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A Radio Interview
Radio: Yes; the biggest problem we face is controlling the mind. Mr. Gamage, normally we are all called unenlightened beings. These unenlightened beings cannot completely get away from the problems of environment however much they try. For example: let us take a house. The housewife and the man of the house may have problems in their relationship. There may be another problem in the family as well. Many complain about how to maintain a calm mind when there are so many problems within the households. Is meditation helpful in solving these problems?
Mr. Gamage: Yes, definitely. We meditate because there are problems. If our normal lives would be comfortable without any problems there would be no need of meditation or of Dhamma. Buddhism explains meditation or Dhamma as a form of treatment or medicine. We need meditation because our minds get sick. I like to emphasize this fact.
We always think we face problems or we are unhappy due to the behaviours of others. We think what others say, do or not do is the cause of our problems. Because that we have disagreements with the others. These arguments take place in the bus, the office or at home. Find out whether the responsibility of keeping my mind happy or unhappy is in my hands or in the hands of others.
In meditation it becomes clear that you are responsible for the state of your mind. If we can understand this fact we would feel free. We can stop trying to change the others to be happy. If we can change our own minds we can live happily in the society. Behaviour of the others will not longer be a problem to us.
Radio: Yes, that is exactly what doesn’t happen in the present society. As you mentioned many complain that others are the cause of their problems or sufferings. But we should formulate our own minds if we want to live as honest people in the society. When we face suffering how to use this suffering to find relief for the mind? How would you explain the meditation method called “ Vedananupassana” (contemplation on suffering) ?
Mr. Gamage: Normally when we undergo suffering the mind becomes narrow. It loses the ability to contemplate things within a wider scope. That mind only sees it’s suffering. When sadness comes along we suffer; sometimes for days or for months. Buddhism never teaches you to suffer. Buddhism emphasizes us to be aware of the suffering; to understand the sadness. This point is very important. Suffering is one and to understand the suffering is another one.
In “Vedananupassana” we become awake to the suffering, we become awake to the problem, we become aware of the unhappiness and we use that sadness as a meditation object to understand the reality of life.
I like to point out a few facts to make this meditation easier.
Point number one is: When we face sadness or unhappiness the easiest and the most profitable action we can talk about it with a trustworthy spiritual friend. Then we would feel relieved. Talk with a spiritual friend without suppressing the problem in your mind or without suffering alone.
Point number two is: Normally when sadness comes along our minds become narrow as I mentioned earlier. We only see our suffering.” Why is this happening to me”? We think along these lines and undergo more suffering. If we can come out of the prison cell of sadness that we have created and look to the world we would see so many people suffering much more then we. If we understand this fact the weight of our suffering will become much lesser.
Point number three is: If we can reflect upon the sufferings of our past we would understand that we had suffered more than the present. But none of the past sadness is with me now. The common law of all sadness and all sorrows is – They are impermanent. That is exactly what we don’t see when there is sadness. We think this sadness is forever. It was there yesterday, it is there today, it will be there tomorrow. We suffer for the unborn tomorrow.
If we can understand from our own life experiences that however strong that sorrow may be at the moment it will be fade away with the time. This understanding will ease the pressure of the sorrow and we will be able to bear it with a lighter heart. It is important to understand the impermanence of suffering. We divide our lives into two parts. Pleasure and suffering are the two parts. We become happy when life gives us pleasurable things. We try to keep them with us for as long as we can. We think that life should be a pleasurable experience. But we find it difficult to bear if unexpected or unhappy experiences come our way.
When sadness or suffering come along it is a good opportunity to find out abut our attitudes of life. We can find out how close or how far our attitudes are to the reality of life. Life is made up of pleasure and suffering. If we can understand that we will see that any sadness is impermanent or temporary. Then we will be able to face life with a mind of equanimity without being elated when pleasure come along or without suffering when pain comes along. This is the noblest result of “Vedananupassana”.
Radio: Mr. Gamage, if there is a person with many problems. How will he find relief with this meditation technique? Has he to concentrate on one problem at a time? How he should meditate?Mr. Gamage: If there is a person with many problems it is advisable to concentrate on the major problem at first; to concentrate on the problem that haunts his mind while he eats, sleeps or works. When talking with a spiritual friend it is practical to talk about the major problem
Radio: Do we sit silently in a place and concentrate on the problem? Or do we concentrate on the problem as we go about our daily routines?
Mr. Gamage: We can use both methods. We can sit in silence and meditate. Or we can watch the emotions of sadness as they arise and understand our attachments and conflicts towards them Then we can try to get rid of the attachments and conflicts and formulate a moderate mind. We can meditate in a bus, in a train, on the road while waiting for a bus. We can meditate anywhere at any time if we really have the need.
