Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part XLIII


Continued from Part XLII

Forgiveness is among the most valued virtue of the Hindu value system. In Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna has explained the forgiveness as one of the great virtues that every soul shall practice and aspire for. In common parlance, it is a conscious and voluntary activity by which a sufferer or victim experiences a change in feelings and attitude towards the offender and offense, and able to considerably overcome his (or her) negative emotions like resentment and reprisal vis-à-vis the wrong-doings. This attitudinal and emotional change may or may not necessarily be in concordance with the contemporary legal and judicial system as also many theories and perceptions associated with it. Also the forgiveness may not essentially lead to forgetting, condoning, and pardoning and reconciliation is all cases. Perhaps this is the reason why Shri Krishna also insisted that the forgiveness should not be practiced indiscriminately and an offender should not be repeatedly forgiven.

The aforesaid attributes define forgiveness in more of the temporal context while at the same time it is a divine quality too and in the Bhagavad Gita the stress is more about cultivating forgiveness through spiritual transformation of self. It’s so because among all living beings, the humans are most intelligent, intricate and knotty species. Sometimes they hurt others and sometimes they themselves get hurt but both the situations invariably lead to sufferings. The very attribute of forgiveness among humans depends on their inner growth and state of the spiritual evolution. So whether a person genuinely seeks forgiveness from the divine or his victim for the acts of omission and commissions or he forgives someone else is largely determined by his own state of spiritual development as well as the environment and circumstances in which such an act was committed.

Forgiveness is a Divine Quality

In fact, the humans too are highly evolved animal species only and the natural animal instinct demands immediate reprisal of any wrong-doing. Hence the attribute of forgiveness is undoubtedly a divine quality acquired by those who have already achieved a certain level of the higher state of mind. This state is achieved knowingly or unknowingly by cultivating the practice of self-refinement and purification over a period of time through spiritual means. When we endeavor to be in oneness with God and sincerely seek His forgiveness for our acts of omissions and commissions, we ourselves encounter with this spiritual experience. If we look at the universe from the God’s perspective, which is true not only in Hinduism but all religions that teach universal peace and harmony, the whole creation including us is only an extension of Him. So when God forgives someone, He is actually absolving an aspect of Self while most of us remain entangled in duality due to our embodied nature.

The Bhagavad Gita so lucidly explains the divine nature of forgiveness which along with other positive qualities such as intelligence, knowledge, freedom from delusion, truthfulness, control of the senses, control of the mind, fearlessness, nonviolence, austerity, charity, etc. directly emanate from God. By divine forgiveness, the person’s sinful karma is purified while in temporal sense we find solace and bliss by forgiving others or by seeking their forgiveness at material level. This temporal experience of forgiveness too is important because when we live in this world and, knowingly or unknowingly compete with others for the similar needs of survival, it is improbable that we will never hurt or harm others, and same is true vice versa. In such eventuality, seeking forgiveness gives mutual comfort, solace and satisfaction. Hence seeking forgiveness from God as also from His creations is considered a divine quality.

In Bhagavad Gita, the forgiveness is mentioned as a virtue in conjunction with other divine qualities. The following verses best explain the divine nature of the forgiveness that should be acquired as an essential quality by all human beings:

Buddhir jnanam asammohah kshama satyam damah shamah
Sukham duhkham bhavo ’bhavo bhayam chabhayameva cha.

Ahinsa samata tushtis tapo danam yasho ’yashah
Bhavanti bhava bhutanam matta eva prithag-vidhah.

(From me alone arise the varieties in the qualities amongst humans, such as intellect, knowledge, clarity of thought, forgiveness, truthfulness, control over the senses and mind, joy and sorrow, birth and death, fear and courage, non-violence, equanimity, contentment, austerity, charity, fame, and infamy.) (BG: Chapter 10, Verses 4-5)

In the aforesaid verses, Shree Krishna cites some twenty emotions including “Kshama (forgiveness)” that manifest in a variety of degrees and combinations in different people to form the individual fabric of human nature and then the different moods, temperaments and dispositions of the person emanate from him. The other emotions are Buddhi (intellect), Jnanam (knowledge), Asammoham (clarity), Satyam (truth), Dam (restraint), Sham (control), Sukham (delight), Duhkham (sorrow), Bhavah (existence), Abhavah (death), Bhaya (fear), Abhaya (fearlessness), Ahinsa (non-violence), Samata (equanimity), Tushti (content), Tapa (austerity), Dan (charity), Yash (fame) and Ayash (infamy). All positive and negative attribute have the same source but people manifest them according to their purushartha (choice of action) during different lives.

