“Benefit or Harm?” (excerpt from THE TAO OF FORGIVENESS) by William Martin
--“Power Struggle” by Patsy McArthur
We can only do the best we know how to do.
Benefit or Harm?
We can only do the best we know how to do.
Once, long ago in ancient China, a drought of many years' duration was great misery to a small province. Year after year the people of the province waited for the rainy season to come and bring the needed nurture for the rice crop. Each year the season produced very little rain and the rice crop dwindled. Many were on the verge of starvation. Indeed, some elderly people had died of illnesses brought on by their hunger-weakened condition.
The people turned to the superstitions of their ancestors in an attempt to influence the rain. They performed rituals designed to stir whatever gods there were who might control the rain. They weren't sure these rituals would work, but they were desperate. They needed the rain.
Finally, just when the province was about to be devastated by yet failing crop, the rainy season came with torrents. Day after day the rain poured down and the rice seedlings thrived in the flooded paddies. The crop was the biggest in memory. The people of the province once again felt the beneficent power of the Tao.,
"Now," the Master asked, "do you think this was indeed a beneficent rainy season?"
"It would seem that it was," answered his student.
"So it would seem, "said the Master. "The neighboring province, whose villages were situated along the banks of several rivers, experienced the worst flash floods their history that year. The water came pouring suddenly down steep & washed whole villages away, killing hundreds of men, women, and children. What do you suppose their view of that rainy season might have been?"
"That it was very harmful," said the student.
"So—benefit or harm? Can you ever know?"
I can write myself into endless circles trying to describe the complexity of the harm/benefit continuum. In the same way, the conditioned mind can tie knots of guilt by pointing out the harm I do no matter what course of action I choose. Are the chickens who laid these eggs living a cage-free, non-antibiotic, vegetarian life? If not, should I be buying these eggs? (Never mind the messages sit down to an actual chicken dinner!) And the coffee sitting by my hand here at the Naked Lounge Cafe—fair-trade? No. Shade-grown? No idea. Delicious? You bet. Does my next sip doom a struggling farmer in Brazil?
I remember the look on the face of a woman with whom I had a long-term intimate relationship many years ago when I told her I was leaving the relationship. How could I cause such pain, such feelings of betrayal, such grief? From that relationship I entered into love and marriage with my beloved Spouse. Benefit for me? Beyond measure. Harm for the former lover? Yes, or ... ? She went on to have an interesting and satisfying life. Benefit? Harm? Both?
To this day, twenty years later, personalities in my head occasionally bring up that look on her face and shake their ghostly heads in disapproval. "How could you? And here you are, happy. How dare you be happy?" Well, like all of us, I did the best I knew how with what and who I was at the time. I put one front of the other, causing harm and benefit willy-nilly as I went, my conditioned moral judges always quick to point out what they see as the harm done, no one really acknowledging the benefit.
The Tao Mind uses both harm and benefit as the raw materials that are used d compassion. They are as necessary to each other as are the proton and the electron. They are part of a greater whole, of a compassionate life that cannot come into being without the interplay of the two. They seem to be opposed to each other, yet the Tao Mind is constantly using forgiveness to transform harm into empathy, openness, acceptance, compassion, and wholeness. Whether harm is intentional or unintentional, the forgiveness within the Tao Mind allows it to be integrated into the great Dance of Life in ways that bring unexpected benefit, allowing the surprises of grace to occur.
My conditioned mind argues, "Are you suggesting that a cruel, callous act is excusable just because the universe is complicated?"
No. But remember, "cruel and callous" is a label, not a fact. It may seem accurate, but we might choose other ways of describing the act that would be more helpful in allowing forgiveness to facilitate appropriate reactions. Being willing to look at the act without the labels can lead us to certain helpful steps.
1. We can look with clarity and courage at the act itself with a desire to understand just what happened and what factors might have led to that act. We may find that the "cruel and callous" labels are no longer necessary.
2. With a clearer understanding we can take steps to heal the wounds that the act may have caused.
3. We can put appropriate structures in place to prevent continuing harm.
Remember, in the Tao Mind, the act is accepted as "having happened." The Tao Mind contains the forgiveness necessary so that we might be aware of the most compassionate healing act possible in the moment. No effort is wasted in judgment upon persons or actions. All energy is directed to the present-moment, naturally arising, compassionate action.
--THE TAO OF FORGIVENESS