By Dada J P Vaswani
Forgiveness is a bridge that all of us need to cross at one time or another in our lives. Forgiveness is an act of will which we have to carry out consciously and deliberately. Forgiveness is an attitude of compassion and understanding with which we choose to react to the world. Forgiveness is not a one-off action – it is a process by which we evolve towards tolerance and acceptance. Forgiveness is not a series of incidents – it is a way of life that we choose. Forgiveness is self-restraint, self-control, self-discipline, through which we transcend our lower selves. Above all, forgiveness is an effort on our part to bring out the divine that is in all of us.
George Macdonald, Scottish author and mentor of Lewis Carroll, writes: “It may be infinitely worse to refuse to forgive than to murder, because the latter may be the impulse of a moment of heat, whereas the former is a cold and deliberate choice of the heart.”
Forgiveness is not always easy. How can parents forgive the murderers of their children? How can mothers forgive the rapists of their daughters? How can anyone forgive those who have massacred their family and friends?
I am the first to admit it is not easy. But the alternative is to become like those offenders —intransigent, cruel and unfeeling. Forgiveness releases you from the fetters of hatred, and frees you from the pain, shame and humiliation of the past which is, thankfully, dead and gone!
The Gift of Forgiveness
Forgiveness need not be a struggle — if we realize that it is also a great gift and a blessing. It is a choice that we make — either to love or hate, to punish or pardon, to heal or hurt. We choose to tread the path of peace and reconciliation, rather than succumb to bitterness. It is said “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.”
A holy man was invited to be present at a council of village elders. The council was to sit in judgment over a wrong-doer and decide on his punishment.
The holy man was extremely reluctant to join the council. However, on the appointed day, the president of the council sent him a message saying, “We are all assembled, and await your arrival. Do kindly join us!”
The holy man came to the council dragging behind him a basket full of holes, filled with sand. He left a trail of sand behind him as he walked into the council chamber.
“What is this that you are dragging behind you?” the elders asked him.
He said, “Like this sand, my sins are running out behind me. I do not see them, and today, I come to judge the sins of another!”
The words went home to the hearts of the elders. And the wrong-doer was pardoned and allowed to go.
Forgiveness sets us free – free from remaining victims of the past, free from anger and hatred; above all, it frees us from the burden of expectation, of wanting anything in return for what we have had to go through.
Forgiveness is not weakness, or passivity. It requires spiritual strength. So far from leaving you weak and vulnerable, it actually empowers you to lead a more meaningful life. It helps us to overcome the vicious cycle of resentment and revenge, and enter the realms of unity, peace and harmony.
Psychiatrists tell us that when people refuse to forgive and forget, their life takes a definite turn for the worse – a downturn. They become bitter; they wallow in self-pity; they even develop disorders like paranoia and persecution complex. They stop seeking the company of positive, optimistic cheerful people who give them good counsel; instead, they lock themselves up in a self-made prison of isolation and alienation. Some men even take to excessive drinking; thus begins the downward spiral …
The person who holds on to anger or resentment is, without his knowing it, causing damage to himself from within. The person who forgives enters a new life of gentle peacefulness. Forgiveness is its own reward. It is the forgiver rather than the forgiven who receives the greater benefit.
Has someone wronged you, offended you, taken undue advantage of you? Forgive them before forgiveness is asked. Forgiveness is a twice blessed quality, it blesses the forgiver and forgiven.
Here are four simple principles we have to follow, in order to forgive in the best spirit:
• Stop being judgmental. We do not have all the facts necessary to make a fair judgment – so the best thing is to leave it to God.
• Develop the spirit of tolerance and understanding. Human beings are not perfect and we are all bound to make mistakes.
• Control the animalistic impulse to fight, hit back and hurt.
• Pray constantly for God’s help. Sometimes, forgiveness is so difficult that we cannot do it alone. It requires the grace of God to change our minds and change ourselves. God’s grace can dissolve even the most deep-seated bitterness.
Forgiveness is often regarded as a weakness. But forgiveness holds great power. Forgiveness reveals your inner strength. For it is only the strong who can forgive.
Dada J P Vaswani heads the Sadhu Vaswani Mission and is the author of over 50 books in English and many more in Sindhi with practical tips for happy, successful, spiritual and non-violent living.