The Mantra of Forgiveness

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Is forgiveness exclusive to Abrahamic faiths? Does a faith tradition like Hinduism have anything to do with forgiveness? Does it have the resources to break the spiral of violence that seems to have been unleashed in our society today? With the claims and counterclaims of Hindus and Muslims concerning places of worship, the need to forgive the past and set our society free from the wounds and burden of the past seems to have become urgent. As several voices from the majority community are singing the tune it seems to convert the ancient places of worship into tirthas of flames. We seem to be on the road that will repeat the same cycle of violence that was let loose by our medieval rulers. Where will we find Kapala- mocana where our sins of violence would be annulled? Where will be the sacred bathing waters that will wash and clean us? Hence, the practice and the understanding of forgiveness within Hinduism may become light in our dark times where seemingly unforgiving India thinks that it is promoting the wellbeing of all.

Maybe the belief in transmigration of the soul can be broadly interpreted as divine forgiveness. The individual person is enabled to come to the point of moksha. This makes the atonement of sins require a series of birth cycles. This may be so because salvation or moksha though understood diversely among the Hindus is accepted as chiefly human work and does not require grace and even divine intervention. But the kind of tolerance that God seems to give to the human to achieve his/her final salvation suits divine qualities ( daivim sampada). We can also notice that forgiveness is not simply a moral precept to be kept. It is viewed in a holistic way and is seen as belonging to the total wellbeing (sreyas) of a person. The teaching of Karma also enables the person to view an enemy as an agent of well-being on the path of self-purification. Hence, taking revenge on an enemy can only mean going down the spiral of birth- death and hence it is not in the interest of the well-being of the person. Therefore, both the belief in reincarnation as well as the law of Karma are thought to promote the well-being of the person. Staying within this train of thought, we cannot but agree with Mahatma Gandhi who interpreted the battles of Gita with the hermeneutical key of Ahimsa where Arjuna represents our conscious mind that is exhorted to fight our lower nature or sinful desires.

Perhaps the best teaching on forgiveness in Hinduism is taught by Mahabharata. The famous ‘hymn to forgiveness’ opens as follows:

Forgiveness is virtue; forgiveness is sacrifice,
forgiveness is the Vedas,
forgiveness is the Shruti [revealed scripture].
He that knoweth this is capable of forgiving everything~

Forgiveness is Brahma [God];
forgiveness is truth;,
forgiveness is stored ascetic merit;
forgiveness protecteth the ascetic merit of the future;
forgiveness is asceticism; forgiveness is holiness;
and by forgiveness is it that the universe is held together.

We really have the challenge to live forgiveness as a sacrifice and let forgiveness to become Veda in us. It is time to open our minds and hearts to the Upanishads that teach us Vasudeva Kutumbakam and make it the truth of truth ( Satyasa Satyam). This truth of truth will enable us to live the dream of ancient Tamil poet Kaniyan Poongundranar who sang ‘Yadhum Oore, Yaavarum Kelir’, declaring ‘All the countries of the world are my countries and all the people of the world are my people’. It is challenging to actualize our Indian greeting Namaskaram which doubles up as hello and becomes an acknowledgement of the divinity in others. It is only this realization that may save us from saving the sacred space of stones while violating the living walking dwelling of the sacred. May the Vedic Sutra: Ma Himsyat Sarva Bhutani ( Never commit violence to anyone ) become the mantra of our life.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao