These are real questions asked in various forms on retreats or seminars.
Perhaps some are your questions also ...............

Question: Why is it that I seem to have such a problem with anger?
Answer: It's interesting to notice the words we use to describe certain things, because it is our language that defines our relationship to a particular situation. As soon as we used the word ‘problem’, we have created a situation of conflict. We have in our mind an ideal scenario of how things should be for us all the time, and in this instance there is no room for anger.
Anger is a natural state of mind, based in ignorance. As long as we have ignorance, we always have the potential for anger, and so we have to have the awareness that it can arise in any moment. Throughout this life, and possibly many lifetimes before, our tendencies towards anger have gone unchecked. A situation occurs, we become angry and then react. This is a natural manifestation of the ignorant mind. Sometimes, of course, we don't allow the anger to show because we repress it. We force it down into what is called the ‘subconscious or unconscious mind’, where it simmers away for some time until eventually as must happen, it comes bursting forth with all the force of a nuclear weapon. Often the object for that anger is something trivial, but even so, it is a condition for us to vent our unconscious feelings.
So, anger is a habit, and now you expect it to stop just because you have a meditation practice. But consider, if you're a smoker and you stop smoking do you still crave for a cigarette? Even if you are very strong and don't give in to these cravings, they still arise. Our habits, conditioned in the past, will appear now. Even if we don't prompt them.
Wanting a cigarette even though you have actually stopped smoking is a common situation and noticing the presence of anger is no different. Habits from the past arising now.
Of course, our training is to be aware of the mental state of anger, without actually giving into it and becoming angry. This takes skill, and no one should be blamed for weakening to it sometimes, but here as with everything, we need to use wisdom.
Actually, there is nothing wrong with anger at all. In the moment when anger arises look at it. No need to justify, rationalise or explain it to see it is enough. A habit arising from the past. Notice the effect in the body. How do you really experience this particular mental state? Forget fighting and blaming someone else, take your attention to the body state and just be with it. Relax and let it pass. It will be very interesting for you, I think.
But how do we do this?
The first thing we have to do is remove ourselves from the situation. Not dramatically by slamming doors or making an unkind remark, but quietly and peacefully seeing this as a moment for training. Then find a quiet spot and simply be with it. Sometimes, if the energy is too strong, a long walk will help, but don't waste your time searching for someone to blame. Your anger comes from you, not someone else. Only you can remedy it.
So, you see that anger is not a problem, it is an opportunity to train and see something in a new way. But you have to be brave and determined and not allow ego to interfere. Once ego is involved, it is fighting for itself. It is the ego that needs someone to blame for everything that doesn't go according to its plans, and ego that feels the need to explain and justify its every action.
Actually, there is no need to say anything. If you're angry just notice that, it's enough. To say I'm angry ‘because of you’, is already too much.
Anger as with all mental states, presents itself without our calling. We are not responsible for it except by way of habit, and so should not see it as a problem, only a wonderful opportunity to train.
Take the long view. We have to deal with this habit sometime, it might as well be now, so use this moment.
As we notice our habits and tendencies from the past arising into the present moment we have the opportunity to let them go. To let them all go. Anger, hatred, desires and all the rest. Until they show themselves to us, we can't do anything.
Vipassana is not a system of repression. It is a way to face all the unpleasant qualities that manifest in your life, due to ignorance and propel you always in a certain direction.
Learn to see them not as problems, but only as wonderful opportunities to free yourself from their grasp. Without our anger, how could we be free from our anger?

