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It is very sad how many people struggle with residual anger over past hurt. The problem is that this anger traps us in a world of suffering. The only way out is forgiveness, but what does that mean and how is it done.
We go into more detail than in any of the previous talks on this subject. One of the wonderful verses I quoted:
“It is the duty of all transcendentalists to cultivate the quality of forgiveness which is illuminating like the sun. The Supreme Lord, Sri Hari, is pleased with those who are forgiving.” – Bhagavat Purana 9.15.40
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So, quite a serious topic tonight, that actually affects a lot of people, this tendency for anger that we may feel towards someone to be residual, to really hang around for a very, very long time. So we wanted to speak about that and the subject of forgiveness, which pretty much ends up going hand in hand.
The reason that I’m speaking about this is actually prompted by someone—because I recently spoke to a group of young people, not in New Zealand here, but in another country on a video call, and one of the questions that was raised during that call was how do you handle or overcome anger at someone for mistreating or abusing someone you love? And then specifically, between your parents, or a parent and sibling, how do you help in a situation where the parents say it’s not your place to get involved?
It’s very heartbreaking when people act or behave in a way that is hurtful, and even extremely hurtful, and how it brings so much suffering and unhappiness, and how often the natural sort of reaction that arises is that—is one of anger. And tonight I want to talk about this. I’ve spoken about it a number of times before, but perhaps I’ll go a little bit deeper here. Previously they were much shorter talks. And so this one might be a little bit of a master class in dealing with anger and forgiveness.
So of course, we’re going to do something that’s actually very challenging for almost everyone, that is we’re going to deal with this from a spiritual perspective. And a spiritual perspective means that I’m going to try to encourage you to consider something that’s not normal or ordinary. The norm, or the ordinary way in which things are dealt with in this world, is purely on what I’ll reference as the material plane, from a material perspective. And what I’m going to do is to discuss with you the spiritual perspective. And it really is demanding to step outside of the framework, the comfort of the framework that we’re normally used to dealing with things, and to look at things from an entirely different perspective.
There’s this natural tendency of wanting to see those that hurt you, wanting to see them suffer. It’s like payback. It’s like revenge or justice. And so, when we feel that way, and especially in the face of serious injustice, where somebody is acting or behaving in a way that is wrong, and an injustice, then we feel somehow that our anger towards them is justified.
One of the problems though—and this is—I’m addressing more to people that have already had spiritual training and may be engaged in this process of meditation and spiritual cultivation, that, we are taught in the Bhagavad-gita, in the Vedas, that anger is classed as a gateway to hell. And that is kind of a little bit, maybe shocking, because we feel justified in our anger, because there’s a great injustice done, this other person is so wrong, and inflicting such pain and hurt that surely having anger and holding on to that anger is justified. But from a spiritual perspective, not only is anger considered a gateway to hell in all its forms and under almost all circumstances, but anger also separates us from God. And I’ll explain a little bit more about that as we go forward.
So in bringing this up, this is actually really challenging. It’s challenging for people that are been attempting—some people have practiced, they have a spiritual practice for many, many years; they may have been born into a family where they’ve adopted at a young age a spiritual practice, and they see something like this a situation where there is an injustice, where pain is caused, and they also embrace this tendency to feel that anger is not only a good response, it is the right response. And I may even wish for harm to come to someone else because of what they are doing.
So this discussion that we’re going to be having this evening, this is not just a hypothetical or a mental exercise. What we’re talking about is a spiritual reality.
There is a fundamental principle that all saintly yogis embrace, and it is good for us in our life to actually embrace this principle: and it is the perspective that great obstacles in our life, that pain that we may experience, or tremendous challenges in our life, are actually an opportunity for spiritual growth. That’s like, wow! I mean, if you could remember this and keep this one close to you so that every time you encounter these experiences, this basic idea, that okay, this is actually an opportunity for me to grow spiritually.
How? And how is that going to be applied? That is part of the challenge. I mean, what I’m going to be putting forward tonight is a very deep idea.
