Final Word on Forgiveness, Buddhist Rage and Dharma-Dicks

Sin and apples and oranges

*dusts off soapbox*

A kindly tip of the hat to Barbara for bringing this article to my attention.

The insane media attention given to Brit Hume’s comments on the lack of forgiveness or, more appropriately, lack of “Divine Forgiveness” in Buddhist practice has gotten plenty of ire and boot-stomping about the buddhoblogosphere (including my own, honestly, but I did make funny jokes).

There is a process that needs to be followed when someone reacts with anger. To say that a Buddhist shouldn’t get angry or show anger is silly.   The comments that flooded in stating that Buddhist shouldn’t react are just as condemning as Hume’s own inane comments.  Buddhism doesn’t teach you to repress or withhold your feels (other religions do a perfectly good job at that), only to attempt to actually understand the underlying cause and direction behind the act.  Buddhists are human.

Even the angriest chest-thumping Buddhist eventually will see the opportunity for personal growth or at least for open and honest dialogue and discussion. Once you clear the dust, acknowledge your anger and allow it to pass, the Buddhist will sit, learn and analyze the events in a way that will hopefully bring benefit in the future.  It is a greater disruption to spiritual practice to hold on anger than feeling the emotion of anger.

This is where I see a huge strength in Buddhist practice.  Buddhists tend to look upon things as causal chains.  An event is part of a procedures and process and not just an isolated event.  When a Christian commits a sin (say adultery) there is a moment of forgiveness (“Its between me and my God”), where the sinner admits to God (or at least an envoy of God) the sin and humbly asks for forgiveness. This is a moment; a spot of time where sinner becomes forgiven.  No chain, no causation.  No learning.  It’s just a moment; granted a “Divine” moment but just a moment none-the-less.

A moment such as this does not exist in a vacuum in Buddhist practice. That moment is only a point in the process of introspection. Since there is no “divine” aspect to wrong action in Buddhist thought, a Buddhist will seek the root cause of the action to understand it and avoid repeating it. This is not a perfect process and people have to build up a level of wisdom (obviously falling a few times) on the Path before they can come up with the clarity of mind and concentration to understand the actions and how they affect others.  There is an aspect of compassion here as well.  Change is required for the betterment of all other sentient beings (at least those directly effected by the actions) and not required as a check mark against getting into heaven (or winning a Teddy Bear).

Nothing in Buddhism is instantaneous. Even enlightenment that seems to occur in a moment is the culmination of a lifetime of practice (or lifetimes).

Mahayana ( “Great Vehicle”) Buddhism, with its plethora of savior figures, makes place for a warmer, more positive conception of forgiveness than we find in early Buddhism. But even there salvation centers not on forgiveness but on release from delusion and suffering through meditative insight into the nature of reality. Buddhism queries the reality of the passions that make forgiveness necessary and also queries the reality of the objects of those passions. My anger, resentment, and hatred are delusions, and so is the crime or offense the other is thought to have committed against me. Indeed, my very concept of “myself” and of “other” is pervaded by delusion and fixation. Even if these Buddhist ideas were totally untrue, it would still be very wholesome to meditate on them at a time when national, ethnic, and religious identity has so often shown a murderous face.

Even the cosmological aspects of Buddhism (Bodhivattvas and Buddhas, Amitabha) don’t grant any rewards or prizes to practitioners. They offer help and guidance but if you fuck up, Amitabha isn’t going to bail your ass out.  That part is up to you. Amitabha isn’t there to forgive you;  he’s there to support. The deities of Buddhism provide compassion, not forgiveness. They don’t ask for humble groveling.  Instead they lay out tools for you to use if you need them or if you can figure out how.  Some of us grab the shovel and some of us grad a screwdriver.  The tools are as varied as are the practitioners.   

