When we hurt others, and our conscience is awake, we suffer. While having a conscience is good, the Buddha is all about the ending of suffering, right? So, what do we do?
Bhante Bodhidhamma is a vipassana (insight meditation) teacher of over 20 years experience. He offers some very helpful insight practices to help us heal our hearts and perhaps (where possible) become reconciled with those we’ve hurt.
(This is Part 1 of a three-part series on learning how to forgive ourselves.)
How do we free ourselves of a victimizer’s suffering?
Reflect on the truth that we are deluded.
Remember we have acted out of a mistake arising from our primal ignorance and that therefore we are at heart innocent. This allows us to forgive ourselves.
It is necessary to take on our proper responsibility for the role we played.
We need to accept our part in the process of ‘causing’ that pain, of being a catalyst. For instance, once we know how to press someone’s buttons, we can use it to control, to spite them and to enjoy ourselves! Because harm comes as a result of our behavior, we need to accept our share of the responsibility – the more so if the person is not in control of their behavior, such as a child.
However, we must be careful not to take on false guilt.
Just as it is true for us, so it is true for others. Each of us is responsible for our own psychological pain, even those we have harmed.
We must make resolutions not to behave in a similar way again.
Resolutions can be dangerous things! Sometimes we overestimate what we are capable of, in which case we need to be realistic and revise our resolutions.
Because our behavior patterns are deeply ingrained, we will necessarily make the same mistakes over and over. So we need to accept that the process will have to be repeated and repeated and repeated. Slowly, if this is done with an earnest heart, our habits are lessened and they will eventually die away.
We have to sit in the midst of the flames we have caused in our own hearts.
This is the psychotherapeutic process of vipassana insight meditation. Again we must be careful not to indulge in fantasy, but as soon as the mind has wandered into thought patterns around shame, guilt and remorse, we need to bring ourselves back to just those emotions as felt in the body and sit patiently with them. Accept unreservedly that this suffering is a proper consequence of unskilful action. So we must learn to sit patiently amidst the flames.
At an insight level, we begin to realise that we cannot fool our hearts. Whenever we do harm, these mental states of shame, guilt and remorse will arise. Eventually they become automatic reminders of potential suffering as soon as any unskilful thought or desire arises. In this way they become our guardians.
It is true that all feelings of shame, guilt and remorse are unwholesome. A liberated person would not feel such states. However, if we do not look upon them as teachers, we will experience them as punishment which will make us the more bitter.