If we have injured space, the earth, or heaven, or if we have offended mother or father, from that may Agni, fire of the house, forgive us and guide us safely to the world of goodness.
Atharva Veda 6.120. VE, P. 636
The Art of Forgiveness
The Vedas are full of verses which speak of the Divine within man, and therefore Hindu Dharma today implores us to let go of grudges, resentment and especially self-contempt. Most people today are working harder to correct the faults of others than they are their own. It is a thankless job. It truly is. Most are trying to recreate the relatively real world into being absolutely real. Another thankless job. The wise implore us to accept things as they are, to be happy and content at every point in time. They tell us: do not be discouraged in seeing the failings of others. Rather, let it help awaken your understanding of them as to where they are in consciousness and the suffering they must be going through. If others harm you in thought, word or deed, do not resent it. Rather, let it awaken compassion, kindness and forgiveness. Use it as a mirror to view your own frailties; then work diligently to bring your own thoughts, words and deeds into line with Hindu Dharma.
The secret is that we have to correct all matters within ourselves. We have to bear our karmas — the reactions to our actions — cheerfully. And what are the apparent injustices of life but the self-created reactions of our own past actions in this or a former life? The person of perfect understanding accepts all happenings in life as purposeful and good. We must be grateful to others for playing back to us our previous actions so that we can see our mistakes and experience the same feelings we must have caused in others. It is in this way that we are purified and trained not to commit the same adharmic acts again.
All the great ones have preached the art of forgiveness. First we must learn to forgive ourselves, to accept ourselves as we are and proceed with confidence. Many people live their whole lives immersed in guilt. It’s a way of life passed on from generation to generation. It’s like a passive fear, different from a threatening fear. Certain religions push people into fear and guilt. Therefore, if they don’t feel guilty, they don’t feel that they are being religious. Mary Baker Eddy once said God is love and was viciously attacked for it by the Christian community of her day, who believed with a vengeance that God is wrathful, fear invoking. Families who live in guilt pass it on to their children. People who live in a state of guilt don’t give a lot, they don’t produce a lot, and they don’t move forward spiritually very far.
New energy is released for a healthy future when we forgive ourselves. Yes, forgiveness is a powerful force. We must start with ourselves, for as long as we hold self-contempt, we are unable to forgive others, because everyone else is a reflection of ourself. We react to what we see in them that we are not ready to face up to in ourselves.
It is a great power to be able to look beyond ourselves and see others as they really are, how they really think and how they really feel. When we are wrapped up in our own individual ego, this is hard to do. We surmise that those we know are exactly like us, and we find fault with them when they are not. But eventually we break the shell of the ego — an act symbolized by smashing the rough, dark brown coconut in the temple, revealing the beauty of the pure, white fruit inside which represents our pristine spiritual nature. It takes a hard blow to subdue our ego, and this is never without pain. But we can remove the ego’s hard shell painlessly through absolute surrender to Hindu Dharma, absolute surrender to our own soul, to God within us. External worship and internal worship, external surrender and internal surrender, bring about the softening of the ego and the unveiling of spirit.
What is resentment? Resentment is pranic force, subtle energy, that is congested. What is love? Love is pranic force that is flowing and uncongested. When someone performs an injustice toward us, he is giving us a conglomerate of congested prana. If we were able to look at it in the astral world, we would see it as a confused mass of disharmonious colors and shapes. If we are unable to remain detached, we become upset and resentful. Instinctively this prana is held by us and only released when we find it in our heart to forgive the person. At the moment of true forgiveness, the congested prana is transferred back to the person who harmed or insulted us.
Now we can see that when we resent or hold something against someone, we are actually astrally connected to him and, in fact, holding back the karma that will automatically come to him as a result of his harmful act. If we forgive the offender, we release the congested energy. Then the unfailing karmic law begins to work. In other words, his actions will cause a reaction back on him, and we won’t be involved in the process at all. That is why the Tirukural, a wonderful book written 2,200 years ago, tells us, “Though unjustly aggrieved, it is best to suffer the suffering and refrain from unrighteous retaliation. Let a man conquer by forbearance those who in their arrogance have wronged him” (157-8).
