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The Gentle Way of
Dhamma Talks by Godwin Samararatne
Day 7 Retreat: 19th October 1997
Summary and Conclusion
As this is the last discussion, I'd like to share with you some of the things I learned during the last few days about the meditators I have been meeting. These are some of the things that I have already spoken about but I'd like to emphasize them so that you have to really make an effort to work with them.
Suffering from Guilt
One problem I encountered with many meditators is suffering from guilt. Maybe there are some historical or social reasons why there seems to be a lot of guilt in this culture because in old cultures like the Tibetan culture, Sri Lanka culture and other cultures, there is even no word for guilt. I read somewhere that his holiness the Dalai Lamma was surprised when he encountered many Westerners suffering from guilt. So people who generally suffer from guilt, from the past, they seem to remember mostly the wrong things they have done in the past. So we seem to have a selective memory in this connection. So the good things they have done they have completely forgotten and they remember only their shortcomings, only their failures, and they don't realize that they are punishing themselves with the guilt that they are holding on. In a way it is unfortunate that traditional Buddhism is also sometimes seems to be emphasizing this, specially with the doctrine of Kamma. This is why I never speak about Kamma because what happens is you think you have done some wrong things and you think you are going to suffer because of Kamma. So it is really unfortunate that the Buddhist doctrines are used to create more suffering. And of course they only think of bad Kamma, they never think of the good Kamma. So the whole idea of Buddhism as I have been emphasizing is to develop more joy, freedom from suffering, so I'm very sorry to see that Buddhism is used to create more and more suffering. Just to give an example, when I was in Hong Kong, I met a woman, a very good woman, a very kind-heartened woman. A Buddhist teacher had told her that there was a devil inside her and this teacher said, I can see it in your face. So when I met her she was really suffering from what she heard from this Buddhist teacher. So this brings up something about the tradition, that we have to be clear what is taught in the culture and what is really taught in the teachings. It's interesting to some extent even in Sri Lanka I meet Buddhists who seem to emphasize more on the suffering aspect, so I tell them, Please, that is only the first noble truth, what about the other noble truths? So this is one area I like you to reflect and as I have been emphasizing, please use loving kindness, gentleness, learning to be your best friend and seeing your worth, seeing your potentialities, seeing that you have the Buddha nature in us.
Fearing of Making Mistake
Another point related to this is the fear of making mistakes. I'm not asking you to deliberately make mistakes but when we have made a mistake, we should learn how to relate to that mistake. So this is why I have been emphasizing to see them as learning experiences, as valuable experiences, feeling grateful for such situations because we can learn from them.
Integrate Meditation with Daily Life
Another thing that I discovered here, I've mentioned this, is to associate meditation only with sitting, or a particular time, particular posture and so on. So as I have been emphasizing, if you are really serious about meditation, it has to be a way of living, specially in everyday life, in relationships that you are having whether in the place of work, at home or whatever. They should be areas of meditation for you to work with. So it's really a way of understanding, it's a way of knowledge, it's a very of developing wisdom and then trying to integrate that in our daily life. So what happened, I saw that some meditators here they associate meditation only with sitting, so that when they sit, it is something special. So when we sit, if you think it is something special, you're bound to have special problems. Even the way you are breathing, you try to do it differently. And then when you sit, you want to achieve suddenly states of calm and special experience, but in other times, you're not worried about it. So it is clear it's a kind of fragmentation, a duality between the person who is sitting and the person who is outside. So as I said, if you can see meditation as something that you do most of the time, it's just being aware, it's just understanding what is happening, then when you sit, it is just continuing that. This is why I was emphasizing we have one day for working on thoughts, one day for working on emotions, so for us to see how we use thoughts destructively, how we use emotions destructively, to see how they work, the conditions arising, so that with that in everyday life, we'll be able to handle our thoughts and our emotions when they arise.
So some teachers say that when you are sitting, please see the sitting as nothing special because nothing special is happening. They are the same things, thoughts, sensations, emotions, sounds. So how can it be different? The difference is there when we know it, when we understand it, when we are clear about what is happening.
