We have a tendency of going through life entertaining righteous anger (sometimes called holy anger), and holding grudges against people who have slighted us or outsmarted us is a big part of that. And we believe that we are entitled to hold those grudges and that, somehow, they enrich us and we would come up short if letting them go. We are afraid that letting go of grudges would mean we are letting others off the hook. About this, Jesus says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:1-2). As so often, so also here Jesus displays a profound understanding of spiritual psychology. unfortunately, he has been mistaken to have said that there is a heavenly judge that has nothing better to do than listing and judging every single of our shortcomings on judgement day. How could that be when God has no ego from which to pronounce judgement?
Remember also that Jesus was the one who explained in the parable of the prodigal son that the Father (the Divine) did not judge the son who returned. Additionally, it was Jesus who, when faced with the adulteress, said, “Then I too, shall not judge you”. No, the meaning of Matthew 7:1-2 is something entirely different. During our life, we judge ourselves and others by two different metres. We are seeing the speck in the eye of our brother but not the mote in our own. It is due to this that we can hold grudges. If only we saw clearly, we could see that we, too, need forgiveness.
The situation changes entirely, however, when we die. During death, the barrier between our two different value systems (an inner for ourselves and an outer, harsher one for others) breaks down and merges into a single value system. Suddenly, for the first time, we are not blind anymore to all the many little ways in which we ourselves have cheated and come up short. And now, we are judging ourselves by the same unforgiving meter by which we have judged others all our life. The judge does not sit in heaven, but the judge is part of our own mind, our superego, as Freud called it. And there is no escaping those merciless, prying eyes because we carry our mind wherever we go, and our mind has recorded in every minute detail we have ever thought, said or done.
There is no way escaping that judgement, because in death, it is ourselves who are the judge. The judgement we pass on ourselves is resulting in future lives, their types of experiences depending on our actions in past lives (Yoga Sutra II.12-14). The way now to improve our situation is to not exert judgement on others. Alternatively, if we have to exert judgement (as dharma may require it), then to do it compassionately according to the same set of rules by which we ourselves would like to have judgment metered out to us. If we train ourselves all life-long to not judge and instead exert compassion, then it is by this metre that during our death we ourselves will be judged (by the judge residing in our own heads). This mystical teaching of Jesus forms the basis for forgiveness practice.
Ideally, we daily ask ourselves who it is that we currently hold the strongest grudge against. We then let go all of this grudge on our exhalation, we breathe it out, and in our imagination, we tell that person, “Brother, sister, I set you free. Go in peace”. This is a practice that we perform ourselves in our mind. In most instances, it is not advisable to call people with whom you have a difficult relationship to tell them you that you forgive them. What is important, however, is that you cleanse yourself from any negative sentiment you have towards anybody because this festering, negative sentiment in your subconscious will ultimately turn against you.
Another reason why we find it hard to forgive is because we believe it to be our job to hand out payback for the perceived wrongs that others have committed. But is that our job? In Romans 12:19, we find the statement, “Dear friends, don’t try to get even. Let God take revenge. In the Scriptures the Lord says, ‘I am the one to take revenge and pay them back.’” This passage is a rehash of Deuteronomy 32:35, that says, “‘Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.” If we take out the usual anthropomorphism that lets us see the Divine as a wrathful tribal chieftain (who in days of yore, before the separation of powers, was tribal judge, too) extrapolated into the sky, this passage simply says: an aspect of the Divine is divine law, of which the law of cause and effect is part. When looking at human behaviour, cause and effect is nothing but the law of karma. The above statement does not imply that there is a deity that personally goes after transgressors. Similar to the laws of gravitation and thermodynamics, the law of cause and effect does not need an enforcer. It automatically applies impersonally to all of us in all situations at all times. For example, if you step off the windowsill in the belief that you can walk in thin air, it is the law of gravitation that strikes you down not its hypothetical enactor. Similarly, the law of karma, law of cause and effect will enact itself independently without the need of an enforcer. That’s why Jesus points out that we should not carry grudges and ill will around with us. The law of karma will catch up with all transgressors in due time whether or not we hold grudges. In the meantime, however, holding grudges damages no one but us, their entertainers.
If we carry around a deep aversion against somebody, our subconscious cannot even differentiate whether the aversion is against us or somebody else. It will apply it equally in both directions. For example, our conscious mind may say, “I hate so and so,” but the subconscious mind will translate that into “I am hatred” and gradually poison you by doing so. Combine that with the fact that, at the moment of death, our mode of judging will turn around and be applied to us, then letting go of one’s grudges and negative judgements is one of the healthiest decisions we ever make. It is basic mental hygiene.
Forgiveness practice as described above should be done whenever we feel that we hold negative sentiments towards anybody. That means that we daily soul-search whether we carry negativity against somebody. This is not as straightforward as it seems. It happened in my own forgiveness practice that every day when asking whether there was a grudge against anybody, that the face of a particular male appeared who, so I believed, at some point in my life had tried to deceive me. Every day, I forgave him and exhaled all negative sentiments, but again the next day, his face reappeared. I was puzzled how often I would have to repeat this, and the practice became more and more shallow, obviously because I already had forgiven him. It was months later that I realized that behind his face was hiding the face of an ex-partner, who I really did not want to forgive. My subconscious simply placed a face that held little emotional charge on top of the one that I should have worked on but resisted. If forgiveness practice appears shallow and without emotional charge, we always have to ask ourselves whether there is something hiding underneath that we do not want to look at.
A note: Forgiveness practice is a spiritual cleansing method. It has nothing to do whether or not the civil code of law should be applied or not. It does not mean that we don’t stop perpetrators. If somebody has injured, abused, threatened or damaged you in any way, it is your right to enact the civil or criminal code of law. In some cases, it may not just be your right but also your duty as you may protect future victims by stopping the perpetrators. But this is not the subject of our investigation here. Whether or not you do have to put somebody behind bars is completely independent of the fact whether you forgive them or not. A point in case is the fact that sometimes family members publicly forgive the convicted murderers of their loved ones. Forgiveness practice is a method of maintaining emotional hygiene independent of a societal course of action.
A good example here is nelson Mandela. Mandela was 28 years in jail for armed resistance (in his day called terrorism) against the white-supremacist, apartheid regime of South Africa. After president Willem De Klerk released him, Mandela understood that, although his body could walk free of jail, he would carry jail within him wherever he went unless he forgave his captors and tormentors. The focus of the act of forgiveness was not so much his captors and whether what they did was forgivable or not. The focus was on Mandela himself and his realization that in order to become truly free, he had to let go of the past. Forgiveness is really a letting go of the past so that you can move into the present and future unimpeded by what happened. In order to fulfil your highest potential and to truly become the new you, you need to be able to let go of the past, and forgiveness is nothing but letting go of our interpersonal past.
This is an excerpt from my book HOW TO FIND YOUR LIFE’S DIVINE PURPOSE.