Now there’s something else that I’ve also mentioned in the past, and this is also going to be another challenging idea. All pain and suffering are rooted in the condition of ignorance, of avidya. Vidya means knowledge and avidya, the opposite, means ignorance. This may be something that’s a little difficult and quite challenging to grasp, but I really beg of you to take these two principles into your life, because it will help you to find a way through things. It will help you find a way out of situations.
I think there was a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, who said something like, “The weak can never forgive, that forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” That’s like, “What?!” That’s another very challenging idea. If forgiveness is an attribute of the strong, it’s like, well, what is that strength that he is speaking about? What is its source, and how is it manifest? So these are things that we will process.
When it comes to holding anger and resentment because of past transgressions of others against me, from a spiritual perspective, I have to examine, who do I mean, if I say, oh, he or she has hurt me? What exactly am I referring to? And I’ll start with the “me.” When I say “me” am I referring to me, the eternal spiritual being, or am I speaking about my mind and my emotions, my pride, perhaps, my broken heart? What am I speaking of when I say me? Am I describing me, the eternal spiritual being, or am I describing the temporary covering? And in saying that, and actually beginning to think about that, that’s already quite startling, because when we start thinking like that it immediately starts bringing a perspective that wasn’t there before.
Part of the material condition means that I identify totally with the body as being the self, and along with the body it means my mind and all the stuff in there, and my emotions and all of that. When I identify with that as being me, I am destined to suffer, because everything that occurs on that platform of the body and the mind and the emotions, I will tend to completely embrace as being me. Whereas if I have some inkling or a growing understanding that I am an eternal spiritual being, then I am forced to consider, okay, there’s two things here we’re dealing with: it’s me, the observer, the eternal spiritual being; and it’s the way my body and mind is reacting, and things that they are going through, that I am I identifying with.
When I was giving a course one time in a charitable organization that helped people that were victims of sexual abuse, and domestic violence and abuse; and partway through the course we deal with the topic of forgiveness, and I al—In those situations where people have been victimized and experienced really, sometimes horrific things, when you begin to speak about the idea or the topic, not even speaking about, just the topic, of forgiveness immediately invokes this really strong response. And more than once I’ve had situations where people have just stood up and left the room and didn’t return. Some of them return after 15 minutes or so, and some of them don’t come back until the next week.
And I can remember specifically with one young woman who, when I raised the subject, she cried, at the same time as standing up and leaving. And I felt very heartened when she did come back the next week. And I told her, “Before we go any further on the subject, I do want you to please understand that what I seek for you is to become free from the prison of anger and the prison of the influence that this person holds over you; that while you hang on to the injustice, while you hang on to what you feel as being your justified anger, you are permanently making this person your prison guard. They have locked you in this cage, and you are staying there by holding on to these things. What I want is for you to become free of that. I want you not to be under this perpetual fear and anger and pain that you associate with this person. I want you to become free from that and to live a healthy and better life. But the only way that things are going to change is if you learn forgiveness.”
Of course, one of the difficulties is, and I told this particular woman, one of the difficulties, or challenges, is that you are associating the idea of minimizing what has happened, or that you are somehow justifying what has happened, by offering forgiveness. And no, that’s not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you are saying that what has happened is right, or even that it is forgivable. No, you’re not saying that at all. What’s important is that you actually learn what is the meaning of forgiveness from a spiritual perspective, from a real perspective.
There is a famous prayer in Christianity, what they call the Lord’s Prayer. When Jesus Christ was apparently asked by his disciples, “Teach us how to pray,” and he prayed this particular prayer, that actually has quite deep meaning that a lot of people don’t necessarily grasp. And part of it was in praying to God, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them who trespass against us.” That’s like, “What?!” That’s just like—that’s an amazing idea, that I should seek forgiveness for my wrongdoing and the hurt I cause, I should seek that forgiveness because in the same way I am doing that to others. And that’s just like, “Whoa!!” In these kinds of situations that I’m speaking of, these are like really massively challenging ideas, very difficult things to consider.
