One of the greatest adepts, teachers, writers, and humanitarians of the 20th century, Swami Rama (1925-1996) is the founder of the Himalayan Institute. Born in Northern India, he was raised from early childhood by the Himalayan sage, Bengali Baba. Under the guidance of his master, he traveled from monastery to monastery and studied with a variety of Himalayan saints and sages, including his grandmaster who was living in a remote region of Tibet. In addition to this intense spiritual training, Swami Rama received higher education in both India and Europe. From 1949 to 1952, he held the prestigious position of Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham in South India. Thereafter, he returned to his master to receive further training at his cave monastery, and finally in 1969, came to the United States where he founded the Himalayan Institute. His best known work, Living With the Himalayan Masters, reveals the many facets of this singular adept and demonstrates his embodiment of the living tradition of the East.
“I forgive you.” These three words are so powerful that they can suddenly change the darkness that we experience about us into the pure light of a new day. As soon as you experience forgiveness your whole demeanor, your attitude and your personality change dramatically. Instead of being tormented by the hate and vengeful feelings that are carried inside in seeking justice, you experience a warm expansiveness. As you let go of those negative feelings, and of the rationalizations that gave you the excuse to get even, you find yourself beginning to experience a common bond you share with others. The sense of rigidity and of being shut off within yourself is replaced by a feeling of comfort. All this is achieved by simply saying,” It’s no big thing, I don’t have to get even. I’ll just let go.”
When you practice forgiveness and love, you find that others begin to treat you differently. Instead of reacting to your revengeful attitude with their own closed-off distrust, other people begin to open up and share their warmth with you. As they become aware of your forgiving attitude, they realize that they no longer have to fear judgment and wrath. They can be themselves and be comfortable with you. Others will appreciate this to such a degree that they will open themselves to you and give whatever they can.
So, in forgiving others, we become the recipients of comfort, peace and happiness. It turns out that the way we treat others creates a situation that leads us to be treated in the same way. When we forgive others we soon find that they begin to hold less against us. We need not to be so fearful of their harsh judgments. This law of human existence was clearly expressed long ago in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Many people look at this statement as merely a request, asking the Lord, who is seen as separate from them, that they be forgiven the way they forgive others. But no request need to be made, for there is an exact and inevitable correspondence: to the extent that we forgive others we are forgiven, and the very act of forgiving is in itself a forgiveness of ourselves.
This is the law of forgiveness.
There is an exact correspondence between our experience of forgiving and the experience of being forgiven. We can only open ourselves up to the experience of the other’s forgiveness to the extent that we ourselves have developed a forgiving attitude. For we are being forgiven always but we do not know it when we are preoccupied with judging ourselves and others.
It is not necessary to take our word that such a law exists. You can test it for yourself. Merely become aware of where and when you feel judgmental and critical of others or feel that you have been abused and wish to get back. Then just sit quietly and think for some minutes of forgiveness until you genuinely feel yourself forgiving the other, letting go of judgment or criticism. See for yourself how your attitude changes and what psychological effect is produced. Have you lost something or have you gained? Become aware when a critical, condemning attitude arises within you and each time work with yourself in this way. Try it for only one week and notice the reaction of others. See how relationships change. You might say, “How can I forgive people who have abused and mistreated me?” But if we could see more deeply into our relationships we would realize that we bring these experiences on through our own actions, we would see that there is nobody to be forgiven. The people who mistreat us are often acting out the part that we assign to them.
There is a line in a prayer by St. Francis: “it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.” In the act of pardoning we think we are doing something wonderful for the person we are forgiving, but actually we are doing something much more wonderful for ourselves. For that very act creates for us an entirely different frame of reference. Because love and forgiveness allow us to experience the world in such a harmonious way it turns out that we are really pardoning ourselves. We are throwing off all the hate and the vengeance that we ordinarily harbor and acquiring a new sense of freedom. What could be more perfect justice than that? Some people might feel that in forgiving others they are opening themselves to being taken advantage of. They might say, “If I keep forgiving everyone they’ll get away with all kinds of things.” This is a misconception. In fact, condemnation often does not prevent behavior but fans the flames so that the unwanted behavior increases. If the other person sees that it gets you upset he may do the same thing again for that very reason.
Forgiving does not mean allowing people to walk all over you and abuse you. Nor does it mean that you should try to prevent others from overstepping their bounds, from being callous and inconsiderate. Setting limits for another person is often helpful to him, whereas letting that person take advantage of you merely teaches him that he can hurt and injure others without concern. This does not give him a chance to develop respect and care for the other. The person who allows others to take advantage of him is not practicing forgiveness but is actually attempting to repress his hostile and aggressive feelings, hiding them beneath external acquiescence and acceptance. Often we see this quality amongst those who have been following a set of religious precepts. In trying to practice forgiveness they mistakenly decide that they should allow themselves to be used by others. While they outwardly appear to be pleasant and forgiving, there may be smoldering resentment beneath the surface. There is a vast difference between outward acquiescence which masks resentment and a genuine inner forgiveness.”
- Swami Rama and Swami Ajaya in Creative Use of Emotion pages 150-154