Transcribed talks by Ratnaghosa
Talk three of six on patience or kshanti
Patience is the most common translation of Kshanti and indeed people often think of Kshanti as patience. However the word Kshanti has many meanings and the Perfection of Kshanti (Kshanti-paramita) has many different aspects to it. One very important aspect of Kshanti is giving up any desire for revenge or retaliation. To give up any desire for revenge or retaliation means to forgive.
According to the Oxford Universal Dictionary, forgiveness means, “to give up, cease to harbour resentment etc”.
If we give up resentment against someone, then we no longer have the desire to retaliate or seek revenge. In short, we have forgiven them. This is the forgiveness aspect of Kshanti. It is not easy to forgive, especially if someone has really caused us harm intentionally.
It is not even easy to forgive when we feel offended even though no offence was meant. To forgive is to let go of feeling hurt, to give up our grudges. To forgive means to extend goodwill to those that we feel are opposed to us, those who have offended us, those who have hurt us, those who don’t like us, even those we regard as enemies. Forgiveness is truly an act of self-transformation.
When we forgive we transform a negative mental state of resentment and anger into a positive mental state of goodwill.
Forgiveness is what we are aiming at in the fourth stage of the metta bhavana meditation. To forgive does not necessarily mean to forget. We cannot simply choose to forget. If someone has really acted unskilfully towards us, it may be imprudent to forget anyway.
For example, if someone has shown themselves to be incapable of keeping a confidence, then it would be best to remember that and not share confidences with them, until such time as you felt they had changed. However if you’ve just had a row or misunderstanding with someone, it is probably best to drop it, forget about the details of who said what and just get on with improving the relationship.
When I say that to forgive is not to forget, I mean that we can forgive without forgetting, not that we must try to remember every offence and hurt even after we’ve forgiven someone. Now perhaps it’s obvious why we should forgive people.
Nevertheless I would like to go into this. Why forgive? Why not hold on to resentment? Why not retaliate, take revenge, teach them a lesson, get our own back? Why not? It is the course of action that is recommended to us often. It is how the world of nation states functions.
To maintain peaceful relations between countries, the threat of retaliation is made very clear. It is how we are told God functions.
If you offend him, he will take revenge – unto the third generation according to the Old Testament. It is how many of us survived at school, invoking big brothers or big sisters as a promise of terrible revenge if any harm should befall us.
There are whole societies where it would be considered highly dishonourable not to take revenge; the vendetta culture. So the taking of revenge, retaliation for offence received or imagined, is well thought of in the world.
The doctrine of revenge has many champions. But I am encouraging forgiveness. Is this naivety? Why forgive?
Well, the first reason is that if you want to be happy there is no real option.
We may imagine that we can be happy and fulfilled in isolation from others, regardless of how they are or how we feel about them.
But this is delusion. In reality we are intimately connected with all other living beings and in particular with all other human beings and our well-being depends upon their well-being, or at least our well-being depends upon our sincere wish for their well-being.
According to the Insight of the Buddha, if we hurt others we hurt ourselves. If others harm us they thereby harm themselves. If we help others we help ourselves. This intimate interconnection of our destinies is due to the nature of consciousness.
Consciousness is not in Reality split into myriad bits even though it manifests through a vast multiplicity of forms.
Consciousness is non-dual. To quote Bhante in Wisdom Beyond Words: “For an illustration of this idea we may turn to the Gandavyuha Sutra, in which the reality of things is compared to the intersecting of beams of light.
If you have rays of light of all different colours, flashing in all directions, crossing and crisscrossing, what you find, obviously, is that one beam of light does not obstruct any of the others. They all shine through one another.
They are not lost or merged in one great light – they all maintain what you might call their separate individualities – but they offer no obstruction to penetration by other individualities. They are all mutually interpenetrating.
In reality things can be perceived neither as being chopped up into mutually exclusive bits, not as being absorbed into a unity. When we see into reality we see all things as interfusing and interpenetrating one another. There is both individuality and unity – neither obstructing the other – at the same time.”
