Draupadi & forgiveness in the Mahabharat

Forgiveness versus Might

“Addressing King Yudhishthira, Draupadi said: On this subject, the ancient story of the conversation between Prahlad and Vali, the son of Virochana is quoted as an example. One day Vali asked his grandfather Prahlad, the chief of the Asuras and the Danavas, possessed of great wisdom and well versed in the mysteries of the science of duty, saying. ‘O sire, is forgiveness meritorious or might (and energy) meritorous?

Thus asked by Vali, his wise grandfather, conversant with every conclusion, replied upon the whole subject unto his grandson who had sought at his hands the resolution of his doubts.

Prahlad said: Know O child, these two truths with certainty, viz., that might is not always meritorious and forgiveness also is not always meritorious. He that forgives always suffers many evils. Servants and strangers and enemies always disregard him. No creature ever bends down unto him. Therefore it is, O child, that the learned applaud not a constant habit of forgiveness.

The servants of an ever-forgiving person always disregard him, and contract numerous faults. These mean-minded men also seek to deprive him of his wealth. Vile souled servants also appropriate to themselves his vehicles and clothes and ornaments and apparel and beds and seats and food and drink and other articles of use. They do not also at the command of their master give unto others the things they are directed to give. Nor do they ever worship their master with that respect which is their master’s due. Disregard in this world is worse than death.

O child, sons and servants and attendants and even strangers speak harsh words unto the man who always forgives. Persons, disregarding the man of an ever-forgiving temper, even desire his wife, and his wife also becomes ready to act as she wills. And servants also that are ever fond of pleasure, if they do not receive even slight punishment from their master, contract all sorts of vices, and the wicked ever injure such a master. These and many other demerits attach to those that are ever forgiving!

Listen now, O son of Virochana, to the demerits of those that are never forgiving! The man of wrath who, surrounded by darkness, always inflicts, by help of his own energy, various kinds of punishment on persons whether they deserve them or not, is necessarily separated from his friends in consequence of that energy of his. Such a man is hated by both relatives and strangers. Such a man, because he insults others, suffers loss of wealth and reaps disregard and sorrow and hatred and confusion and enemies.

The man of wrath, in consequence of his ire, inflicts punishments on men and obtains (in return) harsh words. He is divested of his prosperity soon and even of life, not to say, of friends and relatives. He that puts forth his might both upon his benefactor and his foe, is an object of alarm to the world, like a snake that has taken shelter in a house, to the inmates thereof. What prosperity can he have who is an object of alarm to the world? People always do him an injury when they find an opportunity.

Therefore, should men never exhibit might in excess nor forgiveness on all occasions. One should put forth his might and show his forgiveness on proper occasions. He who becomes forgiving at the proper time and harsh and mighty also at the proper time, obtains happiness both in this world and the other.

I shall now indicate the occasions in detail, of forgiveness, as laid down by the learned, and which should ever be observed by all. Hearken unto me as I speak! He that has do thee a service, even if he is guilty of a grave wrong unto thee, recollecting his former service, should thou forgive that offender. Those also that have become offenders from ignorance and folly should be forgiven for learning and wisdom are not always easily attainable by man.

They that having offended thee knowingly, plead ignorance should be punished, even if their offences be trivial. Such crooked men should never be pardoned. The first offence of every creature should be forgiven. The second offence, however, should be punished, even if it be trivial. If, however, a person commits an offence unwillingly, it has been said that examining his plea well by a judicious enquiry, he should be pardoned. Humility may vanquish might, humility may vanquish weakness. There is nothing that humility may not accomplish. Therefore, humility is truly fiercer (than it seems)!

One should act with reference to place and time, taking note of his own might or weakness. Nothing can succeed that has been undertaken without reference to place and time. Therefore, do thou ever wait for place and time! Sometimes offenders should be forgiven from fear of the people. These have been declared to be times of forgiveness. And it has been said that on occasions besides these, might should be put forth against transgressors.

Draupadi continued: I therefore, regard, O king, that the time has come for thee to put forth thy might! Unto those Kurus the covetous sons of Dhritarashtra who injure us always, the present is not the time for forgiveness! It behoveth thee to put forth thy might. The humble and forgiving person is disregarded; while those that are fierce persecute others. He, indeed, is a king who hath recourse to both, each according to its time!

Anger versus Forgiveness

King Yudhishthira said: Anger is the slayer of men and is again their protector. Know this, O thou possessed of great wisdom, that anger is the root of all prosperity and all adversity. O thou beautiful one, he that suppresses his anger earns prosperity. That man, again, who always gives way to anger, reaps adversity from his fierce anger. It is seen in this world that anger is the cause of destruction of every creature. How then can one like me indulge his anger, which is so destructive of the world? The angry man commits sin. The angry man kills even his preceptors. The angry man insults even his superiors in harsh words. The man that is angry fails to distinguish between what should be said and what should not.

There is no act that an angry man may not do, no word that an angry man may not utter. From anger a man may slay one that deserves not to be slain, and may worship one that deserves to be slain. The angry man may even send his own soul to the regions of Yama. Beholding all these faults, the wise control their anger, desirous of obtaining high prosperity both in this and the other world. It is for this that they of tranquil souls have banished wrath. How can one like us indulge in it then? O daughter of Draupada, reflecting upon all this, my anger is not excited. One that acts not against a man, whose wrath has been up, rescues himself as also others from great fear. In fact, he may be regarded to be the physician of the two (viz., himself and angry man).