Repressing Unpleasant Experiences
I think another thing I discovered, I must say that most of these things are humanness but I'd like to spotlight on some aspects because it is relevant to this culture I think. Another is I think is repressing, pushing away, denying, not looking at unpleasant experiences. So again we have this kind of duality, that meditation spiritual life is having pleasant experiences and that we should not have unpleasant experiences, again a battle, again a split, again a division, again a duality. I would suggest, please don't be surprised. The pleasant experiences are not so important, what are more important are unpleasant experiences because there is no problem with pleasant experiences. So the problem is with the unpleasant experiences and we don't realize that by repressing, by pushing them away, by not looking at them, we give them more power. So it's a kind of vicious circle, it's a kind of dependent origination. How one thing is leading to another and how one thing is leading to suffering. So this is why again I have been emphasizing so much, be open to unpleasant experiences, let them arise, don't push them away. So then the power that we have given, we give them power by repressing and by pushing because we are afraid, but when we take away the power, you'll realize that they are no problem.
In a way I can relate this to some of the exercises I gave in relation to nature. Seeing things very sharply, seeing things very clearly because when you learn to observe external things very clearly, then you learn to see everything, all the things that you can see, the pleasant ones, unpleasant ones, you just notice whatever there is without exclusion, without selecting. It is interesting in the Dhamma you get this phrase, externally and internally. Then you learn to notice so many things that are happening inside you, internal. Then when you see more and more things that are happening inside you, then you see more and more your real qualities, our shortcomings, they become also very very clear to us. And as I said, it is very important to experience them completely and fully and see how they create suffering. The Buddha emphasized very much for us to experience these things fully and completely and see how that is creating suffering. Now we even don't know that is creating suffering, we are just accepting the Buddha's word or just because someone says it. So when we have things like anger, fear, jealousy and so on, we must see hat it does to us. If there's a resistance to them, there's a dislike to them, we don't really experience them. The simple point is if you don't experience them, how can you work on them. And then when they are not there, just to know that they are not there and just to see the difference, so then you naturally see the difference and then as it is said in the Dhamma, the natural unfolding arises in your practice.
Greed and Need
I think another aspect is pampering. One of my friends said the word pampering is too mild, maybe we should say we are spoiling ourselves. In the talks I gave at the nunnery, I spoke about consumerism, materialism and so on. So we are living in such a culture in which very very easily you can be spoilt. Very easily you can start pampering yourself, sometimes without even knowing what you are doing to yourself. So it becomes a kind of self indulgence without realizing. So this is why I suggested that sometimes you have to say no to things in a friendly gentle way. Sometimes you have to say yes. In relation to saying yes, now when you need something you should ask the questions: Do I really need this or am I buying this or I want to get this just because the society, the expectation in society that I should be wearing this or I should be like this or I should like that. So it is really funny as we give lot of power to other people, we have given lot of power to society, social values and then we don't realize we became victims of this, we don't realize the society is manipulating our needs, our greed. So we don't know what is greed, what is need, what is what you really need. In the kitchen in our centre, we have a poem: "Those who see the difference between the need and the greed, whatever his creed he is a saint indeed". This was composed by a friend of me and what made him compose this is what he saw in India. He told me that he was going to one of the Indian temples and outside the temple there was a beggar who was seated and he had a piece of cloth in front of him for the money and the beggar had his eyes closed. When my friend saw this beggar's face with his eyes closed, he was so impressed, inspired by the serenity, the calmness that the beggar was sitting like this. So he was so curious that he stood with him and just spent some time with him. And suddenly this man got up, picked up some coins and threw the other coins on the floor and he went to a shop nearby, he took something to eat, something to drunk and he disappeared. So this incident really had a strong impact on my friend and when he was reflecting on this incident, this poem came to his mind. I'm not telling you to throw away your money, but what I am suggesting is to use the money functionally. We need money, we need material possessions but what is important is they're possessing us now. So what we need to do is not to allow them to control us but for us to learn to control them. So when there is a change which takes place inside you, then a very beautiful spiritual quality comes into being, which is contentment. It is rarely that I meet someone who is really contented with himself, with herself, with whatever they're having. This spiritual qualify is very much emphasized in the Dhamma. There's a beautiful Pali word for this: Santutthi. Contentment is the greatest wealth. It's very interesting.
