When an ancient hatred becomes a present love that is true forgiveness.
Untrue forgiveness is what most commonly falls under the notion of forgiveness. How often have we heard it said I have forgiven my X (my parents, my sister, my in-laws, etc.) for what they did to me. The “for what they did to me” is the tip-off that a grudge is still being held. A person who feels this way has pardoned a criminal in their eyes. This person is still a criminal for what they did in the past and the past still binds them both because it is brought into the present. How many times have you heard this: “What happened in the past is completely irrelevant now”? Anyone who says this has released themselves from the past and stepped into the freedom of the present. In fact the things we have truly forgiven are forgotten, not because we can’t remember them if we wanted but because we no longer have the need to remember them. There no longer is a grudge to keep alive by remembering.
True forgiveness is a kind of transmutation of hatred into love. This is the alchemy of greatest value. How is this alchemy accomplished? One way is to take yourself out of the center of your awareness. This is not so easy to do because almost all our thoughts flow in an effort to maintaining the centrality of a self-image that is inherently false. That is why it takes so much effort, so many thoughts. Spiritual practices of all religions address this very need to take one’s false self out of the center of awareness. This is why we do rosaries or do malas; this is why we meditate; this is why we dedicate merit or pray.
This false self hides in many guises. It can seem to be another person. In fact we carry around false images of people in our minds all the time. Because these images are in our minds they are us, not the other person. I will illustrate with a story from my own life. Growing up I was terrified of my own father and I was not the only one. My brother and 2 sisters were terrified as well. After we grew up and left home anytime 2 or more of us siblings got together the first and only topic of conversation was how awful our father was. In a certain sense it was a “survivors” mentality, a confirmation that this really happened because part of the experience of childhood was being blamed for things we hadn’t done. I had to carry around within my mind the image of an insane father in order to verify my own sanity, or so it seemed. At a certain point my own family life fell apart in divorce. Amazingly one outcome of this life’s “failure” was that I formed an intension to heal my relationship with my father. Very quickly after this I realized that the image I was carrying around of him did not jibe with who was standing in front of me in the present. With this realization I was able to be present instead of being “past” when I was around my father. It was not always easy to be present with him and I would stay until I could not tolerate it any more but I kept going back. I’d sit and listen to him, simply that. My tolerance for listening to him grew and almost as if by magic he began to soften. Until in tiny bits and pieces he began to be able to hear something that I would say. Finally this ancient hatred did indeed become a present love and I now count my own father among my dearest friends.