So I mean, how is that even possible? How do we do that? How do we deal with that? Well, it’s going to be on the basis of understanding this, what we’re terming as, spiritual identity: that you and I are eternal spiritual beings. We are temporarily residing within a material body; and the material body has two components: the gross physical body and a more subtle body that’s primarily composed of the mind. And the need to understand that, and understand how that applies to what we’re discussing is actually crucial to being able to move forward in life, and to become free from this prison house of anger and fear and all of these things that may be trapping us.
In one of the ancient, really ancient Puranas—it’s called the Bhagavat Purana—there is a story. This Bhagavat Purana was compiled about 5,000 years ago, but it speaks of an even more ancient story of a young boy who was a prince, and he had the fortune of having the amazing association of a great transcendentalist that completely transformed him. And so practically from his birth he was considered a very saintly individual. His father was an absolute horror. He was the ultimate power seeker. He was extraordinarily violent. And because of his power and his exercise of violence, he had conquered everyone around him; and he was deeply atheistic, and felt that he was a power unto himself. He was the all-important, supremely powerful person. Being an autocrat, his word was law, etc.
And his son, in his schooling, had shown a dislike for politics and worldliness, and his teachers had complained to the father. And in the course of him speaking with his son, his son spoke about spiritual principle and about an idea of God, and he was so angry at that. He actually tried on a number of occasions, in his anger, to even have his son killed. And so the boy, Prahlad, was subjected to all of these different scenarios where assassination attempts were made in a variety of different ways, and it was like in each one of these instances he was somehow miraculously protected and saved. And so the father became a little suspicious and concerned, and was trying to figure out, “Does he have some mystical power or ability that’s making it so I cannot kill him?”
Things went from very bad to worse, and in this ancient account, there was actually a special incarnation of the Supreme Person that manifest and destroyed this great powerful king, mystical king. The part of the story that I am going to draw your attention to is, after this happened, the small boy, Prahlad, was asked to request anything, as a form of blessing: “You can ask anything.” And what Prahlad asked for was that his father achieve spiritual liberation. And it’s just like, “What?!” I mean, you went from a situation—I mean where he was persecuted in the most extreme ways, he was subjected to the most horrific stuff, and every single time by some miraculous situation he survived and did not die, and then when his father who was responsible for all of this was killed, his only concern was for the spiritual well-being of that person! And it’s like, how can you do that? How can you not be angry? I mean, it’s not like somebody just beating you or torturing you. We’ve got somebody that’s repeatedly trying to kill you in the most horrific ways, I mean like torturous horrific ways, and he’s not angry at his father for that.
And I’m hoping that the young people that asked me this question will really pay attention. They’ll probably see this talk on social media, on my website, because I feel that I did not fully address their question. So that was part of the impetus for speaking about it now. And coupled with the fact that, as my daughter said, this is a problem for so many people, that they keep carrying around all this residual anger.
So when you look at that example, it’s kind of like, whoa! Why is it that he didn’t celebrate the destruction of this horrible demon-like person who was so hated? Why didn’t he celebrate that? Why was he saddened by that? Well part of the saddening was this: even the worst of people, when they meet their death, a person that has spiritual vision feels so sad, because they were not able to use this human life to escape this great ocean of suffering known as material existence. The human form is for this purpose. This is the purpose of human life. And they weren’t able to do that, and that is so sad, because it means they’re just on their way on this repeated cycle, this wheel of repeated birth and death and perpetual difficulty and suffering that comes with it. So there is that sadness that they misused their life, that they inflicted pain and suffering on others, and for that they will suffer.
I tell people, you don’t have to wish harm on others. That’s not good for you. It’s not good for you to do that. That is a wrong thing to do. You should know that when anybody acts to cause pain and suffering to others, that same pain and suffering, and more, will be visited upon them. It may happen within this lifetime. It may happen in another lifetime, but it will happen, and if you—sometimes people, they have the anger and the resentment, and they hang on to it, because somehow they think if they hang on to it, it will increase, maybe, the suffering of the other person. I don’t know—I’ve heard people say things like that. Well, that’s not a fact. That is not a fact. You cannot increase, nor can you diminish, the suffering that they will feel and experience from their own actions. The laws of karma are so powerful, this is going to happen anyway. Whether you like it or not it’s going to happen. The fact that it is going to happen may be their own doing, but any person that is a little soft-hearted would feel sadness. They would feel sorrow at another’s suffering, even if their suffering is coming about because of what they did to me. That’s an extraordinary idea. That’s liberating. That’s amazing.
