Anshu Bahanda: Welcome to another episode of Wellness Curated. I am delighted to have you here today. And as you know, the aim of our podcast is to help you lead a healthier, happier, more hopeful life. And this season, we’re focusing on spiritual well-being. And the subject of today’s discussion is a very powerful subject. We’re going to be talking on forgiveness. A lot of people hold on to issues, and then these issues affect their emotional balance. It affects their life, and it causes all kinds of negativity. It affects health and well-being. And that’s why we have two extraordinary individuals with us today. To talk us through forgiveness, we have with us Ani Choying Drolma. She’s widely known as ‘The Singing Nun’. She’s a humanitarian and the UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador for Nepal. And we have the senior monk, Venerable Professor Medagoda Abhayatissa Thero, who teaches at the Sri Jayawardenapura University. He teaches Pali, and he’s also a very senior monk based in Colombo. Thank you both for being here with us today, and I’m very grateful to have your time. I want to jump right into questions. So there’s a quote from Martin Luther King that I really like, which says, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it’s a constant attitude.” I’d like to begin this episode by getting your unique perspectives on forgiveness. So, Anila, let’s start with you. How do you define forgiveness?
Ani Choying Drolma: I would rather have Venerable speak first because he’s a senior and a professor. That will be much more appropriate to start with, I think.
AB: Venerable, please. You start then.
Venerable Professor Medagoda Abhayatissa Thero: It’s okay. You take your time. Please.
ACD: According to our monastic system, we have…
Ven Prof MA: Thank you. That’s kind of you. Yes. Okay. I think forgiveness is reducing of one’s own burden. If the opposite of forgiveness is hatred or revenge, the person who is stuck in the mind will suffer more than the person who is not forgiven. Forgiveness is the most comforting. How it affects the person receiving forgiveness is determined by how he thinks about the offence he committed. But you who forgive are perfectly relieved to go off that oppressive thought. Then forgiveness makes your own mind free and happy.
AB: Wonderful. That was such a lovely explanation. Anila, what about you?
ACD: I mean, I’m not a scholar, so I probably might not have the most sophisticated way of explaining what it is. But in my personal life- during my childhood- I experienced a lot of domestic violence and so on. And because of that, I started developing a lot of hatred in my heart towards my father and towards the men in our society thinking that they were so unfair and not nice. But when I started living with that kind of emotion, I was a very unhappy child and I was growing up that way and I was very bitter in my speech. I was very bitter in my thought process even though I took refuge in the monastery to become a nun. But that was solely the reason for not having to get married in my life. But other than that, there wasn’t any good reason for me to become a nun at that time. But then slowly, with the kindness and compassion of my teacher, I realised what it is to really live with the anger and very unhappy heart towards people who I thought were not nice and unfair and so on. So that always made me feel like all the time. I’m so ready to fight any given occasion, any opportunity that I receive, anywhere that I see someone’s talking about women or girls being inferior to the man, that would provoke me or make me the most angry person, and I would do anything to make sure that I win the fight and our argument. Anything. So that really kind of made me a very unhappy person. But then with the compassion and kindness of my teacher, I slowly learned that I was burning myself down. And as there is a saying in order to chase a rat out, you should not burn down your house. Then slowly I started to think about why I’m angry- why I’m so angry- not just angry, I’m very angry towards society, for the perception that they carry towards women and girls. And then I started thinking about my father, why he was so unfair and why he treated me and my mother so unfairly and brutally and very violently and so on. But then I started to also analyse what really caused him that kind of behaviour. And I slowly realised that it was also because of the domestic violence that he suffered during his childhood and that’s what he is, he’s still under that spell. But in my case, I was so lucky and fortunate to have such a great teacher under whose guidance I was growing up, where I was able to enhance my analytical ability to go a little deeper. Go study a little deeper into what is happening to me and in my behaviour, in my thought process and why things such as violence that takes place outward in other people’s lives. So that helped me to really develop a very small, in very small scale, little understanding towards others. And as I develop my understanding capacity towards this person, like the story behind the behaviour or the attitude they are in, which they are in sandwich is causing them a lot of suffering as well as causing suffering in our life. So, I started to feel like oh, that’s sad, I feel sorry for them. And then I started to develop that kind of thinking and understanding more and more and then also started to learn to focus on the goodness that this person carries and that the goodness that they have also blessed me with. Especially thinking about my father. He used to work really hard and made sure that I always had enough food to eat. But I started to realise there’s something good about them too. And that gave me the space to feel a little bit relaxed and feel good about him. And as I slowly started to gather the courage and the strength to talk to him and to listen to him and then throughout the year, slowly I developed more and more deeper sense of understanding towards him and then also started to develop that sense of gratitude towards him for what he has done for me and started to feel sorry for what he went through and that he is still suffering with and started to think about how can I help him? And then I made small, small efforts to find ways to help him, making him feel better and good and so on. So that developed the process of I think forgiving and healing within myself, which made me feel lighter and happier. So, this is living proof of how forgiving has really helped me to become a happier person.
