Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Forgiveness – the healing balm for broken hearts!

The previous post “How to deal with negative memories from past and anxiety about future” outlined the attitude which is necessary to deal with negative memories from past and anxiety about future. It touched the notion of forgiving attitude also, but this being a very  important topic, requires great explanation in a separate post.
Q 1. Why does some people harm others and what is the right attitude to be developed towards those who harm us or others?
Ans. If we accept this self-evident truth that everyone (even the worst criminals) wants to have peace and happiness for at least himself (if not for others) and another self-evident truth that by harming and hurting others, no one can enjoy inner peace and happiness, the only wise conclusion that can be drawn that those who harm or hurt others, do so out of pure ignorance/immaturityWickedness is super-ignorance, because a wicked person, though, desiring to get peace and happiness for him/herself, ends up getting only pain and sorrow, because by doing wicked deeds, he/she sets forth a chain of reaction, which ultimately returns to him/her as pain and sorrow.  Let us consider for example, Hitlar, the dictator of Germany, who made 6 million Jews suffer from death: everyday his sleep was full of nightmares and he would wake up  from sleep with fear and trembling. He was not able to sleep peacefully nor in his waking period, he has any peace. A person who knows no peace of mind, suffers from the worst hell. Even if we agree that Hitlar was wicked and wanted to murder jews and all those who came on the path of his egoistic ambitions,  we also should accept that Hitlar never wished such an utter lack of peace and constant sorrow for himself whole day and night. So, we can conclude that Hitlar committed his horrible crimes because of his ignorance about the eternal law of mind that by giving other pains and sufferings, he will not have even an iota of peace and happiness in his own life.
Now comes the case of those who harm and hurt others due to their impulsive nature or lack of proper decision-making. The same reasoning as explained in case of wicked people applies to them also.
Ignorance is the mother of all sins and mistakes. That’s why even if everyone wants supreme peace and happiness for him/herself, some unfortunate members of human family, due to their super-ignorance, commit crimes and mistakes, which rob them as well as their unfortunate victims of all peace and happiness.
So, the proper attitude towards such people should be to consider their crimes and follies as an effect of their ignorance and to have the attitude of protecting the innocent by restraining the evil/wrong-doers, but after restraining them, reforming the evil/wrong-doers through forgiveness, love and guidance.      
Q.2. What is forgiveness and what is forgiveness not?
Ans. Forgiveness is
  1. recognizing that the source of all crimes and mistakes is ignorance and that wickedness or foolishness is super-ignorance and a person possessing these wrong qualities, is more an object of concern that an object of hatred, more an object of understanding than an object of rejection, more an object meant to be transformed than an object meant to be destroyed.
  2. letting go of the hurt from the past, in order to live and let others live with peace and happiness.
  3. being well-wisher for even those who hurt and harm us, because at the core of their core, such people are highly ignorant.
What forgiveness is not:
  1. defending or surrendering to others’ crimes or mistakes & cowardly allowing evil or mistakes to flourish.
Q.3. Why is forgiveness so challenging even after one recognizes its great importance in restoring peace and balance?
Ans. Nature has created a strong survival instinct in all animals, including humans. It is a biological fact that negative memories persist for a long time in human brain. The reason is negative memories are associated with events which threaten our survival, either in physical sense or psychological sense. As part of evolution (so that the species can survive from dangers), nature has designed living beings in such a way that we remember negativity well so that we may survive by avoiding the repetition of similar danger in future. Due to this reason, we find it very challenging to let go of negativity from past and forgive people for causing us harm intentionally or unintentionally.
So, we should understand that real biological reason behind negative memories persisting so much, is a positive one, but being more intelligent, humans have evolved at a much rapid pace over-growing some of originally well-meaning biological designs of natural evolution and hence, when negative memories pervade our life in excess, it becomes quite harmful for us. Thus, we should have a ‘learn, forgive and move on’ attitude towards negative memories, only then there can be hope for peace and happiness in life.
Q.4. What is the right attitude for forgiveness?
‘Learn, forgive and move on’ is the right attitude for forgiveness:
  1. Learn from past negative experience, so that similar mistakes or sufferings can be avoided in future,
  2. forgive yourself as well as others for the harm and hurt caused due to ignorance or lack of self-discipline,
  3. move on with life and live life with a present and future oriented vision. 
Q.5. Should we forgive those who don’t accept their mistakes?
Ans. Any person who wants to tread the path of peace, happiness and wisdom should forgive even those who don’t accept their mistakes, while simultaneously protecting him/herself and others from more harm caused by such people. The most important reason behind this is – like every other virtue, forgiveness is its own reward and like every other vice, unforgiveness (and resulting ill-will) is its own punishment. Let us consider numerous benefits of forgiveness even if other side is not accepting his/her mistakes:
  1. It gives you peace of mind, without which life is more a hell than a heaven.
  2. It allows you space to think constructively about life, otherwise constant meditation on negativity makes the life seem meaningless and hopeless.
  3. It allows you to have a fulfilling relationship with others, as you let go of negativity through forgiveness and gain more positivity in the process.
