“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” So said Alexander Pope, one of the greatest poets of spiritual enlightenment. The mystics agree that forgiveness is a divine quality. What we seek on this path is divine forgiveness for all our sins, so that we can escape the cycle of reincarnation and return to our true home. We need to awaken consciously within ourselves that holy quality, which is the essence of our soul.
We often think of forgiveness as something that someone who has wronged us should actively seek from us. But the mystics tell us that true forgiveness is when we focus on offering forgiveness to that person, whether they seek it or not. The very word “forgiveness” is built on the root word “give”. Giving means extending one’s love with no conditions, no expectations, no boundaries.
Mystics say: give yourself the gift of forgiveness. It is not something we do for someone else: rather, forgiving others actually benefits ourselves. Having identified the situation to be forgiven, we should ask ourselves: “Am I willing to waste my energy on this matter?” If the answer is “No”, then that’s it! All is forgiven.
Forgiveness challenges us to give up our destructive thoughts about a difficult situation. It builds confidence that we can survive the pain and grow from it. Forgiveness has little or nothing to do with the other person involved in the situation, because it is a personal matter.
There is nothing so bad that it cannot be forgiven. And we need to remember: we always have a choice to forgive or not to forgive, whether the other person asks us to or not. That is their choice, whether or not to seek forgiveness. Either way, they did what they did and must live with the consequences. But our hurt won’t heal until we forgive. That is our choice.
Forgiveness helps to refocus our energy on the healing, not the hurt. However, recovery from wrongdoing that requires genuine forgiveness takes time. For some, it may take years to reach a real state of genuine forgiveness.
Imagine the following exchange between a husband and wife. The husband refers to a past misdeed by his wife, who responds: “Why are you bringing this matter up yet again? It happened so long ago, and you said you had forgiven me.” Her husband replies: “Well, yes, darling, I have forgiven you. But I would now like to remind you that I have forgiven you.” Remind her? As the saying goes, we must forgive and forget. If we haven’t forgotten, then we haven’t really forgiven.
A creative act of freedom
Forgiveness is a creative act that frees us from the past. It liberates us, so that memories of past injury no longer detain us and drain our energy. Such memories, by holding our attention, form an obstacle to meditation. It is impossible to walk the spiritual path until we learn to let go of our past hurts, misunderstandings and resentments.
It requires courage to forgive. Hazur used to say that we always greet those who greet us, but only those who walk the path of love will greet first before being greeted. But the mind is weak, and the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. Forgiveness is not surrender. It is, rather, a conscious decision to stop holding on to resentment. Holding on to anger just strengthens the mind, which thrives on conflict and strife. The mystics advise us that the moment we truly forgive, we reclaim the power from the mind.
If we do not forgive, we must face the consequences. Refusing to forgive, holding on to anger, resentment and a sense of betrayal, can make our life miserable. Not forgiving means continuing to suffer for what the other person did (or didn’t do). It is like taking poison. Moreover, the person we have not forgiven owns us mentally, because we are still thinking of them.
One who cannot forgive closes his heart. So if we are to improve our relationship with the Master, then we must make peace with whoever has done us wrong, whether that is our partner, relations, parents, children, friends or former friends, work colleagues or whomever.
A process towards peace
Forgiveness is the single most important process that brings peace to our soul and harmony in our lives. Living in resentment takes so much effort. It saps our energy. All the toxic feelings of hatred and resentment that we bottle up inside will eventually seep into other areas of our life, with the result that we become bitter, angry, unhappy and frustrated. A spiritual life becomes impossible.
Sometimes our grievance is so great that we think we cannot forgive, and even that we have a right to our indignation – because we feel we have suffered an injustice. What do mystics say about injustice? As you sow, so shall you reap. We are all sinners. The very fact that we are in this world, the lowest plane of the cosmos, means that we are carrying a heavy burden of sins. Our lives are fabricated from our sins.
Every time we find fault with others, that same fault, in some form, lies within us. What we see outside is just a reflection of what is inside us. That stage of perception when we focus only on improving ourselves is what Baba Ji calls spiritual maturity. If we truly want to walk with the Master, then we have no business looking at other people’s faults.
Mother Teresa said that if we truly want to know what love is, then first we need to learn how to forgive. Forgiving someone is to agree within oneself to overlook the wrong they have committed against us and to move on. Being willing to forgive can bring a sense of peace, whereas not forgiving keeps us in the struggle. If we are at war with others, how can we hope to be at peace with our self? To forgive means to give up, in the sense of letting go. This does not mean surrender. Rather, it is a conscious decision to stop holding on to anger and resentment. No one benefits more from forgiveness than the one who forgives. Not that forgiveness is easy – but it is a necessity if we are to progress spiritually.
As Alexander Pope said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” By forgiving, we allow this divine nature to express itself through us. Then we feel the warm rays of divine love dissolving all hurt, all bitterness, all sense of injustice.
When we want to clear up a misunderstanding, the question of pinning the blame on one person or another does not arise. When we want to finish that topic, when we want to forgive, we should never try to decide whether you were wrong or whether I was wrong. We should always try to say that you forgive me and I forgive you, and we had better forget whatever unpleasantness has happened between us. The question of thinking and trying to analyse whether you were wrong or whether I was wrong will lead to another type of trouble again. So if we want to forgive ourselves and forget, it is better to express our regrets sincerely and then forget what has happened between us.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III