Special Topics

Q3: Can Doing Repentance Prostrations Really Eliminate Karmic Obstructions?

Many people think that participating in the Great Compassion Repentance and the Emperor Liang Repentance service or admitting one's wrongdoings in mind is enough to purify negative karma. In fact, it is not the case that one's negative karma is simply dissolved after doing repentance prostrations. Rather, only after honestly admitting one's mistakes, taking due responsibility for them, and by making vows to correct them can the mind return back to its purity, and thus be relieved of worries and burdens.

In his book "Orthodox Chinese Buddhism", Master Sheng Yen pointed out that Buddhists definitely believe in the effectiveness of repentance: "The function of repentance is to initiate a relentless process of self-reflection and self-discipline, to develop vigilance based on self-awareness, and to purify one's mind with self-respect, so as to prevent the occurrence of the same mistake. As long as one has the determination to start afresh, and realizes that the past is gone and there is no point in dwelling on it, one's mind will be relieved from the feeling of guilt and will regain serenity. This is the function of repentance."

In another book "
Common Questions in the Practice of Buddhism", Master Sheng Yen also reminds us that "The basic principle for removing calamity is to repent past misdeeds, and to vow to change for the better. Any karmic retribution that one deserves must be willingly accepted; yet as soon as one begins to repent and vows to change, some not yet received retribution may change accordingly." The same rationale applies to the way doing repentance prostrations reduces karmic obstructions. From the perspective of the ultimate truth of Buddhism, to repent of all misdeeds without reservation requires one to contemplate deeply the true nature of wrongdoings, thereby understanding that the nature of offenses is empty; all phenomena consist in the coming together of causes and conditions, and all of them undergo changes. However, although the nature of offenses is empty, the consequences of misdeeds still exist. Therefore, it is not correct to say that one can be free from karmic retributions through the contemplation of emptiness. One must still practice in accordance with Dharma in everyday life, and sincerely repent. When receiving karmic retributions, one must understand that it is as it should be, and accept it willingly without creating further negative karma. In this way, one will gradually have peace and stability in body and mind.

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
Shu-jen Yeh (葉姝蓁) 
Leefah Thong, Keith Brown