And that last sentence “Even if these Buddhist ideas were totally untrue, it would still be very wholesome to meditate on them at a time when national, ethnic, and religious identity has so often shown a murderous face.” speaks volumes.  Even the most die-hard Buddhist will sit back and say…”Fuck it, even if it is bullshit, this viewpoint is worthwhile on its own”.

The topic of forgiveness may seem at first sight remote from the concerns of Buddhism. Buddhism does not conceive of ultimate truth in the guise of a personal God. Its concepts of error and defilement do not readily translate into the Biblical notions of sin and guilt. The Buddhist solution to unwholesome dispositions is to overcome them by following the path that leads to release; acts of pardon and grace have little to do with it. In some early Buddhist texts, the emphasis falls not on forgiving, but on the foolishness of taking offense in the first place:

From the article, author Father O’Leary states that Buddhism focuses on the foolishness of the individual. Which I suppose is true but it seems more that the focus is on the foolishness inherit in not taking the opportunity to learning from the mistake and to cultivating wisdom from a bad act.  Maybe this is what Hume was trying to say and just did a poor job of it.

In contrast, Biblical rhetoric is full of references to enemies, slanderers, persecutors. Buddhism might unmask a delusion here, rather than go on to talk of forgiving one’s enemies and blessing one’s persecutors. Biblical salvation is atonement for evils that have already occurred; but Buddhist salvation is more an effort to prevent the evils from arising in the first place. When they have already arisen, it calmly proceeds to dismantle them by going back to their roots.

Holy shit! That is pretty much it. I said good-bye to Christianity for largely this reason. I don’t want atonement for my sins or forgiveness and I sure as hell don’t plan on atoning for any “Orginal Sin”. Whether or not those I transgress against forgive me is furthest from my mind (those transgressions are over, already trampled over during the steady onslaught of time). Those bridges are burned. The best I can do is to accept the consequences, take the opportunity to learn and then continue on my way. Honest striving towards the betterment of my personal wellbeing and the happiness of those around me is all any religion (or non-religion) can offer.

The rest is just empty calories. 

Listen, do you want to sit back and get fat off of the idea of “heaven” or do you want to work at making yourself a better person and this world a better place.  If you would like to make the world a better place how about you stop trying to convert people and just for one fucking moment….focus on growth that isn’t measure by numbers and statistics.

At this point half of the most outspoken Christian critics are so full of “heaven-cake” that they can’t even see their “dharma-dick”.  I think you forgot it is there.

Cheers and God Bless,


*steps down off soap-box…proceeds to sit*


22 thoughts on “Final Word on Forgiveness, Buddhist Rage and Dharma-Dicks

  1. So, after the dust has settled on this matter and people have calmed the F**K down, its really not a big deal after all. The Twitterverse and Buddhablogosphere just got into a huge huff over nothing. In trying to rationalize with people and try to get them to see that their reaction was not from reason and calm analysis but an automated response from anger or some positionality, I got some of that heat, so I left Twitter.

    When you boil it all down, its just one man’s opinion of Option A over Option B. Some like Option A. Woohoo, good for them. Some prefer Option B. Again, woohoo, good for them, too.

    Hopefully, people did learn from this. There’s no reason to be upset because someone doesn’t like your belief systems. If you seriously think about it, the Buddha could’ve easily have wiped out all the disbelievers and heterodox teachers with a single thought.

    Did he? No, he calmed went about his business teaching Dharma to those who wanted to listen.

    • You crack me up, GK, the avatar that you get randomly assigned is some sort of crazy heart-thing with claws. I just imagine it going “Woohoo!”.

      I disagree with you on one point. When someone makes a statement bred of ignorance it is time to speak up. How a preson reacts (with anger or compassion) is up to that person’s own level of enlightenment.

      I can engage someone w/o getting angry in an attempt to get to the root of the discussion. I love doing it. It promotes growth. I could care less about the comment and the reaction from the Buddhists. What I do care about is the aftermath…where we actually see another viewpoint. Sometimes, it requires some harshness and some anger to get to the meat of the matter.



