The real nature of forgiveness and a short meditation

Transcript of Recording

Forgiveness doesn't always seem easy. If we feel attacked or hurt, we may feel that the only way to relieve our pain is to attack back in some way. It's like we want others to know how much we're hurting and at such times forgiveness may seem far from our minds.

To forgive someone may feel like we are backing down or letting them off, saying "I know you did wrong, but I'm not going to punish you this time."

But true spiritual forgiveness is far from just saying "I'm letting you off". It's actually a profound healing process for both parties.

In the bible the Greek word that's translated as "forgive" is "aphesis" and its literal meaning is to let go—physically let go of something, as when we let go of a rope, or a stick, or something else we are holding on to. We're releasing our grip on something.

With forgiveness, the letting go is not so much a physical letting go; it's a mental and emotional letting go.

We're releasing the grip that our mind has on some past event or occurrence. In fact we're letting go of the judgments and grievances we're holding.

We're letting go of our beliefs about how others should have behaved or how they've done wrong.

And when someone doesn't behave as we have expected, or as we would have liked them to have behaved, then we tend to feel angry.

And when we do, it's easy to think that the other person has made us angry—they're responsible for our feelings of anger.

When we look more closely, we often find that our upset is actually coming from how we've interpreted their behavior.

In fact, we are the ones who are making ourselves angry. We are making ourselves angry over our interpretation of how they behaved—the story we are telling ourselves about what they've done, how bad they are and how they could have been.

So, it's the judgments that we're holding against them, that are actually creating the feelings of anger.

And when we're holding a judgment, the person we're actually hurting the most is our self, which is rather ironical, because we think when we're judging someone, we're making them bad—but actually we're making ourselves feel bad. We are creating additional suffering for ourselves.

True forgiveness comes from letting go of the judgments we are holding—.releasing the grip they have on our mind.

One thing that can really help this is to put ourselves in the other person's position. If we could truly understand their own motives—why they did what they did, what they were thinking and feeling, their fears and pains, the judgments they might have been holding, their own background, conditioning—all the influences in their life, that have led them to this point in time—then we might begin to understand why they did what they did.

We can begin to recognize that although they may not have behaved as they should have done, they were in a sense behaving exactly as we think they should have done—exactly as they should have done, given all the influences that led up to this. We could say it's their own confused state of mind that actually led them to behave this way. If they were seeing things differently, they might not have behaved that way.

Dalai Lama once said: "In the final analysis, the goal of every person is simply peace of mind."

And forgiveness begins when we recognize that the person who has hurt us, was actually wanting exactly what we want. In their own way they were seeking to be more at peace, to ease their own suffering. But because of their own inner confusion, they set about doing this in ways that interfered with our own attempts to find peace of mind—and so they caused us to actually be suffering more. So putting ourselves in the other person's shoes develops understanding, which leads to empathy and compassion.

In the following exercise I'd like to offer a simple prayer for forgiveness, that stems from the Buddhist tradition.

Just let yourself relax...

Notice how you're feeling... the sensations in your body...

If you notice tension, just become aware of it and it will often begin to soften and dissolve.

As your body begins to relax, so also your mind begins to relax with it.

And as your mind begins to settle down, just let these key phrases sink deep into the core of your being... let them sink into your heart:

First, let us forgive others for ways that may have harmed us.

If anyone, through their confusion, has harmed me in any way—either knowingly or unknowingly—I forgive them.

And now, let us ask for forgiveness for ways in which we may have harmed others.

If, through my own confusion, I have harmed anyone in any way—either knowingly or unknowingly—I ask for forgiveness.

And now, let us offer forgiveness to ourselves.

For all the ways that my own confusion has led me to harm myself, or be unkind to myself, I forgive myself.

Finally, if there is someone, including myself, who I'm not yet ready to forgive, I forgive myself for that.

Let us close with a very simple prayer:

May I be at peace.

May those I love and cherish be at peace.

May those who've harmed me be at peace.

May all people be at peace.

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