When the world is facing unprecedented violence, forgiveness may be equated with weakness,construed as an invitation to let evil loose upon the world.Nothing could be further from the truth, as this essay shows.
What doth it profit a man if he breeds sin but kills the sinner!” Assuredly, vice begets but vice. What could one ever expect from a heart that is putrefied by the murky waters of illusion? Nothing more than spawning ground for anger, envy, greed, false pride, duplicity, deceit . . . Hate and intolerance are devouring up man’s divine inclinations and polluting his reason. Can we save our souls by stockpiling nuclear armament or seek consolation in ultra hi-tech advancement or instill hope by daily enacting inane anti/preventive statutes? What gain is there for the soul if the body is killed? How treacherous is this modern history!
In utter frustration, we must turn to the timeless teachings of the Vedas for consolation and inspiration. God is love personified. That divine love is like a boundless ocean. Just as each drop of ocean water tastes salty, so also, compassion pervades every minute atom of God’s love. Tolerance, forgiveness, humility generosity, selflessness, sacrifice, and empathy are some of the innumerable waves of this ambrosial prema-sindhu.
Not surprisingly, both saints and sinners have a lot to do with forgiveness. The spotless saint doles out forgiveness, freely, regardless of caste and creed; whereas the condemned sinner pleads desperately for it, because that and only that can assuage the intense pangs of guilt and remorse that haunt him day and night. Conclusively, forgiveness is as crucial to the heart of a suffering soul as air to the lungs in times of asphyxia.
When God, the compassionate Father, desires to extend His two helping hands of comfort and relief toward a condemned son, fallen by the wayside that act of mercy brings shame, remorse and, eventually, gratitude to the Father FOR – GIVING that rejected soul another chance. It would not be a fanciful exaggeration to presume that forgiving is a compound word, comprising FOR (forgetting the past misdeeds of a sinner) by always “GIVING” him a fair chance for reformation. The only sad part is God is willing, but man is weak “God forgives and man condemns!” Such a sacred paradox!
When Lord Krishna forgave His envious cousin Sisupala for blaspheming Him a hundred times; it is not true that Krishna lost His patience, the hundred and first time, and killed Sisupala out of revenge. Rather, Krishna’s compassionate heart felt great pity. Understanding that His cousin was too depraved to acknowledge those continuous acts of forgiveness, Krishna liberated Sisupala from debased envy by the all-auspicious Sudarshana chakra. Being completely purified by the touch of that divine disc, the helpless soul of Sisupala began to worship Lord Krishna and then sought shelter by entering into the all loving transcendental body of Krishna. This is a classic instance of the loving nature of forgiveness.
At a most crucial juncture of the battle of Lanka, Lord Rama proclaimed, “Even now, if Ravana were to come to Me for shelter, and beg forgiveness, how willingly I would embrace and accept him as one of my intimate kith and kin.” This is a classic example of the forgiving nature of God’s love. Conclusively, love reveals the presence of forgiveness and forgiveness testifies to the existence of love.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s golden formula for forgiveness:
If one accepts that others, like himself, are not perfect, basic tolerance comes to the rescue of such an honest being and protects him from criticizing and judging others falsely. Intolerance betrays the helplessness of false pride. When one secretly treasures a vice, within his own heart, he takes offence upon seeing that same vice in another because he has lost his sense of shame; not only that, he becomes begrudging and libelous toward his victim, even to the extent of aggression. Guilt never deserts such a pretender!
Humility, in its basic form, is an alter ego of tolerance; both of them combine to diffuse the impulsive urge to pass hasty judgment. Tolerance keeps one’s mind open to the possibility and the need to forgive, in spite of vehement dissuasion by the false ego. Active humility, in alliance with the inner conscience, goes even a couple of steps further in instilling conviction and the determination to concede that it is an offence to condemn another (for a particular vice), when one’s own heart is festering with that same vice. Tolerance catalyses humility with the resolution that the only means to be purged of a vice is to forgive another who has that same vice.
Progressively, when one learns to respect a helpless victim, that respect sublimates into the desire to become an instrument of compassion. At this stage, one receives the Lord’s loving empowerment to change the mentality of an offender. Feeling the pangs of shame, an offender’s stone heart begins to throb with remorse and becomes softened with tears of gratitude. That softened heart becomes possessed with the overwhelming desire to reform one’s evil ways; not only that, the reformed one becomes eternally obligated to always forgive others because of having been forgiven, unconditionally
The multi-pronged power of forgiveness:
(i) taking the offender by surprise, so that he is compelled to change his heart
(ii) disarming one seeking revenge
(iii) putting a golden feather in God’s cap
(iv) bringing hope and inspiration to a listener
If the pristine tenets of scripture are misinterpreted by ruthless, cold blooded mercenaries to indoctrinate and con gullible victims into believing that salvation awaits those martyrs who ruthlessly massacre helpless beings for the cause of righteousness and divine justice; then why cannot the saner segment of world leaders utilize those very same scriptural injunctions to groom a new race of honest men and women by ingraining the eternal principles of tolerance and forgiveness in their fertile hearts?
When delusion and false hope lead us to believe that stockpiling nuclear arsenals and imposing stringent embargos can curtail global terrorism and usher in a new era of peace and justice, then it is only a matter of time that hate and revenge will inexorably conflagrate into a much prophesized Armageddon.
Damodara Pandita Dasa serves as a spiritual counselor to patients in Bhaktivedanta Hospital in Mumbai.