This talk was delivered in Brisbane, Australia.  We explore the pivotal role forgiveness plays in our own peace and happiness. There was a full house both here and when we covered the same topic 2 nights later on the Gold Coast which shows how many of us need this.

All the great spiritual wisdom traditions of the world glorify forgiveness as being indispensable for authentic spiritual growth and living a happy peaceful life. So what exactly does that mean and how do we do that?

One of the verses I quoted is from an ancient yogic text which goes:

The duty of a wise person is to cultivate the quality of forgiveness, which is illuminating like the sun. The Supreme Soul (Hari) is pleased with those who are forgiving. – Srimad Bhagavatam

The talk is a bit longer than usual but there was so much interest and so many questions we broke the talk into 2 parts. Check out Part 2 for the Q&A portion.

Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya

So, the topic: Forgiveness – the path to freedom and happiness. Everybody desires peace, to have peace of one’s heart and mind.

[Assistants setting up] We’ll give them a second. Thank you very much.

In the Bhagavad Gita it says that without peace one cannot have happiness. That’s an extraordinary idea, because in the world today we are told that, no, your happiness is not going to be coming from peacefulness, it’s going to be coming from kinetic energy, thumping noise, dum, dum, dum, flashing lights, running to chase happiness. But Bhagavad Gita has a different opinion. If you are to genuinely experience happiness peace is essential.

In relation to the topic that we are discussing tonight, the question of what peace means, at least within the confines of our discussion: this peace means that I must, I must become free from anger, from the oppressive and heavy weight of anger in my life, and of hurt. If I am carrying in my heart and mind anger and a sense of hurt, it’s impossible to become peaceful. And this sets up a little bit of a problem, because generally when people feel hurt or grieved, they really want to cling to anger, because they feel it is righteous, and they often want to hold tightly to the hurt. It gives them a, sometimes, sense of identity.

It’s always really terrible and sad to speak to someone who has been a victim of abuse. When people actually open up it’s quite heartbreaking, and it’s often difficult for people to manage. I was giving a series of workshops and seminars at a trust in New Zealand, a family trust where they deal quite specifically with violence, domestic violence and of sexual abuse; and I would usually teach people how to—there are different ways of looking at things, and it’s really important to learn to look at things with great clarity and to understand what is in your best interest.

And so during the—we go through a number of weeks, once a week we would run these things. And usually around about the fifth or the sixth week I would raise the subject of forgiveness. And even before talking about it, just raising the subject, I’ve had people, most often women, who may just burst into tears or suddenly just stand up and leave. They don’t even want to talk about it. They don’t want to—they feel so traumatized that speaking about forgiveness really sets something off that—it makes it so they can’t even just remain sitting there. They’ll often just get up and leave. It’s not everyone, it’s very few. But when somebody is feeling, carrying such a load of pain, that this word forgiveness can trigger such a response, then we know that they are in a very deep state of suffering and a very deep state of pain.

What’s happening when we hold on to anger, when we hold on to this victimhood, this sense of being the victim, we are living in the shadow of the victimizer. We are literally living in the shadow. They don’t have to be physically present. They don’t even need to be part of your life, but that shadow, that long shadow is cast over someone’s life where they feel this way.

The tendency to hold on to resentment—and I’m not just talking about—you know, I’ve used an example here, been talking about people that are victims of grave domestic violence or sexual violence, sexual abuse, but what I am speaking about applies to all areas of life and practically all relationships where we experience, we can experience being hurt, gravely hurt. There is this tendency when we feel that way to really want to hold on to it.

The things that I’m going to be talking about and already talking about, I ask you to be very patient in listening to this. People that have or are experiencing this condition, there is a strong tendency to want to just shut down before we really get the opportunity to hear. My interest in speaking to someone on the subject is so that person can actually become free, that light can enter their life, and they can become free, they can step out of the shadow of an oppressor or someone that is unjust, that we can more fully take charge of our life, make decisions and live without this heavy—the weight of this heavy influence looming over us. So, it’s important that people appreciate this is my motivation in speaking about these topics. My motivation is that you will not suffer, that your suffering will come to an end.

And you need to always consider this: if I am still feeling the weight of hurt, I am feeling the pain, even if I am not very angry, I have to understand that my current choices in how I am living and thinking about these things are not freeing me from this situation; and so I need to be open to hearing other alternate ways of thinking about things and considering things. I need to be open to that, because what I’m doing currently is not working, meaning I am not free from this.

