Special Topics

Q6: Why is It Necessary to Repent (Kṣama, in Sanskrit) before Receiving the Buddhist Precepts?

Before taking the Buddhist precepts-- be they the Three Refuges, the Five, Eight and Ten Precepts, or even the Complete Precepts and Bodhisattva Precepts--it is necessary for us to go through the repentance ritual first, in which we sincerely prostrate before the Buddha and recite the Repentance Verse: "All the negative karma I have created in the past came from beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance and was produced by body, speech, and mind. I now repent of it all." Only after sincerely repenting of all our negative karma from beginningless time can we receive the Buddhist precepts with a purified body and mind and begin life anew.  

Repentance entails being honest with ourselves about our past and present. Master Sheng Yen once compared the practice of repentance to "trying to empty a thousand-year-old cesspool. You have to dig deep into the pool, stirring up all the filth inside to allow  the stench to be released. The more filth and stench you unearth, the cleaner it becomes. The only obstacle is your reluctance to empty the accumulated filth in your old cesspool and the fear of facing yourself truthfully.” 

After accepting the precepts, we will inevitably violate them in the course of learning Buddhadharma and trying to uphold them. However if  we repent of our mistakes accordingly, we can purify our body and mind, while maintaining our precepts and practicing Buddhadharma.

In his book "The Research of Tiantai Repentance", Venerable Da Rui also pointed out that how Tiantai Master Zhi Yi elaborated the repentance method primarily  to help the Buddhist Sangha engage in the practice of Shamatha and Vipashyana meditation. The main criteria for practicing Shamatha and Vipashyana meditation is to keep the precepts intact. If one can't uphold the precepts purely, the meditative absorption can't be attained. Through the practice of sincere repentance for all the wrongdoings we have done in the past, we can eliminate our karmic obstacles and purify our body and mind, thereby restoring the precepts that have been broken, attaining Samadhi, and developing in wisdom. Hence, the practice of repentance can be viewed as an expedient means to cultivate the three studies of precepts, meditation and wisdom. By doing repentance prostrations in accordance with the Dharma, we can eliminate obstacles encountered in our Buddhist practice. 

Extended Reading:

Repentance Prostration: A Millenia-Old Method of Practice

Q1: What is the difference between repentance prostration rituals and regular Dharma assemblies?

Q2: Is Repentance Equal to Regret?

Q3: Can Doing Repentance Prostrations Really Eliminate Karmic Obstructions?

Q4: What is the difference between repenting alone in front of a Buddha statue and participating in a repentance-prostration Dharma assembly?

Q5. What preparations should we make before taking part in repentance ceremonies?

Q6: Why is It Necessary to Repent (Kṣama, in Sanskrit) before Receiving the Buddhist Precepts?

Resource: Issue 315 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Issue 315 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Editing: Cheng-yu Chang (張振郁), Keith Brown