As humans, we all experience several emotions and interpret a lot of information around us. We intentionally/unintentionally hurt others or get hurt ourselves- be it physically or psychologically.
An important quality that separates a great soul from an ordinary one is the ability to forgive. Forgiveness is the quality of the strong. Forgiving someone or more importantly, oneself can spare the individual a lot of pain- The pain of punishing oneself for someone else’s fault. Forgiveness is unshackling the negativity and moving one. When one forgives- one simply lets go of all the resentment in heart towards the other. One may feel wronged by another’s actions, words or thoughts but what is in your control is how it impacts you as an individual.
Forgiveness does not necessarily require that the individual must reconcile with the offender, nor does it rule out the act of reconciling in some situations. Forgiveness is about being kind and letting go of the harm or hurt caused by someone or something else. Forgiveness is essential for one to free the mind from negative thoughts and focus on living a moral and ethical life (dharma). For a realized soul, forgiveness becomes the essence of one’s personality, where the individual remains unaffected, without agitation, without feeling like a victim, free from anger.
Now when you say you are hurt? What exactly is hurt?
In our day to day life, it is not always easy to forgive someone, especially if they have caused you great harm. It is the ego that gets hurt or triggers a fight. It is the main culprit in personal conflicts. The ego or “I” (Ahankar) is easily offended because of its vulnerability to external factors, anger, envy, pride, lust. Ego is the cause of desires, attachments, expectations, restlessness and mental instability.
You can be certain that it is your ego that is reacting and responsible for the way you feel when you feel offended, disturbed, irritated or annoyed by other’s actions. Gauge yourself and see how you think of it? Whether I over-react for a given activity going around me? Am I reacting or responding? If you feel agitated frequently, you have a strong ego and need to let go of that bag. The feeling of egoism is what makes you insecure, selfish, self-important and defensive. Hence, those who are predominantly egoistic are easily provoked by others. They also tend to be aggressive towards others.
Why exactly is it a possibility?
The quality of forgiving others is not really easy. The thought of forgiving comes when either one has committed a crime/mistake or on the receiving side of it. This leads to the next step- Forgiveness can be sought for or extended. But both have the same price to pay. Letting go of the negativity, your own ego and drop the weight there itself. You only lose what you are holding onto. Therefore, let go of that ego and forgive.
A very apt doubt that arises in this context here. How many times should you forgive? Can forgiveness be used as a means or a way to let go of one’s mistakes? Does forgiveness pave way for crime, disrespect, social disorder and people not taking you seriously?
The answer is yes and no.
It depends on what the offender has done. Certain acts cannot be forgiven such as murder or rape. These are absolutely inhumane and have no justification for the act. If it is done once and forgiven, the society thrives on the understanding that such acts can be pardoned. Therefore, where it is required one must definitely employ harsh/strict laws and rules to correct the wrongdoer- be it life sentence or even death. In such cases, there is no question of violation of human rights. Human rights are applicable to those who treat and respect others as a human should. So one must be educated enough or at least have a sense of morality of what is right and wrong.
Now how will you know if you are right or wrong? The answer is pretty simple. No one actually needs to be told it is right or wrong. Everyone knows. Dharma is like sunlight. Whether you are blind or the one with perfect vision, you can sense the sun’s presence. Therefore every individual has an inbuilt sense of morality. Now how this develops depends on the path he/she has chosen. It can be degraded or improved by one’s own practices and the lifestyle one adopts.
In general, we feel agitated towards people who hurt us, cheat us, ill-treat us and so on. However, try to look at the silver lining of the situation. Realize that the tormentor is a person who should be avoided at all costs in the future. Their actions give a very beneficial effect on our life. So in these cases, we should actually thank them and move on, instead of bearing a grudge.
How many times to forgive?
While it is important to realize that forgiveness is a noble quality, it is equally important to realize that continuously forgiving the offender only makes even your near and dear ones to take you for granted. A balance of punishment and forgiveness is very important. Unless the act of punishing or seeking revenge or avenging is absolutely required, one must learn to forgive.
A bit of beautiful advice is given by Prahlada to Mahabali in this regard:
- If someone who has previously done well to you now does not too great harm to you, then forgive him in consideration of his earlier deeds but if he does great harm to you, then do not forgive him.
- Wrongdoers who commit wrong because they did not realize that their act was bad should be forgiven because it is not always easy to find guidance on what is wrong and what is correct.
- Offenders who make perform illegal actions with full knowledge and understanding but pretend to have done it unknowingly should be punished, even if their offense was a small one because they are hypocrites.
- The first offense of the wrong-doer should be forgiven, but the second one, even if it is small, should be punished.
- If someone does a wrong in ignorance, he should be forgiven but only after it is determined that the wrong-doer did it out of ignorance.
- One should decide on whether to punish or forgive after looking into one’s own strengths and weaknesses and after considering the time and place.
- Any action taken at the wrong time or place will fail, therefore wait for the correct place and time before acting.
- In general, it is better to be gentle than harsh because the gentle can overcome the hard-hearted, nothing is impossible to achieve for a gentle person and because gentleness is more powerful than harshness.
However, forgiveness must be practiced in a mature way and preferably under guidance.
Thus, in today’s era, in order to have a better and more peaceful mind state:
“Forgive the unavoidable, avoid the unforgivable”.
It can be explained like this: No one is born perfect. Everyone is bound to make a mistake. Hence it is suggested to simply forgive the unavoidable. Avoid situations that will make you feel hurt or otherwise lead to situations you don’t want to be in. Avoid situations wherein you cannot forgive the other person. As it is explained in the Bhagavad Gita, 18.48:
“Every endeavor is covered by some fault, just as fire is covered by smoke. Therefore one should not give up work born of his nature, O son of Kunti, even if such work is full of fault”.
Here’s a bright idea I picked up from my own life experiences.
However unpleasant the idea may seem, one must try and forgive as much as possible. What is wrong in being great and letting go? If you are worried about what you gain from it? Well, you know it. Peace of mind. What about the one who wronged me? Don’t worry. What goes around comes around.
This activity may take time but is definitely worth it.
Make a list of the people who may have hurt you in your life, intentionally or unintentionally. Sit with each name and reflect on each experience. Observe your reaction. Spend time seeing if you have truly forgiven the hurt, whether you learned from your mistake or if you suppressed the underlying emotions? It may result in you re-experiencing the hurt again and regretting the act but it’s alright. This time, with a calm mind and witnessing without judging, or trying to explain or change or make better, and just accept the reality whatever it is because reality won’t alter the past. When you can stay there long enough, part of you will let go, and release.
From there arises a life lesson or just the true start of letting go that paves way for forgiveness.