This practice doesn’t come naturally for everyone, especially me. This was because I felt that there was nothing wrong with me since I don’t kill or rob; what was there to repent?
Unlike Christianity, Buddhist repentance is not about asking Buddha for forgiveness so that we can escape divine punishment. The prayers is more about acknowledging our imperfections and making an effort to improve.
Although we do not invoke divine redemption, strangely enough; repentance prayers and visualizations seemed to work miracles for some people. What did they do correctly? Why did their life become better after they practice repentance?
What is repentance?
Basically, it is a practice of humbling our ego. It is to acknowledge our imperfections and also an openness to do some self-reflection. When we have such mentality, we become more susceptible to self-improvements and positive changes will happen in life. In this practice, we acknowledge our various faults and aspire to do better.
Besides repenting bad habits like addiction to alcohol or smoking or gambling, we also repent our negative mental habits like impatience, laziness, intolerance and etc.
To do that, we must be capable of finding faults within ourselves, (in a healthy manner). When we repent, we do not go to the extent of losing self-confidence or feeling sorry about ourselves. No depression, just motivated aspiration to do better. In that extent, repentance also involves self-forgiveness. We acknowledge our wrong doings and make a resolution to stop doing it. Our sincere endeavor to refrain from wrong doings become part of our practice and we try until we succeed.
How does it affect our lives?
A humble person attracts the goodwill of gods and men. When we practice repentance, our mind takes a bow. We loose that haughtiness in our mind. There are various stories of Gods (both celestial or terrestrial) throwing hurdles in the way of a haughty person to teach him a lesson. From the spiritualistic perspective, a humbled mind would therefore attract blessings from the universe. Although we take refuge in Buddha (the teacher of Gods and men), we shouldn’t become haughty because of our refuge. Neither should we despise other spiritual beings.
After practicing repentance, I found myself more open to alternatives and suggestions; and more likely to look for improvements. This is because I no longer perceive myself to be faultless. That openness creates opportunities and alternatives. Becoming humbled, people around us are more likely to lend us a helping hand. I guess humbleness does show itself on our facial expression and mannerism. Perhaps this is the ‘miracle’ that turns challenges in our favor.
Once we accept our imperfections, it is also easier for us to forgive ourselves. That makes life bearable because everyone will encounter setbacks in life. Instead of moping endlessly and crying over spilt milk, it becomes easier for us to pat ourselves on the back and say “Nevermind, what’s done is done, let’s move on.”
How to practice?
This is the interesting part. For all the above, you will be surprised to find out that Buddhist repentance does not involve recollection of our past mistakes! This makes sense because, mindfulness practice teach us not to re-live our past in our head. Thus, we witness how the Buddhist practices doesn’t contradict one another.
In my Theravada practice, repentance is just a simple prayer verse that states
Kāyena vācā cittena – If by deeds, speech or thoughtsRepeat Thrice
pamādena mayā kataṃ – heedlessly I have committed
Accayaṃ khama me bhante – any wrong-doing, forgive me, O Venerable,
Bhūripañña tathāgata.- O Victor, Greatly Wise!
In the Mahayana practice, Repentance prayer to 88 Buddha(s), one would be reciting 88 buddha names and also generic prayer verses that are similar in essence to the above. In Vajrayana practices, likewise. None of the practices require us to sit there in a confession box and recollect all past misdeeds to create a list of wrong doings.
However, when we say such repentance prayers, flashes of wrong doings will come into our mind. Those flashes are good enough and we shouldn’t dwell on them during our practice. Otherwise, we will be recollecting our past and becoming stuck in them. The number of flashes that occur during our prayers depend on our sincerity in repentance. If we believe we are perfect and nothing is wrong with us, then probably nothing much will come into mind.
But if we do our repentance prayer sincerely and with a good attitude; our life will improve and change for the better.
May all be well and happy.