In Buddhism, the act of repentance relates to
- correction and improvement of our action
- Achieving a mental equilibrium that is conducive for further mental development
- Adopting a humbleness and openness in our heart for spiritual progress
- Making peace with others (commonly known as Karmic debtors)
Buddha explained that the blessings and downfalls we experience in our life is a result of deeds we committed previously in our current or past lifes. Therefore we are responsible for what we experience in life.
Therefore, in a Buddhist repentence, we are not seeking forgiveness of a divine or spiritual beings for salvation or better life.
It is important to understand that Buddhist repentance ritual or ceremony does not nullified the law of cause and effect. It becomes part of of that cause and effect, a positive cause. It is a spiritual practice that we engage in to progress towards Enlightenment.
Correction and improvement of our action
In the monastic communities, the monks and nuns confess their transgression of monastic precepts with each other and make an effort not to repeat.
For lay people, if we have minor transgression of our precepts, we can confess our transgression with the monks/nuns or fellow Buddhist or in front of a Buddha image. Then repent and “refresh” your precepts by undertaking to observe the precepts again. It’s like a renewal of your commitment.
In Buddhism, every beings is correctable and can become Enlightened. Therefore no one is being condemned eternally. The important thing is to understand and acknowledge one’s misdeed and sincerely make an effort to correct that mistake and refrain from repeating them again.
In this context, confession and repentance is important for spiritual progress.
Mental equilibrium that is conducive for further mental development
If we do not know our mistakes, trangression and imperfections, then we are ignorant. Without any room for change, there cannot be progress. We are stuck to our habit. Habits that are rooted in the 3 poisons. (Greed, Hatred and ignorance)
On the other hand, a mind that is burdened with guilt is unbalanced. It is hard to calm down. One who is in turmoil cannot achieve concentration and therefore hinders the development of wisdom.
The repentence and confession help us “move on”. We achieved a kind of sympathetic kindness towards ourselves. A coming to terms with our imperfections with a fierce determination to do better, to improve.
Like the old saying,”No point crying over spilt milk”, we just need to continue living and be better people.
If one is advanced in the meditation of “emptiness”, then a successful repentance can be very liberating.
Humbleness and openness in our heart
I remembered that I felt indignant during my 1st repentence ritual. I kept thinking to myself, “I am not a criminal, didn’t kill anyone or cause any calamities, this practice is not meant for me.”
Then one part of the text caught my attention,
I confess all misdeeds and wrong doings from my countless prior rebirths…
That made me mentally dismount from my high throne and then the repentence ceremony became meaningful.
From the little grasshopper that I “murdered” unintentionally during science class project (I was a fat kid with lots of strength), to the most hurtful things that I said to my mom. They all miraculously started playing back like a movie in my mind. That’s only during my current lifetime! (As long as we look, we will see)
At the end of the ceremony, I was very humbled. I saw my own imperfections and that itself is kinda liberating. I do not need to wear a “mask” of false pretense with myself.
Side effect: Very moist and tearful eyes in public. (I am quite a cry baby)-Smiling and tearing….
Making peace with other beings, including those unseen ones.
Karma is unbias. It just manifest when the conditions are present.
Having said that, misfortune caused by aggrieved spirits seeking revenge is another matter altogether. Enemies and foes we accumulate in our daily life can create problems and obstacles for us too. When we cause deep hatred to arise in other beings, whether intentionally or unintentionally; it just makes our world revolves in tragedy.
It is easier for us to apologies to living people whom we have wronged. The repentence and confession ritual may help us muster our courage to say sorry. At least we have an opportunity to apologise face to face.
But what about unseen beings?
Buddhism acknowledge the presence of unseen beings too. (spirits and many other classes of spectra beings) If one had harmed others greatly, the hatred of one’s victims may be so strong that it haunt the criminal from life to life. This is possible because the lifespan of the spectra beings are much longer than a human.
Although we have forgotten misdeed committed in our past life, but the aggrieved spirits might follow us from our previous life till now, waiting for the moment to exact revenge. (There are various stories and accounts of such incidents in Buddhist literature)
In such instances, sometimes a sincere repentence might help earn forgiveness from the haunting spirits. Therefore it is common to see Mahayana Buddhist dedicating the merits of a ritual or spiritual undertakings to their Karmic Debtors. It is important to note that we are not praying to these karmic debtors. (Buddhist only take refuge in Buddha)
In the repentance we are truly sorry for our misdeeds. If we have karmic debtors, we share merits with them and hope that the Dharma will ease their hatred. Out of compassion, we sincerely hope they can forgive and move on. What is more pitiful than two beings hurting each other through limitless lifetimes, building hatred and draging each other deeper into lower realms?
After all, an eye for an eye will make the world blind. Let’s take the 1st step to make peace.
I am in the midst of researching and arranging a translation of the confession prayer to 88 Buddha. I got carried away and had not updated the blog (In case you are wondering what I am up to….)