Radio: Mr. Gamage, there could be someone who complains thus. In spite of great suffering it is unbearable to go on thinking about the problems or to have so many negative thoughts while concentrating on the problem. Let us imagine that there is somebody for whom “Vedananupassana” meditation method is not suitable. That somebody has many negative thoughts in his or her mind. In this case, is it advisable to concentrate on more problems?
Mr. Gamage: A single meditation method will not suit everybody. If someone has many negative thoughts it is advisable to try a moderate meditation method at first. For example it is better to try a meditation method like Anapanasati (mindfulness on breathing). But Vedananupassana doesn’t advise you to think. We normally think when a problem arises. We cultivate many thoughts of suffering. In Vedananupassana we do not concentrate on a problem and cultivate thoughts of suffering. We try to see the nature of that sadness o sorrow. We try to see it without thinking about it. So, if practise properly Vedananupassana will not lead you to further suffering. In any case if someone has more negative thoughts it is better to build up the concentration of the mind, means to practise Samatha before practising Insight meditation.
Building up the concentration of the mind is necessary to identify the useless or provocative thoughts that arise in the mind. Then we can lessen those thoughts and are able to have the mind under control. With those qualifications of the mind we can start on Insight Meditation.
Radio: We talked about suffering and how to use that suffering to find relief for the mind. Mr. Gamage talked about Vedananupassana. If you want to find a solution to a problem or if you are suffer from troublesome thoughts, please contact Mr. Gamage on the numbers of the sender 861604/861810.
Mr. Gamage Sir, we have a listener online. He has a question. We will forward the question to you. Mr. H. from Wattala is connected with us.
Question: Most of the time we suffer because the behaviour of others. We can’t change others. We have to change our minds. That is correct. We can see that others cause us problems or suffering. How to train the mind to alleviate suffering step by step?
Mr. Gamage: For example let us imagine that someone’s behavior is creating anger in my mind. We think that we get angry because of the actions of others. But upon close inspection of the mind we will find that we have expectations on how others should behave. We have expectations on how others should talk; when they should switch on the radio or television - and which channel they should watch.
I have so many expectations in my mind. When others act contrary to our expectations we experience sadness or anger. I get angry or sad because of an expectation or a concept of my mind.
If we can see this cause we can let go of the problems that we have with others. The cause of my problem is within my mind. We expect things that cannot be expected from others. And we end up suffering. Others act contrary to our expectations. How can we rule others when I cannot even rule my own life! If we can understand this fact we can try to bring our expectations or ideas closer to reality.
We can expect things that can be expected. At that point we will be able to lessen the impact others’ actions have on our minds.
Radio: We think, Mr. H. got a comprehensive answer.
Mr. Gamage, many people are saying that we must fill our minds with positive thoughts and should gradually escape from the negative thoughts. I was listening to a discussion. Someone mentioned that we should not think about things that we do not posses but should think that we have those things at a lesser degree in our lives. Then we will not be depressed. Is it true?
Mr. Gamage: There is a partial truth in that point. Usually we don’t consider what we have or count our blessings. That is called discontentment in Dhamma. We become unhappy at the simplest illness. We never appreciate the good health that we had all along. Therefore Dhamma teaches us how to overcome discontentment. If we find the deep root cause of all our sorrows or problems we will find at last discontentment. Discontentment doesn’t mean unhappiness. There is happiness but that is not enough. If we buy a new dress or if we get a promotion in our job or if we pass an exam or if we get a friend our minds become happy. Happiness is there but our desire doesn’t end there. It’s not enough. We need more. We need another thing; we need another dress; we need to go further.
This longing doesn’t allow us to enjoy the things that we have already got. This endless longing of the mind is called “the unsatisfactory fact of the mind” and it is the cause of all turmoil, all fights, all jealousies, and all competitions. We have to understand these facts.
What is wrong with my present state?
What do I lack at the moment?
My mind asks me to do this, do that; buy that; go there
Do I have the ability to provide all the things my mind needs?
Does my mind stop asking even if I provide all?
I have done all the things my mind had asked me to do up to now. According to Dhamma I have become a slave of discontentment. Have I become happy by becoming a slave?
Think about those facts with a moderate mind. If we try we can escape from an unsatisfying life and can lead a life that is based on fulfilling simple needs. There is a big difference in those two life styles. There is a big difference between wants and needs.