Within our own lineage, about 500 years ago, there was a famous person. His name was Haridas, Haridas Thakur. Haridas Thakur was a deeply humble person. He had been born in a Muslim family and—but had taken up this process of meditation, the chanting of these transcendental sounds, these holy names, and he would be chanting about 20 hours or more of the day. He was extraordinary and saintly. And there were people that were envious of him amongst the Hindu population because he was shown such respect by the common people.
And so, wanting to get him out of the way or cause him harm, just because of their envy, they approached the Muslim magistrate and said, “Look, this guy is a really bad example. He is a Muslim but he’s taking up a Hindu practice. You need to put an end to this, otherwise you guys are going to look really bad.” And so of course, that got that response, and he was arrested, and he was asked to give up this practice; and in great humility he said—they said, “If you don’t give up this practice, we will be forced to execute you.” And in great humility he said that, “Well, I’m very sorry. You can do as you feel you must do, but I cannot forego, or give up, this activity, this chanting.” And so he was sentenced to death, to be beaten to death with rattan rods, these big poles. And two men were charged with beating him to death, and he was taken—I mean they used to have in major centres where people lived you—like big market places, and so in these area around the kingdom he was to be taken to 22 of these market places and tied up to a post and beaten until he finally dies, just as a lesson for everybody.
And so the two men that were charged with this, after 22 market places they were utterly exhausted. They could barely raise their arms. They had come to the conclusion that the way that he was not crying out, that he was utterly surrendered to God. They became convinced that he was a saintly person, and what they were doing was very wrong. But they had also been told that if they did not kill him that they and—would be put to death and their families enslaved, sold into slavery, and so they were highly motivated to finish the job. And so now being thoroughly exhausted, and not knowing what to do, and feeling shame and fear, they were in tremendous anxiety. And Haridas seeing this asked them, “What is wrong?” and they told him. But before that Haridas had already prayed, praying to Lord Sri Krishna. He said, “O Krishna, be merciful on these living entities. Forgive them their offenses of torturing me.”
So for anybody that has some training on this spiritual path, I would ask you, and if you are suffering from anger at someone for doing something against you that’s hurt your emotions or your feelings about things, are we not meant to be trying to appreciate and follow the example of Haridas Thakur? And after this terrible beating where they were attempting to kill him, you know, it went on all through the day, taken to different places, 22 different places, that he prayed in this way, then that’s very challenging for me if I am holding on to what I feel is justified anger against someone.
The same thing happened with Lord Jesus Christ, who is known in the Western world because of the proliferation of Christianity, that when he was tortured and crucified in an attempt to kill him, that he prayed to God, whom he addressed as his father, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” that they don’t understand what they’re doing. In that statement you will find the actual key to unlocking the prison that you are in of anger.
When somebody is inflicting pain and hurt on others they are always being overwhelmed by their mind, by their senses and urges, by the what’s called the modes of material nature, the modes of passion and ignorance, and in this condition, they have utterly lost the plot. There is no awareness of their spiritual identity, or the spiritual identity of others, and they are behaving in an animalistic way, having completely lost it. And for this, not only are they making others suffer, they will also suffer. And so what the Lord Jesus Christ said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” this also applies. They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t see the big picture. They don’t understand it. They’re behaving in the same way that an animal would behave. And if I don’t consider this suffering that’s, you know, they may be inflicting upon my body and mind, I should still feel some sorrow for their pitiful condition that will be—will cause so much suffering for them.
In the Bhagavad-gita there are three verses in the beginning of the 16th chapter, where Lord Krishna describes a whole bunch of qualities that are considered Godly. And I’m just going to read out some of them for you, because, as a person endeavouring to grow spiritually, I need to try and cultivate these.