Vedas and Upanishads on Forgiveness

These ancient Hindu scriptures establish Brahman as the only true and supreme reality in the universe and everything else is his creation liable to samsara and its influence. So in essence, the soul is only an extension of Brahman which in combination with the perishable body gets corrupted and is subjected to laws of Karma, which is a cumulative account of all positive and negative actions/deeds. The soul remains entangled in the vicious cycle of reincarnation till it achieves salvation which is nothing but oneness with the Supreme Soul (Brahman). In other words, the soul is soiled by bad deeds (sin) and hence unable to realize its true innate nature; hence an essential prerequisite for liberation is the forgiveness to neutralize all sins. However, sin is a generic term and in Hinduism the corresponding Sanskrit term ‘Pap” actually represents actions that create negative Karma with negative consequences in violation of moral and ethical codes. In Hinduism as also in all other religions, God is considered of gracious and forgiving nature. Accordingly, the scriptures too universally talk of divine forgiveness; a few citations from Vedas are quoted here for illustration. The recognition of a sinful act is the first step for seeking divine forgiveness and in the Prartha Snana Mantra of the Rig Veda, the aspect is well described as under:

Papokam, papa kanmokam, papathma papa sambhava,
Thrahimam pundarikaksha sarva papa hari hare.

(I am born in sin, doer of sin, and a sinful self; I am the worst of all sinners, Lord save me from all sins.) (Rig Veda 7.86.3)

Similarly, another mantra in Atharva Veda (6.45.1a) translates as “O, sin in my mind why do you give me evil counsel? Get away, I do not desire you”.

A large number of mantras in Vedas and Upanishads refer to sins committed and, therefore, divine forgiveness of the God sought. The following translated versions of two mantras from the Rig Veda and Yajur Veda amply illustrate this.

“Thy face is turned on every side; Thou pervade everywhere shining bright, drive away our sins” (Rig Veda 1.97.6)

“Of the sin against the gods Thou are atonement; of the sin against men Thou art atonement; of the sin against myself Thou art atonement; of any kind of sin Thou art atonement. The sin that I have committed knowingly, and that I have committed unawares, of all sins Thou art atonement." (Yajur Veda 8.13)

Similarly, many Upanishads too have explained sin and the virtue of forgiveness or forbearance; one such mantra from the Shandilya Upanishad is cited as under:

Kshama nama priyapriyeshu sarveshu tadanapujayeshu sahanam!

(The forbearance of pleasant and the unpleasant, the praise as well as the abuse is termed as Kshama.) (Shandilya Upanishad 1.1)

According to the aforesaid mantra, Kshama is just not about forgiving someone for their follies or offenses; instead, it is about handling the good and the bad experiences and consequent happiness and as also appreciation and offenses from others in a patient and self-restrained manner.

In Hindu scriptures, forgiveness is considered as one of the most important virtues of the Rishis/Sages, saintly and virtuous men. There are many instances in Hindu Epics and Puranas where even the powerful Kshatriya kings and accomplished sages had easily forgiven the wrong-doer despite tremendous inconvenience caused to them. Two quotes from the great Epic Mahabharata are cited below:

“Forgiveness is virtue; forgiveness is sacrifice; forgiveness is the Vedas; forgiveness is the Shruti. Forgiveness protects the ascetic merit of the future; forgiveness is asceticism; forgiveness is holiness; and by forgiveness is it that the universe is held together.” (Mahabharata, Book 3, Vana Parva, Section XXIX)

“Righteousness is the one highest good, forgiveness is the one supreme peace, knowledge is one supreme contentment, and benevolence, one sole happiness.” (Mahabharata, Book 5, Udyoga Parva, Section XXXIII)

Srimad Bhagavad Gita on Forgiveness

While revealing the marvels of Gita in Kurushtra, Shree Krishna asked Arjuna to essentially do two things i.e. engage his mind in devotion and the body in fulfilling his material duty as a warrior. Thus while advising him to surrender to God, Shree Krishna still wanted him to follow his righteous duty of a Kshatriya warrior; and this is the core concept of the Karmayoga. In Hinduism, deviating from the path of Dharma is considered a sin and the aspect is so well explained through the following verse of the Bhagavad Gita.

Sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja,
Aham tvam sarva-papebhyo mokshayishyami ma shuchah.

(Abandon all kinds of dharmas and simply take refuge in me alone. I shall liberate you from all sinful reactions; do not fear.) (BG: Chapter 18, Verse 66)

When read as standalone verse, it appears as if here Shree Krishna has reversed his own earlier teachings on Karma and Dharma by saying that here is no need to fulfill the needs of the latter. To understand this, one needs to fully learn what Dharma is. Dharma refers to righteous responsibilities, duties, thoughts, and actions of a person. Based on the understanding of the “self”, we have material dharma and spiritual dharma. While identifying ourselves as the body, our dharma is determined by our duties and obligations to our family, society, nation, and so on, which is material dharma. However, when we identify ourselves as the soul, our only dharma is spiritual duty in the loving devotion of God. So long we are entangled with the samsara, abandoning the material dharma tantamount to the dereliction of duty, hence it is considered a sin. However, when we abandon material world to take recourse to the spiritual dharma seeking salvation, it is no more a sin. This aspect is clarified in the Shrimad Bhagavatam (11.5.41), which states that humans have five debts to the gods, sages, ancestors, other humans and other living beings, respectively: however, when they surrender to God, they are released from all these debts.

In Bhagavad Gita, the divine nature of forgiveness has been so well explained in several verses. While forgiveness may appear as a standalone or one simple virtue but it actually occurs in combination with several other positive qualities which are manifested through intense yogic efforts over a period of time. One may see how Prince Arjuna sought forgiveness from Shree Krishna after He revealed His Universal Form to him.

Tasmat pranamya pranidhaya kayam prasadaye tvam aham isham idyam,
Titeva putrasya sakheva sakhyuh priyah priyayarhasi deva sodhum.

(Therefore, O adorable Lord, bowing deeply and prostrating before you, I implore you for your grace. As a father tolerates his son, a friend forgives his friend, and a lover pardons the beloved, please forgive me for my offences.) (BG: Chapter 11, Verse 44)

Considering his behavior as transgressions toward God, Arjuna so did it by seeking Krishna’s pardon. In his friendly interaction with Shree Krishna all these years, while playing, eating, jesting, talking and resting together, he had never shown the appropriate reverence considering him as yet another prince or king. Actually, Arjun’s interactions with Shree Krishna were not transgressions because when two persons are too intimate in a loving affection or devotion with sentiments of a close friend or relation, the hierarchy automatically vanishes between them. So Arjuna’s action of seeking pardon may be seen here as that of a devotee, who by nature is always humble and feels that he may have committed transgressions, hence he asks for forgiveness.

Among all righteous duties, the devotion to God has been accorded highest value so much so that such a devotee is even absolved from all other dharma. This is because the ultimate goal of life for the man has been determined as Moksha (liberation). He can pursue liberation while discharging his mundane worldly duties as prescribed for the celibate, householder ascetic and vanprastha as Karmayogi or he could relinquish material dharma to become bhakiyogi at any stage. In Chapter 12 verses 13-19, Shree Krishna goes on to describe the divine qualities of his devotees, the forgiveness being one of the most important ones.

Adveshta sarva-bhutanam maitrah karuna eva cha,
Airmamo nirahankarah sama-duhkha-sukhah kshami.

Santushtah satatam yogi yatatma dridha-nishchayah,
Mayy arpita-mano-buddhir yo mad-bhaktah sa me priyah.

(Those devotees are very dear to Me who are free from malice toward all living beings, who are friendly, and compassionate. They are free from attachment to possessions and egotism, equipoised in happiness and distress, and ever-forgiving. They are ever-contented, steadily united with Me in devotion, self-controlled, firm in conviction, and dedicated to Me in mind and intellect.) (BG: Chapter 12, Verse 13-14)

Thus people who follow the spiritual dharma are free from all vices like envy, ego, anger, pride and attachments. As the human soul is none other than extension of the Supreme Soul, any malice towards other living beings on account of any vices tantamount to harboring vice towards the God Himself. Therefore, true devotees with emancipated souls are friendly and compassionate towards all leading to the affability in the person with genuine sympathy towards all other beings. Such people naturally become humble without any undue sense of pride and proprietorship in their persona. Also they remain equipoised and ever contended in all situations as they very well understand that making efforts is only in their hands while the outcome is in the hands of God. All accomplished seekers are ever forgiving too and restrain themselves from harbouring any unforgiving thoughts towards any wrongdoers.

