Ideals and Values/Forgiveness

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia


Forgiveness is a trait of the Virtuous

Everyone does mistakes and so do we. Therefore, we should forgive others because we too might have committed the same mistake in the past or might commit it in the future. Therefore, it is only a low grade person who does not forgive, whereas a high grade person will forgive others for their transgressions.

"Those who are forgiving have one flaw; there is no second flaw in them. And that flaw is that ordinary men consider the forgiving as weak."[1]
"But, this must really be considered a flaw because forgiveness is indeed the greatest strength. Indeed, forgiveness is a virtue of the weak and an adornment of the powerful." Mahābhārata 5.33.48</ref>
"If a dog bites a man, he does not bite the dog back. Therefore, if a wicked man humiliates a virtuous one, the latter should not seek revenge."[2]

Story: Bhagvān Rāma becomes the king of Ayodhya When Rāma entered the palace, Queen Kaikeyi was very scared. She thought that Rāma will blame her for sending him to the forest and will be very angry with her. But instead, Rāma first went to her room, even before seeing his own mother Kaushalyā.

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He bent down and touched her feet to respect her. Kaikeyi was so happy that Rāma had forgiven her. Rama said, "Mother, how can I ever be angry with you." Kekeyi then hugged Rāma and said, "I am very sorry for what I did. You are so forgiving and respectful, that you are my favorite son. I love you even more than my own son Bharat."

Story: Kṛṣṇa returns to Vaikuntha, the Abode of Bhagavān Viṣṇu Kṛṣṇa returned to Dwaraka after the Mahābhārata war for good. There, he found that his people, the Yādavas, had become very rich and had gotten into the habit of taking alcoholic drinks. They would get so intoxicated that they had no sense of what was right and what was wrong. Street fights became common. Drunken young men would abuse women and Ṛṣis and even kill each other. In one of these fights, even a son of Kṛṣṇa got killed.

Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma decided that their time on this earth was now over. Balarāma went to the sea coast and started meditating. His soul left his body and returned to heaven. Kṛṣṇa wore his yellow clothes and went to a forest close to Dwaraka. As he sat under a tree, a hunter mistook his ankle for the mouth of a deer and shot an arrow. The arrow hit Kṛṣṇa. When the hunter realized his mistake, he rushed and apologized to Kṛṣṇa, who immediately forgave him.

Story: Draupadi spares the life of Ashvatthāmā Ashvatthāmā killed all the five sons of Draupadi treacherously when they were sleeping in the night. Arjuna was furious with rage. He rushed to Veda Vyasa's ashrama, where Ashvatthāmā was hiding. Assisted by Kṛṣṇa, he overpowered the culprit. Soon, Draupadi arrived too. Arjuna asked her, "As the mother of your five sons who were slain, tell me what punishment should I give to him? Shall I kill him?"

Draupadi wept as she thought of her children. But she said, "I do not want Ashvatthāmā to be killed. He is the son of our Guru. I know the pain that a mother's heart feels when her children die. I do not want Ashvatthāmā's mother to undergo the same sorrow." Ashvatthāmā's life was saved due to Draupadi's forgiveness. But he was deprived of the divine gem that was embedded on his forehead. Draupadi took that gem and gave it to King Yudhishthira for his crown.

Forgiveness benefits us more than others

If we do not forgive and forget, the anger and enmity in our heart hurts us more than anyone else. It is just better to move on. Forgiving others often benefits us more than anyone else. If we do not forgive, the cycle of hate and violence continues endlessly and no one gains from it.

"When a spark of fire falls on a place that has no straw, it gets extinguished automatically. And he who never forgives others enmeshes himself with great flaws.[3]
Dharma alone is one's greatest benefactor. Forgiveness alone results ultimate peace. Knowledge alone is the supreme insight. Ahiṅsa alone gives happiness."[4]
Some verses from the Dhammapada of Lord Buddha:
"He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me? - in those who harbor such thoughts, hatred will never cease.[5] He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me - those who dwell not upon such thoughts are freed of hate.[6] "Never does hatred cease by hating, but hatred ceases by love, this is the Eternal Dharma.[7]

Story : The Forgiveness of Sage Vasiṣṭha for Sage Viśvāmitra One day, Sage Śakti, the son of Sage Vasiṣṭha, encountered King Kalmashapada coming from the opposite direction on the same path in a forest. The path was narrow and deep and one of them had to retreat to allow the other to proceed forward. King Kalmashapada, being an arrogant and a haughty man, ordered the Sage to go back. Sage Śakti reminded the King that according to Dharmic scriptures, the King must give way to scholars and to Sages.

