The Indifference of Forgiveness


When the stream of love flows in its full strength it purifies all that stands in its course, as the Ganges in the teachings of the ancients purifies all who plunge into its sacred waters.

There are two people in my life who have taught me lessons about forgiveness.  I find that to forgive someone takes deep love and even deeper commitment.   There are, in fact, many people in my life that I have not felt the need to forgive or to be forgiven by, but that is because I was never able to love them.  I hope someday I will,  although I also believe that in some cases, forgiveness is not necessary, although only in the case of forgetfulness.

The first lesson I learned about forgiveness was from a teacher of mine, the one who took me where I wanted to go with all my heart.  It was hard for me when I later had to admit that he had some moral failings that I happened to find particularly unacceptable and painful to contemplate.  I was, in fact, angry at him for several years, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.  Yet gradually, I found that when I contemplated what he had given me and where he had taken me, when I considered what had come through him and how perfect it was, the enormity of his gift purified me and I realized that I could forgive him for being a human being and making mistakes.  It was a beautiful, clean moment when I realized that I didn’t even have to think of issues such as forgiveness where he was concerned and further, that whatever others felt and thought did not have to be my concern.

Thus, one of the final lessons he taught me was how to forgive, and all without saying one word on the topic.

The quality of forgiveness that burns up all things except beauty is the quality of love. – Inayat Khan

I was given a further lesson just this morning, and I suppose that is a good sign, but I feel eviscerated and wounded, and perhaps those feelings are a good sign as well, because they take place in the heart and not the ego, if that is what one focuses on.  What happened, you might possibly ask.  Well, I live in a culture that is currently quite polarized as our leaders take us through a process that very probably involves their shadow-projections making us all too aware of our own.  One of them, as you may know, is putting this country through a rather horrifying time, as he is completely unfit to be a leader and seems determined to be exactly that.  We Americans are, I suspect, frightened at this time, and our fear reflects the overall, historic success of our way of government, because however imperfect it is, it has kept us relatively safe for a long, long time;  yet now we are given to realize how fragile and easily broken our way is, that we are not immune to the horrors other countries have known throughout history.  It is easy to judge someone like this person I refer to, and the media fully cooperates in the process of manipulating peoples’ fears and emotions.  It is a time of grave dishonesty, a time when people’s fearful minds are being manipulated at the hand–ultimately–of this person who is at a level of evolution such that this is all he can do.  How does this idea of forgiveness operate in cases like this?  Inayat Khan offers one solution:  he points out that we ought not to judge the person, but that we can certainly judge his actions:

For instance, take a person who is ill, and creating disturbance in his atmosphere by crying, weeping, shouting.  It disturbs us. We say, “How bad, how annoying! What a bad nature!” It is not bad nature, it is the illness behind it. It is that reason which will make us tolerant.  When we see no reason, we are blind to that Light of God, blind to that forgiveness which is the only essence of God which can be found in the human heart. – Inayat Khan

That kind of forgiveness is a tall order, but think of the power in its sincere application.  Yet a global, distant forgiveness of this kind is far easier than forgiving someone who has the power not just to make us angry, but to break our hearts.  To forgive at a distance is a powerful thing, far more profound in its effect than the worst judgment or punishment.

When a friend or family member hurts us, what then?  Once upon a time, long, long ago, Murshid (I mean, here, Hazrat Inayat Khan, my life’s teacher) came to me in a dream.  I am not old enough to have ever met this great soul, although I have been taught by his friends and relatives, so to meet him in this way was very precious to me.  At the time, I was going through the breakup of a marriage, and I was certainly a spiritual infant at that time… and when Murshid came to me, he offered me the premier definition of indifference:  Indifference, he said, means to be so completely in love with the person who causes pain that one doesn’t even see the need for forgiveness, doesn’t even see the wrongdoing, but only sees love in the other.

Another tall order.  In my case, that one took a long time to work, but I know it is the ultimate definition of forgiveness.

And now a friend has hurt me.  We are told that when we find another’s behavior intolerable, we need to look at ourselves first, and I realize that I invited what happened, and that although I would like to think that I handled my end of it intelligently and kindly, it doesn’t matter, because the other person didn’t think so, and lashed out at me.  And so I have given us both the opportunity to learn to forgive.

My thoughtful self,

Bear all and do nothing,

Hear all and say nothing,

Give all and take nothing,

Serve all and be nothing.

While I was roaming through the forest, a thorn pricked my bare foot and cried, “Ah, you have crushed me.” I felt sorry and I asked its forgiveness.
A wasp flying in the air stung my arm and cried, “Ah, you have caught me in your sleeve.” I felt sorry and I asked its forgiveness.
My foot slipped and I fell in a pool of muddy water. The water cried, “Ah, you have disturbed me.” I felt sorry and I asked its forgiveness.
I absently happened to touch a burning fire, and the fire cried, “Ah, you have extinguished me.” I felt sorry and I asked its forgiveness.
I asked my gentle self, “Have you received any harm?” “Be thankful,” said she, “that is was not worse.” – Inayat Khan

“I look to thee, o Lord, when I try to do right and it turns to wrong.” (Inayat Khan)

 It occurs to me that the present time offers, most of all, the opportunity to learn forgiveness.

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