“The blessed Lord said, [speaking of these qualities,] the cultivation of spiritual knowledge… [and I’m just plucking some out. There are others in between.] …non-violence, freedom from anger, an aversion to fault-finding, compassion, forgiveness, freedom from envy and the passion for honour, these transcendental qualities O son of Bharata, belong to godly people, endowed with the divine nature.”
So one of the qualities that we’re asked to try and cultivate in our life is this quality of forbearance. The dictionary definition of this word forbearance is, “patient self-control, restraint and tolerance.” And of course, I’ve mentioned before, the ancient Vedic definition of tolerance is to patiently endure unhappiness.
Seeing things from a spiritual perspective, it doesn’t excuse or grant permission to bad or hurtful behaviour, but what it does is help us to understand, and with the clarity to empathise with somebody else’s suffering.
And again, I’ll use the example of that young boy, Prahlad Maharaja. When his evil father was killed, he felt sorry for him. He empathised with the fact that he had destroyed his life, and was now going to go on to more hellish suffering in another birth, and he didn’t want that for him. He wanted him to be free of that suffering. He empathised with him. He felt empathy with his tormentor, with his torturer.
So what does it look like when we actually forgive? I’ve often, in speaking about it, and speaking about in prisons, I use the example of that young woman who I’ve mentioned before, Stephanie Crean, who when her—when she was only two years old her father was murdered by some gang members. And at 21 years of age, she finally wrote an open letter to all the people that were involved. And I’m just going to read a few parts of that for you because I think that it really encapsulates what it is that is asked from us in order to forgive, and to be able to, as a result of that, experience the freedom that comes from that. So she said, “I forgive you…” addressing the murderers of her father:
“I forgive you, not because what you did in murdering my father was right, because that was not right. I forgive you even though there was mention of shooting me only at the age of two. I forgive you so that you may have peace and I too. So that our families may have peace, so that the community may have peace also. So that the nation may have peace, because that is what is right. My dad was not a perfect man, but he was a good man. You too are not perfect men, but you can be good men. You may not be able to start a new beginning, but you can start a new ending [to your life]. A good ending. However whether or not you are changed men, I still forgive you. If you do not seek out the hopes that I have for you, I still forgive you”
So I mean, that’s a wonderful and beautiful expression. I mean, she said that she embraced Christianity, and in that journey, she came to learn that as followers of Jesus Christ they are asked to forgive even that which is unforgivable. And so in her life there was this big thing, the murder of her father at a very young age, and it had a terrible effect on her and her brothers and sisters, some of whom had—came to a tragic end of their lives. So she was challenged with having to forgive them, and learning what that meant, and how to do it, and what it is all about.
So I really encourage anybody that is struggling with this pain and anger from injustice or pain that’s been inflicted upon them somehow or rather to utilize some of the things that we’ve talked about here to try and help you in your journey to forgiveness, and to become free from the prison house of anger, resentment, that controls our life, and to have this towering figure of this tormentor always over us. If you want to become free from all of this then forgiveness, learning to let go of this, is important for you, for your well-being, for your peace, for your happiness, for your spiritual growth.
I’ll just close out with a beautiful verse from the Bhagavat Purana. It says:
“It is the duty of all transcendentalists to cultivate the quality of forgiveness which is illuminating like the sun. The supreme Lord Sri Hari is pleased with those who are forgiving.”
“It is illuminating like the sun.” I mean, you can feel it when you don’t have forgiveness in your life. There is only darkness. There is only pain. There is only torment. And here we are given a way out of that. And the foundation of that is this spiritual understanding that I am an eternal spiritual being, that my tormentor is also an eternal spiritual being. They have utterly lost the plot, and for that they are suffering and will continue to suffer greatly. I should not wish ill of them, in spite of the fact that they are behaving like this towards me.
So please do reflect on this. This is a big subject, and it can be a catalyst for a huge change in somebody’s life, tremendous spiritual growth.
Okay, with that, thank you very much. We will chant. I will use the harmonium tonight, and we will chant the Mahamantra, the Hare Krishna mantra.