It’s obvious that the forgiveness is not a virtue of the men of immoral or wicked personal characteristics. A person who can easily forgive the wrong-doing of others in discharge of his material dharma and seeks forgiveness of God for any sin unwittingly committed in pursuance of spiritual dharma has many more positive attributes. Shree Krishna categorizes people with saintly and demoniacal properties wherein He lists about twenty-six virtues of the former as under:

Shri-bhagavan uvacha
Abhayam sattva-sanshuddhir jnana-yoga-vyavasthitih,
Danam damash cha yajnassh cha svadhyayas tapa arjavam.

Ahinsa satyam akrodhas tyagah shsntir apaishunam,
Daya bhuteshv aloluptvam mardavam hrir achapalam.

Tejah kshama dhritih shaucham adroho nati-manita,
Bhavanti sampadam daivim abhijatasya bharata.

(The Supreme Divine Personality said: O scion of Bharat, these are the saintly virtues of those endowed with a divine nature—fearlessness, purity of mind, steadfastness in spiritual knowledge, charity, control of the senses, performance of sacrifice, study of the sacred books, austerity, and straightforwardness; non-violence, truthfulness, absence of anger, renunciation, peacefulness, restraint from fault-finding, compassion toward all living beings, absence of covetousness, gentleness, modesty, and lack of fickleness; vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, bearing enmity toward none, and absence of vanity.) (BG: Chapter 16, Verse 1-3)

He is fearless as he is free from worldly attachments. Inordinate attachments cause fear; fear of losing wealth, status, social prestige, material comforts, and so on, while the detachment and surrender to God relieves all fear from the heart. We have ten visual and touch senses in all and one who can control our sensory organs can control his worldly desires and material cravings. Absence of vanity is the lack of excessive pride which comes from egoism. In fact, ego is the greatest enemy and one who is free from ego can easily get rid of many negative attributes like anger, jealousy, greed etc. Though many Shastras have talked about the forgiveness or forbearance being the quality of Brahmans (based on conduct and not caste) and have absolved Kshatriyas from this attribute but it is a universal quality and every soul shall exercise it irrespective of his Dharma.

Shree Krishna, despite being Kshatriya, himself emerged as an icon of forbearance. In fact, he established many paradigms of extreme patience and forbearance during his life. For instance, he allowed his cousin Shishpal hundred violations before punishing him; similarly, he could have easily defeated and killed Jarashindhu but he preferred to shift his kingdom from Mathura to far-west Dwarka rather than choosing a bloody war that would have led to immense loss of life in both the armies. Thus forgiveness is also an ability to tolerate the violations of others without the express desire of retaliation. Through forgiveness, one heals the emotional wounds caused by others that would otherwise fester and disturb the mind.

Forgiveness in Conjunction of Other Virtues

From the aforesaid teachings of Shree Krishna, it is evident that a virtuous or saintly person cannot simply focus on one virtue (forgiveness) only. In fact, Kshamasheelta or forgiving nature is a cumulative effect of the divine nature with multiple positive attributes, which are manifested through a long and sustained yogic effort. In this rigorous process, a seeker undergoes a comprehensive inner transformation by cultivating many other associated virtues mentioned in the foregoing description. Hindu scriptures consider ego as the worst enemy of human beings that allows many other negative attributes to possess and dominate a personality. The ego could be controlled by renouncing materialism and stabilizing the mind in contemplation of God through devotion (Sadhana) and concentration (Dhyana). According to virtuous men, egoism is the first stage, humanity is intermediate stage and divinity is the last and highest stage in the spiritual evolution.

