Is forgiveness about what someone else did or about my experience?
I had the privilege several years ago of meeting an old Tibetan monk (the Lama above, Palden Gyatso). I met him at an event where he spoke to a large group about being tortured by soldiers and also witnessing the torture and rape of many nuns and monks.
I heard him talk about the cattle prods being used to inflict painful electric shocks on the prisoners. The shocks from the cattle prods ultimately dislodged all of his teeth (and he was in his 20s at the time, as I recall, so these were not loose teeth of an elderly person).
During his detailed descriptions of the tortures, I started to feel like I was going to pass out. I got up from my seat near the front of the auditorium and went out the back door in to the hallway to get some water to put on my face (and remove me from being able to hear the continuing story).
I actually passed out as I was in the hallway- almost making it to the water fountain. I believe I was only passed out for a few seconds. Then, after a few minutes, I went back in and this time sat near the back (in case I needed to exit again).
At the end of the talk, he put his hands together up (like shown above, except all the way up to his forehead). He made his final blessing of the assembly and I felt a wave of energy slam in to me like a gust of wind. I presume that the energy was “from” him, but it may have been a resonance that involved the entire audience.
Whatever it was, I liked it. It was deeply reassuring and calming.
During the talk, he spoke at length about forgiveness. That was actually his focus, not the historical events. He was just using the personal stories to teach spiritual principles. At least at this event, he was not personally advocating for any particular political retaliation (though he was probably accepting donations to support the remaining monks and nuns).
He did not talk about forgiveness in the way that was familiar to me. He did speak about the events and the actions of others, plus he mentioned his awareness that the soldiers would be tortured if they did not torture him as instructed. But his version of forgiveness really had nothing to do with them or even with the past.
His version of forgiveness was about the present. He was present right then in that room in Tucson, Arizona. Those soldiers were not (or if they were, that would not have mattered).
He forgave himself for being afraid. He forgave himself for being angry. His version of forgiveness never had anything to do with the past- or it did not by the time of that lecture.
He spoke with no shame about the details of the past. People in the audience asked questions, like did he ever feel resentful toward the soldiers. He made joking response likes: “no… well, okay maybe a little, but I think of resentment as something that is only helpful if other people change their actions in response to the resentment. I was not trying to convince the soldiers to stop. I was not trying to shame them. I found it to be more useful to pray for them and bless them while they were conducting the tortures.”
WHAT?!?!? I was raised as a Christian and I know that what I just reported sounds a lot like the basic teachings of Jesus, but I had NEVER heard somebody actually give specific personal examples like these of applying that same perspective. Christianity to me was just something that people talked about at church. From my perspective, it was not really welcome in my home. We might talk about it in the home a little, but was it practiced or even allowed at home?
I actually liked reading the Bible. I found some sections very interesting. But why would I ever talk to my parents about what I read? As a teenager, one of my main goals in life could have been to survive high school and escape with as little interaction with my parents as possible.
I did not leave and never return. I did not feel the independence to do that. Otherwise, I might have.
Most of my life, my orientation toward my parents has been to interact with them minimally and instrumentally. I don’t expect to enjoy it. Only much later did I begin to question what my parents could handle in regard to me telling them the truth.
Rather than focus on telling them as little as possible to fulfill my goal (whether a little truth or a little lie), I did begin to experience a new degree of openness. I could offer to share something and let them tell me if they were interested. Or, I could write something and mail it and let the consequences come.
In my 20s, I mailed my parents a letter several pages long revealing many lies that I had told them as a teenager. Did I appreciate them? Yes. Did I respect them? Well, that is an excellent question. For sure, I resented them.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to one of them on the phone. The call began with immediate guilt-tripping.
To me, resentment is primarily when I pretend not to be angry (or I otherwise am afraid to display anger). When I ignore what I perceive as a barrage of arrogance, insults, passive aggression, abusive comments, and disrespect, I can either ignore them as trivia or… ignore them because I am afraid to display my emotions, like because of a lack of self-respect.
Thank you for the opportunity to experience repulsion. Thank you for the opportunity to recognize my level of self-respect. Thank you for the opportunity to voice my self-respect and my emotions.
But I am not thanking that individual. I am thanking life itself (or one could say thanking God).
You personally, whoever you are reading this, are more important to me than the past. The opportunity to voice self-respect is not in the future or the past, but what is happening right now right here.
Thank you. For the opportunity to voice my self-respect right now, I thank you.
I release my fixation about being respected by particular people. I notice when I feel respected and when I do not. The more that I experience mutual respect in my interaction with someone, the more I may invest in interacting with them.
Palden Gyatso probably never developed the complex network of pretenses that I did as a teenager. He endured other challenges and I am grateful that he did. Why? Because if not for his tortures, I might have never heard of him. I respect him for being a mentor to me even only so indirectly- a brief inspiration that has endured.
He demonstrated self-respect in a way that I had literally never witnessed it. No one that I had known had ever demonstrated it like that to me.
Forgiveness is a profound act of self-respect. It has nothing to do with the past or any other people. I get it. It took me quite a while, but I finally get it.
Yes, I may have been a victim. So what?
Being a victim is not all that unusual, is it? In my experience, a healthy abundance of self-respect is much more unusual than to have some past history of victimization- plus much more inspiring and attractive.
Was I ever a victim? Sure, I suppose so, right!?!?! Am I now? That is a more interesting question to me than if I ever was in the past….
But if someone else is interested in the details of my past, I could be willing to share some details with some people. I just do not need to do anything in order to earn anyone’s respect (or sympathy or approval or apology). Why? Because I already have respect.
Thanks, Palden! Courage is everywhere if you know how to find it.
Above are some statistics on the modern Chinese system of governing human resources. I display these statistics with respect for myself and respect for all those involved in that system from planning to day-to-day labor.
I am grateful for the opportunity of this life. Which is more important: the past or the future?