Repentance and Reward

Yutang Lin

The title of this article should have been as follows: Repentance and Paying back out of Gratitude. In Chinese there is a term Bao En for "paying back out of gratitude." But in English I don't know of a corresponding word.

As a mixture of gratitude and resentment, human relations are often rather complex. How could one disentangle from such webs, induce harmony, and even sublimate relationships to the cultivation and application of compassion? Rather than blaming others, one had better do one's utmost. Blaming others seldom finds willing recipients; it would only enhance conflict without helping the situation. Further, the grudge thus created would be carried in both parties' minds and causing long-lasting suffering to all involved. Doing one's utmost would maintain harmony and peace of mind. Furthermore, when circumstances change in the future, there might be opportunities for clearing the obstacles and renewing relationships.

Doing one's utmost consists of two aspects: how one conducts oneself and how one relates to others.

As to how one conducts oneself, rather than being self-righteous, self-arrogant and self-boasting, one had better be humble and open-minded, reflective of one's behaviors in order to improve and achieve peace and harmony. Therefore, in this respect repentance comes first and foremost.

As to how one relates to others, rather than being faultfinding, resentful, angry, envious and jealous, one had better be grateful with the intention to pay back kindness, and practice virtuous actions so as to diminish discord. In this way one could hope to avoid entanglements and sustain peace of mind so that one could actively contribute toward doing good. Therefore, in this respect reward, in the sense of paying back out of gratitude, is essential and superior.

1. Repentance

Repentance consists of several layers. They are described below in their natural order.

A. Recognizing One's Fault

A prerequisite to repentance is to know what the mistake is. Nevertheless, relative to the various circumstances and the particulars of locality and time what would be the standard to base upon for such judgments, and how should the weighing of intentions and circumstances be adjusted, are always complicated and difficult to decide. Therefore, I suggest that we start with the principles of "finding peace of mind" and "understanding ignorance." If one's behavior causes disturbance of mind, then there must be some impropriety involved or guilt felt toward someone. One should amend after the causes are uncovered through careful reflection. Our mistakes are often difficult to recognize by ourselves or are committed unintentionally. Therefore, when we try to amend situations we should not stop at wrong doings that have been recognized, but extend the scope to include mistakes that have not been discerned yet. It is easy to find fault with others but difficult to realize one's going astray. Only by not being prejudiced into self-righteousness, regularly remaining humble in one's dealings with the world, and keeping a constant reflection on one's behaviors, could one recognize one's mistakes.

B. Admitting the Blame

Recognizing one's mistakes does not imply admission of blame. One who is sincere in making progress on the spiritual path should boldly admit responsibilities. Even if it is not to reveal the matters in public, at least one should admit the guilt to oneself. This step is also a practice in facing the reality instead of remaining behind the self-created pretentious façade.

C. Willing to Amend

After admitting one's fault one should earnestly seek ways to amend or improve. Furthermore, one should resolve not to repeat the same or similar mistakes again. This would involve long-term trials in changing circumstances and perseverance in character development.

D. Practicing Repentance

To amend mistakes, in addition to regular worldly ways, it would be best to adopt Buddhist repentance practices in order to sublimate and complete the process. Worldly means are rather limited. The damages and regrets caused by some mistakes are often irreversible and beyond repair. Not to mention the unsatisfactory nature of worldly rewards or compensations that fairness is hard to achieve, and ensuing disputes and entanglements are often unavoidable. Life is transient; how could one attempt to amend each and every past mistakes or failure? Buddhist practices are conducted in light of the all-encompassing view of the Dharmadhatu; no time or place is excluded, and all karmic hindrances of all sentient beings are included in the prayer for emancipation. Therefore, within the practice all known or unrecognized personal karmic hindrances are worked on toward their extinction. Adopt any Buddhist practice and dedicate its merits toward repentance, then it becomes a practice of repentance. Specifically designed for repentance are there many rituals. Ordinarily one could practice repentant prostration according to the Thirty-five Buddhas' Name Repentance Ritual. It can be found in the Chinese Tripitaka and is also included in my Chinese book, "Lan Xiang Ji."

