Three Tactics from the Buddha to Forgive without Feeling Defeated

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But if you define happiness in terms of the practice of merit—giving, virtue, and meditation—there’s no need to create losers. Everyone wins. When you give, other people naturally gain what you’ve shared with them; you gain a spacious sense of wealth within and the love and respect of others without. When you’re virtuous, abstaining from harming anyone, you gain freedom from remorse over your actions, while others gain safety. When you meditate, you give less rein to your greed, aversion, and delusion, so that you suffer less from their depredations, and other people are less victimized by their prowling around as well.

Then you further reflect:

Greater in battle

than the man who would conquer

a thousand-thousand men,

is he who would conquer

just one—

himself.

Better to conquer yourself

than others.

When you’ve trained yourself,

living in constant self-control,

neither a deva nor gandhabba,

nor a Mara banded with Brahmas,

could turn that triumph

back into defeat.

Dhammapada 103–105

Other victories can be undone—“settled” scores, in the light of karma and rebirth, are never really settled—but victory over your own greed, aversion, and delusion is something that lasts. It’s the only victory that creates no vera, so it’s the only victory that’s really safe and secure.

But this isn’t a victory you can hope to attain if you’re still harboring thoughts of vera. So in a world where we’ve all been harmed in one way or another, and where we could always find old scores to avenge if we wanted to, the only way to find a truly safe victory in life is to start with thoughts of forgiveness: that you want to pose no danger to anyone at all, regardless of the wrong they’ve done. This is why forgiveness is not only compatible with the practice of the Buddha’s teachings, it’s a necessary first step.

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