The Gentle Way of
Dhamma Talks by Godwin Samararatne
Day 2 Retreat: 14th October 1997
For the discussion, I think what we may try to do is to share each other's experience with what happened today.
I feel it is very important to learn to share our experiences very honestly to a group of spiritual friends. Sharing both what we consider to be pleasant experiences and also unpleasant experiences. So it is opening up ourselves to our spiritual friends. Normally we are very nervous, self-conscious to speak about ourselves, thinking that others will judge us, whether we have done the right thing and so on. One should not fear about it because one is sharing one's experiences which is a fact.
So let us begin with 4:45 a.m. So what was your experience when you woke up at 4:45 this morning?
Female 1: I didn't get up.
Godwin: Because you did not sleep.
Female 1: Yes.
Godwin: Very good, very good. Thank you for sharing that very honestly. Anything else? Any other experiences?
Female 2: I felt sleepy and tired because I did not sleep last night and I wanted to stay in bed, but just for a short time.
Godwin: So you came for meditation? Anything else?
Female 3: I also could not sleep well last night because I was woken up by chanting downstairs (she was sleeping in the other temple) but I woke up and came.
Godwin: Maybe we should do chanting rather than ringing the bell. Anyone else wants to say something?
Female 4: I think we should thank Mrs. Siu because I know she made a special effort to get up especially early so that she can wake us up.
Godwin: How did you feel when you woke up?
Mrs. Siu: I was very happy to get up this morning. I saw many stars in the sky and I saw many things.
Godwin: This brings up the importance of loving kindness. Also brings up the importance of taking responsibility for others.
What about waiting for the toilet? Was anyone angry, impatient, suffering? Yes or no?
I would like to share my own experience. I think I also woke up early. I was also able to enjoy the stillness and the beauty at that time outside.
So what is the experience with meditation? We started at 5 o'clock. Any questions, any problems, any difficulties about the simple meditation that we practise, just knowing what is happening.
Male 1: I was like half awake in this morning's meditation. I just went through it in a hazy way. But for reasons unknown, in the meditation just before, I discovered one thing, I felt it was different to how I felt this morning. Before, it was like wasting a lot of my energy. I felt exhausted in having to, as teacher told us, be aware of our body, movement and mental activity. It was like waiting for them to come out but they just never came out. In the session of sitting we just had, when I felt stillness, then I knew how to use what teacher told us, how to be aware how my body works and knowing it very clearly.
Godwin: Thank you for sharing that experience. It is nice to hear the unpleasant experiences in the morning and what can be considered as a pleasant experience in the evening. So if we did not have the unpleasant experience, you won't have made this discovery about the pleasant experience in the evening. So it shows that we can learn from unpleasant experiences, we can learn from pleasant experiences. Therefore we should learn to be open to both unpleasant experiences and pleasant experiences.
Anyone else like to share their experience of this morning's meditation?
Female 5: When we meditate at home, is it better that we don't choose the time when we are too tired to do meditation. In this morning I was too sleepy. I was not strong enough to concentrate.
Godwin: Whether you are at home or here, I would like to suggest that try to experiment when you are tired as well, otherwise it is very easy to say, I feel tired, so I know my meditation doesn't work, so let me sleep. That's how we pamper ourselves. Always saying yes to what the body is wanting.
So we need to break that conditioning in a very friendly, gentle, kind way. So it means some days to say yes to the body and some days to say no to the body. So tomorrow morning also if you still feel tired, you must tell the body: Yesterday I gave in to you, I said yes, today, I'm going to say no. So it is very very important to learn to have this kind of dialogue with the body, with oneself. So learning to say no and then you come to the hall, you come to meditate and you're seeing what is happening.
There is a very interesting dialogue in the Buddhist texts between the Buddha and a monk who was feeling lazy, drowsy, tired when meditating. So the Buddha offered some very interesting suggestions on how to work with that condition.
So the first suggestion the Buddha offered was: change your posture so if you are sitting, do some standing meditation, do some walking meditation. And I like to suggest in that situation to do some very fast walking, or also to walk backwards because to walk backwards you have to be very alert and awake. Immediately you start walking backwards, you will be awake. By the way, this reminds me of a very strict meditation Master in Thailand. He gave this suggestion to meditators. So, in that centre, there was a well, a deep well. So he told his meditators to sit on the edge of the well. So if he was tired, he would be killed. Unfortunately, there are no wells here!
Another suggestion the Buddha offered was if that did not work, rub your earlobes. I would see that as trying to stimulate the body. And the Buddha said if that does not work, go out and look at the stars. Maybe the discussion took place in the evening like this when there are stars. I would suggest that as trying to stimulate the mind by something external. If that does not work, try to think of something very inspiring from the Dhamma that will really develop a sense of urgency.
If that does not work, please induce a bright light. Some meditators see bright light, so maybe this monk was seeing bright light so he said induce a bright light and again it can stimulate him. And if that doesn't work, go to sleep.
Why did he say go to sleep? Why was the Buddha encouraging that monk to sleep?
Female 2: Is it because the body when it gets tired needs to get a rest?
