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What would Sid do: Trust and Forgiveness in Buddhism

by Lodro Rinzler

Before Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment at age 35 he was a confused twenty and thirty-something looking to learn how to live a spiritual life. He had an overbearing dad, expectations for what he was supposed to do with his life, drinks were flowing, lutes were playing, and the women were all about him. Some called him L.L. Cool S. I imagine close friends just referred to him as Sid. 


Many people look to Siddhartha as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. But here we look at a younger Sid as a confused guy struggling with his daily life. What would he do as a young person trying to find love, cheap drinks, and fun in a city like New York? How would he combine Buddhism and dating? We all make mistakes on our spiritual journey; here is where they’re discussed.

Each week I’ll take on a new question and give some advice based on what I think Sid, a confused guy working on his spiritual life in a world of major distraction, would do. Because let’s face it, you and I are Sid. 


Have a question for this weekly column? E-mail it here and Lodro will probably get to it!


I was recently engaged to a man that cheated on me. 
Since finding out about his bout with infidelity I left him.  We just
recently had a baby boy, soon to be four months. My love for him is
strong.  I consider myself to be a spiritual woman.  I have no
judgment on him for his actions.  However, he wants for me to give him
another chance.  He wants to be a better person and attempt to rebuild the
family. Most of my friends tell me to stay gone, however I’m not sure
of what to do. What would Sid do? – Shante D.


I am freshly back from a week in Halifax, Nova Scotia where
the fourth Shambhala Congress took place. At the closing ceremonies Sakyong Mipham
empowered the latest acharya, or senior teacher, of Shambhala.
This gentleman, Fleet
, was imprisoned for fourteen years on drug-related charges.

When Fleet’s name was announced as the latest acharya the
room rose in a standing ovation. Fleet is a source of inspiration. He went deep
into his practice while in prison, even at times referring to it as a long
retreat. During that time he established the Prison Dharma Network and
continues to provide support for individuals who society has turned its back
on. Fleet is an outstanding example of how we can all look at the mistakes we
make in our lives as learning opportunities that push us down our paths and
ultimately lead to us being of benefit to others.


In order to become such a profound example though Fleet had
to start with acknowledging his mistake. On a similar note I am reminded of the
story of Angulimal as I
related the other month
. This vicious killer saw the error of his ways and
was transformed by the Buddha.

What do Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and the Buddha have in
common here? Their ability to see when someone has recognized his or her mistakes
and in turn offer forgiveness. They have learned to trust in our basic goodness. Personally speaking I have made any number of
mistakes on my path but have recognized them as such (sometimes with a bit of
prompting) and have generously received forgiveness from the Sakyong. As I open
each week’s post by stating, we all make mistakes on our spiritual journeys;
here is where they’re discussed.


So let’s discuss your fiancé. This is a man you are in love
with, with whom you share a child, but who made a very serious mistake. Since I
don’t know either of you personally I can only ask your opinion of this matter:
do you think he realizes the effects of his actions and do you think he feels regret?

In Vajrayana Buddhism there is a purification practice known
as Vajrasattva. However, I don’t think you need to be a Vajrayana practitioner
to engage the basic steps. I’ll try to adapt them to this situation. They are: 

The power of support – taking support in one another (or in the Vajrasattva practice, in the deity) through
genuine communication.


The power of regret – he has to have a true feeling of remorse
for all negative actions done in the past. That includes confessing what those
are with strong regret.

The power of resolution – remembering the mistakes that have
been made, he has to resolve never to commit them again. Doing so would be
taking steps back on the path and is a sign that the regret was not genuine.

The power of action as antidote – he can offset the negative
actions he has done in the past by producing positive ones now. Treating you
especially well, cultivating a loving relationship with his son, and offering
himself to his community are all potential ways to produce positive change.


You do not need to be a Buddhist to follow these actions.
You just have to be willing to look at your life and be willing to make a
change. Change comes from truly looking at the effects our actions have had on
others. If this cannot be explored in an open and honest way I doubt Sid would
tell you to just leap in.

