“Forgiveness does not relieve someone of responsibility for what they have done. Forgiveness does not erase accountability.… We are not responsible for what breaks us, but we can be responsible for what puts us back together again.”
—Desmond Tutu, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World
Forgiveness. It’s an ongoing journey. In the early years of my practice and study of Nichiren Buddhism, my understanding of the concept of esho-funi (the oneness of self and environment) was that when we change, our environment changes. In fact, the first thing to change for the better during the first six months of my practice in 1985 was that all my negative housemates left, and positive housemates moved in.
However, almost twenty years into my practice I became financially entangled with a family member, who at first acted like my best friend, then became my worst enemy. I more fervently practiced and studied Buddhism with the expectation that this abuser would change his behavior because I was changing inside. But he only became more abusive.
I reached out for spiritual guidance from two trusted Buddhist elders. One said to consider the unhappiness of the abuser. The other assured me that as I continued to strengthen my Buddhist practice of chanting the mantra nam-myoho-renge-kyo, this abusive family member would come crawling to my door begging for forgiveness. Neither guidance was helpful. I considered his misery and strengthened my practice, but I was still stuck in the ever-worsening situation.
The abuse was unendurable. Finally I followed the example of Buddhist Tina Turner and left his sorry hiney.
Like a coyote in a trap who gnaws off its own foot to escape, I got rid of most of my things and moved out of the country. Eventually, with lots of Buddhist chanting with intense intention and hard work, I was able to end my financial entanglement and relationship with the abusive family member.
I have struggled forgiving him. I have struggled forgiving myself for not knowing how to see warning signs and how to create appropriate boundaries.
Years later, by working with a non-denominational spiritual director, I rarely think of that family member anymore. I’m learning that everyone is where they are on their journey, doing the best they can. I can choose with whom I spend my time and energy. Also, in watching the 1970s fictional television family The Waltons, I see models of apologies, accountability, and forgiveness. Spiritual guidance can be found anywhere! As I move towards realizing my own dreams, my bumpy journey leads to ever increasing happiness together with loving, creative companions.
May we each be open to the limitless possibilities in each moment of our journey, and move away from harm and towards healing, happiness, and community where we thrive together in mutual respect.