2. Reward

Reward, in the sense of paying back out of gratitude, also consists of several layers. Let us enumerate them in their natural order.

A. Appreciating Others' Kindness

In daily life we are accustomed to enjoying peace and stability that we overlook the kindness of law-abiding and peace-loving people underlying such eventless social order. Ordinary people would be glad over taking advantage in occasional gains of profits; however, once obstacles encountered, soon enough they would forget the kindness received. As a result, people are led by self-interests in their dealings, employ tricky tactics at the expense of others, forgetful of others' kindness and act against righteousness, cheat and rob, and so forth. To be free from such miserable situations, one should reflect objectively so as to appreciate that, people are mutually dependent for their subsistence, and that, for co-existence to be possible society needs to be sustained by moral codes and rules of conduct. Only then would one willingly become a law-abiding person. Disputes are of no help except to increase worries and sorrows. Therefore, forgiveness is chosen. Thereby clear and peaceful mind may be achieved, and others' various kinds of goodness may be appreciated.

B. Remembering Others' Kindness

When others' kindness is appreciated, it is natural that a sense of gratitude would arise. Nevertheless, gratitude is a feeling that often fled away as thoughts turn. If there were a conflict, gratitude would often be put aside. Therefore, it is a rare trait of character that others' kindness is kept in remembrance. Firstly one needs to forgive past grudges so as to maintain a clear and even state of mind, and develop the view that prefers moral obligation to gains, in order to build up the character of constantly remembering others' kindness.

C. Intending to Return Kindness

Sincerely keeping in mind others' kindness naturally would inspire a desire to return kindness in some way. Alas, rewarding others' kindness is not an easy matter in many cases. As time and tide changes and human relationships evolve, sometimes it is no longer possible to pay back in any way. The kindness in raising up or saving life could hardly be rewarded in kind. Perhaps close ones had become distant or adversary, benefactors had become thieves and robbers, consequently there is no way to pay back. Even to the extent that, if one were insistent in paying back, there could be more harms done than good. The limited and limiting conditions of human existence are such that difficulties are often piled up layer over layer and rendering no route out for a choice. What if the benefactor needs no rewarding or accepts no paying back, how should one manage to express gratitude? If our views were confined to worldly ways, then it would be rather difficult to find perfect and just solutions. It would also be inevitable that our gestures of gratitude could yield unintended entanglements.

D. Rewarding out of Gratitude

In view of the above considerations, in addition to doing one's utmost in the usual worldly ways of rewarding others, a far more superior approach unconfined by worldly conditions is to reward others through Dharma practices and services. In this way it is no longer limited to personal favors and relations but in light of the kindness and favor of all sentient beings. Furthermore, the rewarding is on a scale of limitless time and space, and pertains to the cultivation of wisdom life and realization of ultimate liberation from suffering for all sentient beings.

3. Unification

Based on the above, how one conducts oneself and how one relates to others in doing one's utmost centers around repentance and reward. They can be further unified by the following reflection: Understanding repentance, and hence making amends for past mistakes and striving toward goodness would be an inactive way to reward benefactors because one would not remain unworthy of others' kindness. Furthermore, even if one would like to pay back kindness in kind, were one still of heavy karmic debt, then one's actions might bring unintended and undesirable consequences for others, consequently one could not really achieve the rewarding. Therefore, unless one practices repentance to clear oneself of all karmic hindrances, one could not really reward kindness out of gratitude. Repentance and reward have inseparable connections in this light. Ultimately, both could be perfected only through engaging in Dharma practices and services; therefore, they can be unified perfectly in this way. Through complete devotion and engaging in Dharma practices and services one repents all karmic hindrances for all beings and rewards all beings for all their kindness and favors. Thus, one not only transcends the sphere of personal karmas and the cycling of favors and debts but also makes positive contributions toward spiritual uplifting for all and lives a life of warmth and brightness.

Written in Chinese on February 8, 2001
Translated on February 19, 2001
El Cerrito, California

[Home][Back to list][Back to Chinese versions]