Let’s examine about the practice of forgiveness. In my life and in my practice, I am coming to learn the power of forgiveness than ever before. If you come to an event with me, like a retreat or something like that, I will oftentimes lead a “forgiveness meditation”. Self-forgiveness meditation is very, very powerful, when we examine the things that we hold against ourselves. It’s also very powerful to practice forgiving others – letting go of resentments, etc. It’s something that I’ve been teaching forever, but I feel like in this stage of my life and in this movement of my own journey, I’m really learning deep stuff about it.
I found a great passage in the New Testament where Jesus talks about forgiveness. Obviously, he was a major, major teacher of forgiveness and a teacher who is probably the greatest exemplifier of that teaching, so I thought that will be a good place to go. In the Book of Luke, there is this section that has become so famous, we don’t even know where it comes from anymore, but it’s in the Book of Luke in the sixth chapter. If you’re a Bible person, it’s 6:27. He says to his disciples:
“But I say unto you who are willing to hear, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those that curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your shirt, give them your coat as well. Give to everyone who asks, and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. Treat people the same way you want them to treat you.”
There are many famous little bits in this passage. The teaching about “turning your other cheek”, is very famous. “Treat people the same way you want them to treat you”. That, too is so famous it’s known as the “Golden Rule”. These are great, but the part that stands out to me is where he says, “Do good to those who hate you. Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.” He’s not talking here about just being nice in general. He goes on to say a little later in this chapter that in the practice of love, it’s not that big of a deal to love people that are easy to love. In the practice of giving, it’s not that hard to give to people that you know are going to give back to you. He says everybody does that. Everybody loves people that are nice to them. But can you love, he’s asking us, those who mistreat us?
This isn’t just about people who are “hard to love”. He’s not just asking his disciples to notice people that they don’t notice. These are also key teachings, but here he’s speaking really specifically, “Love your enemies.” Your enemies. Do you have enemies ? It’s such an intense thing to have an enemy.
Recently I was talking with Parvathy Baul, who is the great Bengali Baul singer and master of that devotional tradition, and somehow we started talking about “loving our enemies”. We were talking about karma and relationships.
Think about this for a second: Of all of the billions of people that are on earth at the same time that you are, how many of them do you ever even lay eyes on realistically? Even if you are somebody like Beyonce who performs in big stadiums full of people all the time, you’re still only going to encounter millions of the billions. Most of us don’t live such a huge life, it’s probably more like hundreds of thousands of people we will encounter. That is such a small sliver. These are just people that we’ve laid eyes on. Then, if you take all of the people you’ve laid eyes on, how many people have you had any interaction with? I mean just like a barista at Starbucks or something. You order, they give you the order, say, “Have a nice day.” Now, we’re talking about thousands of people over a lifetime, depending … some of us have much smaller lives, some of us had bigger lives, but still, even if it’s many tens of thousands, compared to the billions of people that exist while you are here it’s a tiny sliver of people you’ve ever interacted with. If you then consider the people that you actually have relationships with in your whole lifetime, from the time that you’re born until the time that you die, how many people have you had relationships with? Some of us, it’s just a handful. The average American knows about 600 people. But, still, we’re not done.
Within the tiny sliver of the people that you’ve had relationships with, how many people have you and do you have relationships with that actually impact you? That actually have anything to do with your life and impact you in any way? A handful. And within that handful of people, (this is what we’re talking about with Parvathy Ma) are our enemies.
If you think about it, our enemies have a very strong impact on us, often times a stronger impact than our friends and loved ones. There’s no way that we don’t have the most powerful karma with them. According to the Eastern teachings about karma, we have to have karma with someone to have any kind of interaction, even the lightest interaction – let alone any kind of deep relationship, any kind of relationship that has the impact on us. So that person that mistreats you, as Jesus said, that person who slaps your face, that’s not just anybody. That is someone that you have a soul connection with. That’s a “soulmate”. Everybody wants to meet their soulmate, so if you just make a list of your biggest enemies, well, there you go, part of your soulmate list is filled out.
Just as our good times and loving moments with our “positive soulmates” is so much more powerful, so it is that much more powerful to forgive those people who are our enemies. To forgive someone who is a delightful person that just stepped out of line for a moment; or if you have some kind of a beef with your beloved, and then come to some sort of resolution, those kind of moments of forgiveness are also important – I don’t want to discount them. But what I’m talking about here is the RGM: the Radical Grace Medicine that comes in these moments of radical forgiveness. Can you imagine, if somebody slapped your face, if you actually gave them the other cheek? I mean, he’s speaking in parables, but can you imagine?
Somebody steals your shirt and you say, “Wait a second, you better take my coat, too!” Can you imagine what that kind of mentality is like that he is calling us toward? I can. It’s been something that I have been initiated into, you could say, in my life with moments of people that, for whatever reason, their choices just hurt me so bad whether they meant to or not, and other situations where I had brought some sort of harm upon myself through another person and made it so hard to forgive. So hard.
I know so well the moments where everything in me wants to hate the person, wants to even to kill the person or the people involved, or wants to badmouth them, wants to pretend they don’t exist, wants to just say no to those people’s worthiness, their value as human beings. And this teaching of radical grace tells us that the opposite thing is the medicine, is to say “No! In this situation, I shall love. I shall put my own hurt, my own compulsion to hurt back aside and love.”
