By Anil Bhatnagar
Forgiving aligns us with the cosmic scheme through which we learn to accept that each event is there in our life because we need to learn from it
Forgiving is the essence of spirituality because it prepares us for our ultimate liberation from suffering. It requires the development of our ability to refrain from judging and to surrender ourselves to the natural unfolding of destiny.
It is no coincidence that most religions have emphasized the flowering of a heart that can forgive. Jains begin their dus lakshan dharma (10 days to learn about and rededicate their lives to each of the 10 pillars of Jainism) with uttam kshama (forgiveness based on correct perception and correct knowledge) and conclude it with kshama vani (the asking of forgiveness from each other). They believe that in forgiveness lies the essence of all the principles of Jainism.
Similarly, the real spirit of Holi, the Indian festival of color, is to embrace everybody by forgetting and forgiving the wrongs of others. The very essence of the life of Jesus and his teachings is the practice of forgiveness.
Narender Gulati, who has been a keen student of Sikhism, says that the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhism, is full of verses that emphasize the need to forgive. ‘Bure da bhala mana. Gussa man na vasa (Be grateful to the one who is bad to you since he is only an instrument. Don’t allow anger to fester in your mind),’ goes one verse. Prophet Mohammed is known to have climbed up the steps of a house to inquire about the health and well being of a lady, when, unlike other days, she did not hurl abuses or throw garbage at him.
We are born to learn forgiveness. Dr Raymond Moody, who has been studying near-death experiences for the last 40 years, writes in his book Life After Life that people who are revived soon after a close brush with death, report seeing a dazzling white light, often believed to be God, which inspires them to give importance to two things: knowledge and love. And the real test to know if we have learnt these two lessons is the extent to which we can forgive others.
WHY WE DO NOT FORGIVE
We entertain thoughts of revenge. We carry thoughts of hatred because we blame others for the bad that befalls us. This illusion seems comforting. It does not require us to take any responsibility and allows us to judge others without letting ourselves be judged. It gives us a chance to be the object of sympathy and approval of others.
Fear that the other person may continue with his unwanted and irrational behavior if we forgive. It is a baseless fear. There are more chances of a person understanding the foolishness of his action in the calm waters of forgiving silence than in the disturbed state of reactive behavior. Your hatred, on the other hand, may make his behavior look justified to him. So, if you really want him to change, practice forgiveness.
We expect others to behave the way we want. This may be unreasonable but it can actually happen without any resistance, provided we surrender the desire and let people behave the way they have learnt to behave and let things happen the way they are bound to happen. We should be grateful to the universe for all that is happening to us. This is what is programmed in our best interests.
We hold grudges. We refuse to accept that all that is happening to us is a result of the seeds sown by us, the way we process the behavior of others and respond to any stimuli that we are exposed to. No one else is responsible for our unpleasant experiences.
Fear of being labeled as weak, dumb and timid. We think forgiveness is an excuse for escapism, inaction or cowardice and only those who cannot fight believe in forgiving. But there is an obvious difference between fearing and forgiving. Yes, there are people who disguise their fears as forgiveness. But your decision to forgive will not turn you into a coward. Moreover, why should we be ashamed of admitting that we cannot fight? There is no virtue in fighting or being able to fight. I don’t know why we make heroes out of people who fight. It will do this world a lot of good if, instead of fighting for some principle or the other, people start living them.
WHEN YOU FORGIVE
You do no one but yourself a favor. Not being able to digest the wrong that a person has done to you is your problem, not his. It is hurting you, not him.
Mounting evidence now suggests that not forgiving others may get you gallstones; if the problem pertains to the spouse, the stones form in the kidneys instead. The ensuing emotions and anger may involve back problems depending on whether the lack you feel is in emotional or material support.
If you have unrealistically high standards of judgment which make it difficult for you to forgive, your nagging nature may give rise to complicated medical problems relating to liver and other digestive organs.
Sukhdeepak Malvai, reiki master and a personal growth teacher, says that it is one thing to understand the importance of forgiveness intellectually and another to verify it in our body. He gives the example of vipassana during which meditators often experience thoughts of revenge, resentment and aversion associated with disturbing physical sensations. Inability to forgive is the biggest hurdle for a vipassi in attaining a state of equanimity. When you carry on with your grudges, you not only allow the other person to hurt you, but also let him control your life each moment you are affected by his thoughts.
You help yourself suffer less. When you accept others, you no longer experience the hurt that goes with judging them. Ten years ago, Chaitali (not her real name) found that her husband was having an affair with a woman. Though he later realized his mistake and ended the relationship, it was difficult for Chaitali to forgive him. Their relationship was getting from bad to worse when, out of desperation, Chaitali decided to give reiki a chance. In the middle of the forgiving exercise, she started crying. With the help of reiki and her reiki teacher Raman Deep Lamba, Chaitali saw the futility of imprisoning her life in grudges and hatred. Today, she is leading a happy and contented married life, enjoying the unique freedom that follows letting go of dislikes, grudges, anger and hatred.
You strengthen your well-being. There are only losers in the game of war. There is a Chinese saying that the one who pursues revenge should dig two graves. Doing the opposite ensures a long and healthy life.
You realize the divine truth. Bad experiences occur in our lives because we need to learn from them. Learning to own up everything that happens in our lives as our own doing and hence not needing to forgive anybody else for them is one such lesson.
