I’d like to share with you an excerpt from a book by one of the most celebrated American Buddhist, Jack Kornfield and Daniel J. Siegel, MD, entitled Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are. It is my sincere wish for you to read this book or listen to the audio book. You will find their writing very inspiring and helpful in making you more aware of who you are. This blog is taken from sections, verbatim, from chapter seven of their book. I hope that as you read this excerpt, it may inspire you and open your heart and mind to become more tolerant and more forgiving of others as well as yourself. Enjoy!
Traditionally, the work of the heart begins with forgiveness. Forgiveness is the necessary ground for any healing. To begin with, we need a wise understanding of forgiveness. Then we can learn how it is practiced; how we can learn to forgive both ourselves and others. Forgiveness is the letting go of past suffering and betrayal; a release of the burden of pain and hate that we carry. Forgiveness honors the heart’s greatest dignity. Whenever we are lost, it brings us back to the ground of love. With forgiveness, we become unwilling to attack or wish harm to one another. Whenever we forgive, in small ways at home or in great ways between nations, we free ourselves from the past. It is hard to imagine a world without forgiveness. Without forgiveness, life would become unbearable. Without forgiveness, our lives would be chained, forced to carry the burden of the past and repeat them without release.
Consider the conversation between two prisoners of war.
“Have you forgiven your captors?”
“Well, they still have you in prison, don’t they?”
We begin the process of forgiveness primarily for ourselves. We may still be suffering terribly from the past, or those who have hurt us might be on vacation. It is painful to hate. Without forgiveness, we continue to perpetuate the illusion that hate can heal our pain and the pain of others. In forgiveness, we let go and find release in our heart. We must discover a way to move on from the past, no matter what traumas it held. The past is over. Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past. Remember these truths. Forgiveness is neither weak nor naïve. Forgiveness requires courage and clarity.
Mistakenly people believe that to forgive simply means to forgive and forget once and for all. This is not the wisdom of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not happen quickly. For great injustice, coming to forgiveness may include great periods of grief, outrage, sadness, loss, suffering and pain. True forgiveness does not paper over what has happened in a superficial way. Neither is it a misguided effort to ignore or suppress our pain. It cannot be hurried. It is a deep process repeated over and over in our heart that honors the grief and betrayal and in its own time ripens into the freedom to truly forgive. Forgiveness does not forget, neither does it condone the past. Forgiveness sees wisely. It bravely sees the sufferings of the past and understands the conditions that brought them about. There is a strength to forgiveness. When we forgive, we can also say, “Never again will I allow these things to happen again to ourselves or to another!”
Forgiveness does not mean we have to continue to relate to those who have done us harm. In some cases, the best practice may be to end our connection; to never speak to or be with or be with the harmful person again. Sometimes in the process of forgiveness, the person who hurt or betrayed us may wish to make amends. But even this does not require us to put ourselves in the way of further harm. Forgiveness simply means never putting another person out of our heart.
Finding a way to extend forgiveness to ourselves is one of our most essential tasks. Just as others have been caught in suffering, so have we. If we look honestly at our life, we can see the sorry and pain that have led to our own wrongdoing. In this we can finally extend forgiveness to ourselves. We can hold the pain we have caused in compassion. Without such mercy, we will live our own lives in exile. We’ve all been blinded, we’ve all suffered…
When we clearly realize that the source of misery and disharmony in the world is ignorance, we can open the door of wisdom and compassion. In the temple of forgiveness, no matter what has happened, we can always return to the greatness of the heart. The heart is released whenever we forgive or are forgiven. Even in the most painful of circumstances. In the temple of forgiveness, we are reminded of our own goodness. If only we could help each other build temples of forgiveness instead of prisons. We can, in our own hearts. No matter how extreme the circumstances, a transformation of the heart is possible.