14th May 2000
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Medicine for self-inflicted illnesses
By Godwin SamararatneMeditation is something related to our mind. If one were to observe the mind and the thoughts that arise in the mind, one can learn a lot.
What can we learn when we observe our mind? One thing is clear. We realise how fast our thoughts act. They act so fast that in some instances we cannot even identify what those thoughts are.
Another aspect is what I call our inner chatter. Actually does our inner chatter stop? Doesn't it continue from the moment we are up in the morning till we get to bed? While we eat, while we bathe, while getting ready - whatever we do, this internal thinking process continues. If we try to understand dreams through our own experiences, we can see a close relationship between dreams and our inner chatter. Whether we are asleep or awake there is no space or freedom in our mind. That is why some wake up so tired even after long hours of sleep.
The other aspect of thought we can realise is that we do most of our activities rather mechanically.
Then there are our feelings. Our thoughts and our feelings such as fear, worry, unhappiness and jealousy are inter-connected. When we think about these, there comes another significant question. Do we control our thoughts? Or do thoughts control us?
Here one aspect of meditation has to be brought out. First there must be a change. Change in the speed of our thinking process. To understand what goes in our mind, there must be some preparation. To start this practice, environments become useful. Meditation teachers are required.
I will try to explain one meditation technique known to most of you — paying attention to breath. When you are attentive to breath, many things will become clearer. When this exercise is practised our thinking process becomes slower. As a result we learn to do something mindfully, otherwise done mechanically. This state of awakefulness and awareness is very important when meditating.
Most of our worries are our own creations. Through this awareness we begin to see how we have created these worries. You, yourself will realise the relationship between the thoughts about past and present and how they influence your thinking process. Sometimes things that you do not like, things you have suppressed previously, can surface at this stage. You will experience an extraordinary lightness, joy, awakefulness, ability to focus on something and the ability to be in command of your mind.
But I would like to pose a question here. A lay person can develop that quietness, that lightness in an artificial environment (like the Nillambe meditation centre) - in places where there is very little to excite you or disturb your mind. But after spending a few days when you go back home you have to face a multitude of problems.
Now the question is how can we face all these problems with the serenity developed in an artificial environment like Nillambe?
Can the meditation techniques practised help us face the problems of life?
Once such a quietness is achieved you will be able to face those problems with some amount of equanimity without being shaken by them. Even if you fail to do so, as a meditator you tend to watch the mind and learn lessons from such moments.
Another important change that can happen to you is the ability to see that the root cause for many problems is within yourself. Don't blame the outside world.
You will also be able to overcome your fear of defilement. Because of this fear we push defilement to the subconscious. But as a meditator if you observe defilement at close quarters, analyse and, experiment, you will have a completely different attitude.
We develop an aversion towards defilement because we don't like it. Can't we look at defilement without such a conflict? If one can recognise the state when there is defilement and when there isn't, and have neither likes nor dislikes towards either, then there is no problem.
You will also realise that most of these problems are because we have developed a sense of ownership as 'my' and 'mine'. We develop this concept or habit during our childhood. We start saying 'this is my body',' this is my mother', 'my house' and so on. But even when we grow older we do not realise that it is only a concept. What are the things we have owned and what are the problems attached to those? This is worth questioning.
We tend to divide belongings into two - what is mine and what is not mine. And we develop concepts upon 'what is mine' and hope that 'what is mine' should be like this or that. As a result when the body grows older, when the body falls sick and when the body is in the process of dying, there is suffering. Not only our body, we own material things as well. We own the bodies of others too, saying 'she is my wife' or 'he is my husband'. There again the same thing happens. We expect things to happen to those whom we own in the way we want them to happen. And when it doesn't happen that way, we are disappointed and feel worried.
What else do we think we own? Our ethnicity. Isn't it another division? Isn't ownership and division the cause of today's problems in the country?
Now I would like to see how we own Buddhism. Here I will present to you a few experiences I had at the Nillambe meditation centre. Those who follow various paths, from Sri Lanka as well as overseas come there. Among them I have met Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, those who follow Islam and some other teachings such as those of Krishnamurti and Rajneesh. I also meet people who are Marxists. There are some who have rejected Marxism while there are some others who are firmly into Marxism. Some of them come there not to meditate but to discuss certain issues with me. Sometimes I meet those who have rejected all these religions but believe only in science. When I look at all these people I can observe some common characteristics. What are those?
When one accepts to believe a religion or a philosophy one develops a certain frame or a paradigm. That is the first character. Buddhists have a Buddhist frame, Hindus a Hindu frame, Marxists a frame according to Marxism etc., Sometimes I also see the existence of smaller frames within these large or main frames. Buddhists have smaller frames like Mahayana and Theravada. Even in Christianity or Marxism such smaller frames can be seen.
