Is forgiveness practical?


There is only one defect in forgiving a person and not another. People take a forgiving person to be weak. That defect however should not be taken into consideration for forgiveness is a great power. Forgiveness is the virtue of the weak and an ornament of the strong. It subdues all in this world. What is there that forgiveness cannot achieve? What can a wicked person do unto him who carries a saber of forgiveness in his hand? Fire falling on the grassless ground is extinguished of itself. And unforgiving individual defiles himself with many enormities. Righteousness is the one highest good; and forgiveness is the one supreme peace; knowledge is one supreme contentment; and benevolence, one sole happiness.

From The Mahabharata
Udyoga Parva Section XXXIII

The above excerpt is acknowledging the power of forgiveness at the same time pointing that people who forgive can be considered weak. This shows that the Vedic tradition is not blind from the reality that forgiveness can be mistaken to be virtue of the weak.

To understand the practicality of forgiveness as a useful practice, it is essential to discern the crucial yet subtle difference between Trust and Forgiveness. Often we equate forgiving with trusting and this leads to a lot of problems.

Forgiveness essentially means to stop the feeling of anger or resentment towards a wrongdoer. Whereas trust is much more a positive thing. When we trust a person, we see him as more reliable, truthful and faithful. Forgiveness is about past but trusting is about the future. Understanding the difference between the two is essential for developing healthy relationship and take the correct action at the time of need.

Usually, we think, “When I forgive someone, the person who is under some guilt, is freed from that guilt”. Normal conception is that the other person’s guilt will be lessened.

The problem with this understanding is that the person committing the offence is not even conscious of his mistake most of the times and does not even seek forgiveness. And we feel there is no point in forgiving him.


Forgiveness is meant to benefit us not the other one. Actually, in such scenarios, we are more hurt than the person on the other side. The negativity residing within us, due to the revenge mentality, can be compared to be like a person holding a burning piece of coal within his hands and hurling the coal to the person he is resentful at. But it hurts both of them.

The more forgiving a person is, the healthier the person will be. Psychosomatic problems are seen in people who are less forgiving. So the primary purpose of forgiving is to free ourselves of resentment.

Reactions of resentment:
Clam up: Burying feelings by emotional isolation from everyone to guard oneself – Unhealthy solution.
Blow up: We get angry and retaliate by hurting the person we are angry at. It not only hurts them but also us.
Both the resentment-driven approaches are unproductive.
So, at least for the sake of our own physical and mental health, it is useful to forgive the offender and thereby free ourselves from the anxieties.

From Vedic philosophy, forgiving is easier when viewed from the law of karma. The person who has hurt me is not to be considered the cause of my suffering but a vehicle of my suffering. We shouldn’t be angry at the instrument of our karma. Similarly, whatever suffering that comes to our lives is the result of the actions we had done in the past. There is no point in blaming the person who is acting as an instrument in giving us the reactions to our previous karma. But the philosophy is not so easy to accept. It is extremely difficult to accept it emotionally.
The philosophy of karma is not meant to be a recipe for us to let ourselves to get trampled over by others. The purpose of Karma is to encourage us to do our dharma i.e. to do our duty.

Destiny determines the consequences of our actions,  not our actions themselves.

So, what actions we are going to perform, is in our hands only. Recognizing our past karma resulting in current wrong happening should not make us passive also. The point is what is the dharma of a person? Forgiveness doesn’t mean that one lets oneself be trampled upon. The point is, one doesn’t let one’s emotions divert one away from the right course. One thinks and ascertains one’s duty and acts accordingly.

No virtue can be glamorized in isolation. There is a time to forgive and a time to punish. And the king who doesn’t understand this is ruined. _ Draupadi

Highest is dharma. In certain situations, forgiveness is apt in others, punishing is apt.

Case 1: We may forgive the person without holding any kind of resentment in the heart. And completely forget the mistake.

Often, this kind of forgiveness is driven by the understanding of Karma and a person easily forgives the wrongdoer without holding any resentment in the heart. But the problem arises when the wrongdoer takes the advantage of  the opportunity given and repeats the mistake again and again.

Case 2: We may forgive but not trust the person i.e. by withholding the trust.

Forgiving but not forgetting by withholding the trust means not allowing the person to have the facility to repeat the wrong act again and again. Asking for forgiveness is not the same as earning the trust. Asking forgiveness is the first step of earning trust. Because earning trust involves doing some activity that is trustworthy. Trust can be earned by actions which show reformation. So in this course of action, we forgive internally but withhold the trust.

Thus, forgiveness has two meanings:
Internally we don’t hold any feeling of hatred or resentment in our heart and forgive the person completely.
Other is by forgiving externally but withholding the trust.

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