This last week has been deeply insightful for me. I heard from three different people about their stories of betrayal, anger, and all-consuming desire for revenge. One of my friends had been let down by someone and was extremely shocked and hurt. Another was harbouring deep, profound anger, and the third was plotting ways to exact retaliation for an act committed twenty years ago. Each one of them had their version of the story and was reacting in a way that was expected and they felt that their anger, frustration and a desire to take revenge was justified.
As I was listening to these very personal stories, I was quite moved and saddened by what they had to endure.
But I also realized that most of us choose to carry this sack of anger, resentment, and frustration. This sack weighs us down, but we still choose to carry it with us all the time, wherever we go. Any opportunity we get, we open it and share what we have inside – and what’s inside is not pleasant.
The anger and desire for revenge is understandable, and in particularly severe cases might even seem justifiable. But my spiritual teachers taught that nothing is happening to us is because of another person. All that we face in life, whether painful or pleasurable, is all due to our own karmic seeds. The reason we don’t see it as such is because the moment we take form in a new body we forget our previous life, but the process of karma continues nevertheless. When a person shows up in our life and gives us too much pain, we invariably end up angry, frustrated and burning for revenge. We agonize over how and why did a person do this to us. Sadly, we have forgotten our karmic debt towards that person and cannot understand the debt we are repaying them.
Over many lifetimes, we have created the events of our present birth. The analogy used by one of the teachers was borrowing money from a friend. On the day we borrowed the money the friend was wearing a red outfit. We see the friend a few days later and this time the friend asks us for the money back but now she is wearing a white outfit and has her hair done differently. Do we deny her the money just because she is wearing different clothes and looking different? We could try, but the consequences would be unpleasant.
Similarly, all that is happening in our life is thanks to some kind of karmic credit or debit. This is not allowing others to abdicate their moral agency, but instead of blaming another and seeking ways to take revenge, why not just focus on healing the pain instead of causing more? The cycle needs to break. The answer to betrayal is forgiveness, a repaying of karmic debts. Next time another’s behaviour is causing you pain, think of the pain as a repayment of a past karmic duty.
Not everyone believes in rebirth or the continuity of consciousness. However, the only explanation that seems plausible for injustice or unfairness is the law of karma. “Why me?” is a classic question in the worldview of pure luck, in arbitrary chance. Instead of such a question, we can perhaps ask ourselves: how did I attract this particular event in my life and what can I do to ensure a different outcome? This is not an excuse to “blame the victim”, and karma certainly does not always explain extreme misfortune or tragedy. Still, forgiveness remains key.
I heard a heart-breaking story from a young woman, who spoke about the ill treatment inflicted on her parents from some relatives. She was so angered by her parents’ suffering that she vowed to make the people responsible pay. She said to me that she did not mind ending up in hell, but she wanted the perpetrators to suffer likewise. The pain in her voice and eyes was palpable. Her anger was justified, but my question to her was, what would it achieve? Can she endure this pain in the long term? She also has young children who will absorb the agony of their mother.
Even though we think we are keeping the pain hidden from our children, this is seldom the case. Children know and they care. And sadly, our children end up bearing the burden of our deeds. Karma always comes back, if not to us then to our loved ones. If we are responsible for someone’s suffering we can be completely sure that we will create a cause for our own suffering. Similarly if we have given joy to someone, we can rest assured that we will partake in joy.
However much the temptation to take revenge may be, I’ve found it helpful to take a step back and see how and why you attracted this particular event in your life. Instead of automatically reacting, think how you can cut the tree before it bears any further bitter fruits. My three friends and I tried an EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) exercise on forgiveness and acceptance after our discussion. Afterwards, we felt more relieved and slightly less vindictive and angry. The key to any kind of pain is to focus on not inflicting more and healing. My teachers gave me a stark suggestion: follow the path of practice so your karmic debts can be gradually worked on.