Tuesday, January 1, 2013


The Inuit people have many words for snow.  Snow is an important part of their culture and one word is not enough.  Not all snow is alike.
In Greek and Hebrew there are various words for love.  They recognized different types of love; brotherly love, intimate love, love and kindness, unconditional love, etc.  One word was not enough.
A single word assigned to a complex thing just isn't enough.
The complex concept of forgiveness has troubled me for a long time.  How do we deal with conflicts?  When someone wrongs us or someone we love, what should we do?
Christian teaching seems a bit conflicted to me.  Jesus said to turn the other cheek.  Does that mean you let the person smack that cheek too?
Jesus said if your brother comes to you seeking forgiveness you must forgive him "seventy-seven times".  The bible says we have to forgive others or we will not be forgiven.  And yet, in order for us to be forgiven, we must confess our sins.  So, do we forgive others if they do not "confess" their sins?
I don't think the one word "forgiveness" is enough for this complex issue.  And the Christian teachings remain confusing to me.
So I looked for what Buddha had to say.  I found this story:
Buddha on Forgiveness
Buddha is sitting under a tree with his followers and a man comes up and spits on him.  Buddha calmly asks the man "What's next?"  Of course, that is not the reaction the man expected and he went away confused.
Buddha's followers were angry.  Buddha told them they were wrong to be angry.  The man was trying to say something that he could not.  It wasn't Buddha he was spitting on but rather something that he believed about Buddha that could not be true.  They did not know each other.
Meanwhile, the man could not sleep.  All night he considered Buddha's reaction to what he had done.  The next day he was full of remorse and went to ask Buddha's forgiveness, falling at his feet.
Buddha said there was no need for forgiveness.  Neither of them was the same person they had been the day before.  A lot had happened in 24 hours.  He invited the man to stay and talk.
So what does this all mean?
In asking calmly "What's next?", he did the unexpected very much like turning the other cheek.  But it strikes me that asking the question has other meanings.  In not reacting, Buddha put the responsibility squarely on the man.  He gave the man nothing negative to react about and caused him to consider his action in the present as well as "next".  Buddha did not take the man's action personally.  The man was wrong and it wasn't about Buddha.
So, the first part of the lesson seems to be that if someone clearly wrongs you and you have done nothing to deserve it, don't take it personally and let it remain with that person.  Don't feed the monster.  Don't hang onto it.  It's not your issue.
The second part of the lesson seems to be that if the person comes asking forgiveness, there will be nothing to forgive.  You need no healing because you did not accept the wound.  They are now healed and no longer unable to express themselves in a positive way.
Should there be a word for not internalizing a wrong?  It's like instant forgiveness.  It's a recognition of the other person's pain or struggle.  Maybe another word for not needing to forgive someone because you accept no harm from them.  Then maybe another word for forgiveness of physical harm.
It just seems that forgiveness is too important and multifaceted to be covered with just one word.

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