In the Surangama Sutra there is a dialogue between Ananda and the Buddha about the nature of Reality.
To quote The Survey of Buddhism: “First he makes Ananda admit that the mind cannot be regarded as being located inside the body, or outside it, or in between: it is not a spatially conditioned phenomenon.
Next, he shows him the difference between the true mind and the false mind, the former being Absolute Mind itself, the latter the discriminative faculty.
Finally, he declares that, like the hallucinations seen by a person with defective vision, the seemingly objective universe perceived by the discriminative faculty does not exist, and the sole reality is Absolute Mind.
The effect that the Buddha’s exposition produces is described by the compiler of the sutra in the following words:
Ananda and all the great congregation … perceived that each one’s mind was coextensive with the universe, seeing clearly the empty character of the universe as plainly as a leaf or trifling thing in the hand, and that all things in the universe are all alike, merely the excellently bright and primeval mind of Bodhi, and that this mind is universally diffused, and comprehends all things within itself.
And still reflecting, they beheld their generated bodies, as so many grains of dust in the wise expanse of the universal void, now safe, now lost; or as a bubble of the sea, sprung from nothing and born to be destroyed.
But their perfect and independent Mind [they beheld] as not to be destroyed, but remaining ever the same, identical with the ultimate reality of the Buddha.” So this is all by way of explaining it is necessary and beneficial to practise forgiveness.
It is because it brings us back into alignment with the true nature of things. It brings us into alignment with the way things really are and therefore it also helps us to move closer to Reality.
By practising forgiveness and understanding the significance of forgiveness we create the conditions which will help us to gain Insight into the Reality of the universe and the true nature of consciousness.
As well as this more existential reason for forgiving others and giving up resentment, there are other more mundane reasons. It is a sign of immaturity to harbour resentment and seek retaliation. It is childish behaviour and an indication that emotional maturity has not been attained.
So one way of helping ourselves to grow up and become more mature is to practise forgiveness. A childish emotionality wants to be loved unconditionally all the time and never to be disliked or disapproved of.
A childish emotionality is likely to take offence very easily, to feel hurt and upset when others don’t behave in the adoring manner of some imaginary parent.
A childish emotionality will hold onto resentment and want to get its own back. Feeling hurt or upset seems sufficient justification for retaliation in this case.
When we are more emotionally mature it is easier to accept that we won’t be universally adored and liked or even approved of and therefore with a bit of effort and imagination it becomes more possible to give up resentment.
By giving up resentment and working at the practice of forgiveness we develop more emotional maturity. Forgiveness is a giving up of self-centredness and a movement towards being other-regarding.
Although we may have been hurt of offended by someone it is still self-centred to hold onto feelings of bitterness and indignation. It is also foolish because it doesn’t help ourselves or anybody else. As Shantideva says in the Bodhicaryavatara:
“One’s mind finds no peace, neither enjoys pleasure or delight, nor goes to sleep, nor feels secure while the dart of hatred is stuck in the heart. Those whom one honours with wealth and respect, and also one’s dependents, even they long to destroy the ¾master who is disfigured by hatred.
Even friends shrink from him. He gives, but is not honoured. In short, there is no sense in which someone prone to anger is well off.
The person who realises that hatred is an enemy, since it creates such sufferings as these, and who persistently strikes it down, it happy in this world and the next.”
Perhaps we have looked sufficiently at why we should forgive. What about who to forgive?
Well fairly obviously we should forgive those who have harmed us. These fall into two categories. Those who have caused us harm and acknowledge that they’ve caused us harm, and those who don’t acknowledge or accept that they’ve caused us harm, perhaps those who don’t even realise that we think they’ve caused us harm. It is actually not very common for someone to have a real enemy who is deliberately out to get them and cause them harm.
