Repentance vs. Forgiving


Relationship is a two way street. Mother loves her child and the child in turn is attached to the mother. The same goes for any parent and child, husband and wife, brothers, sisters, relatives, etc. In every case there are two parties involved. When both persons involved in a relationship see eye to eye, there is harmony, friendship, collaboration, joy and mutual benefit. But such relationship is ideal. More often than not the relationships are based on give and take. It is a matter of accommodation. It is not a zero sum game.

Often the relationship that starts with no constraints, fears and apprehensions – like that between the mother and the child or between two perfect strangers who like each other – become constrained and limited over time. The deep roots of a good relationship – like that among family members or friends – become subverted in our false attempt to preserve and “protect” the superficial or surface level connections. Like a river set in motion, relationships take their own course. To cultivate a “family” with meaningful relationships requires sustained effort. It is like the constant effort required for channeling the flow and harnessing the energy of the river.  It is like two ships in the dark ocean working together while using their respective search lights to steer clear and co-exist (in the same channel of water).

When the relationship is strained there will be attempts to restore the same. People of good will can disagree, but to claim only one person is at fault is like twisting a dried wood further, not strengthening and restoring it. To restore the relationship requires internal reflection – soul searching – on two dimensions:

RepentanceAcknowledging the sources of strain and finding ways to overcome such strain. Repentance is the evidence of acknowledgement of the source of strain; Forgiving is the evidence of the step towards overcoming the strain.

Repentance and forgiveness is an important aspect of prayers in Hinduism. May there be peace and harmony for all (Sarve’ Janaha Sukino’ Bhavanthu) is the prayer through which Hindus seek repentance through the blessing of the Lord and His forgiveness to all. Let there be the protection of the Lord (Ishwaro’ Rakshathu) is the refrain through which Hindus seek strength for their forgiveness and comfort for those who need to repent.

We find similar approach for repentance and forgiveness in other religions. Repentance and forgiveness are seen as complimentary need in the Christian faith. One can repent for his/her failures and seek forgiveness through confession. One can also come to terms with the failure of others (external to the self) and seek forgiveness for them through prayer, when repentance may or may not come from the other person. But, through prayers the worshiper finds his/her own reconciliation.

Life is a collection of experiences. Each experience is composed of the three connectors (Guna) and their inter-play. These connectors are Ignorance, Bias and Knowledge / understanding.  Under the influence of these connectors we acquire “experience”. When we understand the role of these connectors, the ever present rules or laws of nature at work relevant to that situation become abundantly clear. We are devoid of the related experience. This is the Connector – Science or living in union with the Conscience.

If it is true that any aspect of our living is governed by the three connectors (i.e.) Ignorance, Bias and Knowledge / understanding, then repentance and forgiveness must also be under the influence of these connectors. The inter-related nature of repentance and forgiving superimposed by the three connectors is schematically illustrated in the figure above. We have also described earlier that while all three connectors co-exist, the behavior as well as the outcome are determined by the dominant connector. These outcomes are also outlined in the figure above, which provides a good analytical / subjective frame work.

If we truly believe that you and the universe are one and the same (Thath Thwam Asi) and everything is governed by the laws of Nature (Sarvam Brahma Mayam), the pillars of Vedic philosophy then how do we treat repentance and forgiveness? Let us look at the “objective” nature or the process behind these outcomes.

The offender and the person offended are droplets of the same body of water (Thath Thwam Asi), if the offensive action and its negative effect can be isolated. It is like removing the dirty cloth and placing it aside. This process of isolation and separation clarifies precisely what were the wrong actions and their effect. True acknowledgement and ownership of these actions and their effects are characterized as “Repentance”.  This process calls for genuine self-reflection (Yoga). Any one – true observer who treats all three connectors with equal weight (Sagunathvam) – can arrive at the same conclusions on the actions and their impact. Decision to go beyond the acknowledgement and move further is characterized as “Forgiveness”. In this process the repentance and forgiveness are not centered on either individual. Instead it is a collective outcome of the self-reflection of everyone involved on their own accord (Yoga). As a result the joyful outcome (Sath Chith Anandam) of reconciliation and progress is a collective outcome. It is not limited to any one person.

Let us pause here for a moment. The process of identifying the clean clothes or shining jewel that brings us happiness is just the same as isolating the dirty cloth which brings us grief and placing it aside! In other words the method for objective analysis of any event or experience is the same irrespective of the fact it brings us happiness or sorrow!

I can identify the dirty clothes (repentance) and wash them (forgiveness) and move forward. As we all know there are limits to which I can convince you if certain of your clothes are dirty and need washing, even if I am willing and available to wash them! This becomes more complicated when the “offense“ pertains to matters beyond clothes (body) such as emotions (mind) and thoughts (intellect). The reverse may be equally true, where I am not open to acknowledgement (repentance) and/or forgiveness. This gap in repentance and forgiveness is a true measure of “subjectivity” that we experience in our relationships. If both the partners in the relationship continue to engage in such subjective interaction, then the outcomes will be as described in the figure above! Either person who moves beyond the subjective to the objective process of analysis and reflection will be like the ship with its search lights on and brightly visible. While sailing through the dark waters (strained relationship) this ship will steer clear of others and also help to guide others, whether or not the other ship(s) have their search lights (Repentance and forgiveness) well-lit and visible.

The “spiritually refined person” (Yogi), with joy of internal contemplation is peaceful and delighted within like an internal beacon of light, reaches unification with Brahman and becomes Brahman himself / herself.            B.G. 5.24

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