There is an inherent problem in, often, the way that we think about things, where I’m thinking in terms of somebody else who has done something hurtful or painful to me. So, you’ve got two things here: the other person, the victimizer and me, the victim. We won’t go into that any further, but we’ll circle back to it as we move forward.

There is one thing that many people in this state, they have the wrong notion, and they may not even have thought about it this clearly, but they have this wrong notion, that if I somehow hang on to my pain and my hurt that somehow it’s going to hurt the other person that hurt me. That other person invariably doesn’t care whether you hang on to it or not. And hanging on to it is not going to hurt them, it’s not going to make them suffer, it’s not going to do anything for them. It’s just going to mess you up. It’s just going to control your life in horrible ways. It’s going to affect the nature of your relationships with others, particularly those that are close to you. It begins to shape and really affect the nature of your other relationships in life.

Wanting to see others suffer is actually not good. Firstly, you must understand that the laws of karma are so stringent. They are inescapable. Any person that has caused you pain, without your doing anything about it, just because of the nature of the laws of karma, they will come to a period at some point where they will suffer in the same way that they made you suffer. That is inescapable. You don’t even have to wish for them to suffer. In fact, your wishing for them to suffer doesn’t change anything, except your own life, your own happiness, your own lack of freedom, your own increased suffering. So, they’re gonna get it. Ain’t no free ride. You pay for everything. What goes around comes around. As you sow, so you shall reap. Since ancient times these things are known. We may think we’re all sophisticated and cute with our social media, and think it doesn’t apply anymore. Sorry! These are great truths that are inescapable.

So, since somebody is going to suffer at least as much, if not more, than the suffering they have done to you, don’t think that your hanging on to anger is going to make it any worse for them. No, it doesn’t. It just makes it worse for you. This is not smart to think this way. This causes self-inflicted harm.

Some people think they want to hang on to their anger and resentment because, “You see what they did to me!” Yeah, but that doesn’t justify your anger. You have to understand that anger hurts you. Anger really hurts you and will make it so you never experience peace. And as I quoted from the Bhagavad Gita, “How can there be happiness without peace?” And so, if I want to hang on to my anger, I am depriving myself of opportunity for actual happiness.

These are not just like some philosophical ideas. This is real. This is life, this is life. This may be radical, you may have never heard anything like this before, but everybody needs to hear this message. These are ancient truths.

In the Vedas anger is described as a gateway to hell. We not talking about some place with a lot of fire. We’re talking about the deepest pits of unhappiness and painfulness that one can experience, an absolute hellish condition of life, and anger is a gateway to this hell. It’s not just like, maybe it will happen, definitely, definitely it will happen. If we look at our lives, we’ll see it there.

One of the problems, we get so used to things. We carry these loads around and we have all this conditioning, and we lose a real objective clarity that can make it so that we can look at things very simply and in great clarity, and go, “Yeah!”

I don’t know how many people think that that there is a necessity for me as an individual, spiritual being to have an intimate connection with the very source of my being, the Supreme Soul, of which I am a little spark. Our search for love, our search for a soulmate, our search for the perfect relationship, is actually a profoundly spiritual search for us to reconnect with our spiritual source. And if you are going to live a life that is, not just dominated, but even if there is manifest, anger and resentment or hurt that I’m carrying around it means I become separated from what is my eternal good, my connection with God, my connection with a higher spiritual truth, or experience, or reality.

Now, beginning to approach the subject of forgiveness: We have, as part of the—well, let me, I’ll just make a side point. The Bhagavad Gita, it describes that as embodied living beings, human beings, we have both a lower nature and a higher nature. If we align with that which is spiritual, which is in our eternal best interest, we manifest a higher nature. If we are surrendered to our mind and desires and emotions, and these are ruling our lives, then we are aligned with our lower nature. We are capable of acting in a Godly fashion, or we are capable of acting as an utter cruel, subhuman entity, who can torture and kill, even, has no feelings of regret and remorse.

When I would conduct a number of courses also in prisons, and in speaking to people behind bars who have done horrific stuff, like you—it’s unbelievable what we are capable of doing to each other in extreme cases, but in practically all cases, whether it’s murdering someone, whether it’s terrorizing someone, when they go to hold up a store or something, generally perpetrators of crime do not identify any victim. They are totally fixated on what they want. This includes in a lot of sexual violence as well, where people just become so fixated with what they want, like when somebody goes in to rob a dairy, a store, and then they’re threatening the guy behind the counter, maybe with a hammer. Can you imagine hitting somebody with a hammer? How out of it is that? I mean crushing somebody’s bones, in their arms, or ribs, or face, with a hammer. I mean, what’s that? But in those situations—and when you talk to people that perpetrate violence, they do not recognize any victim they are only simply, totally, narrowly focused on what they’re after, to steal cigarettes or money, or to satisfy a sexual urge through this domination and everything, whatever, they’re totally fixated on what they want, and another person is just something in the way of me getting what I want. This is how bad things can become.

The need for us in our life— that’s kind of like extreme case. On a small scale we’re doing this all the time. We want to demand, for instance, in relationship, perfection from others, but we don’t demand perfection from ourself. Right or not? Can you relate? I mean it’s just like, it’s so infantile. We become so swept away by our mind and desires and impulses; and we can get so upset because somebody’s not being perfect, they’re not behaving, they’re not responding, they’re not dealing with something the way I want it. And I, at that time that I am speaking this way, the thought of what I am doing, and how I am behaving doesn’t even enter my mind. This shows you how lost we are in these conditions, and why peace is almost unattainable, real happiness becomes almost unattainable. There’s just no clarity.

So, understanding these things is like really, really important and really critical.

And on a little bit lesser scale—oh boy, this is a big subject! But fundamentally, we have a tendency to blame others for our unhappiness, and we, ourselves often don’t take responsibility for our unhappiness.

I mean one of the most amazing things, it blew my mind when I was a kid, and I heard somebody say it for the first time: “If I knew you were like, that I would have never married you.” What! You don’t think that you have any responsibility? You’re going to get into a committed relationship with someone, and you don’t know what they’re like? How dumb is that? That’s really maximum dumb. You don’t get dumber than that. And then when it turns out crap, you blame them. Well, God! their behaviour may be outrageous, but what about you? Why didn’t you do your job? Why didn’t you check that person out? Why, you’re so in love?!? Where’s that love now? That’s not called love, that’s called lust, self-interest. I want this, and I believe this will be fantastic, and I believe I will be perfectly happy. And because I’m believing it, and I’m thinking it, it must be true. No. That’s being detached from reality.

I’m not suggesting we become cold and calculated, but at least we got to function—utilize at least half your brain, and don’t just be swept away by emotion. That’s so dangerous. You might be marrying a mass murderer. “Yeah, but he, or she, was so nice, so nice to me. I can’t believe it.” Well, you have to believe it. What becomes manifest is real.

So, when we talk about forgiveness, as I mentioned, my motivation in speaking about forgiveness is not anything other than people can become free from great pain and suffering.

There is this false idea that if I forgive someone somehow it’s condoning their action, somehow it’s minimizing the gravity of what they have done, somehow it’s allowing a continuation. And that’s like, no! That has nothing to do with what forgiveness is about. It’s really not about those kind of things. A person can be utterly accountable and responsible, and yet I can still forgive. Forgiveness, as I said, is an opportunity for me to become free from what has, what is controlling my life, often in a very negative way.

I think it’s also really important to understand you cannot forgive someone for something that they have done to someone else, you can only forgive someone for what they may have done to you. That’s really important to understand and appreciate.

Some people think that, “Well, if I forgive this person, and they don’t change their behaviour, and they continue to abuse or hurt me, isn’t that wrong? Isn’t it that I shouldn’t be forgiving them?” No, don’t mix these things up. You can both forgive a person and call the police. You live in a society where there’s so many resources to help people that are being victimized by great violence. There’s so many resources. And you need to be brave and stalwart. And if you need to pick up the phone and call for help, to curb this person’s outrageous and terribly wrong and criminal behaviour, that’s got nothing to do with whether you forgive or don’t forgive. That’s a separate issue.

To forgive doesn’t mean you become stupid. It’s actually a moment of tremendous clarity where you can also come to find amazing strength. Strength doesn’t mean that you become cruel in return, that you become violent in return. That means you can say, “No, it stops right now!” And there are resources to help with that.

So understanding what forgiveness is, and it’s really important not to confuse it with some of these things that that we’ve been talking about…

So, we’re exploring forgiveness from a spiritual perspective. What does that mean? What does spiritual mean? What does material mean?

People have a notion about, “it’s not good to be materialistic,” but they often limit their understanding of materialistic to somebody that’s just into buying stuff or worried about their image and whether their post on Instagram is getting enough likes. But while those things are symptoms of being, perhaps, materialistic, the foundation of materialism is the idea that I am material. What does that mean?

The body is material, it is material energy. It is constantly changing. It’s going through transition and will eventually die. This is the nature of material energy. The foundation of spirituality is to understand that I, I am an eternal, spiritual being, temporarily residing within this body. This body will either become sick or aged or have an accident and will not be able to house me any longer, and I will be forced to leave. And when I leave the body manifests what is called death. You do not die. You cannot die, the body dies. The body is born, and the body dies, but you are an eternal, spiritual being.

And one of the great tragedies is that how human society is so unaware of this foundational truth that utterly shapes our life. How we see ourself shapes the nature of our relationships, what we think is important, what is the purpose of my life, what I should seek. All of these really big things are shaped by my sense, or my understanding, of who I am. If a person is absorbed in the notion, or the idea of the body as being the self. This is just, I’m sorry, this is the path to unhappiness, doesn’t go anywhere else.

You may have a few exciting moments and some titillation, and you can whip your senses and the mind into some sort of like frenzy of “Aaaaah!…” ecstatic experience, but that all just passes, and even the most wonderful experiences leave you in the same place, only with a memory of them. They do not fulfill, they do not completely satisfy. I am not saying that one should avoid these things, but one needs to have some clarity in order to truly find happiness.

So, the foundation of what it is that we are speaking about now, and the solutions, are very much tied to this understanding: I am not my material body nor am I my mind. I am an eternal, spiritual being. And the cultivation of this understanding leads to complete liberation from all forms of painfulness and distress.

I have a few notes here. All the great spiritual traditions of the world glorify forgiveness as being indispensable for authentic spiritual growth and living a happy and peaceful life. So I’ll read you a quote from an amazing, ancient text from India, one of the yogic texts called the Bhagavat Purana, also called the Srimad Bhagavatam:

“The duty of a wise person is to cultivate the quality of forgiveness, which is illuminating like the sun. The Supreme Soul Hari is pleased with those who are forgiving.”

I won’t go into it here. We’ll move on to some other things, but just bringing your attention that the quality of forgiveness is “illuminating like the sun.” Is it not, when you are caught up in hatefulness and anger and resentment for things, that may be absolutely terrible, that may have been done, are you in light or are you in darkness? When you curl up in the corner or in your bed, and you weep, are you in light or are you in darkness? Isn’t that a dark place? It’s an extremely dark place. And this phrase that forgiveness is illuminating like the sun means that, if it is understood and actually practiced, it brings such light into your life and your heart just as the sun illuminates dark places.

So, I mentioned earlier that we also have some responsibility in this paradigm, meaning, it’s not just what others do it’s also what I do. Jesus Christ, whom most people are very familiar with, at least to some degree, he famously, when he was approached by some of his followers, his disciples, and they asked, “How do we pray? Teach us how to pray.” And so he gave them an example, and in that example he said, in praying to God, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them who trespass against us.” This—okay, I’m not promoting the idea of adoption of Christianity or any religion or anything, but this is a deep spiritual truth, that we all need to embrace. We cannot seek forgiveness for our wrongdoings—

I’ve had a lot of experiences sitting at the side of beds where people were in the last moments of life, about to die. And one of the most painful things to see is where somebody, even at the time of death, is going to hang on to their anger at someone and not grant forgiveness. When somebody asks them, “Can you forgive me for what I’ve done?” and they have this opportunity to grant forgiveness and to become free, for light to enter their life and their heart, the deepest recesses, and they refuse to, it’s just like, Oh my God, that’s so unproductive. It doesn’t result in anything good. Only great unhappiness comes from such an action.

When a person learns forgiveness, they begin to step out of just their world and what they’re experiencing. They begin to look at things more broadly. And the most astonishing thing that can come from that is a person can even come to the condition of feeling compassion and sadness for a perpetrator of harm, where I can look upon a person who has done great wrong to me, and I’m able to see, “My God, they are suffering so much. Their life is totally screwed up, and they’re just hanging on to this bitterness.”

We see this horrible situation of like cyclical things, where somebody was treated really crappy as a kid and suffered so much, and then they grew up, and they have their own kids and behave in the same way. There’s this twisted psychology where I think I’m sort of somehow paying back what happened to me by inflicting pain on others. But whatever the situation is, anybody that is engaged in harming another person cannot possibly experience happiness or peace, doesn’t matter what they—the show they put on, they actually become tormented by this.

The development of the spiritual vision of being able to see the reality, that everyone are eternal, spiritual beings, caught up in a temporary material body and mind and becoming victimized even by their own mind and desires of their body and will behave in ways that only cause themself pain and suffering, to be able to have that clarity and see that means, yes, I can both acknowledge how somebody unjustly caused me tremendous harm and pain, and I can feel sorry for them. And that’s just like, oh my gods, we’ve now moved out of just this world where it’s all about me (and I mean that in a really nice way), to being able to see others and what’s going on with them.

In Islam it’s actually a big deal to practice compassion and forgiveness. Some time ago there was a YouTube clip that was making the rounds. And in that YouTube clip, it was a courtroom, and there was a guy that had participated in a horrible—slaughtering someone. The guy was a pizza delivery man, and somebody was so overwhelmed with lustfulness (lustfulness means intense self- centredness), they just wanted to get some money to score some drugs, and so they ordered pizza, and when the guy showed up, they cornered him and stabbed him to death. I mean it’s just like, what are you doing? Don’ you know how much suffering you will endure for having done that? And even if you get the money, so what? You inject it or smoke it, and it’s gone. There’s nothing gained. How could you be so—? And if their own brother or sister or child or parent was brutally stabbed and robbed, they would be really upset, the criminals, they get really upset. But when they do it to someone they’re not—they don’t see it. It’s just because you’ve become so focused in this lustful self-centredness.

And during the—this guy ended up getting 31 years imprisonment, because it was so violent and vicious—31 years. And after the sentence, or before the sentence, there was an opportunity for the family to address the court and address the perpetrator. And there was this little guy, this Muslim man standing there in the court looking at the person that had just murdered his son. Looking at him he said, “I do not hate you. I actually feel sorry for you, and I forgive you. I know that in your heart you are not an evil person, but you have allowed evilness to enter your life and take control and direct this horrible act. But I know in your heart you are not an evil person, and so I forgive you, because we are called to forgive.”

The judge was crying. Everybody in the court, the bailiff was, you know, his handkerchief out, crying. The guy that was to be sentenced was standing there listening to this, and he just broke down and burst into tears. And so the father stepped out of the dock and approached the table where the where the perpetrator was and called him forward and reached out and embraced him. And the guy that had killed his son was just sobbing on his shoulder. There’s something really special going on there. That will have a profound impact on the person who is offering forgiveness.

He can’t forgive the murder of his son, he can forgive the man for taking my son from me, depriving me of this. He can forgive that. But the guy doesn’t get off for having committed the crime. You cannot forgive someone for something they have done to someone else. You can only forgive them for what they have done to you.

But it was deeply, deeply moving. They had to call a break in the court because everybody was balling their eyes out. It was wonderful. I’ve seen many of these things, and I know that even in grave situations the power of forgiveness. And the power of forgiveness is so profound that not only can you feel compassion, you can even feel love for your enemy. This is an extraordinary ideal, I mean absolutely extraordinary.

People that are suffering because of great hurt, it’s really hard to hear these things. It often takes a good amount of time. You know this activity that we all engage in, the activity of meditation, it will give you this vision of your spiritual identity and of the spiritual identity of others.

The word mantra, it’s made of two parts, manaha which references the mind, and tra, trayate, is the root, it means to deliver, to protect, or to deliver, to become delivered even from the grip of your own mind, which can hold you in horrible place.

I’ll just read a couple of verses because—these have got nothing to do with conventional religion, they are deep spiritual truth that may be reflected or referenced in religious traditions, but consider this. This is a Biblical verse.

“You have heard that it has been said that thou should love thy neighbour 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.”

What a calling, what a challenge. What a challenge to actually embrace such an idea.

Another quote from the Srimad Bhagavatam, and this is:

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

Now final verse, from Bhagavad Gita, which I referenced in terms of, there is no possibility of happiness without peace. And what we’ve talked about tonight is transcendental or spiritual intelligence, where one can cultivate this faculty that we all have (it’s called buddhi, spiritual intelligence), and instead of just getting swept along in the river of the mind and all the raging passions and emotions and all these things, that we learn, rather than being swept away by the river, to step out of it and look at things with clarity.

“One who is not connected to the Supreme can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace, and how can there be any happiness without peace.”

If you learn and practice forgiveness, it can be transformational in your life, and the rewards for such a courageous thing is enormous relief, illumination, and happiness.

So we will just chant for a short while, and then we’ll do a little Q&A. And if you need to leave or would like to leave, please don’t be concerned, just go right ahead.

I’ll chant the Mahamantra.