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Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as revenge, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), pardoning (granted by a representative of society, such as a judge), forgetting (removing awareness of the offence from consciousness), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship). In certain contexts, forgiveness is a legal term for absolving or giving up all claims on account of debt, loan, obligation or other claims.
As a psychological concept and virtue, the benefits of forgiveness have been explored in religious thought, the social sciences and medicine. Forgiveness may be considered simply in terms of the person who forgives including forgiving themselves, in terms of the person forgiven or in terms of the relationship between the forgiver and the person forgiven. In most contexts, forgiveness is granted without any expectation of restorative justice, and without any response on the part of the offender (for example, one may forgive a person who is incommunicado or dead). In practical terms, it may be necessary for the offender to offer some form of acknowledgment, an apology, or even just ask for forgiveness, in order for the wronged person to believe himself able to forgive.
Most world religions include teachings on the nature of forgiveness, and many of these teachings provide an underlying basis for many varying modern day traditions and practices of forgiveness. Some religious doctrines or philosophies place greater emphasis on the need for humans to find some sort of divine forgiveness for their own shortcomings, others place greater emphasis on the need for humans to practice forgiveness of one another, yet others make little or no distinction between human and divine forgiveness.
Although there is presently no consensus for a psychological definition of forgiveness in the research literature, agreement has emerged that forgiveness is a process and a number of models describing the process of forgiveness have been published, including one from a radical behavioral perspective.
Dr. Robert Enright from the University of Wisconsin–Madison founded the International Forgiveness Institute and is considered the initiator of forgiveness studies. He developed a 20-Step Process Model of Forgiveness. Recent work has focused on what kind of person is more likely to be forgiving. A longitudinal study showed that people who were generally more neurotic, angry and hostile in life were less likely to forgive another person even after a long time had passed. Specifically, these people were more likely to still avoid their transgressor and want to enact revenge upon them two and a half years after the transgression.
Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. The first study to look at how forgiveness improves physical health discovered that when people think about forgiving an offender it leads to improved functioning in their cardiovascular and nervous systems. Another study at the University of Wisconsin found the more forgiving people were, the less they suffered from a wide range of illnesses. The less forgiving people reported a greater number of health problems.
The research of Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, and author of the book "Learning to forgive" presented evidence that forgiveness can be learned based on research projects into the effects of forgiveness, giving empirical validity to the concept that forgiveness is not only powerful, but also excellent for your health was presented with a Champion of Forgiveness from the Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance on Forgiveness Day (first Sunday of August) for his teaching forgiveness as a life skill. 
In three separate studies, including one with Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland whose family members were murdered in the political violence, he found that people who are taught how to forgive become less angry, feel less hurt, are more optimistic, become more forgiving in a variety of situations, and become more compassionate and self-confident. His studies show a reduction in experience of stress, physical manifestations of stress, and an increase in vitality.
In Judaism, if a person causes harm, but then sincerely and honestly apologizes to the wronged individual and tries to rectify the wrong, the wronged individual is religiously required to grant forgiveness:
In Judaism, one must go to those he has harmed in order to be entitled to forgiveness. [One who sincerely apologizes three times for a wrong committed against another has fulfilled his or her obligation to seek forgiveness. (Shulchan Aruch) OC 606:1] This means that in Judaism a person cannot obtain forgiveness from God for wrongs the person has done to other people. This also means that, unless the victim forgave the perpetrator before he died, murder is unforgivable in Judaism, and they will answer to God for it, though the victims' family and friends can forgive the murderer for the grief they caused them. The Tefila Zaka meditation, which is recited just before Yom Kippur, closes with the following:
Thus the "reward" for forgiving others is not God's forgiveness for wrongs done to others, but rather help in obtaining forgiveness from the other person.
Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, summarized: "it is not that God forgives, while human beings do not. To the contrary, we believe that just as only God can forgive sins against God, so only human beings can forgive sins against human beings."
