De onderstaande lezing is uitgesproken door Godwin Samararatne tijdens een retraite in 1998 in de Hurnse Gaper in Hurwenen. Godwin overleed op woensdag 22 maart 2000.
No human being can avoid relationships. Even if someone is living as a hermit in the forest he or she has to have relationships.
What are the types of relationships a person has to have? With food, with breath, with the surroundings, and of course with himself. So it shows that we cannot avoid relationships. So therefore it is a very important theme that we have to be clear about.
So when we use the word relationship, usually what comes into our mind is the other person. But as I’ve been emphasising, what is most important is to find out how you relate to yourself. The way you relate to yourself will be dependent on the way you relate to others. If you’re very, very critical of yourself, you will be very critical of others. If you do not trust yourself, it will be very difficult to trust others. And if you feel insecure, other people will, when they are there, generate a lot of insecurity in yourself.
So therefore, it is very, very important, when we discuss relationships, to find out how we relate to ourselves.
This is why I have been emphasising meditation of loving kindness, where you can really learn to be your own best friend. Then, our dependencies on other people become less.
So sometimes what happens is that we use other people to cover up this sense of inadequacy in ourselves. This is why we give so much power and so much energy to other people that our own happiness or unhappiness is dependent on other people.
That doesn’t mean that when we are with other people we are unhappy. So when we are with ourselves we can be happy and contented with ourselves, and when we are with other people we can still be happy. So this is one point where this is related to really being your best friend.
Another challenge we have in relationships is when we see the shortcomings of other people. So when we have relationships, it may be between parents and children, husband and wife, boss and employee, our neighbour and ourselves. Whatever the relationships, sometimes we see other people behaving differently from how we think they should behave.
So normally, what do we do when we see other people’s weaknesses? Hmm? We become judgemental. We want them to be different and we get angry with them. Immediately we give them a minus. And, as Jeanne said, we get angry and we try to tell the other person, try to correct the other person in this way.
So in a way it shows that we are demanding, we are demanding how other persons should behave. It is funny in life how we make demands of ourselves, how we should behave. And as I said earlier, we demand from ourselves this model of perfection. And in the same way, we project a model of perfection onto others and we demand that they should correspond to that model of perfection we have about how they should behave.
Do we stop at that? We demand from life how life should be! Even about the weather, we demand that we should have Sri Lankan weather. When there is Sri Lankan weather we are very happy, when there is Dutch weather we are very unhappy. So it is really funny how we demand from life, how we demand from ourselves, how we demand from others. So naturally, you cannot meet the demands you are making of yourself. And naturally others can’t meet the demands you are making of others. And naturally, life can’t meet the demands you are making from life.
So we see in a very simple, direct way how we create our own suffering, our own problems, without realising that we are making demands and without ever posing the question: How realistic are my demands?
So when we see someone behaving in a way that we think others should not behave, if we can realise at that time that this is due to a demand that we’re making about how the person should behave.
And then when we see the faults of other people, we again assume that the other person knows and is acting with responsibility about what he or she is doing. Sometimes it is only an assumption, it is only a belief on our part, but the other person sometimes doesn’t know why he or she is behaving in that way. Do we know, when we are always acting, why we are acting in a particular way? Sometimes we don’t know, but we assume that others should know.
So this is why when we have relationships (it can be with anyone) and when we see such a situation, rather than immediately giving a plus to the other person, rather than getting angry and reacting to the other person, if we can have a dialogue to find out why that person is behaving in a particular way.
So if you can really do this with other people in such situations, you’ll be really helping such people because maybe for the first time you’ll be encouraging such people to reflect on what he or she is doing.
And as I also said yesterday, in relation to your own actions rather then give yourself a minus try to have a dialogue with yourself about why you’re behaving in this particular way. So I think this is one of the very important skills that we need to learn when we have relationships.
Now this does not mean, as I was saying yesterday, always being passive and always allowing other people to do what they like. But it’s rather a way of getting that person to know it and if that other person is unable to do that it will be very helpful for you to discuss that with the other person about what he or she is doing. Give him a chance to reflect and have a discussion with yourself.
Another point related to this, which is, as Jeanne said yesterday, these maybe very difficult things, but perhaps more difficult would be in such situations to see an action or a word not from your point of view but from the other person’s point of view.
It is very difficult. Because we are so fixed with our own pluses and minuses, with our own assumptions, with our own beliefs, with our own value judgements. So that to forget all that and try to understand another person from his or her point of view, we need to have a lot of space, a lot of understanding about human nature.
