Monday, July 1, 2002

Community: Forgiveness, Part 2

"The one who is forgiven little loves little." - Luke 7:43)
"Where there is perception, there is deception." - Diamond Sutra

I needed to work more on the forgiveness angle, so one day I was talking with Sister Joyce about my problem. This man had done me a great deal of harm. Every time I thought about it, I got angry all over again. If I tried not to think about it, he would intrude into my thoughts before I realized what was happening. The anger just kept rising to the surface in spite of anything. I had practiced saying, "I forgive you with the forgiveness of Christ", and that was an important first step. It certainly brought some relief, but I wanted to be able to do more.

S. Joyce could identify with my problem because she had been having her own trials with a colleague. We were walking in the park and she saw some young children playing nearby and we sat down on a bench and watched them for awhile. Occasionally a quarrel would break out or one child would push another off the playground equipment and their mothers would have to intervene to settle things. We talked about how we all were like that once. We were just children living chiefly by instinct and relying on our mothers to settle our disputes. We find it easy to forgive our children because we love them and feel protective toward them and we know they are impetuous and immature and the damage they do is slight. We aren't threatened when they say hurtful things because we know they don't know any better. It takes a long time for them to grow up and learn to behave in socially acceptable ways. Some children have a harder time than others because perhaps they aren't disciplined well, or loved as much as they should be loved. Some children are deprived of the essential things they need to grow physically and emotionally well and others are allowed to grow into bullies. We know that many of their behavior problems are the result of poor parenting and we want to forgive them and hope they will learn to do better.

This person who has hurt us so much once was a small child. What can the life of that small child have been like? Children respond so well to love. Is it possible that this person who has hurt us had a serious love deficit as a child? What could have happened in that child's life that he grew into such a unpleasant adult? If that person could be a small child playing once again in the park, what would we see that could give us a clue about the adult that child would become? Did that child experience forgiveness or did he feel lonely and unacceptable.

Most of the time we don't have a clue why people turn out like they do, but if it were possible to go backward in time in a time machine and visit in the childhood home of a person we would learn a lot. I grew up in the South where there was a lot of racial prejudice, but I was fortunate because my parents were not prejudiced and taught me that all people should be treated equally. More important, they demonstrated in their own lives acceptance of people and appreciation of differences. But I had many friends whose parents were intolerant and said untrue and hurtful things about people who were different. If I had been taught the same things my friends were taught, I would have been prejudiced also.

Buddhists teach that humans are composed of Five Aggregates (skandhas): form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. These five aggregates comprise everything there is about us. When we watch children at play, we see their physical forms running, jumping, swinging, sitting or talking. We soon observe they demonstrate different feelings about their play. They are happy, irritable, tired, sad, provoked or calm. In another minute their feelings may change into other feelings. As we watch them, we begin to develop perceptions about whether or not they are friendly or bullies or outgoing or fearful. Our perceptions are based on what we see in our limited observation.

If we come the next day to the park, we may see a child and think, "Oh, there is the bully child again." This is a mental formation about the nature of a thing that is based on bits of information we have filed away in our "store consciousness", the fifth aggregate. Our information always is very incomplete, but we use it to make value judgments about people and things all the time. When we first meet a person, we draw upon bits of information in our store consciousness to form a picture or opinion about the person. Our store consciousness contains everything we ever have experienced or have learned or felt. Later, every time we see that person, this mental formation rises up to the surface of our thoughts and forms the basis for other bits of information we add as we interact with the person. Unless we learn to look deeply and truthfully at our perceptions, we may form a very hurtful and incorrect opinion or picture of a person and if we act on negative information, we may even perpetuate pain and suffering.

All the Five Aggregates are of an impermanent nature. Spiritual Wisdom is the discerning nature that recognizes the impermanent nature of our opinions about people and things and looks deeply to see the truth. When we look deeply enough, we learn that we all are the same. We all are children playing in a park experiencing joy and sorrow, love and forgiveness or rejection and anger. These feelings and perceptions are seeds that sink deep into our store consciousness for all our lives and grow and surface when they are watered and nurtured causing us to experience joy or sorrow, love and forgiveness or rejection and anger. But at the very deepest of our being, we all are the same. Some of us are more or less fortunate than others. When we are feeling distress or sorrow or anger, it is because of mental formations arising from the negative seeds in our store consciousness as a result of an incident or painful memory. We can say to ourselves, my feelings and perceptions are impermanent and I am not going to allow them to take root and grow into a big tree. We have positive seeds in our store consciousness that can help us build more positive mental formations. We can make a conscious effort to understand and change how we think.

My friend said to me, "When someone has caused us an injury and we are having trouble forgiving them, it helps to think about them as a little child playing in the park. Why is that child not happy and wanting to cause pain. What is happening with that child today? By doing this, we make the person small enough to fit into our heart. Then we can forgive them".