According to Shantideva again, it is good fortune to have a real enemy because then there is the opportunity to practise patience and forgiveness. He says:
“No-one ever prevents us from doing good. And even if they do so in some particular manner, that is still an occasion for practising Kshanti, and that is the greatest of all virtues! So what is there to lose?
If due to my own failings I am not patient with my enemy then it is only I who is preventing myself from cultivating a great source of merit. Since my enemy is the occasion for patience, how can I say that he prevents it?
A beggar is not an obstacle to generosity … therefore because I am able to practise patience with my enemy, and he is the occasion of forgiveness he is worthy of being given the very first fruits of my patience, he is worthy of veneration just like the sacred Dharma because he is the cause of patience.”
This is the ‘Helpful Enemy’ of the title. So perhaps the first person to forgive is a real enemy, someone who wants to harm us. Then there are those who harm us inadvertently, through insensitivity or because of their own fears.
This is probably more common within the Sangha. We get upset because someone criticises us a bit strongly or because they fail to praise us when we think praise is due. When this happens the only solution is forgiveness.
We are responsible for our mental state, and we can choose to let go of it and be forgiving. Until we do there is only suffering for us. To hold onto resentment and anger, to seek retribution is to be in a painful mental state, so even for our own sake we ought to let go, forgive and move towards that expansive state which is characterised by metta. Often people hold onto grudges against ex-lovers for a long time.
Sexual love can turn to hatred and bitterness very quickly. When we are rejected by a lover, when they go off with someone else, that is a time when we can sink into a hell of resentment and self-pity and feel justified.
We feel the world will only be put to rights when the other person admits their cruelty and apologises and even punishes himself or herself somehow. Of course, even if that were to happen, it would not satisfy us. The way out of that state of jealousy and bitterness lies with us and only with us.
It is we who have developed the attachment, it is we who have invested the energy, it is we who are in the throes of a hellish mental state and it is we who have to do something about it. Recognising this is a first step. After that it may take a long time for us to forgive, especially as the other person doesn’t see that they have done anything particularly wrong.
They’ve simply ended a relationship and gone and started another one as far as they’re concerned. But however long it takes and however difficult it may seem, eventually we have to let go of our bitterness and resentment, and forgive.
From my own experience on one occasion several years ago it took me four years to finally let go of resentful feelings after the ending of a sexual relationship. So this area of sexual relationship is one where we have to make a strong effort to practise forgiveness.And it is an area in which it is difficult to be forgiving because it is an arena of amazing irrationality and obsession.
By the way, I’m not suggesting that it’s okay for people to end their relationships abruptly and go off with someone else. I think the ending of a sexual relationship requires sensitivity and ideally there should be a good gap of time between ending one relationship and starting another, at least six months.
Bhante recommends courtship. So we need to forgive enemies and ex-lovers. Many of us also have to forgive our parents. This is often the case even when our parents have not caused us any harm.
The parent/child relationship is such that all sorts of expectations are built up and often disappointed. As we mature into adulthood we need to understand that our parents are not just our parents, but individuals in their own right who have been subject to all sorts of conditioning factors and who have been imperfect parents because all parents are imperfect. My father died when I was nineteen.
I didn’t get on well with him as a child or a teenager, and it was about ten years after his death that I finally realised that he had done his best as a father under the limitations of his own strong conditioning and lack of education. It was a relief to let go of the resentment I had held towards him.
And I think it was an essential part of my spiritual development too. I suspect that what I say about children forgiving parents applies to parents forgiving children too. Following on from the theme of forgiveness within families is the theme of forgiving our ancestors more generally.
Sometimes people blame previous generations for the faults of the world and vilify them. In England I have heard people being very critical of their ancestors who colonised large parts of the world, or in Germany the wartime generations are looked upon as aberrations sometimes.
We too are somebody’s ancestors, and may be j judged as wanting. However our ancestors were individuals just as we are and were often more at the mercy of circumstances even than we are. It may be possible to identify great movements in social, political and international affairs when we look back, but it is not so easy when we are in the middle of it.
