God, the Great Forgiver
The common thinking is that God keeps track of our misdeeds and failures, and punishes us accordingly. The truth is God is of the nature of supreme love, compassion, and forgiveness, bestowing His grace on all unconditionally. Though at times we may forget God, He never forgets us. Sri Ramakrishna taught his devotees not to dwell on weakness and sin. He urged them to cultivate faith in the divine name and resolve to live a new life: “If a man repeats the name of God, his body, mind, and everything become pure. Why should one talk only about sin and hell, and such things? Say but once, ‘O Lord, I have undoubtedly done wicked things, but I won’t repeat them.’ And have faith in His name.” He taught that God’s grace transforms even the worst sinner into a pure soul: “Heinous sins—the sins of many births—and accumulated ignorance all disappear in the twinkling of an eye, through the grace of God. When light enters a room that has been kept dark a thousand years, does it remove the thousand years’ darkness little by little, or instantly? Of course, at the mere touch of light all the darkness disappears.”
God is impartial. He does not choose to bless some and punish others. Sri Krishna makes this clear in the Bhagavad Gita (9.29): “I am the same toward all beings; to Me there is none hateful or dear. But those who worship Me with devotion—they are in Me, and I too am in them.” Sri Sankaracharya explains the impartiality of God: “God is like fire, which gives warmth to everyone, but only those who approach it feel the warmth, not others.” Similarly, only those who approach God through devotion feel His grace and protection. God is someone most dear to us to be loved and adored.
Prayers to God for Forgiveness
At the end of Hindu ritualistic worship it is customary to seek forgiveness from God for inadvertent omissions or errors in the worship. Sri Sankaracharya composed two hymns to God asking for forgiveness, one to Lord Shiva and the other to the Divine Mother. In the hymn to the Divine Mother he teaches how to pray: “O Mother, you have many worthless sons on earth, but among them I am most insignificant. Yet it does not befit you, O Mother, to forsake me, because a wicked son may sometimes be born, but never a wicked mother.”
The Bhagavad Gita (16.3) mentions forgiveness as one of the divine qualities. In the Devi Mahatmyam (5.38-40) sages offer “repeated salutations to the Divine Mother who dwells in all beings as patience, forbearance, and forgiveness.”
Why Cultivate Forgiveness
1. Manifestation of our Divinity
According to Vedanta, our true nature is divine, but we are unaware of it because of attachment to body and mind. Scriptures and realized souls proclaim with one voice that the goal of life is to manifest our hidden divinity. According to Sri Sankaracharya, the qualities of a man of Knowledge are also the means of attaining Knowledge. Cultivating divine qualities like forgiveness, we begin to manifest our latent divine nature. (To be continued)
Copyright© 2011, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York.