To Forgive

Teaching point for August 1998. The title is ‘To forgive’ – to forgive an injury done to us, to forgive persecution or oppression. To forgive spiteful slander, wilful destructiveness is not easy, but it is helped by the knowledge that there’s compassion for people who are present, overwhelmed by some element in their nature which they can’t control. In a sense, the compassion is downwards. There is a knowledge of the moral superiority of the one who can forgive over the mindlessly destructive and spiteful.

There’s one thing that’s very difficult to forgive and that is success. There’s an instinctive desire to pull down the successful person, to show that his success is really nothing much, that it’s simply pride or egoism, or showing off, or that it’s luck really, no inherent merit at all. There’s a desire to treat any achievement as simply a sort of ego trip leading to the setting sin of pride. Indeed, rooted from the very beginning in pride quite often, though not invariably.

What these critics fail to observe is that they themselves are falling into another deadly sin, the sin of envy. In little cliques with green venom dripping from the corners of their mouths, they attempt to publish false rumours, damaging rumours about anyone who is successful.

In a Persian classic, the 13th-century Persian classic, the Gulistan, there’s a little account of this where it’s put into the mouth of a lecturer at a university. One of his colleagues has had a remarkable success. Naturally, there is a resentment among the others at this. When they are talking in front of the principal of the college, one of them remarks, “If I were to tell a real truth about him, he would not be famous, but his face would be blackened,” and the Gulistan goes on. The principal blazed up and said, “Who told you that slander was good? If he goes to hell by one road, you will overtake him by the other.”

In the Buddhist analysis, Mudita or a feeling of joy at the success of others is rated even higher than compassion. One of the reasons is that it’s more difficult to rise above the petty feelings of envy.

Drivers tell you that, on the road, when there’s a stream of traffic and someone is trying to come out from a side turning, there’s a feeling of “Back, you dog,” and you drive effortlessly past. The same driver, when he’s on the road himself and a car goes past him on the fast lane, he once feels a resentment as though he has been demoted to the level of the plebs while the patricians slide effortlessly by.

Well, I’m not a driver myself but I’m told that these are fundamental instincts. They have to be analysed and then they can cease to have any grip on us. In addition to compassion, which is forgiving down, we have to learn to forgive up, to forgive success, to forgive being outclassed and overpassed without resentment and know that these are simply unevennesses in the flow of life, waves now high, now low, and there’s no inherent superiority or inferiority in them.

The next point: pride. Pride is a motivating force of rajas – passion struggle. It does have a constructive side or it may have a negative side when it is associated with arrogance, the desire to defeat and to do better than and put down other people but it has a legitimate use. In the beginning of the Gita, when Arjuna is assailed by weakness and does not want to do his duty as a warrior, confronted with a battle, a righteous battle, unsought, Krishna appeals to his pride as a warrior. That is a legitimate use of pride.

It’s not, in fact, sufficient to get Arjuna fighting again. The weakness to which he succumbs is deeper than that. That sort of weakness can happen even to the bravest man. It can happen to a brave mountaineer momentarily, and when they wake, it passes, and then his pride in his mountaineering will come to the surface again.

In one of the old Upanishads, Taittiriya, there’s a boy, Bhrigu, and when our teacher retold this narrative, he said this was an unruly boy. The father, Varuna, says to the boy, “Now, my son, you just go and study under a teacher. Well, there has been no one in our line of Brahmins who has not been a learned man, and who has been a Brahmin only by name.”

I remember our teacher saying this is a right use of pride in order to inspire this young boy. It is not associated with arrogance, but it is a motivating force to get him to live up to the pride of the family, achievements in learning. As a matter of fact, the boy goes away and when he comes back after 12 years, he is not merely proud, but arrogant with his learning and his father finds means to remove that arrogance by asking, “Did you learn from your teacher this, this, this, that which being known, everything becomes known. Then the young man is humbled. He says, “No.” He asks his father to teach him.

There were two famous chess masters, both great geniuses at the early part of this century: Alekhine and Capablanca. Alekhine was very arrogant but not at all conceited. He was a Russian. Capablanca, who was a Cuban diplomat, was enormously conceited but not at all arrogant. Now, both of these used to be very famous. They used to give exhibition matches. One man against 30 opponents. One man moves around the centre of the circle with the boards and he defeats his 30 opponents. He pauses just a second or two at each board while the opponents of course have 5 or 10 minutes to think on each move. Towards the end, most of them have been knocked out and then two or three remain who have real ability. When that happened, Alekhine would always play to the bitter end. He would never permit anyone to say that he had defeated the world champion even in the simultaneous game. He was enormously arrogant. Capablanca, on the other hand, when he came to the last two or three players, used to smile sometimes and say, “Well, my friend you’ve been making some very good moves. Shall we call it a draw?”

They made it a draw so that the man could say, “I have drawn with the great Capablanca.” Capablanca was so conceited that it never occurred to him that anyone would believe that any club chess player could defeat the great Capablanca. They would always assume that Capablanca had just acceded to a draw. Similarly, in the analysis which followed the game, they would look at the board. I have taken part in these. It’s very interesting the master’s analysis but sometimes one of the players looking on at the analysis makes a suggestion.

Alekhine always listened to the suggestion. He would say, “Yes, but look – this, this, this and this and this. No, that’s no use at all.” He always listened. He always tried. Then he arrogantly dismissed it. Capablanca, on the other hand, when the suggestion was made used to smile at the man. He said, “Well, my friend you certainly have a good idea.” He would never even consider them. It never occurred to him that anyone could possibly have an idea that the great Capablanca had not already thought of. The pride goes before a fall. As our teacher said, “If it’s not arrogant, if it’s not conceited then it can be a motivating force to help us but it will inevitably attract.”


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