William Martin is a bestselling Zen and Taoist author of four books. He and his wife are the founders of The Still Point, a Taoist/Zen Center in Chico, California, where he conducts classes and workshops on these two traditions and their application to parenting, aging, relationships, and forgiveness. As a writer, Martin clearly has a large spot in his heart for the felicities of imagination, and this propensity animates this paperback as well. In the introduction, he states that forgiveness is a complicated and odd duck that cannot be presented in linear fashion. There is no easy way to comprehend its complexities. So Martin has chosen to seek out its meanings and messages for us through a lively mix of stories, poetry, and suggestions. He also notes:
"Forgiveness is not confined by any particular religious belief system. It is, at its heart, a direct experience of the spacious unconditional acceptance found in the Tao and made available to us through what I call the Tao Mind. This Tao Mind is active whenever we are immersed in the non-interpretive, wide-open wonder and awe of just 'what is' in the present moment."
In contrast to the Tao Mind is the conditioned mind, or ego, which manifests itself as a curious "me" adrift in a world of this and that. The adventuresome ego struts and prances through its hour on the stage trying desperately to stand out from all the others who want the spotlight. Hence, the conditioned mind creates "a sense of separation from all other beings, from the world, from life, and from the Tao itself. It has built the fence and the gate that keeps itself from freedom and joy for which it longs."
One of the marvels of the Tao Mind, according to Martin, is that it is capable of using forgiveness to face anger without falling into the rut of resentment. It also is able to stay away from blame and use emotional energy for encouragement and to transform harm into empathy. Forgiveness is a process that enables hopes and expectations to be seen as a blessing rather than turning into a curse.
Martin covers many other subjects in this fascinating consideration of forgiveness. There are chapters on not taking things personally, not playing the blame game, the dangers of projection, enemies only existing in the conditioned mind, fear not bringing safety, rules not insuring freedom, and separateness as a dream. We were impressed by the Tao Mind Meditations throughout the book; here is an example of one:
We are here to bring forgiveness
to ourselves and to the world.
We are not here to be afraid
or to cling to the anxiety
that separates us from life.
We are here to use everything in our experience
to see how we cling and suffer,
so we can gently set it down,
and find forgiveness for ourselves
and for the world.
Near the end, Martin shares three important truths to remember in the practice of forgiveness:
1. Every person is capable of his/her own life.
2. You are capable of your own life.
3. Forgiveness allows this basic capability to emerge.
He also emphasizes the point that forgiveness of others is not possible until we forgive ourselves. We share with our neighbors, friends, and enemies the yearning for freedom that this spiritual practice brings. That is what enables Martin to close this paperback with the words:
"May any benefit that arises from this book be for the forgiveness and freedom of all beings everywhere. May any harm that arises from this book be accepted, forgiven, and turned again by Tao Mind into tenderness and openhearted living."