Yes-Buddhism Teaches Forgiveness!

Reading discussions on blogs and various web sites about Brit Hume’s assertion that Christianity is much better suited to forgiveness than Buddhism, I was struck by two things:

1) How sure some Christians were that Christianity had a special  monopoly when it comes to forgiveness

2) And how unfamiliar some people defending Buddhism seemed to be of the Buddha’s own important teachings on forgiveness.

I addressed this first point, with a little “fierce dharma protector” fire in my post “What Brit Hume Forgot to Tell Tiger Woods.”  I’m happy to report that I received many supportive e-mails from Christians who thanked me for what I said and who wanted to apologize for their fellow Christian’s lack of love.  I told them they were already forgiven!

By the way, for anyone who thinks such defense is “un-Buddhist,” I would refer them to the Buddha’s own words in Digha Nikaya 1, the Brahmajala Sutta, in which the Buddha directs:

“If others malign me or the Dhamma, or the Samgha, you should explain (to them) what is false as false, saying ‘It is not so. It is not true. It is, indeed, not thus with us. Such fault is not to be found among us.’”

In the continuing spirit of this defense, and to help rectify point 2, I want to make clear that the Buddha not only specifically taught forgiveness, but that this teaching is implicit in everything the Buddha teaches about compassion. Indeed, the more one learns about compassion in Buddhism, the more one sees how powerfully linked it is to forgiveness, of ourselves and of those who have wronged us.

In the original Pali the word for forgiveness is khama, and in the Khama Yacan, the Buddha outlines what the student was to do when one needed forgiveness.  But first, the Buddha reminds the student that all actions have consequences:

All actions are led by the mind; mind is their master, mind is their maker.

Act or speak with a defiled state of mind, and suffering will follow as the cart-wheel follows the foot of the ox.

All actions are led by the mind; mind is their master, mind is their maker.

Act or speak with a pure state of mind, and happiness will follow as your shadow that remains behind without departing.

This is the Buddhist context for forgiveness.  No supernatural pardon can set aside this irrevocable law of karma.  We own our deeds, and our deeds own us. Rather than a point of pessimism, this fact sets us on our own two feet as self-responsible beings with free will.

We are no longer “bad” spiritual children needing pardon from some angry yet merciful divine parent.  Instead, we know that the very nature of the universe points to and supports our awakening to the essential freedom and goodness of our being

With this happy fact in mind, we can hear the Buddha’s words call to forgiveness with humility and expectation of good.  That loaded word “repentance”—which actually only  means to re-think—can be Buddhist born-again into a skillful means to liberation.

With an open heart, and in his heart, the Buddhist asks pardon of the Three Jewels of Buddhism—the Buddha (the outer and inner Buddha, or wisdom), the dharma or way of liberation itself, and the sangha, or community of practitioners:

If, due to negligence, I have done some wrong by body, speech, or mind, pardon me that offence, Bhante, Perfect One of vast wisdom.

If, due to negligence, I have done some wrong by body, speech, or mind, pardon me that offence, O Dhamma, visible and immediately effective.

If, due to negligence, I have done some wrong by body, speech, or mind, pardon me that offence, O Sangha, practicing well and supreme.

By means of this meritorious deed may I never join with the foolish. May I join always with the wise until the time I attain nibbana.

And then with a joyous shout, the khama teaching ends with heartfelt metta for all beings everywhere:

May the suffering be free from suffering, may the fear-struck be free from fear, may the grieving be free from grief. So too may all beings be.

From the highest realm of existence to the lowest, may all beings arisen in these realms with form and without form, with perception and without perception be released from all suffering and attain to perfect peace.

Excellent! Excellent! Excellent!

Buddhism doesn’t teach forgiveness?  The deepest compassion is forgiveness!

Oh, dear reader, come to know the sweet and total forgiveness you can find in the Buddha’s liberating teachings.   You have nothing to lose but all regret, sorrows, and suffering, and all happiness to gain!

For skillful instruction on how to forgive oneself and others, this three-part series should be very helpful:

Buddhist Forgiveness-When We Have Hurt Another-Part 1

Buddhist Forgiveness-When We Have Hurt Another-Part 2

Buddhist Forgiveness-When We Have Hurt Another-Part 3


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

8 Responses to “Yes-Buddhism Teaches Forgiveness!”

  1. Namaste _()_

    Thanks Steven for the exchange. . .and yes, i am thinking this situation may be an opening for many others to learn more of Buddhism. . .This has opened the door for Buddhist teachers to appear on some of the News talk shows and clarify questions about Buddhism. . .

    • It’s true, and with this opportunity, I’m sure going to continue to do my part to help spread the “good news” of the dharma and its forgiveness!

      And a deep bow and Namaste _()_ to you, great Sparrow Heart!

  2. As I’ve come to expect, this is no “ordinary sparrow’s” insights and questions! 🙂 I know exactly what you mean about being helped by a mindful detachment, and seeing more because of it. As for Mr. Hume, my sincere hope is that it was a least a knock on the door of his apparently closed consciousness.

    The light is interesting that way…when it shines upon them, some people hide from it, and even go deeper into the dark in fearful reaction——and sadly, some even want to kill the light, the pain of self-revelation is so great—and only a brave few are willing to enter the light further to see what the it may reveal.

  3. I have watched this one as if i was watching a movie. . . Sometimes i watch a movie and it draws interest with its powerful hooks and triggers,then other times the fiction is just too far removed leaving a detachment, but in both there is an awareness the movie is fiction. . .The lack of insight and understanding concerning deeper levels of spirituality by Mr. Hume helped me to watch this one in detachment with the echoic resoundings being more interesting than the original fictional sounding of Mr. Hume. But i wonder if this was an opening or closing of the heart and mind for Mr. Hume?


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