O nce, a sage asked his disciple to think of all the people who had offended him, those who he could not forgive. He then gave the disciple an empty sack and a basket of potatoes.
“For each offender you cannot forgive, carve his me on a potato and put it in the sack. Once the sack is full, carry it at all times wherever you go. We’ll meet after a week,” the sage directed.
The disciple came up with quite a large number of mes, and soon his sack grew heavy with potatoes.
At first, the disciple did not mind his sack. But after a while, the sack began to get in his way. It seemed to require more effort to carry, even though its weight remained the same.
To make matters worse, the carved potatoes started to rot and stink. Before long, it became a downright unpleasant experience.
At the end of the week, the sage summoned the disciple and enquired how he felt.
The disciple pensively replied: “When we are uble to forgive others, we carry negative feelings with us everywhere, much like these potatoes. The negativity becomes a burden, and after a while, it festers.”
“So, you have understood what happens when you hold a grudge. Then how do you lighten your burden?”, asked the sage. “We should strive to forgive all those who have crossed us and made us angry,” the disciple replied. “Fine! You can unload all the potatoes now. But didn’t some more people cause you offence last week?”
The disciple thought for a while and admitted there were. Then panic seized him when he realized his empty sack was about to get filled up again.
“Master,” he asked, “If we continue like this, wouldn’t there always be potatoes in the sack week after week?”
“Yes, so long as people speak or act against you in some way, you will always have potatoes.”
“But Master, we can never control what others do! So what good is the Way of the Tao in this case?”
The sage replied, “We haven’t even reached the Tao’s realm yet. So far we have only discussed the conventiol way most religions teach us about — that we must constantly strive to forgive, for it is an important virtue.”
Pausing awhile, the sage then added: “But striving is difficult. And that is not the Way of the Tao because there is no striving in the Tao!”
“Then what is the Tao, Master?”
“You can figure it out. If the potatoes are negative feelings, then what is the sack?”
“The sack is... that which allows us to hold on to the negativity. It is something within us that makes us dwell on feeling offended.... Ah! it is our inflated sense of self-importance,” the disciple filly grasped it.
“And what will happen if you let go of it?”
“Then the things that people say or do against us will no longer seem a major issue.”
“In that case, you won’t have any mes to carve on potatoes. That means no more weight to carry around, and no more bad smells. The Tao of Forgiveness is the conscious decision to not just remove the potatoes, but to let go of the entire sack,” taught the sage.
Concluding his story ‘The Tao of Forgiveness’, Derek Lin says that by recognizing that in fact there is no ‘self’ to be hurt, we can bypass all the frustration arising from our constant striving to forgive others. This is because we were never angry with them to begin with!