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The King lost his temper at this and he started beating Sage Śakti mercilessly with a whip. Sage Śakti got hurt very badly and was in great pain but he did not hit back. Instead, he cursed the King with the words, "Since you have behaved like a Rākśasa, a Rākśasa indeed will enter your body soon and will make you do all kinds of wrong things, leading you to utter ruin. You will become a cannibal." The King begged the Sage for forgiveness and then the two went their own way.

When Viśvāmitra, heard about Śakti's curse, he thought that now was his chance to get even with his rival Sage Vasiṣṭha, the father of Śakti. He knew that Śakti's curse would come true someday. So he thought, "Let me make a Rākśasa, who is obedient to me, enter the body of Kalmashapada, and make him do what I want. Everyone will blame Śakti then, because it is he who cursed the King!"

Viśvāmitra summoned a Rākśasa he knew and asks him to enter the body of King Kalmashapada. Under the influence of that Rākśasa, the King killed and ate all of Vasiṣṭha's sons, starting with the murder of Śakti. When Sage Vasiṣṭha heard that all of his sons had been killed, he was filled with deep grief and decided to end his own life. But not once did he bear any anger towards Viśvāmitra and not once did he desire to take revenge by killing Viśvāmitra and his family. In a state of deep sorrow, Sage Vasiṣṭha hurled himself from a cliff, but the bottom of the cliff became as soft as a heap of cotton and his head did not get injured at all. He entered a burning forest, but the fire refused to burn him. Then, he tied a stone around his neck and jumped into the ocean to drown himself, but the waves washed him ashore. The Sage then decided to bind himself in chains and jumped into the river Beas in northern India. But the river currents cut his chains and threw him ashore. Sage Vasiṣṭha then hurled himself in river Satluj in northern India, thinking that the ferocious crocodiles in the river will chew him to death. But even this river respected the Sage so much that it split into a 100 shallow channels, throwing the Sage onto a dry ground. Sage Vasiṣṭha then thought, "Perhaps God does not want me to die by committing suicide. I will go back to my Āshram as I have been away from it for several years."

As he approached his āshram, he heard the sound of a young child, resembling that of his own son Śakti, when he was a young boy, reciting the Vedas beautifully. His widowed daughter-in-law, who lived in the āshram explained, "Before my husband Śakti died, I was expecting his child and this little boy is my womb is that child and your grandson named Parāśara." Sage Vasiṣṭha was overjoyed on seeing his grandson and got a new reason to live. But right then, Kalmashapada appeared and attacked Sage Vasiṣṭha and his pregnant daughter-in-law. But the Sage said a mantra and threw some holy water on the King. As a result, the demon came out of the King's body and fled. Sage Vasiṣṭha did not get angry with the King, even though his father King Sudasa had earlier humiliated Vasiṣṭha and had expelled him from his kingdom. Instead, the Sage lovingly asked him to go back to his kingdom and rule his subjects with justice. Relieved of the Rākśasa, the King went back to his kingdom, leaving Vasiṣṭha and his daughter in law unharmed.

Soon thereafter, the boy Parāśara was born. Sage Vasiṣṭha took care of the little boy for several years. Innocent Parāśara thought that Sage Vasiṣṭha, his grandfather, was his father. One day, he actually addressed Vasiṣṭha as "Dad" in the presence of his mother. As a result, his mother was filled with sorrow and remembered her dead husband. She told Parāśara that Vasiṣṭha was actually his grand-father and he should not therefore address him as "Dad". She also told him how his own father Śakti was killed in a most cruel manner by King Kalmashapada, who was possessed of a Rākśasa.

When Parāśara heard this, he was filled with anger. He said, "This world is so cruel. My father was innocent and yet he was killed for no fault of his. My grandfather was kind to me and yet he hid this fact from me while raising me lovingly. I will destroy this whole world with my spiritual powers because it so full of evil people." But Sage Vasiṣṭha reasoned with his grandson through stories of great sages that it is not good to be angry and one should give up anger and forgive. And therefore, Parashara decided not to proceed with his decision to destroy the whole world.

