January, 2023 by Vinod Kapashi
America’s president Joe Biden, after the attack on Kabul International airport in August 2021 said in a very defiant and decisive tone:

“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” He spoke out after knowing about the bomb attack at the airport in which 183 people were killed, including 170 Afghan civilians and 13 members of the United States military. He was in no mood to forgive the killers. He vowed to hunt the perpetrators down and kill them. What would you do?

General Dyer, who ordered the shooting and killing of thousands of innocent men, women, and children in Jaliyan Wala Baugh, committed the gravest crime. And he was not even repentant. He did not show any remorse for his act. Would you forgive him?

Would you forgive Muhammad Ghazni who massacred thousands of brahmins and other innocent people in Somnath in the 11th Century? He desecrated and broke the Shiv-linga and looted all the wealth and precious jewellery, even the gem-studded gates of the temple were taken away. Would you forgive him?

And what about Hitler’s atrocities?

There were different kinds of reasons behind all these events. Political reasons, religious fanaticism, racial prejudice and expansionist ideas of few nations or individuals. Nevertheless, hundreds and thousands of innocent lives were lost.

These are most thought-provoking ideas where many scholars and even Jain ascetics provide different answers. Let us see another scenario:

We hear from our childhood days that Kshama virasya bhooshanam. (Kshama or forgiveness is the virtue of the braves). We must learn to forget and forgive. We must learn to love our enemies. This is the way forward. This is the solution when conflicts arise. Forgiveness and reconciliations are important virtues. Here we do apply our golden principle of Anekantvada. Anekantvada or acceptance of multicity of viewpoints is the key for establishing peace. This is 100% right but we are often unable to convince the opposite side that our viewpoint is also right and/or worth considering.

We live in a complex world. Many times, things are not as simple and as straightforward as they seem. Here we all ask questions about the ideal of forgiveness. I think the notion of forgiveness has many sides. Let us explore what happens when we are involved in a conflict. If someone in the family says something to you which is hurtful and presented in a distorted manner, how would you react? If someone insults you or if someone ignores and side-lines you, what would you do?

In a book called Radical Forgiveness, author Colin Tipping tries to explain what happens when we suffer due to someone’s anger or jealousy. We harbour the bad feelings towards the person who causes such harm.

But the author of the book explains this phenomenon in a philosophical way. He asks us to go within and ask ourselves: “Could there be a divine purpose behind everything that happens? If you’re willing to embrace this possibility, every aspect of your life can change.” This is the theory behind Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping. He argues that “Radical Forgiveness is much more than the mere letting go of the past, it is the key to creating the life that we want and the world that we want.”

Scientists now explain that when we are angry or when we harbour the feelings of jealousy and revenge, we only harm us. Our anger changes the chemical balance in our body. It produces harmful toxins which cause headache, stomach upset and sleeplessness. This way our anger damages us before we try or prepare to damage others. The book I mentioned above even mentions how, by applying the principle of forgiveness, one can help in the treatment of cancer. After all, as Mahavir Swami demonstrated when he dealt with the deadly cobra Chandkaushik, that colour of peace and forgiveness is white. The blood pouring out from Mahavir’s toes when Chandkaushik bit him was white. This is symbolic. White colour of forgiveness won, and the cobra was pacified. Likewise, when we are at peace with ourselves and towards others our chemical balance would change.

Jain religion advocates the idea of forgiveness. We are asked to beg forgiveness from all living beings for the harm we might have caused, and we are also taught to forgive all those who might have hurt us knowingly or unknowingly. Here indeed forgiveness is like a God-given gift and heavenly attribute.

But we Jains forget one thing. It is OK to forgive the person who has wronged you but let us see a scenario about begging forgiveness from other living beings. Whilst observing the Samayik or Pratikramana ritual we recite Iriyavahiya Sootra which states:

“I wish to retract from sins. Which I might have committed whilst going to and fro. Whatever types of living beings I might have destroyed while walking and while doing other activities; Whatever types of lives I might have destroyed on dews, in ant-holes, in air, in water, in clay, in cobwebs. Whatever types of lives I might have destroyed: – those with one sense, those with two senses, those with three senses, those with four senses and those with five senses. I might have kicked them, rolled them, covered them, assembled them, touched them, separated them from their own kinds, or killed them. May my sins or faults be forgiven (destroyed).”

In the above Sootra, we ask for forgiveness from the tiniest creatures. But here we must ask ourselves some questions to ourselves. We have described all sorts of possibilities as to how we harm other life in the nature around us. But the above words seem just hollow and dry if you think about the material progress and industrial pursuit by mankind. We ask forgiveness from the living beings in water, in air, in soil and in space. We discard toxic substances and harmful chemicals in the water – in our rivers. Industries emit poisonous gases in the air and pollute the environment. Toxic chemicals and fertilisers have killed the soil in many places. Thoughtless mining has disturbed the natural balance. Dairy industry inflicts cruelty on animals. Do we really ask for forgiveness? If so, why do we carry on in search of material advantages only? And why are we saying that our progress is phenomenal? And what is the use of begging forgiveness if we are not going to change?

Just ask that little fish in the river Ganga or just ask that little child who is trying to breathe fresh air in those slums, or a chained animal being prepared for slaughter. Are you happy sacrificing yourself for my greed and profit?

The three scenarios above take us through the different modes of our thought process. There are instances where mere forgiveness may result in more atrocities as history has shown us. Here we must see the greater good. And there are instances where forgiveness is a real panacea in one’s life. And the last scenario shows a warning light on our hypocrisy of forgiveness. May the Lord’s guiding light lead us to the right path and right destination.

About Author

Vinod Kapashi

Vinod Kapashi

Vinod Kapashi is a trustee of the World Congress of Faiths, one of the oldest interfaith organisations in the UK. He was the founder trustee of the Mahavir Foundation and served as president of this trust for 22 years. He holds the post of Vice-president in a senior citizen charity called Navjivan Vadil Kendra. He is a spiritual advisor for the Institute of Jainology. He has written 21 books on Jain and non-Jain subjects. He has travelled extensively to many countries lecturing on various subjects related to the Jain faith. He received the Honour of OBE for his charitable and religious activities.

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