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In Part 1 we discussed the health effects of forgiveness on the body and mind by considering evidence of medical researchers since the 1980s. In this second and concluding article, we discuss forgiveness in light of its profound effects on the atma, with special emphasis on how Sanatan Dharma’s seers, avatars and sadhus have propounded the ideal of forgiveness.
Western medical researchers have at least established that forgiving is healthy for the body and peaceful to the individual. However they have been unable to delve into the spiritual realm. Philosophers like Alexander Pope may have come close by stating, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” However the seers and mystics are the only people who have truly ‘realized’ the act of forgiving. That is why they uttered the Sanskrit sutra, Kshamã virasya bhushanam – forgiveness is the ornament of the brave. Worth noting are the words ‘ornament’ and ‘brave’.
In the Bhaktachintamani (51/37), Swami Nishkulanand, a paramhansa poet of Bhagwan Swaminarayan likens forgiveness to a sword – Kshamã sam khadag nahi – there is no sword like forgiveness.

Requisites for forgiveness
The first requisite on the path of sadhana to resolve any insult or hurt by a person, is to imbibe atmanishtha – the belief that one’s true form is atma and not the body. Body-consciousness (dehabhav) – is the root cause of pain from all swabhavs. One’s ego and pride of status, wealth, etc., makes one prone to insult or being wronged and to seek revenge.
The second requisite according to Bhagwan Swaminarayan is to staunchly develop the understanding of Bhagwan’s all-doership. We may not understand His ways, yet we can definitely benefit from the belief that His will prevails and to remain happy with the event (Gadhada I-74).
In the Sunrut, which forms a section of the Yogi Gita, Brahmaswarup Yogiji Maharaj revealed five unparalleled principles of forgiveness, replete with profound spiritual import and an invaluable gift to any aspirant treading the path to realizing Paramatma:
(1) Tolerance is a lofty virtue.
(2) If someone speaks sarcastically, do not retaliate but tolerate. This is called the virtue of forgiveness.
(3) By forgiving one experiences eternal peace within one’s heart.
(4) (By forgiving) fountains of joy spring from the heart.
(5) The great Sadhu (Ekantik Satpurush) is pleased from the depth of his atma.
These five eternal principles of Yogiji Maharaj are unique in Sanatan Dharma. Firstly, they can only be truly appreciated by studying Yogiji Maharaj’s life in depth. In his extensive six-volume biography, episodes of tolerance and forgiveness appear on almost every page! During his whole life, he tolerated the slightest criticism from the most lay person, to the harshest rigours, including physical beatings meted out by a senior sadhu for 18 years! After the sadhu’s demise, he still tolerated every single word hurled at him by mandir labourers, devotees and dissenters. He accepted the calumnies as lovingly as gifts! He used to say that he liked it if somebody scolded him, so that this would provide a chance for him to improve!
Now we briefly consider each of the five principles.
First, Tolerance is a lofty virtue.
If this statement is proposed to a philosopher, he would probably either consider it insignificant or totally incomprehensible. Behind this lofty virtue, all other virtues of saintliness (sadhuta) would have to drag along. From this virtue another definition emerges: one who tolerates is a true sadhu. On the sadhana path, even stalwart mystics would be at pains to understand how tolerance can lead to saintliness.
The second principle that Yogiji Maharaj reveals about forgiveness concerns sarcasm. He advocates tolerating even a sentence uttered sarcastically. Many people who met Yogiji Maharaj, at first sight considered him to be just an uneducated mystic, though constantly reveling in some divine bliss. However only by living with him for a lengthy period did they realize that he was very sharp and intelligent. This is not surprising since Brahman is all knowledgeable. Bearing this in mind he easily discerned a sarcastic remark. At sarcasm’s root lies some form of jealousy. Jealousy means that one is not able to tolerate something about the person to whom the sarcastic remark is directed. Following a sarcastic remark most people would instantly fire back with one or more stinging ‘missiles’. At this point Yogiji Maharaj cautions aspirants to remain silent and tolerate. Even if one has the power or physical strength ‘not to take the remark lying down’, ‘just to demonstrate one is macho and that one is not a wimp’, one should tolerate. This sounds tough but it is not impossible.
However Yogiji Maharaj was a supra-mystical sadhu with a sublime knowledge of the human psyche. He was aware that even a few words hurled against sarcasm has the latent strength to spark off even a war. Just the few words, “the blind begets blind (children)” uttered by Draupadi ignited a war which destroyed 18 akshauhini armies!
The third principle of forgiveness was realized by Yogiji Maharaj. Against the most unwarranted and unmitigating circumstances, he forgave and forgot the person or event. Once a sadhu insulted and beat him. Some time later that same sadhu arrived late at night at the Sarangpur mandir, where Yogiji Maharaj was the mahant. The sadhu could barely walk since he had a septic wound on his foot. He was hungry and no place to spend the night. The next day he wished to leave for nearby Kariyani. Yogiji Maharaj requested the doorkeeper to let him in. After hearing the sadhu’s problems, Yogiji Maharaj promptly cleansed and dressed the injured foot. Then he cooked fresh food and served him. The next morning he packed some food for him and arranged for an ox-cart to take him to Kariyani. On leaving the sadhu broke down in tears, recalling the past episodes of pain he had inflicted on Yogiji Maharaj. But Yogiji Maharaj quietened him and said, “Guru! We do not even remember them. So forget everything and may Bhagwan bless you!”
If Yogiji Maharaj had not forgiven and truly forgotten those painful events he would not have been able to serve the sadhu so devotionally. Here it is worth comparing Yogiji Maharaj’s principle of forgetting with the advice given by the psychologist Charlotte Witvliet cited in the last article that, “one may choose to forgive but not necessarily forget.” And as we saw in the same article, the two men, Peter of the Holocaust and the soldier who had been lanced, had continued to suffer because consciously or even subconsciously both had harboured a stigma of being wronged which they had been unable to forget, and consequently suffered pain. Yogiji Maharaj had suffered many tribulations, which he had also forgiven and forgotten. That is why he always experienced “fountains of joy springing from the heart”.
Hate never resolves with hate. The Lex Talionis, or the law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” which exists in many cultures, never resolves any problem, whether at a personal or global level. In Vachanamrut Kariyani-9 Bhagwan Swaminarayan declares that a person who harbours a grudge like a male buffalo cannot be called a sadhu. Further, in Vachanamrut Gadhada III-21, he reveals, “I do not like the sight of one who speaks ill of a devotee of Bhagwan before me. I do not enjoy food or water offered by a person who perceives flaws in a devotee.” And according to Vachanamrut Kariyani-9, he is the only true devotee who understands the glory of Bhagwan’s devotee.
True shanti can only accrue from understanding the glory of Bhagwan’s devotees, just as Shri Krishna enjoined Uddhavji to understand the glory of the gopis. Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami and his group of sadhus were once insulted and beaten by the people of Juna Savar, prompted by its cruel Kathi chief, Uga Khuman. After the event, while dressing their wounds, Swami heard that the chief was childless. Therefore he requested his sadhus to forgive the chief and pray that he blessed with a son, who would grow up to be a good devotee and invite sadhus into his darbar. This prayer proved true and the son invited Swami to Juna Savar. Similarly Bhagatji Maharaj (Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s second spiritual successor) forgave those burning with jealousy, who threw limestone sacks weighing 10 maunds (200 kg) on his back during the construction of the haveli in Junagadh. Thus he earned the blessings of his guru, Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami. Hence according to Yogiji Maharaj’s fourth and fifth principles, one experiences unbroken shanti at heart and the great sadhu is pleased from the heart.
This is the crux of every sadhana performed by any aspirant. His final goal is to attain the blessings of his guru from the heart. Consider the case of Faiba – the wife of the Kathi chief of Macchhiav. By her intense devotion, Bhagwan Swaminarayan visited Macchhiav on 32 occasions, to celebrate various festivals. This would be about more than once a year after Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s appointment as Head of the Sampraday. However on the final occasion Faiba was unable to let go of a grudge with her daughter-in-law. Despite Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s earnest wish, she remained adamant. Hence, she was unable to reap the collective punya and glory accrued during the 32 festivals. Additionally, instead of her intense devotion for Bhagwan, her grudge entered the annals of Satsang history for all time.
In contrast to this event, when the people of Anand in Gujarat flung mud, stones and insults on Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the Kathi chiefs of Saurashtra, who were heads of towns and seasoned fighters, Bhagwan Swaminarayan instructed them to remain calm and tolerate the barrage of dissent. This earned them His pleasure from the heart. Since then till today after two centuries, peace prevails; all bitterness and acrimony wiped away by obeying one single command. Similarly, in 1990 by Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s efforts and wish, over two centuries of internal feuding ended between people of Kukad and Odarka villages in Bhavnagar state. When even the British had failed to achieve a peaceful settlement, Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s divine charisma achieved shanti in the hearts of both groups, who agreed to forgive and forget bygones.
Shri Aurobindo’s maxim, “One man’s perfection can save the whole world”, is equally applicable to Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s perfection in forgiving. More recently, in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Akshardham in September 2002, he made an appeal to all the citizens of Gujarat, to remain calm and pray for peace. During the peace prayer occasion for those who lost their lives, he did not utter a single word of retaliation. On the contrary he prayed to Bhagwan to grant peace and wisdom to everybody, thus exemplifying Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s tenet in the Shikshapatri (201), to wish good of dissenters. This single act of forgiveness solidly established that Sanatan Dharma believed in shanti. Henceforth his response has attained fame as “The Akshardham Response” setting an eternal example to the whole world of the immense strength that is latent in truly forgiving from the heart and what it can achieve on a global level.

