First off, there was a time when I thought Justice should prevale, that somehow, allowing the guilty to walk was not a part of the Tao. In that light it was quite a shock to me when I was rereading the Tao Teh Ching a few years back and ran across this passage at the end of Chapter 62 (tr. Wu),
"Why did the ancients prize the Tao?
Is it not because by virtue of it he who seeks finds,
And the guilty are forgiven?
That is why it is such a treasure to the world."
Before reading these lines, I can't honestly say I didn't believe that forgiveness wasn't implied, but the fact that having read the Tao Teh Ching for fifteen years, I had passed over something that seems directly relevant to the forgiving others caused me to pause, why did I pass over something that seemed so relevant, or at least seemed directly relevant, but at the same time was a bit vague.
Are the guilty forgiven by those who have found the Tao? Are the guilty forgiven by the Tao? Who are the guilty forgiven by? Puzzling questions indeed. After a bit of pondering I examined the sentence more clerely and I realize that what they're actually talking about is the first statement, that the guilty are forgiven by those who have found the Tao. Now this makes more sense when one examines other comments made regarding the idea of forgiveness, or more directly, mercy.
The Tao Teh Ching directly mentions mercy in only one place, Chapter 67. In that chapter it refers to it as the first jewel. Although it doesn't go into much discussion about mercy, we can look at the modern day definition and gather some understanding about the exact meaning of the word. Meriam-Webster defines mercy as the following:
1 a : compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power; also : lenient or compassionate treatment <begged for mercy> b : imprisonment rather than death imposed as penalty for first-degree murder
2 a : a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion b : a fortunate circumstance <it was a mercy they found her before she froze>
3: compassionate treatment of those in distress <works of mercy among the poor>
The interesting definitions that seem relevant to the topic at hand are those that refer to showing compassion to those who are suffering or have done wrong. In that light, mercy is showing forgiveness to those who deserve it and don't. So if we know the Tao, one would assume that we would forgive others for the wrongs they've done.
Perhaps the most confusing part of all of this is that it never implicitly explains the purpose of forgiveness, there is never any exact reason, rather it's just assumed if one knows the Tao, they will be merciful. However, as I said at the beginning, most people who read the Tao Teh Ching, even if they skip those two chapters, still tend to believe that the Tao Teh Ching advocates forgiving others.
I think part of the reason why I passed over it for so long was that I didn't want to have to forgive those people who had hurt me in my past, it was easier to just keep on blaming them, or at least it seemed so. When I realized what the Tao Teh Ching had to say about this concept, a single thought came to my mind, if I know the Tao, then why am I not showing mercy or forgiving others? Why am I clinging to old bitterness and not allowing wounds to mend?
One thing the Tao talks about, perhaps indirectly is acceptance, that within every bad action there is some good, just as within every good action there is some bad. No one is a good man or bad man, rather we are all men, with the same frailities and capacity for good or bad. If someone does something wrong and we can see that we are just as capable of doing something wrong, then how can we honestly not forgive that person for doing that? On an even deeper level, one can look at the nature or man, those things that drive us to do what we do, those parts we are supposed to get to know as Taoists and realize we're not as good as we think we are, and even moreso, that there are people that are probably justified in not forgiving us, but that's the catch. The Tao isn't about justice or justification, but rather the natural way and perhaps Lao Tzu was more aware of the idea of mercy in nature than we are. Regardless, when one practices forgiveness, there is a burden that seems to be lifted from them, a freedom from that weight that holds on to them.
After all, if we are to diminish all desires, shouldn't the desire for revenge, or anger directed at another person be diminished as well?
Well I'm not sure what else there is to say. If you disagree please feel free to mention it. I look forward to hearing other people's insights.
Edited by Twinner, 30 November 2010 - 02:23 PM.