If a weak man persecuted by others, foolishly becomes angry towards men that are mightier than he, he then becomes himself the cause of his own destruction. And in respect of one who thus deliberately throws away his life, there are no regions hereafter to gain. Therefore, O daughter of Draupada, it has been said that a weak man should always suppress his wrath. And the wise man also who though persecuted, suffers not his wrath to be roused, joyeth in the other world, having passed his persecutor over in indifference. It is for this reason has it been said that a wise man, whether strong or weak, should ever forgive his persecutor even when the latter is in the straits. It is for this that the virtuous applaud them that have conquered their wrath. Indeed, it is the opinion of the virtuous that the honest and forgiving man is ever victorious.

Truth is more beneficial than untruth; and gentleness is more beneficial than cruel behaviour. How can one like me, therefore, even for the purpose of slaying Duryodhana, exhibit anger which has so many faults and which the virtuous banish from their souls? They that are regarded by the learned of foresight, as possessed of true force of character, are certainly those who are wrathful in outward show only. Men of learning and of true insight call him to be possessed of force of character who by his wisdom can suppress his risen wrath. O thou of fair hips, the angry man sees not things in their true light. The man that is angry sees not his way, nor respects persons. The angry man kills even those that deserve not to be killed. The man of wrath slays even his preceptors. Therefore, the man possessing force of character should ever banish wrath to a distance. The man that is overwhelmed with wrath acquires not with ease generosity, dignity, courage, skill, and other attributes belonging to real force of character. A man by forsaking anger can exhibit proper energy, whereas, O wise one, it is highly difficult for the angry man to exhibit his energy at the proper time!

The ignorant always regard anger as equivalent to energy. Wrath, however, has been given to man for the destruction of the world. The man, therefore, who wishes to behave properly, must ever forsake anger. Even one who has abandoned the excellent virtues of his own order, it is certain, indulges in wrath. If fools, of mind without light, transgress in every respect, how, O faultless one, can one like me transgress (like them)? If amongst men there were not persons equal unto the earth in forgiveness, there would be no peace among men but continued strife caused by wrath. If the injured return their injuries, if one chastised by his superior were to chastise his superior in return, the consequence would be the destruction of every creature, and sin also would prevail in the world.

>If the man who has ill speeches from another, returns those speeches afterwards; If the injured man returns his injuries: if the chastised person chastises in return; if fathers slay sons, sons slay fathers, and if husbands slay wives, and wives slay husbands; then how can birth take place in a world where anger prevails so! For, O thou of handsome face, know that the birth of creatures is due to peace! If the kings also, O Draupadi, gives way to wrath, his subjects soon meet with destruction. Wrath, therefore, has for its consequence the destruction and the distress of the people. And because it is seen that there are in the world men who are forgiving like the Earth, it is therefore that creatures derive their life and prosperity.

O beautiful one, one should forgive under every injury. It has been said that the continuation of species is due to man being forgiving. He, indeed, is a wise and excellent person who has conquered his wrath and shows forgiveness even when insulted, oppressed, and angered by a strong person. The man of power who controls his wrath, has (for his enjoyment) numerous everlasting regions; while he that is angry, is called foolish, and meets with destruction both in this and the other world. The illustrious and forgiving Kashyapa has, in this respect, sung the following verses in honour of men that are forgiving.

“Forgiveness is virtue; forgiveness is sacrifice, forgiveness is the Vedas, forgiveness is the Sruti. He that knows this is capable of forgiving everything. Forgiveness is Brahma; forgiveness is truth; forgiveness is stored ascetic merit; forgiveness protects the ascetic merit of the future; forgiveness is asceticism; forgiveness is holiness; and by forgiveness is it that the universe is held together. Persons that are forgiving attain to the regions obtainable by those that have performed meritorious sacrifices, or those that are well conversant with the Vedas, or those that have high ascetic merit. Those that perform Vedic sacrifices as also those that perform the meritorious rites of religion obtain other regions. Men of forgiveness, however, obtain those much adored regions that are in the world of Brahma. Forgiveness is the might of the mighty; forgiveness is sacrifice; forgiveness is quiet of mind. Can one like us abandon forgiveness, which is such, and in which are established Brahma, and truth, and wisdom and the worlds? The man of wisdom should ever forgive, for when he is capable of forgiving everything, he attains to Brahma. The world belongs to those that are forgiving; the other world is also theirs.

The forgiving acquire honours here, and a state of blessedness hereafter. Those men that ever conquer their wrath by forgiveness, obtain the higher regions. Therefore has it been said that forgiveness is the highest virtue.”

Those are the verses sung by Kashyapa in respect of those that are ever forgiving. Having listened, O Draupadi, to these verses in respect of forgiveness, content thyself! Give not way to thy wrath! Our grandsire, the son of Shantanu, will worship peace; Krishna, the son of Devaki will worship peace; the preceptor Drona and Vidura called Kshatri will both speak of peace; Kripa and Sanjaya also will preach peace. And Somadatta and Yuyutsu and Drona’s son and our grandsire Vyasa, every one of them speaks always of peace. Ever urged by these towards peace, the King (Dhritarashtra) will, I think, return us our kingdom. If however, he yields to temptation, he will meet with destruction. O lady, a crisis has come in the history of Bharatas for plunging them into calamity!

This has been my certain conclusion from some time before! Suyodhana deserves not the kingdom. Therefore has he been unable to acquire forgiveness. I, however, deserve the sovereignty and therefore is it that forgiveness has taken possession of me. Forgiveness and gentleness are the qualities of the self-possessed. They represent eternal virtue. I shall, therefore, truly adopt those qualities.” From The Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Section XXVII, Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli