As I think about the Karmic debts I have accumulated over this life, there comes a realization that the pain caused to others has not been one way, that their suffering had truly added a debt to my being which I didn’t even have full awareness of. On the other side, in the cases where I have been wronged, whether deserved or not, there too is a heaviness, a baggage to be carried. Unless one learns to let go, to forgive, to reconcile; then as Desmond Tutu says, there is no future.
One of the most defining incidents of my early life and a source of constant strife in our family was a major business setback in my fathers life. About 30 years ago, he was working together with my Uncle (his brother-in-law), in what he perceived was a partnership built over many years of hard work. But he was spurned rudely when asked for his fair share. My father was livid, there was a huge fight and he walked out of the business. And we were forced to distance ourselves from our cousins. The strife has lasted almost a lifetime, and even though numerous family members tried to bring about reconciliation, neither my Father or Uncle were ready to forgive or forget. And then my Aunt passed a way after a long battle with cancer. Of course, father went to his sister’s funeral and paid his condolences to uncle. But I wondered, for them to stand each other in the same room, did it really need to come to the death of a sweet and loving soul who adored them both. Did either of them imagine the pain and suffering she went through, which she probably couldn’t even express to them? As they enter their sunset years, do they ever wonder, what was the point of it all? And what about us kids, who loved each other and spent a lifetime meeting each other secretly, hiding from our fathers.
I’ve been reading the book, “No Future Without Forgiveness”, written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the transition from the horrors of Apartheid faced by the native black population of South Africa, to their reconciliation with the white Afrikaners after the abolition of their unjust rule. It is a moving account of how in spite of the untold suffering, the death, the torture, the utter humiliation of their people for more than a century – they decide to forgive their oppressors. They conclude, as a nation, that truth and reconciliation was more important for a shared brighter future, to ensure the safety and prosperity of their next generation. It must have taken enormous courage. As Tutu puts it though, it is driven from the African world-view of Ubuntu, a word that I have come to admire a lot.
It also means, my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in theirs. We belong to a bundle of life. We say, ‘a person is a person through other people’. It is not ‘I think therefore I am’. It says rather: ‘I’m human because I belong’. I participate, I share. A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good; for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.Desmond Tutu, There Is No Future Without Forgiveness, page 35.
Harmony, friendliness and community are great goods. Social harmony for us is the summum bonum – the greatest good. Anything that subverts or undermines this sought-after good is to be avoided like the plague. Anger, resentment, lust for revenge, even success through aggressive competitiveness, are corrosive for this good. To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. What dehumanizes you, inexorably, dehumanizes me. Forgiveness gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize then.
A few weeks back my wife, who has had a difficult relationship with a family member, asked me “Tell me, is there a limit to forgiveness?”. The question stumped me, I didn’t know how to respond. I pondered over it and meditated over it. Then, the Inner Intuition, the Antar Guru said, “No there isn’t, and especially if you love them, there can’t be any limits – for your love needs to be unconditional”. It has helped her to continue to rebuild that relationship in a loving and supportive manner.
There are a few people I have wronged in life, caused them pain, and each time suffered myself too. Those decisions or actions taken through the Ego-Mind, through callous cleverness, through self-interest, came back to haunt my being. This body, this Identity couldn’t live with the inner being in harmony and would start to shut off and drag itself, because the inner light would grow dimmer. Only after I requested forgiveness, would the load be lightened and body-soul could move ahead together. To a few special souls who have given me their love, and I have betrayed their trust – I apologize for my past actions. Though I know they have moved on, if there is still any residual resentment, I seek their forgiveness again.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing”. The Bible, Luke 23:34
Christ said this when he was on the cross, being tortured by the soldiers. I now try to live by them even if I feel treated unfairly. It helps keep my Ego-Mind in check and calms the sense of righteousness indignation of every perceived wrong, whether justified or not.
Ending today with a thought from the morning prayer-meditation
If path to healing you seek to build my soul –
Start with sands of humility
And add into the cement of forgiveness
Nurture with the water of love
And press it down firmly with lasting gratitude
Thus, O Soul, you shall find your redemption