A member of the assembly was concerned as to how to encourage westerners to bow. When Buddhism came to China from India, the Chinese did not know how to bow. The same should be applied today: we should contemplate learning how to bow; only then can we teach others to do so.
“Dharma doors are immeasurable and I vow to learn them.” If you know the immeasurable dharma doors, then you will be able to teach beings on a vast scale. The 10,000 Buddhas Repentance is one such supreme dharma door. So, what do we learn from the repentance ceremony?
What is the meaning of taking refuge with the Triple Jewel? It basically means one wants to change from evil to good, to rectify our lives. First, I learnt that repentance is the act of recognizing that we are not perfect beings. Humans are creatures of habit, who tend to think, speak and act habitually. In our daily lives, if we do not take time out to repent, we would never be able to improve or rectify our lives. Repentance is the act of taking time out. If we play basketball without taking time out we would certainly wear ourselves out much faster.
Secondly, I learned to turn the light inwards. When I repent, I reflect on myself. When I first started to participate in the repentance ceremony, I reflected upon things that I have done in my life, and on the karmic retributions I underwent to understand the things that I may have done in previous lives.
As I did more repentance, I thought about the suffering of my mother. Then I repented for her karma. After reading the
Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, I learned to repent for other people’s mothers. Then, slowly my mind expanded to include my father, my uncle, my grandparents, my dog, my cat and so on. Though my mind had expanded, it was still “my this and my that” — those with whom I have good affinities.
As I understand more of the teaching, I started to include those with whom I do not have good affinities and it expanded to those with whom I have no affinities at all. Finally I ended by repenting on behalf of living beings, both sentient and insentient, and demons throughout the Dharma Realm and to the ends of empty space.
I learnt that repentance is an act of compassion and an expression of equanimity. In the end when I repent on behalf of living beings, the notion of self disappears and I become just one of the beings whom I repent for and there is no particular face to be singled out. This is the progression of my practice of repentance from being a first time practitioner to being a monk. Actually, it is an obligation of monastics to repent on behalf of living beings because we live on alms from the ten directions.
Does repenting on behalf of living beings mean that your repentance is superior to that of the next person who only repented for himself? Certainly not, in fact,
the act of repentance is to squash the big ego, the thought of condescension. After making numerous prostrations and repentance, if we still have a thought of the superior and arrogant self, then certainly we have not understood what repentance actually is.
In every prostration, you ought to contemplate that you are repenting on behalf of living beings. When the repentance text is recited at 4:30 in the afternoon, I would modify the text to say “I, disciple so and so, repent on behalf of living beings for the karma of body, mouth and mind that we have committed from beginningless time. I have done unwholesome deeds, even going so far as to slandering the Vaipulya Sutras, to commit the five rebellious offenses, and so forth. I vow to extinguish all these offenses.”
What follows is the most important part of the verse: “With the causes and conditions of bowing to the Buddhas and the merit and virtue now derived, I vow to perfect the practice of all paramitas and make transference to unsurpassed Bodhi” Please take note ‘to unsurpassed Bodhi.’ Why is this line important? Without the resolve for Bodhi, any practice in cultivation is deviant. The
Flower Adornment Sutra says, “If you forget your resolve upon Bodhi, your cultivation of even wholesome dharmas becomes the karma of demons.” In other words, while cultivating, one must always remember the fourth vow of a Bodhisattva, “I vow to realize unsurpassed Bodhi.” In the Eighty-eight Buddhas Repentance there is a verse which ends by saying “I transfer to
anuttarasamyaksambodhi.” The text recited at 4:30 in the afternoon starts as a repentance text but is followed by the text on reform, which tells us how to rectify our lives. The Great Master emphasized undertaking Bodhisattva practices to generate blessings and virtue to make up for the mistakes done in the past.
There are six
paramitas which Bodhisattvas practice. Why did the compiler of the repentance choose to focus on ‘giving’? The text describes how this Bodhisattva gave this part of the body and that Bodhisattva gave that part of the body, covering every conceivable part of the body in great detail. It also urges us to give that which is external to ourselves. Giving cures greed, selfishness and the pursuit of personal advantage, the root causes of the most evil karma. Giving is an act in which one seems to take a loss, but it actually generates blessings and virtue. It will nurture the practice of the remaining five
paramitas. For example, Medicine King Bodhisattva’s act of immolating his body was not only an act of giving but an expression of wisdom. It is not that Buddhas like a burnt body, but the Buddhas praised him for understanding the emptiness of self –
Whenever I talk about the 10,000 Buddhas Repentance, I always like to share what my auntie said on her deathbed. “The only thing I did of value in my entire 75 years was to participate fully in the 10,000 Buddhas repentance.” May the great assembly at least complete the remainder of this session of the 10,000 Buddhas repentance.
A student once asked his master, “Who is the Buddha? Where is the Buddha?” The Master retorted, “Quickly bow down.” The student did so in response. When he got up, he suddenly became enlightened!
Q: Buddhism says, “Fixed karma means that it can’t be changed. Will we definitely face the corresponding retributions for the unwholesome karma that we’ve committed?
Venerable Master: Even though it is said that fixed karma can’t be changed, offenses can be eradicated through the aid bestowed by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in samadhi. However, we must be extremely repentant, sincere, full of faith and courageous enough to change. As the saying goes – “Wrath can turn into happiness; the dead can return to life. If you say these words are false, you should know that Buddhas never lie.”
Q: Can Buddhas and Bodhisattvas shoulder living beings’ karmic obstacles?
A: Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have the power to acquit us for our offenses if we are willing to change. The repentance is not complete if people are unwilling to change.