I’ve been studying the thoughts of Buddhist teachers recently. It started like it usually does; I find one thing and then that leads to another and so on and so on. I think this particular find started with the Buddhist concept of “rapture.”
And so I read about rapture and then that leads to jhana and then that leads to right concentration and finally I ended up at the Access to Insight website. [link]
Access to Insight is a popular Theravada Buddhist website. Thervada is the oldest surviving school of Buddhism still in practice around the world.
I guess one could say the Theravada are like the professors (or clergy if you like) in Buddhism. The Access website was created for and is dedicated to, “providing accurate, reliable, and useful information concerning the practice and study of Theravada Buddhism, as it has been handed down to us through both the written word of the Pali canon and the living example of the Sangha.”
So back to the subject — forgiveness, reconciliation, and right and wrong.
For a pointed reason, I wanted to read what the view on forgiveness was in Buddhism. Aside from the philosophizing,
“These two are fools. Which two? The one who doesn’t see his/her transgression as a transgression, and the one who doesn’t rightfully pardon another who has confessed his/her transgression. These two are fools.
“These two are wise. Which two? The one who sees his/her transgression as a transgression, and the one who rightfully pardons another who has confessed his/her transgression. These two are wise.”
there was a lot of sound, sensible, advice that I appreciate and think anyone trying to find their “self” in the world would appreciate. I’ve posted what I like below.
First off, the Buddha, through his insight, believed that forgiveness is one thing and reconciliation is something else.
When you forgive me for harming you, you decide not to retaliate, to seek no revenge. You don’t have to like me. You simply unburden yourself of the weight of resentment and cut the cycle of retribution that would otherwise keep us ensnarled in an ugly samsaric wrestling match. This is a gift you can give us both, totally on your own, without my having to know or understand what you’ve done.
Reconciliation — patisaraniya-kamma — means a return to amicability, and that requires more than forgiveness. It requires the reestablishing of trust. If I deny responsibility for my actions, or maintain that I did no wrong, there’s no way we can be reconciled. Similarly, if I insist that your feelings don’t matter, or that you have no right to hold me to your standards of right and wrong, you won’t trust me not to hurt you again. To regain your trust, I have to show my respect for you and for our mutual standards of what is and is not acceptable behavior; to admit that I hurt you and that I was wrong to do so; and to promise to exercise restraint in the future. At the same time, you have to inspire my trust, too, in the respectful way you conduct the process of reconciliation. Only then can our friendship regain a solid footing.
Pretty sensible yeah?
The Buddha also outlined the skillful ways in which one would attempt reconciliation in different situations. The first step in all cases is “an acknowledgment of wrongdoing.” What follows are the directions on how to heal a split between a community but I think this would work well for any two people suffering from a split.
To heal a full split in the Sangha, the two sides are instructed first to inquire into the root intentions on both sides that led to the split, for if those intentions were irredeemably malicious or dishonest, reconciliation is impossible. If the group tries to patch things up without getting to the root of the split, nothing has really been healed. Only when the root intentions have been shown to be reconcilable and the differences resolved can the Sangha perform the brief ceremony that reestablishes harmony.
Pervading these instructions is the realization that genuine reconciliation cannot be based simply on the desire for harmony. It requires a mutual understanding of what actions served to create disharmony, and a promise to try to avoid those actions in the future. This in turn requires a clearly articulated agreement about — and commitment to — mutual standards of right and wrong. Even if the parties to a reconciliation agree to disagree, their agreement needs to distinguish between right and wrong ways of handling their differences.
The article also touches upon the myth that there is no right or wrong in Buddhism. It’s not that there is no right or wrong as much as right and wrong has been perverted.
…right and wrong have gotten a bad rap in Western Buddhist circles, largely because of the ways in which we have seen right and wrong abused in our own culture — as when one person tries to impose arbitrary standards or mean-spirited punishments on others, or hypocritically demands that others obey standards that he himself does not.
To avoid these abuses, some people have recommended living by a non-dual vision that transcends attachment to right and wrong. This vision, however, is open to abuse as well. In communities where it is espoused, irresponsible members can use the rhetoric of non-duality and non-attachment to excuse genuinely harmful behavior; their victims are left adrift, with no commonly accepted standards on which to base their appeals for redress. Even the act of forgiveness is suspect in such a context, for what right do the victims have to judge actions as requiring forgiveness or not? All too often, the victims are the ones held at fault for imposing their standards on others and not being able to rise above dualistic views.
This means that right and wrong have not really been transcended in such a community. They’ve simply been realigned: If you can claim a non-dual perspective, you’re in the right no matter what you’ve done. If you complain about another person’s behavior, you’re in the wrong. And because this realignment is not openly acknowledged as such, it creates an atmosphere of hypocrisy in which genuine reconciliation is impossible.
So the solution lies not in abandoning right and wrong, but in learning how to use them wisely.
The Buddha created a culture of values in which right and wrong become aids rather than hindrances to reconciliation. For example, for the person in the right, the Buddha created a checklist of questions for the person to ask themselves in order to prevent abuse of their position.
- Am I free from unreconciled offenses of my own?
- Am I motivated by kindness, rather than vengeance?
- Am I really clear on our mutual standards?
The Buddha also recommended this for those in the right.
That they determine to speak only words that are true, timely, gentle, to the point, and prompted by kindness. Their motivation should be compassion, solicitude for the welfare of all parties involved, and the desire to see the wrong-doer rehabilitated, together with an overriding desire to hold to fair principles of right and wrong.
And for the wrongdoer, it is encouraged to help them see “reconciliation as a winning rather than a losing proposition” and to help them see that the honest acceptance of blame is an honorable rather than a shameful act. In fact, this honorable acceptance should be seen as the means for progress in spiritual practice.
Another aspect of the culture of values are the 5 moral responsibilities that keep a wrongdoer on the path of denial. Modern sociologist have identified 5 strategies that wrongdoers use to deny responsibility for their actions. They are the following:
- Deny responsibility.
- Deny that harm was actually done.
- Deny the worth of the victim.
- Attack the accuser. And,
- Claim that they were acting in the service of a higher cause.
The 5 moral responsibilities that undercut these strategies are:
- We are always responsible for our conscious choices.
- We should always put ourselves in the other person’s place.
- All beings are worthy of respect.
- We should regard those who point out our faults as if they were pointing out treasure. (Monks, in fact, are required not to show disrespect to people who criticize them, even if they don’t plan to abide by the criticism.)
- There are no — repeat, no — higher purposes that excuse breaking the basic precepts of ethical behavior.
The teaching concludes with this:
The Buddha admitted that not all disputes can be reconciled. There are times when one or both parties are unwilling to exercise the honesty and restraint that true reconciliation requires. Even then, though, forgiveness is still an option. This is why the distinction between reconciliation and forgiveness is so important. It encourages us not to settle for mere forgiveness when the genuine healing of right reconciliation is possible; and it allows us to be generous with our forgiveness even when it is not.
So what do you think? You can read the full text here. [link]
aPhoto from Wikimedia Commons, Eric Pouhier. [link]