Living a Life of Total Forgiveness
Forgiving those who hurt us is very difficult. In some cases, this may even seem impossible. But forgiveness is a spiritual panacea, a cure for more ills than you can imagine.
The purpose of this edition of Insight is to inspire and help you forgive every person or organization that has ever hurt or offended you.
How much can we forgive?
The scriptures abound with stories and teachings about forgiveness. Srila Prabhupada writes in Srimad-Bhagavatam (9.15.40): “The duty of a brahmana is to cultivate forgiveness, a virtue that shines like the sun. Hari, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is pleased with those who forgive others.”
Most of the stories of forgiveness in the scriptures are about extraordinary acts of mercy, a forgiveness that seems only possible to exalted devotees. King Yudhishthira forgave the monstrous insults committed by members of the Kuru clan against him and his brothers. Prahlada Maharaj forgave his wicked father, who repeatedly tried to ruthlessly kill him. Ambarisa Maharaja forgave
Durvasa Muni, although Durvasa falsely accused him of committing a crime and tried to kill him. Jesus Christ forgave those who crucified Him on the cross. Haridas Thakur prayed for the welfare of those who beat him to death. Nityananda Prabhu forgave Jagai and Madhai, the greatest sinners of all time, and asked Lord Caitanya to release them.
Listening to these stories, one might think that this kind of forgiveness is only reserved for very mature devotees. I thought so for many years, but two circumstances changed my belief.
A devotee told me this story. The guy intrusively molested the girl in the bar. The girl was so furious that she grabbed a knife and stabbed him to death.
Imagine how this guy’s mother felt. However, for some reason, she felt compassion for the distraught woman sentenced to life in prison, visiting and comforting her regularly. This woman was not Jesus Christ, Prahlada Maharaj, or King Ambarisa, but she found the strength to forgive the very man who mercilessly stabbed her son to death.
I used to think that forgiving small offenses was one thing, but forgiving those who hurt me deeply was another. When I heard this story, my conviction began to change.
Forgiveness is a choice
Another detail that changed my attitude towards forgiveness was the statement I heard: “Forgiveness is a choice.” My first reaction was, “No, that’s not true! I’ve been hurt so deeply in life that I can’t fully forgive.”
Reflecting on my resentment, I wondered if I really had a choice: to forgive or not to forgive. And I realized: I do not want to admit that I have a choice. I chose not to forgive. Not only that, I struggled to “feed” my resentment. I was attached to my resentment. It was my weapon against those who hurt me. Is it hard to forgive? Sometimes this may seem impossible. Forgiving someone who has deeply hurt you may be the most difficult thing you have ever tried to do.
But no matter how you justify it, forgiveness is a choice.
A devotee is always ready to forgive
Srila Prabhupada writes in The Priceless Gift (Chapter 2): “Krishna never tolerates offenses at the lotus feet of a pure Vaisnava. However, a Vaisnava is always ready to forgive such offenses.” “Always ready” means that forgiveness is unconditional.
Do we forgive in order to repair and improve our relationship with the person who has hurt us? Not always. Often those who hurt us or offended us do not know that they did something wrong. In such a case, if we tell them that we have forgiven them, it can only make the situation worse.
In addition, you may simply not want a relationship with the person who hurt you. It is also likely that a relationship with this person can harm you physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Forgiveness doesn’t require you to be supportive in an intimate relationship with this person. However, forgiveness always brings you closer to Krishna.
Forgiveness is the right thing to do
We end up forgiving because it’s the right thing to do. In the commentary to Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.20.3), Srila Prabhupada writes: “It is said that the ability to forgive is a quality inherent in those who have spiritual knowledge.”
We need to develop this quality. To cultivate generosity, we must choose to forgive constantly, not just once. We practice forgiveness because we value our relationship with Krishna more than wanting to see our enemy punished.
The more offense you can forgive, the more mercy you will receive. It takes tremendous spiritual strength to forgive the person or organization that hurt you deeply. But the positive side of this situation is that it gives you the opportunity to forgive – and this gives you the chance to make significant progress on the spiritual path. So in that sense, we are lucky to be offended because it gives us the opportunity to better understand ourselves and even change our minds.
How do you know that you have completely forgiven? To answer this question, let’s look at what rancor looks like.
You have resentment if you:
- “Sharpen your tooth” on someone and experience bitterness in your heart;
- filled with hatred and feel sorry for yourself;
- you cannot accept the fact that the person who has committed a terrible act towards you will not be caught, exposed and will not suffer negative reactions for his behavior;
- you want the whole world to know what he has done;
- constantly think about what your abuser did, remembering and re-experiencing what happened.
