Being forgiven by others and forgiving one’s self can be incredibly crucial for health and happiness. Religions do well to offer their believers freedom from unnecessary guilt. In a previous post I wrote about the power of forgiving others. This post is about the power of being forgiven. I will tell both a Buddhist story and some Christian examples to illustrate that the wisdom of forgiveness is deeper than any particular religion.
A Buddhist Nun Story
Gautama Siddhartha (the Buddha) taught his “Middle Path” for 40 years before dying. We have many texts purporting his teachings. In one such text, the Anguttara Sutra, we read of a Buddhist nun who is seeking learning from one of the Buddha’s chief disciples, Ananda.
This text explains the subtle ironic principle that to overcome a limiting and clenched desire, sometimes indulging the desire can be useful. He tells, for example, how paradoxically food can be used to actually overcome gluttony (inappropriate desire of food). Here, shunning food (extreme dieting) only amplifies the desire for food but moderate eating, over time, is the best way to loose the control food has over your mind.
Ananda then declares that among the desires that need to be calmed in order to obtain deep peace is the driving need for sexual intercourse. On hearing this, the nun confesses how her own regrets of her sexual indiscretions have left her ill. Ananda gives the nuns confession a light response, suggesting to the woman that she just get over it and move on. Everybody makes mistakes. Live and learn. The nun was hugely relieved and returns to heath.
- Inspiration: Why I am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey by Stephen Asma (p. 46).
- Text Source: Anguttarra IV 159
Christianity markets itself largely on the forgiveness effect. Here are only a few examples.
- John 7:53-8:11 , a later addition to the Bible, tells of Jesus forgiving a woman about to be stoned for adultery. (my post)
- Mark 2:1-12 tells the story of a paralyzed man who Jesus forgives and then the man is also healed.
- “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” — 1 John 1:9
Concluding, however, let me offer an obvious caveat before they appear in comments: of course horrendous things or even very dangerous acts need to be held tightly in our minds so that we don’t repeat them. Casually forgiving ourselves can just lead to repeated errors or crimes. Christians use the concept of “repentance” (“turning about”) as a needed companion to “forgiveness” to avoid this mistake. Buddhists have similar checks to avoid this obvious loop-hole. Forgiveness can be looked at as one of the minds many heuristics — one that often needs nurturing.
Notes: HT to great a Buddhist site for the pic: Buddhanet