The idea of Forgiveness doesn’t come up in Theravadin Buddhism. It rears its Christian head in Dalai Lama land, and in New Age Buddhism along with other higher vehicle (mayahana) Buddhist sects. However, as far as Gautama Buddha, my man, the Man, the actual guy the religion is named for is concerned, forgiveness is not what we do.
We go Vince Lombardi on the idea and do an end run around the entire concept.
If we are wronged, we do not return the wrong. If a wrong done to us makes us angry, then we address the anger in ourselves and focus on silencing these feelings and the source of those feelings. The jerk-off who did the bad thing, we let him pass on by. Of course, taken to extremes, this live-and-let-others-wrong-and-maybe-kill-us-all-day-long is a recipe for extinction. And in following the Buddhist philosophy to other extremes, there are options one may take to oppose injustices, such as the Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire to protest US involvement in Viet Nam.
We do not forgive anything, as we are supposed to be in a state that precludes the ability to take offense. But this sanctified mental attitude takes a long while to achieve. A long while and a lot of meditating. A whole lot of meditating. After all that meditating, you must then follow the Buddha’s teachings about the source of emotions and the path these feelings take through our consciousness. And then more meditating. And then a whole lot more meditating.
When we ourselves do wrong, that’s another thing entirely.
In any case, forgiveness is not the real problem with Mr. Roof and his murderous rampage. Whether or not we forgive him, the problem lies in what made him do what he did. Both the what, and the who. How is it even possible that this guy sat in that church, listening to the Bible study, then stood up and took their lives? Moreover, how did his racist beliefs come to be? The concept of racial superiority has been disproven over and over again, yet many still cling to these poisonous ideas.
What do the Dylann Roof’s of the world get from their beliefs? What comfort is delivered? What peace does their soul garner from these things they cling to: the Swastika, the Confederate Battle Flag, the Klu Klux Klan, Aryan racial theory? What happened to this man, what changed in him? What ideas did he learn to alter the lesson that all the Universe teaches us about love and acceptance with every breath of every creature, the fall of every leaf and the rising of every sun? What words could he have read or heard that would make meaningless all creation’s unity in favor of the idea that Black people deserve to die and suffer by the hand of white people?
Fear, insecurity, jealousy and the feeding of the ego are commodities that our civilization buys and sells, which then pay out in the dividends in Emmanuel Church in Charleston, in Ferguson, in the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, in the sweat shops of Asia and every damn night on the streets of Englewood. And these commodities found a place to grow in the heart of Dylann Roof. There were planted by those around him, encouraged either directly or tacitly by the refusal to deny the ridiculous beliefs this person, literally, wore on his sleeves.
Forgiveness? That can wait. There is a fight we need not just to finish, but to start. And anger will not win it. Setting oneself on fire in the middle of a road will also not win it. Neither will be moaning mantras in front of a stick of incense. My faith teaches me not to return a wrong for a wrong, but it also teaches me not to sit quietly by when wrong things happen. So let’s start here. The end result of all theories of racial superiority will be murder and exploitation. To support these ideas actively or passively is wrong. It is wrong for Christians, it is wrong for Buddhists, it is wrong for Americans, it is wrong for every human being under the sun. It is not enough that we pull down that Confederate trash hanging from the State capital building. We must change and become intolerant of those who refuse to change. Basically, we, as white people, need to get the hell over it. We are not superior, we never were, and we are going to continue to lose power and privilege. As we should.
I do not want the Black community’s forgiveness. I want to held accountable for my actions, to be forced to understand and to make reparations for any mistakes I have made. Racism, and all systems of injustice, are viable only by thousands of small actions and thousands of small refusals to act. Policy does not make hatred, only people do. We can only end this by the supreme act of Grace, what we Buddhists call personal responsibility. It is the foundation of my Buddhist faith, and it will be the only thing that will save us all.