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January 29, 2009

Feelings and Forgiveness

The Dalai Lama

When we are able to recognize and forgive ignorant actions done in one's past, we strengthen ourselves and can solve the problems of the present constructively.

If you know that someone is speaking badly of you behind your back, and if you react to that negativity with a feeling of hurt, then you destroy your own peace of mind. One's pain is one's own creation. One should treat such things as if they are wind behind one's ear. In other words, just brush them aside. To a large extent, whether or not one suffers pain depends on how one responds to a given situation. What makes a difference is whether or not one is too sensitive and takes things too seriously.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

The Dalai Lama offers difficult advice today -- something like "forgive and forget." We have previously discussed "Compassion and Revenge" and we concluded that revenge is wrong. The guidance today is beyond simply not taking revenge for a wrong we have suffered. We are further advised to acknowledge wrong acts, forgive them, and in essence, to not even let them bother us.

"To a large extent, whether or not one suffers pain depends on how one responds to a given situation," the Dalai Lama observes, even directly stating that "One's pain is one's own creation." This is not to say that those who do wrong are not responsible for inflicting pain on their victims, it is to say that we are each responsible for maintaining our own compassion, and our ability to be compassionate is reduced when we suffer negativity. Whatever wrongs we have suffered, we must maintain our own healthy state of mind.

The Dalai Lama is no stranger to suffering. If a man who was forced from his homeland, while thousands of his friends and family were killed, and who has not been allowed to return to his home in 50 years -- if this man is telling us to forgive, then we must listen. For his unwavering commitment to nonviolence, the Dalai Lama was awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, even as he has suffered more than most of us ever will. We must each of us reconsider our grudges, our hard feelings, all the negativity we suffer.

If we suffered emotional injury because we were a victim of someone else's wrong actions, then at first, that is only natural. Emotions occur as a reaction, before we can choose otherwise. If we still suffer now, however, then why? Do we have the power to stop suffering? If we must be compassionate, but we cannot be as compassionate unless we forgive, then must we forgive and do we not have the responsibility to stop suffering? Are we biologically helpless with regard to our happiness, or can we choose happiness, peacefulness, and possibility?

In an earlier article on happiness, "We Are the Makers," CompassionRise concluded: "Happiness is something you choose -- it may be inspired by others or by your circumstances but it does not depend on them -- being happy depends on you." In the article "Our Sense of Well-Being" we discussed some practical ways of making and keeping yourself happy and the reasons they may work.

After the moments of emotional reaction, this burden is ours because happiness is a matter of our free will. In "How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People -- Their Secrets, Their Stories" Rick Foster and Greg Hicks offer their research. They write "Happiness can be learned at any age, in any economic circumstances or geographical location, by people of any race, religion or belief system." CompassionRise would add: ... or by people of no religion, or of no belief system. Browse that part of their book on page 228, and search all of it with Google Books. From pages 13 and 14:

The idea that our deepest happiness comes from within us has echoed for centuries throughout world literature and religion. No less a philosopher than Aristotle said: "Happiness depends upon ourselves." Marcus Aurelius wrote in Rome: "To live happily is an inward power of the soul." ... This philosophy is also reflected in the two-thousand-year-old collection of Buddha's words, The Dhammapada: "The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart."

There is nothing in any of this philosophical certainty which says that forgiveness is easy. It is not. However, we are not exempted by the difficulty of our responsibilities. Having hard feelings is natural, but maintaining them is a choice -- a destructive choice. Examine the negative emotions you suffer, recognize and forgive their source; choose happiness, and reopen yourself to constructive solutions for the problems of the present.