How do we decide when to forgive and when to fight back?

by Chaitanya CharanJuly 28, 2014

 Transcribed by: Argha Maji

Question: How do we decide when to forgive and when to fight back?

Answer: So the most important principle is that what is favorable for our service. That doesn’t mean chanting but overall our life of service to Krishna. So tolerance and forgiveness are virtues but we cannot make them into extremes. Ultimately the principle is that we are meant to serve Krishna. So the principle of forgiveness has to be balanced with the principle of justice. Because otherwise we may be forgiving but others think we are weak and they exploit us. They ride on top of us. That shouldn’t happen. So this has three levels.

First level is if somebody is doing something wrong, we tolerate , we forgive and give that person a chance to rectify in whatever way possible, depending on particular dynamics of that relationship or situation. But if that doesn’t happen, that means the person is not ready to reform or change, so first example I would say is Vidura and Dhritarastra. Vidura gave chances again and again to Dhritarastra. Vidura didn’t compromise himself. He never became vicious and then finally he came to him and that time he would rectify. But Vidura also opened his eyes, is Dhritarastra doing perverse things and was protecting the Pandavas also. We forgive and give a person chance to change, if the person changes that’s good.

Second possibility is we are ready to forgive the person but the person has no intention to change and continues to be abusive or exploitative or whatever. Then at that time we have to create a distance , we have to protect ourselves at that time . See forgiveness can have two aspects , one is that internally not maintaining resentment against anyone.

This person did this to me and I have to get back at him etc. So that resentfulness is always harmful to us. That just burns us and and chokes us. Holding on to that resentfulness is like holding on to a burning piece of coal, wanting to throw it at someone else. So for the amount of time we are holding, it hurts us also. So we don’t necessarily maintain resentment but we understand that I have done some past bad karma because of which this happens to me as Srila Prabhupada would say don’t be angry at the instrument of your karma. Somebody is hurting us, that’s simply an instrument of our karma coming to us. Don’t be angry with that person , but that doesn’t mean we have to keep hurting ourselves.

We consider the past life karma when things go wrong despite our best efforts. Some devotee once made a foolish mistake and he lost lot of laxmi and property for Krishna , so he went and said that whatever happens is by destiny. This is not destiny this is stupidity , we have to choose our actions what is right and what is wrong,

If somebody is hurting us, then creating a distance for our safety is simply a sign of intelligence, we do that. So at least that person doesn’t hurt us and from there we still give that person a chance to reform. So Kamsa he arrested Devaki, killed seven children and then the ashtam garbha , at that time Devi appeared and he apparently had a change of heart and begged forgiveness. Vasudev and Devaki forgave him but then Vasudev was not so foolish, now you have changed your heart, so I will tell you a secret, Krishna is in Vrindavan. He didn’t do that . Change of heart has to be demonstrated through actions. And Kamsa had done nothing like that. They didn’t hold a grudge against him but they didn’t give him the power to hurt them again. And eventually when Kamsa continued to p Krishna and Vrajavasis and then Krishna came to Mathura and killed Kamsa , Vasudev didn’t say that I had forgiven him, so why did you kill him. No he continued to do wrong and so he was punished. So that means he(Vasudev) created a distance, sent Krishna away to Vrindavan and he didn’t provoke him(Kamsa) further and forgave him when he asked for it. And he took himself and his wife to safety. But some people might just not be ready to change, then corrective actions have to be taken. So now we may not be in Government or Police so we may not punish , but whatever legal or corrective action has to be taken we may have to take that.

So when Sita was abducted by Ravana , Rama sent multiple peace messengers to him.

You give back Sita and I will forgive you, but Ravana was not ready to listen at all. And then Lord Rama had to give him appropriate punishment , so after that when his last rites had to be performed , he told Vibhisana , his son is also not alive. Indrajit is dead. All sons were dead, so he asked Vibhisana to perform the last rites. Now Vibhisana became pensive , he said he was such a wicked person and he abused your wife, I do not feel that I should do his last rites, I feel I will become contaminated by doing anything for a person as wicked as him, so Lord Rama told him the soul is always pure and no resentment should be brought against the soul. What misdeed he has done, he has received the punishment and you should do the last rites, so that he would get a destination by which he can become virtuous in future , don’t shirk from your duty.

Now we may say, what is the point. You go against your brother, you become cause of his death and then you say I will do some good for him and do his last rites. No, the point is he also had his duty. Why did Vibhisana go on side of Lord Rama , it was not just because he was devoted to Lord Rama , along with that he also wanted to protect the Raksasas. He said, ‘O Rama your enmity is not against Raksasa vamsa, it is against one particular raksasa and his associates, there are Raksasas also who understand virtue , so don’t destroy Lanka itself.’ Lord Rama said, ‘No, I am not going to destroy whole of Lanka, you will become ruler of Lanka and you will administer Raksasas on path of virtue and justice. ’

So if our basic peace of mind, our basic service, if our basic existence itself is tormented by someone, then at that time, tolerance is not necessarily a virtue. Tolerance has to be carefully understood , tolerance means, we want to go on a path of virtue and while going on path of virtue , there are inevitable troubles and temptations that can provoke and distract us. So we tolerate them , so for example if I am going for a program and I am going in a vehicle , and somebody speaks some foul words or whatever, tolerance means just neglect it so that I can go on with my main business in life. So tolerance means to not let the small things distract us from big things in life but if somebody is troubling me in such a way, that I can’t do the big thing in life only, I am so much troubled that I can’t do anything and I say I would tolerate, then that is not tolerance , that is impotence and that is not desirable. So we have to do that which will best enable us to pursue our duty, direct devotional service and our responsibilities in this world also. And doing the necessary for being able to do that we want to give others chance and forgive but not at the expense of our basic peace of mind and existence .

So tolerance or any other kind of response, basic principle is that how can I best serve and secondly how can I help another person. So now, if we take corrective actions against others, that shouldn’t be in the mood of you did this to me and therefore I am doing this to you. It is not of a tit-for-tat sort of mentality , idea is that if you do this and you get away with this , then you will continue doing this and you will hurt others and you will hurt yourself. And that is bad. Bad for you , unhealthy for you, bad for society in general. Bad for others. So when we correct others also, it is in a mood of compassion, it is not in a mood of vengeance. So that way we maintain the balance between justice and forgiveness by recognising the basic principle of life is to continue our duty and service.

And to do whatever it takes to continue that.

Thank You

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Chaitanya Charan

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