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Meditation—the rebirth game

Whether or not you believe in reincarnation, let's play the game of rebirth. If you have a hunch that rebirth does indeed occur, the exercise may be easier, but even if you don't, we can still play the game. Just as when you watch a movie you get involved and develop all sorts of attitudes, so here you are creating certain feelings for the sake of seeing what happens in your own mind.

In meditation, contemplate: "Five lifetimes ago, I was born in Egypt (or any country of your choosing) where I was a shopkeeper. I had several friends and several enemies, and the rest were, to me, neutral." Imagine the scene; feel your presence there.

If rebirth is true, would it be the case that your best friend in the present lifetime was your best friend five lifetimes ago? Possibly, but not necessarily. Could it be that your best friend was neutral—somebody you saw on the street and ignored? In this lifetime, when you are sick, your friend is deeply concerned, and when your friend is sick, you are deeply concerned. Could it be the case that six lifetimes ago this person was your enemy?

Friend and enemy switch back and forth, even in this lifetime. Do you have a friend who was an enemy earlier in this lifetime? We can even get super-angry and direct enemy-type energy at loved ones. Have you done this?

The Russians used to be the great enemies of the United States. Growing up in the forties and fifties, as I did, they were the worst enemy you could imagine. Today I see that they are like everyone else. China was a close friend of the U.S. during the Second World War, then became an enemy during the Korean war, and now is supposedly a political friend again.

Our attitudes about others have to be changed to account for this changeability.

Over the course of lifetimes, a person who now is your best friend could have been a fly, and people you encounter who act gruffly or indifferently to you could have been your best friends. Our attitudes about others have to be changed to account for this changeability. Still, if it works, it is not easy. If the process doesn't touch you, it will just be words: "Everyone was friend, everyone was neutral person, everyone was enemy. Let's all be friends." And then we fight over a parking place.

The process is aimed first at making everyone equal, and then at making everyone close. When cultivating equanimity through this technique, it can be helpful to start with neutral people. It is easier to imagine that someone for whom you have no particular emotional investment was in the past a friend and at other times an enemy. If you're good at visualizing, imagine the person in front of you. If you're not good at visualizing, feel the presence of the person.

In meditation, contemplate: "This person was my friend"—you can be specific about it—"two lifetimes ago. We were so close." Make it come home to you by analogy—"just like my best friend and I are now." Feel really close to this person, concerned over each other, wanting to know each other's thoughts and feelings.

Don't make the test for neutrality so difficult that no one could pass it. For me, some of the best neutral people are those with whom I've had contact and can recognize, such as a storekeeper or a checkout person. Or try people who are just passing by in the street. It is also helpful to include people you recognize, such as the person who regularly cleans your office.

The steps in the cultivation of compassion are said to be easy to explain but hard to do. And you can see why: the mind is like a large number of magnets—conflicting emotions—with forces that pull on each other, and the process of this meditation disturbs the present arrangement of those forces.

In meditation, contemplate: "This person was my enemy two lifetimes ago, just as so-and-so is now, someone who was delighted when I failed and really wanted to do me in."

Don't create a definition for enemy that is so extreme that you deceive yourself into thinking, "Oh, I don't have any enemies." We all have enemies, even if only for a moment.

Those people who are the objects of your frustration . . . are enemies for that mind at that time.

For example, there's that son-of-a-bitch who's taking the biggest piece of cake today, just like yesterday. You might resist thinking of him as an enemy: "I'm not so superficial as to dislike a person because of a piece of cake." But you are nevertheless frustrated. Those people who are the objects of your frustration, even though in general you might not class them as enemies, are enemies for that mind at that time. Watch that mind; stay with it. Don't think this exercise will be easy. Our minds are structured in hidden, counterproductive patterns.

You may think you cannot forgive savage cruelty—Stalin, for instance. But have you ever been cruel to anyone, in even a small way? Killing millions of people is indeed on a different scale from what most of us we have done in this lifetime. However, just as when you work on a small scale you spend twenty-four hours on that scale, so when you work on a big scale, you still have the same twenty-four hours, but you've got all sorts of people under you. You can say, "Go to such-and-such region and kill 100,000," rather than just telling someone to go to hell. By reflecting this way, you can begin to glimpse how even hated persons are similar to yourself in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering, and how they often engage in counterproductive techniques to accomplish their ends. Your mind will loosen, relax, and free itself from single-pointed hatred.