Many years ago, when I was a young Christian fundamentalist, I huddled beside my bed every night and uttered sorrowful prayers for forgiveness. I prayed for strength so I could forgive the school bullies who made my life a living hell. I prayed to God to forgive my sins, and one one night after a particularly awful, highly misogynistic sermon about the sins of “Eve” (even alleging that women did not have souls because God breathed the breath of life in Adam but not into Eve but that’s another story entirely)
I knelt down for my nightly prayers and begged God to forgive me for being born a girl.
I stopped in mid prayer and thought. Wait. There is certainly nothing wrong with being a girl, because without girls there would be no boys! It was that night decades ago, when I cast doubt on a great many things in regards to Christian theology. It didn’t take long for my faith in the “Church” to unravel. As did my belief in forgiveness.
I thought about it like this:
My tormentors never spent one our of lost sleep feeling guilty about what they did to me and to others. They felt highly justified in the torment they inflicted. They did not–or could not–care less as to whether or not I forgave them or not.
So forgiveness wasn’t for them. So what was it for?
I thought about this deeply, even in my young mind I knew that forgiveness was something you did to ease the guilt you feel for not retaliating. For not ‘getting them back,’ or ‘paying them back.’ In fact, forgiveness seemed to denote a lack of courage.
Decades later, when I asked Lama Jigme about the subject. He told me that forgiveness was the term used by accountants to clear a debt. In other words, forgiveness suggests that you owe a person who harmed you a ‘debt’ to ‘settle the score’ to ‘pay the offending party back.” to make them pay.’ None of these things are palpable, nor are they necessary.
Bearing a grudge is like carrying a tow-sack full of shit on your back. Its disgusting to carry and it offends everyone around you. And forgiveness is a poor way of laying that burden down.
Because, as I pointed out earlier, the person who harmed you most likely will never lose a minute’s sleep over it. Approach them years from now and ask them and they’ll probably tell you they had forgotten all about it. The reason for this is because they are not the same person who harmed you. And you are no longer the person that was harmed.
If I do as Buddha suggested in the sutta mentioned in the link above, and sit on the banks of a great river.(The Red River in this instance because the Ganges is too far away) I can see the the river changes on minute to minute basis. The sandbar that appeared in the morning could be washed away by noon. Trees and other flotsam that became lodged will float away by the changing current. If I sit and watch for a season, I can see that the river will crouch low in its banks, so low that I can see catfish wallowing in the muddy shallows. Later, when the monsoons arrive, the river will rise from its banks and spill onto the fertile farmland nearby. The river changes, just as we do.
If I look into the mirror, I can see that I am not the half awake swollen eyed creature with bushy tangled hair that I was an hour before getting dressed. If I look into a photo album, I can see I am not the same person I was a year a go, or two or even ten years ago. I changed physically, spiritually and mentally. Just like the river.changes so did I. And you change too, as do your perceived enemies. We are not the people we were.
Therefore, there is no reason to harbor a grudge against someone who insulted you ten years ago, or even last night. Because the people you were then no longer exist.
Does this mean you need to embrace the person who harmed you and claim them as your bestest best friend? No.
It does mean that you can let go of the awful thing done to you and leave it in the past. It also means you are free to not associate with the person who abused you. You can let them go, and the sooner the better.
Put all your ‘yea but’s aside. Put your guilt away, don’t buy into the contrivance of forgiveness.
You are free. You can let go now.. All you have to do is stop grasping.