Why Practice Repentance and Reform?

Why Practice Repentance and Reform?

To cleanse your heart and mind

To unburden your heart of all its troubles.  If you have done something wrong to someone in the past, then it’s important to try to set things straight as much as you can – because this will help to ease your mind and take that load off your back.  Only then will your mind be more at ease.

Otherwise, if you don’t, even if you don’t realize it, subconsciously, those things that you have done wrong will be nagging at you and preventing your mind from being at peace.  How?  They’ll come up in your meditation.  Whenever the mind is quiet, all sorts of things can come up in your mind – including the wrongs that you have done.

This is a bit like if you have a wound and all the nasty stuff is working its way out.  If you just put a band aid over it without cleaning it, you’ll make the wound fester – it will get worse over time.  So trying to suppress the nasty stuff that is coming out of your mind during meditation is similar – you’re just going to make it worse in the long run.

So as we can see, setting things straight on the physical level enhances your wellbeing on the emotional level.

So how do we handle things that arise in our meditation?

1.  You allow it to arise (rather than suppressing it).

2.  Put your attention on it – you notice that it’s just a thought, a feeling, an emotion that you can actually observe – and it changes each split second that you observe it.  It is anicca, dukkha, anatta.  It changes – so you won’t need to mentally try to suppress it or try to get rid of it.  Once you place your attention on it – you notice that it’s of the nature to change – so you realize that there’s no real substance to it – and you see that it dissipates by itself.  It goes off to cessation by itself.

3.  If it’s a memory of something bad that you’ve done, then you allow that to be expressed too rather than suppressing it.  Allow it to arise and acknowledge the wrong that you have done.  You mentally, wholeheartedly say sorry for what you’ve done and then you let it go.  And you keep repeating this allowing things to arise, acknowledging it, forgiving yourself and letting go again and again and again.

In Mahayana Buddhism, repentance and reform is often done in conjunction with bowing.  For example, at the City of 10,000 Buddhas, they chant the name of Shakyamuni Buddha over and over and over again for a certain period of time.  Whilst doing this, mentally, you are allowing all the wrongs that you have done to arise and bowing as you apologize and let go of it.

The function of this is to cleanse your own heart and mind of all the afflictions that are in it that prevent you from being at peace.  And once the mind is cleaner, mentally and emotionally, you feel lighter, more buoyant and joyous.  More importantly, it allows the inherent brightness, the inherent wisdom and compassion and radiance of your Real Mind, your own Buddha Nature – to shine forth.

The Analogy of Polishing a Mirror

Master Yin Kuang gives us the analogy of polishing the mirror of our own minds:

Buddhist sutras teach followers to practice repentance constantly in order to transcend delusion and achieve Buddhahood. Thus, even the Bodhisattva Maitreya, who has attained the level of Equal Enlightenment, still pays respect to the Buddhas of the ten directions during the six periods of the day, so as to wipe out delusion and attain the Dharma Body. If this is true for the Bodhisattva Maitreya, what can we say of common beings filled with heavy karmic afflictions?

If you do not feel shame and remorse, your Self-Nature may be the same as the Buddhas’, but it is hidden by afflictions and evil karma and cannot manifest itself.

Just like a precious mirror which has been covered with dust for eons, not only does it not reflect light, even its reflecting nature is hidden. If you realize that the mirror already possesses the nature of brightness and strive ceaselessly to clean it, the light reflected will gradually increase until it reaches maximum radiance. The mirror can then become, once more, something of value in the world.

You should realize that the potential for reflection is inherent in the mirror and is not the result of polishing. If it were not so, a brick would also shine brightly when polished. Yet, you should also realize that although the brightness is inherent in the mirror, without polishing, the day would never come when it would gleam.

The Mind-Nature of sentient beings is similar. Although it is intrinsically identical to that of the Buddhas, [it is clouded]. Thus, if sentient beings do not mend their ways, from evil to wholesome, and turn their backs on worldly dusts “to merge with Enlightenment,” their inherently virtuous nature cannot appear.

