Kşmāvāņi Parva. Festival of seeking and giving forgiveness

Fed up of hearing and experiencing the ills of terrorism, war, anger and hatred in your world. Welcome to the world of forgiveness and join us in understanding and expressing the same on Kşmāvāņi Parva, celebration of seeking and giving forgiveness. Just imagine if Bush and Osama can forgive each other and start a new life. Or take a look at your own life. How much time and energy do you spend in taking revenge from someone who has done some (or perceived to do some) harm to you? We shall be amazed to see how forgiveness adversely affects the anger and ego, and even eliminates them. Anger and ego consume all our energy and deprive us from enjoying our nature i.e. being happy. The well known saying “ To err is human and to forgive is divine’ if practiced sincerely can solve all such problems and bring peace and harmony in life.

Wilkepedia defines forgiveness as the mental, emotional and/or spiritual process of ceasing to feel resentment, indignation or anger against another person for a perceived offence, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution. This definition, however, is considered simply in terms of the person who forgives, in terms of the person forgiven and/or in terms of the relationship between the forgiver and the person forgiven. Jain religious texts take a holistic view of the life, goes a step further whereby they say that forgiveness is not only an attribute but the very nature of our pure soul (Uttam kşamā mārdva……brhamacarya dharma i.e. supreme forgiveness etc is the religion). Thus they say that forgiveness can be a gift (you give to others and yourself) or can be earned (by seeking forgiveness and observing some sort of penance) and it is in fact just our nature, which asks us to observe equanimity in all our mental, vocal or physical actions towards all living beings.

Literal meaning of the word kşamā consists of kşa meaning to destroy and mā meaning to protect i.e. kşamā means to protect from destroying the nature /virtues of soul. Similarly one of the meanings of kşamā is mother earth. Earth tolerates all hardships that we give to her by digging, burning etc but the earth still gives us all the means to live.

Thus we can delineate forgiveness as being: i. gifted ( by the one who forgives), ii. earned(by the one seeking it) and iii. natural as a part of our nature (defined by Jains) and as being divine. During the month of Bhadra, the entire world of Jains resounds with the words ‘Micchā me dukkadam’ i.e. We ask forgiveness for any harm we may have caused you, by thoughts, words or actions, knowingly or unknowingly. Khamemi savve jīva (I grant forgiveness to all living beings), savve jīva khamanatu me (May all living beings grant me forgiveness), metti me savve bhuyesu (My friendship is with all living beings) and vairam majham na kenai (My enemy is totally non-existent), especially it is the grand finale to the holy period of religious activities.

Forgiveness to be earned would be considered only properly exercised if forgiveness is requested or earned through means such as pratikramaņa (confessions of wrongs done and seeking forgiveness (in the form of prayers) and promise not to repeat again and prāyaścita (repentance in the form accepting some punishment and promise not to do again). Forgiveness as a gift makes to let go of resentment held in the forgiver’s mind of a perceived wrong or difference, either actual or imagined and frees their respective minds of resentment and guilt. Such forgiveness does not require repentance. Natural forgiveness does not require any effort and is automatic and without any effort as in the first wo types. As a gift or earned, forgiveness allows both the person giving the gift and its recipient, an opportunity to overcome some hurt or emotional turmoil and ability to move on from the perceived situation of unease.

As the nature of pure soul, it is motivated by virtues of compassion, equanimity to all living beings, and motivated by love, philosophy, appreciation for the forgiveness of others and so considered divine. This is supreme forgiveness and is its nature and virtue. Pure soul or the state of paramātmā is devoid of anger or any bondage. The statement Kşamā virasya bhuşaņam or ‘to err is human and to forgive is divine’ are synonymous. Only the brave or the most powerful can forgive.

Mahāvira said that we should forgive our own soul. Forgiveness is a great metaphysical concept. To forgive others is a practical application of forgiveness but the main and supreme forgiveness is to forgive your own soul. It is the nature of soul and is like pure water, which removes all types of karmika and other dirt, which shroud the soul.

