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Repentance and confession questions

JohnCobbJohnCobb Hot Springs Arkansas Explorer

When I was in my 20s, I was so proud to say I had no regrets. Looking now at 41, I find that I'm weighed down with regrets. I've lived a horrible life and while I've certainly made much progress since starting out on this path, I have a loooooong way to go. I've read a bit about confession and repentance as it applies to Buddhism online, but I would like my community to weigh in here. What role does this play in Buddhism? What does this look like? To whom do I confess? If confessing something I have done to a person who does not know I did them wrong would cause more pain, do I still confess to them? What about people whom I've hurt but cannot contact for one reason or another?
On repentance, I know it means basically to change one's mind about an act or thought and to turn away from such deeds. Some acts that I commit that go strictly against Buddhist tennets are deeply ingrained habits that I want to change but am having trouble (smoking cigarettes for instance). How does one repent of such things? How do I stop? Not just the smoking, but one certain other thing that I will not mention here?
I want so desperately to change my life and make up for the things I ha e done, as far as I'm able to. Any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.


  • Shoshin1Shoshin1 Veteran
    edited May 31

    Undertaking The Five Precepts is a start...don't beat your self up if you slip up...just vow to do better the next time....
    Plus this

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited May 31

    There is something called 'the seven branches of prayer' in some Tibetan Buddhist traditions. My lama gave a few dharma talks about them. Here's a link I found googling but I don't know the group from this link.

    prostration, the antidote to pride
    offering, the antidote to avarice
    confession, the antidote to aggression[1]
    rejoicing, the antidote to jealousy
    requesting to turn the wheel of Dharma, the antidote to ignorance
    requesting not to pass into parinirvana, the antidote to wrong views[2]
    dedication of merit, the antidote to doubts

    It's the same 7 branches my teacher talked about upon inspection but I think it adds something to have a Lama who has met many spiritual teachers face to face talk about this topic.

    As far as who you address in these when I confess I do it to 'unseen' awakened beings who may 'catch wind' of me. I don't have any proof that such exist but maybe they do.

  • JohnCobbJohnCobb Hot Springs Arkansas Explorer

    @Jeffrey thank you. A few questions.
    What is meant by offering? What does requesting to turn the Wheel of Dharma mean? What does requesting not to pass into parinirvana mean? And what is meant by Dedication of merit?
    I know it's a lot to ask and I apologize.

  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited May 31

    In Japanese Zen temples the word "Sange" refers to their Buddhist practice of confession & repentance. It is often practiced formally by both monks & the laity as a part of, but not exclusive to, the yearly ceremonies of Segaki.

    A quick google of either of these terms will probably give you some answers of what you seek.

    It is mostly about to trying to fully face up to the suffering we've caused to self and others, an expressed wish (and action) to try to ameliorate where possible the momentum of the suffering that we've set in motion, a meditative examination of how we contributed to the creation of this suffering, how to have compassion for our own past expressions of ignorance while mindfully practicing in a way that breaks the chains of suffering's present causes.

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran

    As I said I practice the 7 branches as to invisible awakened beings. The offering can be imaginary or real like real would be to give an actual flower to the Buddh. Asking to turn the wheel of dharma means you are asking an awakened being to turn the wheel of dharma which means teach the dharma. Asking not to go to parinirvana means to ask the awakened being to stay where they can teach in this world. Dedication of merit means you dedicate your practice to the enlightenment of all beings.

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @JohnCobb at the risk of appearing to make light of the matter, please don't over-think this.
    I fully appreciate your sense of guilt, remorse , regret, sorrow and desire to repent, but without getting into specifics, that's a very Christian-founded thought process.

    I know nothing of your upbringing, background or past religious influence, but as one who was baptised Catholic, I know all about Guilt.
    As a catholic, guilt comes with the territory. It's a millstone placed around your neck at Confirmation, when you're slapped in the face by the officiating priest.
    "Here. Have some suffering. Now remember, if shit happens, you deserve it."

    Guilt is a disgusting weight to tote around with you all the time.
    And here's the thing: The only person obliging you to carry it - is you.
    You don't need permission, clearance, approval or encouragement from anyone else, this voluntary burden is all yours to bear. Nobody's making you do it.
    Nobody has implied it's a necessary task.

    You think you're the only one with a dodgy past? You think you're alone in looking back and thinking "Jeesh, what a fuck-up I was!"...? You think you're the only one whose long-gone days were a pain to remember? Think again.
    I bet a few of us here would be able to tell you things that would make a crow blush...
    Can you change the past? No.
    Can you foretell the future? no.
    All you can do, is here and now.
    There is no better time, there is no better place, to implement.