Even looking back is quite often more a matter of interpretation than factual exposition. I think we should give our ancestors the benefit of the doubt and forgive them their short-sightedness and even their cowardice. If we don’t we may be simply making excuses for ourselves and our own cowardice and short-sightedness.
Rather than blame past generations for the state of the world, let us turn our minds to creating a better world for future generations by learning what we can from our ancestors, including learning from their mistakes.
Having forgiven our enemies, our ex-lovers, our parents and our ancestors, perhaps it only remains for us to forgive ourselves. Some people give themselves a hard time. The reason they give themselves a hard time seems to be because they are not perfect. Where did they get the idea that they should be perfect? Well, it’s perhaps not to absurd as it sounds.
People who have genuine spiritual aspirations are often very idealistic. This means that they have high standards. In fact their standards are at the level of their highest ideals. This is as it should be. However a confusion sometimes occurs, so that we expect the real day-to-day situation to measure up to the ideal, and we are inevitably disappointed.
We need to forgive ourselves for not living up to our ideals all the time, while at the same time striving to live up to our ideals. Ideals are something to reach for, something to look up to, not something to beat ourselves with.
We should also of course forgive others for not living up to their ideals, and even more so we should forgive others for not living up to our ideals. Whoever we are forgiving and for whatever reason it is of course essential that our forgiveness is genuine and heartfelt. If someone apologises to us we should forgive him or her verbally and mean it.
We should very much want to let go of resentful feelings, so that when we say, “I forgive you”, we are saying that we want to put our relationship on a different footing, we want to relate on the basis of metta.
Sometimes it is not possible or not appropriate to forgive someone verbally. It is not appropriate if they don’t see that they have committed any fault and it is not possible if the person is dead, as was the case with my father. In both the examples I gave from my own life, the case of my father and of an ex-lover, the reconciliation and forgiving took the form of me writing a letter that was never meant to be delivered.
In each case I wrote a letter saying everything I wanted to say and in the course of writing I gained a new perspective which e enabled me to move on and let go of any bitterness I felt. That proved to be sufficient. Since the whole experience of feeling offended and indignant was taking place in my own mind, it was sufficient for the reconciliation and forgiving to take place in my own mind too.
This was at the end of a whole process of becoming more conscious and gaining a bigger perspective. If you find yourself in a similar situation it may not work immediately, you may have to approach it several times and chip away at your own stubbornness, so to speak.
Perhaps writing doesn’t appeal to you and you are more at ease with meditation or puja. You can ritually forgive someone in the context of a puja, using the Confession section to acknowledge the unskilfulness of holding on to ill will and resolving to let go of it.
You could do this by stopping at that point in the puja and making a statement of your intention, or you could have something written down which you offer to the shrine. Then the Rejoicing in Merits section could be seen as the beginning of a different relationship with the person you’ve forgiven.
You could forgive someone in the context of your meditation practice, especially in the metta bhavana practice. Sitting in meditation you work to bring about a change of heart in the depths of your being and allow yourself to be affected to such an extent that you let go of bad feeling and begin to love those you previously hated or resented. There is also a general forgiveness that can be given.
In Sukhavati community we do this whenever anyone leaves the community. In the context of a puja, the person leaving stands up and facing each person in turn says “I forgive you for any harm you may have caused me, and I ask you to forgive me for any harm I may have caused you”.
The other person replies, “I forgive you”, and then the exchange is repeated the other way around. This is quite a moving ritual and does create a genuine atmosphere of goodwill and friendliness.
These are all different ways to forgive then. Whatever way you forgive someone it should above all be sincere, heartfelt, and done with sensitivity and good grace. The purpose of forgiveness is to rid oneself of unskilful emotions, not to make the other person feel guilty.
It is a relief to be able to forgive, to let go of the messy baggage of obsessive resentment and feel free to love again with a lighter heart. We should be forgiving people all the time. The more prone we are to feeling offended or upset, the more frequently we should be forgiving others.