Godwin: Yes, in a way. This technique, this experimentation will help him to find out whether it has a psychological reason or it has a physical reason. So it shows that sometimes and maybe most of the time feeling tired is not something physical but it is psychological. So with these different techniques, Buddha was encouraging this monk to find out whether it has a physical reason or a psychological reason. Then if the techniques fail, it shows it has a physical reason, then we should learn to feel kind to the body.
And from the Buddha's instructions, it is also very interesting that he encouraged monks and meditators to experiment, to explore, find out for yourself. In a way, this is what I am encouraging you to do by observing, by learning, make your own discoveries about your own mind and body and how they work. Our mind and body are so close to us but in a way they are so far away from us because we have not learned, we have not discovered, we have not experimented. So this is why in meditation one should see the practice as not achieving certain states of mind but rather learning, discovering, exploring. It is a beautiful way to relate to meditation.
So from the morning meditation, we had tea from 6:00 to 6:30 and I suggested you go out and seeing things very sharply, seeing things very clearly. Anyone likes to share some experience in this regard?
Male 2: I would like to share some of my viewpoint on what you taught today. I find the meditation technique that you taught today quite useful. You told us to watch the mind just like a mother watching her son. With this kind of mentality, I really felt great during the meditation. On my breathing, whatever thought arose, my feelings and senses, I can use the mentality of a mother watching her son and I can feel I can be detached from those thoughts and be calm.
Godwin: It is important to have that kind of attitude, that we are learning to be friendly, gentle and then just knowing what is happening. And whatever is happening, again learning to be friendly without resisting them, and as Jack said, immediately you can find some relief, some release if you have that friendly attitude. So it is resistance which is creating the suffering. It is the same thing what comes internally or even external events. It is when we resist external events that sometime suffering comes. So here is an attitude where without resisting, with friendliness, you just know what is happening. Feeling friendly doesn't mean giving in to what is happening but working with it with friendliness and gentleness, so we ought to see the difference. It is very important to realize that it is not giving in but rather a way of working with it.
From 6:00 to 6:30, any one had any experiences?
Male 1: When I have food, all my mindfulness disappeared. My whole mind was on food.
Godwin: I'm talking about drinking tea at 6:00 to 6:30, we did not have food. So we are still with the tea break.
Male 3: At 6:30, he ate noodles!
Godwin: O! He started eating! Did any one have any experiences with nature at that time? I suggested seeing things, hearing things very sharply, very clearly at that time.
Male 3: At that time, I tried to put your direction into practice by looking at things sharply and clearly but no matter how I tried, everything looked the same to me as usual. No sharper, no clearer.
Godwin: Very good. So we should try tomorrow also. So I'll say what I have in mind about seeing things very clearly.
Suppose we are looking at a tree. So can we have our complete and full attention on seeing that tree at that time? And is it possible to see that tree as if for the first time? This is really a very interesting aspect.
Is it possible to see things with less thought or no thought? Because when we see things with our pre-occupations, we don't really see anything very clearly. So it means really learning to awaken our senses. We have not made an effort to cultivate this awakening of our senses, the sense of hearing, the sense of seeing. So we have to make a conscious effort sometimes.
I think another aspect we have neglected is the sense of smelling. So tomorrow let us all make an effort to awaken our senses, seeing very clearly, hearing things and also allow smelling to arise. There are some white flowers here and those white flowers give a very very beautiful scent. So slowly slowly let us make an effort, let us experiment with it, let us play with it and developing our senses in this way.
You can also try with the Buddha image here, just looking at the Buddha image with our complete and full attention, with less thought or no thought.
After that, there was yoga. I'm sure you experienced something when doing yoga.
Female 2: There were many mosquitoes.
Godwin: Very good, so there were many mosquitoes. Important discovery. So during yoga, you were only with the mosquitoes?
Female 5: There were many ants.
Godwin: So mosquitoes, ants.
Female 5: They were marching.
Godwin: And marching.
Female 6: This is the first time I've done yoga with nature. It is also the first time that I tried to put my mind on my body when doing yoga and I found it was very peaceful and still.
Godwin: Anyone else like to say what happened during yoga? Were the postures difficult? You can say yes or no.
Female 2: Yes.
Godwin: So you were not only with the mosquitoes, you were also with some of the postures. That's good to hear.
Female 5: I found that because I enjoy the atmosphere, I forgot that it was difficult. Actually, it seems to be difficult but I seem to enjoy it so I didn't think whether it was difficult or not.
Godwin: Because you enjoyed it. An interesting point. So when you enjoy something you really do not see whether it is difficult or not. Did you experience physical pain? Yes or no?
Male 1: Yes.
Godwin: Very good. That shows yoga is working. It shows you have a body and that body can have pain. It also shows that you should continue with the yoga because you have not practised such exercises. Anyone else want to say something about yoga?
Male 4: The postures changed too quickly so I felt that the exercises were interrupted and not smooth.
Godwin: So maybe Jack should take this into consideration. Anyone else experienced the same thing as him?
Female 7: I have practised yoga for quite a while and when doing yoga, you have to do a series of postures, not to do a particular posture a few times. I would like to explain this because that is the purpose of yoga. It is a series of postures, so it had to be kept changing.
