All faiths worldwide recommend it.
Doctors tell patients about its health benefits. Old and New Age gurus will break bread to celebrate its virtues. Pranic healers and reiki masters consider it a powerful healing tool. And non-believers, too, are convinced of its great value. Not only is being able to forgive divine, it can be a blessing to your spiritual, mental and physical health.
Forgiveness is not as sublime as love, but it's a divine virtue, without necessarily being godly. The Oxford English Dictionary defines forgiveness thus: "To grant free pardon and to give up all claim on account of an offence or debt". But forgiveness is much more than that. Cynics see the act of forgiving as being one of weakness, resorted to by the meek and the cowardly. The more enlightened say only the strong are capable of it, as did M K Gandhi: "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."
At an American Psychological Association's Annual Convention, researchers defined forgiveness as a person's ability to overcome resentment toward an offender. Forgiveness does not mean "letting a person off the hook," says Charlotte C. VanOyen-Witoliet, a psychologist at Hope College in Holland, Minn. When a person forgives someone, she explains, they're not dismissing the fact the offender did something hurtful, nor is it the same as reconciling. You can forgive someone, but not resume a relationship with that person. "Forgiveness may lead to reconciliation," VanOyen-Witoliet says, "but it is different from it."
Scientists are finding that people who forgive exhibit better physical and mental health than those who harbor negative feelings about the event that offended them. VanOyen-Witoliet presented findings from studies conducted by other researchers showing that those who were able to forgive their offender had lower rates of anxiety and depression. These studies included victims of incest, men who were angry their partners had decided to have an abortion and adolescents who forgave their parents over a particular incident.
Pure happiness is achieved because when you forgive a person who has done you harm, you detoxify yourself of all negative energy, free your mind, and purify your soul and body. Perhaps that's why Martin Luther said: "Forgiveness is pure happiness."
Studies at the University of Wisconsin found the more forgiving people were, the less they suffered from a wide range of illnesses. The benefits included improved functioning of their cardiovascular and nervous systems. Anger and resentment towards our so-called oppressors will bring us nothing but trouble and unhappiness.
"If you do not forgive, you will continue to think of the offender and the unpleasant event," said pranic healing master, Choa Koi Sui. "By forgiving and blessing, you achieve inner peace and freedom." When you hate another person, you only hate yourself, as all souls are linked.
The message is clear: Only when you forgive others will you, too, be forgiven.
By being unforgiving, we keep creating an identity around our pain, and that is what is reborn, Buddhists believe.
"Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them as much," said Oscar Wilde. It's an interesting thing to say, but taking the tongue-in-cheek remark seriously might dilute the impact and power of forgiveness.
Forgiveness has great power. It is a glorious and selfless act that could radically transform the lives of both the forgiver and the forgiven - for the better.
"Forgiving doesn't mean condoning," says Kula, author of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life. "It doesn't mean everything becomes all right or that brokenness goes away." Instead, he says, it requires us to "admit the betrayal, admit the brokenness and to make a decision not to put it in a place inside us that will be toxic."
"Forgiving is allowing your personal journey to continue while maintaining trust and hope in other human beings," he says. "It's every bit as hard as we think it is, but if you don't have any practice, it's almost impossible."