Instead, Parāśara initiated a great Vedic ceremony (Yajna) as a result of which, the Rākśasas began to die. Worried that Parāśara might kill all the Rākśasas, many Sages such as Atri, Pulastya and Kratu approached Parāśara and requested him to stop his sacrifice which was killing innocent Rākśasas. They pointed out that although Sage Śakti, his father had been killed, he had now ascended to heaven due to his good deeds as had the other sons of Sage Vasiṣṭha. The Sages said to Śakti, "Look, even King Kalmashapada has reaped the fruits of his evil actions done under the cruel Rākśasa. There is no point in continuing a slaughter of innocent Rākśasas over an incident that happened such a long time back. Therefore, please stop your ceremony."

Sage Parāśara relented and followed the advice of his grandfather and of other Sages. He let go his anger and forgave the murderers of his father. Instead, he devoted himself completely to his spiritual advancement and to the study of Vedas. In course of time, he became a great Ṛṣi and authored the famous Viṣṇu Purāṇa, Parāśara Smriti, Parāśara Hora Śastra, Parāśara Kalpasutra, Parāśara Panchratra Samhitā and many other important scriptures of Hindus. But most important, he gave birth to Sage Veda Vyāsa, who became the greatest Ṛṣi of Hindu Dharma.

The story shows that anger and hatred can sometimes lead us into a downward spiral of anger-hatred-revenge-anger-hatred-revenge; eventually leading all of us toward destruction. Anger cannot be fought with anger and hatred should not be countered with hatred. Instead, just as Sage Vasiṣṭha, we should counter violence, anger and hatred with forgiveness, love and kindness. Often, nothing is gained through anger, hatred and revenge. We should learn to put these things behind us and instead focus on advancing ourselves in the right direction.

Forgiveness can win eternal Friends

Very often, the person who is forgiven is so moved by the kind gesture that he starts seeing his forgiver as a friend or even as a superior to himself. "The quality of forgiveness brings everyone under control in this world. What cannot be achieved by forgiving? What can an evil man do to him who holds the sword of peace?"[8]

Revenge can hurt innocent by-standers

When we seek revenge, we might not see some collateral damage. In other words, some innocent people in addition to the person we want to punish might also get hurt in the cross-fire.

Story: Guru Nanak convinces Sufi Hamzargos to Forgive Once on his way to the famous pilgrim center of Vaishno Devi in Jammu, Guru Nanak stopped in the city of Sialkot (now in Pakistan). There, he heard that the entire town was terrified of the curse of a Sufi named Hamzargos, who threatened to destroy the entire city by his spiritual powers. Guru Nanak learned that a childless Hindu couple had earlier approached the Sufi for a child. The Sufi blessed them on the condition that the couple will gift their child to him after its birth. But after the couple became parents, they reneged on their promise. This infuriated the Sufi and he undertook a forty day fast to bring a calamity upon the entire city.

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The residents of Sialkot pleaded with Guru Nanak to intercede on their behalf and pacify the angry Sufi. The Guru agreed and approached the Sufi saying, "Why should you punish the entire city for the fault of a single couple? Do you think the destruction of thousands of innocent people, who have nothing to do with that couple's misdeed, will bring you happiness? True happiness and contentment can result not from revenge, but only from forgiveness, love and contentment."

The Sufi was impressed with Guru Nanak's teaching and he gave up his fast as well as forgave the residents of city. The site where Guru Nanak halted and stayed in Sialkot under a tree was later on adorned with a Gurudwara called "Gurudwara Babe di Beri". The Ber[9] bush and the adjacent well from with the Guru drank water still exist but the whole area is today in shambles due to neglect by the local Muslim population.

Forgiveness can benefit the entire Society

Forgetting past enmity and helping someone who has hurt you in the past can benefit many other people. Therefore, sometimes we should forgive our transgressor for the greater good of the society.

Story: Ṛṣi Dadhichi Forgives Indra Ashvini Kumaras, the twin brothers, were unique Devatās because they knew the knowledge of reviving dead people back to life. Indra thought, "My advantage over them is that I have spiritual wisdom, which they do not possess. But if they acquire that spiritual knowledge too, then they might threaten me and become the Kings of the Devatās in my place." Therefore out of fear and jealousy, Indra ordered that no one should teach spiritual wisdom to the Ashvini Kumaras, or that teacher's head would split into a thousand pieces.

