Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

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Queequeg
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Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby Queequeg » Sat Aug 25, 2012 4:12 pm

Hello All,

An interesting subject was brought up in another thread comparing the importance of repentance practices in East Asian Buddhism and their relative absence in the West. I thought the subject is deserved its own thread.

Like others, I have observed this difference. I've thought that its because the teachings around repentance tend to be a downer - "Oh, my suffering is my fault?", which contrasts with the perceived benefits of Buddhism - "Oh, Supreme Enlightenment? Sign me up!" I have also wondered how much has to do with many people who come to Buddhism are "refugees" from Judeo-Christian background who want the religious life but can't subscribe to the traditions they were raised with (Buddhism being new and therefore a relatively blank slate can accommodate all kinds of projections, especially in the sense of not having features that caused one to abandon religious traditions one was born into - is that an opinionated view or what?).

I'd be interested to hear people's views on what the differences between East Asian and Western Buddhism are as it concerns repentance (rituals but also teachings, including relative emphasis) and reasons why repentance aspects of Buddhist practice have not caught on in the West.

Thanks!
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Re: Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby Indrajala » Sat Aug 25, 2012 4:20 pm

tad etat sarvajñānaṃ karuṇāmūlaṃ bodhicittahetukam upāyaparyavasānam iti |

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Re: Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby DGA » Sat Aug 25, 2012 8:38 pm

"I repent of my six sense organs..."

We do it all the time in Tendai-shu.

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Re: Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby rory » Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:30 am

My sensei encourages us to do repentance in my Nichiren sect. At the altar I repent my words, actions, thoughts that depart from the Buddha's teachings. I then resolve to listen to them and to act in a right fashion; with faith and conviction that the Buddha and deities are helping me. In this way I'll purify my karma in this lifetime and leave rebirth.

As Huseng says; Western Buddhists who are nihilists, having no belief in the Buddha, karma, deities etc usually don't practice repentance, because they assume their acts are confined to this life. I really worry about the karmic consequence of my actions and it certainly gives a strong moral direction.
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Chih-I:
The Tai-ching states "the women in the realms of Mara, Sakra and Brahma all neither abandoned ( their old) bodies nor received (new) bodies. They all received buddhahood with their current bodies (genshin)" Thus these verses state that the dharma nature is like a great ocean. No right or wrong is preached (within it) Ordinary people and sages are equal, without superiority or inferiority
Paul, Groner "The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture"eds. Tanabe p. 58
https://www.tendai-usa.org/

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Re: Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby Queequeg » Sun Aug 26, 2012 5:09 pm

“Once you have given up the ghost, everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos.”
-Henry Miller

"Language is the liquid that we're all dissolved in.
Great for solving problems, after it creates a problem."
-Modest Mouse

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Re: Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby DGA » Sun Aug 26, 2012 10:23 pm

Excellent post, Queequeg. I agree on all points but one: I'm not convinced that Western Buddhists avoid repentence practice as such. I think the therapeutic or "mindfulness" set does its own thing, in which you won't find much beyond seated meditation and psychotherapy. But people who practice Buddhism as a traditional spiritual path will do repentance practices as par for the course. This is just from my own observation, so I don't have anything empirical behind this claim.

I'd like to know if there are any mainstream Buddhist organizations or prominent teachers that do not advocate some kind of repentance practice, bracketing out the meditation-only set.

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Re: Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby rory » Mon Aug 27, 2012 8:06 am

Well first what is the good argument why the basics of Buddhism: karma, rebirth, bodhisattvas should be unilaterly rejected & disposed of? Western Buddhism certainly isn't a religion; I daresay it's a mere therapeutic tool. It's arrogant people who feel they're above faith and have no humility.
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rory
Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu
Chih-I:
The Tai-ching states "the women in the realms of Mara, Sakra and Brahma all neither abandoned ( their old) bodies nor received (new) bodies. They all received buddhahood with their current bodies (genshin)" Thus these verses state that the dharma nature is like a great ocean. No right or wrong is preached (within it) Ordinary people and sages are equal, without superiority or inferiority
Paul, Groner "The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture"eds. Tanabe p. 58
https://www.tendai-usa.org/

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Re: Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Aug 27, 2012 8:20 am

I have to say that if people are introduced to Repentance Services properly they seem to enjoy them. When I bowed the Ten Thousand Buddhas repentance at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas there were a few Westerners in attendance, one who attended several years running. I think if the purpose of the ceremony is explained and a translation of the ritual available people might be interested. After all, many Western Tibetan Buddhist do Vajrasattva and prostration purification retreats.

