...Buddhism for Urban America
Urban Dharma Newsletter... June 24, 2003
Forgiveness and Self-Examination ...By Gregg Krech
4. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week:
Theravada Buddhist Society of America
Book Review: A Beginner's Guide to Forgiveness ...How
to Free Your Heart and Awaken Compassion ...Jack Kornfield ...Audio
CD, 74 minutes
2. Forgiveness and Self-Examination ...By
life begins from introspection;
it there can be no spiritual life.” ...D. T. Suzuki
cannot walk two paths at the same time, particularly when they
go in different directions. If we reflect on our past, most
of us will find instances in which others have hurt or wronged
us. We may become absorbed by these memories and thoughts. Indeed,
we may be guided by others towards absorption with these events
based on the assumption that this process is therapeutic.
ultimate goal, we are told, is to forgive those who have caused
us suffering and difficulty, whether they be parents, former
business partners, ex-wives, old friends or criminals. Once
we are able to forgive, perhaps we will find release from our
anger and resentment. Perhaps we will find inner peace and spiritual
rest. Perhaps the demons of the past will finally be banished.
this path can require a great deal of time and energy. Sometimes
it takes years of counseling, which costs a great deal of money.
But is this path really “therapeutic” and is it
a path with a Heart?
Freud developed the foundation of contemporary Western psychology
100 years ago he departed from another path - religion and spirituality.
This departure was not necessarily all bad, but he left behind
several elements that were essential to the well being of the
human mind and spirit. One of those elements was self-examination.
By self-examination I mean the willingness of a human being
to honestly and relentlessly examine his conduct according to
some set of moral guidelines.
rare instances the framework for such self-examination existed
outside of a religious framework, such as the elaborate method
developed by Ben Franklin in which he performed a daily examination
of his behavior measured against personal values such as frugality,
justice, sincerity and cleanliness. Nowhere in Franklin’s
system did he attempt to judge others against these standards.
Only himself. And nowhere in his system was there a place for
forgiving others for their infractions, for his was a system
of “self-improvement.” What does the evaluation
of others’ mistakes or weaknesses have to do with improving
the value of self-examination and the methods for doing it exist
within a religious or spiritual framework. Traditions such as
Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism each have moral precepts
which serve as a basis for self-examination. But rarely have
such practices been promoted or integrated into the therapeutic
process of psychology. The 12-step program of Alcoholic’s
Anonymous is one place where we find such a method. The 4th
step of this program asks the recovering alcoholic to make a
“searching and fearless moral inventory” of his
conduct towards others. In the description of this process,
AA warns us to beware of the most common excuse for avoiding
such self-examination – “that our present anxieties
and troubles are caused by the behavior of other people –
people who really need a moral inventory.” In this passage,
AA has revealed the two opposing paths – one in which
we examine and judge the conduct of others, and the other in
which we sincerely examine our own conduct.
rarely known method of self-examination and self-reflection
comes from Japan. It originated in the self-reflective method
practiced by a small sub-sect of Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land) Buddhism.
It was later developed into a method of psychology that is now
used in Japan in the fields of marriage and family counseling,
education, alcohol and drug rehabilitation and criminal rehabilitation.
The name of this method is Naikan, which means something like
“inside observation” or introspection. The method
was introduced into the U.S. about 25 years ago by David Reynolds,
Ph.D. who later combined it with another Japanese therapy (Morita
Therapy) and uses the umbrella term, Constructive Living to
describe the marriage of both approaches.
as a method, is relatively simple. It asks people to examine
their relationship with another person using the following three
questions: 1. What have I received from this person? 2. What
have I given to this person? and 3. What troubles and difficulties
have I caused this person? It is the third question which grounds
us in the principle of self-reflection. In fact, the roots of
this type of self-examination can be found in several ancient
Buddhist texts, such as the following passage:
not at the faults of others,
at what they have done or left undone;
Rather, look at what you yourself
done or left undone.
the traditional practice of Naikan in Japan, one attends a week-long
retreat and reflects on most of the key people from one’s
life - such as parents, siblings, teachers, friends, children,
etc. During the week the participant spends about 100 hours
in quiet self-reflection. This is a clear contrast to the type
of Western psychotherapy where, over the course of several years,
the client may rarely engage in any kind of self-examination
of his behavior towards others.
does this have to do with forgiveness? I would like to argue
that the energy we devote to trying to forgive others is misdirected.
The more we focus on the “sins” of others, the more
we nourish resentment and anger in ourselves. But the true path
of self-examination can be a meaningful journey for many reasons.
evaluation of our own conduct is more useful if our purpose
is learning and self-improvement. Second, awareness of our own
mistakes, errors and selfishness brings us a dose of humility
- a valuable asset both spiritually and in human relations.
