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Forgiveness : the highest virtue

From the Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Section XXVIII

Addressing Draupadi, King Yudhishthira said:

And because it is seen that there are in the world men who are forgiving like the Earth, it is therefore that creatures derive their life and prosperity.   O beautiful one, one should forgive under every injury. It has been said that the continuation of species is due to man being forgiving. He, indeed, is a wise and excellent person who has conquered his wrath and shows forgiveness even when insulted, oppressed, and angered by a strong person. The man of power who controls his wrath, has (for his enjoyment) numerous everlasting regions; while he that is angry, is called foolish, and meets with destruction both in this and the other world. The illustrious and forgiving Kashyapa has, in this respect, sung the following verses in honour of men that are forgiving.

"Forgiveness is virtue; forgiveness is sacrifice, forgiveness is the Vedas, forgiveness is the Sruti. He that knows this is capable of forgiving everything. Forgiveness is Brahma; forgiveness is truth; forgiveness is stored ascetic merit; forgiveness protects the ascetic merit of the future; forgiveness is asceticism; forgiveness is holiness; and by forgiveness is it that the universe is held together.

"Persons that are forgiving attain to the regions obtainable by those that have performed meritorious sacrifices, or those that are well conversant with the Vedas, or those that have high ascetic merit. Those that perform Vedic sacrifices as also those that perform the meritorious rites of religion obtain other regions. Men of forgiveness, however, obtain those much adored regions that are in the world of Brahma.

"Forgiveness is the might of the mighty; forgiveness is sacrifice; forgiveness is quiet of mind. Can one like us abandon forgiveness, which is such, and in which are established Brahma, and truth, and wisdom and the worlds? The man of wisdom should ever forgive, for when he is capable of forgiving everything, he attains to Brahma. The world belongs to those that are forgiving; the other world is also theirs.

"The forgiving acquire honours here, and a state of blessedness hereafter. Those men that ever conquer their wrath by forgiveness, obtain the higher regions. Therefore has it been said that forgiveness is the highest virtue."

Those are the verses sung by Kashyapa in respect of those that are ever forgiving. Having listened, O Draupadi, to these verses in respect of forgiveness, content thyself! Give not way to thy wrath! ...  This has been my certain conclusion from some time before! Suyodhana deserves not the kingdom. Therefore has he been unable to acquire forgiveness. I, however, deserve the sovereignty and therefore is it that forgiveness has taken possession of me. Forgiveness and gentleness are the qualities of the self-possessed. They represent eternal virtue. I shall, therefore, truly adopt those qualities.

Sin as possessiveness/covetousness

From The Mahabharata, Santi Parva, Section CLVIII

Yudhishthira said: I desire, O bull of Bharata’s race, to hear in detail the source from which sin proceeds and the foundation upon which it rests.

Bhishma said: Hear, O King, what the foundation is of sin. Covetousness alone is a great destroyer of merit and goodness. From covetousness proceeds sin. It is from this source that sin and irreligiousness flow, together with great misery. This covetousness is the spring of also all the cunning and hypocrisy in the world. It is covetousness that makes men commit sin.

From covetousness proceeds wrath; from covetousness flows lust, and it is from covetousness that loss of judgment, deception, pride, arrogance, and malice, as also vindictiveness, loss of prosperity, loss of virtue, anxiety, and infamy spring. Miserliness, cupidity, desire for every kind of improper act, pride of birth, pride of learning, pride of beauty, pride of wealth, pitilessness for all creatures, malevolence towards all, mistrust in respect of all, insincerity towards all, appropriation of other people’s wealth, ravishment of other people’s wives, harshness of speech, anxiety, propensity to speak ill of others, violent craving for the indulgence of lust, gluttony, liability to premature death, violent propensity towards malice, irresistible liking for falsehood, unconquerable appetite for indulging in passions, insatiable desire for indulging in ear, evil-speaking, boastfulness, arrogance, non-doing of duties, rashness, and perpetration of every kind of evil act,- all these proceed from covetousness.