Jews observe a Day of Atonement Yom Kippur on the day before God makes decisions regarding what will happen during the coming year. Just prior to Yom Kippur, Jews will ask forgiveness of those they have wronged during the prior year (if they have not already done so). During Yom Kippur itself, Jews fast and pray for God's forgiveness for the transgressions they have made against God in the prior year. Sincere repentance is required, and once again, God can only forgive one for the sins one has committed against God; this is why it is necessary for Jews also to seek the forgiveness of those people who they have wronged.
In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of the importance of Christians forgiving or showing mercy towards others. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps the best known instance of such teaching and practice of forgiveness.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly spoke of forgiveness, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7 (NIV) “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV) “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25 (NIV)* “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” Luke 6:27-29 (NIV) “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36 (NIV) “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37 (NIV)
Elsewhere, it is said, "Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22 (NKJV)
Jesus asked for God's forgiveness of those who crucified him. "And Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'" Luke 23: 34 (ESV)
Considering Mark 11:25 above, and Matthew 6:14,15, that follows the Lord's Prayer, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.," Forgiveness is not an option to a Christian, rather one must Forgive to be a Christian.
Benedict XVI, on a visit to Lebanon in 2012, insisted that peace must be based on mutual forgiveness: "Only forgiveness, given and received, can lay lasting foundations for reconciliation and universal peace"
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Islam teaches that God is Al-Ghaffur "The Oft-Forgiving", and is the original source of all forgiveness (ghufran غفران). Forgiveness often requires the repentance of those being forgiven. Depending on the type of wrong committed, forgiveness can come either directly from Allah, or from one's fellow man who received the wrong. In the case of divine forgiveness, the asking for divine forgiveness via repentance is important. In the case of human forgiveness, it is important to both forgive, and to be forgiven.
The Qur'an never allows for violent behavior on the part of Muslim believers, except in the cases of defending one's religion, one's life, or one's property. Outside of this, the Qu'ran makes no allowances for violent behavior. From time to time certain Muslims have interpreted such Qur'anic allowances for "defensive violence" to include what other Muslims have viewed more as unwarranted and overly aggressive violence. This interpretative debate about when to forgive and when to aggressively attack or defend continues to this day within the Muslim community.
The Qur'an makes it clear that, whenever possible, it is better to forgive another than to attack another. The Qur'an describes the believers (Muslims) as those who, avoid gross sins and vice, and when angered they forgive. (Qur'an 42:37) and says that Although the just requital for an injustice is an equivalent retribution, those who pardon and maintain righteousness are rewarded by GOD. He does not love the unjust. (Qur'an 42:40).
To receive forgiveness from God there are three requirements:
If the offense was committed against another human being, or against society, a fourth condition is added:
There are no particular words to say for asking forgiveness. However, Muslims are taught many phrases and words to keep repeating daily asking God's forgiveness. For example:
Islamic teaching presents the Prophet Muhammad as an example of someone who would forgive others for their ignorance, even those who might have once considered themselves to be his enemies. One example of Muhammad's practice of forgiveness can be found in the Hadith, the body of early Islamic literature about the life of Muhammad. This account is as follows:
The Prophet was the most forgiving person. He was ever ready to forgive his enemies. When he went to Ta’if to preach the message of Allah, its people mistreated him, abused him and hit him with stones. He left the city humiliated and wounded. When he took shelter under a tree, the angel of Allah visited him and told him that Allah sent him to destroy the people of Ta’if because of their sin of maltreating their Prophet. Muhammad prayed to Allah to save the people of Ta'if, because what they did was out of their ignorance.[better source needed]
In the Bahá'í Writings, this explanation is given of how to be forgiving towards others:
"Love the creatures for the sake of God and not for themselves. You will never become angry or impatient if you love them for the sake of God. Humanity is not perfect. There are imperfections in every human being, and you will always become unhappy if you look toward the people themselves. But if you look toward God, you will love them and be kind to them, for the world of God is the world of perfection and complete mercy. Therefore, do not look at the shortcomings of anybody; see with the sight of forgiveness."
