Forgive us our trespasses
By Swami Prabhavananda
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” A Hindu or a Buddhist would read the “debts” in this passage as the debts of Karma. The word Karma stands for a mental or physical act and its consequences. Any thought we think, any action we perform has two consequences: first, it creates an impression in the mind, which means that we are sowing a seed for similar thoughts and actions in the future; second, it brings, according to the nature of the thought or deed, either happiness or misery. By our actions and reactions we are always contracting debts, obligations that must be paid off. We alone are responsible for these obligations. We are even responsible for our own character, which has resulted from our habits of thought and action. When we recognize our debts, when we realize that everything, good or bad, that comes to us has been previously earned by ourselves alone, then we know that we must not hold anybody else responsible for anything that we suffer.
We all have a tendency to accuse others for whatever in our life may go wrong. At the beginning of creation we find Adam blaming Eve for their fall, And Eve, in her turn, blaming the serpent. If we are ready to assume responsibility far our own karma and not blaming others, then it will be easy for us to forgive those in debt to us, those who take something away from us or do us some harm. Only when we have this forgiveness in our hearts can we forgive ask expect forgiveness from God.
What binds us to the law of karma, the law of cause and effect? Our sense of ego, which makes us feel separate from God. In the Svetasvatara Upanishad we read:
This vast universe is a wheel. Upon it are all creatures that are subject to birth, death, and rebirth. Round and round it turns, and never stops. It is the wheel of Brahman. As long as the individual self thinks it is separate from Brahman, it revolves upon the wheel in bondage to the laws of birth, death and rebirth. But when through the grace of Brahman it realizes its identity within Him, it revolves upon the wheels no longer. It achieves immortality.
In order to free ourselves from the bondage of karma we must offer the fruits of our actions to the Lord and surrender our sense of ego to Him. We must pray to God for forgiveness of our debts so that, Through his grace, we may transcend karma an reach union with him.
Transcending the past
For if ye forgive men their trespasses,
Your heavenly Father Will also forgive you;
But if ye forgive not men their trespasses,
Neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Until we become established in the virtue of forgiveness, we cannot attain purity of heart which enables us to seek God. The practice of forgiveness is therefore of fundamental importance for the spiritual aspirant. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ stresses this practice repeatedly. He teaches mercy, reconciliation, and forgiveness of debts. But besides the Sermon, the Gospels record many instances of Christ’s teaching of forgiveness, both by precept and by his own example.
When Peter asked him, “Lord, How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Christ answered,”I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven.“
In his own life Christ did not harbor the least resentment toward those who had done wrong. He would bless them saying, “Go and sin no more. Thy sins are forgiven.” And in his prayer on the cross he asked the Father to pardon the ignorance of men, “for they know not what they do“.
All great spiritual teachers have emphasized the importance of forgiveness in spiritual life. Buddha said,“If a man foolishly does me wrong, I will return to him the protection of my ungrudging love; the more evil comes from him, the more good shall go from me.… Cleanse your heart of malice and cherish no hatred, not even against your enemies; but embrace all living beings with kindness.”
These teachers agree that if we lack forgiveness, If we hold thoughts of anger or hatred, we will cause misery for ourselves as well as for others. They advise us to raise opposite waves all pot of thought – thoughts off Love and compassion – so that we will be at peace with the world and ourselves.
Why is it so difficult for most of us to follow the teaching of forgiveness? Because when someone cherishes ill-will towards us, we react by feeling hurt. And what is hurt the most? The ego. Forgiveness is perhaps the greatest of all virtues, because if we can truly forgive men their trespasses we rise above the ego, which obstructs our vision of God.