If we are to have any hope of peace in this world, we must master the art of forgiveness.– Radhanath Swami
The Vedas characterize the modern day & age as being riddled with quarrel and hypocrisy. There are so many stimulants to irritate and offend us. Without forgiveness, these burning stimulants nest in our consciousness and slowly reduce our peace of mind to ashes. However when we understand the nature of resentment as well as our transcendental position, peace of mind arises as a concomitant factor. First we will discuss why we should forgive and then how to imbibe genuine forgiveness within our hearts.
No Forgiveness = Self Harm
The first reason we should practice forgiveness is because harboring negativity dampens our life. Holding onto resentment is like holding a burning hot coal. It afflicts us within and it manifests as fire without. We hold onto this searing ember of hatred day after day, week after week, year after year with the intention of throwing it at the object of our abuse. But who suffers? We suffer. By holding onto that fire we are torturing ourselves.
Resentment, hatred and vengefulness are like scolding fires. And if we keep them in our heart, what will happen? They will burn our virtues and spiritual qualities to dust and leave us miserable. –Radhanath Swami
As long as we hold onto this negativity, we will be negatively affected.But, when we learn to forgive and let go of the fire, it can no longer harm us. In this way, forgiveness extinguishes the flames within and gives way to a calm and cool heart.
Radhanath Swami expounds on Our limited perception
Another reason to forgive is because we don’t know why people do what they do. Someone may be innocent but habituated to act immorally due to ignorance. Others may victimize us because they have been victimized in the past. This point is vividly illustrated by my friend’s experience as a prosecution lawyer. One of his cases involved prosecuting a prostitute. This prostitute was robbing, stealing and even trafficking drugs. He put her in jail for 20 years.
Some time after the trial, she sent a letter to him wishing to talk. The two met and she revealed her heart. She revealed that she was violently molested as a child on a regular basis. Then, once she married, her husband beat her and eventually deserted her, leaving behind three young children. Having grown up impoverished, she had no education and thus could find no job to support her three children. On top of that, the young children were completely dependent on her and needed food, shelter and medical care. So although prostitution and drug trafficking agonized her, she did it for the survival her children. “I don’t want anything from you because it’s too late” she said. “ “Now I am in prison for the next twenty years and my children are being sent to some orphanage where they are probably going to be abused and nobody is going to care anything for them. As As a mother, I just want you to know what my heart is going to think: ‘what’s going to happen to my children?’ That’s all.”
The moral of the story is that we can never know for sure why someone acts the way they do. Most people do bad things because in the past they were victimized. If we were to actually study someone’s past emotional and psychological conditioning, we would probably never hate the person. We would feel sympathy for them and hate the way they are compelled to act due to their previous experiences. With this understanding, we should view our aggressors with a sense of empathy and understanding. However,
…forgiveness doesn’t mean that one’s misdeed should go unpunished; it means to be the well-wisher of even our enemies by understanding that we are all fighting a hard battle. –Radhanath Swami
Radhanath Swami explains how to Imbibe Genuine Forgiveness
Now it’s easy to theoretically speak about forgiveness, but actually imbibing it in our hearts is often quite difficult. To truly let go of our resentment, it is important to understand the actual phenomenon taking place. The fact is, we are not these bodies; we are the soul. These bodies are temporary vehicles.
We are the source of consciousness that animates the body and witnesses what happens to it. However, when we identify as this body, any physical or verbal harm directed towards it disturbs us.
Bhagavad Gita explains that the soul can’t be burned by fire, can’t be drowned by water and can’t be disturbed by words. We are that eternal soul, and our purpose in life is to cultivate knowledge and awareness of our true identity. It is simply an illusion, an addiction to an untruth that devastates us upon being challenged in some way. It actually has nothing to do with us. But, as conditioned souls, we are habituated to crave enjoyment through this body and mind. Because of this misidentification, anything that interferes with the mind and body’s enjoyment causes us terrible pain.
The remedy for this disturbance is detachment. Detachment arises naturally upon realizing our true identity. The soul is transcendental to the dualities of this world. Thus when we think and act from the platform of the soul we are no longer afflicted by any material circumstance. The soul’s nature is to serve unconditionally. By acting from this platform of service to the Supreme Soul, Krishna, we identify less and less with the body and mind, thus we are less and less afflicted by the disturbances that arise thereof.
To the degree we are aspiring to serve rather than exploit, to that degree we become transcendental to the various inevitable dualities around us. –Radhanath Swami
Srila Prabhupada says in Krishna Book that one’s greatness has to be estimated by one’s ability to tolerate provoking situations. And what does it mean to tolerate provoking situations? To maintain a consciousness of forgiveness and compassion. And what is the most effective way to imbibe this consciousness? It’s described that in this current day and age, anyone can attain pure transcendental consciousness simply by sincerely chanting the holy names:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
I will conclude with one story which has deeply influenced my heart and has transformed my whole perspective on life. It is the story of Haridas Thakur, the Namacharya or the one empowered to teach the proper consciousness for chanting the holy names.
The power of the holy name to free us from all disturbances of this world was showcased in the life of Haridas Thakur. Due to worshiping Krishna in a Muslim-ruled state, the king condemned Haridas to death. The king’s men dragged him by the hair through public market places beating him with clubs, pounding him. They were screaming nasty slurs at Haridas, torturing him ruthlessly. But because Haridas Thakur was deeply taking shelter of The Lord through chanting his names, he was in ecstasy. His communion with God through his name was so deep he just didn’t mind the severe inflictions on his body or the blasphemies upon his ego.
As he was being beaten, he chanted with this prayer in his heart, “My dear Lord Krishna, please forgive them. Please forgive all these men who are beating me and trying to kill me, don’t consider their actions an offense. Give them your mercy. Give them your love.” That prayer of forgiveness was springing from the core of his heart through all 22 market places of severe blasphemy and beating.
Haridas Thakur embodied the principle of true forgiveness. He never blamed anyone for anything that came upon himself; instead he saw them as the instruments of his own karma. And he thanked God in every situation for having the opportunity to turn to Him.
The true essence of forgiveness is to be an instrument of God’s forgiveness. Due to realizing his true identity, Haridas Thakur embodied this essence and was able to forgive even the most heinous acts. When forgiveness comes through the knowledge of the soul and the power of God then that forgiveness has the potency to truly change our hearts and those of others.
My guru, Srila Prabhupada once said, “One’s greatness has to be estimated by one’s ability to tolerate provoking situations.” And what does it mean to tolerate provoking situations? It means to maintain the consciousness of forgiveness and compassion, to pray as a well-wisher of everyone and to view every situation as an opportunity to sincerely take shelter of the mercy of the Lord through remembering him and chanting his holy names. To achieve inner peace we must change ourselves. And simply by sincerely chanting the holy names, we transcend all of the negative forces in this world and attain the supreme everlasting peace of Krishna consciousness.