The question of forgiveness arises when there is wrong doing – actual or perceived and it is closely related to our sense of justice or fair play. When we feel we have been unfairly wronged by someone, we may seek revenge, nurse the wound to seek revenge later in an opportune moment, or forgive and forget the whole episode.
Forgiveness is good for our own sake because, the other alternatives lead to lose-lose situations. It is said that revenge is a double edged sword. As Dhammapada has said, “Those who attempt to conquer hatred by hatred are like warriors who take weapons to overcome others who bear arms. This does not end hatred, but gives it room to grow”.
Quite often it becomes more difficult to forgive oneself than others. Hence, there are practices of confessions and penance to rid oneself of the guilt. Sometimes, such rituals take bizarre and extreme turns with people inflicting torture on themselves and even causing bodily mutilation.
Our religions, from Christianity to Buddhism, prominently feature the Forgiveness and related issues. What a powerful statement it is when the son of God prays while suffering excruciating pain on the cross due to the betrayal of his own people, “Oh God! Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” It is a beautiful statement.
Jesus fears even if he forgives the wrong doers, they may get punished by the divine law of cause and effect. So, who says Jesus did not believe in the law of karma? He seeks to exonerate the sinners from being punished due to the karmic effect. Such was his compassion.
Secondly, the statement indicates all wrong doings happen due to ignorance. Thus, when we recognize that the other person committed the mistake or caused the harm out of ignorance, it helps us soften up immediately.
Many stories of forgiveness are also found in Buddhist literature. The following one is my favourite:
A man who spat on Budhha’s face, comes next day to ask forgiveness. Buddha asks, “what forgiveness?. You are not the same person that spat on me, nor am I. So who will forgive whom?” For the compassionate, forgiveness happens with ease. It does not mean that the other person is not affected. The compassion of the enlightened brings in instant transformation in those who come near him with a receptive mood. Jesus also emphasized love as an antidote to many negative feelings including revenge. I like this beautiful statement where he says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. But if you love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back, then your reward will be great.”
However, I find the Taoist attitude to being wronged the ultimate. Let me quote the following verse from the writings of Chuang Zu:
If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff
Even though he be a bad tempered man
He will not become very angry
But, If he sees a man in the boat
He will shout to the man to steer clear
And if the shout is not heard, he will shout
Again and yet again and begin cursing
And all because there is somebody in that boat
Yet, if the boat were empty, he would not be shouting
And he would not be angry
Well, why not see every perceived wrongdoing to us by others just like an empty boat hitting us? If such an attitude is adopted, where is the need to ponder over sin, repentance, guilt or forgiveness?
From another perspective:
If forgiveness is the ultimate good, what about crime and punishment? What will happen if society also adopted such a Taoist attitude as above and did not punish the criminals?
Well, dear readers, what do you think?