A difficult question — because unless you learn to live moment to moment you cannot understand it. As we live, we live out of the past. If someone insults you, you immediately react. That reaction comes from your past experiences. It is not from you, it is from the chain of your experiences.

If someone is loving towards you, you become loving — that loving may be from the past experiences. So living moment to moment and understanding moment to moment in relationship comes only if you become aware of the past chain and don’t allow it to function. And always respond in the present, not through the past.

For example, someone insults you. Many people have insulted you in the past; there has come a wound in your heart, through all the insults a wound is created. This insult will also hit the wound, and then you will react. That reaction will not be justified because this man is not creating the wound. And if the wound is touched, the pain is not created by his insult really. It has been created by many insults and the reaction is accumulated; it is not justified.

That’s why it happens that if you react the other always feels, “Why are you reacting so much? I have not said anything.” You also know it: you are not aware that you have said something to someone which has become a hurt in him and he reacts. And you say, “You have misunderstood me, because I have not said anything to insult you. Why are you reacting? Are you mad?” But you don’t know. He has a wound, and when you hit the wound the whole pain comes towards you. The wound may have been created by many people — unknown, known, not remembered — but the whole wound is poured on this person. This is not justified.

So what will it be to respond immediately? It will be first to put aside the past. Look at this man with alertness so that the past doesn’t cloud you. Look at whatsoever he has said, dissect it, analyze it, in the light of the present. And it will be better if you can wait a little and meditate on it.

It happened once, one woman wrote a letter to an American author, Dale Carnegie. Dale Carnegie had delivered a lecture on the radio on Abraham Lincoln, and he had mentioned many wrong dates in it. The woman was a lover of Abraham Lincoln, so she wrote a very angry letter saying, “If you don’t know the abc of Abraham Lincoln’s life you should not go on the radio. And this is insulting. If you are not well informed, then first get informed and then start lecturing.”

Dale Carnegie was a man of fame, had written many bestsellers; he got offended, he was very angry. So he wrote a letter immediately in the same tone, the same anger, the same irritation. But it was late and the servant had gone, so he left the letter on the table. In the morning he would post it.

In the morning, when he was putting it in the envelope, he just looked once more at it. He felt, “This is too much. The woman has not written like this, she doesn’t deserve so much anger from me.” And in a way he felt she was right also. So he tore up the letter and wrote another which was totally different. There was no anger, no irritation in it, rather the attitude of thanking her for making him aware of some mistakes and he felt obliged. But then he thought, “If in twelve hours so much can change, there is no hurry. I can wait for a few more days.”

So he tried one experiment. He left the letter again on the table. By the evening he again read it and he wanted to change a few words again. For seven days he continued, and on the seventh day it became a love letter. And Dale Carnegie relates that that woman proved one of the best friends that he had ever had in his life. What would have happened if the servant had not gone and the letter had been posted? He would have created an enemy.

When Gurdjieff’s father was dying he told Gurdjieff, “Only one message I give to you — and remember it!” Gurdjieff was very small, just nine years of age, and the father said, “I am not rich so I have nothing to give to you, only one advice which my father gave to me when he was dying. And this is the message: that if you get angry, don’t answer immediately, wait twenty-four hours. Then do whatsoever you like. Even if you want to kill the man, go and kill — but after twenty-four hours.”

And Gurdjieff says, “In my whole life anger has not created any problem for me, because I have to wait twenty-four hours and then the whole thing seems foolish. And sometimes even the person who created anger seems to be right, so I go and thank him. Through anger I have not created a single enemy, and through anger there has been no complexity in my life.”

So alertness is needed in moment-to-moment relationship. Alertness is needed. Be alert! Don’t allow your past to come in between you and the person to whom you are relating. It will take time to become aware because the past is so swift, it enters so immediately, there is no time gap. Somebody says something and the past has entered, you have interpreted through the past. So move a little slowly. Look at the person, wait, absorb whatsoever has happened to you, meditate, and then respond in the present. Once you become efficient, once you know this key, you have one of the keys which can allow you to enter into the mystery, into the mysteries of other persons.