Question: But doesn't that mean we just have to give in to what someone else wants or demands?
Answer: When we give in to anger, we become ugly and irrational. We no longer have a clear view of the situation. We are just lost in the heat of the moment. In this condition, we can say and do things that are hurtful both to ourselves and to others. Anger, no matter how justified it may seem at the time, actually has no beneficial qualities. The Buddha has said that in the face of an enemy we are already defeated when we display anger. To understand the situation properly, we need a cool head. This comes from balance and not being drawn into extremes. Under these circumstances, people are less likely to take advantage of you because you are always in control of your responses.
This raises another interesting point.
Many people feel that because they are involved in a meditation practice such as Vipassana and loving kindness and try to follow a lifestyle of harmony and love for our fellow beings, these principles are always been taken advantage of. Because they don't want to fight, they find themselves submitting to the whims of others. There is absolutely no need for this to occur. If you don't want to do something, just don't do it. If you feel someone is trying to take advantage of you, don't let them. State your case quietly and simply and then let it go. There is no need to go into great detail, or resort to anger. Just say what you feel. Stay centred, and stay in control, but don't allow yourself to be a victim. This doesn't help anyone.
We have to remember that as long as others are spiritually ignorant their words and actions will always betray them, and the result of this can only be further unhappiness.
We however, are training ourselves on the path of wisdom and love by breaking our old habits and conditioning and allowing a clear and more beautiful way of living to develop. Sometimes we have to be very strong in the difficult circumstances, but that strength must come from wisdom, and the conviction that we do what we do for the benefit of all, otherwise it is just more selfish action. Yours or someone else's. And the result can only be more and more ego in the world.
Have confidence in yourself and your practice and remember, you may not always know what you want, but you always know what you don't want. Listen to these feelings and honour them. Take the opportunity to cultivate wisdom by seeing the mind for what it really is and realise for yourself where it can take you without awareness, but don't condemn those who can't.

Question: You say that we are ‘not the body and not the mind’, are you going to tell is what we are?
Answer: (laughing) Good question.
When I said this one time somebody answered ‘the self’, but what does that mean?
When we use terms like ‘soul’ or ‘self’, they are just more ideas, more fantasy.
What exactly is this ‘soul’ or ‘self’ and where can we find it?
As long as we have not experienced the source of the mind we are always caught up in concepts and belief.
The Tao te Ching tells us that ‘the Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao’.
Once something can be identified and labelled it becomes limited. If it is limited, it is not eternal. That which is ‘not body’ and ‘not mind’, cannot be named or described but it can be experienced. It can be known. Knowing is the point of practice. With knowing comes the falling away of the small mind that needs to grasp and cling to labels.
Language is always limiting. We can never really say what we mean, sometimes we can't even get close. How much truer is this with the depth of spiritual pursuit?
So, let go of trying to find out what you are and see what you are not.
You’re not the body and you’re not the mind.
Be open. Don't label, don't identify, simply be.

Question: What exactly is insight?
Answer: Insight is knowing. It is a direct experience of the truth. Just that.
The experience of insight can arise at any time. It is not confined to formal meditation practice. It can happen when you brush your teeth, are walking to the shops or eating your soup. Anytime.
But this also raises a good point.
In all the years I have been travelling to different groups and sharing Dhamma, no one has ever reacted to the things I have said by exclaiming, ‘Is that really true?’
The truths I outline are obvious ones and once pointed out, seem clear and simple. In fact, we can say that truth itself is not remarkable, it is only the obvious.
Just before the Buddha died, Ananda, his cousin and his loving attendant, went to him and said, “Master, the monks have gathered to be with you before you die, will you not give them one last teaching?”
The Buddha replied, “Ananda what more can I say? I have not had the closed fist of some teachers.”
This means that the Buddha did not hold any part of the truth or his teachings in reserve. It was and is, available to all, monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen. Each has equal opportunity to study and each has equal opportunity for liberation. This truth is not something special or academic reserved for those who are more intelligent than others. On the contrary, it is for everyone and can be seen all around us.
In Vipassana there is no secret teaching.
So I say to you, ‘You are not the body and you are not the mind’. At first, this may sound a little extreme, because we have always lived as though we ‘are the body and we are the mind’, but when we eventually examine this statement with detachment and wisdom, we begin to understand the truth of it. Actually, it seems so obvious that we wonder how it is possible that we not seen it before.
This body is not yours. This mind is not yours. Neither will do only what we want them to, and both only do what they do.
If the mind was ‘ours’ we would always be happy, if the body was ‘ours’ we would never be sick, or get old or die. This direct realisation of the truth we call insight.
It is not an intellectual appreciation. It is direct knowing, and the result of this direct knowing can never be lost or forgotten, because insight is not the getting of something. It is a losing. A losing of a piece of ignorance or non understanding of the truth that determines our life. This means that everything we think, do or say from that moment onwards will be affected by this loss. Our thoughts, actions and speech will be purer as our insights develop and deepen. But we also have to remember that our habits and levels of ignorance go very deep indeed, and one small experience of insight will not eradicate them completely. This process can take time. A lot of time. But we have to continue, allowing the resulting purity of mind to grow and slowly, slowly eradicate the reservoir of ignorance.
For this to happen, we must continue our practice. One small insight is not complete enlightenment, but by continuing on the path, it will happen. Once the process has begun it's hard to stop.
So keep reflecting ‘I'm not the body and I'm not the mind’*. This statement will lead to more and more insights and these insights will lead to the deepest levels of understanding.
* The Vipassana koan, a modern interpretation of the Anattalakhana Sutta , the marks of No-Self.

