Rediscovering Forgiveness

Forgiveness

This year, I have been taking baby steps in exploring forgiveness as a spiritual path. A chance encounter with the intriguing phrase ‘advanced forgiveness’ led me to Gary Renard’s ‘A Disappearance of The Universe’. Encouraged by my mentor GD, I revisited my hardbound ‘A Course In Miracles’ copy. Many epiphanies later, I found my longtime Buddhist practice being steered into unexplored waters. And during a turbulent work-year, the guiding star I tried to steadfastly hold onto was forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness. From it, I learnt two things: one, forgiveness can indeed change your life; and two, most of what we have been taught about it is wrong.

Forgiveness, I was taught in school, is when someone does something awful, but you, taking in a deep breath of pure compassion, decide to forgive him. Because you are good, he is an ass. Plus, doing it makes you a favorite of old man God who smiles in his frosty beard and jots your name on His Special List of Favorite Children.

As I grew up, I occasionally practiced forgiveness, using the same line of thinking, just with complicated multi-syllable words. Then, three decades after my Jesuit education, I was guided to ‘A Course In Miracles’ (ACIM), which makes forgiveness the cornerstone of its entire teaching system. According to ACIM, forgiveness not only heals, it single-handledly undoes the ego’s delusional worldview; forgiveness is not just an occasional step – it is an entire path towards the peace that passeth understanding.

According to ACIM, the commonly practiced form of forgiveness is actually ‘the ego’s forgiveness’. Notice the ego subtly making itself higher than the other by allowing what is considers a perfectly obvious act of evilness to pass. The victim sees himself innocent while the other is guilty. Attempting this kind of forgiveness is valuable because it may be motivated by a noble intention, but seems at best superficial and at worst arrogant.

To appreciate a more advanced vision of forgiveness we need to first understand how the mind projects its own unacceptable emotions on others. A man who furiously blames others at office for incompetence, looking honestly within, realizes it is his secret guilt about his own incompetence in some area, which he is constantly projecting outside. Or a woman who strongly condemns her husband for being unreliable will find it was coming from her secret shame about being unreliable. When this is seen, there is a natural forgiveness that happens, because now the other is not guilty. He was simply the screen on which we were projecting our movie. This is a more genuine forgiveness than the first because there is real freedom in seeing it was all a projection, hence a misunderstanding.

This is not the grudging forgiveness of the ego, this is a laughing forgiveness that wonders how it could believe that the fault was really outside. As American teacher Byron Katie says, “Forgiveness is realizing that what you thought happened, didn’t.”

Perfect forgiveness, ACIM says, occurs when we begin to glimpse the dreamlike nature of the world itself. So not only is the other not guilty because it was your projection onto him, you are not guilty either: the victim and abuser are equally dream characters. The highest level of forgiveness thus rises far beyond the plains of Puritan morality into the high peaks of Non-Duality. As ‘The Course In Miracles’ says:

“Forgiveness is the only thing that stands for truth in the illusions of the world.  It sees their nothingness, and looks straight through the thousand forms in which they may appear.  It looks on lies, but it is not deceived.  It does not heed the self-accusing shrieks of sinners mad with guilt. It looks on them with quiet eyes, and merely says to them, “My brother, what you think is not the truth.”

In its purest form, forgiveness is not a doing, it a seeing: a seeing that the illusion of separate individuals is simply an erroneous mind-construct.

In its purest form, forgiveness is not a thought, it is a meditation: a sinking into the silence beyond form to see that without thought, this never happened.

In its purest form, forgiveness is a gift of love to yourself as much as to the other: because it reaffirms the truth of our oneness once again.

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If it interests you to explore this form of forgiveness further, I highly recommend Gary Renard’s ‘The Disappearance Of The Universe’ before you dive into ‘A Course In Miracles’.
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Picture Courtesy Heather Katsoulis

Where Does Your Salvation Lie?

butterflies

Sometimes, when we make a life-choice that is not in accord with our highest vision of our life, it appears as if we have succumbed to weakness or temptation. Guilt prompts us to struggle against these ‘lower impulses’ by urging us to change our actions – to quit smoking, to stop overworking, to end an old affair. And yet, when the carousel comes around again, we find ourselves riding the same hobbyhorse in a modified form.

