61. Forgiveness According to Bhagavadgita


by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V

Summary: Forgiveness is a divine quality. The essay is about cultivating the attitude of forgiveness through spiritual transformation according to the Bhagavadgita.

Human beings are complex characters. Sometimes we hurt, and sometimes we are hurt. In both situations, we cannot avoid suffering. The attitude of forgiveness is a culmination of spiritual practice and inner growth. By cultivating it, one can cultivate all other related virtues. Whether you forgive someone or not, it depends upon the circumstances and your essential nature. In spiritual practice you learn to forgive others unconditionally, irrespective of circumstances.

Thus, the attitude of forgiveness belongs to a higher state of mind. One can attain that state and cultivate forgiving nature by self-purification through spiritual practice. The Bhagavadgita (10.4) clearly states that forgiveness arises from God only. It is associated with other divine qualities such as intelligence, knowledge, freedom from delusion, truthfulness, control of the senses, control of the mind, fearlessness, nonviolence, austerity, charity, etc.

God is extremely forgiving by nature. He is compassionate, all-loving, friendly and all-forgiving. One of the lessons of the Bhagavadgita is that we can seek the forgiveness of God by directly approaching him, and if our approach is sincere, we will surely be forgiven. From God’s perspective, the whole creation is an extension of him, and you too are a part of him. Therefore, when he is forgiving someone, he is forgiving but an aspect of himself. That duality of “this and that” is in us because of our embodied nature, but not in him because he is one, indivisible Self.

By his forgiveness, our sinful karma is purified, and we are fully exonerated. If you want to be free from negative karma, seek his forgiveness every day, whether you committed any offense or not. The truth is, when you live in this world, it is not possible to avoid hurting or harming others or affecting them in some way. Intentionally or unintentionally, your actions are bound to hurt others. Violence is inherent in life and survival. Whether it is eating food or enjoying life, taking a bath or drinking water, there is always someone who loses something to make things possible for you.

Therefore, one should always seek forgiveness from God in happiness and sorrow, in success and failure, and in daily life too, whether there is an apparent cause or not. You must seek forgiveness before eating food because you do not know how many people you might have hurt to obtain it. Seek forgiveness when you perform a ritual, because knowingly or unknowingly you may make mistakes while performing it.

The offerings in the ritual may have also been obtained by destroying some life or causing some loss to unknown people. Thus, many a time you do not know how many times in a day you may be hurting others through your actions and inaction. By cultivating the attitude of seeking forgiveness, you can cleanse yourself of all those sins and grow in compassion and forgiveness. Sin is inherent in life. You cannot avoid it even if you lead the most righteous life. Therefore, it is better to seek forgiveness from God on a continuous basis. Make that an essential part of your prayers.

In Hinduism, atonement, forgiveness and expiation are the best means to self-purification. By them, householders who engage in various desire-ridden actions in the performance of their Dharma or otherwise can overcome sinful karma. In Sanskrit, forgiveness (kshama) is synonymous with suffering, endurance, tolerance, patience or forbearance (kshamata). Forgiveness encompasses all these, and more. Forgiveness is a virtue because by forgiving others, you willingly accept the suffering caused by others by their thoughtless actions.

In the Bhagavadgita, forgiveness is mentioned as a virtue in conjunction with other divine qualities. Arjuna repeatedly sought forgiveness of Lord Krishna for his behavior, questions, doubting nature, ignorance and lack of discernment. Lord Krishna always responded with loving kindness. According to the scripture (11.42), one may seek forgiveness for inappropriate behavior, whether it is intentional or unintentional.

God is ever forgiving because forgiveness is a divine quality and an essential aspect of divine grace. However, we do not get the impression from the scripture that everyone is automatically forgiven. One has to earn it through spiritual and devotional effort. God is indifferent and without desires and preferences. Therefore, he does not personally take interest in anyone or anything. However, he may respond if he is approached with faith and devotion.

Understanding the role of ego in forgiveness

In mundane life it is not always easy to forgive someone, especially if they have caused you great harm or hurt. The ego is the one who hurts and gets hurt. It plays an important role in personal conflicts and in hurting others or becoming hurt by them in the process. It is easily offended because it is vulnerable to anger, envy, pride, lust, etc. Ego is the cause of desires, attachments, expectations, restlessness and mental instability. If you are offended, disturbed, irritated or inconvenienced by your actions or those of others, you can be certain that it is your ego, which is reacting, and which is responsible for it.

You can use these feelings as barometers to gauge the strength or the pressure of your ego. If you are frequently hurt or offended by others, it means you have a strong ego, and you need to work on it. Because of that, in many spiritual traditions the initiates are advised to attract criticism and negative attention from others by deliberate acts and create opportunities to weaken their egos and cultivate equanimity and sameness.

