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By Daniel Scharpenburg

Ask a Zen Teacher.

This is  a regular column where I answer questions that are sent to me. As a spiritual teacher, I am often asked many questions and I’d love to have an opportunity to answer them all.

So, send me some questions. You can send them to:


Q: Is letting go/forgiveness an essential part of achieving inner peace? If so, how can one do so in a situation in which it seems impossible for them?

A: Yes. It is essential. But not for the reasons that one may think.

We might think, “This person deserves my anger,” or something along those lines, but that is a mistake. Because it doesn’t matter what the other person deserves. What matters is that holding on to anger harms ourselves.

The Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent to throw it at someone. You are the one that gets burned.”

Things like anger, resentment or suffering can easily lead us into a circle that only magnifies and amplifies our suffering.

The question of “to forgive” or “not to forgive” is a bit of a trap. It holds us in dualistic thinking and doesn’t help us. It would be more helpful to wonder how we can understand ourselves and others. Dualistic thinking can mislead us.

Dualistic thinking—the thinking that makes us think of ourselves as separate from others—can lead us into all sorts of suffering.

Our hope is that by working on ourselves, through our practices of deep introspection, we can transform our hatred into understanding and compassion. This is certainly easier said than done, but feeding our anger and resentment only makes them more powerful.

Now, just because know that letting go is the best thing for us, that doesn’t make it easy. There are probably several times in life when we know what the best course of action is but it’s very hard for us to take it. That’s okay and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over it.

All we can do is try our best.


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Editor: Dana Gornall