Another very important thing to remember when you see the shortcomings and the faults of other people is to realise that you’re not free from them. Sometimes when we judge others, when we give minuses to other people, when we give advice to other people, we sometimes forget that we also have similar qualities in us.
If you can remember this: “Who knows, maybe I also have the same things,” then you’ll be relating to them with more understanding, with more tolerance, with more compassion.
Another challenge we have is when other people tell you about your own faults, that is a very hard one to take. We can very easily see the faults of other people and we can very easily tell them: “Look here, you should behave differently.” But when others tell us the same thing, how do we relate to that? So these are real challenges in relationships which we have to face, which we have to relate to.
Another challenge we have is, why have we given such power, such energy, to other people? Our happiness and our unhappiness is dependent on what other people think of us. So we all have this tendency. Most of the time what we are trying to do is to please other people. Because we are starving for other people. Because we are starving for their pluses. Most of the time what we are doing has become such a dependency, maybe a toy we would like to get and only when we get that, we feel that we are really happy.
But when I meet such people, I feel very, very sad about them. Because they are trying their best and of course they are not getting enough pluses because they can never be satisfied with the pluses they get. And what do they do? They try more. And the more they’re trying the less they are successful: suffering and giving minuses, sadness, feelings of rejection.
So do you realise the importance of these aspects of relationships? Because our happiness, our unhappiness, is really dependent on how we relate to ourselves and how we relate to others in this way.
So it’s an interesting question to reflect on: why have we become so dependent on other people for our own happiness and what is the reason for this?
From the audience: “Low self esteem”. “We were born completely dependent and we continue to be so”. “How we were raised”.
So anyway, one can think of different reasons, but what is important to realise is that this friendliness, this self confidence, this esteem you’re not getting enough from yourself. This is what I meant: that we are suffering from a kind of lack, that we try to cover up this lack by being dependent on other people.
This brings up three models that I have thought of that we can relate to:
The first model is when we really feel we are nobody. No one likes me. Everyone rejects me. I’m a victim. Poor me. So this is what I call being nobody in the sense that you’re giving minuses to yourself, you’re getting minuses from other people. So from nobody we need to feel like somebody.
For that we need pluses from ourselves. So this is what I have been emphasising very much in relation to loving kindness. We have to learn to see the positive in ourselves. To rejoice in the good things that we have been doing.
It’s very interesting. One day I realised that we all have the qualities by which we can really free ourselves. It is all hidden inside us. So meditation or spiritual life should enable us to see these inner resources that we have. To see that the Buddha-nature is within us and allowing this Buddha-nature to flower out: this is the practice. So in this way you really feel that you are somebody, which is very important at some point.
And the next stage is that you can be really nobody in the real sense of the word. And when you are really nobody in the real sense of the word, you are no longer dependent on pluses or minuses. You have gone beyond pluses and minuses. And that is where you learn to be your own toy and you learn to be really self-contained within yourself.
Another area of relationships is the area where we need to use loving kindness in our actions. Because in this world, people have a lot of difficulties. There is a lot of suffering in this world. So it’s a very, very good practice sometimes to forget all your problems, all your difficulties you are going through and then to learn to relate to the suffering of other people. This brings up the importance of translating loving kindness into actions. And these kinds of actions can generate a lot of joy, a lot of happiness, and it can be a very meaningful way to live when you are being your own best friend and you are being a friend to others.
Maybe another aspect is when we find ourselves with a difficult person. It can be your boyfriend, it can be your girlfriend, your neighbour, your boss. Sometimes it’s a very good practice to see such persons as your teachers, as your gurus. They are very powerful gurus, because they are really showing a mirror to you. So it is useless to try to break the mirror, to get angry with the mirror. Look at the refection in your mirror and see what is happening to you in relation to that.
So with meditation what is happening slowly, slowly: there is a shift taking place within yourself. So when you relate to such people externally or when you have to relate to situations outside yourself, then rather then getting all into the external thing you learn to look at your own mind. So in everyday life where you have such people, when you have to interact with them, what you have to do is to look at your own reactions: what are the emotions that are coming up now? So feel grateful to such people because they are enabling us to see that we have these emotions in us. So it really gives an opportunity to work with them, thanks to these people. You must say: May I have more teachers? May I have more gurus like them? And then in life, if we can have this openness to learn from other people, we can learn from any experience. Any experience can be a learning experience. This is a beautiful way to live.
I have met enlightened gurus, I have met very advanced masters, but my present position is my best teacher. It is none of them. My best teacher has only four letters: L-I-F-E. Life is my best teacher. If we can really open up to life situations, this teacher can tell us very interesting things.
Only this: if you come to the conclusion that you know, that is the end of learning.
