Three Tactics from the Buddha to Forgive without Feeling Defeated

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Forgiveness is a stance you may have to make unilaterally, within yourself, but there is the possibility that the other side will be inspired by your example to stop slinging mud as well. That way, both sides will benefit. Yet even if the other side doesn’t immediately join in the cease-fire, there will come a time when they lose interest, and that particular back-and-forth will die.

The Buddha recommends three tactics to help you deal with any lingering feelings that this strategy might leave you on the losing side, victimized without recourse.

  • The first is to remember that we’re all in the process of dying, and you don’t want thoughts of vera to get in the way of a skillful death. The narrative that “He wronged me, and I won’t feel at peace until I get back at him” is not one you want to focus on as death approaches—something it’s doing all the time. Otherwise, you may find yourself reborn with a vera mission, which is a miserable way to live a life. You’ve got other, better things to do with your time.
  • The second tactic is to develop thoughts of infinite goodwill “free from vera, free from ill will.” These thoughts lift your mind to the level of a brahma, a very high level of heavenly being, and from that heightened perspective the idea of trying to find satisfaction in settling old scores seems—as it actually is—petty and mean.
  • The third tactic is to take on the five precepts: no killing, no stealing, no illicit sex, no lying, and no taking intoxicants. Ever. At all. As the Buddha notes, when you hold to these precepts in all your encounters with others, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done, you give universal safety from danger and vera—at least from your quarter—to all beings. And because that safety is universal, you get a share of that safety yourself.

As for the case when you’ve lost out in a competition, the Buddha says that you can find peace and end vera only by putting winning and losing aside. To do this, you start by taking a good look at where you try to find happiness. If you look for it in terms of power or material possessions, there will always be winning and losing. If you gain power, for instance, others will have to lose. If others win, you lose. And as the Buddha says,

Winning gives birth to vera.

Losing, one lies down in pain.

Dhammapada 201

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