We have all experienced being let down, hurt, and wronged by others in our lives. This can leave us confused, sad, angry, and disappointed.

I can then hold resentment and anger because of past transgressions of “others” against “me”, but by doing that I then become “enslaved” by that and constantly live in the shadow of my offender.

If you want to heal relationships, release emotional burdens, and achieve inner peace the great spiritual wisdom traditions of the world extol forgiveness as a transcendental light that illuminates our hearts and liberates us from suffering.

The verses I quoted in this talk:

The duty of one seeking enlightenment is to cultivate the quality of forgiveness, which is illuminating like the sun. The Supreme Soul (Hari) is pleased with those who are forgiving. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 9.15.40

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43–44).

A saintly person is merciful and never injures others. Even if others are aggressive he is tolerant and forgiving toward all living entities. His strength and meaning in life come from the truth itself, he is free from all envy and jealousy, and his mind is equal in material happiness and distress. Thus, he dedicates his time to work for the welfare of all others. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.11.29

Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya

So, the topic I’ve been asked to speak on is The Power of Forgiveness – Breaking chains, healing hearts. I think everybody at different times in their life have experienced being let down by someone, I guess, or hurt, or have been wronged by someone. And when this arises in our life it can leave us confused, disappointed, sad, angry, or all of the above.

Tonight—well, you know, whenever we have these conversations—the spiritual perspective and the encouragement to adopt a more spiritual outlook on life requires actually a quite big paradigm shift, a big shift in what we consider normal; and for many of us that is quite challenging, and it’s not a bad thing to be challenged. It’s mostly a really good thing to be challenged.

In the title, I kind of like the title that was given to me, particularly the second part, “breaking chains and healing hearts.” And it’s sort of like, whoa, that sounds like a pretty heavy kind of way to frame things, “breaking chains.” So being chained up really implies being enslaved. And what is enslaved means? Means I become forced to act in certain ways even though it may be not in my interest, or even against my will. It indicates, the chain part of thing, being chained, actually becoming a prisoner, to be held captive. And it’s sort of like, well, what does that have to do with the topic?

When I hold resentment and anger because of past transgressions that others may have committed against me, then the tendency is to want to keep revisiting, to—our life becomes shaped by these kinds of experiences and events. Anger and resentment are actually very cruel masters. They do not make our life, in any way, good. They don’t contribute one single good thing to our life. And we are kind of kind of aware of that. I mean if we take it in isolation, and I ask the question, “Well how exactly is anger going to help me? How is resentment going to help me in my life, help me to live a better type of life?” And the answer is, it won’t. It won’t and it can’t.

It simply makes people bitter, and it causes us to constantly live in the shadow of the person that we feel may have hurt us. Their presence in our life is like this looming presence, like I’ve got this large shadowy figure over my shoulder that’s casting a shadow on my life, and I frequently find myself revisiting. Or sometimes I can be forgetful, and then something will come up in my life, and then all of a sudden, I’m back in that same place again, where there’s this looming figure casting a shadow over my life.

And so what I’m going to propose—number one of course, that’s not a healthy or desirable condition. If I keep revisiting, if I keep mulling over, if I keep ruminating on the pain that I felt, and how I was treated so badly, and how they did things to me, that’s absolutely not going to make my life worth living. It can have the other effect, where I think my life is not worth living by constantly revisiting or being trapped in that situation.

From a spiritual perspective, freedom—one can actually experience freedom by learning to let go of that. And of course, the way that is let go is through the process of what is called forgiveness. But when we bring up the term forgiveness many people kind of like really react, “Yeah, but I was treated so badly.” And it’s kind of like, yeah, I understand that, but how, tell me how, when you constantly revisit that, and go there and stir up the resentment and the anger against the bad treatment that you got, how does that make your life better? It doesn’t, and it can’t. Can it make your life worse? Oh yeah! Big time! Like way worse. But it’s like we lose the ability to think clearly and logically about things. We become overwhelmed by emotions.

And unfortunately, when we have been deeply hurt, we often begin to cultivate a feeling that we want to see this other person suffer, that I want to see them hurt also for what they did to me. I want to see them really suffer. And it’s kind of like, oh my gods, this is a really bad state of things. If they were to suffer, it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change what has happened. It doesn’t change how you’re going to think about something. But because we may want to see somebody suffer, there is a tendency to really want to hang on to your anger and not let it go, to really hang on to it.