  4. It sets a great moral example for others, benefitting many more people and society at large. So, by setting an example of forgiveness, you do a great service to your family and society.
  5. It makes you physically healthy and mentally happy.
So, my dear friend – please practice forgiveness.
Q.6. What to do when unforgiveness (and resulting ill-will) arises in mind towards someone?
Ans. One technique will suit all in such a case because  it is based on two great insights:
  1. As long as resentment (and resulting ill-will) is harbored in mind, one cannot enjoy peace and happiness despite desiring utmost to feel peace and happiness.
  2. When one has to go to the roof of the house, no one can jump from ground and directly land up on the roof, but one has to use the stair and ascending it one step at a time till one reaches the roof. Even an adult cannot jump to roof from ground directly, whereas using a stair, even a small child is able to reach the roof.
The technique is following:
When resentment (and resulting ill-will) arise in mind towards someone, do the following for 10-15 minutes.
  1. Close your eyes and sit with spine, neck and head in a straight line. If one cannot do this because of not being in a position to do so, one can practice this in standing or lying position as well.
  2. Now, say to yourself for 2-3 minutes: “May I be full of peace, happiness and wisdom.” or “May God/Allah/Bhagwan/Guru give peace, happiness and wisdom to me.”
  3. After that, say to yourself for 2-3 minutes: “May all my friends and family members be full of peace, happiness and wisdom.” or “May God/Allah/Bhagwan/Guru give peace, happiness and wisdom to all my friends and family members.”
  4. After that, say to yourself for 2-3 minutes: “May all those, who unintentionally hurt me, be full of peace, happiness and wisdom.” or “May God/Allah/Bhagwan/Guru give peace, happiness and wisdom to all those, who unintentionally hurt me.”
  5. After that, say to yourself for 2-3 minutes: “May all those, who intentionally or unintentionally hurt me, be full of peace, happiness and wisdom.” or “May God/Allah/Bhagwan/Guru give peace, happiness and wisdom to all those, who intentionally or unintentionally hurt me.”
  6. After that, say to yourself for 2-3 minutes: “May all beings be full of peace, happiness and wisdom.” or “May God/Allah/Bhagwan/Guru give peace, happiness and wisdom to allbeings.”
What will happen when one practice this technique? The first prayer is for oneself – everyone will do that with full devotion. That will increase the level of peace and purity in him. The second prayer is for one’s friends and family members. Everyone will do this also. The first 2 prayers will increase peace and purity to a degree that the third prayer for those who hurt us unintentionally, will become possible. And the first 3 prayers will increase the peace and purity to a degree that the fourth prayer for those who hurt us intentionally or unintentionally, will also become possible. And after that, one should end with universal prayer for all beings.
It works for everyone because this technique doesn’t demand us to jump from ground to roof directly (i.e., directly ‘pray for’/forgive those who intentionally or unintentionally hurt us), but gives us a stair-based approach, which increase the level of peace and purity (sattwa quality) in us and gradually make us pray for those also who intentionally or unintentionally hurt us.
And what happens if we are not able to remove thoughts of resentment – they create a chain-reaction of thoughts bearing more and more resentment and ill-will, thus enormously wasting our time and energy and disturbing our peace and happiness for many minutes (and even hours). One who instead practises above technique, will be able to transcend resentment for the time-being rather than loosing minutes and even hours of time, energy and inner peace to it.
Please read other techniques on dealing with negative thinking here: “How to deal with negative memories from past and anxiety about future”.
Q.7. How to develop peace and purity which becomes the ground for a forgiving and loving attitude towards all?
  1. Develop the habit of positive and broad-minded thinking so that you can see the real level of peace and happiness that people who cause harm or hurt to others intentionally or unintentionally enjoy. Once this delusion is gone that such people are happy, we will be able to feel concern rather than disgust for them.
  2. Always remember that there is at least one person in this world whom you always forgive and love despite all the mistakes that person does. And that person is YOU. If YOU can forgive and love YOURSELF despite all mistakes YOU do, YOU are quite capable of doing it for others also.
  3. Always remember, every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. A sinner can become a saint in future – many examples exist. No amount of sin destroys the seed of humanity in a person – there is always a chance that given a good ground, the seed of humanity in a wrong-doer will germinate into the mighty tree of virtue and will yield the shade of peace and fruits of joy to all. So, hope for the best future for wrong-doer and work for their transformation with love, kindness and skillful guidance. This is how every mature person, should act. 
  4. Daily do yoga (particularly thoughtless awareness and breathing exercises – kapalbhati and nadi shodhana pranayama are most strongly recommended to readers) to store up peace and positivity in mind so that their cumulative effect is able to neutralize and help you in removing negative feelings arising in future.
I will end this post with one couplet by Saint Kabir.
Jo toko kata boye, tahe boye too Phool.
Phool ke phool hai, kata ke shool.
This means, those who sow thorns for you, you should sow flowers for them. By sowing thorns, they reap sorrow, whereas by sowing flowers, you reap joy and help in making them eventually realize and correct their wrong-doings.

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