      • Well, again that depends. I think that it all depends on the scale of the matter. Just because the remark was made by a media personality seemed to ‘justify’ being outraged at his ‘ignorance.’–‘how dare he say something like that.’ This justification at ‘righteous anger’ seemed to have overridden any sort of individual Buddhist practice of compassion and wisdom. Anger is still anger.

        There are many forms of anger, not just blind fury or rage. There are subtle forms of an angry response as well, such being ‘offended’ or feeling slighted. Playing the ‘victim’ is another form of anger. As Buddhists, first and foremost, we should HAVE COMPASSION, not pity, FOR THE IGNORANT.

        Say you were out at dinner with friends and someone at the next table made the same comment that Brit did. Would you:

        A – Politely, explain to that person how ignorant and insensitive that made them sound because you were a Buddhist and were offended by those remarks

        B – Voice your opinion of that person’s statement to people at your table, expressing your displeasure at their perceived ignorant remark.

        C – Calmly go about your dinner like nothing happened, all the while contemplating the “offensive” statement in your mind.

        D – Acknowledge the statement, disassemble it logically and let it pass because it really doesn’t concern you.

        E – None of the above and beat the person’s ignorant ass for offending you and your belief system.

        As Buddhists, whether it be Zen, Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, etc., we should be well aware of how the Three Root Afflictions: Anger, Desire and Ignorance affect us, in all their forms and flavors. That’s where your time on the cushion and contemplation comes into play. That’s where the strength of your practice shines.

        • Again, I disagree. Still love ya but I disagree. This is why….your dinner party scenario. I have been in the same situation and went into conversations calmly and politely and it only enraged the person more.

          I find this funny because it sets the person on fire! However, what we should do is engage the topic and it was engaged well. There was no ass-beating (some chest-beating) and in the end the engagement was positive. I’m still talking to Christians on twitter about Buddhist thought.

          Either way what Hume said wasn’t in a conversation between pals over dinner. It was a commentary and a commentary is open for public debate. There is no issue there. I make commentary on this blog and expect that some will agree and some will disagree. If I don’t expect conversation, I don’t say it here or at least preface it with my ignorance.

          My time on the cushion has led me to believe that anger can’t be repressed or allowed to run free. It needs to be engaged intently.



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  3. To me it seems that the advantage to a Buddhist practice in terms of anger is in mindfulness. In the few times I’ve responded well to someone yelling at me, I suddenly focus on the moment. Here I am. Person X is angry and yelling. Here are my feet on the ground. Here is the table. I don’t need to become caught up in X’s anger. They are there and I am here.

    Anger feels like the opposite of mindfulness to me.

  4. I find it amusing that Brit Hume’s comment on Buddhism is the most offensive thing that some Buddhists find on Fox News.

    This network feeds on hatred and fear and may be the greatest purveyor of mass media ignorance the “free world” has ever known. Worse yet, it pretends to be “news.” The fact that Sarah Palin has just signed on as Fox News commentator (does anyone there do hard news anymore?) is a telling sign.

    It’s fine to point out inaccuracies in Hume’s statements, but the machine that is Fox News rolls on contributing to pro-war, anti-homosexual and racism-in-the-guise-of-patriotism hate mongering on a mass scale. The usual offensive commentary leaves Mr. Hume looking like a bodhisattva in comparison.

    For a spirituality based on “awakening,” Buddhists would do well to wake up to correcting the more harmful commentary taking place on Fox News and not worry so much about Hume and Tiger Woods.

    • Hi Matt!

      I agree that Fox News is all of those things described but if I were to blog on everything on Fox News that was either (IMHO) pro-war, anti-homosexual and/or racist I would need to quit my job, sell my wife and send my daughter to work in the coal mines and start blogging full time….

      Buddhist as well as plenty of other enlightened practitioners of other faiths are well away of the amount of pain in the world. Feel free to join the ranks and start kicking up some dirt. I do the best I can over here!