Radio: Mr. Gamage Sir; there are so many pessimists in society…with thoughts like:
“nothing works out for me”
“whatever I’m doing is a failure”
“my marriage is a failure”
“I have problems with my siblings”
“my job is a failure”
There are many depressed people in the society today. Is this unsatisfied state of the mind the cause of depression? Or aren’t they satisfied with what they have?
Mr. Gamage: The main cause is the inability to be satisfied with what they posses. They may be sad due to one or two reasons. But with a closer consideration we will find that there are many reasons to be happy or joyful.
There is an example that I like to tell often: it happened about seven or eight years ago. I went to a school for a Dhamma discussion. The results of the O – level examinations were out on that day. Some students had been joyful – some had been sad. There was one student who was lamenting. I asked her "Why are you crying? Have you failed the exam”? She replied, "No. I have passed with seven distinctions.”
The student has got seven distinctions passes out of eight subjects. Had got a credit pass for the other subject. She was crying for the one distinction pass that she didn’t get.
This simple incident takes place in our lives causing depression. If we can look in our lives within a wider scope and if we compare with the lives with those who have problems we will se that we posses many things to be happy about. But due to the lack of one or two things our minds become narrow and we end up sad. This is the nature of an ordinary mind.
Therefore we have to understand this and look at life within a wider scope. As I mentioned earlier the practise of a meditation like loving kindness (Metta) or mindfulness on breathing (Anapanasati) becomes important at this point. When a negative thought comes along the mind will not give it a prominent place. It will consider it as just another thought. Our minds will not be depressed but will be able to maintain it in moderation. If we cultivate that ability we will not be suppressed by negative thoughts.
Radio: If somebody suffers from a problem, he or she would try to find relief in whichever way. Some are thinking continuously about the problem and end up in committing suicide. Is a weak mind the cause of a suicide?
Mr. Gamage: If we put it mildly it could be called a weak mind. But if we look at it with a broader view we would see different mental states in people who had committed suicide. One is: someone would see death as a solution to a problem. Life had not given him or her solution and he or she had sought a solution in death. Point two is:
If there are other people involved in this problem suicide can be in idea to teach them a lesson. There are many reasons to a suicide. The end result is: someone is losing the self control. Thoughts of suicide would tempt that person. At that point the person is losing the ability to contemplate.
That is why Dhamma has emphasized the importance of spiritual friends. If we can talk with someone who has a wider perspective of life then we will be able to understand that there are other dimensions or other solutions in life which were invisible to us (at moment).
Radio: Mr. Gamage Sir, there is a listener connected with us by phone.
Question: If I undergo an experience of loss or of embarrassment I would keep remembering it and would regret. Sometimes I would even express regret verbally. What is your advice for me?
Mr. Gamage: It is a common problem. It affects not only Mr. A. but all of us. If we experience happiness or embarrassment or fear that episode ends there. But we may keep on remembering it and the very same reactions my take place in our minds.
Sometimes we even express it verbally; sometimes we laugh; sometimes we cry. We forget that these are only thoughts of a past incident. If we have the understanding that it not takes place now, that it’s only a memory of an old incident that we are in the present moment then we can be free from the impact of the past on our present.
But what happens most of the time is that we forget that we are in the present; because that we travel to the past and try to live there. Then that incident starts happening here. The very same reactions taking place again. So the best method is to see thoughts of the past just as thoughts; that they are just thoughts. Then try to understand it as a remembrance and that you are in the present not in the past. Then the thoughts will come and remember us past moment and will go away without affecting our emotions.
Radio: Life is an endless race. People work hard at jobs. After coming home they work hard at their households. Businessmen work hard at their business. Most people give their priority to money and worldly comfort. Because this mad rush people face mental turmoil. But we have the relief within our minds. But what is lacking today is our focus on it.
Mr. Gamage, how will a person who is very busy find time for Dhamma or meditation?
Mr. Gamage: We hear about people being busy most of the time. There is a partial truth in it. But we know that however busy a person may be, if he/she becomes sick he/she would go to a hospital and would stay there for days if necessary.
Therefore what is important here is the need. If we can spend so much time to heal our bodies why can’t we spend at least one tenth of that time to heal our minds. If we can understand the necessity of meditation we can devote at least a few minutes from a day for it.
Not necessary to spend weeks or month but we can spend at least five or ten minutes. Meditation can be started at quite a simple level. We can devote about five or ten minutes before sleep at night or after waking up in the morning. Or we can use a few minutes while travelling in a bus or during a lunch/tea break at an office. Start meditation from this point. I like to teach a simple meditation method. Before going to sleep or after waking up in the morning the body would feel rested and the mind would feel lighter. Concentrate on the sense of well being that you feel on your body and the mind. Feel the peace for sometime.
