Vows, commitments and modern life: Root downfalls of the Bodhisattva Vows, not accepting other’s apologies.

Not accepting other’s apologies. 

This vow means if someone who has harmed us later apologizes and we refuse to accept their apology, preferring to harbor a grudge, we incur a root downfall.  Accepting other’s apologies is a fundamental component of defusing anger in this world.  Anger is our greatest enemy.  It destroys everything that is good, and it has the power to seize our heart and never let go.  We have so little time in this world with a precious human life that we can’t waste even a moment of it harboring anger.  When others apologize and we fail to accept their apology, then the heart of the other person hardens and their anger returns.  If we accept their apology and then offer our own, it enables them to let go of their anger.  This is an act of supreme compassion, and one that both Jesus and Ghandi praised highly. 

Sometimes people will apologize to us without using words.  It can sometimes just be glancing at us in a certain way or sending a smiley face through the internet. 

One common mistake a lot of people make is they judge other people’s apologies as inadequate, and so therefore don’t accept them.  We ask questions like, “you say you are sorry, but what exactly are you sorry for?”  And if the other person doesn’t give the answer we seek, we then don’t accept their apology.  Many times people will say, “I’m sorry” with an angry tone, and they are not really sorry about what they did, they just wish there wasn’t this problem with you and they want it to go away.  We often reject such apologies out of hand.  But once again, if we don’t accept even this most meager of apologies, the other person will quickly revert back into their anger.  If, instead, we accept such apologies and once again offer our own, then it gives the situation an opportunity to defuse itself.

We might object, “but the other person isn’t really sorry, so if we accept their hollow apology it lets them off the hook and they never then generate real regret for their past deeds.”  Here we need to be skillful.  First, it is not up to us to play God and try manipulate the other person into thinking certain things.  All we can really do is look at our own mind in the mirror or Dharma and try to overcome our own delusions.  It is not up to us to withhold the virtue of not accepting somebody’s apology because we think they were not sincere enough.  Second, if we do accept their apology, then it helps disarm the tension and it opens up the space for them to look deeper within their own behavior.  Third, often times it is precisely because their apology was hollow that our sincerely accepting it as genuine will have such a big effect because the difference between where their mind is at and where our mind is at is so great. 

If we truly think it is counter-productive to them to accept their apology the way it was given, then at a minimum we can acknowledge that the other person regrets the fact that you are fighting about whatever the issue is.  You can say something along the lines of, “I am sorry that we are fighting,” or “I am sorry for my contribution to this being a fight.”  It can happen that the other person is completely wrong on the substance of the issue, but that should not distract us from our own role in transforming the disagreement into a fight. 

Just as it is important to accept people’s apologies, it is also important to know how to accept others apologies.  Generally speaking, when we accept somebody else’s apology we should make sure three things are present:  (1) we express thanks to the other person for having the maturity to apologize, (2) we make some expression of regret for our own mistakes in the situation, especially those things that we think trouble the other person the most, and (3)we have a shared laugh with the other person about how absurd we sometimes get.  All three of these are very important.  When we express appreciation for the effort the other person has made by apologizing, we reinforce that tendency and so make it more likely that the dynamic can continue in a positive direction.  When we admit and apologize for our own mistakes it enables the other person to let go of their anger towards us for what we have done wrong.  This is really important because most people are not perfect, so when they make the effort to apologize they expect us to do the same.  Perhaps they shouldn’t have such expectations, but it is quite a normal expectation to have.  When we fail to also apologize, then their anger can quickly return and they wind up walking back the apology they just made.  Having a shared laugh with the other person is in many ways the most important step because it eliminates any last residuals of resentment and it creates the space for things to get back on good footing. 


One thought on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Root downfalls of the Bodhisattva Vows, not accepting other’s apologies.

  1. Much of the problem, again, comes down to assertiveness. When I teach it, I illuminate a few things, with concepts linked to anger and being right:

    1. Defensiveness: a) Using the word ‘You’ – immediately, this single word puts people on the defensive b) Asking ‘Why?’ – out of all the questions a person can use this, one makes people the most defensive and I rarely, if ever advise using it.

    2. It is more intelligent to choose peace than to be right – most disagreements are trying to prove that conventionally one party is correct from their side. Subjectively, the meaning of any object is different for both parties it is the MEANING that is attributed to the objects that are different. Facts in conventional reality are important, but the meaning of things is almost always in disagreement.

    3. Whenever anyone says, ‘You did this, you did that’ etc. They are not being assertive. Some people use a passive aggressive style of apologizing, some use an aggressive style, rarely does anyone apologise by being assertive, this is the middle way. It’s rare to see an assertive apology.
    Assertiveness takes utter responsibility for how I THINK, FEEL, BEHAVE and what I WANT. This is the realm of an inner being.

    An assertive apology would look like this:

    I THINK what I have done was out of line.
    I FEEL sad by the way that I BEHAVED with such anger.
    I WANT to apologise, as I value our friendship. I am sorry

    The same can be used to when people are angry at you and trying to harm you, blaming you and not listening:

    I THINK I have been unheard. I THINK it’s inappropriate to discuss this right now. I think it’s best if I talk to you when I am peaceful.
    I FEEL misunderstood, angry, sad, confused, upset.
    I WANT to be able to resolve this situation as peacefully as possible and BEHAVE with respect and dignity etc etc

    Instead of:

    You said x, you made me really angry. (no mention or responsibility of their thoughts or feelings) Why didn’t you just do x? (no responsibilty of their wants or needs expressed)
    If you had done things like x then everything would be fine. (Judging their behaviour vs your own and blaming you)

    Essentially, it is our job to accept that the person enslaved by their own anger is at least some bit regretful even if they are still aggressive in their response. We should accept their apologies anyway since we were the ones that created much of it a long time ago. We should actually apologise to all living beings. This is really powerful in Purification.

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