In the Vedic texts—and I’m specifically thinking right now of one verse from the Bhagavad-gita where it describes anger as a gateway to hell—and I’m not talking about hell in the sense of perhaps something that will happen in an afterlife or somewhere else. I’m talking about the very life that we are living now. That anger is considered an enemy of self-realization.

You know when we talk about, “Oh, they hurt me…” when we use those kind of pronouns, him or her or them, we, I, what are we often speaking of here? One of the things we’re not speaking of is the reality of our spiritual being, our spiritual existence, the fact that I am an eternal spiritual being, and I am temporarily housed within a gross physical body and a subtle mental body. I am occupying this, and I am using this. The problem is that I have a strong tendency to identify the outer covering as me, and therefore things that affected my mind, how someone spoke to me, what they said about me—number one, that person doesn’t even know you as an eternal spiritual being. They’re just relating to the material conception that they’re encountering now.

And the reason I’m bringing this up (we won’t go any further with it) is just to kind of have that there on the side, because the foundation of all spiritual life is the understanding and the appreciation of my spiritual existence, the fact that I am an eternal spiritual being. All of these other things will pass. They will come and they will go, but I am eternal. I am this eternal spiritual being.

This idea that somebody hurt me, and so I wish ill for them, I want them to suffer, I want—it’s kind of like, well, don’t you understand? You have every right to defend yourself against something at the time, but to go away and to plot revenge, and to wish ill and harm to others, you will pay a price for that. The laws of karma are such that as you sow so you shall reap. Because somebody may have spoken badly or treated you badly or done something bad to you it doesn’t mean that you have an automatic right to hurt them. It doesn’t mean what they did wasn’t wrong. No, it was gravely wrong, and they will pay a price for that. But if I am, in the aftermath of something, revisiting that and then plotting how I’m going to cause pain and suffering for somebody else, that’s a really bad place to be. You will never find peace and happiness if you are thinking about, for whatever reason, hurting someone else or moving to hurt them. And I’ve already prefaced that on the reality that you can defend yourself at the time of an attack, physical or verbal or whatever, but to separately plot revenge and retaliation is bad for you, is harmful for you, and will make it so that you cannot come to experience true peacefulness and happiness.

So one of the big problems that most people have in life, they don’t really have a clear and noble goal. We are encouraged that our goal should be to try and exploit others for my happiness (that’s a pretty heavy statement, but there is an air of reality to it), that I should be consuming as many things as I can, getting as much money as I can, and I just live a life of greedy consumption that’s absolutely purposeless. And in the process of doing that, I build relationships that I hope to exploit for my happiness. And I use “exploit” carefully there, doesn’t have to be that somebody is plotting evil, but when I become demanding of others to make me happy—not good, not the right way to live.

If, as a result of somebody treating me badly or hurting me, I hold on to resentment and anger, feeling it’s justified, I need to understand when I do that, it separates me from God, it separates me from any higher spiritual reality, it separates me from what is beautiful and eternal and peaceful. And so, wow, that’s a quandary. Some people just become so overwhelmed in their anger and disappointment that they don’t care, “If I get hurt by doing this, I want to make sure they get hurt.” And it’s like, woow, what happened to you? That’s a terrible way to live, to live in that space; and it comes about by not having actually noble and truthful and good goals and purposes in your life.

From a spiritual perspective, human life is meant for the purpose of self-realization and God realization. And if it’s not used for that purpose, then we are living exactly as animals live—simply interested in eating, sleeping, mating, or having sex life, and defending what we feel to be ours. That’s animal existence. Human life is an opportunity for something more wonderful and more elevated.

If I have made some decision, I want to start moving towards that, I want to start walking on this pathway, it really alters how I think about others, the situations I encounter and things that happen to me. It really changes it. If I am just satisfied with getting as much money as I can so I can eat whatever I want, I can have a very comfortable and palatial place to live, luxurious and soft and comfortable, which everybody hopes and aspires for, if I’m just reducing life to these simple urges, this is not a noble life. This is hardly even a life. It is just a journey towards death.

So, if we want to heal relationships, release emotional burdens, and achieve inner peace, the great spiritual wisdom traditions of the world really extol forgiveness. They extol it as a transcendental light that illuminates the heart. So, I will just read one verse from an ancient text called the Bhagavat Purana, and there they state,

“The duty [not an option or something that you can do]—the duty of one seeking enlightenment is to cultivate the quality of forgiveness, which is illuminating like the sun and the Supreme Soul (Hari) is pleased with those who are forgiving.”

