Mahabharata anecdote of the week: Here’s a lesson on forgiveness
When the Pandavas started living in the forest after losing the gambling match, Draupadi once remarked to Yudhishthira that he should never forgive those responsible for their plight
Regular readers of this column will recall that we have been talking about the importance of forgiveness in the last couple of articles. Today, I want to caution that Mahabharata does not recommend forgiveness in every situation. When the Pandavas started living in the forest after losing the gambling match, Draupadi once remarked to Yudhishthira that he should never forgive those responsible for their plight. To support her assertion, she recalled an ancient conversation between Bali and Prahlada.
Prahlada was the asura king and Bali’s grandfather. He was very experienced and wise. One day, Bali asked him, ‘O father! Does forgiveness lead to welfare, or is it better to seek revenge?’
Prahlada said, ‘O son! Revenge is not always superior. Nor is forgiveness always superior. I will tell you about the nature of both. A man who always forgives suffers from many faults. His servants treat him with contempt and others are also disrespectful. The servants also appropriate his belongings. The master is never shown the respect he deserves. To be ignored in this world is worse than death. Therefore, the learned say that perpetual forgiveness should be avoided.
Now listen to the faults associated with those who never forgive. If in the wrong place, or even in a right one, a person, out of passion and anger, metes out various punishments on the strength of his energy, he will face conflicts with his allies. He will receive hatred from the world and from his relatives. Such a man suffers the loss of riches and creates enemies. People are sure to hurt him, as soon as they find a weakness.
I will now tell you about the time when one should be forgiving. If a former benefactor commits a crime that is not too great, in view of the earlier favour, they should be pardoned. Those who commit an offence out of stupidity and seek pardon should be forgiven, because learning is not easily available everywhere to everyone. Even if the offence is slight, an offender who commits a crime with full knowledge, but claims he did not know, should be punished, because this is crookedness.
The first offence should be forgiven for all beings. But when they commit the second one, however slight, it should be punished. If a crime is committed unknowingly, it should be pardoned, but only after proper examination. Gentleness can vanquish gentleness and gentleness can also vanquish harshness. Therefore, gentleness is the stronger of the two. But one should act after considering the time and the place, the strengths and the weaknesses. He who is gentle at the right time and harsh at the right time always finds happiness in this world.’