Sometimes I thought ill of those whom I considered unjust and insensitive. But later, I realized that they were like the villains of a story who, at the cost of being disliked, help us understand certain lessons that are conveyed through the plot.
‘Usually, we attract people who represent that aspect of ourselves which we would like to repress but which we have not yet integrated,’ write Bodo and Sharamon in Reiki: The Universal Energy. In fact, whatever shocks and disturbs us in others beckons us to look within and correct the same thing in our own behavior.
In Sri Yukteswar’s ashram in India, a student once complained that his peer should not be allowed in the ashram because his behavior was not befitting a sanyasin or renouncer. Sri Yukteswar replied that such a student was necessary for the complete training of the students. One who manages to remain a sadhu or mendicant only when he is among sadhus is yet to become one.
You are everyone. To view others as separate from us is a misperception of the world. When, as a child, I first read about Jesus praying to the Lord to forgive those who were crucifying him, I was moved to tears. But I found it almost impossible to live his example. Today, though, I feel that anyone who knows that the ‘others’ are his own extensions, could not have behaved any different from Jesus.
Forgiving others is the only sensible thing you can do when others try to treat you contemptuously—it is not merely a lofty concept. It is easy to understand intellectually that separateness is merely an illusion. But we need to feel this truth with our heart to be able to live it.
You give love. Every time we react to others’ unjust behavior, we let the values we stand for surrender to what we dislike the most. This results in reinforcing the behavior we dislike and deny ourselves the possibility of receiving better behavior from them in the future.
Once, a holy man noticed a scorpion struggling to come out of a pond in order to save its life. He immediately reached for it with his bare hand to save it. The scorpion, however, bit him when he picked it out of water. The holy man, in spite of the pain, did not drop the scorpion.
When asked why he did not throw it back in the water when he was bitten, he replied that the scorpion was not separate from him in spite of its different nature. What the scorpion did was natural to it. How could he, then, behave contrary to the nature of a holy man who is supposed to feel and express love for all beings?
How can the scorpion in us ever know and learn a different response if its sting is always returned with a sting? A man who has experienced only hate cannot give love. We can give what we have within us.
LEARNING TO FORGIVE
Trust that you can forgive. Events unfold in our lives the way music unfolds in the hands of a perfect conductor. Don’t resist it. Trust, surrender and let it happen. Purify your desires into intentions. Be grateful for all that you have, all that has happened to you, since every experience leaves you stronger and wiser.
Stop blaming. It becomes difficult when you are attached to the idea that the world should run the way you want it to. ‘He did not inform me properly’, ‘He cheated me’, ‘The doctor was careless’, ‘They played politics against me’—these may appear to be honest statements. However, in truth, they only display our distrust in the perfection of this universe and feed on the illusion that not higher principles but chance, opportunism and anarchy rule and people can get away with anything provided they are cunning enough.
Be responsible. Send away anger. Feel it and watch it go. See what is and don’t compare it with what you think should be because everything is already the way it should be.
Start giving. Remember, whenever and all that we give, we give to ourselves. Giving makes forgiving easier. When we decide to give because that is what we are born for, our focus shifts to giving instead of expecting. The more you think of what should have been yours but for the dishonesty of others, the more you will draw such happenings to your life.
Don’t pretend. We often think we have forgiven without knowing that resentment is still smoldering within our subconscious. Real forgiving, in fact, means never feeling the need to forgive. Deepak Chopra writes in his book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind that you can forgive others when you release your own hurt. The more complete your release, the more sincere the forgiveness.
Know your reactions. The second verse of Patanjali’s Yoga aphorisms reads yoga chittavritti nirodhah, which means that yoga is the dissolution of all centers of reaction in the mind. Our chitta, or mind is akin to the lake and the vrittis to the waves. Vrittis are the reactions or habits. Most of the time we are concentrating only on the stimuli. If we concentrate on our reactions instead of the stimuli, we will be able to start a process that will bring our vrittis into focus and thereby enable us to dissolve them. Patanjali asks us to dissolve our reactions so that we could liberate ourselves from the prison of our vrittis and get the control back into our hands. Jiddu Krishnamurti said the same tersely: ‘Act. Don’t react.’
Accept others’ actions. Patanjali also talks about upeksha (one of the four main virtues), which means real regard, empathy and consideration for those who may have failed in responding responsibly towards us. The other three virtues are maitri(friendship, without the desire to exploit the materially rich), karuna (empathy, not pity, towards the materially weak), and mudita (delight, not jealousy, towards the spiritually great).
Love your enemies. Gradually get into the habit of doing it every time and for everybody.
Forgive yourself. You are angry with yourself because your actions resulted in what you perceive as a failure—since your results are contrary to your expectations. In the absence of such expectations, you will not have any reason to be angry with yourself. So accept yourself. Allow yourself to commit mistakes to learn from them.
Life is a prison of suffering only till you fail to forgive. When enlightened beings such as Buddha or Nanak, founder of Sikhism, point towards our suffering, they only do so to remind us that our natural state is eternal bliss and that we should liberate ourselves from this self-imposed imprisonment. For those who learn to love and forgive everybody, life again gets back on the rails, taking them on a unique and eternal journey of love and bliss.
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