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The Ashvini Kumaras were upset when they heard of Indra's decree. They went to a very pious Ṛṣi Dadhichi and requested, "O Ṛṣi, no one dares to teach us the spiritual wisdom of the Vedic scriptures. Therefore, we are requesting you to stand up to Indra. We will replace your head with that of a horse, and when that horse head splits, we will replace it again with your original head." Out of kindness, Ṛṣi Dadhichi agreed and taught the spiritual wisdom to the twin brothers. As soon as he had done so Indra hurled an axe and beheaded the Ṛṣi. The Kumāras then re-grafted the head of the Ṛṣi back to his torso when the horse head had broken into pieces. Ṛṣi Dadhichi regained his life and his original form.

Several years later, an evil demon named Vṛtra grew very powerful and he began to trouble all the residents of heaven. Finally, he even invaded heaven and drove out Indra. Rendered homeless, Indra appealed to Bhagavān Viṣṇu to help him. But Viṣṇu replied, "Vṛtra can be killed only with a weapon made from the bones of a Ṛṣi who has meditated a long time, who is pure and therefore whose bones have become charged with spiritual power. At this time, Dadhichi is the only Ṛṣi whose bones can give a strong enough weapon."

Indra became very nervous now, because he had earlier beheaded Dadhichi. But nevertheless, he went to Ṛṣi Dadhichi and begged for forgiveness and told him the reason for his visit. Ṛṣi Dadhichi smiled and said, "Aren't you the same person who had tried to kill me earlier?" But it is the duty of Ṛṣis to forgive and forget. And even more important, if I do not forgive you and do not give you my bones, then because of your past actions, many innocent Devatas and other creatures will suffer. Therefore, I will forgive you and permit you to take my bones."

Ṛṣi Dadhichi then sat in meditation, till his soul left his body and merged with Bhagavān Viṣṇu. Indra then used a weapon crafted from his bones and was able to defeat Vṛtra in a battle. The story of Dadhichi shows how we should forget old rivalries and enmities and should be willing to sacrifice ourselves when our society and when our loved ones are faced with a great danger.

Forgiveness is the Virtue of Bhagavān and His Saints

The example of Avatāras and Saints shows us the virtue of forgiveness and we ought to emulate them.

Story: Which is the greatest form of Bhagavān One day, all the Rishis met together to decide which form of Bhagavān is the greatest. Ṛṣi Bhṛgu said, "Let me go and meet Brahma, Viṣṇu and Śiva. I will test them and find out which of these three is the greatest." First, Bhṛgu went to see Brahmā who was reading scriptures. Brahma was the father of Bhṛgu, but Bhṛgu did not even say Namaste to his father. Brahma got very angry and said to Bhṛgu, "You are a foolish man. You do not even have good manners even though you are my own son." But Sarasvati, the wife of Brahma, asked her husband to calm down.

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Then, Bhṛgu went to Mountain Kailash to see Bhagavān Śiva. When Śiva saw Bhṛgu arrive, He rushed to embrace Bhṛgu. But Bhṛgu said to Śiva, "Stop, do not hug me. You have ashes on your body and are so dirty. I do not want to embrace you." Śiva was so annoyed that he lifted his weapon to kill Bhṛgu. But Devi Pārvati requested Shiva to calm down.

Ṛṣi Bhṛgu then went to Vaikunṭha, were Bhagavān Viṣṇu was taking a nap. Bhṛgu went close to Viṣṇu and suddenly kicked His chest, without any reason. Bhagavān Viṣṇu immediately woke up. But instead of getting angry at Bhṛgu, he smiled and said, "Respected Bhṛgu, I am sorry for hurting you. My chest is very strong and hard. I hope your foot did not get hurt. Let me give your foot a massage." Ṛṣi Bhṛgu was very impressed with Bhagavān Viṣṇu's behavior. He went and told all the other Ṛṣis that Bhagavān Viṣṇu is greatest because He does not get angry and forgives even those who hurt Him.

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Note that this story does not really mean that Vishnu is superior to Śiva. The different Forms of Bhagavān merely enact these plays to set up a good example and teach us good things. We humans tend to learn faster if an example in the form of a story is given, and this is why Brahma, Viṣṇu and Śiva enacted this incident to convey the virtue of forgiveness to us.