Forgiveness benefits the one who forgives first and than the one who is forgiven. It is the basis of all spiritual purification activities. Mahāvira in His sermons to Gautam in Āyaro says ‘ the one whom you hurt or kill is you. All souls are equal and similar and have the same nature and qualities.’ It goes on further to talk of the six different kinds of living beings, identified by their bodies like air, earth, water, plant, fire and moving beings with two to five types of sense organs and mind. Live and let live and Ahińsā Parmo dharma are the popular Jain sutras /slogans enunciating these. This is based on Jain karma doctrine where every act has its consequences and the same have to be enjoyed by the doer. Thus anger begets anger and forgiveness or love begets forgiveness or love.

Jains think, when caused pain or hurt by others, as ‘ I have not caused any pain or ill to them, still they are angry with me, abusing me etc. It is my bad karmas, which are yielding results now and causing pain to me. So I must repent or perform penance. I am the doer of my karmas and the enjoyer of their results and nobody else is responsible for them.’ Another thinking is to consider the others as weak persons as they get angry and hence must be forgiven by me. Always forgiveness involves total annihilation of anger. One who gets angry first hurts himself and then the others. Similarly forgiveness brings peace and tranquility to the giver first and then to others (auran ko shital kare aap hi shital hoye). Psychologists have established that anger is followed by hatred, tiredness; feeling of wrongdoing and then repentance while forgiveness is followed by peace, tranquility and contentment.

The feeling or experience of forgiveness cannot be found in religious or other texts as these texts are like a mirror which shows the dirt on the face but the dirt has to be removed by self wiping it. Moral and spiritual purification ethics prescribed by Jains talk of maintaining attitudes of carefulness and restraint in all our activities to avoid anger or to cause hurt to others. The daily essential duties for all Jains include pratikramaņa (confession of wrongs done and seeking forgiveness and promise not to repeat again) and prāyaścita (repentance). On annual basis the month of Bhādra is considered holy and the last eighteen days are observed as either paryuşaņa or das lakşan parva. A day after the last day they observe Kşamāvāņi parva whereby they seek and give forgiveness to all for all the wrongs done knowing or unknowingly or asking others to do so or supporting / admiring those doing so.

Jain purāņas or holy texts having stories are full of great people becoming stronger, contented by observing forgiveness. The example of Bharat Bāhubali war in which the younger brother Bahubali wins the war and immediately forgives his elder brother, gives him the territories won and accepts renunciation from all worldly activities to meditate on his self and attain supreme soul state. Similarly Mahāvira went to a cremation ground for meditations. There the people roughed him up thinking that He is going to grab their land and livelihood. Not responding to the hurt caused by them made the people realize that He is beyond worldly possessions and is a great saint and person meditating on His self.

All religions of the world do emphasize essentiality of the concept and practice of forgiveness.

The concept of performing atonement from one’s wrongdoing (Prayaschitta), and asking for forgiveness is very much a part of the practice of Hinduism as it is related to the law of karma. Karma is a sum of all that an individual has done, is currently doing and will do. The effects of those deeds and these deeds actively create present and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one’s own life, and the pain in others. Forgiveness is a great power. Kabir aptly said ‘ The strong and the elders should practice forgiveness as the weaker and youngsters are by nature mischevious and troublemakers…’ Lord Krishna (Gita 16.3) said that forgiveness is one of the characteristics of one born for a divine state. It is noteworthy that He distinguishes those good traits from those he considered to be demoniac, such as pride, self-conceit and anger. The entire episode of Mahabharat is based on the hurting words of Draupadi and the anger of Duryodhana making him occupied with ways to take revenge. Just imagine the situation if either of them had sought forgiveness from the other.