...  When wicked-souled persons under the domination of covetousness apparently practise the duties of righteousness, the consequence that results is that the desecrations committed by them soon become current among men. Pride, anger, arrogance, insensibility, paroxysms of joy and sorrow, and self-importance, all these are to be seen in persons swayed by covetousness. Know that they who are always under the influence of covetousness are wicked.


From The Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva, Section CXI

Vrihaspati said:

That man who, having perpetrated sinful acts through stupefaction of mind, feels the pangs of repentance and sets his heart on contemplation (of the deity), has not to endure the consequences of his sins. One becomes freed from one’s sins in proportion as one repents for them. If one having committed a sin, O king, proclaims it in the presence of Brahmanas (priests) conversant with duties, one becomes quickly cleansed from the obloquy arising from one’s sin. Accordingly as one becomes cleansed therefrom fully or otherwise, like a snake freed from his diseased slough.

Times of forgiveness

From the Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Section XXVIII

Addressing King Yudhishthira, Draupadi said:

I shall now indicate the occasions in detail, of forgiveness, as laid down by the learned, and which should ever be observed by all.  Hearken unto me as I speak! 

He that has do thee a service, even if he is guilty of a grave wrong unto thee, recollecting his former service, should thou forgive that offender.  Those also that have become offenders from ignorance and folly should be forgiven for learning and wisdom are not always easily attainable by man.

They that having offended thee knowingly, plead ignorance should be punished, even if their offences be trivial. Such crooked men should never be pardoned.   The first offence of every creature should be forgiven.   The second offence, however, should be punished, even if it be trivial.  If, however, a person commits an offence unwillingly, it has been said that examining his plea well by a judicious enquiry, he should be pardoned.   Humility may vanquish might, humility may vanquish weakness.  There is nothing that humility may not accomplish.  Therefore, humility is truly fiercer (than it seems)!

One should act with reference to place and time, taking note of his own might or weakness.  Nothing can succeed that has been undertaken without reference to place and time.  Therefore, do thou ever wait for place and time!  Sometimes offenders should be forgiven from fear of the people.  These have been declared to be times of forgiveness.  And it has been said that on occasions besides these, might should be put forth against transgressors.

Forgiveness rather than anger

From the Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Section XXVIII

Addressing Draupadi, King Yudhishthira said:

Anger is the slayer of men and is again their protector.  Know this, O thou possessed of great wisdom, that anger is the root of all prosperity and all adversity. O thou beautiful one, he that suppresses his anger earns prosperity.  That man, again, who always gives way to anger, reaps adversity from his fierce anger.  It is seen in this world that anger is the cause of destruction of every creature.  How then can one like me indulge his anger, which is so destructive of the world?  The angry man commits sin.  The angry man kills even his preceptors. The angry man insults even his superiors in harsh words.  The man that is angry fails to distinguish between what should be said and what should not.

One that acts not against a man, whose wrath has been up, rescues himself as also others from great fear.  In fact, he may be regarded to be the physician of the two (viz., himself and angry man).  If a weak man persecuted by others, foolishly becomes angry towards men that are mightier than he, he then becomes himself the cause of his own destruction.

And the wise man also who though persecuted, suffers not his wrath to be roused, joyeth in the other world, having passed his persecutor over in indifference.  It is for this reason has it been said that a wise man, whether strong or weak, should ever forgive his persecutor even when the latter is in the straits.   It is for this that the virtuous applaud them that have conquered their wrath.   Indeed, it is the opinion of the virtuous that the honest and forgiving man is ever victorious.

The man that is overwhelmed with wrath acquires not with ease generosity, dignity, courage, skill, and other attributes belonging to real force of character.  A man by forsaking anger can exhibit proper energy, whereas, O wise one, it is highly difficult for the angry man to exhibit his energy at the proper time!  The ignorant always regard anger as equivalent to energy. Wrath, however, has been given to man for the destruction of the world. ...  If amongst men there were not persons equal unto the earth in forgiveness, there would be no peace among men but continued strife caused by wrath.  If the injured return their injuries, if one chastised by his superior were to chastise his superior in return, the consequence would be the destruction of every creature, and sin also would prevail in the world.


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