Contentment: No Complaints
And another aspect related to contentment is having no complaint. Human beings are very good at complaining. We can complain about anything, even people who try to help us if they make one mistake, we start complaining about them. So if you can lead your life in a way where you have no complaints, and then when you die, you can say: I have no complaints. There is an interesting story in this connection. There was a zen student under a zen Master and he was practising for many years. So one day the zen Master called his student and said, I have taught whatever I can, now you must go and meet another teacher. So he gave an address of another zen teacher. So when he found the place and when he found this teacher, she was a poor woman, not very impressive at all, just a woman there. So he thought he was in the wrong place but then he realized it was the right place, the right teacher, and she was also not teaching him anything, she was doing her things normally. So as a meditator, he just started observing this woman. So when he started observing this woman, two words came to his mind: No Complaints.
So these are just some suggestions that I like to share with you for your continuation of your practice. And I'm very happy to say that you have a very good organization, that you have a group and you have a good teacher, you have very good spiritual friends so one really benefit from such a group. So I like to ask everyone to help this organization, to help this group. So in a way it will be helping yourself, in a way, it will be helping others.
Now, I like to say one thing. It is also related to the Buddha's teachings. Some of you have been calling me Master. I just allowed you to do that. Actually in the Dhamma, in the Pali tradition, the word teacher is not used. Two beautiful words are used: spiritual friend. This is how I like to see myself, as a spiritual friend. And it's a very beautiful relationship to have. When you say you are the Master, then again a big division between the Master and the student but when you are a spiritual friend and we are spiritual friends, then we are exploring together, investigating together, learning together, sharing from each other, it's a beautiful way to relate to each other. And then there's another danger I like to also warn you about. So with the Master you just accept whatever the Master says. You accept him as authority. There is no place for authority in the Buddhist teaching. I like to conclude by quoting from a very well known Buddhist text. A group of spiritual people called Kalamas who were exposed to different teachers came to the Buddha and said, We are confused, so many teachers are saying so many different things. What should we do? Please help us. The Buddha said something very radical at that time. So he told this groups of people, Don't accept anything just because it is in the traditions. What a statement to make! Don't accept anything just because it is in the scriptures. Don't accept anything just because it is logical, reasonable, rational. Don't accept anything just because a teacher tells you but accept only when you know in your own experience what is conducive to happiness, what is creating suffering and what can help you to overcome suffering. When you know that in your own experience, then accept that experience. So experience is our teacher. Life is the best teacher you can have. So with these words, I like to conclude what I'm saying about the Dhamma.
Now I like to thank some people. Firstly I like to thank everyone who is here. I think everyone here gave real commitment to the practice and it was nice that there was a nice group, atmosphere building up. And I like to thank the organisers. It's a very good team, they are working very well as a team and their organisation is excellent. Unlike Sri Lanka, everything here is very clear! Everything is written, everything is on paper! It's very very impressive for me, for someone from Sri Lanka.
Male 1: That's why we are suffering!
Godwin: I feel that these organizers are not suffering.
Special thanks for the very sweet lady who was at the kitchen. Always with a smile.
Male 2: No complaint too!
Godwin: And I must also make special thanks to those who helped her. I was very impressed to see how they were working. And watching them working and helping in the kitchen, the impression I got was that they are really enjoying what they do. So as I said, working meditation, work can give us lots of sources of happiness. It can be seen as action in loving kindness. Of course, I like to thank the yoga teacher.
Yoga Teacher: Please don't call me Master! Just a yoga friend!
Godwin: Very good, very good. So we should thank our yoga friend. And I should also like to make special mention of the interpreters. It was a very difficult job because sometimes they had to even come for interviews. So they had to stop their practice and then sometimes listen to the problems of other people. So I had a feeling that they did an excellent job, no complaints.
So let us now do some chanting and then loving kindness meditation.