For your sake I would recommend taking a good look at your
relationship and determining whether it is worth saving. When cheating occurs it is often symptomatic of other issues at play in a relationship. The act of infidelity is a heavy divider between two loving individuals. There is a long road
to returning to trust and before embarking on it you need to insure that both
of you are willing to do it.


I imagine Sid would recommend taking a look inwards at your intention, your connection to one another, and your ability to trust and respect one another. However, based on Sid’s life experience I can’t imagine he would tell you to give up on your fiancé. I can’t imagine he’d say we should ever give up on anyone. Everyone has the ability to change and has the seeds for living a good life. Forgiveness though, that’s a long road to walk down and I wish you lots of luck on that journey.

For more from Lodro on this topic check out this previous post.

Comments read comments(9)
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Jon Rubinstein

posted November 14, 2009 at 5:40 pm

What a lovely post. Thanks for it. I agree – Sid would never give up on anyone. I love your reference to the story of Angulimal; there’s no one Sid would ever give up on. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s recounting of the Buddha’s life, “Old Path, White Clouds,” there are countless stories where the Buddha encountered someone who was out to cause him harm, or out to cause others harm, and with a simple conversation, he transformed their lives. If only it could be that easy for the rest of us.
Thank you!

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posted November 15, 2009 at 4:05 am

1. Sidhartha was married and was a sun.
2. of course we can imagine.. “imagine there is no war…(j. Lemnon)”
3.rigth question: How would he combine Buddhism (dharma) and everday life?
have a nice week-end in the dharma.

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Your Name

posted November 15, 2009 at 12:03 pm

In the Bible,God said that His people will live by faith.I’ve been living my life meditating day and night the words of God.No matter
how difficult or how comfortable we are in our daily walks of life,
every good intention and every acts of kindness will make each day beautiful.

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Your Name

posted November 16, 2009 at 10:22 am

Sounds like the couple could use couples counseling.
General prescriptives are fine, but they are just general. That is why they need to be in therapy, personally and directly, with someone who can get in there and find out what specifically is going on.
That takes time. Only way there is a real chance of resolution is over time and with some real work.
Not that Buddhism can’t solve life problems, it can. Indeed, it can solve any problem. But that presumes the person in need has the experience and proficiency.
If someone has been a Buddhist nun or monk, meditating 5 hours a day for ten years, then yes, a person with that level of experience and expertise can solve these kinds of problems on their own (yes, I realize that nuns and monks don’t have these specific problems).
So, people can use their Buddhist practice as a support for therapy.
Folks can also try to find therapists who are Buddhist practitioners. Tricycle Magazine used to have advertisements in their classifieds for some.
So, that is all fine.
Sure, forgiveness is important and developing trust is important. It is also important for the woman involved to assess whether this guy is simply a slug who is beyond help. That is a possibility as well.
There are many possibilities. Was it a one night stand after he found out his mother was dying and he just got drunk? That is a human mistake. But someone who has a real affair while their fiance is pregnant is rarely a reliable human being who is going to enter
into self-examination and change. It is possible. But it is not that common.

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posted November 16, 2009 at 3:56 pm

I’m not sure I would equate leaving a relationship that isn’t working with giving up on someone. Though clearly with a child involved there is more reason to try to work it out if possible.

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posted November 16, 2009 at 6:43 pm

You’re right. Upon further reflection I think Shante could still maintain some form of a relationship with her fiance without necessarily diving into a full romance. It’s up to her as to what “giving up” on someone/something is of course.
Your Name #1: I agree with you when you say “Only way there is a real chance of resolution is over time and with some real work.” However I don’t think everyone needs to see a therapist or be a monk or nun to work through trust and relationship issues. I think we’re all capable of self-reflection, regret, and resolution to not continue our habitual patterns.
Thanks everyone for your comments.

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