Manataka American Indian Council

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International Forgiveness Day- August 03, 2014


Forgiveness from Seven Perspectives


American Indian Spirituality     Buddhism     Christianity    Hinduism      Islam     Judaism     Creator of All Things


How do we deal with stress, struggle, anxiety and realign our thoughts: "By prayer, forgiveness, compassion, self-awareness. By practicing the discipline of a more loving way of thinking and being in the world."

"Love produces miracles automatically. When we're not forgiving someone, it's like we're putting a barrier in front of our hearts. And wherever there's a barrier to love, there's a barrier to miracles. Forgiveness is when we stand on faith in what lies beyond. Beyond what people did lies the reality of whom they are." ~ Marianne Williamson


Forgiveness in the World's Spiritual Traditions

by Ann Kathleen Bradley


The world's major spiritual traditions have long taught the value of forgiveness as a tool for freeing ourselves and others from the tyranny of past judgments and perceptions -- or misperceptions. The traditions may offer different rationales for why we should forgive, and different ways to go about it, but the ultimate goal is strikingly similar.


American Indian Spirituality:  Grandfather Lee Standing Bear Moore, Keeper of Manataka says, "Forgiveness is an act that is as natural as giving and receiving love.  One who finds it difficult or refuses to forgive is tied to carrying heavy burdens for a lifetime or until ones heart is softened by the Spirit of the Creator.  Public acts of forgiveness are not uncommon in indigenous villages because the elders understand the importance of sharing the wisdom of love with their children.  Acts of forgiveness are seen as courageous expressions that relieves the pain of those who may suffer.  Forgiveness is achieving balance in the midst of adversity and allowing the Oneness of All to rise above petty emotions.  Strength of character and depth of faith are best demonstrated through sincere and thoughtful forgiveness." 


Buddhism does not see us needing forgiveness for sins against a supreme God or the necessity of trying to model our own actions on God's mercy -- for Buddhists, the problem is human ignorance. Until we understand that Sunyata (emptiness) is the supreme reality, and free ourselves from attachment and desire, they say, we will continue to create pain for all, and karmic bondage and rebirth for ourselves. "Grasping, hatred, and suffering arise because we think we are separate selves, because we feel incomplete and vulnerable and think we have to defend ourselves," says Dr. Tara Brach, a clinical psychologist and founder and senior teacher at the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C. "So if people cause you suffering, it's not because they're evil but because they themselves are acting out of suffering and pain. As we train ourselves to see and understand that, as we wake up spiritually, forgiveness becomes a natural letting go -- a way of opening our hearts to what we have pushed away, of connecting again with the whole of life." Sharon Salzberg, the cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and author of Loving kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, explains that "We can never forgive others if we don't forgive ourselves -- because we project a lot of our own discontent onto them."


She also points out that the practice of forgiveness reflects several other Buddhist truths: 1) that everything and everyone is always changing -- we are not the same person we were when we made that mistake, nor is the person who hurt us; 2) that everything is conditioned -- we might have acted the same way if we had lived that person's life; 3) that over many lifetimes we have all done everything, so no one should feel contempt for anyone else; and 4) that from a karmic perspective making others suffer also brings suffering on the doer, so that vengeance is unnecessary -- and would only cause us more pain in return.


Christianity: The directive to forgive is also at the heart of the central drama of Christianity: Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. His words from the Cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," suggest that we should pardon wrongdoing at least in part because it springs from ignorance. They echo the prayer he taught to his disciples: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." Jesus told his disciple Peter that he should forgive not seven times but "seventy times seven" -- in other words, endlessly.


Dr. Lewis B. Smedes, Professor Emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and author of the best-selling Forgive & Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve, contrasts this perspective with a rabbi friend's assertion that God "treats people strictly according to the quality of their deeds and their character. If you're a bad guy he'll call you a bad guy, and he'll wallop you in the end." But the Christian, Smedes says, believes God is willing to forgive those who repent "even though we don't deserve it - because if we deserved it we wouldn't need to be forgiven. That's why it's called amazing grace. And once you experience that in your gut, the desire to get even slowly washes away." Theologian Paul Tillich declared in a famous sermon that "forgiveness means acceptance of those who are unacceptable. It is unconditional or it is not forgiveness at all."


Hinduism: Karma is also a key concept in Hinduism, says Dr. Srinivas Chary, adjunct associate professor at New York University and a faculty member of The New School for Social Research, and ignorance is again viewed as the culprit. "It is because of maya (illusion) that we do not perceive what is real, so we develop a big ego and become very judgmental. The secret to being forgiving is to get connected to the supreme consciousness which is our true self, to pure love -- and Hindus do this traditionally through meditation. Karma yoga," he adds, "also teaches us to focus on the present moment, to forget the past and the future and act egolessly in the present." "To the extent that we are able to forgive another we are stopping the negative cycle of karma" and progressing toward moksha or "liberation from the karmic gravitational field," says Arvind Sharma, Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University in Montreal.


Acharya Paramachary, a Hindu monk and editor-in-chief of Hinduism Today, explains that "when a really devout Hindu comes to the end of his life he goes about asking and offering forgiveness -- even to his enemies -- so he does not carry that karmic burden into the next lifetime. An ancient text says, 'If you really want to shame your enemies, forgive them.' There is a practice for resolving your own resentments and other feelings by writing them down on a piece of paper and burning it," he says. A specific penance is also required for each transgression of the dharma, the spiritual law. In the end, this feeling of liberation -- from our sense of guilt, from our shame and pain -- is what all the faith traditions offer believers in response to human fallibility. Their message is that the freedom to create ourselves and our relationships anew in every moment may be the most powerful reason to extend the gift of forgiveness to ourselves and others.


Islam: Muslims, too, are enjoined by the Qur'an to "pardon and forbear... [For] do you not desire that God should forgive you your sins, seeing that God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace?" They are reminded of this duty when they pray five times daily to "Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate" or invoke "God the Forgiver" or "God the Pardoner" - four of God's ninety-nine names. Believers also have the life of Muhammad to guide them, including stories about how the Prophet chose to forgive the killers of his uncle and, after being stoned, rejected the angel Gabriel's offer to "cause the mountains to crumble" on his persecutors. Instead, he asked, "May it please your Lord to forgive my people, for they do not know" -- another intimation that ignorance breeds wrongdoing.


Like Judaism, though, Islam emphasizes that forgiveness must be balanced with justice. And, because there is no doctrine of redemption, each person is fully responsible to God for what he or she does. Dr. Azizah al-Hibri, a professor of law at the University of Richmond and president of Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, explains that the Shari'ah (Islamic law) is based in part on God's declaration in the Qur'an that "'We ordained therein for them life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal.' In other words, even though God's judgment comes in the afterlife, the victim or his or her family has a right to exact punishment in this life, as well as compensation."


Judaism: Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector and professor of philosophy at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, points out that Judaism believes God also demands justice. "Forgiveness is not automatic," he explains. "It has to be earned through the process of teshuvah, a return to proper behavior and relations with the injured party and with God." That process requires that you 1) acknowledge you did something wrong, 2) apologize to the person you harmed, 3) compensate that person when possible, and 4) try not to repeat your error. "As a Jew I can forgive people only if they change - that creates an atmosphere of healing," explains Rabbi Leon Klenicki, director of the Department of Interfaith Affairs of the Anti-defamation League. Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are an annual period of prayer and penitence, when Israel asks God's forgiveness collectively and individual Jews ask forgiveness of those they have wronged over the course of the year.




Photo Credits:

Dr. Tara Brach -

Dr. Lewis B. Smedes -

Dr. Azizah al-Hibri -

Rabbi Elliot Dorff -