To err is human; to forgive, divine ~ Alexander Pope
We live in a world where forgiveness often takes a back seat to our own selfish needs. Think about all the acts of unkindness you witness on a regular basis: Co-workers ruthlessly competing against one another; drivers cutting each another off in traffic; families separated by senseless arguments. These situations are damaging enough – but since we also live in a world filled with war, terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass destruction, the need to learn about forgiveness – and to put it into action right here, right now – seems more important than ever!
Generally speaking, we could say that forgiveness is the act of pardoning or excusing oneself or someone else without harboring resentment. First and foremost, it is important to understand that forgiveness does not mean we are disagreeing that the action in question was hurtful or inappropriate. It is a real challenge for us to forgive someone for something we believe is absolutely wrong. But if we view circumstances from the level of consciousness where we are judging beliefs and ideas, forgiveness will never occur. Our world contains over 6.5 billion humans whose minds are filled with different concepts, and we are never going to get all of them to agree as to what is right or wrong in any situation!
Instead of looking at what is “right” or “wrong” then, we can simply recognize that an action was taken in ignorance of our true nature and that the action caused pain and suffering. (By ignorance, we mean lack awareness of our true divine nature.) The true nature of humanity can be described in many ways, depending on one’s spiritual or philosophical tradition. To be as simple and inclusive as possible: When we experience the One consciousness or God that exists within all things, we have realized our true divine nature. With this experience comes the understanding that our concepts, ideas, and beliefs create duality and separateness among people, rather than supporting the oneness of our spiritual nature.
Now let us talk about concepts. We use concepts to communicate our experience of life to others. But in the end, concepts themselves cannot be truth, only reflections of a particular experience itself. Let us say I tell you about the restaurant I went to last night. I can use thousands of words to tell you about my experience, but in the end, you can only understand what I have described from your point of view, which is based on your mind’s understanding of the language I used to tell my story – and that is your experience, not mine. Until you come to the restaurant with me, you will never know the truth of that experience, only what you believe about it.
Humans create countless concepts, beliefs, opinions and judgments. For those beliefs and ideas to flourish, we must agree together that they are truth – that what we say or think is the way things really are. However, this agreement alone does not make any concept true. Hundreds of years ago, for example, people agreed that the earth was flat, but we now know that this is not so. Here is the frightening thing about concepts: Once we have these beliefs (which we refer to as “knowledge”), we have the power to judge and use that judgment against others.
By their very nature, concepts encourage separation – in all matters! I can say dogs are better than cats, being a Democrat is better than being a Republican, being Canadian is better than being American or driving a Prius is better than driving a Hummer. These comparisons may reflect my personal preferences, but my judgment and opinion on these subjects creates separation, not oneness, and ultimately is not truth. It would be more accurate to say that there is no inherent difference between these things, that they are all equal. In the end, concepts are neither good nor bad, but in order to experience peace and happiness, we must recognize that we have created them and that we have the option to use them to hurt each other – or not. This is taking responsibility for the gift of creation we have been blessed with.
The concepts that we use to describe our experiences and objects in our reality automatically create a subject and an object, a this and a that. It makes it seem like we are separate and different from people and things out there. But when we accept that there is only one consciousness, one life encompassing everything manifest and un-manifest, then we can say that there is no out there. And although many religious traditions encourage the experience of oneness, we are constantly creating and living a painful dream of our seemingly separate existence from God. (I say seemingly separate, because the illusion of separation is not truth – we are One.)
Suffering is the only thing that can come from arguing with others over our opinions and ideas – believing that what we know is “right.” We will argue and defend our point of view to others about differences that we have created in our own minds! The creation of these mental differences fuels our ability to wage arguments – and even war at times. Just look at two of the main causes of war in the history of man: religion and property. Neither of these concepts could exist without our agreement.
Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, a well known Buddhist master, has these wise words to share with us: "Ignorance literally means ‘not knowing.’ What is it that is supposed to be known? We need to be able to recognize our basic nature – the original unconditioned state that lies at the very heart of every moment of consciousness. Whatever that nature is, it is not derived from religion or philosophy. It has to do simply with what is. Knowing the natural state is not a frame of mind. It’s not a mode of perceiving. As a matter of fact, our basic nature is totally free of concepts. For without concepts, there is no platform – no basis – for emotional disturbance.”
In other words, we only suffer fear-based emotional reactions (such as anger, resentment, frustration, shame, guilt, righteous indignation, contempt, humiliation) when we put all our faith into the fear-based ideas, concepts and beliefs of our social conditioning. When we learn to see the world as it is, without the judgment that results from seeing life through the filter of our belief system and concepts, we experience peace.
Bottom line: You cannot get upset unless you have judged something to be bad or not as it should be. Once we understand this, we can go ahead and get involved with our sport teams, politics, religion or any other sort of group or idea without taking them personally and getting so attached to them that we upset ourselves and others.
The emotions of frustration, anger and self-righteousness that result from our desire to be right – according to what we believe – cause our suffering and prevent us from leading lives of compassion and kindness. After all, how can we live lives of love and peace if we are busy believing our concepts are right while making others wrong? Whenever we create dualism and move away from the place of oneness, we will experience the emotions associated with judgment. The end result is personal and global suffering.
From With Forgiveness - Are You Ready? an online program at: http://www.withforgiveness.com