I think the issue might be that the cultural elements seem alien and are not explained. But this is easily remedied by providing, for example, a day to introduce the practice and its importance, and also the kind of points to keep in mind during the ritual.

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Re: Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby Queequeg » Mon Aug 27, 2012 5:13 pm

“Once you have given up the ghost, everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos.”
-Henry Miller

"Language is the liquid that we're all dissolved in.
Great for solving problems, after it creates a problem."
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Re: Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby Kaji » Wed Aug 29, 2012 12:27 pm

I see lots of very good points brought up about repentance. Allow me to add a few things, in no particular order...

If people don't like words such as repentance and penance, we can use "kṣamā".

In the Avataṃsaka Sūtra (Flower Garland Sutra), the Buddha said that Samantabhadra Bodhisattva made ten great vows in the path to full Buddhahood, which any Mahayana Buddhist should learn and follow - and the fourth vow is repent karmic difficulties ("懺悔業障").

As mentioned by another poster, realising the true nature of the self and reality is a high form of repentance. If the self is not, so are the sins.

This is not easy for beginner Buddhists, so there are prescribed texts that a practitioner may use to repent with.

The idea of confession is supplementary to the practice of repentance. When repenting, confessing your sins to the Buddha, Bodhisattva or any number of monks and nuns is better than if you simply keep your sins as a secret.

In Chinese Buddhism, we are taught to repent by:
- Regretting our wrongdoings
- Commitment to not sin again
- Transferring the merit of repentance

In Chinese Buddhism, there are a number of repentance rituals and services. Some last for half an hour, some hours, some days.

Some sutra and dharani are adapted specifically for repentance usage, e.g. the Diamond Sutra, the Great Compassion Dharani.

There are many mantra that are specifically for repentance and cleansing karmic effects of past sins.

Chanting the names of Buddha (e.g. Amitabha) or certain Maha-Bodhisattva and paying homage to them are also effective repentance practices.

In Chinese Buddhism, repentance is crucial to taking of precepts, no matter if you are taking just the Five Precepts or a monk's full 250 precepts. If you have done some specific sins of a serious nature, you may not be allowed to take certain precepts until you have repented to a point where pureness can be proven, e.g. through signs.

If you have taken a precept and breached it, in addition to the sin of the act per se you have an additional sin of breaching a precept. Repentance is even more required in such instances. The more serious the sin, the more formal the repentance process should be. For example, if you have taken the "no killing" precept, say you deliberately killed a dog; from memory you have to confess to and repent in front of at least three monks/nuns. I think if you killed an ant say when cleaning a table, you can simply confess and repent in front of your Buddhist altar at home.

Repenting is almost always done before vows (e.g. the four Bodhisattva vows) are made, similar to precepts.

There are many accounts of people receiving signs after a dedicated period of repentance practice. Seeing signs in a dream seems to be common, e.g. vomiting a vile fluid, seeing the image of Buddha or Bodhisattva.

You can repent not only for yourself, but also for others. Every you see and hear about a sin, you can repent verbally or silently in your mind. Reading and watching about crime in the newspaper or on TV can become a daily repentance exercise. Remember to transfer merit afterwards.

Other than in Buddhism in the Chinese culture, repentance is also practised in Taoism, done for similar reasons.

I wrote in another thread that in addition to the four forces recognised by physicists today, in Buddhism three more forces are observed - karmic force, empowerment force and willpower. Karmic force makes you suffer your own sins. Willpower is what you use to repent, with regret, vows and commitment. Empowerment is what you ask the Buddha and Maha-Bodhisattva for to help you.

Personal experience: When I first started practising Buddhism, every time I repented I got a headache. The headache went away after I finished repenting. Every single time. I knew then that I must have some serious sins probably from my past lives. I asked a teacher and was told that when repenting merit enters into your body through your mouth and abdomen, and sin karma leaves your body through the head or feet. My headache was from being in tune, and hence feeling, the sin karma exiting through my head. I was advised to keep up my repentance practice, and I did. After a few months I no longer had headache when repenting, but nevertheless I have not stopped repenting on a daily basis.

