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The purpose of this meditation is to remember the dangers of lower rebirth and to develop a sincere dread of experiencing them, and then to contemplate what this means in light of great compassion.
I began by mixing my mind with my Guru’s mind, and imagining that I shared his experience of the world. I concentrated on experiencing love, compassion, bodhichitta and the correct view of emptiness. It slowly came together and when I had a good feeling, I focused on it for a time…
I then thought about how everything I experience is an appearance to my mind arising from my past actions. The lower realms are appearances as seemingly real as the room I am sitting in right now. At the moment the appearances are good, but this could change at any moment. My circumstances could change and in the next 24 hours my seemingly stable world could be torn apart. I recently saw a Facebook post from a relative of mine who said ‘I wish things could go back to the way they were’. Soon I could be wishing the same thing.
Appearances are deceptive and only change is certain. When I die, all bets are off and I could be reborn in dreadful circumstances. I like to think my death is a long way away, but it could happen in the next 24 hours.
I stayed with the thought that I am very close to a dramatic change in my circumstances and I will definitely experience the lower realms. It was a disturbing experience, and I focused on this feeling for a long while…
After that I wondered what this meant in light of great compassion.
I realised that one implication is that even if I am reborn in the lower realms, if I have the realisation of great compassion, I will be protected from suffering. With great compassion, I will be able to practice taking perfectly, and this will protect me from suffering, despite my circumstances. With this in mind, I determined to attain the realisation of great compassion because it will protect me from the disturbing suffering of the lower realms. I remained with this notion for the rest of the meditation.
May all living beings understand the nature of appearances and the nature of the lower realms, and generate such dread that they easily propel themselves to enlightenment, for the benefit of all.
Practice in the Meditation Break
I will look for others suffering in resembling hells, and, out of compassion, practice taking their suffering upon myself, and giving them my current fortunate circumstances.
The purpose of this meditation is to develop a strong feeling of dreadful fear of taking rebirth in the lower realms, and then to see what this means in light of the practice of exchanging self and others.
I began by doing breathing meditation, gently calming my mind until my distracting thoughts subsided, and I was left with a floating, space-like feeling.
After a while, I moved on to the meditation on the sufferings of the lower realms. When this life ends, I will have to experience the results of my karma. Over this life and my many past lives, I have committed many negative actions, and the consequences of those actions must surely be mine to experience. I thought of the terrible things that appear to the minds of beings in the lower realms, and of their suffering. Then I imagined that I had joined these pitiful creatures, and I too was in the grip of unspeakable pain and torment.
I felt a deep dread of this situation, and focused on this dread for a while.
I then thought about what this means in terms of the practice of exchanging self and others. When I exchange self with others, I am exchanging the object of my cherishing – changing it from myself to others. If I can do this, I will have no self-cherishing, and I will be protected from suffering. Self-cherishing is the method by which I am hurt by the appearances to my mind, and without self-cherishing these appearances cannot cause me any suffering. Therefore, without self-cherishing I could journey to the lower realms and be protected from the sufferings there. Knowing that it is possible to protect myself from this suffering, I returned to the idea of being one of the unprotected living beings in the lower realms, and kept my mind focused on it for the rest of the meditation.
May all living beings develop a deep fear of rebirth in the lower realms, and by keeping this fear alive in their minds, may they quickly travel along the spiritual path to ultimate freedom.
Practice in the Meditation Break
I will try to always remember that I will die soon, and then I die, I will probably enter the lower realms unless I follow my spiritual path.
The purpose of this meditation is to generate a very strong wish to avoid the sufferings of the lower realms, and then to meditate on this wish in light of the disadvantages of self-cherishing.
I began with breathing meditation and then moved on to the main meditation.
I started by thinking about how everything that appears to me is a manifestation of my karma, and that other realms which I will experience when I die will seem as real as this present life does now.
I considered the sufferings of the lower realms starting with the animal realm. I imagined being a small animal in a forest. From time to time, out of nowhere I would be attacked and pursued. I would be aware of razor sharp teeth and a growing, snapping noise behind me and I would run terrified through the trees until I had lost my attacker. My peace would only last a short time and then I would be attacked again until, finally, I would be eaten alive by a massive brutal mouth filled with stinking teeth.
