What is Forgiveness and Why is It Important?

By Val Silver

what is forgiveness

What is forgiveness? The definition of forgiveness varies from a more casual attitude of letting bygones be bygones to letting go of the past and all its hurts because all is and was as it should be. 

Answers to the what is forgiveness question are often shaped by religious teachings and personal beliefs. Pardon and showing mercy to others (and receiving it ourselves) are key spiritual practices upon which our spiritual well-being depends.

It is easy to imagine that all of us are familiar with the intense feelings that accompany being wronged. We get frustrated when we are misunderstood and get slighted; we suffer the agonies of violence, trauma, and injustice in word and deed. From the space of these events, real or perceived, we have to decide to hold on or release the perpetrator from our negative judgments. Always, the one we must release is ourselves - both from the grip of unforgiveness and any perceived wrong we criticize ourselves for.

Many people would agree that forgiving yourself and others is a good thing, even when it is not easy. Letting go of grudges, guilt, blame, shame, anger, and resentment shows the depth of the human spirit and its ability to rise above past hurts so you can move forward with your life. It shows your desire to be connected with others, rather than separated by your perceptions and your differences.

On this page you will find several answers to the question: What does forgiveness mean? Some of these definitions come from traditional religious teachings while others are more 'radical'. Together they will help you develop a complete understanding of what it means to forgive and how it brings healing to yourself and others.

Definitions of Forgiveness

What is forgiveness? According to the thesaurus, the definition of forgiveness is absolution, charity, compassion, grace, mercy, reprieve, release, pardon, and respite. Antonymns for unforgiveness include accusation, blame, and punishment. 

Common understandings of forgiveness include: letting someone off the hook, letting bygones be bygones, giving up a resentment, not holding someone accountable for what they did, or loving someone who hurt you anyway. And another common one: I'll let it go this time but I won't forget what you did!

Forgiveness is a decision that comes from the mind and the heart. You acknowledge the hurt and the wrongdoing and you decide to release the offender from your judgment and condemnation. You release the anger and bitterness toward the person or yourself for what was said or done to you.

When you forgive, you are not condoning wrongdoing. You may still have to deal with the situation and make things right, but you are free to make choices and responses from a place of empowerment instead of your woundedness. You decide how to handle the situation rather than letting your unconscious mind and other people decide for you. 

Contrary to common belief, forgiveness is a gift you primarily give to yourself. It is more about you than the one you forgive. Letting go of the past releases you from its negative bonds. When you continue to ruminate over wrongs, you are energetically tied to the past and the wrongdoer. Your precious energy goes to a time and event that now only exists in your mind, where nothing can be changed or created or healed.  

Forgiveness cuts that cord and closes up that energy drain. It is a gift of freedom and healing for yourself and the one you forgive. When you forgive yourself for your thoughts, words, and actions, it is a healing act of love and self-acceptance.

letting go of the past

What is forgiveness from a spiritual perspective?

Religions speak on the power of forgiveness as a means of restoring relationships with each other and the Divine. The Greek word used for forgiveness in the Bible means to leave someone alone, to cancel a debt, or to send something or someone away. 

In the gospels, Jesus modeled forgiveness in the Lord's prayer and on the cross when he asked the Father to forgive his executioners.He taught that in order for God to forgive you, you must forgive anything you are holding against another. Being forgiving is a way you are forgiven (Mark 11:25). 

Islam also teaches that one must grant pardon for a wrongdoing if you want Allah to forgive your wrongs.

According to Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist teachings, both wrongdoers who seeks forgiveness and the merciful who forgive show righteousness. It is the right thing to do to promote happiness, peace, a clear conscience, and self-purification.  Forgiveness embodies the virtues of grace, compassion and freedom from hatred in all its forms. It is a way of surrendering to the will of the Divine.

In the ancient huna practice of  ho'oponopono, you forgive to make peace with yourself and to make things right with our ancestors and other people.

This idea of healing relationships up and down ancestral lines has support from modern healers and researchers. For example: 

  • Dr. Dietrich Klinghart explains in the five levels of healing that ancestral issues up to three generations back seem to affect our health, and that clearing these issues has had profound healing effects.
  • It has also been suggested that we carry the entire history of humanity at an unconscious level. The field of epigenetics teaches that consciousness affects genes and this change can be passed to future generations.

What is Radical Forgiveness?

In his book, Radical Forgiveness, Making Room for the Miracle, Colin Tipping answers the what is forgiveness question in a very different way. He teaches that no wrongdoing exists to forgive because all is as it should be. You may need to go through a process to release anger, gain understanding, and let go of the past, but forgiveness as we often think of it is not necessary because there are no mistakes.

According to this view, it is possible that the person who 'wronged you' was acting to balance a karmic debt, to fulfill a soul contract, or to help you learn a life lesson from the experience. Viewed this way, you can realize that from a spiritual perspective, what happened was part of the Divine plan.

Another aspect of radical forgiveness is that we act as mirrors for each other. When we blame someone for being the way they are or for having traits we do not like, it is  because we know at some level that we have that same undesirable, unwanted trait within us.

As long as we focus on these faults in another, we can avoid looking at our own egos and shortcomings. When we perceive that we have been wronged by another, it serves to shift the focus back to ourselves where we can acknowledge and heal our repressed hidden feelings and bring them to light.

forgiveness peace of mind quote Gerald Jampolsky

Forgiveness According to a Course in Miracles

Like radical forgiveness, the Course in Miracles offers a definition of forgiveness that involves refraining from judgment.

A Course in Miracles says that an unforgiving thought represents a closed mind that is protecting its distorted and untrue projections and judgments. Projection is a common psychological defense mechanism. You project, or believe that others share the same beliefs, thoughts, behaviors and ideas as you do. For example, you may be believe that someone is untrustworthy, despite evidence to the contrary, because that is one of your acknowledged, or unacknowledged traits.

CiM says:

Forgiveness recognizes what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred. It does not pardon sins and make them real. It sees there was no sin. And in that view are all your sins forgiven.

It goes on to say:

Forgiveness... is still, and quietly does nothing. It offends no aspect of reality, nor seeks to twist it to appearances it likes. It merely looks, and waits, and judges not. He who would not forgive must judge, for he must justify his failure to forgive. But he who would forgive himself must learn to welcome truth exactly as it is.

So what is forgiveness and what does it mean to you? How you choose to answer that question will affect who and when you choose to forgive, as well as the process you use to release yourself and others from the grip of unforgiveness.

Regardless of the words you use to define forgiveness, letting go of the past with all its hurts, bitterness, resentment and grudges about what you did or what was done to you, is very healing to body, mind and spirit. It is a key to inner peace and spiritual well-being.

What Forgiveness is Not

You may be familiar with the saying, "Forgive and forget". Forgetting is not forgiving. You may remember the hurt for some time, and depending on the circumstance, that may be a good thing. Releasing yourself from the stressful emotions and thoughts around the event is often not a one time process. You may have to make the choice many times to free yourself of the attachment to them. 

Forgiveness is not excusing or condoning an intentional misdeed or making excuses for the person who committed the wrong. Nor is it letting someone off the hook without consequences, although you may choose to do so.  That is pardon. Pardon is not the same as forgiving, nor may it be in your power or best interest to do so. For example, you may forgive the person who robbed you, but they still have to face legal consequences. 

An apology or making amends may be part of the forgiveness process, but neither are required for forgiveness. 

Continue Reading:

Learning to Forgive and Release the Past: The Power of Forgiveness 

How Do I Forgive?

What is Forgiveness? Page updated 12/2020

Source: Forgiveness in Hinduism

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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