Influence of Gunas

The interplay of three gunas namely Sattva, Rajas and Tamas largely decides the nature, temperament and personality of any human being. The Sattva has big role in determining characteristics, which are symbols of purity. So to pursue divinity, one needs to cultivate sattvic gunas, which strengthen all associated positive attributes. These qualities together not only transform the personality of the man from inside out but also suppress the negative attributes which are the products of Rajas and Tamas. To cultivate sattvic gunas, one needs to practice the yogic practices recommended in the Bhagavad Gita. The simplest prescribed course is to try to engage self in selfless actions (Karmayoga) without contemplation on fruits of action. Then one may also try to acquire right knowledge (Jnanyoga) from the scriptures through svadhyay (self-study) and taking recourse to an enlightened Guru. Besides, total surrender to God (Bhaktiyoga) also serves the same purpose. Sattivic gunas inculcate virtues like forgiveness, humility, detachment, discernment and dispassion, while simultaneously suppressing selfish desires, egoism, sense of attachment, vanity, anger, envy, and so on.

According to the Bhagavad Gita, ego is a symbol of demonic nature, which is a product of Nature (Prakriti) and not God (Purusha). Egoism is an undivine and undesirable quality associated with many demoniac characteristics such as anger, envy, arrogance, ignorance, excessive pride, passion, hypocrisy, greed, and so on, which are responsible for human sufferings and bondage on earth. They are collectively attributed to other two gunas Rajas and Tamas. While the rajasic person is predominantly possessed by passion associated with various attachments and desires, the tamasic person is dominated by ignorance that deludes him with negligence and indolence. Accordingly, when Rajas guna dominates, the person suffers from greed, restlessness and hankering, whereas the Tamas leads to darkness, inertia, carelessness and delusion. All these negative attributes are linked with ego.

People with egoist nature suffer with many secondary negative attributes like vanity, arrogance, self-pride, anger, greed, harshness, impatience and ignorance; therefore, they are very difficult to please and forgive or forget anything. These negative qualities can be overcome and eliminated only through systematic and sustained spiritual practices i.e. yogic practices prescribed in Gita and other scriptures. Among the three gunas, only the Sattva is responsible for purity and tranquility and, therefore, should be cultivated for the spiritual growth and liberation of self. All sattvic people are characterized by humility, forbearance and patience because when Sattva is pursued, all associated positive attributes suo moto imbibed in the personality of the seeker. Forbearance becomes an essential nature of such person, whereby he is able to maintain equipoise in praise or criticism, fame or infamy, and success or failure.


The theological importance attached to the forgiveness in Hinduism is that the man who does not forgive others carries a baggage of memories of the wrongs done in the past, and the consequent negative feelings such as anger, hate, envy, and unresolved emotions, which ultimately hinder his present and future growth. Therefore, Hinduism recommends not only forgiving others but also that one must seek forgiveness of God and other people, in case one has wronged someone else. Accordingly, the forgiveness shall be sought from the individual or society at large wronged as also from God as part of one’s material and spiritual duty through the acts of charity, self-purification, fasting, rituals and meditative introspection.

Hindu scriptures attach high premium to self-purification and the forgiveness, atonement and expiation are considered among the best means for the same. The Sanskrit word Kshama (forgiveness) finds a mention in Vedas and Upanishads and is synonymous with patience or forbearance (Kshamata), equanimity (Shama), endurance and tolerance. This is also one of the ten traditional Yamas (restraints) in Hinduism. In Bhagavad Gita, the forgiveness is mentioned as a divine attribute in conjunction with other such positive attributes. Like Arjuna sought forgiveness of Shree Krishna for his taking liberty, and for his questioning and doubting nature, people must cultivate in their nature to seek forgiveness for any inappropriate conduct, both intentional and unintentional.

In routine life, it is rather difficult to forgive and forget any harm or hurt caused by any person. Although the person knows well that the injury or loss thus occurred cannot be reversed or restored but knowingly or unknowingly, it is his ego that makes it so difficult. In fact, the ego plays a decisive role in conflicts or any injustice done wherein one either hurts others or get hurt by them. As the ego acts in tandem with other negative attributes like anger, passion, vanity, envy and greed, it is easily hurt or offended leading to physical restlessness and mental instability. One can easily measure the level of ego through the intensity of the feeling of offence or hurt. Therefore, it is the first and foremost necessity to tackle and get rid of egoism in the quest of acquiring forgiveness and associated divine attributes, necessary to discharge both the material and spiritual dharma.

Continued to Part XLIV


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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