Kshama: Cultivating forgiveness

Forgiveness is opening one’s heart to the infinite power within so that it heals itself and others

Dr Satish K Kapoor

‘Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace:

 Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

 Where there is injury, pardon;

 Where there is doubt, faith…’

— The Serenity Prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). 

Kshama or forgiveness stems from right understanding. It is letting go of resentment and revengeful thoughts by choosing a path that requires firmness of spirit to endure suffering.

Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, but of maturity and grace. It is not self-torture or a justification of the uncouth behavior and actions of others, but of not being swayed by negative emotions. When one harbors grudges, it makes the mind toxic.  Scientific studies show that holding onto anger upsets the rhythm of the heart and leads to an increased level of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Those who have a forgiving disposition, enjoy better mental and physical health as compared to others who simmer with bitterness. 

Thy will be done 

Forgiveness is rewiring the subconscious mind to shower love and compassion on all, irrespective of their attitude.  It is the hallmark of puissant souls who affirm that nothing happens without the will of a Higher Power. When Jesus was crucified along with criminals, he said: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ (Luke 23: 34). Sarmad, a 17th century Sufi saint, smiled at his executioner by saying: ‘Come in whatever garb you choose, I recognize you well.’ Guru Arjan Dev (1563-1606), fifth Sikh guru, bore physical torture with spiritual fortitude . Tera bhana meetha laage — ‘Sweet is Your will’, he said, without cursing his tormentors. 

Religious traditions

 Seeking god’s forgiveness, and repentance for sinful acts, forms the core values in religious traditions. Buddhism and Jainism regard forgiveness as a step towards moksha, salvation. The Jaina community observe Forgiveness Day (samvatsari / kshamavani) annually, to improve individual and social relations. 

Forgiveness is one of the ten cardinal principles of dharma that uphold the cosmic and the social order. It is the cultivation of prema (love), karuna (compassion), ahimsa (non-violence), and kshanti (forbearance) for inner purity and spiritual resilience. The Yoga-Yajnavalkya-Gita (1.64) defines kshama as samatva, a state of psychological stability and composure. The Jabala Darshana Upanishad (1.16-17) explains it as the ability to stay calm when provoked by opponents. 

Kshama-dhyana (forgiveness-meditation)

Forgiveness is opening one’s heart to the infinite power within so that it heals itself and others. Sit quietly in early morning hours, and close your eyes. Chant Om (AUM) or some sacred utterance, for a while, and seek divine forgiveness, for any wrong done, consciously or unconsciously, in the past or the present. Resolve not to harm or hurt anyone in future. Relax.    

Breathe deeply for five minutes to raise vital energy levels, followed by bhramari pranayama, in which a light humming sound is made, to release unnecessary tension. Now bring attention to your heart, and practice kumbhaka visualizing the person or persons, who hurt you in the past. Kumbhaka or retention of breath, is regarded as a means to catalyze a change in consciousness. Feel the bitterness moving out with each exhale. Repeat a few times daily. Besides, one should send kind thoughts towards difficult persons to amend relationships.

Getting over traumas

Emotional hurts caused by physical abuse, public humiliation, or paranoid acts of violence, are difficult to erase. Yet scratching wounds of the past may trigger the chain of sordid events, which is not good for mental health. To perform rituals of absolution without a change of heart, or use coercive ways to seek forgiveness, is not quite appropriate. The mills of god grind slowly but surely. The dark past should not be allowed to cast its shadow on the present. Forgiving is not forgetting, but accepting everything in a spirit of equanimity, and moving ahead. It is the dawn of wisdom of the self, and reminds one of Sant Kabir who wrote:

Awwal  Allah noor upaya, 

Kudrat ke sab bandey,

Ek noor te sabh jag upajeya

Kaun bhale kau mandey.

‘First, Allah created the light; then by His creative power, He made all mortal beings. From the one Light, the entire universe welled up. So who is good and who is bad.’

(Singh is a Chandigarh-based psychotherapist)

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