This is why we need to have what we call the beginner’s mind. With the beginner’s mind, with the don’t-know-mind, if we can really learn from life situations, any situation can be a meditative situation and this is a beautiful way to live.
I would like to end this talk by sharing with you an experience I had in Berlin during one of my earlier visits there.
On the last day of the retreat we were just talking, chatting away with the people and there was an elderly woman there and she said: “Whatever you have been teaching us, I have learned from my dog.”
It was very good for my ego.
“You are speaking of being in the present: this is what my dog does. You are speaking of gratitude: this is what the dog does by wagging its tail. There was yoga: my dog would do the same, stretch its legs.”
So in utter desperation I asked, “Is there no difference between me and your dog?”
She very casually said, “There is only one difference. You talk a lot. My dog doesn’t talk a lot.”
So now I shall shut up.
So are there any questions about relationships? Practical situations will be very, very helpful. What are you really experiencing in relationships? It can be any form of relationship.
From the audience: “One of the biggest difficulties I have is to know when somebody hurts me whether I should assert myself and say something or whether to keep quiet and try just to work on it in myself. I might give myself a plus for staying quiet this time; I didn’t get angry. Or I might say, ‘I didn’t say anything, that was stupid.’ How do you know which is which?”
Godwin: Such questions arise if you want to always do the right thing. So we should learn not to fear to make mistakes. This is very important because as I was saying, we can only learn from our mistakes. So you try to be clear what you should do, but in taking a decision, see what happens. But what happens when we have to take such a decision is, before acting, we think, “What should I do, when is the right time or the wrong time?”, while acting we think, “Maybe I should say this.” Then after acting we think, “I shouldn’t have done it at all.”
I think in our spiritual practice, what we have to learn is something very, very difficult: allowing yourself to be wounded, allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Because with this, doing the right thing very cautiously and knowing what is going to happen, gives a kind of false sense of security. As they say in Sri Lanka; “everything under control”. It is a very false sense of security.
According to the Buddha’s teaching, real security comes if you can be open to insecurity. Because we don’t know what is going to happen, so it is always something uncertain that is going to happen. So the real practice is learning to be open to uncertainty in whatever form uncertainty comes.
From the audience: “I have one more question. Is it possible in relationship between partners when one has tension (it was a big problem in my former relationship) to stay out of that tension? I don’t know how to do that. You know what I mean?”
Godwin: When you are with your friend you have tension?
“No. My girlfriend has tension, but I felt it also because we want something with each other.”
Godwin: I’m happy such practical problems you are going through are presented. So I will offer some suggestions. When does tension arise? It’s not only you, we all experience these tensions sometimes.
“When we are in a conflict. Fear. Overloaded.”
Godwin: And also when there is resistance. And it’s very, very important, interesting, to know the process, the mechanism of this tension. Sometimes it is the thought that is creating the tension: “I might make a mistake. I should be doing the right thing. What will the other person think?” So such thoughts come: immediately there is tension. And when there is tension, there is a reaction to the tension. Then you are tensed because of the tension, so it’s a vicious circle.
So now the question is, how to break the vicious circle? So I would suggest that it comes mostly from a thought you chase: who knows, you might fail, do the right thing. Such thoughts that come in relationship to yourself in the relationship. So what you may try to do is, as I said earlier, just realise it is just a thought that is coming up and when we give reality to the thought, that thought gives rise to the tension. So this is the importance of awareness and this is the importance in working with our thoughts.
So tomorrow the discussion will be on emotions, and the day after tomorrow it will be on thoughts, because they are really closely related.
So one suggestion is, to work with the thought level when it comes.
The other is, when there is tension, if you can really say, “I feel tense but it is okay to feel tense.” Learning to say “okay” takes away the power and the energy we have given to the tension.
And the third suggestion is, when you have tension, you feel it in the body somewhere. So when you feel that tension in the body, as we have been doing here, to become conscious of that tension in the body and to feel that tension and again not to give it a minus. But if you can send some thoughts of loving kindness to that area of the body it might help.
So you work with the thinking level, then you work with the emotion, and you work with the tension. And is it also possible that you and your friend have given such power to the tension that there may be moments when there is no tension?
So then be conscious of such moments, to realise that, “Now, I have no tension.”
And tell her also that when there are moments when there is no tension, just to tell you, so that you can have a dialogue with this about the tension. Playing with the tension. “Now are you having tension, good, now I don’t have tension.”
Most of our problems are when we have given such power to these things. So when we can take away the power in this lighthearted way, even if it is there, it’s not so much of a problem.
So I’d like to hear from you whether the suggestions worked.
So anyway, now we can do some chanting, and then there is meditation of loving kindness.