Conversation on Forgiveness: Dr. Shashikant Sane

March 5, 2017
Reverend Timothy Hart-Andersen
Dr. Shashikant Sane, Hindu Temple of MN

Matthew 26:20-28

Hart-Andersen: In all my years of preaching no sermon topic has consistently elicited more response than forgiveness. I suspect that’s because all of us need forgiveness somewhere in our personal lives and in our relationships and in our communities – and all of us struggle to get there.

Knowing we need forgiveness is a first step into Christian faith. I remember a dear older gentleman in another church I served giving me a clear, simple explanation of how he came to faith. He was an engineer and for much of his life had looked at Christianity from a purely intellectual, mechanical, objective, point of view. He was highly skeptical of religious faith. But it was his own, personal experience of the grace of forgiveness that opened him to another way of coming to know God. He described the light that came into his life when he received forgiveness. Forgiveness converted him.

This Lent we will explore forgiveness from a variety of perspectives, including the view from the Christian gospel. Forgiveness is central to the life and teaching of Jesus. We cannot be a follower of Jesus without taking forgiveness seriously.

But we’re not the only ones for whom forgiveness is key. The same may be said for other faith traditions, including the one we will hear from today. I am pleased to introduce Dr. Shashi Sane, one of the founders of the Hindu Temple in Maple Grove. Dr. Sane is a Hindu priest and retired physician who has spoken in hundreds of churches over the years, although he told me this is the first time he has ever been invited to speak in a Christian worship service.

Thank you, Dr. Sane, for being here with us today. We are honored by your presence. What can you tell us about the role of forgiveness in the Hindu religious tradition?

Sane: Thank you. Namaste. Thank you for inviting me to join you here for the conversation on forgiveness. As a Hindu, the term that you would use for forgiveness is kshama or kshanti in Sanskrit. And I use them because they compose the true essence of an individual who is forgiving. And that includes patience, endurance, accommodation, compassion and forbearance. Forgiveness unfortunately often suggests a holier-than-thou attitude, which implies and comes from pride. The true attitude of kshanti is remaining serene, patient, and observing self-restraint under all circumstances. And treating everyone with love and with compassion. Even to those who harm you.

The value of kshanti is accommodation, which is indeed a beautiful human embellishment that takes a certain amount of inner richness. It is one of the most important attitudes of a devotee who really wants to discover the self or true nature which is none other than divinity itself. This enlightened self easily accommodates ignorance, error, jealousy, passion, anger, greed, arrogance, and the world with all its limitations. In addition, it also accommodates all pairs of opposites including praise and censure or happiness and unhappiness. This enlightened self is the great accommodator.

Prayer that is brought out of accommodation is compassion. It allows one to understand another person with love, let him be as he is. Accommodation frees us from reactions. And in the absence of the interference of such reactions one perceives the situation simply as a matter of fact, and that allows one to respond to it appropriately without any sense of intolerance. A situation is simply a fact but can only remain as a fact when one perceives it without any reaction.

For Hindus, kshanti, or forgiveness, is a cheerful acceptance of situations and behaviors over which one has no control or which one cannot change. kshanti is fundamental in all relationships, and, perhaps, is most essential for a happy life. Practicing it in our daily life includes reducing our expectations from others, and becoming accepting of people and situations. This unique quality is essential for one’s spiritual practice as well. When this personality trait joins the quality of nonviolence in daily life an individual really turns into ascent.

Hart-Andersen: The very struggle described by Dr. Sane in the effort to move from the darkness of anger and arrogance and pride to the light of forgiveness is something all of us know. It’s what we human beings go through in life. And Jesus did, too.

The Gospel text this morning is the Last Supper. At the table, early in the meal, Jesus declares someone will betray him, and he seems angry about it. They go around the table, each disciple saying that he will not betray Jesus. Even Judas says it. And that lie takes Jesus to a dark place.

Jesus is angry. He threatens condemnation for the person who will betray him. “Woe to him,” he says. “It would be better for that one not to have been born.”

Those are strong words, not forgiving words.

But as Jesus breaks the bread and pours out the cup, something happens. His heart softens. He opens up, and he changes. “This is the cup of the new covenant,” Jesus says, “Poured out for the forgiveness of sin.”