I am still a sinner, no doubt, but hopefully a lesser one in each day's passing.
Namas triya-dhvikānāṃ sarva tathāgatānām!

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Re: Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby Queequeg » Wed Aug 29, 2012 7:04 pm

Great Post, Kaji. Thank you. You inspired me.
“Once you have given up the ghost, everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos.”
-Henry Miller

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Great for solving problems, after it creates a problem."
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Re: Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby rory » Thu Aug 30, 2012 4:45 am

I wouldn't say you are 'sinner' Kaji, I certainly don't regard myself as one but rather a human being with afflictions. It's our responsability to repent them, purify our karma & not continue the behaviors. I admire your humility and perseverance and faith!

And Queequeg, I haven't explained that I too was like you, a typical non-believing Western Buddhist, from the age of 15- until my mid 30's. At that time I had to face the brutal fact that I had accomplished nil in my practice; I was nowhere near becoming a buddha. So I turned to the faith-based gates. I told a monk that I didn't believe in the various deities, sutras etc & his reply was 'have the aspiration to believe.' It's just like zazen; you have to put your back into it but harder as you are working on your mind. I read a ton of pious Mahayana literature, sutras and Nichiren's letters. At my altar I would repent and ask the Buddha for faith. And after 7 years of hard work, it did happen. I did develop strong faith; strong enough that when I was extremely ill, I practiced on my sickbed, wasn't afraid to die, but also got better in record time because it would be selfish not to share the Dharma.

So I will say that Westerners can change their minds from unbelief to belief; unbelief is merely a mental construct. But you have to want to and it requires humility. The Lotus Sutra is true and so is Nichiren, if you choose to believe you will experience it for yourself but you have to make the choice of faith.
gassho
rory
Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu
Chih-I:
The Tai-ching states "the women in the realms of Mara, Sakra and Brahma all neither abandoned ( their old) bodies nor received (new) bodies. They all received buddhahood with their current bodies (genshin)" Thus these verses state that the dharma nature is like a great ocean. No right or wrong is preached (within it) Ordinary people and sages are equal, without superiority or inferiority
Paul, Groner "The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture"eds. Tanabe p. 58
https://www.tendai-usa.org/

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Re: Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby plwk » Thu Aug 30, 2012 5:37 am

In one youtube video talk I found interesting and novel was that a certain Chinese Pure Land Master from Hong Kong experimented with a selected group a personal confession cum counseling session as he felt that many who attend the Chinese Mahayana repentance services are merely doing it out of rote and ritual and at times defeated the purpose and function of having such a practice for bringing forth a true heartfelt resolve of repentance and renewing one's spiritual vigor.

He opines from his own observation and experience that there is a general tendency for some to regard it as some kind of a nonchalant event, 'playing church' with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas when bowing, not generating the repenting and reforming mind and that the long repentance services are just repetitive pages of long texts, a tiring venture of going up and down excercises of bowing but with little or no effect of transforming the mind. And further to that, he states that it's not that the repentance services fail in their objectives but that there are many who are not taught or have embraced the proper meaning and function of the repentance services itself and mentions that many places end up promoting an event rather than awareness of mind transformation, inner recollection, purification of the body, speech and mind & renewed spiritual resolve and vigor.

Initially, he thought that the private confession thingy would not work but instead was surprised at the good response that it had engendered and how those who participated, the 'brave ones' who tried this out had actually bared themselves in mentioning their daily faults and unresolved issues in front of a Buddha image (he mentioned to the confession candidates to 'ignore' his presence if they felt shy and to regard the Buddhas & Bodhisattvas as 'witness and guide' to their confession and resolution), some even breaking into tears and other emotional responses but were guided back by the master to focus and then given personalised advice as to how they can repent and resolve their faults and failures with the Buddha Dharma. He had a long list of confession candidates as a result and they after having experienced the session, were never the same again when they attended the repentance services with much greater awareness and renewed spiritual vigor.

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Re: Repentance Practices in Western Buddhist Contexts

Postby dakini_boi » Thu Aug 30, 2012 5:56 am



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