Forgiveness means to become free of that burden. When somebody has hurt you or done something bad to you, it’s happened, and I can accept that it’s happened, and I accept it was unjust, and it was wrong, but it has passed. Why do we have this tendency to not want to let it go but to keep going there? And when we talk with friends or family members we’re going to mention again, “Oh…” and always wanting to go to these dirty places and roll in the muck. It’s kind of why do we—? It’s not a good—it’s not a solution. It only adds difficulty to your life.  I’m not saying we don’t recognize wrongdoing or harm. We do. We do recognize it. But why do we feel the need to constantly revisit that place, that experience? What good does it do us?

Forgiveness, the most important part about forgiveness is that you become free. You become free of that looming shadow, that horrible past experience. Yes, it was there. I recognize it, and I’m moving on in life.  I can actually become free. I can live a better life by learning the art of forgiveness.

I mentioned earlier, in almost all religious and spiritual traditions of the world, it’s like—it’s a really important teaching, but it’s something that’s almost never practiced. Within Christianity, for example, there is the very famous prayer that’s called, I think, the Lord’s Prayer? Yeah. And part of it is the statement “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is not a little thing. This is like a really big deal that it is mentioned in the way it was mentioned. And I’m not promoting a so-called religion or religious point of view. This is a fundamental truth and a spiritual reality, that it is so incredibly important.

There’s this video that was going around on YouTube of a Muslim man. His son was a pizza delivery guy in the US. And some guys had plotted to rob someone. So they thought it was a good idea to call up and order pizza, and then when the pizza guy shows up to rob him. And things went crazy, they ended up stabbing the pizza delivery guy and killing him, for what? Probably $150 or something. It was just like this senseless and stupid murder. And there’s—in this YouTube, a scene from the courtroom where the guy that did the murder is in the dock, and he’s about to be sentenced. And they usually have in courts the opportunity for a victim statement where the victims or members of the family of the victim can speak. And so, they asked the father to—did he wants to say anything? And looking at this man, he began by saying, “I know that in your heart of hearts [something to this effect, I’m just paraphrasing] you are not evil, but you have been overcome by evil. But you yourself are not evil.” And he said, “We are called in our religion to forgive, and so I am forgiving you today. You have taken my son from me and caused this senseless killing. But I am forgiving you because I am called to forgive you.” And the murderer was so overcome by what he was hearing and the way the man was speaking to him that he just broke down and started weeping.

So, you’ve gone from a position where a bunch of guys are getting together and probably for—to buy some drugs or alcohol or whatever it was, and they catch this plan; they end up killing this guy. It’s not like they’re not guilty, it’s not like they’re not deserving of punishment. But on the part of the father, he gains nothing by holding on to grievance, by holding on to hatred. He spoke to this person from a whole different perspective, that he felt this person was not inherently evil, but they were overcome by evil. And the father asked if he could approach, and he approached the guy and embraced him. And the guy just broke down sobbing, with the father’s embrace. And a very wonderful thing to see.

And it’s exactly what I’m talking about in this talk tonight, where spiritual growth means I increasingly come to love and to genuinely care about all others, even someone who may declare themself to be my enemy, and act as if they are my enemy. I still have the ability to see them as a person who is lost, a person who, by their actions and choices, are causing harm and pain to others, and for that they will suffer.

You cannot escape the laws of karma; stringent material laws are such, you cannot escape them no matter what. You cannot. That person is already going to suffer for what they have done. There is no need for me to be holding on to my anger thinking it will cause them to suffer more. It doesn’t.  I suffer more by holding on to it.

So, this great tradition, this spiritual tradition that’s practically been lost, where this concept of even loving your enemy—it’s so unfortunate that within the practice of Christianity, you don’t commonly see—I’m not saying it’s not there. There are amazing people that I have met who live these principles. But I’m just going to—I’m going to read two verses. One of them is from the New Testament, and the other one is from an ancient text called the Bhagavat Purana. So, from the—this verse,

“You have heard that it has been said that thou should love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

And it’s just like, whoa, what a heavy thing to ask from us. If we only look at it superficially and don’t actually understand the spiritual importance of this dictate, then we really miss an amazing opportunity for a wonderful life.

So, reading from the ancient Bhagavat Purana, which was—this was first committed to writing 5,000 years ago, but it’s way more ancient than that. And it talks about—he uses a term, this sadhu, which means like a saintly person. And sometimes people think of saints as, if we embrace the idea at all, as some obscure distant figure, or whatever. But in the Vedic teachings they talked about everyday people that lived a spiritual life as being saintly. This is:

“A saintly person is merciful and never injures others. Even if others are aggressive, he is tolerant and forgiving towards all living entities. His strength and meaning in life comes from the truth itself. He is free from all envy and jealousy, and his mind is equal in material happiness and distress, and thus he dedicates his time to work for the welfare of all others.”

