Guide to Conduct and Ceremony
Appendix: Ceremonial Texts
Part One: Scriptural Texts for General Use
6. The Instruction on Repentance
As a rule, “repentance” is the first step in abandoning one’s old life and opening oneself to cultivating a new life, and the initial gateway for setting aside unwholesome paths and entering into wholesome paths. For people who repent from past mistakes and continue practicing wholesome paths day by day, past karma will gradually disappear and no karma will be made anew; wholesome paths will come closer day by day and unwholesome paths will recede of their own accord. Therefore, it says in a sūtra, “The mind’s previous performance of evil is like a cloud covering the sun; the mind’s subsequent generation of good is like the light of a bright lamp dispelling the darkness.” Transgressions originally arise from the mind; they perforce will vanish once the mind is extinguished. Karma is originally ignorance; it perforce will vanish in accord with the light of the wisdom of one’s self-nature. Those of you who are moaning from the suffering of your transgressions: how can you not enter this gateway?
However, the foundations of transgressive karma are greed, hatred, and delusion. No matter how repentant you may be, if you subsequently repeat a bad action, there will never be a day when transgressions are extinguished. Furthermore, even though people who have committed serious transgressions and fall into the baleful may accumulate a certain amount of merit through temporary repentance, their transgressions will remain as such even while they receive merit according to their meritorious actions, so long as they leave the original greed, hatred, and delusion intact. This is like someone who tries to cool down the water boiling in a large cauldron by pouring a little bit of cold water on top while letting the fire underneath continue to burn: the strength of the fire is strong while that of the cold water is weak, so the water will never cool down.
There are many people in the world who repent of their previous mistakes, but few who do not repeat those mistakes subsequently. Some people perform one or two types of merit through a temporary sense of repentance, but leave the greed, hatred, and delusion intact in their own minds; how can such persons hope to have their transgressive karma purified?
The method of repentance is of two types: repentance by action and repentance by principle. “Repentance by action” means that you sincerely repent from past mistakes before the Three Jewels and practice day by day all types of wholesome actions. “Repentance by principle” means that, awakening to that realm in which the nature of transgressions is originally void, you internally remove all defilements and idle thoughts. People who seek to free themselves of transgressions and evil forever must practice both in tandem: externally, they must continue to practice all types of good karma while, internally, they must simultaneously remove their own greed, hatred, and delusion. In this wise, just as someone who tries to cool down the water boiling in a cauldron would pour a lot of cold water on top while putting out the fire burning underneath, so too, regardless of how much transgressive karma has been accumulated over hundreds and thousands of eons, it will soon be purified.
Furthermore, if practitioners sincerely repent and cultivate the Way and achieve freedom of mind by awakening to the buddha in their self-nature, which is ever-calm and ever-alert, then they may choose any natural karma they please and command birth and death at will, so that there will be nothing to cling to or discard, and nothing to hate or love. The three realms of existence and the six rebirth destinies will all have the same one taste, and action and rest, adverse and favorable sensory conditions, will all be nothing other than samādhi. For such persons, myriad transgressions and sufferings will vanish like ice melting in warm water, so that suffering is not suffering and transgressions are not transgressions. The light of the wisdom of their self-natures will shine constantly, all the earth will become the ground of enlightenment and the pure land, where not even the slightest mark of transgression can be found either internally, externally, or in between. This is what we call the repentance of the buddhas and enlightened masters, and the Mahāyāna repentance. Only at this stage can we say that all transgressive karma has been brought to an end.
Recently there have been groups of self-styled enlightened ones occasionally appearing who, making light of the precepts and discipline and of cause and effect, have acted as they pleased and stopped as they pleased under the guise of “unconstrained action,” thus sullying in some cases the gateway of the buddha. This occurs because they realize only that the self-nature is free from discrimination, but do not realize that it also involves discriminations; how can this be knowing the true Way that transcends being and nonbeing? Furthermore, there are many people who think they have completed their practice just by seeing the nature and have no need for further repentance or subsequent practice. Even if seeing the nature has occurred, the myriad defilements and all attachments are not simultaneously annihilated and, even if one has gained the three great powers and achieved buddhahood, one cannot avoid one’s own fixed karma. One must pay close attention to this point and avoid falling into perverted views or making light of transgressive karma by misinterpreting the words of the buddhas and enlightened masters.