Every person is carrying such a mysterious being but the being is closed to you. Every person can become the door for the divine, any ordinary person is extraordinary. Just behind the surface the mysterious is hidden, but you need a key to open it. And that key is moment-to-moment alert response. Not reaction — response. Reaction is always dead; you do something because he has done something. Response is totally different.

I will tell you one anecdote.

Buddha was passing through a village. The people of that village were against him, against his philosophy, so they gathered around him to insult him. They used ugly words, vulgar words. Buddha listened. Ananda, Buddha’s disciple who was with him, got very angry, but he couldn’t say anything because Buddha was listening so silently, so patiently, rather as if he was enjoying the whole thing. Then even the crowd became a little frustrated because he was not getting irritated and it seemed he was enjoying.

Buddha said, “Now, if you are finished, I should move — because I have to reach the other village soon. They must be waiting just as you were waiting for me. If you have not told me all the things that you thought to tell me, I will be coming back within a few days, then you can finish it.”
Somebody from the crowd said, “But we have been insulting you, we have insulted you. Won’t you react? Won’t you say something?”

Buddha said, “That is difficult. If you want reaction from me, then you are too late. You should have come at least ten years ago, because then I used to react. But I am now no longer so foolish. I see that you are angry, that’s why you are insulting me. I see your anger, the fire burning in your mind. I feel compassion for you. This is my response — I feel compassion for you. Unnecessarily you are troubled.
“Even if I am wrong, why should you get so irritated? That is not your business. If I am wrong I am going to hell, you will not go with me. If I am wrong I will suffer for it, you will not suffer for it. But it seems you love me so much and you think about me and consider me so much that you are so angry, irritated. You have left your work in the fields and you have come just to say a few things to me. I am thankful.”

Just when he was leaving he said, “One thing more I would like to say to you. In the other village I left behind, a great crowd just like you had come there and they had brought many sweets just as a present for me, a gift from the village. But I told them that I don’t take sweets. They took the sweets back. I ask you, what will they do with those sweets?”

So somebody from the crowd said, “What will they do? It is easy, there is no need to answer. They will distribute them in the village and they will enjoy.”

So Buddha said, “Now what will you do? You have brought only insults and I say I don’t take them. What will you do? I feel so sorry for you. You can insult me, that is up to you. But I don’t take it, that is up to me — whether I take it or not.” Buddha said, “I don’t take unnecessary things, useless things. I don’t get unnecessarily burdened. I feel compassion for you.”

This is response. If a person is angry and you are present there, not with your past, you will feel always compassion. Reaction becomes anger, response always is compassion. You will see through the person. It will become transparent that he is angry, he is suffering, he is in misery, he is ill.

When someone is in fever you don’t start beating him and asking, “Why are you having a fever? Why is your body hot? Why have you got a temperature?” You serve the man, you help him to come out of it. And when somebody is angry he also is having a temperature, he is in a fever, he is feverish. Why get so angry about it? He is in a mental disease which is more dangerous than any bodily disease, more fatal. So if the wife is angry the husband will feel compassion, he will try in every way to help her to be out of it. This is just mad — that she is angry and you also get angry. This is just mad, insane. You will look at the person, you will feel the misery she is in or he is in, and you will help.

But if the past comes in then everything goes wrong. And it can happen only if you go deep in meditation, otherwise it cannot happen. Just intellectual understanding won’t help. If you go deep in meditation your wounds will be thrown, a catharsis will happen. You become more and more clear inside, clarity is attained, you become like a mirror. You don’t have any wounds really, so no one can hit them. Then you can look at the person, then you can respond.

Response is always good, reaction is always bad. Response is always beautiful, reaction is always ugly. Avoid reactions and allow responses. Reaction is from the past, response is here and now.