However, it would not be wise to accept the transgressor back in your life until true remorse is shown and resentment on his part is dissolved through apology and reconciliation. Otherwise, wisdom indicates he might just commit the same hurtful acts again. I was asked recently what we mean in sutra 270 which says monastics forgive hurts quickly and inwardly, but not outwardly until the offender reconciles. The devotee who asked the question said he has taken a lot of physical and emotional abuse, as well as verbal abuse, from his family. He had forgiven them inwardly but wanted to know what their relationship should be, now that he had reached middle age. We forgive inwardly because we know the experience is the result of our karma that we have put into motion in the past. But we hold a friendly, firm wall between ourselves and the offenders, which means a friendly distance, because we know that it is their kukarma, too, which must be reconciled with apologies and with the assurance that the offense won’t happen again.
To be affectionately detached — that is a power. That is a wisdom. But detachment does not mean running away from life or being insensitive or passively accepting harm to yourself or loved ones. When we have the ability to let go, through forgiveness, we are warmer, more friendly, more wholesome, more human and closer to our family and friends.
Just the opposite happens if we remain attached by resenting what happened in the past. Take the example of a teenager who sees a promising future ahead of him, then experiences begin to happen in his life, some of which are unpleasant. If these are not resolved, negative prana begins piling up within his subconscious mind, vasanas are made, and the future begins to diminish from view. Year after year, as he grows older, the past gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and the future gets smaller and smaller and smaller. Finally, there is so much resentment that the once joyful adolescent grows into a depressed and bitter adult. Eventually he develops cancer and dies lonely and miserable.
To have a happy future with your family and friends, don’t ignore difficulties that come up between you. Sit down with them and talk things over. Stand on your own two feet, head up and spine straight and bring it all out in the open. Let them know how you feel about what they said or what they did. Especially in Asia, so many things are swept under the carpet, not talked about and left to smolder and mold there. But now, in today’s world, we must clean up the mess in order to go along into a happy future. The basic foundation of Sanatana Dharma is ahimsa, nonhurtfulness, physically, mentally and emotionally. We must always remember this.
Forgiving Is Health Giving
We recently learned that the oldest person in the world is a 118-year-old lady in Canada, who happens to be vegetarian. She is quite up in the news and in the Guinness Book of Records. In a study of her life and that of several others over age 110 it was asked, “How have they lived so long? Why are they still living? What is their secret?” The answer is that these elderly folk are optimistic. They see a future, and that keeps them living. They are easy-going, good-humored, contented and have a philosophy of forgiveness toward what anybody has done to them along the way. They are successful at flowing with the events of life and do not hold on to a lot of resentment or congested pranas. It is when hate and resentment become a way of life that we begin to worry and wonder what life is all about. Forgiving others is good for your health.
The wise have given a remedy, an effective penance, prayashchitta, that can be performed to get rid of the bundle of past resentment and experience forgiveness and the abundance of divine energy that comes as an aftermath. Write down in detail all the resentments, misunderstandings, conflicts and confusions that you are still holding onto. As you complete each page, crumple it up and burn it in a garbage can or fireplace. When the mind sees the fire consuming the paper, it intuits that the burden is gone. It is the emotion connected to the embedded experience that actually goes away.
Resentment is a terrible thing. It affects the astral body and then the physical. When there is a health problem, there may well be a forgiveness problem. Resentment is crippling to the astral body and the emotions, because when we resent others, we can’t get them out of our mind — we are definitely attached to them. Resentment is equally distributed worldwide. Workers resent their bosses. Bosses resent the owners. Owners of companies resent the government. This is modern society today. This is all-pervasive ignorance, and ignorance added to ignorance makes ignorance stronger. One resentment adds to another in the subconscious mind.
We must begin the healing by first forgiving ourselves, by claiming our spiritual heritage, gaining a new image of ourselves as a beautiful, shining soul of radiant light. Then we can look at the world through the eyes of Hindu Dharma. The Yajur Veda expounds, “He who dwells in the light, yet is other than the light, whom the light does not know, whose body is the light, who controls the light from within — He is the soul within you.”
When this vasana daha tantra, subconscious purification by fire, is complete, you will never feel the same again. After this spiritual experience, religion, Hindu Dharma, will be foremost in your life. All other activities — business, social and family life — will circle around your newly found ideals. Many of the wealthiest people on our planet have kept their religion first, their family and business second and other activities third. Their timing was always right. They were magnetic and happy. Others were happy to be near them.
Everyone has willpower. It is inherent to the makeup of the physical-astral-mental-emotional body. The center of willpower is the manipura chakra, located at the solar plexus. Unlike other energies, the more willpower we use, the more willpower we have to use. Actually, by exerting our willpower, we store up new energy within the manipura chakra. This happens when we work a little harder than we think we can, do a little more than we think we can do. By putting forth that extra effort, we build up a great willpower that we will always have with us, even in our next life, the next and the next. Willpower is free for the using, actually.
When we relate willpower to actions and compare actions to dharma or adharma, we find that adharmic, or unrighteous, actions bring uncomfortable results, and dharmic actions bring comfortable results. If we act wrongly toward others, people will act wrongly toward us. Then, if we are of a lower nature, we resent it and retaliate. This is a quality of the instinctive mind: “You strike me once, I’ll strike you back twice. You make a remark to me that I don’t like, and I will put you down behind your back. I will make up stories about you to get even and turn other people’s minds against you.” This is retaliation — a terrible negative force. When we use our willpower to retaliate against others, we do build up a bank account of willpower, to be sure, because we do have to put out extra effort. But we also build up a bank account of negative karma that will come back on us full force when we least expect it. When it does, if we remain locked in ignorance, we will resent that and retaliate against the person who plays our karma back to us, and the cycle will repeat itself again and again and again.
Those living in the higher nature know better. Belief in karma and reincarnation are strong forces in a Hindu. South India’s Saint Tiruvalluvar said it so simply, “Worthless are those who injure others vengefully, while those who stoically endure are like stored gold. Just as the Earth bears those who dig into her, it is best to bear with those who despise us” (Tirukural 155-151).
Nevertheless, we see society tearing itself apart through retaliation. Respectable organizations retaliate against their leader, against each other. Countries divide and retaliate. Political parties retaliate. Vindictive law cases are professionally handled retaliation. To retaliate means to pay back injury with injury, to return like for like, evil for evil, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. It seems to be a part of humankind, though it is a negative part of humankind. It does not have to prevail. It is not spiritual. We would say it is demonic. We would say it is asuric. We would say it is unnecessary behavior, unacceptable behavior, a wrong use of willpower. People who have a lot of will can, if they wish, retaliate very, very well. They can ruin another person. But remember, the force will come back on them three times stronger than they gave it out, because their strong willpower will bring it back with vigor. This is the law.
Deciding on A Better Way
The wise person chooses his actions according to dharma, which is quite specific as to how we must behave. Those who connive to retaliate after a misunderstanding comes up should know they are carving a destiny of unhappiness for themselves by digging a pit of remorse, self-condemnation and depression. They will fall into it in the far-off future.
Some might ask, “Does nonretaliation mean that one should not protect himself, his family, his community?” We are talking about revenge, not self-defense. To oppose the actions of an intruder to one’s home or community at the time of the intrusion is very different from tracking him down later and vandalizing his home in retaliation. We cannot hurt another without getting hurt back in the future through some other way, generally through other people not even associated with the person we hurt. Those who offend us or commit crimes against us, we can be sure, will receive justice in an unerring manner through the law of karma. If the matter is a serious one, we can seek reconciliation through the laws of the land. In criminal cases, justice can be sought through the courts. It is not wise to take matters into our own hands and be the instrument of punishment, for by doing so we reap the same negative karma as the offender. Retaliation on a wide scale can be seen in cases of mob violence, terrorism and guerrilla warfare.
Therefore, it is wise to cultivate the powerful force of compassion, of righteous response, forgiveness, of admitting our own mistakes, of not lying our way out of a situation just to make ourself look good or putting others down so we can stand taller, so that we can save face. That is a face you would not want to save. It is a face not worth saving.
Those who accept the truth that retaliation is not the proper way to live, but are unable to stop trying to get even, are on the road to correcting themselves, especially if they feel remorseful about their impulses and actions. Through divine sight the soul perceives unwise actions, performed when in the lower nature, as a hindrance to spiritual progress. Penance received from a guru or swami and well performed by the devotee propels the soul into its natural state of bliss. All help is given by the divine devas to those seen performing a sincere penance. Gurus of every lineage receive the verbal confession of devotees and give out the appropriate penance, prayashchitta. They recognize divine absolution, knowing the penance has been fulfilled, when the inner aura is as bright as a new-born child’s, the face happy and the testimony about the results of the penance discloses true atonement.