The second character is how strongly they hold on to those frames. The moment you touch those frames or challenge them they get so annoyed.
Yet another characteristic of these people is using a certain vocabulary peculiar to the frame. Buddhists use 'Pali' words. Marxists use their own set of words. If a question is posed to them, they use these words and try to show that the question is answered.
Last year a group of teenage students from the nearby village came to Nillambe. The question of Dukka or suffering was brought up during our discussion. I asked these students what suffering was? Almost all of them replied using the Pali explanations found in the textbooks. They presented them beautifully with a lot of confidence. They could possibly be the correct answers in an examination. But I asked them why we say birth is suffering? They did not have an answer. The same thing happened with a few novice monks.
Let me pose the question: If we understand that we are prisoners of these frames created by ourselves what is the solution? Do we give up the frame? Meditation is linked to this question too. The concept and the reality should be clear to the meditator. One who has that understanding can very well use a frame knowing that it is only a frame?
This is the simile of the raft given in the Dhamma. We need not carry the raft. But use the raft to end suffering. When we realise the frame as a frame, that division, hatred and dislike we have towards others who have their own frames, will reduce. We will have less anger when our frames are shaken, because we know it is only a frame.
I sometimes describe meditation as "the medicine to illnesses caused by ourselves".
We ourselves have caused this suffering, so we have to find the medicine ourselves to cure it. In fact, when you use that medicine you will realise that you are cured little by little. The more you feel better, the more your confidence in the medicine will increase. Because you yourself will know what the illness is.
Such a person, irrespective of where he is can reduce his suffering and worries. When you are less disturbed, you will have less suffering. Less burning. This to me is Nibbana.
(The English translation of a speech made in 1987 by this meditation
teacher who died after a brief illness a couple of months ago).
With brilliant radiance
Spreading holy fragrance
Covering every distance
The peal of temple bells
Sweet smelling flowers
Shining in milky white
Temples are seas
Everywhere can be heard
With Vesak full moon beams
His life comes to life
By D.C. RanatungaSukho buddhanam uppado -
sukha saddhamma desana
Sukha sanghassa samaggi -
sammagganam tapo sukho
Blessed is the preaching of the sublime Dhamma
This stanza from the 'Dhammapada' out-lines the happiest occurrences as enunciated by the Buddha.
Once, some bhikkhus had been discussing 'What constitutes happiness?' when they realised that happiness meant different things to different people. To some people happiness was to have riches and glory like that of a king. To some, sensual pleasure was happiness while to others it was to taste delicious food.
While they were discussing the issue of happiness, the Buddha had walked in. After listening for sometime, the Buddha had said, "Bhikkhus, all the pleasures you have mentioned cannot get you out of suffering. In this world what constitutes happiness is: the arising of a Buddha, the opportunity to hear the Teaching of the sublime Truth, and harmony amongst the bhikkhus."
The stanza quoted above was selected by the Most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayake Thero to form the basic theme of the wall paintings that adorn the Budu Medura at the Sri Vajiranana Dharmayatanaya, Maharagama, the institution he founded. The paintings have just been completed and will be opened today.
A Chaitya and a line of 'na' trees are a familiar sight to anyone going along the Maharagama-Boralesgamuwa Road. Beyond the trees is a flight of steps leading to the imposing Budu Medura. As one enters the building, a serene Buddha greets one from the far end of the Budu Medura. It has been sculptured in the style of the Buddha statue at Saranath depicting the Dhamma Chakka Mudra.
The wall paintings begin from the top of the left wall. Starting with the birth of Prince Siddhartha, the paintings take you through his early life, Enlightenment and then significant events in His life, including the visits to Sri Lanka. The paintings go beyond the Buddha's life and include the holding of the Sanghayanas, the spread of the Dhamma and other interesting features of Buddhism.
Over the years, the Maha Nayaka Thero has been working untiringly to convince people on the need to develop the individual before developing society. He believes in the qualitative development of the human being based on what the Buddha has preached. He uses a section of the paintings to give this message.
The paintings vividly portray the ill-effects of vice and are an eye-opener to many. One may wonder why the Dharmayatanaya, established four decades back did not have a Budu Medura all these years. The answer is simple. There were other priorities. Through the years the concentration was on training student monks, improving the knowledge of the Dhamma among the laity and building up the youth. The organisations set up and projects implemented by the Maha Nayaka Thero have rendered an enormous service. They include the Sasana Sevaka Samitiya, the Dharmavijaya Foundation, the Thurunu Saviya and the Daham Pasela. Since there were facilities for worship, none really missed a Budu Medura.
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