Apology in Buddhism is related to unwholesome actions, speech and thoughts. Especially when our misdeeds hurt another being physically or emotionally.
When we are aware of our misdeeds, we strive to apologies. In Buddhism, apology is an acknowledgement of our misdeeds and its negative effects on others. After acknowledging our mistake, we make it a point not to commit the same mistake again.
Our apology becomes the 1st positive action after doing something wrong. A wrong that is committed is already a wrong, you can’t undo it. However, we can do more rights in future.
Therefore the best apology is to refrain from making the same mistake again and doing more goods in return.
Why is it important to apologies then? Can’t we just be better person? Must we really say sorry?
Simply put, a misdeed set off the motion for negative karma to manifest. When we hurt somebody, that hurt is registered in their mind. It is a form of adversity. That adversity becomes an energy that produce adverse thoughts/emotion, speech and actions.
Sometimes the person we hurt may not hurt us in return but end up hurting themselves….
When we apologies, we allow our victim the opportunity to acknowledge that adversity in their mind. In another word, we provide a window for them to recognise that negative feeling they are having and an opportunity for them to deal with it.
The best way to deal with such negative energy is to forgive and let go of any grudge (aka adversity). But before that, they need to acknowledge that ill-will. Our apology provides that opportunity.
If we apologies promptly, it is good. Otherwise we are allowing adversity to take root. We should understand that we are creating adversity in the mind of another person and they have to deal with it. When the hurt is deep, it is not easy for others to let go too.
Apologising takes a lot of courage because we have to cut off our own egos and let go of the importance we attached to “I”. More importantly, apologies need to arise out of right motivation. When we apologise, our objective must not be seeking forgiveness to feel better. Our objective is simply to acknowledge misdeeds and make a mental note, not to repeat the same mistake again.
Seeking Forgiveness to make ourselves feel better is not a good motivation.
What if we are not ready to apologies to that person whom we have hurt?
We can practice first, by saying confession prayers and reflecting our misdeeds with remorse in front of a Buddha image. When we sincerely, wish to apologise and is ready to apologise, then we approach our victim to do so. (Remember, Do not expect forgiveness, and do not seek it too. If we sincerely repent, we should not crave for forgiveness to make ourselves feel better)
If the person whom we have hurt is a practicing Buddhist too and doesn’t mind participating. Then we can formalise our apologies through a confession ceremony. If you are those fortunate few whose entire family are practicing Buddhist, then confession ceremony becomes part of the family practice. Usually, this takes place once a month, on a full moon day. The gist of the ceremony involves all parties taking refuge, saying the precepts and pledges (vows) – depending on the school of Buddhist practice. The wrongdoer will then proceed to confess their misdeed in front of the Buddha image. Everyone takes turn. The other person whom we have hurt is acting as a fellow Dharma brothers / sisters to witness the confession of faults. In such situation, the primary relationship to adopt is Dharma siblings. There is no one forgiving another one. The idea is to take away the attachment of a self and secular relationship. All parties are practitioners trying to gain enlightenment, trying to perfect themselves on the dharma path. In the bigger picture, there is only Buddha and Buddha-to-be.
If the person whom we had hurt is not a practicing Buddhist or not keen to attend a confession ceremony, then a secular apology is good too. Just admit our mistakes and wrongdoings and acknowledge the hurt that we have cause. Say sorry and that is it.
In our mind, a commitment to do better next time is more important. The most effective way to express our sincerity is to try our best to be nice immediately. Yah, the mood may be foul and both feel lousy. But if we spill the milk, we mop it up and make another glass, served while we are on our knees (just kidding)
May all be well and happy.