Godwin: How did you feel when doing yoga?
Female 8: I didn't feel much pain because Jack said just do it according to your ability so I didn't push myself.
Godwin: Very good. The person next to you, I like to ask what happened to you when you were doing yoga.
Female 9: It's a bit difficult. It could be because I'm a bit fat.
Godwin: Anyway, what is happening to our body is coming from our head, but what happened to your body when you were doing the yoga?
Female 9: Although some of the postures were a bit difficult for me but I still enjoyed the yoga and I found the blood circulation smooth.
Godwin: So there you are, these are the benefits of yoga, the blood circulation. So that is the sense of yoga.
What about you?
Female 10: Very good. When you saw me last year, I was very fat. Am I thinner this year? Yoga makes a deep impression on me. Teacher has made a connection between Buddhism, yoga and meditation. I feel that it is more comfortable to meditate after doing yoga and the mindfulness gets stronger. Yoga is the prelude but meditation is the essence. Apart from benefits to the body and meditation, yoga also makes one healthy and the healthiness comes as a by-product.
Godwin: In a way, yoga can also be a meditation. The word yoga means union, so it's a union between the mind and body, integration of the mind and body, harmonizing the mind and body.
Going back to the question you asked, what is the answer you like to receive?
Female 9: You should know without saying.
Godwin: I think you have put on a little more weight, just a little bit more fat.
Female 11: I think she is slimmer than last year.
Godwin: So two persons are giving two different answers, so you should not take what others think seriously. What is your own feeling? What do you think of yourself?
Female 10: I feel I'm healthier. Before, I did not even have the strength to carry a water melon. Also my spine is straight when I sit and I get less tired.
Godwin: Am I fatter or thinner than last time?
Female 10: More handsome !
Godwin: Thank you. So this is the beauty of a discussion like this where a group of spiritual friends get together, can laugh, have lightness, and at the same time learn from our experiences.
From yoga, we come to breakfast. Would it make a difference eating in silence, eating in awareness?
Female 12: Nothing special.
Godwin: Talking about silence, how are you relating to silence? Is it disturbing you, is it O.K.? Any thoughts about silence? Any experiences about silence?
Male 1: Very difficult.
Godwin: But I don't see you practising silence!! Anyway the fact that it is difficult shows it is a very strong habit that we have. And you know it is very very difficult to stop a strong habit. Some meditators told me when they stop talking to others, they start talking to themselves. And some meditators told me when other people are silent, she felt the others were punishing her.
So I think in a way because it is difficult, we should still experiment with such situations and then ideally, you realise how space is created by silence.
I think another aspect of talking is perhaps to prevent certain things from arising. Things you have put away, repressed, controlled. In some very intense silent retreats, some meditators told me how with silence, they suddenly have unexpected memories arising from childhood which have been completely forgotten. And sometimes some of these unexpected memories that come up can be extremely helpful for one to understand one's behaviour. Just to give an example of an experience of a woman. I like to share that experience with you. There was a woman in a 10-day retreat, she was from England. Suddenly she had a memory that as a 7-year-old girl, she had tried to commit suicide by shooting herself in a dark room. She had completely forgotten this experience, maybe because it was very unpleasant for her. But it was a very helpful memory for her because she was afraid of the darkness. Another thing is that she was very self destructive to herself. She would take risks about her body and so on. So then I had a discussion with her and we realized the suicidal tendency in trying to destroy herself is manifesting itself in different ways.
Another aspect of talking and silence is that when we talk, we feel as if we are somebody. So when we are silent, we feel as if we are nobody and we feel uncomfortable with this feeling of nobody.
So another important aspect of silence is that it helps us to be alone with our mind and body all the time. So it has some very very important interesting aspect, so I certainly agree that it is difficult but certainly, it is worthwhile.
There is an interesting story from the Tibetan tradition where in a place one has to practise complete silence for one year and after one year, the student can go and speak to the Master and mention only two words. So after one year, the student went to the Master and said: "More food". So for probably for one year he was thinking only of food.
Anyway, these are some thoughts about silence so I like to suggest that tomorrow there will be times when you have to speak, and when you have to speak we should learn to speak with awareness, what is called right speech. So silence is important, right speech is important.
So there are so many things we can learn from our speech. When we speak to another person, do we really listen to that other person? Can you speak clearly? Can you speak very briefly what you have to say rather than continuing to speak and sometimes confusing yourself and confusing others? How far can we be aware and mindful when we speak? We can learn these skills here. In everyday life, this is one of the greatest problems we have, that we have problems because of our speech, especially in relationships, how we can hurt each other with wrong speech. So as I said, silence is important as it has many important aspects and also right speech is important because that also has many aspects. The Buddha encouraged us to speak gentle words, kind words, helpful words, words which can be healing to others. On the other hand, we can hurt another person, it can be more harmful, it can hurt another person more than something physical.
So the time for discussion is over. So I like to say something about tomorrow. Today, in a way, there was a lot of time for you to rest and you realized that you might have been tired and you have not been able to sleep well so I hope today you had a good rest and you will try to sleep well tonight.
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