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Self-Forgiveness Question

Hi Friends,
Ajahn Brahm tells a story about a man who was a mass-murderer. He converted to Buddhism and found self-forgiveness, compassion, and true enlightenment. The teaching was that if someone like a mass murderer can come to meditation and true loving-kindness for themselves and find enlightenment, anyone can.

But this gave me a question... this mass murderer in the story has found enlightenment which is all good, but he has left a trail of devastation in his wake. So while he has now become enlightened and peaceful, others are very likely still suffering the effects of his past hurtful deeds.

How is this reconciled? It is one thing to never be able to act in hurtful ways going forward, but what about others who are still and will continue to be affected by past hurtful actions? I know the ideal answer is forgiveness on all sides but it is also highly unlikely that everyone is going to get to that point in the current affected lifetime. It probably doesn't help them much to know he forgave himself for causing such immense hurt to others.

So how does a person come to peaceful self-forgiveness while knowing others are still suffering because of their past actions?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Comments

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    The point of the story is to focus on the complete 180 of his attitude and behaviour, and to understand from the story that the Dhamma is open to everyone, regardless.

    There are no Judges, no critics no condemnations in the philosophy of Buddhism; we do that to ourselves in spades, so the whole point is to change our actions and observe the beneficial effects to ourselves, if we do good, as opposed to continuing and perpetuating the behaviour.

    Whether the story is true or not, is a matter for other discussion. It may just be illustrative...

    Remorse and recompense in whichever way is possible, is a commendable way to make amends and try to repair the injury and damage done to others, but the specific focus of this tale is "If he can, anyone can".

    Naturally, in this day and age, it's a given that a criminal must repay society for his crimes by being punished by the Law of the Land, and if it means Life Imprisonment - or even the Death penalty - there is still room, and time, for that person to atone for their reckless misdeeds.
    Nobody can force those affected to either forgive, or 'get over it'.
    That is their choice.
    But a murderer can find solace in trying at least to make reparation in whichever way they can find possible.
    There are countless tales of guilty criminals 'seeing the light' and going straight, as there are tales of victims forgiving them and even forging a relationship of kind, with the person who hurt them (directly or otherwise).

    So it is a story designed to demonstrate that nothing is impossible, when it comes to Changing the Human Mind.

    paulysoFosdickBunks
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @stapeliad said:... So how does a person come to peaceful self-forgiveness while knowing others are still suffering because of their past actions?

    With difficulty, I would suppose.

    It all depends how deeply the guilt is felt. We often say on here, Remorse is commendable.
    Guilt is just burdening yourself down for the sake of it.
    There is much to be said for doing our best to make amends, to apologise, to recompense in some way.

    Let us say for example, that you"playfully" 'borrowed' your neighbour's car (they left the keys in the ignition, and you had no consent), and ended up crashing it. You also inadvertently ran over her cat, as you reversed it out of her drive.

    Your neighbour however, is under no obligation to forgive, or to accept the apology, And is entitled to manifest resentment and anger, for as long as they feel it. But that should not be an indication or signal that you must continue therefore, feeling guilty.
    If you make a sincere apology, reparation and take the punishment, whatever it might be, Then however your neighbour feels about it, you've done your bit, and you've done your best.

    Let go. Move on.
    And don't do it again.

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited December 2018

    Those other suffering people might still hate the one who hurt them regardless of if that person is enlightened.

    Your question was how did that person come to peace and forgiveness knowing full well that he had hurt others? I'm not sure. That's a good question. I know in the story of Milarepa he used the fact he had hurt others as motivation to practice hard because he knew he had caused a lot of bad karma so if he didn't become enlightened he could be in a lot of trouble. So Milarepa looked very diligently, ardent to find a teacher and he found Marpa. He practiced for many years with Marpa and at first Marpa would not accept him as a student and he had to do various things. Then after parting with Marpa after receiving teachings he meditated in a cave single-mindedly for years.