The Dalai Lama’s Example
Speaking of nonretaliation, the peace-loving Dalai Lama, exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhism, is setting an extraordinary example of not striking back at antagonists. He has campaigned relentlessly for political assistance for his people’s cause since 1959, when at age fifteen he fled across the Himalayas and into India for help. Even today he approaches the Chinese with care and respect, though he never forgets China’s armed takeover of his nation in 1957 and the extermination of 1.2 million Tibetans by 1972. This humble being has never failed to exemplify the dharma of compassion, advocating “the kind of love you can have even for those who have done you harm.” He once wrote: “My enemy is my best friend and my best teacher, because he gives me the opportunity to learn from adversity.”
If there were anyone who could justifiably lash out in a vindictive way, it would be the Dalai Lama; but he has chosen a higher path. We listened to him appeal for Tibetan autonomy over the years at international conferences in Oxford, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro and Chicago, where he never deviated from his posture of love, trust and compassion, with full confidence that the divine law will finally manifest a righteous outcome, an agreeable solution. He also acknowledged that this persecution is a karma that his own people set in motion in the past. He is setting a noble pattern in the international arena, where spiritual people can forge, and are forging, new principles for a global dharma.
On an individual level, all can strive to give up the urge to “get even,” heeding the Vedic admonition, “Here they say that a person consists of desires. And as is his desire, so is his will. And as is his will, so is his deed; and whatever deed he does, that he will reap” (Shukla Yajur Veda, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5. UPR, P. 272). Every belief creates certain attitudes. Our attitudes govern all of our actions. Belief in karma, reincarnation and the existence of an all-pervasive Divinity throughout the universe creates an attitude of reverence, benevolence and compassion for all beings. The Hindu or Buddhist who is consciously aware within his soul knows that he is the time traveller and may incarnate, take a body of flesh, in the society he most opposed in order to equalize his hates and fears into a greater understanding which would result in the release of ignorance. The knowledgeable Hindu is well aware of all these possibilities. The mystery is no mystery to the mystic.
Ahimsa, which the Dalai Lama exemplifies so courageously, is certainly not cowardice; it is wisdom. And wisdom is the cumulative knowledge of the existing divine laws of reincarnation, karma, dharma and the all-pervasiveness and sacredness of things, blended together within the psyche, the very soul, of the Hindu.
Realize That God Is Love
Siva is Love and Love is Siva. People often ask, “How can I worship God if I can’t see God?” There was a young man who had formed an intense dislike for his father because his father disciplined him strongly when he was growing up. Every time the young man thought of his father, it was through feelings of resentment and confusion. Whenever his father was around, the son avoided him, and sharp words were often exchanged. However, his father put him through college, paying all the expenses. When the young man broke his leg playing football, the father visited him in the hospital every few days and paid the medical bills. But still the young man resented his father for what had happened years ago. He could not see that his father really loved him. His inner sight, feeling and emotion were blinded by his bitterness about the past. This story illustrates how mental barriers disable us from seeing people as they really are. And if we cannot correctly see the people around us, how can we expect to see God? We are often blinded by our “ignore-ance” — our great ability to ignore.
People who question the existence of God because they cannot see God must take the word of those who do see God. When they cannot do even this, they are obviously lost in their own delusions and confusions, unable to even see the love or accept the love of those who are closest to them. They most likely misjudge everything through their limited vision, clouded by resentments built up over the years.
We all see people with our two eyes, and we see into people with our hearts. When our heart is pure, holding no resentment, we can then see with our third eye. Someone having problems in seeing God should begin by worshiping his mother and father as divine. He can see them with his eyes and within his mind. This sadhana will clean up the person’s heart and bring his thoughts, speech and actions into line with dharma. Then one day he will see that God Siva truly is the Life within the life of everyone — of the whole universe, in fact.
The word love describes the free-flowing interchange of spiritual energy between people, between people and their things, between people and God and the Gods. Our scriptures clearly tell us that “Siva is love, and love is Siva.” Therefore, our free-flowing love, or bhakti, is our own Sivaness in manifestation. Expressing this love is a profoundly auspicious and beginning form of living with Siva that is complete, in and of itself.