You hold in your hand an invitation:
To remember the transforming power of forgiveness and lovingkindness. To remember that no matter where you are and what you face, within your heart peace is possible.
The teachings in this book contain age-old understandings about love. They give simple and direct practices to help cultivate its qualities in your own heart. This wisdom is essential for all who live in modern times.
The words of the Buddha offer this truth:
Hatred never ceases by hatred
But by love alone is healed.
This is the ancient and eternal law.
Often we find ourselves in conflicts that unsettle our peace of mind.
We face difficult situations, and our problems can feel insurmountable.
Pain, anger, and fear can arise in ourselves, in families, in business, in communities, and between nations.
We would like to find a way out of the suffering,
Even in the worst situations, the heart can be free.
We who lived in the concentration camps can remember those who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread…. They may have been few in number but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from us but the last of human freedoms… the freedom to choose our spirit in any circumstance.
—Viktor E. Frankl
Forgiveness and compassion are not sentimental or weak. They demand courage and integrity.
Yet they alone can bring about the peace we long for.
True love is not for the faint-hearted.
Our innate wisdom knows this is true. When Buddhist texts address us as “O Nobly Born,” they tell us we are all sons and daughters of the Buddha. Do not doubt your own basic goodness. In spite of all confusion and fear, you are born with a heart that knows what is just, loving, and beautiful.
In the words of Jungian Analyst, Robert A. Johnson:
Curiously, people resist the noble aspects of their shadow more strenuously than they hide their dark sides. It is more disrupting to find that you have a profound nobility of character than to find out that you are a bum.
If we look at ourselves truthfully, we can feel the possibility of being more compassionate, more awake, more free.
If it were not possible to free the heart from entanglement in greed, hate, and fear, I would not teach you to do so.
Anger, blame, conflict, and resentment arise from our fear. When we are afraid, our body tightens, our heart is constricted, our mind is possessed. We cannot live wisely.
Forgiveness releases us from the power of fear. It allows us to see with kindly eyes and rest in a wise heart.
Live in joy, in love,
Even among those who hate.
Live in joy, in health,
Even among the afflicted.
Live in joy, in peace,
Even among the troubled.
Look within, be still.
Free from fear and attachment,
Know the sweet joy of the way.
How can we begin?
In any moment we can learn to let go of hatred and fear. We can rest in peace, love, and forgiveness. It is never too late.
Yet to sustain love we need to develop practices that cultivate and strengthen the natural compassion within us.
It is not enough to know that love and forgiveness are possible. We have to find ways to bring them to life.
The truth is we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free. —Nelson Mandela
A Meditation on Forgiveness
There is a formal meditation practice that can help us cultivate the capacity to forgive. In this we ask for and extend forgiveness in three directions. In a Buddhist monastery one might repeat this practice hundreds of times until it becomes natural to the heart.
Let yourself sit comfortably, allowing your eyes to close and your breath to be natural and easy. Let your body and mind relax. Breathing gently into the area of your heart, let yourself feel all the barriers you have erected and the emotions that you have carried because you have not forgiven—not forgiven yourself, not forgiven others. Let yourself feel the pain of keeping your heart closed. Breathing softly, begin reciting the following words, letting the images and feelings that come up grow deeper as you repeat them.FORGIVENESS FROM OTHERS:
There are many ways that I have hurt and harmed others, have betrayed or abandoned them, caused them suffering, knowingly or unknowingly, out of my pain, fear, anger, and confusion.
Let yourself remember and visualize the ways you have hurt others. See the pain you have caused out of your own fear and confusion. Feel your own sorrow and regret. Sense that finally you can release this burden and ask for forgiveness. Take as much time as you need to picture each memory that still burdens your heart. And then as each person comes to mind, gently say:
I ask for your forgiveness, I ask for your forgiveness.Forgiveness for ourself:
Just as I have caused suffering to others, there are many ways that I have hurt and harmed myself. I have betrayed or abandoned myself many times in thought, word, or deed, knowingly and unknowingly.