Such a mind-consciousness, inherently possessing the Buddha Nature in full but busily creating evil karma and suffering – mired in Birth and Death for many eons – is no different from a dark house filled with treasures. You not only cannot make use of the treasures, you may, in fact, suffer further loss. Is this not lamentable?


3 thoughts on “Why Practice Repentance and Reform?

  1. Excellent Post.

    Also, I would like to mention the Shurangama Mantra and Sutra. This dharma door is especially relevant to the topic of repentance and very powerful in expiating the evil karmas caused by heavy offenses. Here are some excerpts:

    “If beings whose minds are scattered and who have no Samadhi remember and recite the mantra, the Vajra Kings will always surround such good people. That is even more true for those who are decisively resolved upon Bodhi. All the Vajra Treasury-King Bodhisattvas will regard them attentively and secretly hasten the opening of their spiritual awareness. When that response occurs, those people will be able to remember the events of as many eons as there are sand grains in eighty-four thousand Ganges Rivers, knowing them all beyond any doubt or delusion. From that eon onward, through every life until the time they take last body, they will not be born where there are yakshas, rakshasas, putanas, kataputanas, kumbhandas, pishachas and so forth; where there is any kinds of hungry ghost, or any being possessing or lacking form, possessing or lacking thought, or in any other such evil place.”

    “If these good men read, recite, copy, or write out the mantra, if they carry it or treasure it, or if they make offerings to it, then through eon after eon they will not be poor or lowly, nor will they be born in unpleasant places. If these beings have never done any deeds that generate blessings, the Tathagatas of the ten directions will bestow their own merit and virtue upon these people. Because of that, throughout asamkhyeyas of ineffable, unspeakable numbers of eons, as many as sand grains in the Ganges, they will always be born in places where there are Buddhas. Their limitless merit and virtue will be three-fold, like the amala fruit-cluster, for they stay in the same place, become permeated with cultivation, and never part from the Buddhas.”

    “Therefore, The mantra can enable those who have broken the precepts to regain the purity of the precept source. It can enable those who have not received the precepts to receive them. It can cause those who are not vigorous to become vigorous. This mantra can enable those who lack wisdom to gain wisdom. It can cause those who are not pure to quickly become pure. It can cause those who are not vegetarians to become vegetarians naturally.”

    “Ananda, if good men who uphold this mantra violate the pure precepts before having received them, their multitude of offenses incurred by such violations, whether major or minor, can simultaneously be eradicated after they uphold the mantra. Even if they drank intoxicants or ate the five kinds of pungent plants and various other impure things in the past, the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Vajra deities, gods, immortals, ghosts, and spirits will not hold it against them. If they are unclean and wear tattered, old clothes to carry out the practice alone in a place by themselves, they can be equally pure. Even if they do not set up a platform, do not enter a Way-place, and do not practice the Way, but recite and uphold this mantra, their merit and virtue can still be identical with that derived from entering the platform and practicing the Way. If they have committed the five rebellious acts, grave offenses warranting unintermittent retribution, or if they are Bhikshus or Bhikshunis who have violated the four parajikas or the eight parajikas, after they recite this mantra, even such heavy karma can dispense after they recite this mantra, like a sand dune that is scattered in a gale, so that not a particle of it remains.”

    “Ananda, if beings who have never repented and reformed any of the obstructive offenses, either heavy or light, that they have committed throughout infinite countless eons past, up to and including those of this very life, can nevertheless read, recite, copy, or write out this mantra or wear it on their bodies or place it in their homes or in their garden houses, then all that accumulated karma will melt away like snow in hot water. Before long they will obtain awakening to Patience with the Non-existence of Both Beings and Dharmas.”


    Shurangama Mantra and Sutra:


    Shurangama Sutra Commentary by Ven Master Hsuan Hua:


    Wisdom of the Sages Ebook (Includes Shurangama Mantra):


    • Best not to engage in bad karma in the first place because of the natural consequences of unwholesome actions.

      It is certainly as you say, reciting the Shurangama Mantra can certainly help dissolve bad karma just like pouring hot water over snow.

      That’s why everyone needs to learn the Shurangama Mantra!

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