In Buddhism, forgiveness is seen as a practice to prevent harmful emotions from causing havoc on one’s mental well-being. Buddhism recognizes that feelings of hatred and ill-will leave a lasting effect on our mind karma. “In contemplating the law of karma, we realize that it is not a matter of seeking revenge but of practicing metta (loving kindness), and forgiveness, for the victimizer is, truly, the most unfortunate of all. “If we haven’t forgiven, we keep creating an identity around our pain, and that is what is reborn. That is what suffers.”

Jesus Christ when He was being crucified prayed to God to forgive those who are crucifying Him as they are ignorant and do not know what they are doing? Similarly the concept of confession and seeking absolution and the end of all prayers seeking forgiveness and blessings of Lord are applications of the accepted principle of forgiveness.

Islam teaches that God / Allah is ‘the most forgiving’, and is the original source of all forgiveness. Forgiveness often requires the repentance by those being forgiven. Depending on the type of wrong committed, forgiveness can come either directly from Allah, or from one’s fellow man.Muslims are taught many phrases and words to keep repeating daily asking God’s forgiveness e.g. Astaghfiru-Allah, “I ask forgiveness from Allah”

In Judaism, if a person harms one, but then sincerely and honestly apologizes to the wronged individual and tries to rectify the wrong, the wronged individual is religiously required to grant forgiveness. Jews observe a Day of Atonement ‘Yom Kippur’ on the day before God makes decisions regarding what will happen during the coming year. Just prior to Yom Kippur, Jews will ask forgiveness of those they have wronged during the prior year (if they have not already done so). During Yom Kippur itself, Jews fast and pray for God’s forgiveness for the transgressions they have made against God in the prior year.

Let us now take a look at the principle of forgiveness in our own lives:

We see a dog starts barking on seeing a stranger. If the stranger responds by trying to hit him or run, the dog barks louder and chases him vehemently. If the person stands still and shows love to the dog, the dog also calms down and does not bother the person.

Similarly the fire (anger) when it falls on combustible things (i.e. absence of forgiveness) like hay, oil and petroleum products etc burn faster itself and the things on which it falls. But the same fire when falls on water or non-combustible things then it gets extinguished faster itself.

Mahatma Gandhi’s forgiveness of his assassin as he was dying is a glorious example of forgiveness in our own life time. His practice of non-violence and satyagraha are based on the principles of forgiveness.

The Japanese, one of the most powerful economies of the world, sought forgiveness from Korea for the wrongs committed during the war to make a new beginning.

Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. One study has shown that the positive benefit of forgiveness is similar whether it was based upon religious or secular counseling as opposed to a control group that received no forgiveness counseling. This is supportive of our own experience of anger. When angry, we start breathing heavily our pulse rate increases, blood pressure increases, physical tensions increase clouding our rational thinking. Forgiving eliminates anger. Remember revenge is sweet, but letting go of anger at those who wronged you is a smart route to good health

The need to forgive is widely recognized by the public, but they are often at a loss for ways to accomplish it.Like in other areas of human inquiry, science is beginning to question religious concepts of forgiveness. Psychology, sociology and medicine are among the scientific disciplines researching foregiveness or aspects of foregiveness. Psychological papers and books on the subject did not begin to appear until the 1980’s. Dr. Robert Enright from the University of Wisconsin is regarded to have placed forgiveness on the world map by establishing International Forgiveness Institute. Thus we see forgiveness is gaining importance as an essential quality to be understood and practiced to enhance the quality of life, peace and harmony. It is therefore essential that we find ways to populrize studies, awareness and practice of forgiveness universally. Let us start a movement on forgiveness by observing Kşmāvāņi Parva as the international day of seeking and giving forgiveness. Kşmāvāņi Parva, as the name implies is an opportunity / celebration to express our belief in the concept and practice of forgiveness.

(References: Wilkepedia internet dictionary on forgiveness, Jain religious texts (Bhavapahuda Baras anuprekkha, Niyama Sara , tattvaratha sutra and pujas by Dhyanat Rai)