Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Power of regret: Identifying the causes

Part of a series of teachings given at the Winter Retreat from December 2011 to March 2012 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • How cause and result is different from punishment and reward
  • Identifying the actions we need to purify
  • What it is that actually purifies the mind

Vajrasattva 16: The power of regret, part 3 (download)

In Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva says:

All offenses and vices of various kinds arise under the influence of conditions.

All offenses, all our vices arise under the influence of conditions and they do not arise independently. This is really important for us to remember when we’re doing regret. The fact that we’re doing actions, or karma, and then results come from it does not mean that we are being rewarded for good actions—our positive actions. It does not mean we’re being punished for our destructive actions. The fact that suffering comes from our destructive actions is simply a result. That happiness or pleasure arises from our virtuous actions is simply a result. It’s just like you put the turnip seed in the ground, take care of it, and you get a nice fat turnip. But that is not a big reward for putting the turnip seed in the ground. And that some gopher comes and eats the turnip is not a punishment, although it could be a result of my stealing of somebody else’s food in the past. It could very well be that!

When we act negatively it doesn’t mean we’re bad people. But we’re so deeply conditioned to think in this reward and punishment paradigm. That’s the trap. The trick is to remember that we’re looking at cause and result, cause and result, cause and result. This is how purification works. Also we’re creating different kinds of causes. So this is the thing that’s really important to keep in mind.

When we look at it in that way, then Pabongka Rinpoche’s admonition that it’s not helpful to either be indifferent or afraid of looking at our negativities, we can really look at it in a clear, more open way. As Venerable Chodron says, you have to be able to see the dirt to purify it. So we dredge up everything. Go through the ten destructive actions and destructive pathways of mind that lead to that action. Look at those in your present life. Look at what you might have done in a past life. Go through the eight worldly concerns: look at the pairs of craving and aversion to loss and gain, for praise and blame, for a good reputation or having aversion to a not good reputation, for craving for sense pleasures or wanting to be away from the things that are unpleasant to our senses. Look at what we do motivated by those things.

Take a look at all of the precepts that you hold. Take a look at your bodhisattva vows. Take a look at what comes up during the day: the things that drive me crazy day to day to day, the negative thoughts that come to mind, and the people that drive me crazy—it’s not them. There is a key in there to what we can purify from our own past. There are many, many places to poke our great light of wisdom into analyzing what are the things that we need to purify in order not to experience the suffering results. If you run out of things think about the difficulties you’ve had in this life. Think about say, if I had financial problems throughout my life—what’s the karmic cause of that? I’ve got chronic pain—what could be the cause for that in my past? Everywhere we look actually we have things that we can bring to our attention.

Finally we get to the next paragraph in this text:

Seeing Vajrasattva as a combination of the wisdom and compassion of all the Buddhas and as your own wisdom and compassion in fully developed form, make this request: “O Bhagavan Vajrasattva, please clear away all the negative karma and obscurations of myself and all living beings and purify all degenerated and broken commitments.”

This really takes us out of the power of regret and takes us back to reliance. This is really a request, and for what? We’ve looked, we’ve seen, we’ve examined, we’ve gone, “Oh, my goodness there’s going to be a suffering result. Now what? Help! Help! Vajrasattva help!” The way it’s written here we have to again be careful. The way it’s written is like, “Please Vajrasattva clear away all negative karma and obscurations of myself and others and all living beings.” It’s not that Vajrasattva can swoop down and erase these negative actions from our mindstream.

But what happens is this first part—which is very key to our understanding:

Seeing Vajrasattva as a combination of the wisdom and compassion of all the Buddhas and as your own wisdom and compassion in fully developed form.

We take all of our potential and project it outside. We take all of our good qualities and project it on this image of Vajrasattva—the completely purified mind of all the Buddhas. It is that, along with the blessings of all the beings that have these realizations of Vajrasattva, that’s what purifies our mind. It’s an asking for help for sure, but if the Buddhas could have erased the negativities from our minds they would have. That’s not within their power. Only we can do that; and really we only do it ultimately by realizing emptiness directly. But in the meantime we take this wisdom from the power of regret, analyze and take a look at things, and then begin to really change our ways. So these are the next steps in the process.

I wanted to share with you before we finish, a different prayer for this place in the sadhana. In the previous version of the red prayer book The Pearl of Wisdom Practice Book 2 there was a slightly different Vajrasattva sadhana. The request prayer in there I still use every day. It has a very powerful way of stating both a confession, a realization that even when we’re in the process of purification we’re still creating negative actions because of our habituation. It acknowledges that and also really opens us, I think, to turning to Vajrasattva.

Here’s the way it goes:

The negative karma I have accumulated since beginningless time is as extensive as the ocean. Although I know that each negative action leads to countless eons of suffering, it seems that I am constantly trying to create nothing but negative actions.

Even though I try to avoid non-virtue and practice positive acts, day and night without respite, negativities and ethical downfalls come to me like rainfall. I lack the ability to purify these faults so that no trace of them remains.

With these negative imprints still in my mind, I could suddenly die and find myself falling to an unfortunate rebirth. What can I do? Please Vajrasattva, with your great compassion, guide me from such misery!

It’s a beautiful confession, a beautiful prayer, a beautiful reminder that our need for purification is endless all the way to our buddhahood.

And so, this is the basis: developing the ability to evaluate ourselves. Realizing that everything that arises—the action, the affliction that creates it, and the result are all parts of causes and conditions. Then we apply these four opponent powers to purify them, changing the causes, changing the conditions—that’s the power of regret.

Venerable Thubten Chonyi

Ven. Thubten Chonyi is a nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She has studied with Sravasti Abbey founder and abbess Ven. Thubten Chodron since 1996. She lives and trains at the Abbey, where she received novice ordination in 2008. She took full ordination at Fo Guang Shan in Taiwan in 2011. Ven. Chonyi regularly teaches Buddhism and meditation at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane and, occasionally, in other locations as well.

More on this topic