Forgiveness in World Religions

  • Judaism. “Just as God is merciful, you too must be merciful (Psalms 145:17). The Torah stipulates, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your neighbour. Love you neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

  • Christianity. In Matthew (18:21-22), Peter asks Jesus whether one should forgive his brother seven times. Jesus replies, “No, 77 times” (or 70 times seven).

  • Islam. “Keep to forgiveness and enjoin kindness… and if it should happen that a prompting from Satan stirs thee up (to anger), seek refuge in Allah: behold, He is all-hearing, all-knowing (Qur’an 7:199-200).

  • Buddhism. In the Dhammada Buddha says, “Hatred never ceases by hatred in this world. Through loving kindness it comes to an end. This is an ancient law.”

  • Jainism. On the fifth day of the Paryution period, followers utter, “Kshamãpna michchhãmi dukkadam – I beg your forgiveness.”

  • Sanatan Dharma.
    The Rig Veda (1-41-8) offers the following prayer about forgiving:
    Mã vo ghnantam mã shapantam prati voche devayantam.
    Sumnairidva ã vivãse.
    – If your bhakta beats me or curses me, even then, I shall never seek revenge, but will pray that Your blessings shower on him.

  • Bhagwan Swaminarayan. “They (sadhus) shall always bear abuses and insults hurled upon them by the wicked and also their beatings. Such acts should always be forgiven and the persecutors blessed for a betterment in their life.” - Shikshapatri 201

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