Two Buddhist monks are taking a nature walk, talking about things that are Buddhist and monk-like. Eventually they reach a river. By the river is a beautiful young woman looking distraught. One of the monks asks her what is the matter and she answers that she is worried about crossing the river without drowning. The current is strong and she is not a strong swimmer.
Without a second thought, the monk picks up the woman and helps her cross the river. Thanking him profusely, the woman continues on her way, happy and safe. The other monk wades across the river to join his colleague, frowning.
The two monks continue on their nature walk and the second monk, still frowning says, “Why did you carry that woman across the river? You know we are not supposed to touch women, it is against our way of life.”
The monk answered, “I left that woman at the river’s edge a long way back, why are you still carrying her?”
This little parable contains some useful lessons. One, the monk who carried the woman across the river broke the rules but it was for a good reason. The purpose of avoiding contact with women is to focus on the spiritual and on his practice. But what good is being a monk if you are not going to help those in need? Two, you should never dwell excessively on the past. Whether the monk was correct in his decision to help the woman, he has already completed his action. To brood on it would not necessarily be productive. Three, and the one I am most focused on today, when you dwell on the past the only person you are hurting is yourself.
Forgiveness is ultimately a selfish act. Although I’m sure it would make the person who wronged you feel better if they knew that you had accepted and moved past their actions, forgiving someone is primarily helping yourself. If you are angry with a person and spend part of every day stewing over what they have done, the only person you really cause discomfort to is yourself.
I hold grudges so I understand how difficult it can be to accept and move past injustices. However, I find it helpful to remember that moving beyond wrongs is something that is going to be improving your life, not the asshole who made you sad. Just as the monk advised his monk buddy to stop carrying the woman past the river’s edge, you need to not get weighted down with past hurts that prevent you from enjoying your present and future.
This is an insipid blog entry, I am well aware. I’m not saying it is super easy to forgive those that have wronged you, like I said I hold grudges like crazy. I still stew over things that happened in the seventh grade, it’s not a praiseworthy quality. This is merely a reminder to those that are busy brooding over those that have hurt them that you’re actively preventing yourself from being happy when you refuse to forgive. Don’t forgive for them, do it as a favour to yourself.
So remember, kids:
“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest.” (The Merchant of Venice. IV.i.173-177)
Okay, so that was about mercy, not forgiveness, slightly different things. However, these concepts have overlapping qualities and I wanted an excuse to quote Shakespeare because I’m pretentious like that. My point is, be awesome to yourself and forgive someone today. Or at the very least take the first timorous steps down that path.