AB: Thank you. What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing that. Venerable. I wanted to ask you, how does forgiveness impact our ability to let go of the past and really live in the present moment?
Ven Prof MA: Yes, actually, forgiveness builds trust between people. That is one thing. The one who has been forgiven has the ability to work closer to himself than before. And also, even society looks at those who do not forgive. They look at them, they are the wrong people. Until he forgives, it sticks like a throne in his mind. Just like a throne. An important part. Actually, you have sent me earlier also. What is the important benefit he gets with this? He has a very good and healthy mind. So, to become a satisfied person, to become a happy person, the relief from hatred and forgiveness is very important. Yes.
AB: So, you think overall well-being, it helps with overall well-being and mental health forgiveness?
Ven Prof MA: Sure. Actually, that is the most important thing because the important part of your question is mental health. The Buddha points out four aspects of health. You know, in the World Health Organization, they have mentioned physical well-being, mental well-being, social well-being. These three things come in dhammapada, Arogya parama laba, physical wellbeing, santuti paramananda, mental wellbeing and visas para manyati, you know, visasa. Visasa means trust. That is social wellbeing. Social wellbeing. Yeah. So, the Buddha also mentioned the same thing. Arogya parama laba, that is physical health. Santuti paramanandam, that is mental health. Visas para manyati, social health and Nibbanam paramansukang, spiritual health. So, this unforgiveness has a bad effect on three of these aspects: social, spiritual, and mental health. Actually, in the Darimuka Jataka, there is a jataka called Darimpa jataka. The Buddha points out that increasing anger can lead to mental illnesses also. A person can have mental illness. There we can find that word. Kodum mathaka podu mataka. If you don’t forgive, then crodham is hatred, it is increasing anger, it is increasing. Then because of that you can have mental illness. So, to have good mental health, one should forgive. That is not what you are doing for others. That is what you are doing for yourself.
AB: Very powerful. Thank you.
ACD: So, when people are angry and filled with hatred, the body becomes very acidic, which causes inflammation and that starts to damage the organs and the functionality of the physical condition, the physical work, I mean physical work or wellbeing. So, I think that’s how it functions. A lot of the time nowadays we very strongly focus on environmental protection as well. We think of having a lot of trees planted, saving nature and so on. But I think as long as you don’t save your natural state of mind, inner quality inside, I think we won’t be able to save anything outside because it is all the manifestation of the reflection of your inner self, I guess.
AB: Yes, but Anila, I want to ask you about the story you told us about your childhood. Because you’re not the only person who knows who feels it’s difficult to forgive their parents very often, even if there’s been nothing drastic. A lot of people sort of bear grudges. Can’t forgive their parents about something or could be something that happened in their childhood that sticks in their mind that they can’t forget. Might be a teacher, a well-meaning teacher or a well-meaning person said something to them, but they can’t get it out of their mind. So why is it so difficult to forgive? Why do we as human beings find that? Why do we hold on to grudges and why can’t we let go easily?