Question: You say that by doing this practice, not only will I benefit, but ultimately all beings. I find it hard to accept that my meditation practice can be of use to people living in war-torn countries or facing starvation through political upheaval.
Answer: Think about it. What is the root cause of all the problems in the world? It's ignorance, isn't it? Men and women acting from selfish desires to create their own particular kind of life, often at the expense of the feelings of others. This is politics and religion, and even with the best of intentions, without wisdom, it's just another manifestation of ego.
We always think that we know what is right for ourselves and for others, and will sometimes go to great lengths to enforce in that view. Often, as we can already see in the world, this means inflicting great pain and suffering upon one group of people or beings, in order to promote the welfare of another. If we want to see the direct manifestation of spiritual ignorance, just look in the world.
Do you think that someone like Hitler thought he was wrong? Of course not. He believed his view of the future world was exactly right and so put the plan into operation to realise it. This plan brought about the deaths and suffering of millions of beings, but that was the cost and presumably to Hitler, worth every life.
This is how the unenlightened person behaves in the world, through acts of selfishness that ultimately knows no bounds. Even democracy is flawed. It works on the principle of fear and greed. Vote for me and I'll give you what you want, vote for the other and you will lose something you would like to keep.
So even our attitude towards voting in elections is based only on our selfish desires to get what we want for ourselves. Sometimes, it has to be said, our motivation is much higher than financial or personal reward, and we may want to see the establishment of a true welfare state, where everything can be shared. Our own view of Utopia.
But here, as always, we have to be aware. Our view of what is right will rarely be the same as everybody else's. Even inside religious groups and political parties, there are many wings and factions all fighting to promote their own particular view of how things should be.
We have to understand that utopia is a dream that will never be realised. Man's basic ignorance will see to that. There will always be someone with a different opinion to you and ready to fight for it. And what is it that we really fight about? Ideas, only ideas.
We fight about whose craziness is best!
So how does your meditation practice help the situation? How can others benefit?
We can say that by living a natural and spiritual lifestyle you are already contributing to the welfare of others, simply by not harming them, or stealing from them or becoming involved in sexual misconduct and by not using your speech in cruel and harmful ways.
From these simple actions of restraint you are bringing enormous benefit to the world. Even if you are not actively doing good, at the lowest level you are not doing harm.
You're not making world matters worse. Added to this list of moral behaviour, we can include the absence of intoxicating liquor or drugs that tend to cloud the mind. With a clear head, at least on the conventional level, we can be more receptive about what needs to be done in different situations.
But this still isn't wisdom. This is simply moral behaviour. How to live in the world without causing harm to oneself and others. Wisdom comes from meditation practice. By recognising the real nature of mind and body. When we know at the intuitive or heart level, that thoughts, moods, feelings and emotions arise and pass away without end, we have a different perspective on how to live in the world. We don't need to intimately know every person that lives, we only need to know ourselves. The moment we know ourselves, we spontaneously know others.
Your pain, your thoughts, your moods, your feelings and your emotions are exactly the same as my pain, my thoughts, my moods, my feelings and my emotions. There are not billions of separate beings living in the world. There is only one. One living being with one heart and one mind.
Pain for you is exactly the same as pain for me. Pleasant feelings for you are exactly the same as pleasant feelings for me. No difference. Only the objects are different. What frightens you may not frighten me, but when fear arises in either of us, it is the same experience.
One teacher said it like this, ‘The greatest delusion that faces mankind is that you're out there and I'm in here’.
Very beautiful. When we are able to let go of the destructive sense of separateness, we understand the oneness and interconnectedness of all things. So, by knowing ourselves, we know everything. All living things. Human beings, animals, birds, fish, insects, nature itself.
This knowledge brings with it positive changes in our way of living as the understanding of the dangerous potential of ignorance deepens. It affects everything we do. We begin to naturally respond to situations, not through selfish desires of wanting everything done our way but rather through wisdom and harmony. Of doing whatever is appropriate, and of flowing with the situation.
Sometimes this may mean going out into the world and being of service to others, or it may mean living quietly, perhaps raising a family and instilling into them values that will help the world in the future. This of course must be done by example and not through indoctrination.
All the problems of the world begin with ignorance, or as another great teacher once put it, ‘There are no problems in the world - you are the problem!’
Anyone who is truly engaged in the cultivation of wisdom through the eradication of ignorance is already helping every living being that we share this planet with.