    So is the answer to be like Milarepa and follow the example he set?

    lobster
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited December 2018

    So how does a person come to peaceful self-forgiveness while knowing others are still suffering because of their past action ?

    I guess it's a case of.....
    What's done is done... and can't be undone...Consequences of one's past actions no doubt will follow...

    However.......
    One has the choice of living in misery and being in no fit mental state to help others ( with a mind laden with guilt) wallowing in the past full of remorse & self-pity...

    Or one can dedicates one's life to helping others...( a mind filled with the opportunities to help others) living in the present knowing full well one can't undo what's already been done, but one can make a difference in the present by helping others...

    The past may shape the Present but it's the Present that shapes the future ...in passing...

    When it comes to the Dharma... Practice makes Perfect...and Perfect Practice makes Perfect Practice

    "Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" ...Nothing whatsoever should be clung to

    Jeffreylobster
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the void Veteran

    Do your best to learn from your past mistakes and use them to move forward in a positive way. And be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions and atone in some way. All you can do is all you can do, even if that doesn't satisfy others you have some basis to forgive yourself and let go of guilt.

    I don't know, our modern sense of justice doesn't seem to allow much room for forgiveness. At least in the US we kind expect felons to carry the burden for their crimes long after they have served their sentence.

  • Ajahn Brahm tells a story about a man who was a mass-murderer.

    Like Ajahn Brahm we may consider ourselves former mass murderers (countless lives towards Buddhahoodiness). I suppose it makes a good story.

    @stapeliad said:
    Hi Friends,

    <3

    So how does a person come to peaceful self-forgiveness while knowing others are still suffering because of their past actions?

    First of all I forgive you.
    You may know but dwelling/wallowing/being attached to previous unskilfull behaviour etc. helps no one. No One! Not even me, especially not you.

    So what's the plan?

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    The Tibetans undertake a practice called "The Four Opponent Powers" in order to purify past missdeeds.

    https://www.lamayeshe.com/article/purifying-four-powers

    lobster
  • @stapeliad Is that the story about the cow that cried? Love that story! If so, it is my understanding that it is true - whatever that means.

    Anywho, who is the murderer? You know what...I'm starting another thread because this one is about to get hijacked if I stay any longer, then @federica would have to get involved...chaos everywhere...like life.

    Kundofederica
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    edited December 2018

    @stapeliad said:
    How is this reconciled?

    Karma. Karma never stops ripening, even if one gets enlightenment.

    So how does a person come to peaceful self-forgiveness while knowing others are still suffering because of their past actions?

    That arises naturally out of just practicing the dharma.

    "A disciple has faith in that teacher and reflects: 'The Blessed One in a variety of ways criticizes & censures the taking of life, and says, "Abstain from taking life." There are living beings that I have killed, to a greater or lesser extent. That was not right. That was not good. But if I become remorseful for that reason, that evil deed of mine will not be undone.' So, reflecting thus, he abandons right then the taking of life, and in the future refrains from taking life. This is how there comes to be the abandoning of that evil deed. This is how there comes to be the transcending of that evil deed.

    "Having abandoned the taking of life, he refrains from taking life. Having abandoned stealing, he refrains from stealing. Having abandoned illicit sex, he refrains from illicit sex. Having abandoned lies, he refrains from lies. Having abandoned divisive speech, he refrains from divisive speech. Having abandoned harsh speech, he refrains from harsh speech. Having abandoned idle chatter, he refrains from idle chatter. Having abandoned covetousness, he becomes uncovetous. Having abandoned ill will & anger, he becomes one with a mind of no ill will. Having abandoned wrong views, he becomes one who has right views.

    "That disciple of the noble ones, headman — thus devoid of covetousness, devoid of ill will, unbewildered, alert, mindful — keeps pervading the first direction [the east] with an awareness imbued with good will, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth. Thus above, below, & all around, everywhere, in its entirety, he keeps pervading the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, without hostility, without ill will. Just as a strong conch-trumpet blower can notify the four directions without any difficulty, in the same way, when the awareness-release through good will is thus developed, thus pursued, any deed done to a limited extent no longer remains there, no longer stays there.

    "That disciple of the noble ones — thus devoid of covetousness, devoid of ill will, unbewildered, alert, mindful — keeps pervading the first direction with an awareness imbued with compassion... appreciation... equanimity, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth. Thus above, below, & all around, everywhere, in its entirety, he keeps pervading the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with equanimity — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, without hostility, without ill will. Just as a strong conch-trumpet blower can notify the four directions without any difficulty, in the same way, when the awareness-release through equanimity is thus developed, thus pursued, any deed done to a limited extent no longer remains there, no longer stays there." https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn42/sn42.008.than.html

    Translator's note: The actual complexity of kamma, however, allows for a way in which past evil deeds can be overcome: through refraining from evil now and into the future, and through developing expansive mind-states of good will, compassion, appreciation, & equanimity.

    AKA, just practicing the dharma. =)

    lobsterpersonstapeliadShoshin
  • Thanks so much everyone for these incredibly insightful answers!
    The story comes from... well I read it anyhow- in Ajahn Brahm's book on meditation. Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond.

    :)

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @stapeliad said:
    Thanks so much everyone for these incredibly insightful answers!

    Yah, we got this...

    image

    The story comes from... well I read it anyhow- in Ajahn Brahm's book on meditation. Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond.

    Thank you for the source. :)

  • DavidDavid some guy Veteran
    edited December 2018

    @stapeliad said:
    Hi Friends,
    Ajahn Brahm tells a story about a man who was a mass-murderer. He converted to Buddhism and found self-forgiveness, compassion, and true enlightenment. The teaching was that if someone like a mass murderer can come to meditation and true loving-kindness for themselves and find enlightenment, anyone can.

    But this gave me a question... this mass murderer in the story has found enlightenment which is all good, but he has left a trail of devastation in his wake. So while he has now become enlightened and peaceful, others are very likely still suffering the effects of his past hurtful deeds.

    How is this reconciled?

    I think if he can truly awaken putting an end to his suffering then those affected by his past deeds must be able to as well.

    It is one thing to never be able to act in hurtful ways going forward, but what about others who are still and will continue to be affected by past hurtful actions? I know the ideal answer is forgiveness on all sides but it is also highly unlikely that everyone is going to get to that point in the current affected lifetime. It probably doesn't help them much to know he forgave himself for causing such immense hurt to others.

    As it may have taken him many lifetimes, so too may it take others.

    So how does a person come to peaceful self-forgiveness while knowing others are still suffering because of their past actions?

    By moving past the illusion of seperation and knowing true equanimity and Metta.

    lobster
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited December 2018

    Sometimes those things can't be reconciled. In the story, Angulimala, through a spark of wisdom and compassion, did see the error of his ways and the harm he had caused, which set him on an internal journey after meeting the Buddha, eventually reaching a state of awakening and inner peace. Some saw the change and were amazed that such a transformation could take place in an individual. But because of the past harm he did, he was also beaten horribly while walking for alms by people who hadn't forgotten or forgiven. And while he endured the violence with equanimity, not wishing harm in turn, he couldn't escape some of the results of his past actions arising. One of the lessons I take away from this story is that it's a difficult thing to transcend your past mistakes, and doing so won't make all the bad things go away; but it's not impossible to move forward and transform yourself even if you can never fully make up for the harm you've caused. Moreover, becoming a better person and ceasing to cause any more harm (and even doing good, like helping a mother-to-be in distress) is one way to honour those you've hurt and to indirectly make amends. And sometimes, that's the best we can do.

    federicalobsterperson
  • Another thought that I take for granted in my own thinking, but forget that others don't accept it as a given...

