Facing Horror

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Meditation — reflecting on horrible situations to increase compassion and equanimity

These descriptions of various hells are used to generate a concern for the consequences of actions. They also have another function, related with increasing compassion.

In meditation, imagine a person trapped on the Iron Grater. Then from your heart come rays of light that enter into this person. The rays of many colors also enter into the Iron Grater, making it nice and smooth. The rays of light enter into the two friends, who then act intelligently.

The image disturbs our persona of calm meditator and brings us into the kind of personal confrontation that we experience in daily life. Otherwise, you as the meditator seem rather neutral. It's important to stimulate the mind on many different emotional levels and extend the force of the practice through those levels. Imagination is the key.

In meditation, picture someone as he or she usually is. Then imagine that person on the Iron Grater and contemplate: "Just as I want happiness and don't want suffering, so Lou wants happiness and doesn't want suffering." Begin by imagining greater and then lesser friends, then work with neutral people, and finally work with enemies. Think it to the point where you feel it; then pass on to the next person.

If, when you get to enemies, you cannot find any, go back to childhood. An enemy is somebody who has harmed, is harming, or will harm you or your friends. In childhood, the line between friend and enemy is very clear. Sometimes you have to think of a difficult situation. For the period of that difficult situation—whether it is thirty seconds or ten minutes—do you have an enemy? Put yourself within that agitated situation. Sometimes a person to whom we are deeply attached does a little thing wrong, and that person immediately is an enemy. Thus even friends, during those periods, are enemies. This practice is not about relationships as we view them from a distance but right in their center, at the moment.