Marianne Williamson talks about this when she talks about “karma versus Grace”. She says the Buddha taught about karma hundreds of years before Jesus talked about Grace. Karma is the cycle of cause-and-effect, cause-and-effect. You hit me; I hit you back. You hate me; I hate you back. Grace is a breaking of that cycle: You hit me; I love you. You hate me; I love you. You condemn me; I love you. No matter what, LOVE is the answer in that radical grace configuration. That’s the RGM It’s so powerful. It’s so incredibly powerful. Consider the karma that we have with our enemies: either it’s some sort of an enemy that we’ve created, that in some way or another in our life path, we wronged them, we’ve offended them, we have challenged them, we did whatever, but they have decided that they are our enemy. They are our nemesis. They want to bring us down or they stop us or harm us in some way. Have you ever experienced that? Whether you feel like you deserve it or not, in some way or another, you’re always involved in creating that enemy. Once they were a friend or a neutral acquaintance. Now they are against us.
The other kind of enemy is seemingly random. Seemingly. Someone attacks us on the street; someone that doesn’t even know us does something that affects us or affects our life or affects our people or whatever, and we might not be their enemy, but now they are our enemy, They are the potential object of our hatred. But we didn’t do anything to bring this on. It just came about “randomly”. Well, we don’t really believe in randomness in this way. There must be some karma there. There must be something there, who knows?
The Bhagavad Gita, it says,
Mysterious are the ways of karma. 4:17
It’s not really supposed to be understood except to the extent that we understand that it’s there and it’s a factor in the mix. But either way, when we can come in to that moment of radical forgiveness and say, “Oh, you have stabbed me in the heart, everything in me wants to condemn you and hate you, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to love you.” man, it just throws a monkey wrench in that momentum of karma.
When the insult or injury is random, maybe from some past life karma, what we call prarabdha karma, some “destiny” karma, it could have the effect of just of wrecking us. Somebody harms us, somebody insults us, somebody actually physically harms us or attacks us or traumatizes us, we could let that pain turn us into a negative entity. Traumas can often put us into a negative lifestyle, even a lifestyle of crime. It turns us into a villain. It turns us into an enemy to others.
When we go for the RGM, the Radical Grace Medicine, instead, we say, “No. I’m going to love this person.”
I’m not talking about in a co-dependent way. I’m not talking about becoming a doormat. I’m not talking about going into denial. I’m not talking about all these other things that we could potentially do in the name of that, I’m not talking about when we say “I don’t want to deal with the conflict so I’m just going to say I forgive you.” No, I’m talking about for real, in our bones, doing that work. That’s with the “random stranger” enemies.
With the ones that we’ve created, the relationships that where once were friends, and then were “frenemies”, and now they’re our enemy, or somebody that once was our beloved, and now they’ve betrayed us, or somebody who once was our friend and now they’ve become our nemesis, now they’ve become a backstabber to us, or they have just decided that whatever support they were giving us in friendship or love or whatever, now they’re going to withhold it… it could be as simple as that.
Well, there’s karma there, too. Guess what? We’ve created it. Whether we meant to create it or not, whether we actually wronged anybody or not, we have contributed to it. Sometimes if we simply disappoint someone, to them it’s taken as an offense. We just say no to something that they want us to say yes to and now they’re offended, and now they have a resentment, and now we are their enemy. They have become an enemy to us. Even in these situations where we feel basically innocent, if you look at it from the point of view of karma, we have something to to live down.
And, of course, in some cases, we have messed up. We were unconscious. We hurt someone we didn’t mean to; maybe we even harmed someone deliberately. We were that blinded. Rumi has this great quote where he says,
Tomorrow we will awaken to see what we have torn and broken thrashing in the dark tonight.
Jesus said of his executioners,
Forgive them God Father, they don’t know what they’re doing.
When we harm people, we almost never know what we’re doing – even if we do it consciously, even if we choose to harm someone. If our human heart is really awake, we don’t want to harm anybody. You and I both know that when we’re really awake and really free, we’re going to do good, we’re going to be kind, we’re going to be loving.
So, if we’ve created an enemy with our actions or lack of actions, with our words or lack of words, with our attention or our lack of attention, if we’ve created those enemies, again, forgiving them for however they’re harming us, for however they’re hating us, for however they are mistreating us, forgiving them and, in some cases, really begging for their forgiveness unconditionally, “I forgive you unilaterally, unconditionally, completely,” again, this gives us an opportunity to really see our part. Because, oftentimes, in order to forgive someone, especially someone we are in relationship with that is harming us, man, it really helps to look at our part of it, to look at our side of the street, and just really see.
We reflect: ”I don’t think I deserve to be treated this way from this person, but I never walked in their shoes, I don’t know where they’re coming from, but, look, I’m not perfect. I probably harmed them in some way.” In some cases, the people that we have the biggest resentments and beefs with are people that, quite frankly, we’ve been really shitty to in some way or another.
Sometimes these kinds of “beefs” turn into really bad karma. Family feuds, old ugly resentments that people will hold against one another for a long time. Sometimes these kinds of things even turn into murder. Let’s remember, these old teachings like the Bible, they happened during a time where to forgive someone often meant to spare their life because people wouldn’t just have passive-aggressive resentments toward each other and gossip about people. They would murder each other if they had a big enough resentment. In ancient Rome, murder was a very common cause of death. We maybe have evolved past this kind of wanton brutality for the most part in our modern civilized lives, but that doesn’t mean those currents don’t still live inside of us. The RGM of forgiveness is deep stuff when you take these kinds of ideas in mind.
When we are able to look at our enemies and the karma that we have with our enemies, and practice that radical forgiveness with them, no matter how they’re coming at us, it gives us the opportunity to not only stop that momentum of karma, look at our side of the street, and really step into the flow of Grace.
What are your reflections on forgiveness? Are you ready for apostle-level teachings? I cherish your comments!