ACD: I think we are so strongly in habitualization of exaggerating the bad incidents. We always try to magnify the size of the incident. That is the unfortunate incident that took place in our life, because we think that maybe this has happened to me only. How could this happen to me? And especially when it is coming from parents, I think they are not able to accept that because ideologically we strongly believe that parents are supposed to be there to give us the best, give us love and so on. We never try to develop the understanding that they are also a human being who comes from a different background, a different story behind in their life. We never try to give them a space of understanding how they have been brought up, what has been their story in their life, how it might have affected their way of thinking, and how it has probably caused some trauma.
AB: But how do we balance forgiveness with the desire for justice?
Ven Prof MA: It’s a very hard question, but I think justice is something society needs. By punishing wrongdoing, the victims can get some kind of mental relief. And also, social society also gets the same mental relief. By punishing the person who has done the wrong thing, the government has set up a mechanism to deliver justice. It is the performance of punishment. In the law book, according to the offence, it separates the offender from the victim. In the other words, the victim is not allowed to hate the offender again. In fact, according to the Buddha, hatred does not reduce hatred.
AB: So, you’re saying forgiveness is about you, while the desire for justice is about society?
Ven Prof MA: Yes.
AB: So, you know, there was this book written by Eva Kaur. It was called the Twins of Auschwitz. And it was how she and her sister were mistreated by the they, how she managed to forgive them. So, what would you say about something like that? I mean, people would say, why should the Nazis be forgiven?
Ven Prof MA: You know, in Jatakai’s story, the Buddha’s previous life, there is a story about a son who forgives the king who killed his parents. Actually, a person commits crime either because of us, sometimes for social reasons, or sometimes he is also a victim of the society itself.
AB: Now, venerable Thera, like Anila shared a story with us about transformation through forgiveness. Will you share a story as well who you came across in your life?
Ven Prof MA: Actually, not one. We have many stories like that in Sri Lankan books. It is called Rasawahini. In that Rasawahini book, I can see such a story. There was a thief named Harantika. That thief is always stealing the ropes of the monks of the temple. The donor, the daika, caught him and tied him to a dead body. He told the people of the village not to open the doors because a ghost is coming tonight. Then Haranthika went from house to house carrying the body. No one opened the door to remove Haranthika from the dead body. Hiranthika finally went to the temple where he stole the robes every day. The monk freed this person from the dead body. Finally, he was ordained. He became a good monk. It is said he became an Arahant. The technique used by the monk to heal him was forgiveness. To make mistakes is human nature. Forgiveness is a divine attribute. We want to make the bad guys good, not torture them. I think that is the answer.
AB: Are there any specific mindfulness techniques or practices that you feel can assist people in the process of letting go? The process of forgiveness?
Ven Prof MA: I think that is compassion. Compassion? Forgiveness. Start with compassion. As a technique, he should practise loving kindness. Not like the government or like the ministers are giving relief for the prisoners. That is also forgiveness. But that is not what we are talking about here. It is based on meta, Karuna, Mudita and Upeksha. The Meta, loving, kindness, then compassion. And these things are the root of forgiveness. Forgiveness…really…
AB: So, explain the four words that you said to us. Loving, kindness. Compassion.
Ven Prof MA: ‘Meta’ is loving, kindness. And ‘Karuna’ is compassion. Compassion, yes. And ‘Mudita’ is to become happy with others. Happiness. Then ‘Upeksha’ the equinity. You have to have a very balanced mind.
AB: Thank you. Anila, I want to ask you something about forgiveness and trust. So sometimes what happens is if there’s a pattern, if someone keeps repeating a pattern towards you, say you might forgive them, but can you really trust them?
