Forgiveness and Compassion
NEW YEAR’S EVE. THE ENDING OF 1986. Soon it will be the beginning of another year. Today I glanced at an article in a journal I have, which sparked something off in my head. It was about the psychology of peace, and I suppose one of the things that is most desperately needed in the world these days is peace.
There seems to be a growing feeling, a growing change in awareness of the need for peace. It has to come, and it has to come soon, because if it doesn’t, well, the implications are almost too horrendous to consider. ‘The brink of disaster’, ‘megadeath’: these sort of terms have come out of this very difficult, dangerous, absurd situation that we find ourselves in.
…New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time of putting aside the old. When you look back over the past year, how has it been for you? Wonderful, or perhaps not so wonderful? Happy, sad, successful, or not? Now we look towards the future, the new year, and we see on the horizon: gloom and doom, massive black clouds indicating more conflict.
What you hear, if you listen to the news, is all about that conflict. If we just pause momentarily and think about the sort of things we comment on, it’s not the things that are going smoothly and well – we tend to talk about the things that aren’t quite right. What sells newspapers, what draws our attention, is when things are going wrong, when something hurtful, frightening, dreadful or exciting has happened.
So we are subject to a lot of information that is, by and large, negative or frightening, a basis for insecurity and growing strife. We seldom get much information about the good things. Someone asked me today: ‘How come there wasn’t any announcement on the news about sitting in meditation for one hour?’ And why has peace studies in schools become such a controversial issue? Peace has almost become a dirty word!
Well, something like this, sitting quietly, encouraging harmony, that doesn’t sell newspapers. It’s not exciting. And of course the newspapers and the news media are only responding to what people want. So the image of that which is threatening is being reinforced constantly, and although it’s threatening, it’s exciting too…
…Take it down to a personal level – the microcosmic view of things reflects the macrocosmic. The personal view: how we think about ourselves, how we relate to ourselves, how we are with ourselves. Is it peaceful? Are we at ease with ourselves? Or is there a degree of fear and uncertainty? Are there certain states of mind, certain fears, certain emotions that are seen as ‘The Enemy’? We all have our own personal monsters: the fear of going insane, the fear of lust, the fear of jealousy. We all have that fear of hatred.
And how it is within us is how it is out there. It has been pointed out that a lot of the policies that governments adopt are pursued simply because we as a people don’t have enough courage to confront our own fear, and the policies are just that – rooted in fear. If we’re frightened and we’re unwilling to look at it, how we relate and what we allow our representatives to do is simply a reflection of our own lack of clarity and our own lack of courage. It’s nice and easy, and it’s a cop-out, to blame those out there: ‘If only it would change, if only I could go somewhere else, it would be better.’
Now the view or the idea that we have of ourselves – that’s something we can work on. There’s a desperate need for us to learn to be a little bit more warm-hearted, loving and caring towards ourselves, and to have a little bit more courage to build on that way of seeing ourselves, trusting in our own goodness.
Talking with people over the years, it seems extraordinary how frequently – particularly in retreat situations – they have very profound experiences. Yet they don’t believe them; they don’t accept or trust them. So we can do ourselves enormous injustice. With great consistency we underestimate our abilities and sell ourselves short. We settle for the mediocre because that’s what we’ve been fed. And we bought it! We took the bait!
Perhaps, for 1987 , we could make a New Year’s resolution. We could resolve to spend some time each day, or as frequently as possible, consciously making the effort to be friends with ourselves: to be a good friend, one who accepts, one who supports and forgives.
Nineteen eighty-six is almost finished, just a few more hours to go. It’s been just the way it’s been, and now we can just let it go. We can learn from what’s happened. We can understand that all of the feelings, ideas, and memories that we’ve had, have certain similarities; and what releases us from them is when we see them as just what they are – as changeable, unsatisfactory and impersonal.
Unfortunately that’s not the way most people see things. People tend to believe unquestioningly in their own thoughts. They believe what they hear and see on the television; they believe the news, the propaganda, without using their ability to discern. And so the monsters become real, and we find ourselves tense and anxious about the future because it can seem so threatening.
But what if we take a radical step? What if we just allow the past to be and greet this moment with a transformed, a completely fresh, childlike curiosity? Because it is unique, this moment right here. Our sense of identity, of how we are – that’s the old stuff bubbling up and trying to grab our attention (even though some of it may be useful and necessary). But we can begin to see things just as they are, to have the willingness and the courage to let the past be.
Let it go. It’s all right to do that. Let the fear and the delusion, all of that, let it go! When we look around, what we’re seeing is our minds, really; our perception of the world is just a reflection of our own mental state. And if we’re at peace and fearless, coming from a place of stability and security, we help to project into the world a state of peacefulness. Instead of doom and gloom and the dark, threatening clouds on our horizon, we can make it something more peaceful. Benevolent. Compassionate. This movement of the mind is very subtle. It’s just letting things be, letting things go.
…This is what we have. This is the New Year. The new moment … the new moment … the new moment … and so it goes.
I keep coming back to simplicity because this practice is very simple, very direct. It’s a new way of seeing ourselves, of relating to ourselves; a way of forgiveness and compassion, and relating to the world from that compassionate understanding. Trust that. Incline, direct your mind towards that gift. It’s a gift to everyone that we come into contact with during the new year. And when things get difficult, it’s such a good reflection to remember; it’s just right now.
This is it.
This reflection by Ajahn Anando is from “Self-Forgiveness and Compassion” in the work “Peace and Kindness.”