I have long pondered on why humanity as a whole practices "eye for an eye," especially after reading about Mahatma Gandhi's life and learning the concept that an "eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind." The message of peace is within most of the world's doctrines, and yet, it is practiced so rarely.

Forgiveness is one of the keys to peace. In the New Testament, Matthew 6:14 states, "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." Luke 6:37 states, "...Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven." In the Koran, too, (42:20): "And the recompense of evil is punishment like it; but whoever forgives and amends, his reward is with Allah." A favorite of mine is an Islamic saying from Nahjul Balagha (Saying 201): "The best deed of a great man is to forgive and forget." This so closely resembles the common saying of "forgive and forget" that I heard during my youth.

I could go on, because I have found that the message of forgiveness is prevalent in spiritual doctrines all over the world. Forgiveness is preferable to holding a grudge, which would only fester and poison the spirit, and we must take responsibility for the grudges and injuries that others feel toward us (real or imagined).

So how do we forgive? I can't explain it, because for me it is akin to explaining how to love. But I do know when forgiveness is complete and finished.

Remember the old saying, "Forgive and Forget"? In my experience, it would be more accurately said, forgive and then you will forget. I find that when you have cut the last tied-up piece of resentment, pain, etc., and let it go, suddenly it fades and later it takes effort to remember the incident happened. When I do remember, there are no negative feelings attached to the recollection at all.

If you can't forgive, there is something within you that is holding onto it. Sometimes, it is only a matter of seeing the other's perspective or walking a mile in their shoes. With understanding, forgiveness becomes easy. With greater love, too, forgiveness becomes easy. How can you love someone unconditionally with emotional baggage, grudges, etc., getting in the way? To have unconditional and fully blossomed love for another, the slate must be clean. I do a meditation/free-thought exercise to facilitate this cleaning off the slate.

Once you are relaxed, try to recall grudges you currently have and forgive them as they come up; unconditionally and without reservation, forgive the transgression. If nothing comes to mind, start with family and friends. There is usually some little piece of baggage that can be dropped. Family and friends are easy, fore there is some level of love present, but once things quit popping into mind, move onto enemies, old bullies, former backstabbers, etc. Visualize the persons and tell them that you forgive them and send you unconditional love to them.

Over time, you may want to take this exercise to the next level. Start with everyone you know and forgive every transgression against you. The next step is to forgive those who have transgressed against those you care about. You eventually work your way down to anyone who has transgressed against another. It may not seem to matter when you forgive another for harming someone you don't know...or didn't even now the act was committed; however, this is the unconditional portion of forgiveness that helps when working with unconditional love. Many say that we are all connected at some level, so you may provide some relief to another at some level by forgiving them.

Lastly, forgive yourself. Eventually you must forgive yourself for the harm you have done to others and yourself.

The past can not be changed, but you can make a new future. Learn from the mistakes of the past. But there is no need to make it a burden and carry the baggage. There's no need to punish yourself, for once the lesson is learned further punishment only causes unnecessary pain. So in an exercise, you can forgive those who harmed you, those who have harmed others, and yourself for causing harm.

To complete the exercise, you can finally ask forgiveness for the harm you have caused (real or imagined). This portion is the most remarkable for me. For in visualization, I have seen people vividly smile and nod as I ask for forgiveness, and then when I see them again, our relationship is much better. Of course, if you plan to see the person, you may wish to offer forgiveness in person. That is the way to go, because it has more value at a conscious level.

At the end of these exercises, you will find you are carrying less emotional baggage. You will find that you have forgotten incidents and are no longer dwelling on previous injuries. This is a good test of unconditional love. And lest we forget, in forgiving others, we shall receive forgiveness and/or the rewards of the divine.

Author's Bio: 

A modern-day mystic and yogi, Eric Putkonen focuses on the "Direct Path" traditions (a.k.a. Pathless Path): Jnana Yoga, Advaita Vedanta, Zen Buddhism, etc. After searching for thirteen years and awakening in 2005, he has devoted himself to spreading the concepts and insights of these traditions. See his website Awaken to Life www.awaken2life.org.