What will it take to change the cycle of violence and revenge that haunts our world? In his book Infinite Life, Indo-Tibetan Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman takes the long view of chipping away at our own nauseated reactions by vividly visualizing the worst that others could do to us, analyzing the sequence of our possible responses, and considering what a saint would do in a similar situation. Gradually this process refines our character until we can imagine — and even implement — a response free from bitterness. Thurman writes:
"Imagine your loved ones being killed or hurt. Picture several different scenarios. As you did when you were visualizing yourself being harmed, distinguish between the cases in which you have some defense or recourse and those in which you have none. In the worst-case scenario, when you can do nothing but stand by and watch your love ones die, feel the waves of nauseating sadness and disbelief wash over you. But then rehearse not hating even the most heinous perpetrator, the murderer of your beloved children. How many times throughout human history has someone killed another person's children, and then the victim has immediately turned around and killed the murderer or his children? This cycle of violence continues to grow worse and worse, often going on for generations and generations, and the victims multiply. What's more, if you get angry and feel vengeful toward the harmer, you become obsessed only with doing him violence and you forget about helping your harmed beloved. You turn unloving and withdraw from bliss, abandoning your lost loved one in a state of confused suffering, whether alive or dead and floating in the between-space before entering a new life.
"Next imagine your cherished property being ruined. Vandals have come upon your lovely home. They laugh and sneer as they shoot out the windows, destroy your furniture, and trash your memorabilia. Try to imagine this scene very vividly, so that even in your meditative state you feel startled and shocked. But continue practicing until you can fully understand not reacting with hatred. Finally, imagine the vandals desecrating your most sacred image — a Jesus on the cross figure, a Buddha statue, an Allah calligraphy, a picture of your favorite mentor, or a painting of a saint. Stay with the visualization, critiquing the rising anger and sense of outrage within you. Think about how the real Buddha, Jesus, Allah, wise person or saint — none of them is even remotely destroyed by the foolish vandals' bad behavior. In fact, they themselves would not have grown angry over their own images being ruined. You will soon be able to feel sympathetic toward these poor vandals who are earning for themselves a large wave of negative evolutionary momentum.
"Your meditation along these lines, your rehearsal practice for daily encounters with persons and events that habitually make you angry, will definitely progress over time. But you will know you have achieved a major breakthrough when you find it imaginable to feel sorry for the people who do you harm. Your enemies — who are under the influence of the real enemy, anger — will seem blind, their actions crippled by habit. In fact, you will even start to appreciate them for giving you the opportunity to develop your heroic armor of patience. They inspire in you the strength to build your peaceful fortress of tolerance, where nothing can disturb you. They help you fly the joyful banner of forgiveness, which articulates the bliss of your freedom from all bitterness."