She didn’t forgive Buddha the saint-ascetic, but Buddha, the pit bull who bit her in the face two weeks ago.
There’s something Buddha-like in the act of a small child forgiving a dog who hurt her.
Meena and I were standing in front of the refrigerator in the middle of a lengthy three-year-old dialogue wrestling with her emotions about the event.
“The dog says, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Meena said in a different voice and using an animated face.
“I’m sure he’s sorry,” I reply.
“I won’t do it again,” Meena said in a now-distinct dog voice.
“He might do it again, Meena. You have to ask adults to help you before you go near animals.”
“He didn’t bite this cheek,” she said while she pushed her little finger into the cheek that is unmarred. As she gazed at the floor, she slowly felt around all parts of the uninjured cheek. I can’t say what she was thinking, but perhaps something to do with the normal skin of one cheek in comparison to the other cheek that has caused her so much pain and fear of pain. What goes on in a child’s mind as they learn about the passage of time, change, and suffering?
“No, sweetheart, he didn’t bite that cheek,” I finally responded.
“I forgive Buddha,” Meena said contemplatively in her own voice.
I stared at her. Yes, it seemed she understood the basic concept of forgiveness: I’m not mad though I’m hurt.
She acknowledged, then made decisions about, two highly complex human emotions: suffering and compassion.
How is this possible for a toddler? Where did she learn to put the two concepts together? Moreover, what impelled her to offer Buddha forgiveness?
I was fascinated watching her “think” about emotions and make decisions about her own.
How could she be so generous? Is it that she doesn’t understand the damage is permanent? Perhaps if she knew she wouldn’t be so quick to let Buddha off the hook. But she knows what she’s going through daily and it hasn’t been a pretty scene.
My stomach tightens in knots the whole time we change the dressing as she wails and cries frightened tears. At first the tears were of pain and fear, then they became just downright terror. The first week and a half it could take up to an hour to gradually finish cleaning and covering the wound. Thank goodness its easier the past few days.
Back to Meena’s forgiving Buddha. Obviously her thinking is immature and incomplete, but in another way, her forgiveness is quite sophisticated.
Sincere adults find it difficult to model superior behavior for the simple virtue of doing so. Yes, I doubt Meena was attempting virtue for goodness’ sake. And it didn’t appear that she wasn’t mimicking a behavior she’d seen, or repeating words without knowing what they meant.
She clearly let me know that she didn’t hold Buddha’s actions against him.
She had genuinely forgiven him in the deepest sense of forgiveness: she wasn’t placing the burden of her pain on Buddha.
But why forgive him? She hasn’t seen Buddha. No one has discussed the idea with her. Nothing is being withheld from her to squeeze forgiveness out of her.
I wondered if she forgave because she has had the experience of wanting to be forgiven.
Through being forgiven we are accepted and belong to our clan. Besides food and shelter there is nothing as important to human beings.
We’re all able to make this kind of connection. We can combine awareness of our emotions and needs, and understand that others are like us. Though we’re different, we share core elements of our humanity. Through empathy we’re guided to be generous citizens of the world.
There’s something simple, sublime, and very pure about Meena’s forgiving Buddha.
Her behavior points to intrinsic human ability for compassion.
Equally important, it calls even us big kids to be noble and use the age-old common sense: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Through simple reflection and awareness we can allow our compassion to grow, or redevelop what we lost as we grew hardened through the years.
As an adult I’ve had to work on forgiveness to release grief, fear, and resentment from me—for my own health. Deep hurts are not easy to forgive and I’ve felt I had to come to high levels of consciousness to genuinely release and completely forgive.
It seems to me Meena’s forgiveness is mature beyond her age. She inspires me. Compassion isn’t just an act that improves our personal quality of life or furthers our desire to be good people. We can draw on it anytime we’re willing move ourselves from the center of existence and remind ourselves that others feel as much and as deeply as we do. This should be good enough reason for us to find compassion and live it. As we explore compassion, we would do well to include animals as worthy of our compassion and deserving to live their lives.
May we never grow up and out of the exalted human emotion empathy and the compassion that it can fuel,