I then thought about the sufferings of the hungry ghost realm, watching my wife and children slowly starve to death in front of me. The pain of hunger pervading our whole bodies, each moment seemed like a lifetime.
Finally, I considered the sufferings of the black line hell, where torturers would force me to lie down on a blazing hot iron ground and stretch me out using hooks. Then the demons would mark my body with black lines using horrible hot brands, and then finally cut me apart slowly with burning weapons such as axes and knives.
I thought about these torments again and again, trying to imagine how it would feel to actually experience them.
I remembering that I have experienced them before and that I have the karmic seeds to experience them again in the future. I remembered that these torments will be as real to me as this present life is now. It filled me with fear and dread, and I developed the really very strong wish to avoid these torments in the future. I focused on this wish to avoid these torments single pointedly for some time.
I then thought about what this means in light of the disadvantages of self-cherishing. It is self-cherishing that causes these experiences! All these sufferings are caused directly by my own self-cherishing. It seemed to me that the innocent seeming self-cherishing mind that beguiles me with thoughts of my own welfare is (in reality) a disguised torturer, quietly chuckling as it makes me create unspeakable suffering for myself in the future. How deceptive!
I determined to abandon my self-cherishing, and I stayed with this thought for the rest of the meditation.
May all living beings recognise that their sufferings are caused by their own self-cherishing, and may they abandon it to become Buddhas for the benefit of all.
Practice in the Meditation Break
I will try to remember the sufferings of the lower realms and remember that it is self-cherishing that is my true enemy and cause of all my sufferings.
The purpose of this meditation is to develop a very real fear of rebirth in the lower realms, and then to meditate on this fear in the light of equanimity – a warm and friendly feeling towards all living beings.
I began the meditation by relaxing my body, one part at a time until my whole body felt relaxed and light as a cloud. I then focused on my breathing, and gradually focused my attention on more and more subtle aspects of the breath until my mind was very still, and I was experiencing a very beautiful and lucid feeling.
After a while I moved my mind to think about where I am in my spiritual journey, and what could happen if I lost my way. An image came to mind of me climbing a very smooth incline, where enlightenment was at the top and the sufferings of the lower realms were behind me far away at the bottom. I am almost at the top, although there is still a fair way to go. It was a sort of version of ‘Total Wipeout’, or ‘It’s A Knockout’ (depending on your generation).
I imagined the slope to be very smooth, and as I walked up it, I had the feeling that my feet were only just getting enough grip to avoid slipping. It was really close. At any time, I would lose my grip and my feet would go out from underneath me, and I would start to slide down, down, down.
I started to think about what this incline represents. The smoothness of the surface is affected by my actions. If I perform negative actions, the surface becomes smoother and I will surely slip. If I perform virtuous actions, the surface becomes more grippy. And if I can receive the blessings of the holy beings, the incline becomes less steep.
I thought about how I could lose all the ground I have gained if I develop a strong wrong view, and I could slid all the way down to the lower realms.
I strongly visualised my self, standing on the incline with my arms out for balance, testing each foothold before putting my weight on it, always conscious of the dreadful fate behind me, but looking ahead to the top of the slope and enlightenment as my goal. I thought about the lower realms behind me, and I developed a real fear of slipping and sliding back down into them. The fear gripped my heart, and I kept is there by constantly thinking about the moment I lose my footing, and slide down. It was very real.
After a while of this, I decided to think about what this means in the light of equanimity – the understanding that my normal attitudes to others are mistaken, and that the best way to relate to others is to develop a warm and friendly feeling towards them. I thought about it for a while and it seemed to me that equanimity supports my climb very well. If I constantly feel warm and friendly towards others, I will create virtue, shun non-virtue, and open myself to the blessings of the holy beings. With this understanding of how valuable equanimity is to me avoiding rebirth in the lower realms, I returned my attention to the fear of slipping, and kept it real for the rest of the meditation.
May all living beings keep a realistic and positive fear of lower rebirth in their hearts, and use it to practice virtue, shun non-virtue and to receive the blessings of the holy beings, so that they may attain pure enlightenment for the benefit of all.
