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"Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is the ancient and eternal law."

Buddha

Without forgiveness we are chained to the past. Individually we remain caught in the hurt and pain of our history. Collectively, humanity needs to learn forgiveness, to end the cycles of retribution and violence, and start anew.

Buddhist psychology offers specific teachings and practices for the development of forgiveness. Like the practice of compassion, forgiveness does not ignore the truth of our suffering. Forgiveness is not weak. It demands courage and integrity. Yet only forgiveness and love can bring about the peace we long for.

When we practice forgiveness individually, we start by recognizing that we have all betrayed and hurt others, just as we have knowingly or unknowingly been harmed by them. It is inevitable in this human realm. Sometimes our betrayals are small, sometimes terrible. Extending and receiving forgiveness is essential for redemption from our past. To forgive does not mean we condone the misdeeds of another. We can dedicate ourselves to make sure they never happen again. But without forgiveness the world can never be released from the sorrows of the past. Someone quipped, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” Forgiveness is a way to move on.

"Resentment is the poison we drink in hopes that it will hurt another"

In Buddhist psychology, forgiveness is understood as a way to end suffering, to bring dignity and harmony to our life. Forgiveness is fundamentally for our own sake, for our own mental health. It is a way to let go of the pain we carry. This is illustrated by the story of two ex-prisoners of war who meet after many years. When the first one asks, “Have you forgiven your captors yet?” the second man answers, “No, never.” “Well then,” the first man replies, “they still have you in prison.”

We may still be suffering terribly from the past while those who betrayed us are on vacation. It is painful to hate. Without forgiveness we continue to perpetuate the illusion that hate can heal our pain and the pain of others. In forgiveness we let go and find relief in our heart.

Forgiveness sees wisely. It willingly acknowledges what is unjust, harmful, and wrong. It bravely recognizes the sufferings of the past, and understands the conditions that brought them about. There is a strength to forgiveness. When we forgive we can also say, “Never again will I allow these things to happen.” We may resolve to never again permit such harm to come to ourselves or another. And at the same time we can also resolve to release the past and not carry bitterness and hate in our heart.

Finding a way to extend forgiveness to ourselves is one of our most essential tasks. Just as others have been caught in suffering, so have we. If we look honestly at our life, we can see the sorrows and pain that have led to our own wrongdoing. In this we can finally extend forgiveness to ourselves; we can hold the pain we have caused in compassion. Without such mercy, we will live our own life in exile.

For most people, the work of forgiveness is a tender process. Practicing forgiveness, we may go through stages of grief, rage, sorrow, fear and confusion. As we let ourself feel the pain we still hold, forgiveness comes as a relief, a release for our heart in the end. Forgiveness acknowledges that no matter how much we may have suffered, we will not put another human being out of our heart.

Forgiveness enables us to be released from the sorrows of the past. Although it can arise spontaneously, it can also be developed. Before you can do forgiveness practice, you must be clear about what forgiveness means. Forgiveness does not in any way justify or condone harmful actions. While you forgive, you may also say, “Never again will I knowingly allow this to happen.” You can resolve to prevent further harm. Forgiveness does not mean you have to seek out or speak to those who caused you harm. You may choose never to see them again.


Forgiveness is an act of the heart, a movement to let go of the pain, the resentment, the outrage that you have carried as a burden for so long. It is an easing of your own heart. We have all been harmed, just as we have at times harmed ourselves and others.

For most people forgiveness is a process. When you have been deeply wounded, the work of forgiveness can take years. It will go through many stages—grief, rage, sorrow, fear, and confusion—and in the end, if you let yourself feel the pain you carry, it will come as a relief, as a release for your heart. You will see that forgiveness is fundamentally for your own sake, a way to carry the pain of the past no longer. The fate of the person who harmed you, whether they be alive or dead, does not matter nearly as much as what you carry in your heart. And if the forgiveness is for yourself, for your own guilt, for the harm you’ve done to yourself or to another, the process is the same. You will come to realize that you can carry it no longer.

To practice forgiveness meditation, let yourself sit comfortably, allowing your eyes to close and your breath to be natural and easy. Let your body and mind relax. Breathing gently into the area of your heart, let yourself feel all the barriers you have erected and the emotions that you have carried because you have not forgiven – not forgiven yourself, not forgiven others. Let yourself feel the pain of keeping your heart closed. Then, breathing softly, begin asking and extending forgiveness, reciting the following words, letting the images and feelings that come up grow deeper as you repeat them.

FORGIVENESS OF OTHERS: There are many ways that I have hurt and harmed others, have betrayed or abandoned them, cause them suffering, knowingly or unknowingly, out of my pain, fear, anger and confusion. Let yourself remember and visualize the ways you have hurt others. See and feel the pain you have caused out of your own fear and confusion. Feel your own sorrow and regret. Sense that finally you can release this burden and ask for forgiveness. Picture each memory that still burdens your heart. And then to each person in your mind repeat: I ask for your forgiveness, I ask for your forgiveness. FORGIVENESS FOR YOURSELF: There are many ways that I have hurt and harmed myself. I have betrayed or abandoned myself many times through thought, word, or deed, knowingly or unknowingly. Feel your own precious body and life. Let yourself see the ways you have hurt or harmed yourself. Picture them, remember them. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this and sense that you can release these burdens. Extend forgiveness for each of them, one by one. Repeat to yourself: For the ways I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself, I forgive myself.

FORGIVENESS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE HURT OR HARMED YOU: There are many ways that I have been harmed by others, abused or abandoned, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word or deed. Let yourself picture and remember these many ways. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this past and sense that you can release this burden of pain by extending forgiveness when your heart is ready. Now say to yourself: I now remember the many ways others have hurt or harmed me, wounded me, out of fear, pain, confusion and anger. I have carried this pain in my heart too long. To the extent that I am ready, I offer them forgiveness. To those who have caused me harm, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.

Let yourself gently repeat these three directions for forgiveness until you feel a release in your heart. For some great pains you may not feel a release but only the burden and the anguish or anger you have held. Touch this softly. Be forgiving of yourself for not being ready to let go and move on. Forgiveness cannot be forced; it cannot be artificial. Simply continue the practice and let the words and images work gradually in their own way. In time you can make the forgiveness meditation a regular part of your life, letting go of the past and opening your heart to each new moment with a wise loving kindness.


- Written by Jack Kornfield

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