Third, examination of our conduct towards others, in light of
the support we have received from others, opens the door to
spiritual/religious experience including laying the foundation
for gratitude and faith in a power beyond oneself. Finally,
I believe in the profound therapeutic power of honesty in acknowledging
who we are and what we’ve done. Our healing comes much
more from accepting the reality of the harmful things we’ve
done to others—lying to our parents, cheating our former
business partners, deceiving our former lovers—than from
condemning others for what they did to us. In the end we may
find that we are in no position to grant forgiveness, and that
we, ourselves, have received forgiveness without asking for
Krech is the Director of the ToDo Institute near Middlebury,
Vermont and one of the leading experts in the U.S. on Japanese
methods of psychology. He is the author of several books including
A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness and his newest book, Staring
at Truth: The Art and Practice of Self-reflection, will be published
next year by Stonebridge Press. More information about Japanese
psychology can be found on the web site www.todoinstitute.org
prescription to love your enemy and to requite evil with good
is sometimes thought of as an impractical and perfectionist
ethic, able to be practiced only by a few exceptional souls.
But, in fact, this doctrine is widely taught in all religions
as a fundamental principle for pursuing relationships with others.
The person who insists upon vengeance or retribution is not
necessarily committing a crime, but neither will his act of
revenge be helpful to spiritual advancement. Revenge, which
requites evil with evil, only multiplies evil in the world,
while love, by in which one strives to overcome evil with good,
spreads goodness in the world.
love is unconditional and impartial--thus the metaphor of the
sun that shines down on all life. It is tested and proven by
encounters with those who are difficult to love. Where true
love prevails, there no enemies are found. The concluding passages
dispute the prescription to love your enemy when it apparently
contravenes the principles of justice and right. Sometimes the
best way to love an evil person is to make him face justice,
or to hinder him from doing wrong. Nevertheless, these corrective
actions should be done with a loving heart and with the other
person's welfare uppermost in mind.
abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me!"
In those who harbor such thoughts hatred is not appeased.
"He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me!"
In those who do not harbor such thoughts hatred is appeased.
Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world;
love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.
have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor
and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons
of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on
the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on
the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward
have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if
you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than
others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore,
must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Lord! Others have fallen back in showing compassion to their
benefactors as you have shown compassion even to your malefactors.
All this is unparalleled.
the adage, Only a good man who knows how to like people, knows
how to dislike them, Confucius said, "He whose heart is
in the smallest degree set upon Goodness will dislike no one."
should be like the sun, shining universally on all without seeking
thanks or reward, able to take care of all sentient beings even
if they are bad, never giving up on my vows on this account,
not abandoning all sentient beings because one sentient being
Garland Sutra 23
kind of love is this that to another can shift? Says Nanak,
True lovers are those who are forever absorbed in the Beloved.
Whoever discriminates between treatment held good or bad,
not a true lover--he rather is caught in calculations.
Adi Granth, Asa-ki-Var, M.2, p. 474
sage has no fixed [personal] ideas.
He regards the people's ideas as his own.
I treat those who are good with goodness,
And I also treat those who are not good with goodness.
Thus goodness is attained.
I am honest with those who are honest,
And I am also honest with those who are dishonest.
honesty is attained.
Tao Te Ching 49
may be that God will ordain love between you
and those whom you hold as enemies. For God
has power over all things; and God is Oft-forgiving,
an enemy before you aid a friend, to subdue hatred.
Tosefta, Baba Metzia 2.26
good to him who has done you an injury.
Tao Te Ching 63
not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
said, "Resemble Me; just as I repay
for evil so do you also repay good for evil."
Exodus Rabbah 26.2
anger by love. Conquer evil by good.
the stingy by giving. Conquer the liar by truth.
should subvert anger by forgiveness,
subdue pride by modesty,
overcome hypocrisy with simplicity,
greed by contentment.
generosity triumph over niggardliness,
May love triumph over contempt,
May the true-spoken word triumph over the false-spoken word,
truth triumph over falsehood.
good deed and the evil deed are not alike.
Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo!,
he between whom and you there was enmity shall
become as though he were a bosom friend.But none
is granted it save those who are steadfast, and none
granted it save a person of great good fortune.
superior being does not render evil for evil;
this is a maxim one should observe; the ornament
of virtuous persons is their conduct. One should never
harm the wicked or the good or even criminals meriting
death. A noble soul will ever exercise compassion even
towards those who enjoy injuring others or those of cruel
when they are actually committing them--for who is without fault?
Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda 115
said, "What do you say concerning the principle
injury should be recompensed with kindness?"
Master said, "With what will you then recompense kindness?
injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness."
to Anas ibn Malik, the Prophet said,
"Help your brother whether he is oppressor or oppressed."
According to Anas, after the Messenger of God said,
"Help your brother whether he is oppressor or oppressed,"
replied to him, "O Messenger of God, a man who is
I am ready to help, but how does one help an oppressor?"
hindering him doing wrong," he said.