ACD: Well, I mean, when you understand someone’s nature, then you probably should be intelligent enough how you deal with this person skillfully. So, when you know the fire burns, the nature of fire is heat and then heat burns. So, then it’s up to you. You’re intelligent and how you use it or how you come to deal with it besides that, how you trust or not trust. I think it’s all up to you and your purpose, why you want to trust this person, or what you need to do with this person. I think it’s all up to you. I guess so. Sometimes. Sense of understanding or developing respect towards this person’s miserable condition of not being able to deal with his own ignorance or his own disability to really develop such behaviour which will cause wellbeing. I mean, which will be able to make people comfortable, for example, which I was able to develop within me for my father was that, oh, my father is suffering with such a disability which is not in his control. He was suffering later on, much later on I was able to understand and realise that he was suffering so called in medical terms, the bipolar disorder thing, which was totally like two people in one person. So, when I realised that, then I realised that it was not his fault the way he behaved, he was not in his control. Of course, it’s not easy because we are so habitualized, strongly in the habit of reacting the other way. And we love to blame others and then we find a source in blaming others thinking that I’m not the cause of the problem, it’s somebody else who caused the problem in my life. So, you feel good when you think that it’s not my fault.
AB: I saw this really interesting film yesterday. It’s called Oppenheimer and it’s about the maker of the atomic bomb and how much guilt he felt later and how much self-blame he felt so Venerable Thero, tell me what happens. How do we forgive ourselves? Because very often we forgive everyone around us, but we forget about ourselves. We hold grudges against ourselves.
Ven Prof MA: Those who do not forgive themselves, they destroy themselves. Forgiveness should begin when the heart feels the echo of the mistake. It should begin at that point. If not, there will be a temptation to punish the offence rather than to forgive. Then it’s hard to turn back. So, he should start forgiveness when he feels what he feels in his mind at the very first point or at the beginning point. It is important to develop a forgiveness mindset. People, sometimes, they are always hating themselves and they are sometimes torturing themselves but try to make the society happy. No, first of all, Buddha’s advice is first you should become happy, you should become calm, you should become a good healthy person. Then only you can help society.
AB: I love what you said about those who do not forgive themselves, destroy themselves. I think that is so powerful and so true. Is there a mantra or affirmation or daily exercise something that you can teach us which we can do every day which will foster this attitude of forgiveness to others and to us, to ourselves?
Ven Prof MA: Yes, indeed there is a mantra, but for that most important daily process in Buddhism is practising loving kindness. That is the mantra. Not chanting, not charming, that is practising one’s mind towards loving kindness.
AB: Anila, would you like to add something to that that you can advise people to do?
ACD: Meditation is very helpful, and a lot of self-reflection is very important and to listen to great teachers and the words of wisdom all the time is very important, I think. And then chanting is also a form of meditation that helps your mind focus on something very positive.
AB: So, I like to end these sessions normally with a quick wrap around. To summarise the chat so Venerable Thero is one surprising benefit of practising forgiveness?
Ven Prof MA: Yes, the painful experience of perpetuating the. Bitter intention ends completely.
AB: Anila, a challenge people face while trying to forgive someone?
ACD: Well, it’s because of the addiction that we are so much in the way of thinking so negatively. So anything that is an addiction in order to get rid of it, it’s very tough, it’s very challenging. But the benefit of it is the most amazing thing that you can ever really experience. And this is from my own personal experience.
AB: Thank you. Venerable Thera, a technique that can assist in the process of forgiveness?
Ven Prof MA: Being a human being with high qualities, that is the technique.
AB: Thank you Venerable Thero and Anila, what an incredible chat we’ve had. We’ve covered so much ground. It’s been amazing. Thank you so much for your time. I’m very grateful. Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you learned something new. That was an amazing chat for me. I hope it was fabulous for you as well. Please press ‘like’ if you enjoyed it. Please encourage your friends and families to subscribe to our channel because in that way we can get more and more speakers and provide this service for free. And I would love to hear from you. So please send me an email with any questions, any topic suggestions that you have. My email address is email@example.com. And I also have these books of affirmations at Wellness Curated that we have published. And if you would like a copy of these, please get in touch with us again at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next week. Thank you.