Maybe the root problem is not the temptation itself – it is our belief that salvation lies therein. My mentor GD often refers to this as ‘creating false gods’:

“A false god is anyone or anything external that is seen as the source of completion. Every time we run outside ourselves to seek joy and fulfillment, we need to create false gods. It could be in the form of relationships, power, money, success or even addictions. We often dedicate our lives to these ‘substitute’ gods, in the vain hope that they will bring us happiness and deliver us to salvation. But every false god will eventually fail you – and push you back inside – to your own divinity and oneness with source.

Where do you believe your salvation lies? It’s easy to tell, because this is where your attention flows obsessively. This is what you speak about and value in others. This is where your energy moves,and where your time is spent. It’s the substance and significance of your dreams.

A Course in Miracles is unequivocal on this subject: “All idols of this world were made to keep the truth within from being known to you. And to maintain allegiance to the dream that you must find something outside yourself to be complete and happy. It is vain to worship idols in the hope of peace. God dwells within, and your completion lies in Him.”

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The Silent Accuser

The Silent Accusation

The human mind is powerful and subtle. It is also twisted and self-deceptive. Many journeys towards peace, joy and healing are sabotaged by hidden undertows of fear, guilt and blame.

One hears, for example, of people who suffer from chronic ill-health or depression, who appear to be sincerely trying everything to get out of it, but nothing seems to work. A place we would never think of looking for a solution is whether there is any hidden benefit for the person in holding on to this suffering.

Twisted as it sounds, often there is. Through sickness one can get sympathy, attention, pity-love, control, no responsibilities and moral superiority. And the heaviest anchor holding a sickness against the winds of healing may be a subconscious desire to punish someone and hold them guilty. The way this game works, my mentor GD explained to me, is that with your sick body, you tell these others: ‘Look what YOU did to me! While there is tremendous suffering, there is seemingly greater value in that righteous moral superiority. While there is danger, it is overridden by a belief in a more grievous threat to one’s self-image and ‘reality’ without this defense. GD reminded me of a quote from A Course In Miracles: ‘Damaged bodies are accusers’.

This game can play out across decades and its outward expression need not be only through sickness – its expression can be through loneliness, depression, poverty or chronic failure. It can play out between son and father, between husband and wife, between employee and boss, even between a disciple and teacher. In each case, the baleful glance of the sufferer says, ‘What is happening to me is your fault. And my suffering is proof that you are evil, and I am noble.’ In each case, the suffering is a cold finger pointing accusingly at the imagined perpetrator.

A few years ago, when I had quit my full time job, I had gotten into a panic over finances. With a seemingly mountainous home loan and monthly expenses of the family which were princely, I felt crushed by an unfair and overwhelming burden. To right the situation, I began living a Spartan life. My extreme self-denial became a silent way to make my family feel guilty about their spending. I stayed unhappy, contracted and secretly resentful without realizing what was happening. While the reality was that finances were taken care of – and unexpected monies beyond my expectations were coming in – the mind refused to let go of being the poor victim for a long time. In fact, until last night.

Last night, my therapist-wife Aditi reminded me how ironic it was that today I had more money than ever before and yet I was feeling poorer than I had as a teenager. One of the questions she asked to help me understand the reason behind it was: ‘Imagine yourself happy, abundant and expansive – now, what’s wrong with this picture?’ I saw that I would lose control over the family – if I went for a holiday to France, I wouldn’t be able to tell them not to. I would have to ‘forgive’ them for their past misdeeds of burdening me with earning money. Holding on to my chronic internal lack and self-denial (which I had given a spiritual lacquer to) actually felt safer than letting it go. Because this device’s power lies in the dark conviction that the problem is external and not-my-choice, simply bringing it into the sunlight is enough. Seeing this device clearly, without self-judgment, was incredibly freeing. Laughter, expansiveness and love resurfaced.

So if you have a chronic issue that resists healing — and if you would like to end the suffering — ask yourself what is the hidden benefit in holding onto it and whom do you hold responsible for it? Ask yourself if it was completely solved, what would go ‘wrong’? And most of all, ask yourself: If blaming anyone was not an option, how would you deal with this situation?

You may just find that true healing has begun in that instant.