For many, the first option might seem to be the most satisfying. After all, it provides immediate justice. It allows us a chance to see the other party suffer and that can bring us some level of pleasure. Seeing people suffer for the wrongs they have done makes us feel that justice was dealt. What would the world be without justice?
Revenge, or “an eye for an eye” approach is becoming the predominating mood in society. We want things quickly, including our justice. We’re running out of patience for just about everything. When the signal turns green, we need the person in front of us to move immediately. We need our computers to boot up faster. During rush hour, I try to be the first one out of the subway car so I don’t have to wait behind all the people going up the stairs. In reality, I probably save myself only about 60 seconds. It’s a little scary to imagine the lack of patience our future generations will have.
It’s important for us to analyze the kind of impact a culture of revenge can have on our society. There is the risk of us becoming completely intolerant of each other. We are already becoming so intolerant that it’s scary to think about what it will lead to. We hear about it all the time in cases of road rage where people will tailgate, cut each other off and even run another person off the road because of a slight offense.
Revenge doesn’t always involve hurting others on a physical level. It can also lead us into actions where we want to bring harm to another’s reputation, career or family members. It can drive us into a sick mentality of wanting to cause pain to others. Ultimately, we run the risk of becoming the same kind of person that hurt us, or possibly even worse. We end up becoming that which we focus on most. Filling our mind with anger, hate and vengeance deteriorates our consciousness and brings us into a dark space. It’s important to understand that such emotions and feelings are very stressful and can deteriorate our physical health.
Hinduism teaches us about the law of karma, where every actions bears a reaction. This means that if we cause pain of any sort to others, we become responsible for a future reaction. This reaction may come in this life or in a future life. However, it will come. Karma doesn’t mean that we can’t protect ourselves or our family members from harm, but that we shouldn’t go after someone to settle the score. Ultimately, the choice is ours. As long as we’re aware that all actions are being accounted for by a higher power and that we don’t actually get away with anything. This also applies to all the good we do in life. Those results will also come back to us either in the present life or a future one.
Forgiving is hard. We have such a hard time letting go of the hurt that others have caused us. In some cases, it can take years for the pain and bitterness to go away. In more extreme situations, it may stay with us our entire life. It’s not possible to forget the incident or person that caused us pain. Hinduism suggests that the highest platform to exist on is the platform of compassion. Compassion means trying to adjust our vision in the following manner:
- Trying to understand the pain and suffering of the offender that is causing them to behave in hurtful ways.
- Seeing what lessons we can learn from the situation and how we might have contributed to it.
- Understanding that the soul inhabiting all bodies is pure and good but is being forced to act in irrational ways while stuck in the material world.
Forgiveness takes incredible amounts of strength and character. In fact, it builds character. We have to decide, if we want to live a life filled with vengeful and angry thoughts or a life in which we are trying to forgive, even if not always successfully.
The Amish demonstrated an unforgettable act of forgiveness in October 2006 when a gunman entered one of their schools and shot 10 girls, killing five. The gunman then shot himself. The community not only attended the killer’s burial, but also donated money to his widow of three children.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean the pain and anger go away. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t resentment towards the perpetrator. These are very natural human emotions. One thing that I tell myself whenever I feel hurt by others is that whatever is happening to me is coming back to me as my karmic reaction from something I did to someone, either in this or a previous life. That there is no need for me to seek revenge, as the law of karma will ultimately balance everything out. After enough time passes, I try to find the strength to pray to God, who I call Krishna, to forgive that person. I don’t think forgiving serious offenses is ever going to be easy. However, I hope to keep trying because deep down inside, I know it is the higher platform to exist on.
Hopefully, someday, I can come closer to the platform of the self-realized soul, as described in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita:
A person is considered still further advanced when he regards honest well-wishers, affectionate benefactors, the neutral, mediators, the envious, friends and enemies, the pious and the sinners all with an equal mind.