Where I have used “Him” or “He” to refer to God you may use “Her” or “She”.
“If forgiveness was not intrinsic to God’s nature He would not have created us – for He knew even before He created us that we would have many weaknesses and that eventually He would need to forgive us our shortcomings.
Therefore we too need to forgive others from time to time for appearing to be, or acting in a way that might be construed as, ‘other than Divine’. Without such acts of mercy, it would be impossible for us to be fully at peace or to know deep happiness …
Our forgiving those who have hurt us cannot only depend on their displaying remorse for having hurt us, as that remorse may never be forthcoming. Our forgiving can also arise from our own response to being hurt when we realise that our hurt may have been caused by our (own) separation from our Divine Essence. In this instance our need to forgive those who have hurt us may be greater than their need to be forgiven! But what if the injustice is so great (or felt so deeply) that we cannot forgive immediately – where someone has taken another’s life, or reduced an entire community or nation to poverty, violating every right to which others are entitled?
Is forgiveness in these circumstances more Divine than first seeking to redress the injustice? Does premature forgiveness not simply add to the injustice?
Righting a wrong, where righting the wrong is the only way of reversing the consequences of the wrong, is essential for safeguarding the well-being both of individuals and of society at large. So there are times when we need to right a wrong before we are able to forgive the wrongdoer in a meaningful way. The justice itself should be a disciplined, compassionate and healing justice; healing both the wrong-doer and the wronged.
Where righting a wrong done to us may cause hurt to the wrongdoer that is disproportionately greater than the hurt the wrongdoer has caused us, forgiveness should, wherever possible, take precedence over righting the wrong. Again, no injustice should be done to the wrong-doer as this would devalue justice itself and effectively render it meaningless …
Unrequited love for another generally causes the one doing the loving great pain. Differentiate this from a spiritual love for another where the one who loves and the one who is loved are indistinguishable, for the source and the goal of the love are the same. Loving means loved. Lover is beloved. Where the self is lost in such love for another there is no self that exists and therefore none that can be hurt.
But what should we do if we are hurt when our love for someone is not returned? We might do well to do what nature does. Nature invariably aborts a foetus to prevent a child from being born with some serious defect. We have no option but to bury the aborted foetus as tenderly as we can. In the same way, we need to bury any pain from a human love that has had to be aborted before it could be fully realised.
But where are we to bury the pain, the hurt, or the anger we feel? To bury the pain, we first need to find a spiritual earth within ourselves. And that spiritual earth is forgiveness! When we bury pain properly in this way, forgiving the person who has hurt us, our love itself is purified and transforms from a human love to a spiritual love, from one that causes us pain to one that brings us joy.
But it is not just in the context of forgiving those who have hurt us that forgiveness is essential. We need to examine the question of forgiveness more deeply. Forgiveness is a natural daily occurrence! Consider the following: the earth forgives the sun for making the land arid, it forgives the clouds for withholding rain, it forgives the sea for causing floods, and it forgives the plants for depleting many of its precious resources.
Why does it do this? The sun also provides it with warmth that is essential for its well-being, the clouds often bring it life-giving rain, the sea cools it when it is overheating, and plants beautify it! We often encounter, in the same experience, something that may be considered Divine but which at the same time for some reason may also be construed as ‘other than Divine’. Naturally we should be grateful for that which we see as Divine. But the price we have to pay for the presence of the Divine is forgiving the ‘less than Divine’ that exists in the very things that bring us such great Divine grace.”
(The extracts above are from the chapter on Forgiveness in my book “if i could write”.)
And yet, we can be unrelentingly unforgiving! We can sustain or feed a small hurt for an entire lifetime. We can blot out completely the presence of Grace in our lives – all the light around us, with us, and within us – and make our whole world seem dark, all because we have been hurt by some minor neglect or misunderstanding! We are quick to seek God’s forgiveness for our mistakes but are unable to forgive the mistakes of others! In not forgiving the mistakes of others and remaining embittered or becoming hardened and diminishing our ability to love, we hurt ourselves far more in the long term that any harm caused to us by the person who hurt us originally! We should always examine our own deficiencies that we so blithely forget (have no consciousness of or pay no attention to) even as we remember the small hurts caused to us by others!
