Oakville Zen Meditation

#101. Forgiveness: A Zen perspective.21MAR16  

When asked why he forgave the Chinese for taking Tibet and its temples and why he did not express any anger and resentment against them the Dalai Lame replied: “They took everything but I don’t want them to take my mind. By forgiving I am keeping my mind clear and serene”.

One of the common objections to forgiveness is the belief that the “culprit“ must first apologize. Naturally, it is much easier to forgive people who are totally repentant but apology should not be a requirement. Such a conditional attitude towards forgiveness completely misses the point. We must learn to forgive people as they are. Furthermore, maybe they have been acting out of ignorance or careless behavior and it is up to us to find out before accusing. Finally the act of forgiveness should not be aimed at someone but also at ourselves. When guilt is unbearable, learning to forgive self will ease the burden.

Common objections to forgiveness:

Most of our objections to forgiveness are ego driven since we believe that:

  • It can be perceived as an act of recognition and acceptance.
  • It can be perceived as granting the other person the permission to do it again.
  • It can be perceived as a sign of weakness. “Not me.... never!”
  • Forgiveness will not change anything.
  • We need to give a lesson and don’t want to give up.

From a Zen Buddhist point of view:

Zen has a broader understanding of the act of forgiveness.

First check if your anger and resentment are justified? Maybe your perception is wrong. Following this initial inquiry, expressing forgiveness has two positive interrelated objectives and effects.

  • The first step is to deal with you, the “victim”.

To forgive someone or self it is first necessary to accept then to let go our mental turmoil, suffering and bitterness created by our anger, resentment, and frustration toward the other person or self.

To forgive self, one has to accept to let go the same turmoil especially when you feel very guilty.

  • The second step is to deal with your relationship and the person causing the pain.

Therefore, Zen considers that forgiveness is, first, a self-healing act, sort of antidote to our anger, grudge and frustration before being an act to improve relationships. Remember that the first goal of Zen Buddhism teaching and practice is to ease your suffering that is mostly self-induced. Dealing first with self is then logical.

Before forgiving others and self, we should try to erase our mental turmoil, suffering and bitterness. This will bring harmony, dignity and serenity within self and with others. If you cannot express forgiveness you will continue to carry your mental turmoil for a long time. With patience and learning to accept and let go, you will eventually practice forgiveness.


Forgiveness must start with forgetting self by controlling our ego driven anger and resentment causing suffering. This self healing attitude opens the door to the actual forgiveness toward others and self. Forgiveness like love, kindness, compassion and generosity should be altruistic that is only in one way.

We should not see forgiveness as an act of strength – this is big ego thinking - or as an act of weakness – this is also big ego. Understand forgiveness not only as a way to accept others and self but mainly as a way to heal yourself by controlling or even eliminating your suffering.

Forgiveness should not be limited to others but also includes self especially when guilt is predominant and must be controlled.

Holding a grudge against someone or self does not make you stronger; it makes you bitter and more powerless.

On the opposite side, forgiveness does not make you weaker; it set you free from ongoing turmoil.

Thoughts to contemplate:

Have you ever forgiven or refuse to forgive someone (anger) or yourself (guilt)?

  • If yes what was the result within yourself and with your relationship?

Have you always expected / requested prerequisite apologies from the offender?

  • If yes what was the result within yourself and with your relationship?

How often was the cause of your anger deliberated or unintentional?