Question: Do we have to destroy our ego?
Answer: What is ego? What is it that we have to destroy? When we look for ego, where do we look? Where can we find it?
Ego is not something tangible like an arm or a leg, something that we can see or feel. Ego is really just a series of misunderstandings about ourselves. It is the manifestation of ignorance in our lives. Ego is only the momentary identification with this mind and body as being who and what we really are. Ego is the place where our suffering begins, and is also the place where we experience that suffering. In this respect, we have to destroy it, eradicate it completely, but not through violence or intolerance, but only through love. We have to love this ego to death!
We have to be gentle with ourselves, take our time and allow the power of the ego to simply fall away. This is done by recognising it whenever it appears and no longer feeding it. We don't have to fight it and there is no need to make it the enemy. When we see ego as the enemy we simply divide the mind into the part we want, and the part we definitely don't want. Really, there is just mind, manifesting moment after moment. No need for conflict.
When the Buddha was asked about this, he said that the best way to put out a fire is to simply not add any more fuel to it. To let it burn itself out. This is how we must be. When ego appears in whatever form, just recognise it and let it go. That way, the power of ego is taken away and peace is attained.
When we use terms like ‘destroy’, ‘kill’ and ‘annihilate’, with regard to the ego, it does not display much loving kindness, and as long as we think like this we will live in a state of conflict, making an enemy of our own mind.
So live in peace with the ego and allow it to be. Don't indulge it but allow it to be, don't repress it but allow it to be. Don't feed it, but don't deny it. When it arises just know it. Be kind, loving, and let it go. See the whole mind as it is, an endless stream of thoughts, moods, feelings and emotions and none of them are you. The pleasant ones are not you, neither are the unpleasant ones. So let them go, let them all go.
Letting go is the way to peace. It is the way to live happily with yourself, and consequently the whole world. With this practice of loving awareness, we can change everything. We don't need to destroy anything. Everything will take care of itself.

Question: You say that ‘practice is everything’, but isn't that just selfishness?
Answer: When the Buddha was dying, one monk decided that it would be better for him to continue his practice of meditation in the hills rather than to join the other monks at the Buddhas camp, waiting for the death to occur. When the Buddha heard about this he praised that monks attitude, pointing out that he knew what was valuable, and what was not.
Practice is everything.
With practice, we empty ourselves of the impurities of greed, hatred and the confusion that blinds us to the reality of life. In the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, this is called the Vishudhimagga, the path of purification.
When we see clearly the natural tendencies of mind, we will notice that they are established firmly in our own selfish desire for happiness. We pursue this happiness blindly, often hurting others in the process, simply by not knowing the depth of what we do. Once we are living with love and awareness as our foundation for life, we can see what is beneficial to ourselves and others and what is not. As long as we don't know how things are, we will always be acting from a position based in ignorance. Simply contributing more confusion to an already confused world.

