My Encounter with Forgiveness

by Deepak Shimkhada, Ph.D.

One day I came home very upset.  I had a quarrel with my best friend. Noticing my state of unhappiness, my mother asked me about the cause of my suffering (Dukkha).  When I told her that my friend had unjustly forfeited me of my well deserved turn in the game, she advised me to forgive him.  I was 12 years old.  It was then that I came to know about the concept of forgiveness.  I grudgingly agreed to forgive my friend, and I had to admit that I felt better afterward.  Ever since, I have made a conscious effort to forgive whoever wrongs me.  So please do not push me into a corner; after all, I am a human being.

Forgiveness in Hinduism is encountered in many stories and contexts.  When I read them they comfort me, and they teach me the value of forgiveness.  However, reading the stories is one thing, following them is quite another.

In the Ramayana, when Ravana, the demonic king of Srilanka, abducts Sita, Rama’s wife, Rama and his brother go in search of Sita.  When they finally land on the shores of theisland ofSrilanka, Rama sends a message to Ravana that he is willing to forgive him if he returns Sita without harm.  When Ravana rejects Rama’s offer and tries to kill the messenger, Rama had no choice but to go to war.  During the battle, Bibhisana, one of Ravana’s brothers, leaves Ravana and sides with Rama.  Rama forgives Bibhisana for being the brother of an enemy, and gladly accepts him as his alley.  Anyone who is on the side of Dharma (righteousness) is a friend of Rama because Rama stands for Dharma.

The Mahabharata is another puranic text where the concept of forgiveness is thoroughly explored.  Addressing Dhritarashtra, the blind king, Vidura, Dhritarashtra’s half brother and advisor, says: “There is only one defect in forgiving persons, not another; that defect is that people take a forgiving person to be weak. That defect, however, should not be taken into account, for forgiveness is a great power. Forgiveness is a virtue of the weak, and an ornament of the strong. Forgiveness subdues all in this world; what is there that forgiveness cannot achieve? What can a wicked person do unto him who carries the saber of forgiveness in his hand? Fire falling on the grassless ground is extinguished of itself. An unforgiving individual defiles himself with many enormities. Righteousness is the one highest good; and forgiveness is the one supreme peace; knowledge is one supreme contentment; and benevolence, one sole happiness.” (Udyoga Parva, Section XXXIII)

Again in the Bhagavat Gita, a section of the Mahabharata,Krishna says that forgiveness is one of the characteristics of one born of a divine state.

Before a pooja begins, a Hindu priest often prays before a statue of a god with the following invocation:

“O Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations: Thou art everywhere, but I worship thee here; Thou art without form, but I worship thee in these forms; Thou needest no praise, yet I offer thee these prayers and salutations.”

Finally, the Mahabharata extols:

  • Forgiveness is virtue;
  • Forgiveness is sacrifice;
  • Forgiveness is the Vedas;
  • Forgiveness is the Shruti [revealed scripture];
  • He who knoweth forgiveness is capable of forgiving everything;
  • Forgiveness is Brahma [God];
  • Forgiveness is truth;
  • Forgiveness is stored ascetic merit;
  • Forgiveness protecteth the ascetic merit of the future;
  • Forgiveness is asceticism;
  • Forgiveness is holiness;
  • And by forgiveness is it that the universe is held together. [Mahabharata, Book 3; Vana Parva]

The list is longer, but because of the limitation of space, this should suffice.