On Being Forgiven

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.

Christian Stories

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


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

9 responses to “On Being Forgiven

  1. This text explains the subtle ironic principle that to overcome a limiting and clenched desire, sometimes indulging the desire can be useful.

    That reminds me that the best advice on forgiveness and managing anger I ever heard came from a Buddhist source. And it works wonderfully for me.

    It said that when we feel we’ve been hurt, we should indulge the anger by feeling it in full force–in private. In other words, we should fume at pleasure, until the anger dissolves on its own.

    After that, we naturally move to a peaceful state where forgiveness is a snap.

    I like that technique a lot better than what’s preached in Christian churches, the “you shouldn’t feel that way” method. It leads to unprocessed anger, which is extremely dangerous for one’s health and emotional well-being.

  2. @ Lorena : superbly stated !
    Tantric Skillful Means” are a method in Buddhism, often misunderstood and abused, to accomplish some of this counterintuitive technique. I agree with you, it is far better than unprocessed, ignored, eating anger.

  3. Forgiveness is an essential part of living in a social society. How could we get on with life if every we went there were people we held gruges against.

    This is probably the reason that all religions mention it. It’s an in-built part of the human condition.

    Amongst all the kinds forgiveness thought. Self forgiveness is the most important. Like the Nun in the above story, living a life of guilt is one of the most dangerous things we can do.

  4. @ SpiritualAtheist
    I am glad you agree !

  5. I’m reminded of the incredibly poignant “It’s not your fault” scene in Good Will Hunting. Sometimes it’s like that. We can be forgiven a thousand times, but we can bury our guilt so deep that it will never see light of day, and in the case of religion it’s many times things we needn’t feel guilty about anyway. Just in case you don’t remember it or haven’t seen it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMG3kUt6VlI

  6. OK watching that again choked me up and I have work to do — nice job!

  7. Just writing about it choked me up, then I watched it. 😉

  8. Jaime Fernando

    I believe that the most important thing you can do to help your soul is to seek forgiveness directly to those we have caused harm… Weather we are forgiven or not, just the sincere and heart felt act of recognizing our errors to those hurt by them will cleanse the soul before God has to remind us of our mistakes during our life on hearth.

  9. @ Jaime,
    I agree that asking forgiveness is powerful. But I don’t think gods or spirits are watching.

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