Eulogy by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Sri Lanka, March 2000
Mr Godwin Samararatne passed away peacefully in March 2000. Below is the Eulogy by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka
Acharya Godwin Samararatne
In late March death snatched from our midst, too soon, one of Sri Lanka's most beloved Buddhist teachers, Godwin Samararatne. For close to twenty years, Godwin had been the resident meditation teacher at the Nilambe Meditation Centre near Kandy. He had also taught meditation within Kandy itself, at the Lewella and Visakha Meditation Centres (two affiliates of Nilambe), at the University of Peradeniya, at private homes, and at the Buddhist Publication Society. But Godwin did not belong to Sri Lanka alone. He belonged to the whole world, and he was loved and esteemed by people clear across the globe. Thousands of people from many lands came to Nilambe to practise meditation under his guidance, and they also invited him to their own countries to conduct meditation courses and retreats. Thus over the past two decades Godwin, in his own quiet way, had become an international Buddhist celebrity, constantly in demand in countries ranging from Europe to Hongkong and Taiwan. He was also a regular visitor to South Africa, where he conducted his last meditation retreat earlier this year.
What was so impressive about Godwin, however, was not what he did but what he was. He was above all a truly selfless person, and it was this utter selflessness of the man that accounts for the impact he had on the lives of so many people.
I use the word "selflessness" to describe him in two interrelated senses. First, he was selfless in the sense that he seemed to have almost no inner gravitational force of an "I" around which his personal life revolved: no pride, no ambition, no personal projects aimed at self-aggrandizement. He was completely humble and non- assertive, not in an artificial self-demeaning way, but rather as if he had no awareness of a self to be effaced. Hence as a meditation teacher he could be utterly transparent, without any trips of his own to lay upon his students.
This inward "emptiness" enabled Godwin to be selfless in the second sense: as one who always gave first consideration to the welfare of others. He was ready to empathize with others and share their concerns as vividly as if they were his own. In this respect, Godwin embodied the twin Buddhist virtues of loving-kindness and compassion, maitri and karuna. Even without many words, his dignified presence conveyed a quietude and calm that spoke eloquently for the power of inner goodness, for its capacity to reach out to others and heal their anxiety and distress. It was this deep quietude and almost tangible kindness that drew thousands of people to Godwin and encouraged them to welcome him into their lives. The trust they placed in him was well deposited, for in an age when so many popular "gurus" have gained notoriety for their unscrupulous behaviour, he never exploited the confidence and good will of his pupils.
Though Godwin taught the practice of Buddhist meditation, particularly the way of mindfulness, he did not try to propagate "Buddhism" as a doctrine or religious faith, much less as part of an exotic cultural package. His inspiration came from the Dhamma as primarily a path of inner transformation whose effectiveness stemmed from its ability to promote self-knowledge and self- purification. He saw the practice of meditation as a way to help people help themselves, to understand themselves more clearly and change themselves for the better. He emphasized that Buddhist meditation is not a way of withdrawing from everyday life, but of living everyday life mindfully, with awareness and clear comprehension, and he taught people how to apply the Dhamma to the knottiest problems of their mundane lives.
By not binding the practice of meditation to the traditional religious framework of Buddhism, Godwin was able to reach out and speak to people of the most diverse backgrounds. For him there were no essential, unbridgeable differences between human beings. He saw people everywhere as just human beings beset by suffering and searching for happiness, and he offered the Buddha's way of mindfulness as an experiential discipline leading to genuine peace of heart. Hence he could teach people from such different backgrounds -- Western, Asian, and African; Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and Muslim; Sri Lankan Theravadins and Chinese Mahayanists -- and all could respond favourably to his guidance.
If it was not for a chronic liver condition that he had patiently endured for years, with hardly a word of complaint, Godwin might well have lived on to actively teach the way of mindfulness for at least another decade. But this was not to be, for in late February, almost immediately upon his return from a teaching engagement in South Africa, his illness flared up and a month later claimed his precious life. Those of us who have been touched by him will long bear in our hearts the memory of his calm, gentle personality, and of the impact his life had on our own. May he quickly attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
Kandy, Sri Lanka
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