The best time to forgive is as soon as possible. Our tendency when we feel offended or hurt is to go over and over in our minds what happened and by giving attention to it in that way we cultivate our feelings of being hard done by; we develop more ill will and cause ourselves more pain.
So it is best to try to let go as quickly as possible and not hold on to grudges. And certainly not develop further grudges. We could just become one big walking, talking grudge, which would not be a very happy state to be in. So far I’ve been talking about forgiving others or forgiving ourselves.
There is of course the other side of forgiveness – being forgiven by others. It is conceivable that we may hurt of offend people from time to time. It is conceivable that we may even be unskilful, even grossly unskilful, from time to time.
This brings us to the topic of apology, which is closely related to forgiveness. Difficult as it is to forgive, sometimes we experience even greater difficulty with apology. An apology is an expression of regret at hurting or giving offence to someone, through our faults and weaknesses and unskilfulness.
To apologise means to admit that we have done wrong. Often this means to admit that we are not quite the person that we like to portray to the world, not quite as wonderful as we would like everyone to think. Therefore to apologise can be quite humiliating.
It can hurt our pride and that is why we can find it so difficult. This sort of pride of course has nothing to do with self-metta, in fact it is the opposite.
It is a compensation for feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. When we feel genuine self-metta it is not such a problem what others might think of us, we are aware of our own worth. Being aware of our own worth, it is easier to admit our faults and to apologise. There is no false edifice to collapse.
By apologising for causing hurt or offence we get to know ourselves better. We see more clearly how we regard ourselves and we have an opportunity to give up pride. To give up pride is to give up a limiting self-view and therefore to create the conditions for spiritual growth.
By apologising for our unskilfulness we actually create the conditions to experience metta both towards ourselves and towards someone else.
By apologising we open the doors of our heart that have been kept locked by our false pride and in opening the doors of our heart we enter into the realm of love, the realm of spiritual friendship, the realm of the Sangha.
The same applies to forgiveness of course. When we forgive we open out to the possibilities of love and spiritual fellowship. When we apologise we should ask to be forgiven. In this way we give the other person the opportunity to let go of their feelings of hurt and enter into communication again.
If we don’t apologise we isolate ourselves behind the barrier of our pride. If we don’t forgive we isolate ourselves behind the barrier of our resentment.
We need to renounce both pride and resentment in order to keep open the channels of communication and love that are so vital to the health and survival of the Sangha.
We have been looking at forgiveness as an aspect of Kshanti. In the previous talk we saw that patience created a gap in our experience, between feeling and the response to feeling. This corresponds to the point on the outer rim of the Wheel of Life between feeling and craving.
This is the point where we have an opportunity to abandon the cyclic round of negative mental states that are represented in the Wheel of Life, and more on to the spiral of positive mental states outlined in the twelve positive nidanas.
This gap is the point where we can move from operating in a ‘reactive’ manner to operating in a ‘creative’ manner, we can move from the ‘reactive’ mind to the ‘creative’ mind. I will say something about these terms ‘reactive’ mind and ‘creative’ mind. They are terms coined by Sangharakshita to give another way of speaking about the mundane and the spiritual.
We don’t have two minds, a reactive mind and a creative mind. It is rather that we have the capacity to function in two different ways, our minds can respond reactively or creative.
We can respond reactively or creatively. I will just outline some of the characteristics of the reactive mind and the creative mind as stated by Sangharakshita. The reactive mind is predictable, even mechanical, it always responds in the same way.
The reactive mind relies on an external stimulus. It is a penny-in-the-slot sort of mind. It is repetitive, habitual and unaware.
The reactive mind may try to be different, but in doing so is still tethered to the object it is trying to be different from. And Sangharakshita says: “Not only our behaviour but even much of our ‘thinking’ conforms to this pattern. Whether in the field of politics, or literature, or religion, or whether in the affairs of everyday life, the opinions we so firmly hold and so confidently profess are very rarely the outcome of conscious reflection, of our individual effort to arrive at the truth.