      Cheers and thanks for the comment!


  5. I thought I was kicking up some dirt! 😉

    Obviously, the comment wasn’t directed at you or anyone here, really, but I did see some real outrage in the Twitterverse that I thought was out of scale with Hume’s statements. And Christians jumped in too: I myself debated a Christian Twitter troll and he was compassionately trounced. I enjoyed it too much–I have work to do!

    I just think we need to do more to convey that Buddhism is a rational spirituality and is engaged in more than defending itself as a valid alternative to Christianity.

    Having said that, I don’t think we need to take anyone’s shit, we just need to avoid reacting in anger and outrage.

    Great comments here.

    • Very Nice! I agree that Twitter went nuts over this (my good twitter-pal @DrumsofDharma actually dropped out and closed his account because it was overwhelming. I oversee the social networking sites for work and I usually have a few columns up on Tweetdeck and out of nowhere it blew up with Hume and Buddhism!

      I tried to be nice but we are human after all!

      Feel free to kick up dirt here anytime. I jumped on you because everytime I post something topical SOMEONE jumps on me for not talking about something else!

      I can’t win!



  6. John, that will be true whenever you say anything of substance–someone will find fault even if there is none.

    I know that I personally went too far when I was taking the Troll’s wrists and making him hit his own face. “Quit hitting yourself! Quit hitting yourself!”

    Talk about faults! Christians wouldn’t have me. Like Mayo in an Officer and a Gentleman, I’m here cuz “I got nowhere else to go!”

    Dammit, now I’m blubbering. I’m outta here.

  7. Hi,

    A week ago scores of Buddhist bloggers were writing to Fox News to “insist on an on-air apology from Mr. Hume”

    One week later, their demand seems to have been forgotten.

    And yet, in the process, people like GK Sandoval and myself, people who called for restraint and perspective, were told how wrong we are, how important it is to make a stand, even to use some anger.

    If all those Buddhists who had claimed to be so offended by Hume’s opinion had just sat with it and let it go, no one would even have noticed.

    Instead, anyone who did see what the Buddhist bloggers got up are probably now saying “Oh, Buddhists? Yes, aren’t they the ones who got angry about whatshisname on tv, didn’t they get all offended and demand an apology or something? Hmmm, another bunch of nuts looking out to always be offended.”

    Meanwhile, a Tibetan film-maker is sent to prison by the Chinese in an unfair trial and most (not you John) of the bloggers who complained about Hume expressing a personal opinion on Fox News, weren’t bothered to write a single word about it.

    It was a sad week for western Buddhism.


    • “If all those Buddhists who had claimed to be so offended by Hume’s opinion had just sat with it and let it go, no one would even have noticed.”

      Exactly, no one would have noticed. No one would have delved deeper in the Dharma to research forgiveness, no one would have engaged the scores of Christian Evangelicals calling Buddhism nihilistic and pessemistic. Nothing would have happened at all.

      No egagement = No progress.

      I am still having conversations with Christians who are attempting an actual understanding of another faith (rather than blithly spouting out ignorance). Newscasters may take some time to actually research the faith rather than make broad assumptions.

      Overall it was a success for me and for many others. As per issues you wish to see blogged about, I say blog about it. But don’t bitch at other people for not reporting on it.

      I grabbed a tea from a Rapid City cafe and actually overheard a couple discussing Buddhism so I am satisfied with the results. Will it continue, probably not.

      As a funny side note Marcus, when I posted on the Tibetan filmmaker, I actually got crap from people for not reporting on ALL of the Chinese Human Rights violations that occur. Instead I only focused on the Buddhist ones.

      Can’t win.


  8. Great point, Marcus. It might be helpful to provide a list of legitimate news sources so that Buddhists can be engaged re: real issues rather than the ongoing spectacle of Fox News (and to be fair, MSNBC–but they do provide a greater proportion of real reporting on that network).

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