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.
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’.