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Forgiveness, Tao and Potatoes! #MondayMusings #writebravely

Forgive. We’re often told to forgive, not for the sake of the person who hurt us, but for our own peace. Forgiveness is a concept I’ve been trying to understand.

In the last few years, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot on the subject of forgiveness. How does one move forward when you’ve been hurt badly by the ones you’ve loved the most? I know that I am pretty forgiving, but I also know that I make choices not to engage with some people who have hurt me very badly. In the past, I thought forgiveness meant forgetting, but now I don’t think it is.

I came across Antony D’Mello‘s story on the Tao of Forgiveness. Now, as much as I like his writings and quote them often, this is one I’m yet not ready to embrace.

Forgiveness, Tao and Potatoes!

One day, the sage gave the disciple an empty sack and a basket of potatoes.. “Think of all the people who have done or said something against you in the recent past, especially those you cannot forgive.

For each of them, inscribe the name on a potato and put it in the sack.”

The disciple came up quite a few names, and soon his sack was heavy with potatoes.

“Carry the sack with you wherever you go for a week,” said the sage. “We’ll talk after that.”

At first, the disciple thought nothing of it. Carrying the sack was not particularly difficult. But after a while, it became more of a burden. It sometimes got in the way, and it seemed to require more effort to carry as time went on, even though its weight remained the same.

After a few days, the sack began to smell. The carved potatoes gave off a ripe odor. Not only were they increasingly inconvenient to carry around, they were also becoming rather unpleasant.

Finally, the week was over. The sage summoned the disciple. “Any thoughts about all this?”

“Yes, Master,” the disciple replied. “When we are unable to forgive others, we carry negative feelings with us everywhere, much like these potatoes. That negativity becomes a burden to us and, after a while, it festers.”

“Yes, that is exactly what happens when one holds a grudge. So, how can we lighten the load?”

“We must strive to forgive.”

“Forgiving someone is the equivalent of removing the corresponding potato from the sack. How many of your transgressors are you able to forgive?”

“I’ve thought about it quite a bit, Master,” the disciple said. “It required much effort, but I have decided to forgive all of them.”

“Very well, we can remove all the potatoes. Were there any more people who transgressed against you this last week?”

The disciple thought for a while and admitted there were. Then he felt panic 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, as 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 Tao in this case?”

“We’re not at the realm of the Tao yet. Everything we have talked about so far is the conventional approach to forgiveness. It is the same thing that many philosophies and most religions preach – we must constantly strive to forgive, for it is an important virtue. This is not 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 me to hold on to the negativity. It is something within us that makes us dwell on feeling offended…. Ah, it is my inflated sense of self-importance. “

“And what will happen if you let go of it?”

“Then… The things that people do or say against me no longer seem like such a major issue.”

“In that case, you won’t have any names to inscribe 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 to remove some potatoes… But to relinquish the entire sack!

An invitation to forgive is not an invitation to forget?

Since D’mello’s story didn’t resonate with me, I began to look the views of other people I admire. One person I’ve always admired is Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. His has been the sane voice of peace in many situations. This excerpt from his book The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World seems to make a lot more sense to me.

The invitation to forgive is not an invitation to forget. Nor is it an invitation to claim that an injury is less hurtful than it really is. Nor is it a request to paper over the fissure in a relationship, to say it’s okay when it’s not. It’s not okay to be injured. It’s not okay to be abused. It’s not okay to be violated. It’s not okay to be betrayed.

The invitation to forgive is an invitation to find healing and peace. In my native language, Xhosa, one asks forgiveness by saying, Ndicel’ uxolo—“I ask for peace.” Forgiveness opens the door to peace between people and opens the space for peace within each person. The victim cannot have peace without forgiving. The perpetrator will not have genuine peace while unforgiven. There cannot be peace between victim and perpetrator while the injury lies between them. The invitation to forgive is an invitation to search out the perpetrator’s humanity. When we forgive, we recognize the reality that there, but for the grace of God, go I.

So while I really don’t want to carry around a sack of smelly potatoes, I do believe that in order to protect myself and be authentic, I must forgive, but not necessarily engage with those who have hurt me badly.

I’d love to hear your views on this.

I’m Writing Bravely for the Write Tribe Festival of Words – March 2019


  1. Anagha Yatin Anagha Yatin March 12, 2019

    This sack of potatoes will stay with me forever now! What a lesson to learn. Forgiving doesnt come easily though. It needs a lot of work to push self to do so. Once undertaken, all the efforts to do so turn out to be worth their weight and sweat!

