One day a villager came to a wise Taoist for advice about forgiveness. The wise man gave the villager an empty sack and a basket of potatoes with these directions:
“Think of all the people who have done or said something that offended you, especially those you cannot forgive.
Carve each name on a potato and put them all in this sack. Carry the sack with you wherever you go for a week. We’ll talk after that.”
It was easy for the villager to come up with quite a few names and soon his sack was heavy with potatoes. At first, carrying the sack was not particularly difficult. But after a while it became a burden. Even though the weight remained the same, the sack began to stink. The carved potatoes gave off a sour odor.
Finally the week was over. As the villager thought about it, he realized that when we’re unable to forgive others we carry negative feelings with us everywhere, much like rotting potatoes. That negativity becomes a burden and after a while it festers. He reported his understanding to the sage.
“Yes. That‘s exactly what happens when you hold a grudge.
Forgiving someone is the equivalent of removing a sour potato from the sack.
How many people are you able to forgive?”
With much effort the villager forgave all of them. One by one he removed each potato until finally the sack was empty. But then the sage asked:
"Did any people offend you this week?”
The villager had to nod his head yes. He felt panic when he realized his empty sack was about to be filled up again. He knew that if he continued like this, there would always be rancid potatoes in the sack.
Since the villager got the point, the wise man said:
“You have no control of what others do. So as long as people speak or act in ways that offend you, you will always carry a heavy load of potatoes. Since that’s not what you want, consider this — if the rotting potatoes represent negative feelings, what does the sack represent?”
Thinking out loud the villager mused: “Oh, the sack is my sense of self-importance. It’s what allows me to be easily offended and to hold on to negativity. The sack symbolizes that part of me that takes what people say or do personally. If I let go of the sack I will see that others are entitled to their perspectives. I will no longer feel insulted and there will be nothing to forgive.”
The sage nodded in agreement.
“As soon as you let go of your sense of self-importance, you won’t have any names to inscribe on the potatoes — no more weight to carry around, no more bad smells, and no more burdens to carry.”
From the perspective of the Tao, forgiveness is not about collecting or removing potatoes. It's more than that. It’s going to the source of insults — the sack of self-importance.
Once we relinquish self-importance there's no place to collect offenses.
It's a continuous challenge!
Adapted from THE TAO OF DAILY LIFE by Derek Lin.