Forgiveness in World Religions
We hear about the importance of forgiveness constantly, from our spiritual and religious leaders. Every major world religion teaches that forgiveness is necessary and important. Forgiveness is truly a universally accepted principle and provides common ground for love, acceptance, harmony and true happiness. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet, believes that happiness is a natural part of our very existence. In his book The Art of Happiness the Dalai Lama says, "The very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we are all seeking something better in life. So I think, the very motion of our life is toward happiness." Most spiritual and religious leaders will agree that forgiveness of oneself and others is one way to clear the mind, heart and soul and may result in a feeling of increased peace and happiness.
Our religions -- with their millions and millions of followers -- can play a major role in assisting people to find peace within themselves and with others. It would be a great example and very helpful if religious leaders could forgive and make peace with one another. In a world where there has been so much conflict down through the ages over our differing religious beliefs, it is worth discussing forgiveness within this context. Interestingly, when comparing religions it becomes obvious that forgiveness is one of the many teachings they have in common.
Buddhism teaches that believers should essentially practice prevention -- the idea being that acting in lovingkindness, compassion and sympathetic joy will enable followers to avoid developing resentments that would necessitate forgiveness. Buddhism recognizes the damage that anger and resentment can have on the mind and mental well-being. Those practicing Buddhism are encouraged to release their resentments through meditation in order to prevent the continuing cycle of suffering that can result.
Christianity teaches that forgiveness originates with God. Christian believers are taught they are to forgive others as God has forgiven them. There are a variety of denominations within Christianity, each with a slightly differing viewpoint. Most Christian denominations believe that God's ultimate forgiveness for the sins or wrongful actions of humanity comes through accepting the blood of Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice and substitute for his justice. They are taught to pray and ask God for forgiveness for their sins. On the other hand, there are some Christians who believe that our sense of separateness from God is actually an illusion that leads to guilt and fear. They believe we can release this sense of guilt and fear through the practice of forgiveness. In forgiving others, we learn to forgive ourselves and thus our illusions of separateness can be healed. The Apostle Paul, who played a major role in establishing Christianity, said, "Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
Those practicing Hinduism believe that forgiveness contains great power in and of itself. The Hindu leader Vidura said,
Hindus also believe in asking the Lord to forgive them. One of their temple ceremony invocations begins with asking the Lord to forgive sins due to their human limitations.
Those practicing Islam believe that followers should forgive each other, and they can also be forgiven by Allah (God in Arabic). They believe the source of forgiveness is determined by the wrong being committed. If the wrong needs divine forgiveness from Allah, the person asking should be repentant. If one human is forgiving another, it is important to both forgive and be forgiven.
To receive forgiveness from Allah, in addition to asking for forgiveness, the believer must recognize and admit the wrongdoing before Allah, and make a commitment to not repeat the offense. If another person is involved, in addition to these three requirements, the believer must also ask for pardon from the offended person and make amends within reason. As the Qur'an says, "Keep to forgiveness, and enjoin kindness." (7:199 - 200.)
In Judaism, believers seek forgiveness from God and people. However, they can only seek forgiveness from God for wrongs that have been committed against God. When they have wronged another person, they must seek forgiveness from that individual. If the person seeking forgiveness is sincere and honest in their apology, the person wronged is required by Judaism to grant forgiveness. If the offender does not apologize, the person who is wronged isn't religiously required to forgive them unless they choose to. The Torah reads, "When asked by an offender for forgiveness, one should forgive with a sincere mind and a willing spirit . . . forgiveness is natural to the seed of Israel" (Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 2:10).
Yom Kippur is probably the most important day in the Jewish faith -- it's the official Day of Atonement. During this day, Jews fast, pray and ask for God's forgiveness for any wrongs they have committed against God during the prior year. Just before Yom Kippur, Jews can right any wrong they have committed against another person during the prior year by asking their forgiveness, if they haven't already done so.
Because so many people are familiar with the topic of forgiveness through their faith tradition, they are very open to trying the forgiveness technique and then teaching it to others.
Some people have asked me if they can forgive through their higher power. For example, they may say, "Through the grace of God, I forgive you," or something similar. I think that's fine as long as you are still sincerely forgiving the person. The major religions mentioned above speak of the importance of both God's forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of each other. In other words, it's fine if you wish to forgive through God, as long as you understand that you are still personally and sincerely forgiving the person(s) who wronged you.
Excerpted from The Law of Forgiveness by Connie Domino Copyright © 2009 by Connie Domino. Excerpted by permission of The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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