And of course, that possibility only manifests, or occurs, when a person is growing in their embrace of the reality that I am an eternal spiritual being. This body is a temporary thing. I am temporarily housed in this. That place I call my home is not my home. I’m just going to be living there for a while. I’m a transient. I’m passing through. And I should be more interested in my eternal welfare than the focus of some transitory and impermanent thing that’s going on in my life, that at the end of the day is not really that big a deal. While I’m in it may seem like overwhelming, but in hindsight 20, 30 years down the road, it’s kind of like, well, it was a shame that happened, and we can shrug and move on.

The wonderful—and I’ve mentioned this before, the wonderful Serenity Prayer really speaks to this and guides us how to deal with these great challenges that come up in life. And the first part (it’s only three lines),  the first line is:

“Grant me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change.”

There’s so many ways we can look at that and discuss it, but here in relation to somebody causing me harm, speaking badly, acting badly, doing something that causes me pain and distress, can I change that? The answer is no. It has already happened. You can’t turn back the clock. You can’t. That’s it, it’s done. The only thing that I can change about it is how it’s going to affect me, what it’s going to do to me in my life going forward, in my decision making and everything. You can only be—I mean when something terrible happens, it’s so easy for the mind to get so disturbed. And it’s like, it’s caught up in this ocean of turmoil and pain and anger and resentment and all this kind of stuff. That mind, number one, is not you. You are the eternal spiritual being. You can step back from your mind.

And how do I gain, in this instance, how do I gain the serenity? Well, the serenity is going to come from the recognition that I’m an eternal spiritual being. The words or actions of this person may affect me, but I don’t have to let that rule my life. And I can also look upon that person—and actually, the reality is, for what they have done and the suffering they have caused, they will experience the same. When that will happen we cannot say, but it will happen. Objectively, I should not want them to suffer. An advanced spiritualist may try to prevent somebody from doing something harmful, not for themself, but for that person’s sake, for you will suffer: “Ss you sow, so you shall reap.”

So the serenity to accept things I cannot change is going to be deeply rooted in a growing appreciation of my spiritual being.

The second line is:

“Grant me the courage to change those things which I can.”

And that is really the hard part. Like for instance, I don’t have to hang on to resentment. I don’t have to hang on to anger. I don’t have to constantly be wishing ill upon others. I have the power to make a decision I’m not going to do that. It may be difficult, but I can make that decision, and it can be transformative in my life. But courage is required—that I need to be brave and courageous, to open do difficult things. It’s easy just to get caught up in the current of the anger and everything and get swept along in that. But I can decide, “No I’m not going to do that,” and I need to be courageous to make such decisions.

And then the third line is:

“And grant me the wisdom to know the difference.”

—the difference between those things I can change and those things I cannot. That is really a clear example of true wisdom. Wisdom is not just— We can cultivate knowledge, but the practical application of knowledge is wisdom. It’s right living, where I courageously make choices. They have a saying in English, “That person marches to the beat of a different drummer.”  When soldiers used to march off, they’d have a drum (duh duh duh duh duh dyosh) and everybody was marching in beat, to the beat of the drum. But then you’ve got somebody that’s marching to the beat of a different drummer, and they’re going to be moving differently than the mass of soldiers. And what it is speaking to is that for us to live a good, a spiritual, a sacred life, that’s noble and filled with happiness and peacefulness we can’t just do what everybody else is doing. We have to take charge. We have to seek these kinds of changes.

Okay, was that all right? Helpful? It’s a wonderful and big subject. Spiritual life is not some airy-fairy fantasy. It’s about really practical things.

So, I will chant a little because we know that it is through this process that we get courage, we get spiritual vision, we get to see things differently.

There’s one lovely lady that I met a few years ago in Henderson at a couple of courses I ran at a place. And she is such a simple and openhearted kind of person, quite a strong person, and after going through the experience of the meditation and actually doing it herself and everything, she goes, “I don’t know what’s happened to me. Everything’s changed. My husband says, ‘What happened to you?’ Everything has changed. The way I look at people, the way I deal with different situations, I’m calmer now, I’m more patient, I try to look for real—produce good outcomes rather than just reacting to things.” She said, “It’s wonderful.” She really enjoys this experience of this spiritual awakening.

So, I will chant the—this mantra here:  Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana.