DIVINE LOVE AND SELF-COMPASSION:
HOW RELIGIONS GUIDE US TO FORGIVENESS

Akhil Gupta, Founder UEF

For millennia, religions have served as a guiding light, offering solace and direction in the complexities of human existence. Two central tenets that weave through nearly every religious tapestry are forgiveness and repentance. Though seemingly distinct, these concepts are intricately linked, as two sides of the same coin foster a path towards spiritual growth.

The paradox of forgiveness is that it is less about the one being forgiven and more about liberating oneself self. Forgiveness is one of the essential preconditions for peaceful living. Being wronged by another puts us in a position of power — it gives us the choice of whether to punish or forgive. Choosing to punish gives in to our baser instincts and emotions, but forgiveness requires restraint and reflection from a more conscious perspective. It helps us understand that everyone has a back story that makes them behave in ways that may not be ideal from our perspective. We can only forgive when we feel secure and empathetic toward the other person.

Many religious scriptures urge us to forgive even our enemies who have wronged us. Forgiveness is an expression of true love, which entails replacing ill will with good will toward the other person.

Just as forgiveness is necessary for healing relationships with others, repentance is necessary for healing our relationship with our inner selves. Repentance requires self-forgiveness. Life is complicated, and everyone makes mistakes and has regrets. The past cannot be changed, but the future can, with the right balance of repentance and forgiveness. In fact, with healthy repentance comes self-compassion, which also helps us forgive others. Repentance also requires the destruction of the ego — an act of surrender prescribed by most faiths to get closer to the divine.

The Jain prophet Mahavira, in fact, said that we must forgive ourselves first. The most important annual festival for Jains, called Paryushana (“abiding” or “coming together”), ends with the celebration of Samvatsari or Kshamavani. On this day, Jains seek forgiveness from all life forms of the world whom they may have harmed knowingly or unknowingly and greet their friends and relatives with Michchhāmi Dukkaḍaṃ, which means “If I have offended you in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word or action, then I seek your forgiveness.”

In Hinduism, forgiveness is seen as a virtuous trait that purifies the soul and fosters peace, while repentance is often connected with the concept of Karma. Addressing one’s wrongdoings and seeking forgiveness is essential to breaking the cycle of Karma and achieving Moksha, or liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth. In Hinduism, repentance (Prayaschita) can be achieved through a number of means, including prayer, fasting, and charity.

During the Holi festivals, people who have not talked to each other for a year are expected to embrace and forgive each other. This happened to me and my friend once. I got angry, and even though I wanted to forgive him, my ego prevented me from patching things up at the time. However, the day of Holi finally provided me with the perfect opportunity to do so, and we became even closer friends.

In Judaism, Teshuva, meaning “return,” embodies repentance and seeking forgiveness. Repentance is the primary focus of one of the holiest Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur, in which followers remember and atone for all sins committed in the past year.

Forgiveness in Christianity is fundamental, reflecting God’s mercy. Christians believe that Jesus Christ died for the sins of humanity, offering a path to forgiveness for all who repent. Jesus also commanded that people be quick to forgive each other for wrongdoings, as did most other prophets and saints. He remained committed to this principle, with his last words on the cross being, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

Forgiveness is also a central theme in Islam, where Allah is described as “the Most Merciful, the Most Forgiving.” Muslims are encouraged to seek forgiveness from Allah and to forgive others. The act of repentance in Islam, known as ‘Tawbah’, involves sincerely turning away from sin and returning to the path of Allah, which is essential for spiritual cleanliness and growth.

Although Buddhism does not deal with sin per se, it emphasizes forgiveness as a means to release anger and resentment, which are seen as obstacles to spiritual enlightenment. The act of forgiveness is viewed as a way to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion, which are key virtues in Buddhism.

In the Baha’i faith, only God has the power to forgive sins. This is similar to Buddhism, in which mistakes and evil deeds are the result of one’s own ignorance. With Buddhism, as with Taoism and Confucianism, the accurate measure of sincere repentance is the self-reform that would prevent such mistakes in the future.

The significance of repentance is also underscored in Sikhism. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, emphasized the importance of Chardi Kala, a state of unwavering optimism and spirit. This state can only be achieved through honest introspection, acknowledging mistakes, and actively seeking to learn from one’s mistakes.

In Ancient Roman times, the Stoic philosopher Seneca extended forgiveness to the entire human race: “To avoid being angry with individuals, you must pardon the Whole mass, you must grant forgiveness to the entire human race,” he said.

But it was the English poet Alexander Pope who perhaps best summed up the supreme importance of forgiveness when he wrote, “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

Insightful Quotes on Forgiveness and Repentance

Christianity

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,”

The Lord’s Prayer

Islam

“Say, ‘O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful’”

– Quran 39:53

Judaism

“If a man sins against his neighbor… he shall confess the sin he has committed”

Leviticus 5:5

Buddhism

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule”

Dhammapada, Verse 1

Hinduism

“Giving up all kinds of desires, working without selfish attachment, being equal in success and failure, and being calm and dedicated — that is called yogic renunciation”

Bhagavad Gita 6:3

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