I started 2018 with a translation of the Chinese Mahayana Repentance Prayer to 88 Buddha(s) into English and here’s what I think about Buddhist repentance ritual and the text.
If we look at the text carefully, we are not asking Buddha for forgiveness.
I think this is very important. To me, I think the repentance text is about working with our own mind. This text does not depart from the Buddha’s original tenet that our fate in life is not the doing of a higher being.
If we feel that we do not need to do repentance because we are free from misdeeds, then that is the first sign that we need to do it. Arrogance is an arch enemy to mental development. If we think we are perfect already, then there is no room for improvement, isn’t it?
On the other hand, if we are not confident and want to rely on an external “God- like” being for our own salvation, the repentance text is full of “hints” for the Buddhist to discover for themselves that they are their own maker!
At the most fundamental level, it teaches about the 10 unwholesome deeds and to avoid them. It teaches about karma and it’s result.
I like the “skilfulness” of the composer of this prayer text. On the surface, one seems to be invoking one Buddha after another to help change one’s evil fate in life. In the “worst case” situation, the repentant will just be generating loads of positive mental impression by being respectful to Buddha(s), until one day, when they become curious enough to find out “What does Buddha really mean?”
The text contain ten honorific names of Buddha which is a lot of definitions to the question, “What is Buddha?” And non of these definition defines Buddha as a God.
Then in the text it is said that all the Buddha(s) are the same. For most of us who is accustomed to taking sides and having attachment to the concept of a Self or “soul”. We just need one curious repentant to ask the right question” how can all 88 Buddha(s) be the same and of one flavor? Don’t they have different personality? What is Enlightenment of a Samyaksam Buddha? Do we change or transform when we become Enlightened?
Even if we spend our entire life chanting this text and not getting curious with the meaning of the text, it is still not a bad thing since we will be repenting evil and aspiring to be a better person. That’s better karma for future existence at the minimum.
Further in the text, we read about a myraid world systems within a mote of dust? How is that possible? Interestingly some astronomical picture seems to show the possibility of that.
I am sure, there would be a deeper meaning to the Buddhist passage than just astronomy. However, the picture helps me keep an open mind and not simply dismissing that paragraph as spiritual Gibberish.
Another mental exercise to remain humble and open minded.
Huamans may not know everything…..
Hope this will encourage more to study the wonderful repentance text in detail. It is not just kneeling there and asking Buddha for forgiveness. The depth and wisdom found in it is very vast.
I’ll try to arrange the repentance text into a practical form for daily chanting and practice purpose. The text is to be done with quite a number of prostration. (A very good workout for those who are physically able)