.

This is a very valuable experience, an insight for you when you go back home and maybe try to meditate and your next-door neighbour is making a big noise. Then you can remember: Ah, there I learned to look at my own anger. So now let me work with the anger that my very good neighbour is creating for me.

So in this way we are learning something very valuable, we are learning from our own mistakes, we are learning from our own reactions. So the emphasis is not on the person or the situation that is creating the reaction, but you learn to make that reaction the object of meditation.

So this does not mean that you start speaking now so that you can create such situations for other people! I am not saying this is this place to do that!

So any other questions? Maybe time for one last question.

Retreatant: Is there another power helping us to have loving-kindness?

Godwin: If there is another power that is helping you, you are very, very fortunate, but while the power is helping you, you can also develop your own loving-kindness. As I was saying: perhaps there are other beings who are helping you, who are friendly to you, which help you to like yourself and be friendly to yourself.

So now we will do some chanting, and then we will end with meditation of loving-kindness.