Life has unforgiving rules. When I disobey them, I pay a price. Life also has a tremendous forgiving nature. When I obey its rules, it forgives all past transgressions and puts me happily in its lap.
My sense is we all have been let down by someone or another in our lives; or been harmed “unfairly” by others.
When I’m deceived, let down or harmed, I have been taught not to go for “tit for tat”; not to get angry at others for their deceit, not to blame myself for my naivete, not to quarrel or blow up the situation. I’ve been told instead to apply the balm of forgiveness.
Forgiveness seems to be a big deal in life. It can mean so many different things.
When I forgive, do I pardon the harm committed?
To be able to pardon I must have the requisite authority which I don’t have. Mistake-bound myself, what authority can I claim to pardon the mistakes of others? No, I cannot forgive this way.
When I forgive, do I let go the harm committed and not hold on to it?
The Greek word for forgiveness, aphesis, actually means “to let go”. Letting go of the harm done is a beautiful thing to do. But is the harm present in other’s action or in my reaction to it or both? How do I let it go? I’m unable to forgive this way because the pathway is not clear enough.
When I forgive, do I condone a harmful action?
Absolutely not. Condoning it only breeds further harmful actions.
When I forgive, do I pretend the harmful action never happened?
No. Whenever I pretend, I cannot be happy.
When I’m harmed, deceived, let down or treated unfairly, I must meet what happened head on and act in a dharmic way. I must do this for my own happiness and peace of mind.
First, I need to understand the real reason for these hits in life. Kulasekara Azhwar in Mukunda Mani Maalai tells me why these happen.
Whatever is happening and whatever will happen are the reactions of my past actions
Yat yat bhavyam bhavtu bhagavan poorva karmaanu roopam
That every action has an equal and opposite reaction is not a law limited only to the realm of physics. It is an inviolable law that supports and sustains the entire cosmos. It controls all aspects of life – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
When I hit my head against a door, the reaction in the form of pain appears immediately. When I eat stale food, the reaction in the form of indigestion appears in a few hours. One bout of anger weakens my body to such an extent that its reaction lasts for three months. The reaction to one cruel word I utter takes a life time, and sometimes even longer, to manifest itself.
The harm that is done to me, the deceit and the conning I experience at the hands of others, the unfairness I grumble about – all these are manifested reactions of my past actions. When and how they appear depends on how I did what when. [The past includes this birth and all previous births.]
By the same token, if my past actions were good and beneficial, their reactions, whether they appear promptly or delayed, will also be equally good and beneficial.
This is the inviolable law of life. I do good, I reap good. I do bad, I reap bad. I do cruelty, I reap cruelty. I do harm, I reap harm. I do compassion and kindness, I reap compassion and kindness.
The truth of the matter is, I get what I deserve.
With this understanding, I can now receive the harmful action done to me, the humiliation showered on me and the let downs by people I trusted – all in humility and worship. They are nothing but forms and shapes of my own past mistakes. They remind me to be careful not to repeat those mistakes again in life. They teach both practical living skills (yukti, smartness) and practical life skills (bhakti, devotion).
To improve my living skills: When deceived, I learn to be careful; when harmed by bad company, I learn to run away from bad company; when humiliated, I learn to reduce my ego.
To improve my life skills: I need to surrender the harm, the humiliation and the seeming unfairness of it all to the prompting of Love within me. When I suffer from remorse and guilt for harming others, I surrender that too to the Divine prompting of Love within me. Surrendering this way, I focus on strengthening my loving outlook, come what may; on becoming more of a loving person every day. I also evaluate what harm I’ve done to others – if I have slighted and offended them, if I’ve let them down in their time of need. These life’s knocks strengthen my determination to conduct my life better so I become a better person – a person who doesn’t harm others.
There are so many lessons that a hurt, a slight or a harm coming my way teach me. If I’m open to receive them and learn from them, I can become a better person.
I’ve heard the prayer, “Forgive them, O Lord, for they know not what they do”. But my grandmother’s prayer hits the mark better I think – “O Lord, grant a good bent of mind to all and the wisdom to do good to others always”. The “all” in this prayer includes me of course.
This good mind set is a wise one. It avoids bad harmful company. It runs away from cruelty and bad habits. It does not hurt others or itself. It does not let down others in times of need. It humiliates none and respects all. It seeks the company of the good only. It seeks Love. Seeking that it spread the fragrance of Love only.
Forgiveness is not where it is at in my life. Love is.