A restless businessman once came into Buddha’s assembly, walked straight to him and spat at Buddha. He was furious that his children who could have spent their time earning money, sat with Buddha instead, with their eyes closed. Buddha merely smiled at him. There was no word, no reaction. The man walked away in a huff, shocked. He could not sleep all night. For the first time in his life, he met someone who smiled when he was spat at. His whole world had turned upside down.

The next day he went back to Buddha, fell at his feet and said, “Please forgive me! I didn’t know what I did.” But Buddha said, “No! I cannot excuse you!” Everyone in his assembly was taken aback! Buddha said, “Why should I forgive you when you have done nothing wrong?”

The businessman reminded him of what he did on the previous day. Buddha simply replied, “Oh that person is not here now. If I ever meet the person you spat on, I’ll tell him to excuse you. To this person here, you’ve not done any wrong.”

Compassion is not saying, “I forgive you.” Your forgiveness should be such that the person who is forgiven, does not even know that you are forgiving them. They should not even feel guilty about their mistake. This is real compassion.

Tradition of seeking forgiveness

Each year during this time, many cultures around the world celebrate a day of forgiveness, a day when you ask people around you, those you know and those you don’t, to forgive you.  The Jewish community celebrates Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, while the Jain community in India celebrate Kshamavani, a beautiful tradition where each person greets the other with Michhami Dukkadam which means seeking forgiveness for deeds or words spoken that may have hurt someone consciously or subconsciously.

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It’s a beautiful tradition to not harbour hatred towards anyone.  Even Muhammad Ghori who waged many wars against India was forgiven when he asked for forgiveness. Today, there is so much hatred, tension, and violence in the world. There is domestic violence at home, violence between communities, and conflicts between countries. In such a world, observing a day of forgiveness is of great significance.

If everyone in the world could practice forgiveness—both asking and giving—many of the world’s conflicts could be solved. Many of the conflicts in families, and in relationships would be solved.

Is it easy to forgive?

Forgiving is easy when you look at the bigger context. When you see from a wider perspective, you see that a culprit is also a victim. When you see that victim inside the culprit, you don’t need to forgive, forgiveness happens; in fact compassion spontaneously arises in your heart.

Forgiving someone shows one’s compassion. Asking for forgiveness shows that you recognise your mistakes, and that you resolve not to repeat them in the future.

Why make mistakes at all?

Mistakes happen due to lack of understanding, wrong education, wrong indoctrination, emotional outbursts as we don’t know how to control our rage, anger and frustrations. When uncontrolled emotions spring into action, it becomes a mistake.

It is wisdom which checks these uncontrolled emotions; wisdom which makes you think before you act. People commit mistakes because of lack of wisdom, lack of happiness or lack of the inner connection with the divine.Someone who is happy, content and in love will not harm anyone. It’s impossible. If someone harms another, it is because there is a deep wound or scar inside of them which needs to be healed.

The highest form of forgiveness is to realise that the other committed a mistake out of ignorance, and having a sense of compassion for them. Forgiving others with a sense of compassion is the best form of forgiveness.