There is a well-known Buddhist lesson concerning two monks who were traveling and came to a muddy stream. There they observed a woman who was hesitating to cross, apparently concerned about soiling her clothing.
The older monk approached the woman, bowed, and then picked her up and carried her across the stream. He set her down, bowed again, and he and his younger companion continued on their way.
That evening, while they were eating their rice, the younger monk said, “I don’t understand. As monks, we are to have no contact with women, yet you picked that woman up and carried her!”
The older monk said, “I put the woman down at the side of the stream. You are still carrying her.”
That’s how we are. We cling to thoughts and ideas, worrying them and twisting them around inside our heads, causing all sorts of turmoil and accomplishing nothing in the way of our journey toward spirituality.
To me, spirituality is about things of the human spirit: understanding, compassion, forgiveness, love, willingness to contribute our efforts to help others, humility (at which I fear I’m not all that successful) and things of that sort. Compassion and forgiveness are especially important, because clinging to the resentments that prevent those qualities from shining forth causes us so much unhappiness.
Compassion is, essentially, seeing things from another’s point of view, and being willing to do what we can to alleviate their suffering. Forgiveness is compassion toward ourselves. It is not about “freeing” the other person from anything, but about freeing ourselves of the unhappiness that is caused by being unforgiving.
Like the young monk, we sometimes carry things along with us after the reality has changed and, in our very human way, often blow it up in our minds until it forms a nearly impassable barrier to true spiritual growth. Not until we realize that forgiveness does not involve condoning a wrongful act, but is simply choosing to accept, and move on with our own lives, can we expect to get beyond it. That doesn’t mean that we have to invite the person to dinner, but only that we need to learn to put down our own burden after we have crossed the stream.