Buddha’s Beautiful Lesson on Forgiveness

By Sofo Archon on Monday October 24th, 2016

Understanding What Forgiveness Is

I cannot forgive you because I have no grudge against you.

Most people get easily offended or insulted by people who behave in an rude manner, not realizing that each and every person has a story, and unaware of the healing power kindness. But not all people do so, and here’s wonderful story from the life of the Buddha, carrying a beautiful lesson on forgiveness:

A Lesson on Forgiveness

“The Buddha was sitting under a tree talking to his disciples when a man came and spat in his face. He wiped it off, and he asked the man, “What next? What do you want to say next?” The man was a little puzzled because he himself never expected that when you spit in someone’s face he should ask “What next?” He had no such experience in his past. He had insulted people and they had become angry and they had reacted. Or if they were cowards and weaklings, they had smiled, trying to bribe him. But the Buddha was like neither, he was not angry, nor in any way offended, nor in any way cowardly. But just matter-of-factly he said, “What next?” There was no reaction on his part.

What next?What next?

What next?

But Buddha’s disciples became angry, and they reacted. His closest disciple, Ananda, said, “This is too much. We cannot tolerate it. He has to be punished for it, otherwise everybody will start doing things like this!”

Buddha said, “You keep silent. He has not offended me, but you are offending me. He is new, a stranger. He must have heard from people something about me, that this man is an atheist, a dangerous man who is throwing people off their track, a revolutionary, a corrupter. And he may have formed some idea, a notion of me. He has not spit on me, he has spit on his notion. He has spit on his idea of me because he does not know me at all, so how can he spit on me?

“If you think on it deeply,” Buddha said, “he has spit on his own mind. I am not part of it, and I can see that this poor man must have something else to say because this is a way of saying something. Spitting is a way of saying something. There are moments when you feel that language is impotent: in deep love, in intense anger, in hate, in prayer. There are intense moments when language is impotent. Then you have to do something. When you are angry, intensely angry, you hit the person, you spit on him, you are saying something. I can understand him. He must have something more to say, that’s why I’m asking, “What next?”

Forgive everythingLearning to forgive everything.

The Pattern Shattered

The man was even more puzzled! And Buddha said to his disciples, “I am more offended by you because you know me, and you have lived for years with me, and still you react.”

Puzzled, confused, the man returned home. He could not sleep the whole night. When you see a Buddha, it is difficult, impossible to sleep anymore the way you used to sleep before. Again and again he was haunted by the experience. He could not explain it to himself, what had happened. He was trembling all over, sweating and soaking the sheets. He had never come across such a man; the Buddha had shattered his whole mind and his whole pattern, his whole past.

The next morning he went back. He threw himself at Buddha’s feet. Buddha asked him again, “What next? This, too, is a way of saying something that cannot be said in language. When you come and touch my feet, you are saying something that cannot be said ordinarily, for which all words are too narrow; it cannot be contained in them.” Buddha said, “Look, Ananda, this man is again here, he is saying something. This man is a man of deep emotions.”

Forgive meForgive me.

Every Man is a River

The man looked at Buddha and said, “Forgive me for what I did yesterday.”

Buddha said, “Forgive? But I am not the same man to whom you did it. The Ganges goes on flowing, it is never the same Ganges again. Every man is a river. The man you spit upon is no longer here. I look just like him, but I am not the same, much has happened in these twenty-four hours! The river has flowed so much. So I cannot forgive you because I have no grudge against you.

“And you also are new. I can see you are not the same man who came yesterday because that man was angry and he spit, whereas you are bowing at my feet, touching my feet. How can you be the same man? You are not the same man, so let us forget about it. Those two people, the man who spit and the man on whom he spit, both are no more. Come closer. Let us talk of something else.”

Every man is like a riverEvery man is like a river.

Not Judging

Whether this story describes an actual event or not is unknown. However, the lesson it teaches is tremendously beautiful and important. In essence, the story reminds as that nobody is perfect, and everyone is continuously changing and progressing in the journey of spiritual growth. Therefore, we should not be quick to judge others and take things personally, but realize where they are coming from and handle them with a compassionate attitude, no matter if they have treated us badly in the past.

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.




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18 Responses to Buddha’s Beautiful Lesson on Forgiveness

  1. I love the story! I want to share this with other people. I love how it describes how to forgive people in a beautiful way. I think it doesn’t matter if this story is true or not, because the moral lesson in the story is really important, and we should all learn how to forgive.

    • Valuable and moral lessons are not always the result of “true stories.” If this were so, then all of Aesop’s fables would have no value because animals do not converse in language in the same manner that humans do. We do not know if all or any of Jesus of Nazareth’s parables were actual records or accounts, but one must be rather cynical to disregard their value. Perhaps, this story here is a made up story, I don’t know, but even if it is the invention of a controversial “guru” it speaks to me and invites me to look past an insult and be more inquisitive of those who offend rather than reactionary. These are things that are very difficult for me.

  2. My only hesitation is…. what if you don’t want to “get spit on” again? Isn’t there that saying, “forgive but don’t forget”?

  3. I like this story especially right now , because I had a conversation with my dad and he is upset with me over something I said to him and he said I judged him and he is not sure he wants to be around me anymore. He said it bother him that I said what I did. I did not like what he said about a man who is angry with him. Any advice he quotes budda all the time but I think he needs to do what Buddha talks about.

    • It’s beautiful and this has helped in me ways than one. I think the world needs this as their template for life.

  4. Good story, but please don’t use the Buddha just to give it more weight. The fake Buddha quotes site is a good one as other people have pointed out.

  5. Who cares whether a story attributed to Mohamad, Jesus, the Buddha or whomever was really spoken by them? Is the story true for YOU, does it speak to YOU? If so, be very happy!

  6. I loved this story! During His crucifixion Jesus said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”! Jesus while taking our sins on Himself was making himself one with us ie He wasn’t practicing Dualism but identifying as one with us who don’t know often what we are doing when we hurt others!

  7. I read a few of the notes saw my self judging, that is wrong, that is right… went to the field beyond right and wrong felt peace and kindness 🙂

  8. A great deal of forgiveness mythology facilitates marginalized people– People of Color, women, LQBTQIA– being used as doormats, scapegoats. How much forgiveness is too much forgiveness when people are harmed? Should everyone let everything go always?

    I believe New Age and New Thought communities need an updated forgiveness model to match the new paradigm of self-reflection and advocacy.

  9. I am so moved to tears at the profound beauty of this teaching, whoever it is attributed to. Thank you, Sofo Archon for this story. Yes! I am like a river, ever changing, growing, stumbling at times, falling over rough rocks reacting to painful edges, spun for a moment out of the true beauty of my own nature, forgetting that like a River I am, indeed fluid. This “fall” is but a glitch. The goal is not perfection (that goal has already been seen, tasted, experienced, countless times) but to pick yourself back up after “the fall “ by your own heart or that of another and simply accept that this is a fact of existence, to fall. Heart by heart we lift each other up, as we are brave enough to do and allow and wherever possible. Whenever we remember that all of us, indeed, share a Oneness. Living with the paradox continuously. Forgiveness/no need to forgive? This very question Leads us to balance in this ever-changing never-ending dance of this blessed life this unfolding mystery that we are and find ourselves in. What a ruthless love.

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