Forgiveness is typically defined as the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense or mistake, and ceasing to demand punishment or restitution. The concept and 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 some contexts, forgiveness may be granted without any expectation of restorative justice, and without any response on the part of the offender. In practical terms, it may be necessary for the offender to offer some form of acknowledgment, apology or restitution, or even to 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.
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, it is realized that it is not a matter of seeking revenge but of practicing 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.
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 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 do it. However, not even regular prayer was found to be effective. The Gallup poll revealed that the only thing that was effective was meditative prayer.
Recent work at the International Forgiveness Institute 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 avoid their transgressor and want to enact revenge upon them several years after the transgression.
Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. One study has shown that the positive benefit of forgiveness is similar whether it was based upon religious or secular counseling as opposed to a control group that received no forgiveness counseling.