There is another important message that we learn from Ṛṣi Bhṛgu. Most of us give greater importance to people who are powerful, and who scare us by their angry nature. And we often ignore those who are respectful, polite and kind to us. Ṛṣi Bhṛgu could have declared Brahmā or Shiva as the greatest Form of Bhagavān out of fear or timidity. Instead, he opted for Bhagavān Vishnu, who was ver polite, kind and respectful towards the i. Similarly, we should give more importance to people who truly love us, forgive us, and are kind to us than to people who threaten us or scare us with their anger.

Story: The violent attacker of Sant Dādu Dayāl becomes his disciple Sant Dādu lived outside a city in the region of North West India. Gradually, his fame as a devotee of Bhagavān spread. People from afar started coming to listen to his sermons on Bhakti, and to participate in his worship programs. The Kotwāl[10] of the city of the city also happened to hear about Sant Dādu. He thought, "Let me travel to see him and derive benefit from his teachings." He set out on his horseback. When he was outside the city, he came across a man cleaning the path of thorns and level it all alone. The Kotwāl asked the man, "Do you know where Sant Dādū lives?" But the man was lost in his work and did not respond. The Kotwāl asked again in a loud voice, but the man merely looked up and smiled.

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The Kotwāl really got angry and thought, "How dare he smile at me as if I am a joker!" He took a whip and lashed the man a few times, before proceeding further. A little distance ahead, he encountered another man and asked him, "Have you seen Sant Dādū Where does he live?" The second man replied, "Sant Dādū spends this time of the day cleaning the paths of thorns and level them so that the travelers can cover their journey more easily. Did you not seem him on the way?"

When the Kotwāl heard this, he was horrified. He rushed back to the first man and said, "Respected Sant Dādū, I whipped you in ignorance. Please forgive me. Why did you not say that you are Sant Dādū when I whipped you? Sant Dādū replied lovingly, "The path to Bhagavān is littered with thorns of anger, jealousy, pride and other evils. Unless you pluck these evils from the path of spiritual journey, how can you hope to reach Bhagavān? You will benefit from my sermons on Bhakti only if you have first plucked out these thorns from your mind." The Kotwāl fell at the feet of the Sant and begged for forgiveness once more. He promised to work on his anger issues, become forgiving and become a humble man. He accepted Sant Dādū as his Guru and thanked him for showing him the true path towards Bhagavān.

Story: Vedānta Deśika forgives his jealous critics Shri Vedanta Deśikā[11] was a very saintly person as well as a great scholar of Hindu Dharma. Some scholars, who were jealous of his fame so they decided to play a trick on him to mock him. They hung a garland of their shoes on the outside door frame of his house. The garland was so large that it was impossible to pass through the door without hitting one's head on the garland. The next morning, the scholars hid themselves close to the house to watch the spectacle as Deśikā left his home for his daily bath. When Deśikā opened the door and stepped out, his head hit the shoes.

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The jealous scholars came out of hiding and started ridiculing Vedānta Deśikā for placing their shoes on his head. But Vedanta Deśikā calmly composed a Sanskrit verse saying "To reach Bhagavān, some do good deeds whereas others follow the path of spiritual wisdom. But I worship the shoes of devotees of Viṣṇu." When the jeering scholars heard this, they felt ashamed. They came forward and asked Vedanta Deśikā for forgiveness for their petty behavior. As usual, Deśikā forgave them.

Our Tormentor often does us a favor

In general, we are upset and angry towards people who hurt us, rob us, cheat us, ill-treat us and so on. But very often, we have an opportunity to see a silver lining in the dark cloud of our sad situation. We learn that our tormentor is a person whom we should henceforth avoid in the future. In fact, very often, their actions give a very beneficial effect on our life. So in these cases, we should actually thank them and move on, instead of bearing a grudge. The following story from the life of Narsi Mehta, a saint from Gujarat in the 15th cent. CE, shows how he thanked his sister in law who troubled him throughout his life.

Story: Sant Narsi Mehta thanks his wicked sister-in-law for showing Śiva and Kṛṣṇa to him Narsi Mehta,[12] a great Sant, was born in Junagadh in the Indian state of Gujarat. He lost both his parents at a very early age. Thereafter, his brother and sister-in-law raised him. His brother loved him dearly but his sister-in-law was sometimes very harsh with him. She was tired of Narsi's pranks. One day, Narsi had a fight with another boy and tore his shirt, as well as injured him.

