Thursday, March 3, 2011

The purpose of repentance

The purpose of repentance
Dennis Estrada

Serious practitioners of Mahayana Buddhism come to the temple twice a month and bow 108 times as we chant 108 different Buddha’s name. But do we really understand the real meaning of repentance? Why repent?

The practice of Buddhist repentance is very unique because we are not asking for divine forgiveness. It is the clear recognition of our own unskillful actions done intentionally or unmindfully through our body, speech and mind. These are the result of our lack of compassion and wisdom, originating from our attachments, aversions and delusions. We should never forget that we are the masters of our own destiny and responsible of all our actions, big and small.

After recognizing our misgivings, we make the resolution to be as mindful as we can, so as to never repeat them under any circumstances. In this sense, repentance is about forgiving oneself through expressing regret, and to start fresh, absolving oneself of unhealthy guilt while renewing determination to further avoid evil, do good and purify the mind with greater diligence. Living with a heart full of guilt and regret, which are negative emotions will never let you see things with wisdom and equanimity.

Traditionally, the practice of repentance is done through chanting relevant sutra verses and bowing before a Buddha image, which represents the presence of the Buddha bearing witness to our sincerity. However, if one has done wrong to someone, the correct thing to do is to apologize to him or her personally. If not, the practice of repentance before the Buddha would be rendered a hollow practice lacking in sincerity. Even if the other party is unlikely to forgive us, we should do our part in seeking forgiveness - this is also the practice of humility. Actual remedial action of making up for any physical or psychological damage caused to others is also important - or repentance would literally be merely saying "sorry".

Repentance should ideally be practiced at the end of each day. We should sit down and meditate as we try to recall the best we can, any misgivings we have done in the day. For repentance to be more effective, misdeeds should be recalled as specifically as possible, instead of vaguely generalizing. Doing this practice daily reduces our repetitive mistakes as it increases our mindfulness the next day. Repentance should also be practiced immediately in the moment, without procrastination, when we realize we have just made a mistake. If one's pride is too strong, one should still make a point to repent later, as soon as possible.

The stronger our sincerity is, the more powerful our repentance becomes. It is important to understand that repentance does not erases our negative karma, but it can dissolve its future effects, much like the addition of abundant pure water onto salt, which dissolves the otherwise unbearable saltiness we have to taste.

1 comment:

  1. Well written. One repents shouldn't be just saying to the Buddha but also to the person, who we have hurt. After all, we need to try our best to resolve the negative feelings for both parties.