Cultivating the Attitude of Forgiveness

Forgiveness in spirituality

by Jayaram V

Our religions say that God is the best healer. He heals us by forgiving our failures and shortcomings. We all have this divine power to heal ourselves and others with forgiveness. It is in healing through forgiveness, and by forgiving those who multiply our suffering, we come closest to God. Before we discuss the importance of forgiveness in spiritual practice and the need for cultivating forgiving nature or the attitude of forgiveness, let us contemplate upon some healing truths.

Whether you hurt someone or hurt by someone, you are invariably disturbed. Therefore, whether you forgive  yourself or others, forgiveness is always an act of letting go and finding peace.  Forgiving others is a good karma. It is an opportunity to heal yourself. If you do not forgive them, you will carry that burden until the end, and perhaps into your future lives until it is resolved.

When you seek forgiveness from others, you help them do good karma, which is also a good karma in itself. However, you know that you cannot control others, but you can control yourself and your attitude. Therefore, when it comes to seeking forgiveness, it is better to keep your expectations low and practice humility. It may be assuring to know that if you seek forgiveness with sincerity and right attitude, you are forgiven, whether others forgive you or not, since God is the witness to all our actions and he knows a good deed when he sees one. Some sins are unforgivable. Only time and retribution will heal them. From the wisdom of our scriptures and spiritual masters we know that through suffering all sins are forgiven.

It is difficult to forgive others when you feel you are wronged, and your anger is perfectly justified. It is where you have an opportunity to rise above yourself and show your compassion. Whether you forgive someone, or not, is purely a personal choice. It depends upon your thinking and attitude and your beliefs and values. Sometimes, it is very difficult to forgive, especially when the hurt is deep and cannot easily be forgotten. Sometimes, it may last for a lifetime. Past life regression suggest that it may even last for several lifetimes and become a source of suffering. It shows how difficult it is for people to practice forgiveness.

However, we also know the consequences of unforgiving nature. People who are unforgiving and hold on to their grudges and grievances experience a lot of suffering and negativity. It shows up in their behavior and attitude, as they carry their distrust, anger and bitterness for long and become self-defensive. Consumed by their feelings of negativity, which effects their judgment, reason and discernment, they may also suffer from social alienation, monetary losses, depression and ill-health,

In some cultures, certain offenses can never be forgiven, since God himself does not condone them. In some, forgiveness is done by retaliation or by seeking an eye for an eye. How and why you forgive others depend upon your beliefs and personal values. It is not even necessary that you have to tell others that you have forgiven them. You can just internally do it and be free from all negativity. It is difficult to generalize and say what motivates a person to forgive others. However, we know that a person is forgiving to the extent he or she is spiritual and enlightened. Knowledge and education also help.

Forgiveness is self-cleansing. It has transformative power. It is a virtue and good karma. The attitude of forgiveness can be cultivated by practice. It is encouraged in almost all religious and spiritual traditions. Forgiveness is a virtue in itself and has its own physical, mental and spiritual benefits. Everyone needs to practice it for their own peace and happiness. By forgiving others you mend your relationships, feel good about yourself, overcome stress and anxiety, improve your physical and mental health and heal yourself.

Factors that contribute to forgiveness

As long as you have a body and depend upon food, you cannot avoid hurting others for your survival. Therefore, you must constantly seek forgiveness from all things that sacrifice themselves to sustain you and nourish you. It is why we have the tradition of offering food to God before eating it. By offering it to God, you are passing on all the sinful karma that is associated with it, the pain and suffering of all the beings that went into its making.

One should therefore cultivate forgiveness even if one is nonviolent and leads a dedicated, spiritual life. The attitude of forgiveness is a culmination of your spiritual practice and inner growth. By cultivating it, you can cultivate all other related virtues. The following factors facilitate the attitude of forgiveness. You can practice forgiveness by cultivating them. At the same time, by practicing forgiveness, you can cultivate all of them as they reinforce each other, just as the branches of a banynan tree. As you learn to forgive others, you will become more virtuous and spiritual. You will become God like and develop a healing personality. By that, you will heal your relationships, your past, others and yourself.

Attention: Pay attention to the world around you. It helps you see the deeper aspects of life, which we usually miss, and connect with your own deeper thoughts and feelings.

Connection: Find yourself in others. See the similarities. By that you will connect with the people around you, establish affinity and share their thoughts and feelings from deep inside.

Reflection: By reflecting upon things, people and life, we gain insight in the nature of our existence, and our behavior, which in turn help us become more understanding and forgiving.

Self-acceptance: We all make mistakes. When we realize that just as we are, others too are vulnerable to certain weaknesses and errors in judgment, we become more tolerant and forgiving.

Egolessness: Egoistic people rarely forgive or forget. The ego is responsible for conflicts, aggression and selfish behavior. By controlling it, one can cultivate tolerance and understanding.

Humility: When you practice humility, you will set aside your egoistic pride, vanity and self-importance, recognizing others as your equals and their right to self-expression and self-esteem.

Compassion: Forgiveness is an offshoot of many virtues. Compassion is one of them. If you have compassion for others for their suffering, you will naturally forgive others and let them go

Nonviolence: The essence of nonviolence is you do not disturb anyone and you are not disturbed by anyone. It means, you will not give any cause to forgive others or seek forgiveness from them.

Friendliness: By cultivating universal friendliness or agreeableness, you will seek harmony rather than rancor, and willingly forgive others with compassion for their weakness and wrong actions.

Empathy: By feelings the feelings and emotions of others, you develop an understanding of others, as you observe their actions and suffering. It will help you cultivate the attitude of forgiveness.

Understanding: Problems in relationships mainly arise due to misunderstandings as each side fails to understand the other. With understanding you become more tolerant and forgiving.

Open-mindedness: If you are open-minded, you listen to others and understand their viewpoints. You will also have greater tolerance for your mistakes and shortcomings and those of others.

Flexibility: It is difficult to forgive if you stick to your point of view. By being flexible and changing your thinking or your perspective, you will see the same problem in a different light and feel differently.

Minimize expectations: If you have expectations, you may not easily change your thinking or attitude towards others, nor can you think and act objectively. Therefore, lower your expectations.

Spirituality and forgiveness

Forgiveness means letting go of the negativity or the feelings of resentment, anger, animosity, etc., which you may hold in your mind towards others. Even if you are fully justified in having such feelings, you must be willing to let go of them for your own good, so that you are not oppressed by your own thoughts or your resistance to let the wrong doers go unpunished. To be able to forgive the most unforgivable actions, the injustices, wickedness and cruelty of the world, it requires a large heart, which only a few can possess. If you can repeatedly do that, it means you have made the attitude of forgiveness an integral part of your consciousness and essential nature.

The attitude of forgiveness is a direct outcome of the attitude of spirituality. Spiritual practice essentially involves the cultivation of all the virtues which we are mentioned here. They arise as one focuses upon cleansing the mind and body by restraining the mind and the senses, overcoming egoism, desires and attachments and cultivating the higher virtues such as detachment, equanimity and sameness.

As someone said, forgiveness is not for the weak. It requires strength and a large heart to forgive others and let go of the hard feelings that settle in the mind. Since all virtues are interrelated and work in tandem, and since the cultivation of one leads to the cultivation of others, by practicing forgiveness, you can also simultaneously cultivate all others that contribute to it. In other words, you can transform your nature and life by practicing just one virtue, the virtue of forgiving yourself and others.

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