Only too often have they been fed into us from external sources, from books, newspapers, and conversations, and we have accepted, or rather received them, in a passive and unreflecting manner. When the appropriate stimulus occurs we automatically reproduce whatever has been fed into our system, and it is this purely mechanical reaction that passes for expression of opinion. Truly original thought on any subject is, indeed, extremely rare.”
The creative mind on the other hand is active on its own account, not dependent on an outside stimulus.
The creative mind is optimistic, spontaneous, free, original and characterised by ceaseless productivity.
The creative mind is often seen in the arts, although not everything that is called art is a product of the creative mind.
“Outside the sphere of the fine arts,” Sangharakshita says, “the creative mind finds expression in productive personal relations, as when through our own emotional positiveness others become more emotionally positive, or as when through the intensity of their mutual awareness two or more people reach out towards, and together experience, a dimension of being greater and more inclusive than their separate individualities.
In these and similar cases the creative mind is productive in the sense of contributing to the increase, in the world, of the sum total of positive emotion, of higher states of being and consciousness.”
It is because of its contribution to productive personal relations that forgiveness can be said to be creative. When through the exercise of patience we create a gap in our experience between the feeling of being hurt or offended and our usual automatic response to feeling hurt or offended, then the opportunity arises for a creative response. Forgiveness is the creative response in this instance.
Forgiveness moves us off the wheel of mundane mental states onto the spiral of spiritual development. As a response to our own suffering, forgiveness of others involves a higher perspective that is in accordance with Reality.
It also involves a faith in the processes of Reality to alleviate suffering. When we forgive we express our faith in the Dharma and by extension our faith in the Sangha. In doing this we launch ourselves forward on the spiral of skilful activity that leads to a clear conscience and the happiness that comes from a clear conscience. We also clear our minds of the mud of negative mental states and pave the way for clear thinking and objectivity.
We have seen that forgiveness means letting go of resentment and grudges. The reason to forgive is because it is in accordance with the reality of consciousness as mutually interpenetrating rather than just a series of separate selves. Also to forgive is mature and therefore helps us to mature.
We need to forgive those who have caused us harm and those we feel offended by. We also need to forgive our own imperfections.
We can forgive verbally, or in the context of puja or meditation. We can forgive in writing and we can have general forgiveness. The best time to forgive is as soon as possible. As well as forgiving others we need to be forgiven.
This means we need to apologise and ask for forgiveness. To apologise we may need to overcome pride.
By apologising and overcoming pride we open our hearts to love. Both forgiveness and apology create positive personal relations and are therefore creative. Kshanti as patience creates the gap in which Kshanti as forgiveness can manifest.
Forgiveness moves us up the spiral of spiritual development because it is suffused with faith (sraddha) and aligned to the reality of things. Earlier in this talk when I spoke about apology I drew on some ideas from a paper by Ratnaguna entitled “Insight through Confession, Apology and Forgiveness”.
I would like to give Ratnaguna the last word and end this talk as he ends his paper. He writes: “When we hurt or offend other members of the Sangha – our friends – or if we refuse to forgive them, we isolate ourself. However, when we realise that we have hurt someone, or when someone apologises to us, we have a great opportunity. We have the opportunity to give up our sense of self and to feel, in a very intense way, our non-separateness.
And this is why, although it can be painful, the experience of apology and forgiveness can also be very beautiful – and liberating. Reconciliation is an affirmation of love. It is also an affirmation of the way things are. It is an intimation of the enlightened state. Reconciliation can lead to Insight.”
Notes: 17. Wisdom beyond Words, page 78 18. The Survey of Buddhism 19. The Bodhicaryavatara, chapter on Forbearance 20. quoted in The Supreme Mystery, Cittapala 21. Mind Reactive and Creative 22. ibid 23 Insight through Confession, Apology and Forgiveness, Ratnaguna, unpublished