Dealing with remorse


Being remorseful means that we had acknowledged wrongdoings. That is a kind of wisdom and it means we are capable of improvements. Unfortunately, sometimes we are stuck with being remorseful and not capable of taking the next step. Personally, my pride is my hurdle. I knew that I did wrong or say something bad; that I have hurt someone else. But I just cannot bring myself to apologize. Consequently, there is this inner battle of guilt and ego. That feeling of being sorry without the courage or grace to apologize can be burdensome for me. To live with that mental turmoil, we usually end-up self-justifying our wrongful deeds. We blame others and in that process, we became worse.

Sometimes, we may be remorseful of deeds that doesn’t involve others. For example, being lazy and sleeping late instead of waking up for our daily practices. Or succumbing to unwholesome temptations. When we regret doing something we didn’t want to do, we feel remorseful. Sometimes it could lead to self-loathing and we began hating ourselves instead. Some people might hurt themselves as a form of atonement. Some people blame their environment and develop hatred for others.

If we analyze the above situations, we will see the Truth in Buddha’s Teachings. We can easily observe how craving, hatred and ego is working together to create sufferings. More importantly, how did an opportunity for acknowledging our faults and improving ourselves turn toxic; and became an intense hatred for ourselves and/or others.

In summary, it is good to feel remorseful. That is because we knew we did wrong and we know we should do better. However, we need to be careful with our emotion and thoughts. That is to prevent the feeling of remorse from turning toxic and becoming hatred.

Letting go and moving on

It is important for us to understand that remorse is rooted in a past memory. In another word, what’s done is done. That unwholesome deed had already taken place and it is already in the past. We cannot undo the past but we can stop replaying it in our mind. When we replay it in our mind over and over; we create suffering for ourselves.

Thus, letting go of a memory is important.

To do that, we can practice meditation or chant a mantra or recite a repentance prayer. We learn to take our mind away from replaying a memory. In the Buddhist repentance prayers, we deal with our remorseful feeling by praying to the Buddha. That way, we have private moments to deal with our negative emotions and recover from it.

For example, in the 88 Buddha repentance prayer, we perform prostrations for every Buddha name. All those physical prostrations can be very beneficial in releasing our pent up emotions. If one set of practice is insufficient, one simply repeat the prayers as required.

Saying repentance prayer also weakens our ego. This is because we adopt a humble attitude throughout the prayer when we acknowledge our imperfections and foolishness. When we do not allow our ego to take control; our remorse will not turn toxic. Consequently, we will not hate others or ourselves.

In summary, the Buddhist way of dealing with remorse is to

  1. stop reliving a past experience in our mind and tormenting ourselves over it
  2. stop our ego from turning that remorse into hatred.

The purpose of all the above is for the most important next step; SELF-IMPROVEMENT

Do better next time

When we stop ourselves from being tormented by a past memory, it doesn’t mean we do not care about our mistakes.

Correcting a mistake is about doing the right thing, right now.

If we wronged another person, we want to apologize and make good our mistakes. If we failed ourselves, we want to become a better person and not repeat our mistakes.

But to be a better version of ourselves, we cannot be weighed down by a memory or a huge ego. More importantly, we cannot let our remorsefulness become hatred. Therefore, all those Buddhist practices of meditation, chanting or repentance prostrations are just preparation work.

They prepare ourselves to be mentally stronger. Only then, can we have the courage and grace to admit our mistakes, apologize, compensate and stop erring in future. In that manner, we improve ourselves and ultimately become a perfected being. (Buddha)

May all be well and happy.

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