forgiving the unforgiven. a zen story about anger.

The first story is from “The Tao of Forgiveness” by Derek Lim. Tao? Yes. Some scholars believe that Tao did influence Zen during the latter’s formative years in China. Practitioners, however, came to realize that Tao is Zen and vice versa. Anyway, here is the story.

Once there was a sage who asked his disciples to carve out names of the people they cannot forgive on potatoes, one potato for each name. Then, the disciples were asked to put all their potatoes in a sack and carry it with them at all times for one week.

The longer time went by, the heavier the potatoes seemed to have become. To make the matter worse, those carved potatoes also started to rot and smells bad. It was such an unpleasant experience for the disciples.

At the end of the week, the master asked,

“So, what did you learn?”

At once they disciples told the master that they now realized that holding on to grudges only brought negative things to them. Asked how they should go about correcting it, the youngsters said they should strive their best to forgive everyone that used to cross them and made them angry.

The master then asked,

“What if someone crosses you again after you unload this present load of potatoes?”

The disciples suddenly felt terrified at the thought of having to start all over again with new potatoes, week after week.

“What can Tao do if there are still other people crossing us? We cannot control what other people do to us!”

At which point the master replied,

“We haven’t even reached the Tao’s realm yet. So far we only discussed the conventional way to approach forgiveness, that is, to strive to forgive. Striving is difficult. In Tao, there is no striving.”

Seeing the disciples completely at a loss then, the master further suggested,

“If the negative feelings are the potatoes, what is the sack?”

The disciples finally grasped it,

“Ahh the sack is something that allows me to hold on to the negativity. It is my inflated sense of self-importance!”

And that was the lesson of this story. Once we learn how to let go of the sack, whatever people say or do against us would no longer matter. The Tao of forgiveness is the conscious decision to get rid of the sack/self altogether, not just the potatoes/negative feelings.

Derek Lin concluded that, by recognizing that in fact there is no “self”‘ to be hurt, we could bypass the frustration arising from our constant striving to forgive others. This is because we were not angry with them to begin with!

With the understanding of Tao/Zen, life suddenly becomes effortless, elegant, and natural. Get rid of the sack, and there will be no more rotten potatoes. Want to be able to get rid of your sack? Go to a retreat!

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