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Buddhism for Everyone with JoAnn Fox

Jul 22, 2019

Webster's Dictionary defines forgiveness as: "To cease to feel resentment against on account of a wrong committed." Resentment is the continuation of anger. When we think of some harm that was done to us and we dwell on it, causes us to get angry again. In this way resentment keeps the pain with us. It is like someone stabbing us once, and then we keep reopening the wound. Forgiving means putting down that burden of anger and resentment for ourselves. Ultimately it is an inner process of freeing ourselves. It does not change the fact that the harm was terrible. It doesn’t make what they did less wrong. It also doesn’t mean we stop working to right an injustice that at first enrages us. 

How do we resolve this continuing anger?

Primarily, we decide to free ourselves from the burden of resentment (the continuum of anger) for the benefit of ourselves. We observe to discover if it harms us or keeps us from healing. We can not force ourselves to forgive. It will happen when you’re ready, or it may never happen. Please don’t judge yourself for an inability to forgive; it’s OK if you can’t. We can begin the practice of forgiveness by forgiving ourselves and (in our imagination) asking others to forgive us for harm we have done. If we are really inspired, we can always ask others forgiveness in person or by email. You get bonus points for that, but you don’t have to. Asking others for forgiveness with our heart--even in our imagination--and generating real regret begins to purify the karma we created by causing that harm.

There are three other variables that may help you to forgive others. These are to develop:

  • Understanding of why they harmed us. The causes may go all the way back to their childhood or generations.
  • Empathy. Can we consider if we have ever harmed us in a similar way or if that could be possible
  • Compassion. Could we even wish for they to be free of the suffering and pain that causes them to inflict such harm on others?


The Meditation on Forgiving Ourselves and Others

Has three parts

  • Asking others to forgive us
  • Forgiving ourselves
  • Forgiving others


Remember and visualize the ways you have hurt others in the past. See and feel the pain you have caused out of your own suffering. Feel your own regret. Sense that finally you can release this burden and ask for forgiveness. Picture each person and in your mind say genuinely, “Please forgive me.”


Think about the people you harmed in the past. What caused you to do this; were you suffering at the time? your own precious body and life. Consider the harm you caused in the first round of the meditation, and for each say genuinely, “I forgive myself.” 

Next consider a few ways you have harmed yourself. Feel the pain you have carry from this and sense that you can release these burdens. Extend forgiveness for each of them, one by one. Repeat to yourself: I forgive myself, I forgive myself.”

FORGIVING THOSE WHO HAVE HARMED YOU: Let yourself picture and remember the ways you have been harmed that you have not completely forgiven. Feel the pain you have carried from this and sense that you can release this burden  of resentment by extending forgiveness when your heart is ready. To the extent that you are ready, offer them forgiveness. You can imagine them in from on you and say, “I forgive you.”


Forgiveness cannot be forced. It will happen when you are ready.


As, with a stick, a cowherd drives 

Cows to pasture, 

So aging and death drive 

The lives of beings. (135) 


Even while doing evil, 

Fools are ignorant of it. 

Like someone burned by fire, 

Those lacking wisdom are scorched by their own deeds. (136) 


Whoever uses violence to harm

The nonviolent and innocent 

Quickly goes to one of ten conditions: 

Intense pain or great loss, 

Bodily injury or insanity, 

Serious illness or vicious slander, 

Oppression from rulers or the loss of relatives, 

Houses consumed by fire or wealth destroyed. 

And with the breakup of the body 

The unwise one falls to hell. (137–140)

--Buddha, The Dhammapada


Buddha. The Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom. Translated by Acharya Buddharakkhita. Buddhist Publication Society Kandy, 1985. pp. 36-37.

The Forgiveness Project. Kemal Pervanic. (Story of the Man from the Bosnian genocide, in the forgiveness project. 

Je Tsongkhapa. Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Volume 1. Pages 218-220. Translated by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee. Joshua Cutler, Editor-in-Chief, and Guy Newlan, Editor.

Je Tsongkhapa. Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Volume 3. Pages 53-54. Translated by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee. Joshua Cutler, Editor-in-Chief, and Guy Newlan, Editor.