October 5, 2016

The Radical Promise of Forgiveness.

sorry apology oops sidewalk outside graffiti heart

We lived with monkeys at Tushita Meditation Center during my Introduction to Buddhism course.

As our Introduction to Buddhism course was held in silence, we spent most of our free time watching the monkeys that shared the space with us.

One day, I watched two monkeys jump from the trees down to their small pool. One of the monkeys sneaked behind the other and intentionally pushed him down the water from high up above. The monkey fell on the edge of the pool and hit his head.

The monkey who fell rubbed his head and then resumed playing with the one who pushed him.

In that particular moment, I thought about what we—as humans—would do if we were in the same situation.

Most likely, we would wallow in pain and get angry. The reason for our anger (most of the time) stems from our inability to swiftly forgive the person who causes us pain (including ourselves).

I contemplated forgiveness that day. These monkeys made me question the missing element that stands between me and the people I couldn’t entirely forgive yet.

They say, “Be careful what you wish for,” and thankfully, my wish (my question) was answered twice in a row.

Right after that particular sitting, we entered the Gompa for our daily analytical meditation. The teacher announced that we would be meditating on forgiveness.

As he spoke, I received the answer to the question that had baffled me for years.

He explained that our inability to forgive the people who hurt us comes from a place of ego. From this place of ego we want to make the other person feel bad for what they did. The unconscious reason behind this behaviour is opting to get closure. Closure is like the water that puts our fire out—in other words, getting closure puts our ego to rest.

Unfortunately, we don’t always get closure and then we spend the rest of our life waiting for justice to happen.

The teacher added:

“Forgiving someone will cost you your pride but not forgiving them will cost you your freedom.”

These words struck me. Listening to them felt like solving the Rubik’s cube. It also happened that I visited the library later on that day, and I picked up a random book on Buddhism. As I flipped through the pages, the word “forgive” caught my eye.

It read that in order to forgive other people, we need to understand that whoever hurt us is a victim of their own emotions and thoughts. When they hurt us, they weren’t aware of their wrongdoing. If we keep this in mind, we will generate compassion instead of aversion toward them.

That day, two questions were answered:

  1.  Why do we need to forgive?
  2.  How can we forgive?

It is true that pride is what stands between us and other people who hurt us. But it is also true that we are sacrificing our own freedom along the way. I gave it much thought, and frankly, my freedom comes first, for as long as I’m waiting for closure, I’m not a free person—I’m only another victim of agony and lost time.

When I forgive, I become free—free of obscured thoughts and destructive emotions. I no longer wait for closure because I’m not expecting it anymore. In fact, getting it will only satisfy my ego; not me.

This point had been further proven to me a while back when I got the closure I waited for, for nearly four years. It didn’t feel as satisfying as I expected it to be. And funnily enough, nothing really changed in my life. My ego enjoyed it for a couple of minutes, but later my ego—and I—forgot about it.

That being said, forgiveness isn’t a difficult task anymore, especially when I understand that the person who hurts me is only hurting himself. We think that people who hurt us hate us, or intentionally opt to cause us harm.

It’s never true.

The ones who cause us pain are victims of their own emotions.

Let’s say our partner cheated on us. The first unconscious thought we get is that they cheated on us in order to hurt us (and indeed, it is something that hurts). However, the cheating isn’t the result of our partner hating us; it is the result of our partner being a victim of his own desires and emotions. If they hadn’t desired another person and developed emotions for them, they wouldn’t have cheated. The situation hurts, but never the person.

Understanding this notion, we can truly generate compassion towards all living beings without any exception.

Forgiveness is a journey into freedom and we are the pilots—only we can decide when to set on this path.


Author: Elyane Youssef

Image: David Goehring/Flickr

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

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