Spiritual Tools - Principle: Forgiveness

M.C. Esher-Sphere

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

    Luke 23:34

Hate the sin, love the sinner.

     Mahatma Gandhi Autobiography, 1929

With love for mankind and hatred of sins.

     St. Augustine. His letter 211 (c. 424)

Note: I came to realize in writing this piece that "forgiveness" is a Spiritual Principle but to "forgive" is a Spiritual Tool. This entry deals with understanding the nature of the forgiveness principle. See the Spiritual Tool called Forgive, for a focus on how I create the change of heart necessary to forgive.

For this website I define a Spiritual Principle as "a proven standard or yardstick of thought, attitude and awareness used to assess past or future behavior."

Forgiveness is a yardstick to measure the extent of my resentments.
Resentments in turn are a measure of my attachment to expectations.
My expectations are a measure of my attachment to outcomes.

The more my attachment to outcomes, the more times I must rely on forgiveness. I imagine if true enlightenment and pure evil existed, neither would practice forgiveness. One has no attachment and no resentment to forgive, and the other is pure attachment and pure resentment and will not let go. I am neither.

Resentment results from someone taking something I think I own, keeping me from something I think I want or deserve or putting me in a position I do not believe I can handle. Each involves attachment to some imagined form.

Most of my resentments are the result of psychological fear rather than physical fear. Physical fear is the reaction of the body to an immediate threat. The pulse increases, adrenaline increases and the body prepares for fight of flight. Psychological fear stems from an imagined situation so real that the body cannot tell the difference. It reacts as though the threat was immediate.

If someone physically harms me or my loved ones or our property, some imagined psychological fear of loss is still involved as well as real pain and fear. My pain is real but the fear resulting from the attachment to the imagined is psychological.

I am very attached to my body. Physical harm thus produces the most direct form of resentment. I am very attached to my family. If my family were physically threatened, I like to imagine I would risk my own safety to protect theirs.

Without attachment, there would be no suffering - real or imagined. Without suffering, there would be no need for resentment. Without resentment, there would be no need for forgiveness. Attachment, or Desire in the Buddhist literature, is the source of all suffering; the source of all resentment and the source of the need to forgive.

Thus, it is a spiritual axiom that when I am disturbed there is something wrong with me.

Forgiveness is an attempt to release my spiritual well being from my attachment to physical and selfish well being.

Mindfulness healers find they can help sufferers of chronic pain to detach from the suffering - to witness the pain as an observer without becoming the pain. I apply this same detachment to my imagined wrongs by others.

If detachment is possible with real, severe pain, then it is all the more attainable when faced with psychological fear and the resulting resentments.

Every resentment involves imagination. I imagine the persons motives and the events leading up to their harmful actions or inactions. My error stems from assuming my imagined reality is the truth. It can only be a mere fraction of the truth at the level of events, thoughts and emotions. When I detach, I detach from this illusion of full knowledge. I know that I know only a little.

Recently, I have begun to intuitively detach when slighted, or interrupted, when I sense that inevitable mental disturbance of the human condition. It can be an almost instantaneous cycle of disturbance, awareness, laughter and forgiveness. The positive effect on my spiritual well being is remarkable.

Laughter is important. Not laughter at the harm done, the way a bully laughs. Rather laughter at the beast in me. Then I tell someone about my brief encounter with the beast for, like Dracula, there are two things the beast cannot stand: laughter and the light of day.

Spiritual forgiveness does not involve the material. It does not mean I condone the other's behavior. It does not mean I tear up the letter of indebtedness owed me. It does not mean I release the other from any obligations promised. I may or may not take these steps. Quick forgiveness simply means that my joy refuses to be covered up by the noise of my imagination, the clouds of my resentments and the darkness of unfulfilled expectations.

Spiritual Growth is largely a process of subtraction rather than addition.

But above all, I do not react in kind to the perceived wrongs done to me.

Instead I act in a manner consistent with kindness and integrity.

If I can just behave, I have a chance for real Peace.



  1. Forgiveness is typically defined as the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference or mistake, and/or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.

  2. The Oxford English Dictionary defines forgiveness as 'to grant free pardon and to give up all claim on account of an offense or debt'.

  3. Forgiveness is defined as the release of resentment and claims of retribution toward an undeserving offender…., we observed considerable evidence that forgiveness is fundamentally linked to the basic processes of psychological well-being and physical health.
    Assessment of Forgiveness: Psychometric, Interpersonal, & Psychophysiological Correlates,
    Warren Jones (with Kathleen Lawler), University of Tennessee, 2001


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

A. C. Deane - Lord's Prayer: Forgiveness