“Forgive: Pardon an offense or
an offender; give up resentment against a person etc.” - Oxford English Dictionary.
“To forgive or not to forgive, is a personal choice. We have some
control over our own choice, we have little control over other’s choice.”
"The greatest power of all is the power to forgive" - Oscar Schindler.
“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is
not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates
a new way to remember. We change the perspective of our past into a
hope for our future.” - Anonymous.
Many phenomena happen every day, by the Law of Cause and Effect. As
these phenomena come and go, they generate something else in us, that may
not go away as easily. Among these some things are feelings of anger,
hatred, disappointment, and sadness. These feelings cause ripples in
our hearts, disrupt the peace of our minds, torment our souls and spiral
us into deeper sufferings. However, to some extend, we do have a choice
of letting go of these feelings.
Alexander Pope said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
I feel that this line not only describes how noble it is to forgive, it also
describes how difficult sometimes it is to forgive. Some things are
so easy to forgive, that the choice of “to forgive or not to forgive” does
not even enter one’s mind. Some things are more difficult to forgive,
that the choice must be consciously made. Some things are even more
difficult to forgive, that it takes days, or months, or years to forgive.
Some things are so difficult to forgive that they seem eternally unforgivable.
It depends on the person’s mood and wisdom too. Some things can be
easy to forgive at one time, and hard to forgive at another time. It
depends on the culprit as well. For example, it may be easier to forgive
strangers and friends, but it may be harder to forgive closed ones and enemies.
Forgiveness is a personal choice, and we are personally responsible for our
choice as well. No one else can do it for us, or force us into forgiveness.
A forced forgiveness is similar to an emotional abuse, like a 'threat' per
se. If a person wants to forgive, he or she must realize that the incident
that caused the hurt or hatred is not worth dwelling on. He or she would
have to rationalize that point within himself or herself. People around him
or her can tell all kinds of perspective to this person, but this person
has to make this choice of forgiveness. Buddhists often hear the words
like, 'If you call yourself a Buddhist, then why is it that you are holding
on to this feeling of hatred or anger etc?' This would make that person feel
ashamed of himself or herself, thus forcing him or her to 'forgive' the other
person. This is not a real forgiveness since he or she may still feel unhappy
about it. Forgiveness has to be done wholeheartedly and with the understanding
that future mention of that incident would not cause a stir of emotions again.
If it is so hard, then why the need to overcome the difficulties and forgive?
Just as forgiving is a form of letting go, non-forgiving is a form of attachment.
In fact, this is a very strong form of emotional attachment, filled with
tremendous negative energies and emotional burden. These negative energies
can easily fuel other negative energies in us, and drain our positive energies.
It is dangerous for us to bottle up these negative energies for a long time.
Thus the sooner we can get rid of these negative energies, the better.
Forgiveness is the only chance that these negative energies be dissipated.
As mentioned in the Dhammapada,
“Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.” --Dhammapada verse 5
Thus contrary to common beliefs, non-forgiveness is not a good way to punish
the culprit, because the non-forgiver has to carry the suffering as well.
Non-forgiveness does not show ‘character’ or ‘coolness’. We do not
need to use ‘non-forgiveness’ to help us remember an injustice done to us.
Forgiveness is not a form of weakness or cowardice. On the contrary,
as mentioned above, forgiveness is divine.
How then can we cultivate better forgiveness? In an old Hong Kong movie,
a guy taught a weird mantra which seemed to work. He said, “Every time
you think of the culprit again and feel the resentment, just recite: ‘I forgive,
I forget.’” In fact, that guy in the movie even had a cheerful tune
to that mantra. Of course in that movie, the mantra worked.
How Mindfulness Practice Improves Forgiveness
“Mindfulness help us regain control over our Citta Niyama.
We re-inherit our free choice of not harping over past grievances.”
In the Mindfulness meditation, we not only train to watch our breath, we
also train to watch our stray thoughts. With some training, we will
be able to see our stray thoughts come and go - the arising and falling of
phenomena as mentioned by the Buddha, without being led astray by them.
This helps us in two ways to improve our forgiveness.
First we realize that the process of the phenomenon is impermanent.
It happened, and there is nothing we can do to erase that from history.
Non-forgiveness does not undo the phenomenon. It is only by forgiveness,
the letting go, that we can all put the phenomenon behind us and move on
to more meaningful things - perhaps to remedy the situation, or to rebuild
into a better world.
“The world has moved on, why not us?”
Second whenever we are plagued by the memories of the injustice or bitterness,
we can use our mindfulness to detect it and let go of it quickly. As
mentioned above, non-forgiveness bottles up a lot of negative energies within
us. These negative energies are so strong, that a single stray thought
about the event, could spark an entire ‘forest fire’ burning our minds away.
If we are mindful, we can detect the stray thought, and let the stray thought
pass by without igniting a fire. If we are less mindful, and the fire
has already started in our mind, we can still detect it and put out the fire
before it gets large. With constant effort, the negative energies will
become smaller and it will be easier and easier to put out that fire.
Eventually, the negative energies could become under control, and we may
even be able to forgive the event easily!
How Loving Kindness and Compassion Improves Forgiveness
“Loving kindness and compassion are the direct remedies for
anger and hatred.”
There is a concept of the Four Immeasurables in Buddhism. These
Four Immeasurables are Loving Kindness, Compassion, Equanimity and Rejoice.
They are called Immeasurables because the more one generates them, the more
one has the capacity to generate more of them. There are effective
Buddhist trainings on how to generate the Four Immeasurables in us.
Loving kindness and compassion are the direct remedies for anger and hatred.
Thus by generating loving kindness and compassion for someone, it is often
easier to grant forgiveness to that someone. This may sound like a
paradox: how can we love someone who we cannot forgive?
There are many reasons why we should love others. (Love as in Loving
Kindness, not other form of worldly love.) We love others because in
previous lives, others could be our loved ones who had taken care of us.
We love others to show our gratitude that others loved us, granted mercy
on us, and forgave us. We love others as a celebration of the precious
human life, it is the way we show that we cherish life. We love others
because we are all interconnected (interbeing), whatever we do, goes through
others and comes back to us. Last but not least, we love others because
everyone is a future Buddha.
To forgive, sometimes it means to let go of imposing one’s principles and
beliefs onto someone else. This is very difficult to do. The
more we learn and the more we mature in our beliefs, the more we are attached
to our principles and beliefs. The attachment energy is so strong,
that only the immeasurable energy of love, could help us bend it for a moment,
to let us exercise forgiveness. Thus the more we practice loving kindness
and compassion, the more we can forgive.
Give It Time
Ultimately when we attain perfect wisdom, forgiveness becomes almost natural.
Till then, we do have to be realistic with ourselves. We may not be
able to forgive everyone. As mentioned above, some things are simply
too challenging for us to forgive. Instead of shunting away from these
difficult cases, these cases precisely are our training ground. We
can learn mindfulness, non-attachment and loving kindness from these cases.
Slowly, we weaken and purify the negative energies until one day, they could
no longer control us. Then we would truly be free from that phenomenon
which started it, and ceased so long time ago!
Give it time, don’t be frustrated by it. It is only human to find difficulty
in forgiving. It is divine to be able to forgive. Let us all
reach for that divinity!
What is not mentioned in this first exploration, but are issues very close
to my heart include:
Forgiving the society or the world
Forgiving events that do not directly affect us.
May we have the good karma to explore this further one day. Meanwhile,
may this short piece of exploration bring peace to your heart. What
are your thoughts on this topic?