“May I be able to feel the peace of this moment throughout life!”
With that thought you can start on the loving kindness, METTA Meditation. While meditating you may remember someone or hear someone work. Then do not consider it as a disturbance. Wish instead of:” May he person (I remember or who is talking or working) peaceful as I am at this moment!”
We can spread loving kindness towards others. Afterwards the focus can come back to you. This is a very simple meditation method. We can practise at anytime and even while travelling in a bus. Then the mind would become peaceful and happy.
Radio: Mr. Gamage, many people complain that it is difficult to find a suitable meditation method for each individual. Should we practise loving kindness (Metta meditation) or mindfulness on breathing (Anapanasati meditation)? What would you recommend for the ordinary unenlightened mind?
Mr. Gamage: It’s difficult to recommend a meditation method that would suit all minds. From experience a meditation like Anapanasati (mindfulness on breathing) would be suitable for many people. Even loving kindness (Metta) meditation would be suitable if practiced in a simple manner without complications.
So, it’s is advisable to try out these two methods and see what is suitably for your mind. Or you can meet an experienced meditator and get an advice. Then that person can suggest a suitably meditation method for your mind.
Radio: Mr. Gamage, many people practice yoga meditation these days. Is there a difference in these methods? What are the pros and the contras of yoga meditation methods?
Mr. Gamage: In yoga meditation there is a part called Yoga exercises. Yoga exercises are physical exercises and have to be practised mindfully. It is similar to Mindfulness on the body (Kayanupassana meditation from the Buddhist practise).
There is no problem with practising Yoga exercises. But in yoga meditation methods there are Hindu meditation techniques like “ Kundalini ” and “ Pranayama'' When practising those methods it is compulsory to get advice from an experienced teacher. A simple error can result in a major physical and mental transformation.
In Buddhist meditation methods we don’t face that danger. Yoga meditation methods are very subtle techniques. If we try to practise them from a book we may face a grave danger. That is the first difference between Yoga and Buddhist meditation methods. Second difference is Buddhist meditation methods are practised to improve mindfulness and wisdom. But yoga meditation methods are practised to improve special qualities of a mind. It could be successful or unsuccessful, even it will be successful it will be lost with the time. An ordinary life would not benefit by yoga meditation. But Buddhist meditation methods will be very helpful to an ordinary life.
Radio: We meditate to improve mindfulness and insight. Sometimes we may be careless about meditation, thinking it could be practiced with ease. But if we practice only we understand the difficulty of concentration. We need peace and happiness of the mind. But to search of that we need to develop courage and strength. Many lack that.
We hope you were encouraged by listening to Mr. Upul Nishantha Gamage who gave many helpful tips and details.
We thank Mr. Upul Nishantha
Gamage, who is a meditation teacher at Nillambe Meditation Centre, for
discussing with us for one hour. And we hope to have more discussions with him
in the future. I don’t think that Mr. Gamage’s phone is switched on all the
time. But you will be able to connect with him at sometime.
Lot of thanks to Mr. Upul Nishantha Gamage of Nillambe Meditation Centre.
I am Dilrukshi. I was helped by Pushpa Kumara to bring out this program. Let us meet next Thursday with “Pratibhani Radio Program”.
So we are doing two things. If there is no fuel, which comes from wherever – then you are not burning. But still the coals, the fire is inside. If there is no fire inside then what ever comes – it can’t be fuel. Everything can be a fuel if there is a fire. If no fire - the vision is just a vision; the sound is just a sound.
There are two meditation techniques to work with this burning suffering: one we call concentration meditation.
When we do concentration meditation, tranquillity meditation we try to avoid the external impulses as much as possible, maybe not 100% but we try to cut off, to take out, to reduce.Then we can experience peacefulness. That’s why when we do concentration meditation after a while we all experiencing a lot of tranquillity, a lot of peacefulness.
But that is not a permanent solution. Whenever we have to go to the normal society then again fuel may come to the inner fire; then again anger may arise, desires are arising.
That’s why we have to do Insight Meditation, Vipassana Meditation. What we are doing during the Insight Meditation or Vipassana Meditation – we are going into the fire and try to see, “what is the base for this fire?”. Not the fuel – what is the base? What is the base for the anger, for the desire, for the fear? What is the foundation – and we try up to the main cause.
After that the Enlightened One can live in the normal society in a very peaceful way. People may blame but there is no anger, so the blame can be just a sound. The Enlightened One can see beautiful things but there is no desire. Then – no burning…….