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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Letter from Publisher: When They Come After You, Forgive

Apr 01, 2021 08:30AM ● By Paul Chen
Upon waking this morning, the first thing I learned was that there was a killing of eight people in Atlanta, six of whom look like me.

It was easy to conclude that it was a hate crime. But just a few hours later, I learned that the suspect implied that his motive had to do with his proclaimed sex addiction—not any hate of Asians.

Whether that is the case or not does not mitigate the horror of what happened, but, if true, it does mitigate my perspective and reaction and, honestly, undermines the basis for the subject of this letter. However, the message that came to mind this morning remains relevant in a more general sense, so I’m going with it.

My first reaction to this morning’s news was one of sorrow, and I immediately thought of all my Chinese childhood friends, wondering how they were reacting. I thought of my son’s Vietnamese girlfriend and how she was doing. I texted my biracial children, asking how they were.

But most of all, I thought of the families of the victims of Dylann Roof. I remember, with clarity and astonishment, that several of those families forgave Roof. I was doubly impressed that they did so just two days after the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, at Roof’s first court appearance. Here is a quote from one of them in a Washington Post article:

“I forgive you,” Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said at the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

Recently, Natural Awakenings contributor Trish Ahjel Roberts and I had a brief conversation around forgiveness. Aside from our collegial relationship, Trish and I belong to the same Buddhist center, and we share personal struggles with anger. Trish had just written a blog post entitled Reframing Anger: Does Forgiveness Make Sense? in which she wrote about how she avoids using both the word and the practice of forgiveness. It was yet one more thing we have shared. Here’s the opening to her post:

“To me, forgiveness implies that you are excusing the abuse or betrayal of another person. I was surprised to find that Merriam-Webster defines the word forgive as ‘to cease to feel resentment against (an offender).’ Dictionary.com offers a definition closer to my own, which includes absolution. They define the word absolve as ‘to free from guilt, blame or their consequences.’ This is where the waters get muddy. You can forgive someone so you don’t harbor anger or resentment without absolving them of their own responsibility and repercussions. That’s not your job.”

I had found the first definition some years ago, too, and I have been much more comfortable saying “I forgive” in recent years. Nevertheless, the word still implies something more than merely losing one’s anger. But if not absolution, then what?

A call to our tradition’s resident teacher, Gen Norden, provided the answer.

Norden reminded me that Buddhists do not speak of forgiveness. Instead, the essence of forgiveness is patient acceptance and love. To patiently accept the bad things that happen to you, whether by accident or by another’s malevolence, it significantly helps to keep the law of karma front and center. We receive what we give, even as what is returned can manifest many lifetimes after the causal action occurred.

Gen Norden continued. To love one’s tormentors and assailants requires recognizing the difference between a person and their deluded actions. There are three delusions: attachment, hatred and ignorance, and none reflect our true nature. As my tradition likes to say, delusions are like clouds in the sky; clouds are not the sky, just as delusions are not the person. Indeed, when clouds disappear, the sky is revealed, just as our true selves emerge when our delusions disappear.

Thus, we can judge actions harshly and yet still love the person committing malevolent actions.

“Don’t reject anyone,” says Gen Norden.

And so it is. ❧
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