BLOG: Thich Nhat Hanh: Compassion the Key to Forgiveness

On the 29th March, Buddhist Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, will arrive in London for the start of his short UK tour guiding followers in spiritual reflection and peaceful protest. I’ve been interested in Thich Nhat Hanh for a number of years, not just for his peace activism but also because his poem Call Me By My True Names seems to really encapsulate the ethos at the heart of The Forgiveness Project – namely that good and evil exist in us all.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s life of reflection has led him to believe that forgiveness is the key to creating a peaceful, just and sustainable world, and that “only when compassion is born in your heart, is it possible to forgive.”

The aspect of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings that has always interested me most is the way in which he reaches out to those who feel wounded by their parents. I don’t count myself as one of the wounded but it has always struck me that his approach to this aspect of our past is a lot more tender than some other voices out there in the field of human consciousness and spirituality. Caroline Myss, for example, describes revisiting childhood hurts and trauma as “woundology” informing her audiences that “trying to work out who hurt you as a child is not a spiritual path but a who-dun-it’.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s method – though more gentle – is just as direct. In the film The Power of Forgiveness, he is seen reciting his mediation for the “many angry sons and daughters”. In a soft, measured voice he instructs, in meditative breathing, a room full of people who want to move on: “breathing in I see myself as a 5-year-old child; breathing out I hold that 5-year-old child with tenderness. Breathing in I see my father as a 5-year-old boy; breathing out I smile to my father as a 5-year-old boy”. The point is that only when you are able to visualize your father as a fragile and vulnerable 5-year-old, can you begin to understand and feel compassion for the person he has become.

Thich Nhat Hanh explains that you must move from this place of animosity because if you are full of anger you only cause more suffering to yourself as well as to the person you’re angry at –“that is why,” he concludes, “those who are wise do not want to do anything when in a place of anger. When you are calm and lucid, you see that the other person is a victim of confusion, of hate and of violence transmitted by society, by parents, by friends, by environment. And when you are able to do that you’re anger is no longer there.”

Thich Nhat Hanh is in the UK 29 March-10 April 2012, accompanied by monks and nuns from Plum Village. Organised by The Community of Interbeing UK, he will be in London to give a public talk at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, lead Sit in Peace in Trafalgar Square and a conference-retreat for educators. There will be 5-day retreat for the public from 5-10 April at Nottingham University.

3 Comments on "BLOG: Thich Nhat Hanh: Compassion the Key to Forgiveness"

  1. CDot says:

    Forgiveness is possible once you have empathy. Who would have thought that the one who considers themselves the victim would have to have compassion for the offender in order to forgive. My God.

  2. says:

    Before we can live together in an eternal community, we must be assured that there is nothing within us or others that might escalate or evolve into problems in the future. After all it would not be paradise if we continue to bring up all of our old issues among one another.

    When we leave the earth…we go through our life review. We are encouraged to seek our own justice and atonement by going to the parties we have hurt in our lives and asking them to tell us what they want from us in order to make amends. People out there, Solamenta will await the arrival of those on earth that they have committed transgressions against… if they are not already out there in order to make their amends; provided that is, if they are inclined to do so. For example… it’s a humiliating experience for a man to go to his best friend from the earth and confess to him that he had an affair with his wife, stole something from him, cheated him, talked behind his back etc. This is one of the reasons that many wives and husbands don’t continue their relationships out there.

    Forgiveness is a concept, granted it is a sterile and morose concept but nevertheless, it has flourished in spite of the fact there is little if any strength behind the words “I forgive you”. These words mean in essence, let’s forget about it. Forgiveness is a concept that has outlived its time!

    Instead, let’s consider a more logical approach to resolving our differences….

    Hated enemies who find themselves fighting on the same side, become brothers on the battlefield because they are necessary for each other’s survival. When we understand from a logical perspective that you and I are necessary for each other’s eternal survival, we no longer need to say the words, “I forgive you,” but rather, “I understand how badly we need each other”!

  3. Jason says:

    I was angry at my parents for the longest time. I held them responsible for my unhappiness and all my troubles in life. Once I discovered the truth about forgiveness; that I have the choice to forgive, not for others but for myself. I began to realize that I didn’t have to be angry anymore. I learned that the anger was acomplishing nothing except for making me sick. I decided that I loved myself and that I wanted to be happy. I since began working on forgiveness in all areas of my life. Thank you Thich Nhat Hanh for your infinite wisdom.

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