  2. Lisa Pomerantz Lisa Pomerantz March 11, 2019

    What a beautiful post about forgiveness. The metaphor of the smelly potatoes works quite well. I am bookmarking and sharing this, for exactly when I may need it. Thank you! #mondaymusings xoox

  3. Sunita Saldhana Sunita Saldhana March 8, 2019

    Lovely post. I have learnt to let go, to ignore and to walk away from people who hurt me. I let go because it just makes life easier but I remember because it keeps me safe.

  4. Natasha Natasha March 5, 2019

    Forgiveness is so critical for our own mental peace and calm. I’m grateful to the guy up there and myself, because forgiving is a quality that comes very easily to me. I don’t know if it a good thing, but for me it works wonders, because I strongly believe “let bygones, be bygones.”

    But having said that I still struggle to come to terms with people still carrying the baggage, even when I have already dropped it. Guess it’s my journey and I will heal from it, all in good time.

    But I do agree with Desmond Tutu’s philosophy. To forgive, but to be wary of the person so that they won’t hurt you again.

    What a though-provoking post, Cory. Thank you. <3

  5. the bespectacled mother the bespectacled mother March 5, 2019

    Striving to forgive makes it seem a difficult task. I shall go with you. I may forgive those who have caused me hurt and pain but I shall not want to keep terms with them or have a constant dialogue with them since I know it very well if I do that, they still have the capacity to being their older selves judging and hurting me from the compass of their ideals, beliefs and customs. I want to be free.

  6. Madhavi Madhavi March 5, 2019

    Nourishing bitter feelings is similar to carrying rotten potatoes…such an unpleasant baggage! I must certainly try to get rid of the sack.

  7. Balaka Balaka March 5, 2019

    As usual another beautiful post. Whenever I read your posts I have this feeling that you can read my mind and write whatever I wish to read. These stories cleared a lot of doubts in my mind regarding forgiveness. Thanks for sharing these beautiful stories.

  8. Damyanti Biswas Damyanti Biswas March 5, 2019

    The Tao of forgiveness is the conscious decision to not just to remove some potatoes… But to relinquish the entire sack!

    I agree with this. The only thing we can control in the world is our reaction. If nothing affects us negatively, and we don’t store negativity, it turns into the highway for good energies to come in.

  9. alpanadeo alpanadeo March 5, 2019

    I believe in doing I feel is right. If I will start thinning too much about who said what then I feel more than half of my life will go in pointing out other’s faults. I know, I am not perfect so how can I expect others to be perfect? If by any reason they have hurted me then I try to let go and move on. It definitely hurts. And sometimes it feels very bad and its hard to not think about it but in the end I am one who get affected.
    #writetribe #celebratetribetribe

  10. Aesha Aesha March 5, 2019

    I ignore people who have hurt me. I dont know if I have learnt to forgive but I don’t think about the reasons the person has hurt me. And if the person is my husband, my parents , my child then the issue is surely petty than their significance in my life. So there is no question of holding any grudges or forgiving them. I try and not make things and situations complex. i move on and do things I love so as to keep any negative thoughts or people away from me.

    • Madhavi Madhavi March 5, 2019

      Not holding a grudge, I think is close to forgiving Aesha 🙂

  11. Debbie D. Debbie D. March 4, 2019

    Life is too short to hold grudges, but I agree we can forgive without forgetting. There’s no need to interact with those who have hurt us. Life is too short for that, too! 🙂 I don’t think this means we’re carrying around figuartive sacks of smelly potatoes. It’s simple self-care, yes?

  12. manojava manojava March 4, 2019

    I love the line ‘invitation to forgive is the invitation to search out the perpetrator’s humanity’. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful speech, Corinne. Archbishop Tutu’s words remind me of the story of the Buddha’s love and forgiveness towards a ruthless murderer Angulimala who repents his actions and becomes a monk himself.

  13. Esha M Dutta Esha M Dutta March 4, 2019

    I hear you, Corinne. Bishop Tutu’s wise words make so much sense but I do agree, we all take different approaches to reach this point of realisation where forgiving becomes crucial and peace becomes our goal. I couldn’t, for years and I struggled with the weight, just like the man carrying the rotten potatoes. I lugged it around me and it hurt. I suffered more internally but thank god for being able to shed that weight! It needs constant reminders even today but things are getting better, touchwood!

  14. Michele Morin Michele Morin March 4, 2019

    I don’t think God expects us to forget the wrongs that have been done to us. He knows our nature and would not require something that is impossible. Only He can really make an effective choice to put something out of His mind and know that it is no longer impacting on His relationship with the offender.
    What I read in your potato parable is a call to relinquish offense before it happens, either by assigning the best possible motives to another (very hard!) or by putting the actions and words of others in the proper, very lowly place in the overall scheme of things. If my value is coming from a Higher Source, I will not be nicked and bruised by the words of one who has no power over me.
    I love it when you share from your reading here!

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