Feel your own precious body and life. Let yourself see the ways you have hurt or harmed yourself. Picture them, remember them. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this and sense that you can release these burdens. Extend forgiveness for each act of harm, one by one. Repeat to yourself:
For the ways I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain, and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself, I forgive myself.Forgiveness for those who have hurt or harmed you:
There are many ways I have been harmed by others, abused or abandoned, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word, or deed.
We each have been betrayed.
Let yourself picture and remember the many ways this is true. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this past and sense that you can release this burden of pain by extending forgiveness when your heart is ready. Now say to yourself: I now remember the many ways others have hurt or harmed me, wounded me, out of fear, pain, confusion, and anger. I have carried this pain in my heart too long. To the extent that I am ready, I offer them forgiveness. To those who have caused me harm, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.
Let yourself gently repeat these three directions for forgiveness until you feel a release in your heart. For some great pains you may not feel a release; instead, you may experience again the burden and the anguish or anger you have held. Touch this softly. Be forgiving of yourself for not being ready to let go and move on. Forgiveness cannot be forced; it cannot be artificial. Simply continue the practice and let the words and images work gradually in their own way. In time you can make the forgiveness meditation a regular part of your life, letting go of the past and opening your heart to each new moment with a wise loving-kindness.
You can begin the practice of lovingkindness by meditating for fifteen or twenty minutes in a quiet place. Let yourself sit in a comfortable fashion. Let your body rest and be relaxed. Let your heart be soft. Let go of any plans and preoccupations.
Begin with yourself. Gently recite inwardly the following traditional phrases directed to your own well-being. You begin with yourself because without loving yourself it is almost impossible to love others.May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be at ease and happy
As you repeat these phrases, picture yourself as you are now, and hold that image in a heart of lovingkindness. Or perhaps you will find it easier to picture yourself as a young and beloved child. Adjust the words and images in any way you wish. Find the exact phrases that best open your heart of kindness. Repeat these phrases over and over again, letting the feelings permeate your body and mind. Practice this meditation for a number of weeks, until the sense of lovingkindness for yourself grows.
Be aware that this meditation may at times feel mechanical or awkward. It can also bring up feelings contrary to lovingkindness, feelings of irritation and anger. If this happens, it is especially important to be patient and kind toward yourself, allowing whatever arises to be received in a spirit of friendliness and kind affection.
When you feel you have established some stronger sense of lovingkindness for yourself, you can then expand your meditation to include others. After focusing on yourself for five or ten minutes, choose a benefactor, someone in your life who has loved or truly cared for you. Picture this person and carefully recite the same phrases:May you be filled with lovingkindness.
May you be safe from inner and outer dangers
May you be well in body and mind.
May you be at ease and happy.
Let the image and feelings you have for your benefactor support the meditation. Whether the image or feelings are clear or not does not matter. In meditation they will be subject to change. Simply continue to plant the seeds of loving wishes, repeating the phrases gently no matter what arises.
Expressing gratitude to our benefactors is a natural form of love. In fact, some people find lovingkindness for themselves so hard, they begin their practice with a benefactor. This too is fine. The rule in lovingkindness practice is to follow the way that most easily opens your heart.
When lovingkindness for your benefactor has developed, you can gradually begin to include other people you love in your meditation. Picturing each beloved person, recite inwardly the same phrases, evoking a sense of lovingkindness for each person in turn.
After this you can include others: Spend some time wishing well to a wider circle of friends. Then gradually extend your meditation to picture and include community members, neighbors, people everywhere, animals, all beings, the whole earth.
Finally, include the difficult people in your life, even your enemies, wishing that they too may be filled with lovingkindness and peace. This will take practice. But as your heart opens, first to loved ones and friends, you will find that in the end you won’t want to close it for anyone.
Lovingkindness can be practiced anywhere. You can use this meditation in traffic jams, in buses, and on airplanes. As you silently practice this meditation among people, you will immediately feel a wonderful connection with them—the power of lovingkindness. It will calm your mind and keep you connected to your heart.
May the blessings of these words and practices of forgiveness, lovingkindness, and peace awaken your own inner wisdom and inspire your compassion.
May you be well.
May you be happy.
May you be at peace.
And through the blessing of your heart may the world find peace.
Shanti, shanti, shanti.