And often, we fail to thank God for each new day of our lives; we fail to thank Him for our health, for the sustenance He provides, for the Guidance of the Prophets and Sages, for our parents, children, partners and friends; fail to acknowledge His Grace, Love, Compassion, Mercy, Presence, Guidance and Support. We create veils or barriers between us and God; ignore His light; subvert the truth. Through neglect, we close the doors He has opened for us; or through greed we open doors He has closed to us; we become discontent easily; worry unnecessarily; lose faith; become angry very quickly, and sometimes even horrendously violent; or we remain passive or ignorant, unwilling to learn or satisfied with the little we know: omissions that are more serious than the minor or petty forgetfulness, meanness or vindictiveness of others that plagues us every day.
We need to pray: God, help us, when we have been hurt by someone, to forgive them as soon as we can and, in fact, forgive us for being so small-minded that we are easily hurt by every minor criticism or neglect. In being unforgiving we become less loving and renege on our pledge to reveal your beauty and your light at all times. We diminish not only our creativity but also our ability to make full use of the potential you have granted us. Losing our humanity affects our physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological well-being. So help us, dear God, to remember this beautiful saying of Hazrat Inayat Khan: “Subtlety of nature is the sign of intelligence; wisdom is distinguished by flexibility, foolishness by rigidity. Depression, despair and all manner of sorrow come from a lack of generosity.”
It is better to forgive quickly and completely, if possible, even before someone asks for it! God’s forgiveness is a matter of Grace! So too should our forgiveness. Forgiveness also reveals that we do not consider what has been taken away from us as part of our essence – which no one can touch! It could also be that our hurt reflects on the fragility of our own ego more than it reveals a flaw in the person we perceive has hurt us, who might have said something tough to us but out of love!
When we view what is happening in the world today and see grave injustices all around us, we should never lose our trust in God, in the belief that goodness always prevails in the end and light always triumphs over darkness. To become as violent or more violent than an oppressor, in overcoming oppression, is just not acceptable! We should learn to see not only the big picture but the long picture! Here is a story to illustrate this:
Rumi says that in Balkh, Afghanistan, where he was born, it was shameful to be a poet! In Konya, where his family emigrated to, as Balkh was in danger of being overrun by the invading Mongols led by Genghis Khan, everyone loved his poetry and could not stop wanting more and more of it. Rumi was sometimes upset at being burdened with having to write poetry. He compared the imposition as follows: assume someone invites a guest to supper and the guest has indicated that he likes tripe. The host might dislike tripe personally but nevertheless has a duty to please his guest and therefore must get on with cleaning the tripe, preparing it, cooking it and (presumably) eating it with his guest!
Many members of Rumi’s family in Balkh were highly educated traditional Islamic scholars. Rumi would probably have been one too had he remained in Balkh. Instead, Rumi became a poet – and no ordinary poet at that! He is the most read poet in America today – and probably in much of the world. Consider his influence in making the world a better place. Yet it is possible that none of this poetry might have been written if the Mongols had not invaded Afghanistan eight centuries ago!
Rumi’s response teaches us that it is not so much what happens to us that matters, as much as how wisely we deal with the consequences of what happens to us!
Therefore, in dealing with our losses we must be guided by love, patience, wisdom, and the principles of balance, fairness and compassionate justice: not being vengeful, never hurting the innocent, and never being gratuitously destructive!
Forgiveness is the hallmark of God’s Mercy and Compassion when we fail to do justice to the many gifts He has given us. We should be grateful for it, for without it we would know endless loss! Remembering this, we should equally be willing to forgive those who have hurt us.
And if we have wronged someone and have been forgiven – or if we have expressed remorse for some hurt we have caused ourselves and have asked God sincerely to forgive us – we should not continue to feel guilty. We need to forgive ourselves too. How else would we know that God has forgiven us?
But more than this, we should always strive to do justice to our essence by living a Divine life – having a pure heart – and always being loving, compassionate and altruistic. We will have less time to be hurt by others if we are purposeful, productive, visionary; if we trust God, love God, and love the Prophet; indeed, all the Prophets.
We are more likely to know God if we know Him in our nature and through our nature, we are more likely to gain closeness to Him if we are generous, grateful, and vulnerable; if we show remorse for our wrongdoing, ask for forgiveness, and undertake not to make the same mistakes again; and if we love others as a way of loving God. We are more likely to fulfil the purpose of our existence on earth if we understand that the greater our ego the less reliable we become as a conduit for the truth. And we are more likely to see perfection alone everywhere if we are able to perceive light and darkness as one.