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An essay donated by Susan Humphreys

Pardon and forgiveness:
the highest forms of justice

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I started casting coins for the I Ching a few years ago out of curiosity. Sometimes I would ask a question and have often been amazed at what comes up, answers that really fit the question. Sometimes I have cast it just for “food for thought”, no question in mind, just to see what pops up. Similar to how some people will randomly open their Bibles and drop their finger on the page then read the passage and contemplate its meaning.

The I Ching is one of the oldest of the classic Chinese texts. The oldest surviving manuscript is from 475-221 BCE. Although it’s origin is much older and lost in time. It has become a book of philosophy for many, although it is also used by Chinese fortune tellers. I think it is more like going to Dear Abby or Miss Manners for advice. Wisdom for all ages (across time and for the young, middle aged and old).

The first little paperback book I purchased (by Sam Reifler) explained how to use three coins, heads counts as 3 and tails count as 2, resulting in 6, 7, 8, or 9. You cast 6 times and stack the numbers, 1st on the bottom. 7 is a straight ____ line, 8 is a dashed __ __ line. 6 is a change line for 8 (an x in the middle) 9 is the change line for 7 (an 0 in the middle). The resulting six lines refer to one of the 64 combinations of the lines, the passages in the I Ching.

I started wondering if I could influence the cast with my thoughts. Say I cast a 6 once then thinking about it cast it again, thus artificially influencing the cast. So now I have 18 coins, and cast them all at once, shake them in my two hands, plop them down on the table, then with my eyes closed, I separate them into 6 piles of three, with the bottom on the left leading to the top line on the right.

This morning I didn’t have any question in mind. I had a cat on my lap, purring away, the sun was out, the day warm and comfortable. I had a load of laundry in the washing machine and another in the dryer. So I was content as I sat, waiting for the washing machine to finish its cycle. I cast #61 Understanding, Khung-Fih, from my first little book.

“Your greatest strength lies in your clear vision. You view the world without prejudice, with an uncluttered, healthy mind. You deal with people humanely, unselfishly, lovingly”.

I try to, and I am much better now than as a teenager. But I am no Saint.

From another translation I read #61 as Inner Truth, Chung Fu, from the translation by Wilhelm and Baynes. As usual I was amazed at the wisdom contained within a passage.

“Pigs and fishes are the least intelligent of all animals and there-fore the most difficult to influence. The force of inner truth must grow great indeed before its influence can extend to such creatures. In dealing with persons as intractable and as difficult to influence as a pig or fish, the whole secret of success depends on finding the right way to approach.”

Isn’t that the TRUTH. I have dealt with a lot of “pigs and fishes” in my life, and never very successfully. I won’t mention what group I might consider falling into this category! You see, I do have prejudices like everyone else. I do however try to treat people the same, in spite of my initial impressions or prejudice.

Then a little later in the passage it said;

“A deep understanding that knows how to pardon was considered the highest form of justice.”

I immediately thought about the Lords Prayer from the Bible: Matthew 6: 9-13:

“forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

The ability to pardon (forgive) is indeed great and here, the wisdom is agreed upon by two very different groups of people.

The I Ching is older then the Lords Prayer (Matthew was written after 70 CE), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the philosophy was borrowed from the Chinese. It is possible that two different groups stumbled upon the same wisdom in their own ways. That just makes this piece of advice the more worthy, the more valuable, the wiser, in my mind.

And some people, those “pigs and fishes” I mentioned first, fail to see any similarities between the teachings of Christianity and the teachings of other religions and philosophies. They continue to insist that they and they alone know the TRUTH, and all other teachings are lies and are to be not just ignored but denigrated.

Modern day psychologists and therapists will tell you that holding a grudge and refusing to forgive is bad for your physical and mental health. It can lead to stress that causes high blood pressure and heart attacks, acid indigestion, upset stomach, headaches, weight loss (even weight gain as some seek comfort or to relieve stress in food), hair loss, inability to concentrate on important tasks, insomnia, all kinds of personal problems.

I thought about the number of people who have been harmed by some act of violence or drunk driving accident and can’t get past their hate for the one who has wronged them. The online comments section of our local newspaper attest to this as people voiced their disproval and hate at a man who was driving drunk and caused an accident that killed a mother and child. Their desire for vengeance eats away at them turning them into ... well not into very nice people. Their hate harms them, not the one that is hated. Although hate often is relieved by acts of violence, vengeance.

Some of the parents of the children murdered at Sandy Hook elementary school are good examples of people trying not to hate or let their desire for revenge best them. They are showing how you can carry on after such a tragedy. They have funneled their energies into working for gun control legislation. In a recent interview on CBS the anger is there, just below the surface, anger at the mother of the shooter for how she raised her son, then acknowledgement that maybe the community failed her.

Then there are those who not only can’t forgive but they transfer their “hate” to the whole class or group. It happens everytime a Muslim commits an act of violence in this country, there are attacks on all Muslims, some people say, “see Islam is a religion of hate”. They can’t distinguish the one or few bad apples from all of the good apples in the basket. They condemn the whole religion for the perversions of a few. Actually I think the violent responses, attacks on mosques or on Muslims (or men in turbans, many Sikhs have been attacked) is just an excuse for thugs and juvenile delinquents to be thugs and delinquent.

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Occasionally we hear of a person that does forgive the one that has harmed them and I am amazed at those “pigs and fishes” again that seem to condemn them for their forgiveness.

