Saturday, September 10, 2011

Buddhist Thought on Forgiveness

The topic of forgiveness may seem to be remote to the concerns of Buddhism. Buddhism does not realize ultimate truth through the need of the intercession a personal God. Its concepts of error and contamination do not readily translate into the Biblical concepts of sin and guilt.

The Buddhist solution to ‘unwholesome deeds’ and situations is to overcome them by following the path that leads to release; acts of pardon and grace have little to do with it. In Buddhist texts, the emphasis falls not on forgiving, but on the foolishness of taking offense in the first place:

He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me”—in those who harbor such thoughts hatred will never cease.

He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me”—in those who do not harbor such thoughts hatred will cease. "

-- Dhammapada 1.3–4

In contrast, Biblical rhetoric is full of references to enemies, slanderers, persecutors. Buddhism will offer a way to reveal a delusion here, rather than talk of forgiving enemies and blessing persecutors. Biblical salvation is atonement for evils that have already occurred. Buddhist salvation is more an effort to prevent the evils from happening in the first place. When they have already happened, Buddhism proceeds to take them apart by going back to their roots and following a behavioral discipline that will prevent the need for forgiveness in the first place.

There is tension between Buddhist wisdom and the Christian conviction regarding ultimate reality. Buddhists grasp ultimate reality (emptiness) in impersonal terms and regard ideas of a personal creator as a basically an unskillful way to attain realization of ultimate reality. The Christian conviction is that ultimate reality is concretely realized by capitulating to a personal God.

The two ideas are not necessarily incompatible. Christians may remain convinced of the supremacy of a personal God and at the same time continue to allow impersonal conceptions to help achieve understanding and forgiveness. Impersonal concept, though, provides a perspective that prevents the drama of sin and forgiveness by the need to be reduced to a child- like state to placate an offended father.

In Buddhism, especially the Mahayana Tradition, salvation centers not on forgiveness but on release from delusion and suffering by meditating on the nature of reality. Buddhism questions the reality of the passion that make forgiveness necessary and also questions the reality (or inherent existence) of the objects of those passions. Anger, resentment, and hatred are delusions, and so is the crime or offense the other is thought to have committed.

Even if these Buddhist ideas are totally wrong, it would still be a useful action to meditate on them at a time when the world around seems so frightening and murderous.

The person who is holding resentful thoughts may well have been abused or robbed, but dwelling on this keeps him in delusion and fixation. Memories of past offenses plays a huge role in our culture today, and there is not enough thought or consideration of the dangers of clinging to these memories. Current thought makes the hurt, anger, traumatization felt by victims into a sacred cow that cannot be questioned. Instead of seeking to heal and rid them of their wounds, victims are encouraged to constantly nag at them and to seek “closure”.

Hatred is regarded as strength rather than poison. One must understand the rage of the injured and abused, but without forgetting how rage tends to become blind and rigid, feeding on itself. Rage finds its outlets in destructive acts. Its delusional aspects must be undone if the energy fueling indignation and victimization is to be changed into useful action.

Equanimity, or the steadiness of the mind, is the attitude most prized in Buddhism, not only because it is the state that causes the practice of loving-kindness and compassion, but because it leads to spiritual freedom. A well balanced person never takes offense. Within bodhichitta, or the wish to become enlightened so that you may help others to realize enlightenment, you can recognize the enemy an opportunity to practice restraint and tolerance. You can also practice these for the sake of others. Compassion is based on realizing the equality between yourself and others.

I do not know who to credit these beautiful images to. If they are yours and you do not want them used, I will remove them immediately.