Hadith of Bukhari
4. Theravada Buddhist Society of America (TBSA)
Theravada Buddhist Society of America (TBSA) was founded in
1980 to support the sasana activities in general and
the Dhammananda Vihara activities in particular.
A brief history of TBSA can be read in "Happy 20th Anniversary
TBSA" by U Myat Htoo, President. The news and articles
in this web site cover how TBSA has helped propagate the sasana
in Bay Area and beyond. For example, see "Dhamma
in a Foreign Land" by U Nandisena.
are two major branches of Buddhism: Theravada ("Way
of the Elders") as practiced in Burma/Myanmar, Sri Lanka,
Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, and Mahayana ("Greater
Vehicle") as practiced in China and Tibet.
Sayadaws played an important part in upholding the tradition
of Theravada Buddhism. The Fifth Buddhist Council was held in
Mandalay, Burma during King Mindon's reign. The Pali canon was
transcribed on to kyauk-sa (stone enscription). The Sixth
Buddhist Council was held in Kaba Aye (World Peace) Pagoda Cave
in Rangoon, Burma from 1954 - 56.
Mahasi Sayadaw was the Questioner. Dhammananda Vihara
and numerous meditation centers throughout the world teach and
practice the Mahasi method (of alternating sitting and
walking meditation) in conformance to the classic "Four
Foundations of Mindfulness". Read the four-part article
by Sayadaw U Silananda.
Mingun Tipitaka Sayadaw recited and recounted
the Three Baskets: Vinaya (Rules), Sutta and Abhidhamma.
memory feat has been recorded in the "Guiness Book of World
Records". For details, see "Mingun Sayadaw".
U Silananda was the Chief Compiler of the Tipitaka Pali-Burmese
Dictionary and the associated Commentaries. For more details
on Sayadaw's projects, see "TBSA Twenty Years in Commentary"
by Hla Min.
regularly holds events that are prominent for Burmese Buddhists.
They include: Htamane pwe (Ovada Patimauk Festival),
Thingyan (Burmese New Year), Kason, Waso,
Thadinkyut, and Kathein (offering of Kasina robes).
the permission of YMBA, TBSA reprinted "The Life of Buddha",
with drawings by U Ba Kyi, renowned artist and arts teacher,
and the description by the lateSayadaw Ashin Janakabhivamsa,
prolific writer of Burmese and Pali works. An English translation
[which was printed as a supplement to the original Burmese work]
was incorporated into the edition printed by TBSA. It is a book
that every Buddhist should have.
years ago, Dr. Lynn Swe Aye and Dr. Khin Nyo Thet established
the "Aye-Thet Scholarship" fund. See, "Beneficiaries
of the Aye-Thet Scholarship" and related articles.
is currently soliciting donations for the construction of a
new monastery and an associated "swan-sar-kyaung and
ei-dhamma-yone" (auxiliary building where the resident
and visiting Sayadaws are offered meals, and where group meditation
can also be conducted). For details, see "Donors"
has published newsletters. For a historical perspective, see
"Fruits of Cetana".
of the early work on the TBSA web site was done by Kevin Kyar,
Sayadaw U Nandisena and Ko Aung Zaw Maung. The current web master
Ko Thant Lwin Oo has worked hard to improve the look and feel
of the web site, and to ensure that the contents are up to date.
work would not have been possible without the dedication of
the Sayadaws, Executive Committee members, the Board of Directors,
the Newsletter Committee members, the donors, and last but not
the least the authors and their readers. See "Tribute to
the TBSA Officers".
5. A Beginner's Guide to Forgiveness ...How
to Free Your Heart and Awaken Compassion ...Jack Kornfield ...Audio
CD, 74 minutes
believe that the most profoundly healing thing anyone can do
- whether they want to heal themselves or to heal others or
to heal our Earth - is to truly forgive. Anytime anyone can
really forgive a wrong - including forgiving ourselves for wrongs
committed - it shifts everything for everyone and gives us all
fresher air to breath.
is marvelous about Jack Kornfield's teaching on this CD is that
in addition to discussing the nature of forgiveness and its
many gifts, he also teaches a practice that, if done over time,
opens the human heart and enables us to really forgive. The
'forgiveness meditation' which he teaches comes from his training
as a Buddhist monk in Cambodia - it is simply amazing and is
something I wish I could share with everyone, so powerful is
its capacity to move us closer to being able to completely forgive
even devastating wrongs. I can't think of anything the world
needs more, than that we all come to be able to do this.
stories, teachings and guided meditation, Kornfield opens the
way for us to understand
how forgiveness and compassion are possible in situations of
how forgiveness can be coupled with strength and self-protection
the practices that lead to forgiveness of yourself and others
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