Teach us Thy forgiveness

The Sufi path points us toward ‘the One,’ towards a Unity that is perfection. But as we mostly live in an imperfect, divided state, our world picture is of ‘me,’ and ‘the other person.’ If we have had some religious education, then there is one further division that arises – paradoxically – when we add the Divine Presence. And then when we do something that offends another person, or another person offends us, or when we feel we have offended God, as inevitably happens in our tumultuous life on earth, resolving all the consequent tensions through apology becomes complicated.

The first step, simplest and yet most difficult, is to ask forgiveness of the Divine. It is the simplest because, as it has been said, God is most merciful and He loves to forgive. The Divine Presence is always and completely present – there is never a moment when He is not taking calls, or He is away from the office; no online search is necessary to find Him. The difficulty lies in honestly owning up to our error, making a sincere appeal for forgiveness, and then accepting that we have been forgiven so that we can let go of our sense of guilt and shame. Those who accomplish these steps will know a great relief, and will certainly come closer to the Divine embrace.

There are also moments, perhaps more than we realise, when we offend others. Depending on the person and the circumstances, it may be possible to right things with a simple, sincere apology. “I did wrong, I made a mistake, I am sorry, I hope you can forgive me.” Sometimes sincerity can accomplish miracles, and the result may be a deeper friendship and greater intimacy than before. But we also know that some people are slow to forgive, and then a persistent effort may be required. In such a case, Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan says that constantly returning to the forgiveness of God will help the situation. In other words, the more conscious we are of Divine forgiveness, and the more we hold that in our spirit, the more it will be reflected in the spirit of the other person, so that in time they may be able to open their heart and forgive as God does.

And then there are circumstances where we ourselves have been offended, and we hold a grievance perhaps for decades or even for a whole life against the one who wounded us. It may be a grievance with someone we see regularly, or with someone we now never see, or perhaps with someone who is no longer walking the earth, but in any case we carry the pain with us, consciously or unconsciously, and like the remains of a physical injury to the body, it affects our whole life – our movement, our rhythm, our hopes and our expectations. We may know that it would be better to let it go, that we would be healthier if we could drop the whole matter – but somehow we don’t seem to manage this. Then what to do?

There is a common saying, ‘Forgive and forget,’ but in the path of wisdom, the order of action is reversed. Forget first, and then forgive, said Hazrat Inayat Khan. In this case, ‘forget’ doesn’t mean to develop total amnesia, but to loosen our hold upon whatever has wounded us. We cling to memories, both good ones and bad, because we consider them to be part of ‘us,’ because they shape our consciousness – but consciousness is infinitely elastic, and will conform to whatever we place in it. If we focus upon limitation, we will be limited; if we focus upon the infinite, our horizon expands without end. When we retain the pain and disappointment resulting from the misdeed of another, we are incorporating their misbehaviour in ourselves. It would be useful to ask ourselves, then, why let the shortcomings of another shape our consciousness? If we do not want it, then it would be better to drop it. And when we really let go of the offence we have been carrying for far too long – which is not the same as ignoring it while hauling it around with us – our recollection of it fades because we no longer feed it with our spirit. It becomes like reading about the events of another person’s life – and we are much more able to forgive and move on.

Our grievance against another is based upon judgement, but judging is based upon including and excluding, it is only partial; we wish to grow beyond this, from our limitation to a more perfect, all inclusive state, and for this, forgiveness is essential. As we read in Vadan Boulas, “Perfection forgives, and limitation judges.”

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