Question: You have talked about belief, but isn't it important to have something to believe in?
Answer: We have to be careful here not to be confused by the use of language and the different natures of belief.
In religious terms belief means blind faith. It means accepting something as being true, when in reality, we don't know whether it is or not. So, some people believe that God is one thing whilst others believe that he or even she, is something else, but they don't know for themselves. Their belief is based upon what they have read, or what they have heard, or what they have been told and they, due to subtle mental feelings, accept these things as being true. Even after much thought and discussion, so overwhelming are the subtle mental feelings that even the most illogical beliefs can be adhered to.
Outside religion there are also many beliefs. Flying saucers, alien abductions, the Loch Ness monster and many, many more. The list goes on, but the point is that as human beings we have a mind that can believe in anything.
But we only believe in things that we don't know from our own direct experience, and belief is not the truth. Belief is what we cultivate when we don't know the truth.
Now, as a guiding principle of life, we can say that we believe in love and awareness through the practice of meditation, but here we use the word in a different way. If we apply these trainings to our life and consequently experience the results, it cannot be called belief. It is knowing based upon direct experience.
The intention behind spiritual practice is to go beyond the realm of belief and realise the truth for ourselves. In the meantime, there are so many things yet to be understood, we should keep an open mind and not take positions either for or against them.

Question: If I wanted to achieve quick results, what would I have to do?
Answer: Basically you would have to give up that very ambition. The desire to get something blinds you to where you already are. If the minds natural state is already pure, where are you trying to go? What are you trying to get?
The practice here is to see where we are, accept that as a starting point and begin to build. We don't have to destroy everything and replace it with something else. We must work with what we have.
In the meditation we watch the breath, everything else follows from that. The first thing to learn is how to observe the body as it breathes, not how to experience the more subtle elements of matter that make up our physical form. When we are able to watch the breath with the right attitude we will naturally be able to obtain deeper levels of awareness.
One thing leads to the next.
From this we will be able to understand mind and body, our own human nature, as it is. The Japanese say that ‘water boils quickly, but it must be on the heat for a long time’. This means that although insight always arises in an instant, the preparation for it may have been taking place for a very long time. It is not possible to know when insights will arise, but by practicing with the right attitude, it will happen.

Question: So what is the right attitude?
Answer: Simply doing the practice for its own sake, and not for something you think you can get from it. In other words, sitting just to sit.
We all know now that in meditation we cannot control the mental states. They come and go as they choose and not as we decide. However, once we surrender into this reality and no longer resist, we can experience the peacefulness of a mind in harmony with itself. We can be at ease with, and learn from, whatever mental state presents itself to us, not only in the meditation, but in every moment of life. This is practicing with the right attitude.

Question: I find I am very selfish and have many desires. What shall I do?
Answer: The first thing to do is not to be too hard on yourself. This is how it is to everyone.
We all want to be happy and we attempt to realise that happiness through our desires. These desires manifest as wanting things we think will make us happy, and annihilating or getting rid of things we feel are making us unhappy. This is the usual way of living for most people.
However, here we have begun to train ourselves. We have begun to see what lies behind the desire and what we can do about it. Having the desire is not the important part, desires come and go, what we can do about them is.
For you, your training has started because you already notice this movement of mind. You are putting some space between your mental impulse of getting something and the act of doing it. You have begun to break the habit of blind reaction and develop the wisdom of response. Doing, whatever is appropriate in a given situation.
What you can do about it is keep on practicing. Let go of ambition and simply keep on doing exactly what you're doing.
If you see the biggest piece of cake on the plate and you want it, just noticed that mental impulse and respond. Either take it or leave it as you like.
The most important thing here is awareness and not making a problem out of our natural tendencies of mind. Just relax, observe them and do the right thing.

May all beings be happy

Author's Bio: 

Michael Kewley is the former Buddhist monk, Paññadipa, and now an internationally acclaimed Master of Dhamma, presenting courses and meditation retreats throughout the world. For many years he was the guiding teacher at the Internetional Meditation Centre, Budh Gaya, India.
A disciple of the late Sayadaw Rewata Dhamma, he teaches solely on the instruction of his own Master, to share the Dhamma, in the spirit of the Buddha, so that all beings might benefit. On 26th May 2002 during a special ceremony at the Dhamma Talaka Temple in England he was awarded the title of Dhammachariya.
Full biography of Michael Kewley can be found at: www.puredhamma.org