Practice in the Meditation Break
I will try to remember my fear of lower rebirth throughout the day and the night.
I began this meditation by remembering that my current conditions are like a brief holiday from the lower realms. I recalled my fear of being reborn in the lower realms; I felt the fear.
I thought about what I could do to protect myself. An image sprung to mind of my going to a doctor and him not being able to protect me from the lower realms, and then me going to the police and them not being able to protect me either. These are the people I normally go to for protection, but they cannot help me. I felt despair.
Then I imagined going to the three Jewels; Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, because they can provide protection from the lower realms. I remembered that by receiving the blessings of Buddha, and with the assistance of Sangha, I will be able to build Dharma Jewels of realisations in my mind, and these will protect me from lower rebirth.
To build my object of meditation, I repeated the thought: I will ask for Buddha’s blessings: he will grant me his blessings: I will receive help from the Sangha: I will build Dharma Jewels in my mind, and these will protect me from lower rebirth.
I felt the three jewels coming together very tightly, and me being part of them. I felt protected and I felt the unease of the past day lifting. I felt safe. It felt wonderful after the unease of contemplating lower rebirth.
I stayed with this feeling of the three Jewels being my protection, and feeling safe, for the rest of the meditation.
Another early start today so meditated later when I got back home. When I was walking around today I had the uneasy feeling that I was walking on trapdoors which could fall open at any time. I thought about the lower realms, and felt uneasy all day. Today’s meditation has resolved the tension from the previous meditation, but it is still there in the back of my mind.
I began the meditation by considering that I could die at any time, and that when I die my consciousness will continue, because my mind is not produced by my body.
I considered that in my next life I may be born in the lower realms – as an animal, a hungry ghost or as a hell being. I reviewed the sufferings of these beings, and that they find it very difficult to generate virtuous minds or act in virtuous ways. They suffer and they create the causes for future suffering.
I considered that I want to avoid these sufferings – seriously avoid these sufferings. I remembered that there are ways to avoid these sufferings – to accumulate merit, to purify negativities and to receive the blessings of holy beings.
But the main point of the meditation is to develop fear of rebirth in the lower realms, so I rolled this idea around my mind.
I naturally felt a very uncomfortable feeling and I stayed with it for the rest of the meditation.
I had a very early start this morning which meant I could not do my meditation at my normal time. I fitted it in during the evening after tea. It was lovely because I had spent most of the day looking forward to getting on my cushion and chilling out!
I began with considering my experiences when I am asleep. My dreams are very real while they are happening. I already ‘exist’ in two independent, ‘worlds’. It only seems normal through familiarity. If I had never had a dream before, and I suddenly had one, what would I think? I would be terrified, thinking I had been transported somehow to another place – or that I had gone mad. Dreams indicate to me that the experiences we have are not just to do with the external world, but with our minds. I considered that when I die I do not know what my experiences will be, but there is no particular reason why they should not continue.
And what would those experiences be like? They would be the results of my karma. And I have lots of negative karma. Will I be reborn as an animal, to be terrorised by predators or eaten alive in agony by parasites? Will I be reborn as a hungry ghost, perpetually starving and experiencing constant agonising pain throughout my emaciated body? Or will I be reborn as a hell being, tortured by merciless monsters who delight in my excruciating pain?
I spent some time considering these ‘dreams’ that I won’t wake up from, and started to develop the thought ‘I don’t want this to happen’. I felt like I was being pushed by a white wall directly into these experiences – the white wall of my negative karma. The wall pushed without slowing or any chance of me stopping it.
I developed a very uncomfortable feeling of fear of lower rebirth, and stayed on that feeling for as long as I could.
This is a meditation designed to encourage us to seek protection from these sufferings by practising virtue, accumulating merit and by purifying negativity. It is important to remember that it is a means to an end, not an exercise in making ourself upset or despondent. I like to think of this meditation as winding up our spring of motivation, so we can easily put effort into our practice.
Meditated in the morning, with the sun just coming over the tops of the houses, and lighting up the leaves on the trees along the road.