    Remorse is one thing. It's a motivator, reminding you to do better next time.
    But Regret is a stick-in-the-mud emotion.
    While you regret, you risk wallowing.
    Gnashing your teeth and wailing. Worrying about the well-being of those you might have hurt, can never touch or connect with, or speak to again.

    One thing I do is to put the names of all the people I hold in my heart, onto little individual strips of paper. Then, I roll them up and place them in a dish.
    Every day, I unroll one piece of paper, and read the name, out loud.
    That day, my benevolent thoughts are dedicated to that person.

    Get it off your chest mate.
    Sit in a quiet room, in isolation, and visualise each person with whom contact is impossible, then make amends. Talk to them. See them sitting there, in front of you and tell them what's in your heart.

    Nobody was ever meant to walk this earth doubled up by the weight of their misdeeds.
    Straighten up. Recognise what you did, and chiefly, above all, first and foremost, forgive yourself.
    You're the first person you should talk to.
    Picture yourself, and tell yourself. "Everything is ok. You know now. It's fine. Let go.
    Just don't go down that road again."
    Go easy on yourself John.

    You're all you've got.
    And if you're all you've got, wouldn't you rather hug yourself with affection, than beat yourself over the head with a stick, every damn day?

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Great advice from everyone.

    I liked very much @federica answer.

    Everything to do with confession is underlined by intent. As a lapsed Catholic, Moslem and barely Buddhist I can forgive nearly anything … but myself? Hard.

    So consider yourself drawn to a better future by those Bodhi of Buddha who forgive …

    In the words of Buddha …

    … oh wait forgive me … time for dinner …
    Ah well. You will have to forgive me as I forgive you and anyone I can …

  • JohnCobbJohnCobb Hot Springs Arkansas Explorer

    Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. @federica, I cannot say what your words meant to me as I read them. You have no idea how those words have helped. Thank you.

  • FoibleFullFoibleFull Canada Veteran

    We confess to ourselves. We face the pain of our unskill actions, vow to do differently, and then let go of the guilt, and move on (but keep the intention alive). We accept that until enlightenment, we are ignorant, and we will do ignorant things.

    How DO you change? It starts with mindfulness, with awareness .. learning how to rest IN the moment, which is learned only through meditation. and not learned overnight.
    Learning to be aware, to open to both pain and joy, to see from observation how thse things affect us .. ultimately how they ARE the cause of our suffering. And our own worst enemy, is our expectation that life will always be pleasant .. this is what creates MOST of our suffering. Buddha himself, in the first of the Four Noble Truths, told us that suffering happens ... none of us can be the exception to this. But whether or not we are miserable because of suffering .. that is up to us.

    So the goal is to become fully open to, and present in, THIS moment, accepting that it will not always be what we want, but relaxing anyway. This is nirvana. Resisting what happens is samsara (suffering). Nirvana is about letting go and just "being" in the moment, without fixating on anything. Allow the pain to be there .. sometimes you will be amused by it and other times you will wish it would just go away but you relax anyway ... since nothing is permanent, this pain WILL go away sooner or later.

    And one tool to help us live in the moment is to stop being so wrapped up in ourselves. Even psychology tells us that the more we focus on ourselves, the more miserable and neurotic we become .. but that the more someone helps and shares with others the happier they become. So developing loving kindness and compassion is HALF of what creates a state of enlightenment (the other half being wisdom/awareness).

    So be as aware of others as you are for yourself, and look for opportunities to perform random acts of kindness for others.

    As for smoking, I used to be very addicted to smoking. I went on a 4-day drive through the Rockies with a non-smoking friend, and had one 2-hour withdrawal craving. When there are no cigarettes TO be had, the brain doesn't throw a temper tantrum to try to make you get a cigarette. The more you remove yourself from your normal routines and make it impossible TO get a smoke, and keep on saying "I don't DO that anymore" every time you want a smoke .. the easier it is to quit.. It helped that I kept a pop-top water bottle with me for MONTHS, and anytime I even thought of a smoke, I took a "suck" of water from the bottle instead.

    One of our dharma group was as badly addicted to cigarettes as I was .. HE quit when he went to India with Lama and some of our other members to see the Dalai Lama ... a change of pace does wonders for dropping cigarettes.

    But we won't quit until we fully WANT to quit. So don't be too hard on yourself. You won't quit until you are ready to quit.

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