    I don't think of time as linear. How this affects your question is that he may have zeroed out the karmic debt long before he lived this life.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited December 2018

    @Jason said:
    Sometimes those things can't be reconciled. In the story, Angulimala, through a spark of wisdom and compassion, did see the error of his ways and the harm he had caused, which set him on an internal journey after meeting the Buddha, eventually reaching a state of awakening and inner peace. Some saw the change and were amazed that such a transformation could take place in an individual. But because of the past harm he did, he was also beaten horribly while walking for alms by people who hadn't forgotten or forgiven. And while he endured the violence with equanimity, not wishing harm in turn, he couldn't escape some of the results of his past actions arising. One of the lessons I take away from this story is that it's a difficult thing to transcend your past mistakes, and doing so won't make all the bad things go away; but it's not impossible to move forward and transform yourself even if you can never fully make up for the harm you've caused. Moreover, becoming a better person and ceasing to cause any more harm (and even doing good, like helping a mother-to-be in distress) is one way to honour those you've hurt and to indirectly make amends. And sometimes, that's the best we can do.

    I think this story is really meant to illustrate the skill of the Buddha as a teacher in his ability to tame Angulimala; the power of the Dhamma (as both a truth and a path) to tame Angulimala; and the ability/skill of Angulimala as a practitioner to ultimately tame himself. Or course, others couldn't see the change within him, or perhaps didn't care. But the fruits of his practice weren't dependent upon that. Rather, they depended upon his compassion, resolve, effort, and some good fortune from past and present skillful actions (such as encountering the Buddha and Dhamma and having enough wisdom to see the value in them). I don't think that means Angulimala forgot his past misdeeds or that people automatically forgave him. But I do think he was able to look back and see that, after his path changed, he was not that person. And while he may have had the memories and remorse, and was forces to endure the wrath of others, he was also able to let go of his guilt knowing that he was reborn in a sense as a noble one, unable or unwilling to harm another ever again. It also illustrates that anyone has the potential to do better, be better. Compassion is that powerful.

    lobsterfedericastapeliadperson
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    So how does a person come to peaceful self-forgiveness while knowing others are still suffering because of their past actions?

    I think karma is the answer... becoming an awakened one means one has let go of many concerns of day-to-day life, and I think the self-forgiveness comes with that. But we do not know what karma the murderers victims may have been carrying that they had to be murdered. The workings of karma are mysterious.

  • @yagr said:
    Another thought that I take for granted in my own thinking, but forget that others don't accept it as a given...

    I don't think of time as linear. How this affects your question is that he may have zeroed out the karmic debt long before he lived this life.

    This is an excellent point, and I think the same way.

    yagr
  • the past is done and will not change. Forgiveness of self begins when I recognize I made many mystakes but now have the opportunity to learn from them. Acceptance of me as I am and the willingness to make the changes I want to make and need to make to become the person I should be is the next step. Taking that action to make the changes reality and acceptance that I can, will and am changing is the emergence of self-acceptance and self- forgiveness. Once I am able to forgive myself, I am able to forgive others. Recognition that I can change become recognition that others are also capable of change and growth. Thus self-forgiveness is and entails, by its nature, forgiveness of others.
    By giving yourself permission to be happy, you give others permission to be happy. There is no such thing as selfish happiness or selfless happiness. Happiness is, after all, contagious. You get it from and give it to others.

    lobsterpersonstapeliad
  • So how does a person come to peaceful self-forgiveness while knowing others are still suffering because of their past actions?

    By self cherishing. Some of us are very unhealthy at nourishing a healthy being. We can let others past negativity go ... but our own ... ?

    Healthy self cherishing is not ego inflation and selfish massage. Rather it is an acceptance of karmic/circumstantial being. Some of us may have started off as soldiers, fish murderers :3 (guilty as charged), predators or otherwise unskilful.

    Can we do better? Maybe. We can try.

    ... iz plan.

    Shoshinpersonstapeliad
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    @lobster said:

    Brilliant ...I have lots of room for Rumi's wisdom :)

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