Forgiveness in Buddhism

Forgiveness in Buddhism

We all know basically what forgiveness is (or at least we think we do) and is encouraged by conscientious parents of their children. In this article, we’ll take a brief look at forgiveness and what we can do to develop a more forgiving mindset when it comes to dealing with others.

What is Forgiveness?

According to forgiveness is defined as follows:

  • To stop feeling anger toward someone who has done something wrong; to stop blaming
  • To stop feeling resentment against an offender (e.g. to forgive one’s enemies)
  • To give up resentment of (e.g. forgive an insult)

In Buddhist terms one would then want to:

  • Let go of anger toward someone who has done something to wrong us
  • Let go of resentment against an offender
  • Let go of resentment against anyone in general

In Buddhist psychology, forgiveness is seen as bearing the mark of wisdom.  There are a lot of ways that we can develop forgiveness and love.  The first person that we should forgive is ourselves.  We can be very harsh to ourselves sometimes and through forgiveness we can learn to love ourselves and not let the past intrude into the present.

“By three things the wise person may be known. What three?  He sees a shortcoming as it is.  When he sees it, he tries to correct it.  And when another acknowledges a shortcoming, the wise one forgive it as he should.” – Angutarra Nikaya I -103

In Buddhism, forgiveness and love are seen as a way to eliminate suffering and is a way to let go of all the pain that we are holding inside.

The message of forgiveness can be found in the following story that is in harmony with Buddhist thought.

One Jewish ex-prisoner of war asked another “Have you forgiven your captors yet?”
“I will never do that”, the second one answered.
“Then they still have you in prison”, the first one replied.

So how do you apply forgiveness to your daily life? 

forgiveness in buddhism

Sogyal Rinpoche

Try the meditation and visualization detailed below which was shared by the Tibetan Buddhist lama Sogyal Rinpoche from his book, “Glimpse of the Day”.

“Imagine vividly a situation where you have acted badly (or in a way that would make forgiveness an option in the first place), one about which you feel guilty, and about which you wince even to think of it.

Then, as you breathe in, accept total responsibility for your actions in that particular situation, without in any way trying to justify your behavior.  Acknowledge exactly what you have done wrong and wholeheartedly ask for forgiveness.  Now, as you breathe out, send out reconciliation, forgiveness, healing, and understanding.

So you breathe in blame, and breathe out the undoing of harm; you breathe in responsibility, breathe out healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

This exercise is particularly powerful and may give you the courage to go to see the person whom you have wronged, and the strength and willingness to talk to him or her directly and actually ask for forgiveness from the depths of your heart.”

It is also good to devote at least 5 minutes for forgiveness meditation daily.


At the end of the day, the Buddhist perspective on forgiveness comes down to letting go of ego and of grievances that the ego perceives as attack.  The best way to start with a forgiveness practice is to devote 5 minutes in the morning and evening forgiving yourself first and then everyone else who may have done you wrong during the course of your day.

May you be forgiven!

If you have any thoughts or comments, please leave them below.  I’d love to hear from you!

Tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Forgiveness in Buddhism

  1. Vinnie Prasad says:

    This was a really interesting article to read and a very insightful thought into Buddhism. I find by following simple forgiveness meditation for 5 mins a day has helped me a lot and has helped me grow as a person.

    Meditation and letting go of your ego or anger towards someone really helps to find inner peace and creates less stress on your self.

    Very good article, a lot of people need to read this.

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Vinnie,
      Thanks for your comment. And you’re right, if more people were more forgiving, we would be living in a completely different world.

  2. Netta says:

    This reminds me of my own practice which is kind of a hybrid of Buddhist practice and Hawaiian Ho’oponopono. As I drive to work I visualize my own self, the world, the Universe, and the Realms. To each one in turn I say five times: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.” My visualizations start out really centered with me, then expands and expands and expands. (I use five incantations mostly because five seems to be the number for change.)

    It’s become such a regular routine that my commute is spent just doing this drill instead of focusing on all the monkey-mind concerns about this situation that’s gone wonky or that one that blew up. It helps.

    • Ian H says:

      That is a great exercise! It reminds me of the Buddhist practice of metta where we wish that all sentient beings be happy and free from suffering. For example “May you be at peace, May you be free from suffering,”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *