Forgiveness from a Buddhist Perspective | Ven. Galkande Dhammananda

There’s a saying by Nelson Mandela: “We can forgive but we cannot forget.”

However, we Buddhists have a slightly different perspective.

Who is it that grants forgiveness?

Many years ago, I participated in a TV program. At the beginning of the program, the host asked, “I heard that you forgave the person who killed your brother, is that true?”

That question made me a bit uncomfortable. Who am I to forgive someone else? Forgiving suggests that you are wrong and I am right.

From a Buddhist perspective, it is very difficult to identify someone as the perpetrator. It is equally difficult to identify myself as the correct person. No child is born into this world as a killer. Taking up a weapon is the result of a long and complex process.

This process may include problems in their family, or childhood trauma that contributes to their actions. It could be due to poverty. It might be that their teachers, who were themselves wounded, transferred their pain to these children. They might have been influenced by stories they heard from their parents or the news they heard every day. Sometimes, small personal issues or problems with their personality or relationships can contribute to negative behavior. A failure to find a partner may contribute to such negative states.

These seemingly small factors can contribute to someone picking up a weapon, seeking a sense of identity. So, in these insecure circumstances, someone might resort to violence. It’s the culmination of a long process that creates a harmful person who could have been a valuable member of society.

If I decide to forgive the person who killed my brother, it means I have already labeled him as a perpetrator. How can I label him a perpetrator, ignoring the society that failed to nurture him into a useful person? Buddhist cause and effect theory teaches us to see the bigger picture. It addresses our failure to see the larger context due to our ignorance.

When the TV host asked me whether I had forgiven the person who killed my brother, I was forced to answer yes or no. So I was trapped by the question. It is crucial to understand that from a Buddhist view, we cannot approach the problem in this manner.

Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Australia and New Zealand. I had the chance to study the indigenous people and the hardships they faced, as well as the people who were sent from England to Australia during that time.

The people who later tortured and killed the indigenous people were individuals who had been imprisoned for stealing a piece of bread in England. And they were deported to Australia. After serving their sentences, they couldn’t return to their homeland because they didn’t have the means.

In the story of the monk Mahinda, we see a person who chooses to serve another country and die there. In this story, we see people who were imprisoned for stealing a piece of bread due to poverty and were deported. These were the people who destroyed the indigenous communities.

The devastation was immense, and those who caused it were also deeply wounded individuals. This cycle of pain continues.

In this reflection, we realize that even we have inner wounds, and others may get wounded by us, through our words and actions. We are often unaware of the wounds we carry from various experiences, as they are buried deep within us. Sometimes they surface in unexpected ways and behaviors.

Thus, we cannot simply say, “I am right, and you are wrong.” In this complex system, the oppressor is not merely an oppressor but is also oppressed in another way. And the oppressed is not merely oppressed, but in another way, he is an oppressor too.

It is important to realize that within us lies both the oppressed and the oppressor. The person who oppresses me is also oppressed in another way. Recognizing these complex interactions changes the way we view each other.

2 thoughts on “Forgiveness from a Buddhist Perspective | Ven. Galkande Dhammananda

  1. Grateful to you for showing us how you dealt with letting go of your anger and dislike at a personal level.

  2. ස්වාමීන් වහන්සේ කියන්න වගේ, දරුවෙක් මව් කුසකින් මේ ලෝකෙට බිහි උනේ මනුස්ස දරුවෙක් හැටියට. ආයුධයක් අරගෙන නොවෙයි. ආයුධයක් අරගෙන, තමන් වගේම තවත් ජීවිතයක් නැතිකරන්න ඒ දරුවාගේ මනස හැදුවේ ඒ සමාජය විසින්මයි. දෙපිරිසක් ආයුධ ගන්න තැනට කටයුතු කලේ කව්ද? හේතුවට ප්‍රතිකාර කරන්නේ නැතිව, හේතුව නිරුද්ධ කරන්න බෞද්ධයොනම් කටයුතු කලයුතු නේද?
    ඒ නිසා, සමාජයෙන් සමාව ගත යුත්තේ, අසරණ මිනිස්සු ඒ තත්වයට පත් කරපු ආත්මාර්ථකාමී සමාජ කොටස්මයි. අපි අපෙන්ම සමාව ඉල්ලන්න ඕන.
    යුද්ධයකදී දිනපු පිරිසක් නැති නමුත්, අවුරුදු පතා “ජයග්‍රහණය ” කියල දෙයක් සමරමින්, තුවාල පාරමින්, තව තවත්, වයිරය ඊළඟ පරම්පරාවටත් පැතිරවීම බුදු දහමටත්, මනුෂ්‍යත්වයටත් කරන නින්දාවක්. මේක අවස්ථා වාදී ජන කොටස් වශයෙන් මේ රටෙත්, පිට රටවලත් කෙරෙනව. වයිරය වපුරනව. කොටස් බෙදිලා, අපි අපිම රවට්ට ගන්නව. දළදා මාලිගාවටත් යනව. මොන තරම් විහිලුවක්ද? ඒ නිසා, අපි ඔක්කොම එකතුවෙලා, මිනිස්සුන්ගේ හදවත් වල සංහිඳියාව, සාමකාමී සහජීවනය වපුරවන්න සුදුසු පරිසරයක් හදමු.

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