— `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 92
In Buddhism, forgiveness is seen as a practice to prevent harmful thoughts from causing havoc on one’s mental well-being. Buddhism recognizes that feelings of hatred and ill-will leave a lasting effect on our mind karma. Instead, Buddhism encourages the cultivation of thoughts that leave a wholesome effect. "In contemplating the law of karma, we realize that it is not a matter of seeking revenge but of practicing mettā and forgiveness, for the victimizer is, truly, the most unfortunate of all. When resentments have already arisen, the Buddhist view is to calmly proceed to release them by going back to their roots. Buddhism centers on release from delusion and suffering through meditation and receiving insight into the nature of reality. Buddhism questions the reality of the passions that make forgiveness necessary as well as the reality of the objects of those passions. "If we haven’t forgiven, we keep creating an identity around our pain, and that is what is reborn. That is what suffers."
Buddhism places much emphasis on the concepts of Mettā (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upekkhā (equanimity), as a means to avoiding resentments in the first place. These reflections are used to understand the context of suffering in the world, both our own and the suffering of others.
In Vedic literature and epics of Hinduism, Ksama or Kshyama (Sanskrit: क्षमा) and fusion words based on it, describe the concept of forgiveness. The word ksama is often combined with kripa (tenderness), daya (kindness) and karuna (compassion) in Sanskrit texts. In Rg Veda, forgiveness is discussed in verses dedicated to deity Varuna, both the context of the one who has done wrong and one who is wronged. Forgiveness is considered one of the six cardinal virtues in Hinduism.
The theological basis for forgiveness in Hinduism is that a person who does not forgive carries a baggage of memories of the wrong, of negative feelings, of anger and unresolved emotions that affect his or her present as well as future. In Hinduism, not only should one forgive others, but one must also seek forgiveness if one has wronged someone else. Forgiveness is to be sought from the individual wronged, as well as society at large, by acts of charity, purification, fasting, rituals and meditative introspection.
The concept of forgiveness is further refined in Hinduism by rhetorically contrasting it in feminine and masculine form. In feminine form, one form of forgiveness is explained through Lakshmi (called Goddess Sri in some parts of India); the other form is explained in the masculine form through her husband Vishnu. Feminine Lakshmi forgives even when the one who does wrong does not repent. Masculine Vishnu, on the other hand, forgives only when the wrong doer repents. In Hinduism, the feminine forgiveness granted without repentance by Laskmi is higher and more noble than the masculine forgiveness granted only after there is repentance. In the Hindu epic Ramayana, Sita - the wife of King Rama - is symbolically eulogized for forgiving a crow even as it harms her. Later in the epic Ramayana, she is eulogized again for forgiving those who harass her while she has been kidnapped in Lanka. Many other Hindu stories discuss forgiveness with or without repentance.
The concept of forgiveness is inconsistently treated in extensive debates of Hindu literature. In some Hindu texts, certain sins and intentional acts are debated as naturally unforgivable; for example, murder and rape; these ancient scholars argue whether blanket forgiveness is morally justifiable in every circumstance, and whether forgiveness encourages crime, disrespect, social disorder and people not taking you seriously. Other ancient Hindu texts highlight that forgiveness is not same as reconciliation.
Forgiveness in Hinduism does not necessarily require that one reconcile with the offender, nor does it rule out reconciliation in some situations. Instead forgiveness in Hindu philosophy is being compassionate, tender, kind and letting go of the harm or hurt caused by someone or something else. Forgiveness is essential for one to free oneself from negative thoughts, and being able to focus on blissfully living a moral and ethical life (dharmic life). In the highest self-realized state, forgiveness becomes essence of one’s personality, where the persecuted person remains unaffected, without agitation, without feeling like a victim, free from anger (akrodhi).
Other epics and ancient literature of Hinduism discuss forgiveness. For example:
Forgiveness is virtue; forgiveness is sacrifice; forgiveness is the Vedas; forgiveness is the Shruti.
Forgiveness protecteth the ascetic merit of the future; forgiveness is asceticism; forgiveness is holiness; and by forgiveness is it that the universe is held together.
Righteousness is the one highest good, forgiveness is the one supreme peace, knowledge is one supreme contentment, and benevolence, one sole happiness.