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She got very angry with Narsi when she heard the complaint and beat him when he returned home. Narsi was terrified and he ran into a forest outside his town. In the forest, he took shelter in an abandoned Śiva Mandir. He was hungry, tired, alone and scared. He embraced the Śivalinga and started chanting the name of Śiva to overcome his fear. This went on for several days.

One night, while he was asleep, he was woken up by a sound. He was startled to see Bhagavān Śiva in front of him, Who blessed him also with a darśana of Kṛṣṇa. Narsi was overjoyed to see Bhagavān Śiva and Kṛṣṇa. The latter put a leaf from the Tulsi garland around his neck into Narsi's neck. Immediately, Narsi acquired the gift of composing and chanting Bhajans.

A few days later, a family member came in search of him and took him back home. Later in his life, Narsi married and continued to compose and sing Bhajans to Kṛṣṇa. Very often, his Bhakti came in the way of a comfortable life, because Narsi was not very interested in earning money. Narsi and his wife were often dependent on his brother and sister-in-law, who continued to trouble Narsi in many ways. But he always treated her with a lot of respect and love, saying, "I am forever indebted to you. It is because of you that I had the darśana of Bhagavān."

Forgiveness is the true strength of a strong person

Story: Buddha as buffalo forgives a mischievous monkey In a previous life, Bhagavān Buddha was a buffalo. But, he was a very peaceful creature. A naughty monkey took advantage of the buffalo's peaceful nature. He would jump on the buffalo's back, pull its horns or tail and troubled it in many different ways. One day, the Devas came to the buffalo and said, "Why do you keep tolerating this monkey's antics? Are you scared of him?"

The Buddha said, "I can kill the monkey with one pierce of my horn or one kick of my leg. I have enough strength and power to get rid of him in a moment. A weak creature is forced to suffer the atrocities and harassment of a powerful creature. But, a powerful creature is considered noble if he forgives the harassment of a weaker creature. And therefore, I will patiently bear this monkey's mischiefs and keep forgiving him."

Forgiveness is good Karma

We all reap the fruit of our own Karma. A person who hurts us earns bad karma and we can earn good karma by forgiving him or earn bad karma by taking revenge. Unless revenge serves a positive purpose like preventing future crimes, we should forgive and forget.

Story: Buddha explains why he will not abuse back his abuser Once, a brahmana named Bharadvaja became a disciple of Buddha. He shaved off his hair, donned saffron clothes, became a monk and left his home to follow Buddha. Some relatives of Bharadvaja became very angry on Buddha at this. They felt that Buddha had misled their relative and stolen him from his family. One of these relatives went to Buddha's hut and started abusing him in anger. The Buddha did not respond. After some time, the relative became tired of abusing and became quiet.

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Buddha asked him, "When a guest comes to your home, do you show hospitality towards him or not? Do you offer him water, food, a seat etc. or not?" The relative retorted angrily, "What a foolish question to ask. Of course, I welcome the guest with all these things." Buddha asked him, "Suppose the guest does not accept your water, food, seat and other things, then where will these items go?" The relative replied irritatingly, "Of course, they will stay with me. Can water, food and seat walk on their own to another place?" Buddha smiled and said, "Exactly! Likewise, I do not accept your gift of abuses. So where will they go now?" The relative felt ashamed that he had lost his temper and abused a monk. He asked Buddha for forgiveness and left, reconciled to the fact that his relative Bharadvaja had indeed become the follower of a great saint.

When should we Forgive, When should not Forgive?

We cannot gift the Statue of Liberty to anyone because we do not own it. We can gift only those items that belong to us. In the same way, we can forgive someone only if we ourselves are the victim of the crime, not if someone else is. For example, if we have not lost any family member in the 9-11 attack, we cannot pretend to take the high road and say, "I forget Osama bin Laden.?" Also, some crimes can be forgiven, others cannot be forgiven. Some people can be forgiven and others should not be forgiven. In this regard, the following words from the Mahābhārata give us very reasonable advice.

