Forgiveness in Hinduism


Hindu traditions use several classical Vedic Sanskrit words to illuminate the supplementary and complementary shades of meanings associated with forgiveness: kshama, merciful; daya, compassionate; krupa, graceful; karunya, empathetic; advesha, unbiased with any form of hatred; and abhaya, one who does not cause any fear and generates a sense of trust and confidence. The understanding of forgiveness is influenced by the context of discussion; the affiliates in the act or process; and the past and continuing relations between the affiliates. The act of forgiving is a process for getting freedom from inner pains, fears, and sufferings, and moving toward a goal of comfort, freedom, an attitude of detachment, salvation, and self-realization.

Hinduism recognizes two sides in the act of forgiveness. Each side is a multilayered structure. The first side is the seeker of forgiveness; the other side is the one who extends and delivers forgiveness. The act of seeking (prar-thana) forgiveness (kshama, daya, krupa) may be carried out unilaterally, without the presence, permission, or expectation of the other side. The act of extending deliverance (anugraha-pradana) or forgiving (karunya, advesha, ab-haya) may also take place unilaterally without the presence, permission, or expectation of acceptance from the other side.

In Hinduism, forgiveness, in the context of theological debates, takes the approach of explaining a personal God’s or a spiritual master’s (guru’s) unbound mercy, grace, and compassion (daya, karunya, krupa). This is the model in which forgiveness is presented as emotion, love, and devotion (bhavana, prema, bhakti). In schools of theology where the concept of god is secondary or even dispensed with, forgiveness is represented as a combination of human virtues: pardoning; grace; mercy; compassion; freedom from all types of hatred, dislike, and repulsions—a state that can result only because of the presence of unbound, unconditioned love; and behavior that will generate a sense of trust and confidence for interaction and not engender fear in anyone— an attitude that can happen only when honesty and truth nurture the heart, mind, and action.

The Jain and Buddhist traditions have stretched the concept of forgiveness to its limits in their ahimsa (nonviolence) practices. The God incarnate, Sri Rama, who is extolled in the famous epic the Ramayana, is esteemed for the virtue of forgiveness in the aspect of abhaya (fearless trust). In the medieval period, the saints and devotees extolled all the aspects of forgiveness. The Vaishnava tradition advocates an extreme practice of forgiveness in the sense of “absolute surrender” (prapatti-sharanagati) to the will of the Supreme God.

Yoga schools extol the virtue of forgiveness as a part of the yamas and niyamas (yogic practices of self-restraint). The classical definition of dharma (duty, virtue) includes the kshama element of forgiveness. In Hindu rituals at home and in temples, the final prayers are for seeking forgiveness through self-surrender. The quality of compassion is one of the six most desirable qualities for the partners intending to marry. Mother Earth is considered the incarnate form of forgiveness in the aspect of tolerance (kshama) and compassionate support.

Socially, the practice of forgiveness takes many shapes. The mandate for the practice of forgiveness is to possess an unbiased attitude; compassion; commensuration by balancing judgment and motive; and to accept the consequences of forgiving on behalf of the individual beneficiary and society at large. No one single model or rule fits the entire scenario. Following an inappropriate model in the dispensation of forgiveness is considered a sin. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness or meekness; on the contrary, forgiveness is the force that restrains the unregulated expression of hatred, power, and intolerance.

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