Friday, March 4, 2011

Guilty Buddhism

I was challenged the other day about Buddhism's apparent failure to address the concept of guilt.  I sat with this for a while and read through what some noted scholars of Buddhism have written on the subject, and came to the conclusion that guilt is a man-made concept and not part of the inherent human condition. 

Guilt, as defined by one Buddhist scholar, Rudy Harderwijk, is "seeing or projecting one's mistakes, while not knowing what to do about them or refusing to correct them".  To paraphrase Harderwijk, Buddhism views this as a disturbing attitude, i.e. coming about from the practitioner that is not seeing the situation clearly.  Self-deprecating guilt may be seen as a complicated version of self-centeredness, which Buddhism addresses quite thoroughly.

Going back, the concept of guilt appears to be foreign to the pure human condition, having grown from it's prominent place in the Judeo/Christian tradition, e.g. the original sin.  Guilt of this type is learned, imposed by society and culture.  As noted by Harderwijk, " The Tibetans don't even have a word for it".  If this is the case guilt becomes a culturally imposed type of mental frustration, one which Buddhism teaches us to overcome through practice and seeing reality in its true form.

1 comment:

Dna of Bliss said...

I remember reading about specific purification practices for guilt. In the teachings I read, the notion of guilt was considered a toxic klesha; the mind rooted in past turmoil. In the teaching it also mentions what Harderwijk mentions about Tibetans not having a word for it. The painful aspects of guilt are that it lacks compassion for oneself, for ones humanity.

I dont remember exactly, but I think both The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche, and The
Great Treatuse in the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment by Tsong-kha-pa have practices and meditations for repentance and remorse.

It does seem that while guilt does not exist in the Tibetan culture, sin in some form does. And so the noble spiritual path includes some element of purification when one transgresses.

There should be no self-flagellation, no guilt-just a deep commitment to work with the mind that made-manifest the basis to the deeds that resulted in the sin [and guilt]. And compassion and love for oneself, acknowledging that the human condition is suffering in some way, and the guilt that arises, cultural or otherwise, is one of those elements of experience that will take you down if left unfettered.

I also read that guilt is a major component to depression, and one sure fire way to help relieve the darkness is to shine the light of commitment to simply try hard with new behaviors.

The ultimate goal is to love oneself unconditionally, so that one can open their heart to the rest of the world and its inherent suffering. Guilt is nothing but an anvil on the jugular of self-love.