Think of forgiveness as being like banking: someone owes you money, and you forgive the debt.

Lama Tsultrim Yeshe, teaching on “The Healing Power of Forgiveness”

On the weekend of June 1 – 3, Lama Tsultrim Yeshe led a program at KTD called The Healing Power of Forgiveness. Here, Lama Tsultrim Yeshe describes the program (based on centuries-old dharma teachings) and how he came to develop it.

When I was a prison chaplain for the state of Wisconsin, I would often hear inmates say, “I wish I could forgive myself,” or “I wish my family would forgive me.”

However, there was an important element left out in their statements; the inmates also needed to forgive those who they felt hurt them – “the enemy,” be it the law, or the system, or whoever they felt was out to get them.

This was my inspiration for the program, which covered three types of forgiveness: forgiving yourself, feeling forgiveness from those whom you have hurt, and forgiving those you resent and feel anger toward.

The source of the teachings was the profound “Seven Points of Mind Training” by Chekawa Yeshe Dorje, a twelfth-century master of the Kadampa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The commentary I recommended for this retreat was “The Practice of Lojong” by Traleg Rinpoche. I see this book as a good support for the weekend’s teachings, and a source for further study for those who wanted to learn more. I highly recommend the book.

The format for the weekend included formal sitting meditation practice before each teaching and meditation instruction using a traditional Kagyu presentation, followed by group discussion and sessions of Tong Len, the “sending and receiving” practice at the heart of Mind Training.

When dealing with issues of forgiveness, access to individual interviews is important; the participants benefit from being able to discuss specific problems in private. Interviews were held each day.

Most of us have a lot to deal with. As fallible human beings, we all engage in lots of harmful behavior. In the Lojong (Mind Training) teachings, the phrases “manure for the field of the Bodhi” and “the manure of our experience” are well-used and appreciated. It’s a recurrent theme whenever you deal with concepts of forgiveness – useful, and even handy. Our “refuse,” in the form of unwanted behavior, is one of our principal resources for growth, just as manure is valuable to a farmer or gardener.

The other type of “manure” we experience comes from outside us – all the chaos, problems, anger, harm, and difficulties that seem to find us no matter what we do to avoid them. It is the difficult people and uncomfortable situations that teach us patience.

And patience is the key. The remedy that turns “the manure of our experience” into the fertilizer that helps us grow is patience, loving-kindness and compassion. These are only developed with the aid of difficult people. There is no other way.

We can only attain complete, perfect Buddhahood by developing loving-kindness and compassion for all beings.  So we studied the techniques that transform our previously unwanted manure into awakening, and suffering into happiness.

Think of forgiveness as being like banking: someone owes you money, and you forgive the debt. Tong Len was used to help train in letting go of the debt of pain and suffering to which we cling.

It is also important to stop accumulating these types of debts; the remedy for this is an understanding of the 10 non-virtuous actions, which we also studied.

In our hearts, the way to relate to forgiveness is to have remorse but to avoid guilt. We need discipline, but also kindness, caring, nurturing and understanding. Purification is also very important. It is essential we understand we have Buddha nature, complete perfection within, and that we are working gradually but steadily to bring these qualities forth.

There are different ways to view a difficult person:

  • As your lost mother from a previous life time.
  • As a being who is so confused that they engage in behavior that will cause them to experience even more suffering in the future than they now experience.
  • As an aide who will help you to attain Buddhahood and complete freedom from suffering.

These three attitudes help us develop compassion and warmth toward others.

Finally, we view everything in our experience as if it were in a dream, with no inherent reality.

It takes courage to deal with forgiveness and to take these insights into your experience. There were difficult issues to be worked with, but we were rewarded with new confidence and insight into our lives and experience.

I personally enjoyed the workshop and hope it was of benefit to the participants. Forgiveness is a rich and deep subject, one well worth returning to again and again.

Lama Tsultrim Yeshe (John Samuelson) getting ready to greet His Holiness Karmapa last July.
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