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What About Those Who Have Hurt Us?

Releasing Resentment and Finding Forgiveness by Lama Tsomo

“Forgive and forget!” That’s all there is to it, right?! Not quite! In this excerpt from Deepening Wisdom, Deepening Connection, Lama Tsomo explains the true meaning of forgiveness. True forgiveness requires us to recognize our humanity and the humanity of others. We must understand and acknowledge that each of us has the capacity to cause suffering and each of us has the capacity to forgive. And, each time we allow forgiveness to flow from us, our hearts expand along with our capacity for compassion.

I’m not going to lie, it’s really hard sometimes to feel love for someone who has hurt and/or wronged us. That is why I find Dr. King’s question so important: how do we love our enemies? Maybe you wouldn’t call them an enemy; maybe it’s just a difficult person, a beloved who has wronged you, or a garden-variety troublemaker. How do we get from resenting them to loving them? But even before that​​, we often have to ask the question, why should I? I’m right and they’re wrong. I’m the injured party. They should apologize and make it right but they won’t. Or they do, and you still don’t feel satisfied. After all, “I’m sorry” doesn’t undo all damage.

What is forgiveness?

First let me say what forgiveness isn’t. It’s not having selective amnesia. You don’t have to forget what happened, in order to forgive. What a relief! Second, you don’t have to condone or even slightly agree with what they did. Absolutely not necessary. Remember, there’s a huge difference between what someone did and who they are—their true essence.

Pure essence aside for a moment, let’s be honest: Everybody is quite capable of behaving well and behaving badly. Both. Even you and I. Mahatma Gandhi slept with women other than his wife, and Hitler was kind to his niece. It helps me to remember those facts—both that the person who hurt me is capable of behaving well (and their essential nature is pure) and I’m capable of behaving badly or being mistaken. I sometimes wonder how I would feel or behave if I were treated badly for years on end, in a US prison, for example—or in a concentration camp. As the years wore on, would I get more resentful, desperate, and crazy? Under the pressure of a crazy system, would I finally commit acts I would never previously have guessed that I would? I honestly don’t know.

If Dr. King was going to wait for all the prejudiced people to apologize and make it right for him and other Black people, he’d have waited all of his life and then some. Meanwhile he’d be weighing down his own heart with resentment. He would be adding to his suffering, and it wouldn’t help anyone. It wouldn’t hurt his oppressors.

Because he found a way to lighten his heart of that heavy load, not only was he happier, the world is a better place because of the hard work he did inside. Remember the part of Tulku Sangak Rinpoche’s story, in Book 1, when he was in prison and suffering more from his own resentment than from the actions of the guards? With the guidance of lamas and the benefits of his practice, he was able to turn his experience completely around. He actually enjoyed prison! But the first step was for him to decide to offload his resentment.

Rinpoche didn’t begin by practicing Loving Kindness, Compassion, and Forgiveness for the guards for their sake. He began by doing it for his own sake. Later he came to practice it for their sake, which might or might not have improved things for them. But it certainly did for him.

I love that quote attributed to Neem Karoli Baba, “Never throw anyone out of your heart.” That includes people who have wronged you. As I thought about that little quote, which is actually a real challenge, I slowly came to appreciate how powerful it was. It challenged me to look
into my own heart and see that where I held onto even a small bit of resentment, my heart shrank a bit. It was a bit darker and heavier.

Looking at that, I realized it was an ongoing feeling, way, way in the background. I came to understand the accuracy of the phrase, “nursing a grudge.” I didn’t want to feed any of them anymore. When I’ve unearthed a slowly smoldering grudge, much to my horror it turned out to be a forest fire waiting to happen. Luckily I had practices I could apply, to work it through and actually resolve it. My heart immediately felt settled, lighter, and fuller, all together. With each grudge that I let go of, or even lessened, my heart became more capable of love, and more joyful. The world was just a bit more beautiful; the colors more vivid.

And that’s just the effect on me. Can you imagine the effect on anyone in contact with me? As I’ve said before, thoughts and views are contagious. If someone cuts you off in traffic while giving you the One-Finger Salute, do you feel all warm and fuzzy? On the other hand
(without one finger extended), a woman told me of a young couple that was deeply in love, basking in each other’s presence while waiting for their airplane. Everyone at the gate was sneaking peeks at them, their faces lit up with warm smiles.

Let’s extend that out a bit. Now those people might just treat each other a little better as they’re feeling love themselves. Those people then are just a little more kind and loving, and touch yet more people. Imagine if everyone did the practice—yes, it can be a conscious practice—of forgiveness and freed up their hearts, felt more connected to everyone?

And what about the opposite? Tribes are trying to wipe each other out, in retribution for what the other tribes did to them. Some of these feuds have been going on for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Not so long ago, there was an eruption of the age-old feuding in the
former Balkan states.

When I was in my twenties, my father thought I was charmingly naive about the world. He was a kindhearted man, and at the same time, saw himself as a pragmatist. As you may remember from Book 1, he was also a consummate debater. Hoping to lure me into a position
he could then undercut, he said, “You think if everyone just loved each other, we’d solve all the world’s problems.” I thought of the brilliance of the human mind, that figured out how to put a person on the moon not too long before. I thought that if we loved each other we would apply ourselves to solving problems like feeding everyone while preserving the environment. War would be unthinkable. My mind flashed through thoughts such as this. I looked him in the eye and simply replied, “Yes, I do.” We looked at each other for a long moment of silence. The debate was over before it had begun.

Learn more about Deepening Wisdom, Deepening Connection HERE. 

Excerpt, pages 31-35, from Ancient Wisdom for Our Times. Tibetan Buddhist Practice: Deepening Wisdom, Deepening Connection (c)2022 Lama Tsomo LLC. Published by Namchak Publishing Company LLC, USA.