Lotus Buddhism / FAQ / Forgiveness in Nichiren Buddhism

Forgiveness in Nichiren Buddhism

How to respond to hurt?  We may experience painful events in our life.  Conventional thinking in society points to either ‘revenge’ or ‘forgiveness‘ for what we experienced - but what is the Buddhist answer to this problem?

While Buddhism categorically rejects the concept of revenge or holding grudges - it provides deep insight into the causes that led to our feeling of hurt, and reveals the power to transform the situation of suffering.  Buddhism offers the teaching of using our mishaps or hurt as fuel for developing inner strength  (according to the principle of “Changing poison into medicine”).

Revenge or retaliation furthers the cycle of hurt and suffering and gives no solution to occurring problems.  Because each action we do gets automatically recorded in our life as a karmic tendency, then responding with retaliation becomes a karmic cause for repeating the cycle of hurting others - or being hurt by others.

Forgiveness as flexibility and broadmindedness

As for “forgiveness”, Buddhism distinguishes between two categories of events: one minor and personal (such as someone vilifying us or acting inappropriately), but the other category of events is too serious to brush off (such as violence, financial deception or bullying, or other more serious crimes).

If the offense we are subjected to is relatively minor, then we should exercise flexibility and broadmindedness, and forgive such immaturity, as being a product of ‘small self’. 

As Nichiren states: “Even should the people on your side make a slight error, pretend not to see or hear it” The Hero of the World

Forgiveness of such actions reveals our maturity and open mind, dissolving tension and becoming unaffected by the foolishness of the offender.  As P. Ikeda explains:

“In Buddhism, faith means a pure heart, a flexible spirit and an open mind".

Pure heart means rejecting personal hatred towards others and rejecting having ‘old scores’ or grudges.  In his writing titled “The Fourteen Slanders”, Nichiren mentions that hatred and grudges are causes for sufferings.

Freedom from the past

Forgiveness is about something that happened in the past. Nichiren Buddhism teaches that regardless of what happened in the past, it is the present moment (and the future) - that gives the past its meaning and not the opposite.  We are not controlled by the past:

“You can make a defeat [or hurt], the springboard or cause for future victory.

You can also make victory the cause for future defeat, [if you become arrogant with your achievement].

Regardless of whether past events were of defeat or victory, in this Buddhism we do not dwell on the past. Nichiren Buddhism is the Buddhism of True Cause, the Buddhism of the present and the future.

We are always challenging ourselves from the present toward the future. “The whole future lies ahead of us. We have only just begun!” – because we advance with this spirit, we will never be deadlocked”.  P. Ikeda, Daily Encouragement, p. 306

Transforming hurt, and moving forward

Both ‘revenge’ and ‘forgiveness’ are about “making justice”. Justice cannot be maintained by our emotions and feelings - or by setting our opinion about the consequences of past actions. The necessity of consequences of past actions are established by the Law of Life, not by our views about their impact. Setting consequences for actions belongs to the Law. We do not have the authority to forgive evil action.

For example, if out of jealousy someone sets fire to the property of his/her partner, and then the partner “forgives the arson” that took place - that forgiveness means nothing to the Law, and the police will charge the offender despite being “forgiven” by the partner. Similarly, the Law of Cause and Effect is impartial and already established regardless of one’s personal opinion.

Because of the strict Law of Cause and Effect, the offender who created sufferings for us is destined to meet the consequences.  Even if someone forgives an evil event in which we were hurt, the Law is strict, and - regardless of one’s forgiveness or its lack - the offender has created already karmic consequences that will inevitably take place in the offender’s future (unless the offender apologises and rectifies own arrogance and evil tendencies).

We do not have to worry about what the offender is going to face, our forgiveness will not change anything, because the consequences are set by the Law, not by our feelings. The Law is the ultimate justice.

Nichiren Buddhist would use the hurt one experiences from a bad action to awaken oneself to the causes that made that event happen, and would develop immunity through the process of human revolution.  Many SGI members started practicing Buddhism because they were suffering.  This means that a person whose behaviour led us to suffer has become for us a condition for searching for Buddhism, and inwardly - without their awareness - offenders become friends for our life.  The offense becomes an opportunity for us to grow. 

Taking the example of Nichiren, who was aggressively persecuted and almost beheaded, he felt pity for those who opposed him out of their ignorance (ignorance to the Law of Cause and Effect):

 “Even in the case of [my opponents] all of whom bear me such hatred  — I admonish them because I want to help them, and their hatred for me makes me pity them all the more”. WND1 p 608

Regardless of the fate the offender must face anyway, the focus is how to change the hurt we may be experiencing into a medicine (and transform it into an immunity before being attracted to hurtful situations).

We can heal ourselves from hurt and transform our sufferings into a feeling of compassion - through the power of our faith in the Gohonzon:

“If you are suffering, then take that suffering to the Gohonzon; if you feel sad, then take your sadness to the Gohonzon.

It is also best to chant with clear determination, having a concrete goal in mind about how you want to grow or change or what you want to accomplish.

It’s also important to chant for those people whom you may not like, or find hard to deal with, or feel resentful toward. It may be difficult and perhaps even impossible for you to do so at first. But if you challenge yourself and chant for them, the wheels of change will definitely be set into motion.

Either you will change or the other person will. Either way, you will be able to open a path leading in a positive direction. Many people have experienced this firsthand. Most importantly, your own transformation into a person able to chant for even those you harbor negative feelings toward will become your greatest fortune”. (D. Ikeda, Thoughts on Friendship)

How to prevent serious offenses from taking place in our life?

If we are subjected to bullying, for example, or to financial deception, then forgiveness of the offender is meaningless: first, the Law of Cause and Effect will take care of the offender regardless of our opinion, and second, through forgiving serious evil we cannot prevent the same pattern of hurt from reoccurring again in our future. 

To stop becoming a magnet attracting such painful tendencies of offenders, we must make a shift in our karma.  As P. Ikeda mentions, there is always a reason behind what we experience:

“Buddhism teaches that nothing happens by chance. Everything has meaning”.

What we experience in reality happens because of a karmic attraction of the external conditions (that make us feel this way or another).

For example, if we do not stop others from bullying us or still allow for financial deception, etc, then we are creating a karmic susceptibility to further fall into another similar violation to our mental or financial security. 

Forgiveness of offenders does not change our karma; it is rather our human revolution that can lead us to freedom from falling into cycles of abuse.

Nichiren Buddhism enables us to change our negative karma (or tendency of falling into violations and hurt).  Human Revolution leads us to transform our hardships and sufferings into personal mission. 

Our focus becomes strengthening our lifeforce and transforming weakness into courageous actions of wisdom and compassion, and helping others do the same.