Ego is also known in Hinduism as anava (atomicity). It refers to the feeling or the attitude that you are an individual entity which is distinct and separate from Ananta, the infinite God. Anavatva, or the feeling of egoism, makes you insecure, selfish, self-important and defensive. Hence, those who are predominantly egoistic are easily provoked by others. They also tend to be aggressive towards others.

The role of gunas

According to the Bhagavadgita, excessive egoism is a sign of demonic nature (danava prvritti). Egoism arises from Nature (Prakriti), not from God (Purusha). As such, it is an undivine and undesirable quality. Anger, envy, pride, greed, passion, etc., also arise from it as associated qualities because of the predominance of impurities, which are responsible for our suffering and bondage upon earth.

They are collectively attributed to the two modes of Nature (gunas) namely Rajas and Tamas. The Bhagavadgita states that Rajas has the nature of passion, which arises from attachments and desires, and Tamas has the nature of ignorance, which deludes the beings and makes them negligent and indolent. When Rajas is predominant one suffers from greediness, restlessness, hankering, whereas from Tamas arise darkness, inertia, carelessness and delusion. These qualities and mental states are primarily associated with ego.

Ego is also vulnerable to evil nature and qualities such as vanity, arrogance, self-pride, anger, harshness, impatience and ignorance. Hence, egoistic people are difficult to please and do not easily forgive or forget anything. These qualities can be overcome by spiritual practice and by cultivating detachment and dispassion, whereby ego becomes weak and surrenders itself to the forces of Nature.

The third mode is Sattva. It is responsible for purity and tranquility. Virtues such as brilliance, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from malice, absence of self-importance arise from it. In other words, Sattvic people are humble and possess humility and patience. Thereby, they easily let go of their pride and forgive others.

Divine nature and forgiveness

From the above it is clear that if you want to cultivate forgiveness, you cannot simply focus upon that one virtue only. Forgiving nature (kshamata) is an effect or a consequence of the divine nature, which manifests in you only through intense yogic effort. For that, you have to go through a comprehensive inner transformation and cultivate all the associated virtues so that you can grow the divinity in you. In the spiritual evolution of a human being egoism is the first stage, humanity is the intermediate stage and divinity is the highest state.

To cultivate divinity, you have to cultivate purity or Sattva. The predominance of Sattva in turn strengthens all the associated virtues, and together they transform you from inside out. With the predominance of Sattva, you can also suppress the negative qualities that arise from Rajas and Tamas, so that your anvatva (egoism) is replaced or suppressed by the predominance of daivatva or divine nature. With that, all the evils that are associated with the ego also weaken or disappear.

To cultivate Sattva, you must practice the Yogas, which are suggested in the Bhagavadgita. Firstly, you must engage in selfless actions and offer their fruit to God. Secondly, you must acquire right knowledge from the scriptures and enlightened masters or from self-study (svadhyaya) to know who you are and what your purpose is. Thirdly, you must practice virtues such as humility, detachment, discernment and dispassion to let go of your selfish desires, egoism, attachments, self-importance, anger, envy, etc.

You must also renounce your worldliness and egoism and stabilize your mind in the contemplation of the Self or God, with devotion and concentration, so that you can stop feeding your ego and weaken it or dissolve it in your spiritual Self. By nature, the spiritual Self possesses all the higher virtues and divine qualities. When you become one with it, you will automatically develop an all-round spiritual personality.

Devotion and forgiveness

A true devotee is one who offers his ego as food (bhakta) to God, who is the ultimate enjoyer (bhokta) of all. When you overcome egoism, by offering it on the altar of God as a token of surrender, sacrifice and humility, you do not find any reason to hurt others or feel hurt by their actions or attitude. Forgiveness becomes your essential nature, whereby you remain equal to fame and defame, praise and criticism, friendship and enmity and cultivate the attitude to forgive others whether they seek forgiveness or not.

Having erased your individuality and the boundaries of your ego, you also see God in everyone, and by that you accept whatever that happens to you as a part of God’s play. If someone hurts you or insults you, you will believe that the God in him wanted to test your or teach you an important lessons. You accept all suffering as a gift from God. In the egoless state, you also feel empathy with others and relate to them as you are no more lost in your own feelings and no more stuck behind the defenses and mental filters of your ego. Without the ego, you find it easier not only to identify yourself with them but also feel their feelings and know their thoughts.

It is difficult to reach this noble stage and attain the state of the Muni or the silent one, in which everything is unconditionally accepted and forgiven, and no explanation is offered in defense of any action, inaction or intention. The perfect yogi is not compelled by any particular desire to prevail upon others or claim self-importance. He is contended by whatever happens or does not happen, and in whatever circumstances he finds himself. Although it is a difficult and perilous path, the Bhagavadgita affirms that with spiritual practice and devotion to God one can extinguish the flame of ego and attain that exalted state of Nirvana or the state of endless peace and equanimity.

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Bhagavadgita Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V Avaialbe in USA/UK/DE/FR/ES/IT/NL/PL/SC/JP/CA/AU

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