The answer many give for being able to forgive is from what they have learned that the hate was only harming their selves and other members of their families, that they had to let it go and as the cliché says, “move on”.

I thought about the number of other passages in the Bible about this issue of forgiveness and the passages about revenge. Both can be found. There are passages where God tells the winners of a battle to slay everyone, man, woman, child, newborns, and all the livestock. Talk about revenge!

Then there are passages that tell you “let he who has not sinned cast the first stone”, “turn the other cheek”, and of course my favorite the Golden Rule, that tells us “to do to others as we would have them do unto us.”

Those “pigs and fishes” again, don’t seem to understand the basic concept of forgiveness, pardoning. It doesn’t mean pretending the accident didn’t happen, or that someone wasn’t harmed. It doesn’t mean that the wrong doer can’t be held accountable for his actions, and required to make some restitution for harm done, or serve some penance such as community service or jail time. It does mean that one must understand the difference between vengeance and just punishment.

Vengeance, is the “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” form of justice found in the Old Testament. It is the concept of “just throw the bums in jail and let them rot.” In my mind demanding a blood sacrifice, the death penalty, (even the death of your only begotten son), is vengeance. It certainly isn’t justice, or wisdom at work. There is no forgiveness or compassion in that concept.

Justice may have to come from righting a wrong done to the one that committed a crime, so that the wrong doer won’t go and commit another crime, or others won’t also be drawn to a life of crime. It might have to come from admitting that society made a mistake (some of our public policies and personal prejudices, set the scene) and also shares some of the blame.

The United States has the largest number of people in prison or in the criminal justice system (some might be on parole or home confinement, or awaiting their day in court) more than any of the other industrialized (read civilized) countries. We send people to jail for possessing drugs, perhaps having very small amounts on their persons. In prison, they get involved with hard core criminals, and their lives are interrupted forever. We treat juveniles as adults, not caring that their brains and thinking aren’t fully wired yet. Yet we turn a blind eye towards many “white collar crimes”. Not one of the folks involved in our economic collapse have been sent to prison. If you are wealthy you are less likely to go to prison then your poorer counterpart for the same offense.

We really can’t afford to have so many people in prison, costing society money rather than contributing their earning power to society. We have got to get wiser and smarter, some of our punishments make the problems worse. People that find themselves in the criminal justice system have a very difficult time getting out of it. And I don’t mean getting out in the sense of avoiding their punishment. I mean as in not going back, again and again, recidivism, doing what got them into the situation in the first place or escalating, graduating, to a higher and more lethal level of criminal behavior.

Doesn’t pardoning, forgiving also include forgiving someone for not being just like you? Forgiving the homosexual for not being a heterosexual? Forgiving the person who practices some other religion or those who practice no religion for not “seeing the TRUTH” of your religion? Actually however, you are forgiving yourself for being upset that someone is “different” and makes you uncomfortable.

Many fundamentalist Christians I have met over the years want and hope that God will overlook, forgive them their trespasses while refusing to forgive their enemies theirs and instead He will “sock it to them”, if not in this life then in the next. Can they really not imagine or believe that God could be great enough to forgive those who practice religions other than Christianity or who reject all religions. OR do they just believe that they deserve special treatment for being a Christian, otherwise why bother to be one?

I was amazed at how irate some Conservatives have been about Obama’s daring to talk to our enemies. It takes a great person to be able to sit down with those who have harmed you or your country (a level of forgiveness) to try to find away to work around your differences. There is no harm in talking. There is often great harm in refusing to talk.

We went to war for vengeance and perhaps to get our hands on oil wealth. Look at where we are today because of this! How many more Americans and other innocents have since been killed on both sides? The hate seems to just keep increasing. You don’t find justice by committing unjust actions towards others. That just leads to the childish game of “tit for tat”, an endless circle. Actually, come to think about it, it is a spiral leading to greater and greater acts of violence, because no one actually tries to get even, they try to do the other, one better.

Someone at some point has got to be able and willing to say no more, no more hate, no more fear, no more violence. Enough is enough. Someone has got to be the first to forgive the other their trespasses if they ever hope to have the other forgive their own. That is what pardoning, forgiving one their trespasses, is about.

Religious leaders can help people move beyond (or rise above) their basest desires for revenge and help people find a way to forgive, the wisdom is there in the Bible as well as the teachings of other world religions and secular philosophies. Unfortunately religious leaders (and secular leaders) can also add to the problem and feed the fires of fear and hate as far too many are doing.

“A deep understanding that knows how to pardon was considered the highest form of justice. “ I think it isn’t just the highest form of justice but the greatest wisdom.

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References used:

The following books deal with the I Ching, or Book of Changes:

Book cover image "The I Ching or Book of Changes: A Guide to Life's Turning Points" by Brian Browne Walker (1992) - Deckle Edge. Rated 5 stars. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

book cover image "The I Ching or Book of Changes" by Richard Wilhelm, Cary F. Baynes, Hellmut Wilhelm and C. G. Jung (1967). Rated 4.3 stars. Read reviews/ or order

book cover image "A Guide to the I Ching" by Carol K. Anthony (1988) Rated 4.3 stars. Read reviews/ or order

Originally posted: 2013-JUN-13
Latest update: 2013-JUN-13
Author: Susan Humphreys
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