Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Forgiving the Unforgiven

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It is undeniable that we humans have a deep yearning for peace. Yet, in this contemporary world, one does not seem to be able to get away from hatred and anger at all.

Simply turn on prime time news and hatred and anger would be staring at us in the face, be it from a national or global story. It is as if we are condemned to a life sentence in a maximum-security jail full of hatred and anger with no chance for parole.

The keyword here is "as if."

Today the author would like to share with you, dear readers, three Zen stories that could perhaps enlighten us on the topic of forgiveness.

Forgiveness may be one of the most difficult acts of giving, but it is worth every effort to try. This is because, to continue on the prison-term analogy, we are but the prisoners of our own minds.

If and only if we can forgive and let go of our anger and resentments, then and only then, will our life prison term would be lifted. Finally, we will be free.

The Tao story of potatoes

The first story is from "The Tao of Forgiveness" by Derek Lim. Tao? Yes. Some scholars believe that Tao did influence Zen during the latter's formative years in China. Practitioners, however, came to realize that Tao is Zen and vice versa. Anyway, here is the story.

Once there was a sage who asked his disciples to carve out names of the people they cannot forgive on potatoes, one potato for each name. Then, the disciples were asked to put all their potatoes in a sack and carry it with them at all times for one week.

The longer time went by, the heavier the potatoes seemed to have become. To make the matter worse, those carved potatoes also started to rot and smells bad. It was such an unpleasant experience for the disciples.

At the end of the week, the master asked,

"So, what did you learn?"

At once they disciples told the master that they now realized that holding on to grudges only brought negative things to them. Asked how they should go about correcting it, the youngsters said they should strive their best to forgive everyone that used to cross them and made them angry.

The master then asked,

"What if someone crosses you again after you unload this present load of potatoes?"

The disciples suddenly felt terrified at the thought of having to start all over again with new potatoes, week after week.

"What can Tao do if there are still other people crossing us? We cannot control what other people do to us!"

At which point the master replied,

"We haven't even reached the Tao's realm yet. So far we only discussed the conventional way to approach forgiveness, that is, to strive to forgive. Striving is difficult. In Tao, there is no striving."

Seeing the disciples completely at a loss then, the master further suggested,

"If the negative feelings are the potatoes, what is the sack?"

The disciples finally grasped it,

"Ahh the sack is something that allows me to hold on to the negativity. It is my inflated sense of self-importance!"

And that was the lesson of this story. Once we learn how to let go of the sack, whatever people say or do against us would no longer matter. The Tao of forgiveness is the conscious decision to get rid of the sack/self altogether, not just the potatoes/negative feelings.

Derek Lin concluded that, by recognizing that in fact there is no "self"' to be hurt, we could bypass the frustration arising from our constant striving to forgive others. This is because we were not angry with them to begin with!

With the understanding of Tao/Zen, life suddenly becomes effortless, elegant, and natural. Get rid of the sack, and there will be no more rotten potatoes. Want to be able to get rid of your sack? Go to a retreat!

What Clinton learned from Mandela on forgiveness

The second story is a story told by Bill Clinton on what he learned from Nelson Mandela on forgiveness. In one meeting of the two men, Clinton asked,

"I wonder what you must have felt towards your jailers when you were walking out of that prison after those 27 years. Weren't you angry at them?"

"Yes, I was angry. And I was a little afraid," answered Mandela. "After all, I've not been free in so long."

"But," he added, "when I felt that anger welling up inside me, I realized that if I continue to hate them after I got outside that gate, then they would still have me."

With a smile, Mandela concluded,

"I wanted to be free, so I let it go."

Very Zen-like, Mr Mandela!

Learning from a prisoner who practiced Zen

Mandela is not the only jailbird that knew the secret of forgiveness. The following is a story of a prisoner in Branchville Correctional Facility, Indiana, USA.

The man, known by his ordained name as brother Ananda Abhaya Karuna (he took ordination precepts as an inmate), found himself being able to forgive and achieve so much more in life through the practice of Zen Buddhism, most notably through Zen meditation.

Being a long-term prisoner, he said he has come to know anger intimately. The prisoners, according to brother Ananda, are conditioned to see themselves as unforgiven. In this frame of mind anger arises and there is a notion that forgiving others is a weakness. Society does not forgive, they reasoned. Why should they?

One lesson that brother Ananda realized is that resentment is always about the past, but it takes place in the present. It also intensifies over time every time we relive that experience in our mind. To deal effectively with the anger present in the here and now about things and people that existed there and then, brother Ananda said we must examine and challenge the usual pattern of how our thoughts create anger in our mind.

Once realizing that we are merely punishing ourselves by continuing to fight imaginary enemies (thoughts of past events) in our mind, we would come to realize that the cause of such punishment is simply because we refused to forgive.

Like Mandela, brother Ananda discovered that when a prisoner does not let go of resentments and anger through the act of forgiveness, the prisoner becomes his own keeper. That, according to brother Ananda, is certainly one way of defining hell.

Liberate yourself from your personal captivity

Are you harbouring grudges over something or someone? Do you know anyone who does? Tell them it is time they free themselves from this unnecessary, self-created suffering. Learn to forgive those that you felt that you could never or should never be forgiven.

How about starting with forgiving yourself? In light of Tao's potatoes story, it would be like killing two birds with one stone. By forgiving yourself, you begin to let go a little bit of that "self" that is known as the sack. Eventually, with all the sack gone, nobody can "put potatoes in" or irritate and hurt you anymore.

Your freedom, in fact, is just a breath away.

Fly, baby, fly!

Remember, it always takes great courage to fly to freedom.

Until next week, let us stay mindful and forgiving!


Н.Цэцболд said...

i like it very much. thanks for writing. :)

nash said...

Thank you very much for dropping by and for your kind words. :-)

Н.Цэцболд said...

I am the guy who is from Mongolia and very interested in meditation and Buddhism.

I will visit your blog as much as possible. :)

nash said...

Hi, thanks a lot for visiting my page again. I tried to go to your blog via your ID in the comments but I could not because it seems you have chosen to hide your profile? I really hope you come back to check this message.

I just want to tell you that I really admire you for your interest in Buddhism and meditation despite your tender age. From what I remember from the last time I was able to visit your blog and profile, you are only 20 years old! And to think that you are not even living in a Buddhist country!

In Buddhism, a person so young who has become curious/interested in meditation is truly a blessed person. I hope you continue on this path and that you continue to do your blog on Buddhism to help other people.

Thanks again for dropping by. It is really an inspiring honor to have known a fine young man like you!

Please Take Care,

Nash, your friend in Bangkok, Thailand