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?