Forgiveness doesn’t come easy to most. I count myself amongst the ‘most.’ Not that I keep a lot of grudges locked tight in deep dark dungeons of my heart and mind! But, yes, there are some incidents, some events that are hard to forget, difficult to come to terms with. And your mind continuously plays the same record of ‘if only,’ ‘why did he/she,’ ‘I shall never forget how he/she hurt me’ and the like. So, it was no wonder that I went to my neighborhood library and picked up a book on forgiveness. Actually, there was another reason too. This specific book was about His Holiness The Dalai Lama about whom I had heard but not enough. So, I thought reading this book would help me acquire two benefits; one – I would get to know a wee bit about a living saint I had wanted to know more about but never took the initiative and two, I would gather some insights into the art of forgiveness, something that I needed to learn.
So, here I was with book in hand, ‘The Wisdom of Forgiveness’ HH The Dalai Lama. The most intriguing thing about the book was that it was written by Victor Chan, a man of Chinese origin. That made the book more interesting to read as we all know that the Chinese are still keeping peace for the Tibetan community at ransom in spite of all the suffering and the universal appeal of The Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet. In fact, one of the very first questions that Victor Chan asks of The Dalai Lama is whether he hated the Chinese?!
To advance on the spiritual path not just to know about God but also for ordinary human souls like us he says, that we must develop forgiveness. He says, “I make visualizations: send my positive emotions like happiness, affections to others. Then another visualization. I visualize receiving their sufferings, their negative emotions….I pay special attention to the Chinese-especially those doing terrible things to the Tibetans. So, as I meditate, I breathe in all their poisons – hatred, fear, cruelty. Then, I breathe out. And, I let all the good things come out, things like compassion, forgiveness. I take inside my body all these bad things. Then, I replace poisons with fresh air. Giving and taking. I take care not to blame….This meditation is very effective, useful to reduce hatred, useful to cultivate forgiveness.
I was impressed. And understood about the visualization part. It works I know since I have tried it. But, breathing in negative emotions, no, that didn’t seem practical to me for the moment. What if I breathed in all that poison and was not able to breathe it out? Maybe, for ordinary souls like me, some more effort was needed.
There is something else that The Dalai Lama says about forgiveness which really felt great and also very very practical. It is the issue of ‘interdependence.’ It is so simple that one wonders how so many of us do not seem to use it in our lives and fritter our emotions and energy away on things not really worth the trouble.
The Dalai Lama says, “The theory of interdependence allows us to develop a wider perspective.. ..In today’s world every nation heavily interdependent, interconnected. Under these circumstances, destroying your enemy – your neighbor –means destroying yourself in the long run.”
For those interested in spiritual development he says, “Spiritual progress takes time. It’s not like switching on a light. More like kindling a fire: start from small spark, then, becomes bigger and bigger…. All mental transformations like that.. At beginning, not noticeable. Spiritual development – we cannot see results within weeks or months. Even years. … My own case also like that.”
By comparing himself when he gives spiritual advice HH The Dalai Lama comes down to the level of the spiritual aspirant and makes it appear like, “Hey Man! If I could do it so can You!” and you wonder at the utter simplicity and grace of this world famous saint representing Buddhism today in the entire world. One particular episode in the book really stands out which I still remember with great clarity and that is The Dalai Lama’s take on Saddam Hussein. He says that from ex President of US, George Bush’s view, Saddam Hussein was bad, ‘hundred per cent negative’ and the only way out was ‘elimination.’ “But, reality not like that” he says. He goes on to say that Saddam Hussein was not one hundred per cent wicked from birth – “not something unchangingly bad. The wickedness comes from many other factors, not only from him.” He even says that during the Gulf War when everybody blamed Saddam Hussein, he felt that it was all very ‘unfair’ and that his ‘heart went out to him.’
The Dalai Lama’s heart went out to Saddam Hussein? To someone who brought suffering to so many people? Yes, says The Dalai Lama. “Without his army, without his weapons, he cannot be that kind of aggressor. These weapons not produced by Iraqis themselves, but come from the West. Western companies helped to produce this aggressor. They did it, but afterword, they blame on that person. Unfair.”
Powerful words and such practical philosophy. So many of our worries and problems we create ourselves and later when we suffer we blame everyone else but ourselves. “If circumstances changed,” he says, “that person can become very nice person, “he finally says.
Forgiveness for The Dalai Lama exists in two levels. “One level: forgiveness means you shouldn’t develop feelings of revenge. Because revenge harms the other person, therefore it is a form of violence. With violence, there is usually counter violence… and the problem never goes away. …Another level: forgiveness means you should try not to develop feelings of anger towards your enemy. Anger doesn’t solve the problem. Anger only brings uncomfortable feelings to yourself. Anger destroys your own peace of mind. Your happy mood never comes, not while anger remains. I think that’s why we should forgive. With calm mind, more peaceful mind, more healthy body. An agitated mind spoils our health, very harmful for the body.”
I am sure for those seeking to cultivate the art of forgiveness, this book will come as a godsend. I have not transformed into an all forgiving person after reading this book. I would be lying if I said that. But this much is sure. I was greatly influenced by the simple principles of forgiveness that HH The Dalai Lama preached so simply during the course of his interactions with the author. And I hope to practice them in my life.
P.S. How could I leave this out? When Oprah asked The Dalai Lama whether he had ever to forgive himself for anything he replied, “My attitude towards mosquitoes is not very favorable, not very peaceful….”