blog

On forgiveness (continued)

By Matthieu Ricard on June 14, 2009

By asking forgiveness, the criminal cannot hope to escape the consequences of his deeds, the gravity of his actions or the atrocity of his crime. Perhaps a truly repentant criminal should not even ask for forgiveness: having realized the depth of his crime, his main efforts should be to try, humbly but to the full extent of his abilities, to create a counteracting goodness for the wrong he has done.
When speaking of forgiveness, one also should distinguish between punishment and vengeance. Society has a duty to protect people from being harmed, but has no right to exact revenge. Whether it is murder or legal execution, any killing is simply wrong. Neutralizing and preventing harm does not require vengeance and retaliation.
To react instantly with anger and violence when harm has been inflicted is sometimes considered brave and courageous. But in truth those who remain free from hatred display much greater courage. An American couple went to South Africa to attend the trial of five teenagers who had savagely and gratuitously killed their daughter in the street. They looked the murderers in the eyes and told them: ‟We do not want to do to you what you did to our daughter.” Similarly, the father of one of the Oklahoma bombing victims said on the eve of the verdict: ‟I don't need one more death.” These were not insensitive parents. They simply saw the pointlessness of perpetuating hatred. In that sense, forgiveness is not excusing the wrong that has been done: it is completely giving up the idea of taking revenge.
Forgiveness does not
mean ‟absolution,” for one cannot fool the law of cause and effect. Someone who has perpetrated hateful acts will suffer accordingly over many lifetimes, until he has exhausted the negative potential of his deeds. Considering such a person, a Buddhist will have clearly in mind that the one who did harm is bound to undergo suffering to a degree determined by the measure of his actions. This will arouse not just a cheap pity for the murderer but compassion for all sentient beings, knowing how, until they become free from hatred and ignorance, they perpetuate an endless cycle of suffering. In short, contemplating the horror of other's crimes should enhance in one's own mind a boundless love and compassion for all beings, rather than hatred of a few.
Altruistic love is the ultimate weapon against hatred. A human being is not basically bad, but can easily become so. Our real enemy is therefore not someone else but hatred itself. There cannot be outer disarmament without inner disarmament. Each and everyone must change, and this process begins with oneself.