Resolution 2023: Choose to Forgive

January, 2023 by Sejal Zaveri
“Forgiveness is the key to open the door leading to salvation– freedom from being controlled by the past, freedom from the emotional ties to the offender, freedom from the continual inner conflicts of hate and bitterness, freedom to realize your true potential and enjoy the fullness of life” – From Jain Society of Greater Detroit.

Forgiveness (Kshama) is powerful. It is known to improve physical, mental as well as spiritual wellbeing. There are scientific and psychological studies which reveal that acts of Forgiveness can reap huge rewards for person’s physical health. It lowers the risk of heart attack, improves cholesterol levels and sleep. It has strength to heal both a victim and offender and bring peace, positivity, and solitude in life. All world religions rejoice the power of forgiveness and preach extensively for the same.

Even as per Jaina Dharma, forgiveness is an important virtue to be nurtured and nourished by all whether laymen or ascetic. Code of conduct (samachari) prescribed by Jaina scripture Kalpasutra, expects monks to forgive each other in situation of conflicts for peaceful monastic life. It is an intrinsic part of most Jaina rituals like Pratikraman, Samayika and Chaityavandan. Various Sutras like Iriyavahiya and Vanditu are about requesting an atonement for any misconducts committed and promising to be careful while doing all activities. Vanditu Sutra recited in Pratikraman seeks forgiveness and friendship to all and enmity to none. Jaina practitioners who are on the path of spiritual progress live a minimalistic lifestyle by following twelve minor vows. These vows help them to be careful towards all living beings including earth, water, fire, and air. Forgiveness is solicited if any of these vows are not followed correctly resulting in hurt to any living beings intentionally or unintentionally. Pratikraman is performed to reflect on eighteen broad categories of misdeeds that are committed either physically, verbally, or mentally and to obtain forgiveness for the same. This ritual which is performed twice daily, helps one to be self-aware and take actions needed to win over the passions. Additionally, a special detailed ritual is performed every fifteen days, every four months and at the end of year on the last day of the festival of Paryushan, known as Samvatsari.

Eight-day long festival of Paryushan is an epitome of celebration of the virtue of forgiveness. On the eighth day i.e., Samvatsari all previous karmic accounts are closed, and a new beginning is marked. By letting go of all ill wills and ego, “Micchami Dukkadam” is wished with purity of heart. “Micchami Dukkadam” means I forgive all living beings from bottom of my heart and may my wrong doings be forgiven by every living being.  Forgiveness is granted as well as availed and reconciliation is brought about. This gesture breaks the chain of negativity which may otherwise continue not only in current birth, but also in future births.

But the effortless and genuine forgiveness is not easy. One may find it very difficult to forgive criminals with brutal crimes or terrorists who killed innocent people. Such acts of absolute forgiveness would expect a strong belief system in place, constant reflections, and steady practice. Additionally, conscious, and ongoing training of mind along with the ability to see things from different perspectives is mandatory.

This being true, forgiving does not mean the wrong doings are ignored or accepted. It’s about bringing change in the feeling and attitude of the forgiver and the forgiven.  It is like seeing everything as an observer without any negative emotions attached to it. It’s about increasing one’s ability to wish well even to offenders. It’s about freedom from hate, bitterness, and negativity.

Understanding and having faith in Jaina theory of “Five Samvay” (five inseparable causes) along with Karma theory can assist in thinking from different perspective and bring about change in belief system. Let’s understand how in certain times, soul’s unalterable karmas (Nikachit Karma) can be the main cause of misery and not the external circumstances (Nimitta-person/object). The five inseparable causes that are instrumental in occurrence of any event, good or bad, are Purusharth (Self Effort or Free Will), Swabhava (Nature), Niyati (Destiny), Nimmita/Prarabdh (External circumstances and/or Past Karmas) and time (Kaal). Each of these causes must be present for an event to occur but chief cause may vary every time. “Nikachit Karma” are the type of karmas which cannot be shed off and would certainly cause the experience of pleasure or pain to the concerned soul at the time of its fruition. External circumstances will also play its own role at the time of fruition of these karmas. But many times, these external circumstances would appear to be the chief cause of misery instead of person’s own unalterable past karmas. The person who understands and accepts this will slowly stop blaming others for his/her miseries and start seeing things differently. He/she will start accepting things as is and his/her anger and agitation will gradually disappear. This is the reason despite multiple hindrances in his life, Mahavir’s calmness was undisturbed, his compassion remained persistent, and he never blamed Gosalak, Chandkausika and the peasant who drilled nails in his ears. Mahavir believed that the chief reason for his misery was his own past karmas and not Gosalak, Chandakausik or peasants. For him, they were not the real offenders, only the instruments of offence. Thinking from this perspective, it never made him angry or agitated towards his wrong doers. When there is neither anger, nor hatred, nor ill-will, where is the question of granting forgiveness. What existed was only an unconditional compassion towards them.

Common perception is to see forgiveness as a remedy for an anger, but anger is result of erosion of the quality of forgiveness. Ongoing practice of reflecting on Mahavir’s teaching would provide the manure needed to bloom the virtue of forgiveness and anger will start to diminish. Longer and sincere practice will slowly develop the change in response. Instead of anger, what arises is compassion, and forgiveness will become the intrinsic nature. The need to forgive may not arise at all and equanimity in all situations would become a way of life.

It’s January 2023, the right time to set new year goals. Moreover, goals are set for physical and material growth. Spiritual ones sometimes happen to take a backseat. How about doing something new this year and setting one of our goals as nurturing the quality of forgiveness?

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About Author

Sejal Zaveri

To strengthen my core values and satisfy the quest for knowledge, I did diploma in Jainism and later M.A. in philosophy from Mumbai University. Currently studying Prakrit. I also hold a bachelor’s degree in engineering and have worked in past as a software engineer.

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