He moves from anger to forgiveness. I wonder if his changed heart produced forgiveness, or if forgiveness changed his heart. Perhaps it happened in both directions.
That night at the table Jesus shows in his own life what each of us knows is true in ours: it is difficult to forgive. Anger works against the softening of the heart, and bitterness tamps down the desire to forgive. Jesus struggles with it, just as we do, but in the end, he chooses forgiveness.
The meal that night became an occasion for forgiveness. It still is today, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Communion and baptism are both sacraments of forgiveness. The water at the font washes away sin, and we are forgiven. Jesus says the cup is poured out for the forgiveness of sin.

The ritual of forgiveness is at the heart of Christian life and liturgy. As Christians, we cannot avoid it. Every time we worship we offer a prayer of forgiveness. To worship God is to commit ourselves to forgive, and to be forgiven. Our relationship with God, and with others, depends on our ability to forgive.

Dr. Sane, the Temple community in Maple Grove had a chance to put the Hindu commitment to forgiveness into action when the Temple was built a few years ago and was vandalized by two young men. Please tell us about that experience.

Dr. Sane:  I think your story is so powerful and telling. It really reminds every one of us that even an enlightened individual like Jesus Christ was taken aback and got a little angry, and said in those particular terms to them. But, after taking a deep breath, he is going to pull himself back and bend back to the enlightened self and pour the cup of forgiveness, where the story is concluded.

That is exactly what we had to go through and react in the same way. On the 5th of April 2006, 11 weeks before our temple was to be formally consecrated, two youngsters, 18 and 19 year-old boys, broke through the glass windows, got inside, and desecrated , decapitated, and dismembered 11 statues which were made by the greatest artist of India. The statues were going through the process of sanctification. From the superficial way to describe it, the damage was about $296,000, but the mental anguish that our community felt…you could not put a price tag on it.

At that time I happened to be the Chairman of the Board, so I had to be involved in the situation every step of the way. What we did was to arrange for a community meeting right away, and in three days about 800 people showed up. That included at the same time our community, local Maple Grove people, all the law enforcement officers up to the FBI, local people who were elected officials – and the people who wanted to be elected.

We agreed to do three different things. One was to make certain that we took an oath of solidarity to make sure that we were together as a family and would not point fingers at anyone. We made certain that one way or the other we would complete the work to restore the place in the correct way we wanted it to open on time. And we also announced a good prize to get the information so that people would be arrested. Which, with the grace of God, we did manage to get the two boys arrested. If you can look back ten years ago, folks, Amy Klobuchar was the Hennepin County Attorney. She prosecuted and made sure that these two boys had convictions with three felonies each. On the day of judgement she invited me, saying, “Dr. Sane, would you come down to the chambers and make a statement as the victim of this particular situation?”

I luckily managed to sneak out of the busy morning at Children’s Hospital and make a statement. I had made a written statement and sent it to the judge in advance. What I did was basically request to have the judge to give these two youngsters a suspended sentence, so that they could expunge their felony convictions through good behavior. I recommended that they be assigned community service. I said I would like to see them work to work at our own Temple where they would have a chance to interact with the committee members and community people who had been hurt greatly. They would get to know how loving and caring they were when they were working. The judge sitting in the chair passed the judgement saying that I had sent it to him in written form. He said that would be his judgement, he wasn’t going to change the cross of the “t” or the dot of the “i.”  And that is the way it was going to be.

Good things to share with you. Last year, ten years after the initial episode, we invited the same team back again. Amy is no longer the Hennepin County Attorney, but she is a U.S. Senator, the presiding judge went on to become the Chief Judge, and now has moved on to retire, and the Prosecuting Attorney, Peter Cahill, became a judge. They all came and celebrated with our community. But most importantly, I want to share with you that these two boys have totally changed their way of life. They are now no longer wayward boys; they are grown up young men, wiser ones. They are properly educated, gainfully employed, and are drug-free. They are grateful to the community. For us, we are very happy that the outcome came the way it did and the way we hoped.

To conclude the story, kshama or kshanti – forgiveness – is a precious virtue and nurtured only through proper guidance through the teachers. We had to practice what we had learned through our scriptures and the gurus. We had to apply the attitude that separate actions from the actor. Recognize the divinity in these boys despite their hurtful acts. It was critical for a Hindu community that these two youngsters became a part of the citizens of our nation, and not languish as hardened criminals and lifelong felons.

Hart-Andersen: The business of forgiveness is central to our walk as Christians, as well. And so we are invited, once again, to come to this table, to the table of reconciliation, to eat the bread and drink the cup of forgiveness.

Let us come, with hearts ready to receive God’s grace, and to be healed by it.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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