The Gift of Forgiveness
Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea,
until they have something to forgive.
C S Lewis
Forgiveness is indeed a wonderful gift when we are the ones who are in need of it. To know that we have been forgiven fills our entire being with relief and gratitude. However, when the tables are turned – when we are the ones who must forgive – we are generally resistant. We are resistant because our pride or ego has been hurt or because we feel we have been let down and don’t deserve such treatment. We ask ourselves, “But why must we forgive them? It’s their fault; they have hurt us.”
A writer once explained the concept of “unforgiveness” or the inability to forgive others, in the following manner:
Unforgiveness means we desire to hurt the people who have wounded us. It’s like the little boy who was sitting on a park bench in obvious agony. A man walking by asked him what was wrong. The boy answered, “I’m sitting on a bumble bee.” “Then why don’t you get up?” the man asked. The boy replied, “Because I figure that I am hurting him more than he is hurting me!”
Kent Crockett, The 911 Handbook
Such an attitude not only harms those who have wronged us, but in fact, causes more damage to ourselves without us even realizing it. We are tormented by feelings of resentment, anger, hatred and bitterness. Such negative feelings have detrimental effects on our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Therefore, it has been correctly said that forgiveness is more a gift we give to ourselves than to others. It has a significant impact on our own mental and physical health and on our feelings and emotions. It is interesting to note that in Greek the term word ‘to forgive’ actually means ‘to release from one’s grasp’. This is exactly what happens when we forgive others. We release all the negative emotions and thoughts of hostility and chains of resentment from our own grasp. So the sooner we forgive, the quicker the unpleasantness goes away.
From a different perspective, Maharaj Charan Singh talks about the possibilities and risks of creating karmic links if and when we are unable to forgive. He says:
So far as forgiveness in the world is concerned, if we don’t forgive what other people do to us, we build karmic connections with them …. They may have to come back to seek our forgiveness and we may have to come back to forgive them. We want to escape from all that. So we don’t want justice at all, even if others have trespassed against our rights. We just want to forgive them so that we may not create any karmic link with them that might pull us back to this creation.
Whether you go to a court as the accused or the complainant, you still have to go to court. We don’t want to go to the court of justice at all, even as a complainant. We want to escape from this court of justice, so we just forgive.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II
Mystics constantly remind us that nobody is perfect and we too have erred in one way or another. They suggest that it is pointless to play the blame game and urge us to let go of things and move on. They even go to the extent of saying that holding on to negative feelings pulls our soul downwards, putting us in a position where we are unable to receive what the Lord wants to give us – his grace. A heart full of love has no room for even the slightest trace of hatred. To be able to merge with the Father – who is the epitome of purity, love and goodness – it is essential that our hearts be clean.
Hatred is so small and poor, so blind and wretched.
Love is so great and rich, so far-seeing and blissful….
Where hatred, dislike and condemnation are,
selfless love does not abide.
It resides only in the heart that has ceased from all
He who knows that love is at the heart of all things, and has
realized the all-sufficing power of that love, has no room in
his heart for condemnation….
The spirit of hatred in man can never vibrate in unison with the
spirit of love;
Love only can apprehend love, and become linked with it.
James Allen’s Book of Meditations for Every Day in the Year
From our own experience, we know that it is impossible to meditate peacefully when we are constantly haunted by negative thoughts and emotions. Even if we are able to sit in meditation, we constantly think about those who have wronged us and expect them to apologize and ask for our forgiveness. The ego’s first manoeuvre in dealing with the resentment we feel, is to try to get others to confess their faults: “You hurt me, so you must apologize first.”
However Maharaj Ji cautions us about holding on to these expectations. He says:
If a person you think should apologize to you, does not do so, why should you worry? It means that you are equally wrong by attaching so much importance to yourself. This is a form of ego, a sort of self-importance. If the other person is expected to apologize and does not, it is he who will have to answer for his actions. By getting angry at his action you are creating self-pride, self-importance, instead of meekness and humility which are the jewels of Sant Mat. It is for you to forgive him and then forget about it. You are still keeping the karmic attachment by expecting forgiveness. The debtor and the creditor both have to appear in court in such a case. In other words, both have to come back into this world to clear the account. Do not waste your precious time in such thoughts and do not activate the mind unnecessarily. Make it stationary and motionless and attach it to the Shabd within.
Quest for Light
So the next time we feel that someone has offended us, we can remind ourselves that this life is nothing but a theatre and, in fact, each actor is merely playing his or her own part in the play. Perhaps we have hurt others previously and this is an opportunity to clear karmic accounts. Forgiveness helps to shatter our delusional thoughts of self-importance and egotism. It makes us humble, compassionate, tolerant and loving, thus helping our soul to reach its true source.