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Forgive and Perhaps What It's Not

Coming to terms with hard feelings and hard thoughts, perhaps even some trauma as a place of healing can be one of the most difficult meditation practices that any of us can take up. It means having to deal with a lifetime of grief and experiences that feel like what Toni Morrison called "Thin love, which really... ain't no love at all."

For me, the notion of forgiveness is a beautiful principle. At its deepest meaning, it's to have one's sense of personhood and dignity restored to a place of equality; within the context of an interpersonal relationship, group, community, or society. Perhaps a less idealistic meaning could be, the lessening of words and behaviors that interfere with connection, respect, unity, and the ability to manifest compassion and friendliness. Buddhistically we often refer to this as wise... sincere... kind... or healthy communication, and action. And perhaps on a more simplistic everyday level that could seem or appear "Street level," not being mean or a jerk to others, because they may do or have done things that rubbed us the wrong way. If we can't be friends, at a very minimum we can offer civility and fore-give-ness... the offering of something before the ego ever would... mercy.

Despite the above, forgiveness mostly evokes the same response within me, as people talking about computers and productivity. It's a cool idea that's largely meaningless. Computers have ways of leaking time and productivity, rather than giving time and effectiveness back to us. In the same stream, it's not uncommon for someone to offer or receive forgiveness, only to later take it back... oftentimes arbitrarily, abuse or weaponize it. In reality it's pseudo-forgiveness... as long as you act and behave the way I think you should, we're good. When you don't not only will I nail you for what you're doing now, but I'll rescind my forgiveness, adding interest payments and punish the fuck out of you, to "Teach you a lesson." This overly common experience leaves many of us confused, skeptical, and perhaps ambivalent about the validity and efficacy of forgiveness. Instead of trying to share experientially what forgiveness is, it's much simpler to say what it's not for me.

Forgiveness Is NOT (In My Experience):

· Forgive and Forget.


· Putting ourselves or others out of our own heart.


· A one and done transaction.


· Making something like it never happened.


· Vindication or abdication of personal responsibility for our actions That we’re unwise and/or unhealthy.


· Forgiveness isn't saying I’m letting you back into my day-to-day life or house.

· is not erasing the past and going back to the way things “Were.“

· It‘s not saying we've forgiven someone, only to later clobber and corner them when they did something similar or to irk us.


· A quick fix to smooth over or bypass through meaningful work that may need to be done.


· Condoning, excusing, or writing off inappropriate behavior.

· Trying to be the "Bigger," person because of a sense of pity we think the other is lesser, deficient or inadequate to the circumstances.


· Narrative warfare often filled with speculation, conjecture, condemnation, sarcasm, devaluing, diminishment, should's... why did you's... litigating and re-litigating the faults of others that has the effective of ostracizing people leaving a bubble of skepticism around them that influences people to hold them at a distance.


· A method of side stepping abuse and trauma.


· A magic trick to heal shame, guilt, resentment and blame.


· Not keeping, holding, nurturing grudges and resentment, to keep reliving stories in the mind.


· Doesn't arise from a place of self-hate, self-pity, self-loathing, neediness and craving, like we're trying to get a hit of relief from guilt, shame, self-loathing, and self-pity.


The above said how I effort to live forgiveness, is mostly by doing the exact opposite of what I've shared above; as a living meditation practice... to the best of my ability.

Some might ask, "What in the world does forgiveness have to do with Zen Buddhism?" In my experience the answer's very simple. The lack of genuine forgiveness keeps us inextricably entangled to suffering on a spectrum.


And this brings me to Devadatta. Though often described as a "Cousin," of Shakyamuni Buddha, it would be more honest to call him "Nemesis," or a mischievous "Loki," of the Buddha. Though Buddhism is associated with peace, calm, and tranquility, anyone who takes the time to read the stories of the various people who practiced with the Buddha had as all of us very human-behavior, and very human-quirks, and very unsettled human-egos. Zen monasteries themselves are more similar to being a part of a hockey team than the image people carry around in their head.

The reporting of the relationship between Devadatta and the Buddha spans pre-teen to the time of Buddha's death. Throughout their relationship, it's quite obvious that the Buddha had great depth in "Forgiveness meditation," practice when it came to Devadatta, beginning with the story of the bird Devadatta shot and nearly killed, and that before awakening Buddha saved from death, through great care and compassion. Once apart of the sangha, and ordained he made several attempts to literally "Kill the Buddha on the road." At one point Devadatta got things so stirred up, there's a story wherein Buddha when to bed in a tent and the monks surrounded it, carrying weapons in the event Devadatta tried to bring more harm to him. In fact the ordained were extremely upset that the Buddha would not get rid of Devadatta and simply kick him out. In this particular instance, it's told Buddha came out of the tent, and asked them what they were doing?

They complained about Devadatta who as far as they could see was far from being the "Ideal," monk. The Buddha sent them away, saying no worries, and that he's been long able to take care of himself with regards to his cousin. Never by any of the historical accounts did the Buddha reject, scold, shun, abuse, gossip, threaten, coerce, guilt, or shame Devadatta to get his "Shit," together. Trust me when I say Buddha didn't have codependency issues. He just continuously held space for him not casting him out of his heart. He was kind yet firm, responding rather than reacting to Devadatta tendency to act out. It's a powerful non-theoretical expression of forgiveness, when seen from that angle. It's a subtle Dharma teaching most miss out on, not understanding it's meaning, in recounting the trials and travails of their relationship.

And so I close this post with another person... Jutsun Milarepa. To learn the story of his formative years, is to read of someone that's perhaps one of the more unlikely people to ever come to awakening, yet did. Milarepa among the Tibetan's is a well regarded Buddhist saint, whose clarity was on par with Shakyamuni Buddha himself. He's worth learning about. One expression he's well know for is, "I want to live and die without regret," For this post essay it could be restated as... I want to live and die with dignity, and grace, and no need to ask forgiveness or have to make amends."


The invitation is to go back to ask yourself... "What is forgiveness not for me?" What ever forgiveness is not for you, practice the opposite. You could travel lighter, happier in your heart and head.


―We are the Practice Itself



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