Draupadi told Yudhisththira the following words of advice from Prahlāda to his grandson Bali:

"Let me tell you when you should be patient with people who have done something bad to you. If someone who has previously done good to you now does a not too great harm to you, then forgive him in consideration of his earlier favor but if he does a great harm to you, then do not forgive him. Wrong doers who commit wrong because they did not realize that their act was bad should be forgiven, because it is not always easy to find guidance on what is wrong and what is correct. But offenders who do a wrong with full knowledge and understanding but pretend to have done it unknowingly should be punished, even if their offence was small because they are hypocrites. The first offence of the wrong-doer should be forgiven, but the second one, even if it is small, should be punished. If someone does a wrong in ignorance, he should be forgiven but only after it is determined that the wrong-doer did it out of ignorance. In general, it is better to be gentle than harsh because the gentle can overcome the hard hearted, nothing is impossible to achieve for a gentle person and because gentleness is more powerful than harshness. One should decide on whether to punish or forgive after looking into one's own strengths and weaknesses and after considering the time and place. Any action taken at the wrong time or place will fail, therefore wait for the correct place and time before acting. Sometimes, we may have to forgive the culprit for the fear of making the general public very angry."[13]

At times, we Hindus have not followed this advice and have to pay a heavy price for it. The culprit who was forgiven then misused the fact that he was let go and came back to inflict even more damage and harm upon us. E.g., Durgadas Rathore, a Rajput official in the kingdom of Jodhpur had a perfect chance to kill the bigoted Emperor Aurangzeb, but out of magnanimity, he let him go. The same Aurangzeb wreaked havoc on other Hindu kingdoms in the country for several years thereafter.

Similarly, in the year 1191 CE during the first battle of Tarain, the troops of Prithviraj Chauhan, the Rajput King of Delhi, defeated Muhammad Ghori but allowed him to flee back to Afghanistan. Ghori returned home and started preparing for the next battle. He invaded India again the very next year and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Rajput armies. Prithviraj Chauhan was captured and killed! This effectively ended Hindu rule over much of north India and started the very oppressive rule of Muslim Turk rulers for several centuries. So this example shows that we ought to be very careful in forgiving others, lest our magnanimity comes back to haunt us.

How Many Times should we forgive

Some people believe that we should keep forgiving others. However, this advice applies only to saints like Sant Ekanath, whose story is given below.

Story: The Forgiveness of Sant Ekanāth Once, as Ekanātha was coming out of the river after his bath in the Godavari, a Muslim spat on him. Ekanātha however, was not in the least perturbed and simply returned to the river and bathed again. This happened again and again and still Ekanātha did not get angry. Finally, the Muslim understood that Ekanātha was not an ordinary person and apologized.

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Ekanātha simply replied that he himself was in the wrong to get in the Muslim's way and that he had had the benefit of taking so many baths in the Godavari. Then he said, "Let Allah bless you!" The Muslim was surprised and asked him why he did it. Ekanātha replied, "Brother, God is One, whether you call Him Allah or Kṛṣṇa or any other name you like. He abides in you, in me, and in all the objects on this earth. If one tries, one can see Him everywhere, as I see you and you see me.?"

According to other versions however, the spitter was a disgruntled Brahmana Rāmabhatt who wanted to humiliate Sant Ekanāth. This version however confuses the Pathan with Pandit Ramabhatt, who was a contemporary of Sant Tukāram in a different period.

Points for Discussion

  1. In the New Testament of the Bible, a disciple asks Jesus Christ, "Lord, how many times should we forgive others, seven or seventy?" Jesus replied, "Neither seven nor seventy, but seven times seventy." Discuss whether you agree with this statement or not. If you were in the place of Sant Ekanāth, would you have forgiven the spitting gentleman? Why or why not?
  2. Should a Sadhu who has no home or possessions or even a family to take care of be more forgiving thank a father who has to take care of his wife, children and his possessions?

Sources

  1. Anand Swami, pp. 64-66
  2. Chaitanya and Chakra, p. 47
  3. Pravrajika Suddhatmaprana, p. 162

Notes & References

  1. Mahābhārata 5.33.47
  2. Nītidvishashtikā of Sundara Pandya, verse 68
  3. Mahābhārata 5.33.47
  4. Mahābhārata 5.33.48
  5. Mahābhārata 1.3
  6. Mahābhārata 1.4
  7. Mahābhārata 1.5
  8. Mahābhārata 5.33.47
  9. It's scientific name is zizyphus jububa.
  10. It means police chief.
  11. He lived in 14th cent. CE
  12. He was born in 1414 CE.
  13. Mahābhārata. Vana Parva, chapter 29