I spoke with my mother over the phone this evening. She asked me how I was, and I shouted to her elatedly, “Mom, the universe is effulgently replete with forgiveness!”
“Uhm, what?” she blanched back.
“The universe - it is filled to overflowing with the ability to forgive us for our actions. It is joyfully willing to let us change our selves at any moment and rejoices in our ability to transform.”
“Of course,” I finished, “it is just as happy to let us swing back and forth on the rope we’ve hung ourselves with.”
“Anthony, what have you been reading?” my mother asked with a calmness that suggested she was worried about the state of my mental health.
It is true. The universe is filled to bursting with forgiveness. In its minutest moment it is brimming with the opportunity to change, to become something other than we are. What’s more the universe invites us at every second of every day to take part in its delirious feast. But that is not the half of it.
Let me personalize this a bit first. I have always despised the concept of my being forgiven for my sins, especially through someone else’s sacrifice; I am offended especially at a horrible, bloody, excruciating sacrifice - one that I never asked for. The very thought of being born indebted to something/someone else for something I don’t remember having anything to do with, had more to do with my choosing to turn my back on Christianity than almost anything else – my ego could not bear that kind of debt.
So the ego is my first clue. I can see that my ego is an untamed creature that demands to be sated and roar its glorious satiety through evening without taking responsibility for its untoward actions. My attachment to ideas of innocence and earned redemption lead me to reject the idea that I was born guilty of things I am not comfortable with, let alone remember. My need to be the victorious deserving good guy, forces me to close my eyes to a less glorious, uncharitable being that I share my “self” with. My ego demands that it will not be rescued; if I’m going to be forgiven it will be earned through my own actions, or I will reign in hell. No one is going to save me, except me, roar!!!
The fact is this is where my confused disgruntlement begins. Forgiveness is a gift, but the ego warps that gift into an obligation and a game of one-upmanship. If you can forgive me, you must be better than me, you have given me your gift of forgiveness. If I give you forgiveness, look at me! I am forgiving! I am really enlightened. I am great! I am better than you. To see forgiveness as something bestowed is to miss the point. If I take this approach, I find that instead of freeing myself from things and tendencies, and habits I regret, I give then a nice dark, humid place to grow in, a dark hidden place in myself that I collect trophies of my ignominy, all because I want to be the good guy, the winner.
But Jesus died for your sins! You are saved, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You didn’t do it (in fact, from one perspective, it has nothing to do with you). Forgiveness has already happened before you were born, and will continue long after this shell of a self passes. You can’t earn god’s forgiveness.
From the Buddhist perspective, to indulge in anger and resentment is to do harm to you. By placing the needs and desires of the self between you and the rest of the world, you harden yourself against the "one-ness" of things; you separate yourself against the victim of your ill-will. Of course it is the one holding the grudge who is harmed most. Not only is their anger self-perpetuating, it crystallizes them in the role of victim, and prevents further growth, until the hurt and the anger and the victimhood is released. To release your anger, frees you from that source of suffering and delusion.
If I take part in the act of forgiveness, without indulging in thoughts of ownership, if I let myself see us as we are, little flowers struggling towards nourishment, I can only benefit. By “forgiving you,” I am invited to the feast of forgiveness; I take one step closer to being in rhythm with the universe. Best of all, when I realize that it is not “I” that forgives you, but the universe itself, in that moment I am truly free.