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Understanding Forgiveness - Part 3

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

Turn the Other Cheek


This Weeks Video

The very first of the situations proposed in the Sermon on the Mount for not resisting evil was “…whosoever will smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.”(1) The obvious conclusion is that when you turn the other cheek you are prepared to be struck a second time. That action almost seems to perpetuate violence. Obviously, these is a difference when the motive for turning the cheek is insolent in nature, or true humility. In the latter case, turning the other cheek is evidence of one being non-resistant. But, what if turning the other cheek was much more aligned with forgiveness.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, a nineteenth-century English poet and Jesuit priest alluded to this idea in his poem, A Welsh Waterfall.

It was a hard thing to undo this knot.

The rainbow shines, but only in the thought

Of him that looks. Yet, not in that alone,

For who makes rainbows by invention?

And many standing round a waterfall

See one bow each. yet not the same to all,

But each a hand’s breadth further than the next.

The sun on falling water writes the text

Which yet is in the eye or in the thought.

It was a hard thing to undo this knot.

He explains that even though the sun on the waterfall creates a rainbow, the position of where each person is standing gives a different perspective of the phenomenon. Same event, different perceived reality! This is the nature of selective remembering in the context of forgiveness. When Hopkins makes reference to the idea of the perspective being “But each a hand’s breadth further than the next”, that hand’s breadth is almost the same as as the turn of a cheek.

Anthony de Mello in his book The Heart of the Enlightened tells a story about an old Zen master who demonstrated how turning your cheek, choosing to see a situation differently (the art of forgiveness), could sustain your peace.

There was an old Zen master called Nonoko who lived in a hut at the foot of a mountain. One night while Nonoko was sitting in meditation, a stranger broke into the hut and, brandishing a sword, demanded Nonoko’s money. Nonoko chose not to interrupt his meditation while he addressed the man: “All of my money is in a bowl on the shelf up there. Take all you need but leave me five yen. I have to pay my taxes next week.”

The stranger emptied the bowl of all the money it held and threw five yen back into it. He also helped himself to the precious vase he found on the shelf.

“Carry that vase with care,” said Nonoko. “It will crack easily.”

The stranger looked around the small barren room once more and was going to leave.

“You haven’t said thank you,” said Nonoko.

The man said thank you and left.

The next day the whole village was in turmoil. Many people claimed that they had been robbed. Someone noticed the vase missing from the shelf in Nonoko’s hut and asked if he, too, had been the victim of the burglar. “Oh no,” said Nonoko (and this is where he turns the other cheek to gain a new perspective of the event) “I gave the vase to a stranger, along with some money. He thanked me and left. He was a pleasant enough sort of fellow but a bit careless with his sword.”(2)

This story illustrates the idea of being able to see a situation with a different set of eyes, made possible through “turning the other cheek”. Instead of seeing a robber, Nonoko saw someone seeking alms. By taking that perspective Nonoko could maintain his inner peace which he, by choice of his lifestyle, had determined was his priority in life. Nonoko saw the robber’s behaviour as a call for help, which meant that he didn’t participate in the ‘turmoil narrative’ that was being experienced by the rest of the village.

Nonoko choose to selectively remember what had occurred. As discussed in the previous blogs on forgiveness, the capacity to turn the other cheek or not, is motivated by the thing that you value most. The people in the village valued their material possessions, which resulted in turmoil. Nonoko valued his inner peace which saw him being able to turn the other cheek. More especially was that he could turn the other cheek as his ‘modus operandi’, his natural act of least resistance. He didn’t have to think about it, or go through any process of having to choose that as his course of action. Nonoko had that as an established neural pathway, in other words, a habit. But then, you would expect that of a Zen master.

De Mello’s book is entitled The Heart of the Enlightened. He is stating that this is the nature of one’s heart, which includes this degree of forgiveness, that you have to possess if you aspire to become enlightened. Forgiveness, in all of its facets, is the primary prerequisite for adopting Christ consciousness as a way of life.

Maybe take a few minutes to think about times in the past when you could have turned the other cheek. If you can’t see how that is possible, then you will have an idea of what it is that you treasure more than inner peace and love. The first step is to become aware of what it is that you treasure. As the adage goes, you can’t change what you can’t see.

Become the observer of your treasure and how it does or doesn’t serve you. Once you have done that, make sure you the use a full stop. If you use a comma, you will go on to give what you observe a meaning, which might result in shame or grief, or even resistance to change. These are your filters that need to be observed, but not entertained. Being in the place of the observer fosters no emotional response, it’s actually quite peaceful. It’s a place where you can be still. Going beyond the comma and you go out of your stillness.

There’s a principle in quantum physics that suggests when something is observed, it changes. Take some time to observe when the opportunities arise where you could turn the other cheek. The place to start is to observe the opportunity, and irrespective of the way you act, continue to be the observer of your choice. In that observation, consider how your choice of response served you in your pursuit of ‘enlightenment’. Then be mindful how at anytime you are presented with a ‘turn the other cheek’ situation, you have the choice to be more loving to yourself and to an other. Then, take the path of least resistance in how you choose to act. Just stay committed to being the observer!


(1) Matthew 5:39

(2) de Mello, Anthony. The Heart of the Enlightened. New York: Doubleday, 1989. Pg 26-27

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