Is forgiveness practical?

( – By Chaitanya Charan das

Question: Spiritual wisdom-traditions often glorify forgiveness as a virtue, but isn’t it impractical and foolish to forgive someone who repeatedly hurts us?


When someone hurts us, forgiving that person is our best response. But often our indignant emotions make us overlook the subtle but vital line that differentiates forgiving a person from trusting a person: forgiveness is for the past; trust is for the future. We are urged to immediately forgive, but not immediately trust, the wrongdoer. Let’s explore this difference.

Whatever wrongs a person has done in the past can’t be changed; as long as we resent the past, we stay stuck in it. Consequently, our thoughts, words, actions and even lives may become resentment-driven, causing us to either clam up or blow up. When we clam up, we drive our anger deep within, thereby unnecessarily inflicting ugly scars on our psyches that may distort our personality. When we blow up, we drive our anger outward not just to the wrongdoer, but to whoever crosses our way at the time of blowing up, thereby creating an undesirable public image of being irritable. Thus both the resentment-driven responses – clamming up or blowing up – are unproductive, nay counter-productive.

Therefore, the best response is that which frees us from resentment – and forgiveness alone can do that. When we forgive a person, we accept the ground reality that the other person being a fallible human is imperfect – as are we. We too may err tomorrow and be in need of forgiveness. In fact, the logic of karma suggests that we may have hurt someone in the past, just as someone has hurt us now. We then see the wrongdoer not as the cause, but as the vehicle, of our suffering, which originated in our own past insensitivity. Underscoring this philosophically informed vision, Srila Prabhupada would recommend that we eschew becoming angry with “the instruments of our karma.” Even if our indignant feelings make the logic of karma difficult to digest, still forgiveness retains its potential to free us from resentment.

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