Most world religions include teachings on forgiveness, which provide guidance for the practice of forgiveness. Here are some examples of forgiveness understood from different traditions:
Forgiveness is a practice for removing unhealthy emotions that would otherwise cause harm to our mental well-being. Hatred leaves a lasting effect on our karma (“actions”) and forgiveness creates emotions with a wholesome effect. Buddhism questions the reality of passions that give rise to anger through meditation and insight. After examination, we realize that anger is only an impermanent emotion that we can fully experience and then release.
The basic problem in Buddhist psychology is that emotions like anger and hatred are based on projections and ignorance, not on wisdom and awareness. The elimination of anger is a lengthy process but through mindfulness Buddhism is confident that an individual will realize anger is only temporal like many other mental states.
Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective by the Dalai Lama is a wonderful guide on releasing anger. Here are three Buddhist quotes on the folly of anger:
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else but you are the one who gets burned” — The Buddha
You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” — The Buddha
“It is natural for the immature to harm others. Getting angry with them is like resenting a fire for burning.” — Shantideva
Wheel of Dharma, Symbolizing the Cycle of Rebirth & Death.
Forgiveness () is viewed as the remedy to anger (). You forgive an offender when aroused by compassion. Compassion generates peace, tranquility, humility and co-operation in human interactions. The act of forgiveness is considered a divine gift, not the work of human agency. Otherwise, pride () would increase when we take personal credit, which would impede our spiritual progress.
Anger is often considered the result of unfulfilled desire. If a person fulfills our desires and wants, we feel love for them but when they impede our desires anger can well up. The ego can easily feel slighted, embarrassed, belittled or in some other way be offended. As we learn to discipline our mind through meditation on the Word, our ego and anger naturally turn to compassion and forgiveness. Since anger and forgiveness are considered opposites, the human mind can only contain one of them at a given time.
Here are some verses from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scriptures, that capture the essence of forgiveness:
“To practice forgiveness is fasting, good conduct and contentment” — Guru Arjan Dev, page 223
“Where there is forgiveness, there God resides — Kabir, page 137
“Dispelled is anger as forgiveness is grasped” –Guru Amar Das, page 233
Ik Onkar symbol of Sikhism. To further understand this symbol read Connectedness in Ik Onkar Symbol.
While Eastern religions take a more psychological view of forgiveness, Abrahamic religions share a distinctly moral view that varies from idealism of Christianity to relative pragmatism of Islam and Judaism:
Ideally a person who has caused harm, needs to sincerely apologize, then the wronged person is religiously bound to forgive. However, even without an apology, forgiveness is considered a pious act (Deot 6:9). Teshuva (, literally “Returning”) is a way of atoning, which requires cessation of harmful act, regret over act, confession and repetence. Yom Kippur is the day of atonement when Jews particularly strive to perform teshuva. Two relevant Jewish quotes on forgiveness:
It is forbidden to be obdurate and not allow yourself to be appeased. On the contrary, one should be easily pacified and find it difficult to become angry. When asked by an offender for forgiveness, one should forgive with a sincere mind and a willing spirit.” — Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 2:10
“Who takes vengeance or bears a grudge acts like one who, having cut one hand while handling a knife, avenges himself by stabbing the other hand.” — Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9.4
The Star of Davidd. See Connectedness: Star of David & Sri Yantra for an exploration of its symbolism.
In Christian teachings forgiveness of others plays an important role in spiritual life. The Lord’s Prayer best exemplifies this attitude, notably in these words: ” And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” ( Matthew 6:9-13). The final words uttered by Christ during his suffering reinforce the importance of forgiveness: “”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). We also find instruction to love your enemies and turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:9 & Luke 6:27-31). Another beautiful expression of forgiveness and understanding is St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer:
“Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console. To be understood as to understand. To be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. ”
The suffering of Christ is a central theme in Christianity. The symbolic aspects of the Cross are explored in Connectedness of Heaven & Earth: Symbolism of Cross & Tree
The word Islam is derived from the Semitic word slm meaning “peace” and forgiveness is a prerequisite for genuine peace. The Quran makes some allowance for violence but only to defend faith, property or life. Still forgiveness is held as the better course of action whenever possible: “They avoid gross sins and vice, and when angered they forgive.” (Quran 42:37). In terms of clemecy, we find this passage: “Although the just penalty for an injustice is an equivalent retribution, those who pardon and maintain righteousness are rewarded by God. He does not love the unjust” (Qur’an 42:40).
The Star & Crescent Moon, which is a recognizable symbol of Islam
Note: Forgiveness is a central theme in our novel NEXUS available online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble & Chapters-Indigo.