Forgiveness is one of the most beautiful acts that humans are capable of. In South Africa, just after apartheid had been dismantled and Nelson Mandela had been made president, instead of seeking revenge, instead of punishing all those people who punished him, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu established a truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Anybody who had done a crime was able to go to this commission and confess what they’d done. If they were truthful, no matter how horrendous their crimes, they would be given amnesty and forgiveness. It was a brilliant way of dealing with the past.
One of the moving events of the Commission was a policeman recounting, in the presence of the man’s widow, how he had tortured and killed her husband, a black African activist from the ANC.
Can you imagine this scene? There was a woman whose husband had disappeared, probably in the middle of the night, and she suspected what had happened, but didn’t know the true story. Now she was facing a man who was confessing in detail how he had tortured and killed her husband, the father of her children, the man she loved.
Apparently, these white police officer was shaking and trembling as he recounted the details of what had happened.
At the end of his testimony the widow rose from her seat and went towards him. The guards were supposed to stop her, but they froze. She went up to him, put her big black arms around him, hugged him, and said, “I forgive you.” Not just the two of them wept, but apparently, the whole room.
This sort of beautiful act is one of true spirituality. Both the victim and the perpetrator would move on and become better people. They would learn real compassion, gain real wisdom, and find a truthful way of moving forward. Now if that woman could forgive the murderer of the man she loved, then each of us – if we really put our minds to it – is capable of forgiving anything.
This write-up is an excerpt from a seminar lectures from a renounced British Theravada Buddhist monk Ajahm invited to my class as Guest Speaker: “Healing a Nation on forgiveness, learning from our Past”