All of the above fuels your thirst for revenge.
Sometimes we don’t forgive because we want to punish the other person for what they did. But the reality is that we punish ourselves.
They say that being offended is like drinking poison yourself in the hope that the other person will die. Until you completely forgive, you will be in chains. Release the offender from your heart and you will be free. Nelson Mandela said: “If you hate, you give your “enemy” your heart and mind.”
“To forgive is to release the prisoner, and then discover that you yourself were the prisoner” – Lewis B. Smedes.”
When you fully forgive someone, you may still remember what happened, but you no longer cling to your resentment. You release your negative emotional energy.
Forgive and be forgiven
How would you feel now if you were forgiven only to the extent that you forgave others? The irony is that very often we want forgiveness for ourselves, and justice for others.
Does this mean that no matter what was done to me, I still have to forgive? Doesn’t this condone the criminal or immoral behavior of others?
Let’s say a person has committed a criminal act against you or a member of your family. You can forgive your offender and at the same time sue him. For the good of this person and others, it may be better if he receives some kind of punishment. Forgiveness does not mean calling a wrong deed right. Forgiveness means freeing yourself from the resentment you feel towards the offender. You pray to Krishna to forgive and bless the person who hurt you. Perhaps I’m asking too much? Yes, it is. But if you don’t, the resentment you harbor will continue to harm you not only spiritually but also emotionally and physically.
I know that if I make a mistake, hurt someone, or hurt someone, I certainly want to be forgiven. I want others to know that I sometimes make mistakes because of my conditioning, but I have no intention of hurting anyone.
I want others to know that I’m trying my best even though I’m not perfect.
I wouldn’t mind if those I offended prayed for my well-being (perhaps they did – who knows?). Therefore, of course, I should show the same care and mercy towards others.
Bless your enemy
The highest form of forgiveness is to pray for the well-being of your offender.
If you are hoping that he will suffer in some way because of his bad behavior, you have not yet fully forgiven. On the other hand, as mentioned earlier, bringing the perpetrator to justice does not necessarily mean that you are taking revenge.
A devotee is always the well-wisher of everyone. If you prayed for your offender and he received the blessings you prayed for, you will be happy if you really forgive him.
Are you ready to forgive those who hurt you or hurt you? If not, then you are also guilty – guilty of “unforgiveness.”
Before you begin the exercise, honestly consider the following scenario.
If Krishna appeared before you and said, “If you want, I can immediately remove the grudge from your heart,” what would you say? If you are not sure that you will immediately say yes, you may think that your offender is not worthy of your forgiveness. Or maybe you think that your offender will get off too easy if you forgive him? Perhaps you feel that he deserves punishment and therefore deserves your resentment. Or you’re just not ready to stop punishing him.
If you don’t want to let go of your resentment, ask yourself why. What motivates you to keep your resentment? This is an important first step for you because the process of forgiveness must begin with a willingness to forgive.
And remember: forgiveness is not always logical, but it is always an act of compassion.
Think of a person or group of people you want to forgive, list what they did to you, how it upset you then, and how it upsets you now. Then do the following:
- Look at the situation through their eyes. Consider that perhaps they did the best they could under the circumstances. Try to see in your abuser a soul who is struggling and suffering in this world and who is just trying to be happy.
- Ask yourself why this particular event triggered a resentment reaction in you. Perhaps you are overly sensitive and this shows up in your relationships with others? Instead of blaming your “offender”, try to see what role you yourself play in this relationship, holding a sense of resentment in yourself.
- Analyze what beliefs you have that prevent you from forgiving.
- Think about how much “benefit” you get from resentment, and what it costs you.
- Feel the pain that resentment causes in you, and realize that you are causing it to yourself. Imagine how you would feel if you didn’t have a grudge.
- Reflect on what lessons can be learned from this situation and how your abuser can help you grow spiritually.
- Think about the fact that Krishna may interpret the story of your resentment in a completely different way than you.
- Imagine that your abuser is sitting in front of you. Thank him for his good qualities and deeds. (If you are offended by a group of people or an organization, do the above for the organization or group.)
- Ask Krishna to bless your offender.
If you want to up the ante, do some service for your abuser. If you still feel the need to express negative feelings towards them, then you have not completely let go of the resentment. If so, repeat the above process as many times as needed to forgive completely.
To learn more about forgiveness, visit mahatmadas.com and look for the Forgiveness section. There you will find recordings of my lectures and seminars on forgiveness.