Janak asked: Oh lord, how does one attain wisdom? how does liberation happen?
Ashtavakra replied: Oh beloved, if you want liberation, then renounce imagined passions as poison, take forgiveness, innocence, compassion, contentment and truth as nectar; (...)
In Jainism, forgiveness is one of the main virtues that needs to be cultivated by the Jains. Kṣamāpanā or supreme forgiveness forms part of one of the ten characteristics of dharma. In the Jain prayer, (pratikramana) Jains repeatedly seek forgiveness from various creatures—even from ekindriyas or single sensed beings like plants and microorganisms that they may have harmed while eating and doing routine activities. Forgiveness is asked by uttering the phrase, Micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ. Micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ is a Prakrit language phrase literally meaning "may all the evil that has been done be fruitless." During samvatsari—the last day of Jain festival paryusana—Jains utter the phrase Micchami Dukkadam after pratikraman. As a matter of ritual, they personally greet their friends and relatives micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ seeking their forgiveness. No private quarrel or dispute may be carried beyond samvatsari, and letters and telephone calls are made to the outstation friends and relatives asking their forgiveness.
Khāmemi savva-jīve savvë jive khamantu me /
metti me savva-bhūesu, veraṃ mejjha na keṇavi //
(I ask pardon of all creatures, may all creatures pardon me.
May I have friendship with all beings and enmity with none.)
May you, O Revered One! Voluntarily permit me. I would like to confess my sinful acts committed while walking. I honour your permission. I desire to absolve myself of the sinful acts by confessing them. I seek forgiveness from all those living beings which I may have tortured while walking, coming and going, treading on living organism, seeds, green grass, dew drops, ant hills, moss, live water, live earth, spider web and others. I seek forgiveness from all these living beings, be they — one sensed, two sensed, three sensed, four sensed or five sensed. Which I may have kicked, covered with dust, rubbed with ground, collided with other, turned upside down, tormented, frightened, shifted from one place to another or killed and deprived them of their lives. (By confessing) may I be absolved of all these sins.
By practicing prāyaṣcitta (repentance), a soul gets rid of sins, and commits no transgressions; he who correctly practises prāyaṣcitta gains the road and the reward of the road, he wins the reward of good conduct. By begging forgiveness he obtains happiness of mind; thereby he acquires a kind disposition towards all kinds of living beings; by this kind disposition he obtains purity of character and freedom from fear.
— Māhavīra in Uttarādhyayana Sūtra 29:17–18
Even the code of conduct amongst the monks requires the monks to ask forgiveness for all transgressions:
If among monks or nuns occurs a quarrel or dispute or dissension, the young monk should ask forgiveness of the superior, and the superior of the young monk. They should forgive and ask forgiveness, appease and be appeased, and converse without restraint. For him who is appeased, there will be success (in control); for him who is not appeased, there will be no success; therefore one should appease one's self. 'Why has this been said, Sir? Peace is the essence of monasticism'.
— Kalpa Sūtra 8:59
Hoʻoponopono is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, combined with prayer. Similar forgiveness practices were performed on islands throughout the South Pacific, including Samoa, Tahiti and New Zealand. Traditionally Hoʻoponopono is practiced by healing priests or kahuna lapaʻau among family members of a person who is physically ill. Modern versions are performed within the family by a family elder, or by the individual alone.
The need to forgive is widely recognized by the public, but they are often at a loss for ways to accomplish it. For example, in a large representative sampling of American people on various religious topics in 1988, the Gallup Organization found that 94% said it was important to forgive, but 85% said they needed some outside help to be able to forgive. However, not even regular prayer was found to be effective. Akin to forgiveness is mercy, so even if a person is not able to complete the forgiveness process he or she can still show mercy, especially when so many wrongs are done out of weakness rather than malice. The Gallup poll revealed that the only thing that was effective was "meditative prayer".
Forgiveness as a tool has been extensively used in restorative justice programs, after the abolition of apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa), run for victims and perpetrators of Rwandan genocide, the violence in Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and Northern Ireland conflict, which has also been documented in film, Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness (2012).
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