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
attitudes about others have to be changed to account for
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
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.
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
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.