Atonement for overcoming sin

 

In order to understand this article, we recommend you familiarise yourself with the following articles:

1. Introduction

Feeling sorry for a mistake committed and making effort to make up for the misdeed is a natural tendency in humans. Even a small child who has erred understands this and learns to apologise.

A person who makes mistakes or does an evil deed incurs sin. All of us are bound to incur sin at some time or another. In this article we explain what one can do to eliminate the effects of sin.

2. How to overcome sin?

It is possible to eliminate even the greatest sin by strictly abiding by Righteousness (Dharma) with faith and courage.

Depending on our basic temperament, stage in life and other factors, adhering to Righteousness may involve:

According to an evolved Saint Adi Shankaracharya from India (8th - 9th century AD),Righteousness (Dharma) is that which accomplishes the 3 tasks of:

  1. Keeping the social system in excellent condition
  2. Bringing about the worldly progress of every living being
  3. Causing progress in the spiritual realm as well.

 – Shri Adi Shankaracharya

  • Penance (e.g. for those who follow the Path of Hathayoga this may involve exposing the body to prolonged periods of discomfort)
  • Control over the mind, sense organs and motor organs (e.g. speaking only as much as necessary, control over sexual desire, etc.)
  • Control over the body (e.g. the speed of breathing, etc.)
  • Sacrifice
  • Purity of behaviour etc.

Putting all our effort to protect Righteousness also absolves us of all sins.

However due to the RajaTama predominant lifestyle in the current era of Kaliyug, for most people leading such a righteous lifestyle is only a remote possibility.

Another way to eliminate the consequences of sin is through atonement.

3. What is atonement?

Atonement is feeling remorse for mistakes or evil deeds committed and taking appropriate punishment to cleanse the resulting sin. Atonement involves penance and determination.

Some benefits of atoning are:

  • Atonement absolves an individual of the guilt feeling arising out of the misdeed.
  • Atonement absolves an individual of the consequences of sin and as a result the sin does not get carried over into the next life. Thus it eliminates obstacles in worldly and spiritual progress.
  • Atonement helps develop a feeling of contentment in the individual, as well as those around him.
  • By seeing the individual who has committed injustice atoning for his mistakes, hatred in the mind of the victim decreases or diminishes.

4. Types of atonement

Depending on the gravity of the sin, atonements can range from mild to severe.

Sins committed unknowingly can generally be absolved through repentance or through public confession of the sin. On the other hand, severe atonement is recommended for sins committed knowingly.

Some examples of atonements are:

  • Going on a pilgrimage
  • Donation
  • Fasting

More details on the specific atonement for each type of sin are available in various Holy texts.

5. Difference between punishment and atonement – importance of repentance

The difference between punishment and atonement is in the repentance of the person who atones for their sin. The person atoning is bound by a vow. He abides by the vow rigourously and later, turns virtuous.

On the other hand, merely confessing to the crime or facing punishment does not prevent an individual from repeatedly making those mistakes. Criminals who face punishment for their crimes by and large do not become any better at the end, for they neither feel repentance nor are they aware about the terrible consequences of their criminal deeds.

Righteousness teaches about merits, sins and abiding by Righteousness in daily life. By following Righteousness, a person’s basic nature itself turns sāttvik. That person never thinks of committing a wrong act and avoids any act that will generate sins. Hence where Righteousness prevails there is no need for laws. It was like this in Satyayug. There was no ruler and no laws, because everyone was sattvik and therefore there was no need for rulers or laws. – His Holiness Dr. Athavale

It’s worth noting that feeling remorse or confessing our mistakes also has its limitations, since an individual gets used to sinning every day and confessing the sins.

A question was once asked to a Saint: ‘Which person is better – the one who confesses his mistakes or the one who hides them?’ The answer was: “They are more or less the same. The one who changes and does not repeat the mistakes is the better one.”

6. Importance of chanting and devotion

In our articles on chanting, we have explained how chanting creates a centre of devotion in the subconscious mind and deflects thoughts arising from it.

Our stock of merits and sins from past births is also stored in the subconscious mind. Just like the sun destroys the fog or melts the snow, in addition to eliminating unnecessary thoughts from the mind, chanting destroys our sins too.

In fact, when chanting starts happening with devotion, the very desires which led us to sin are eventually also washed away.

Atonement merely eliminates the sin but not the desire to sin. Once a desire for the Final Liberation is invoked in the individual, chanting takes care of both the elimination of desires as well as the sin. – His Holiness Kane Maharaj, Narayangaon, Pune, Maharashtra, India

7. Atonement in the context of personality defect removal

The process of removing personality defects is an integral part of spiritual practice on the Path of Guru’s Grace (Gurukrupāyoga). Atonements are one of the tools available in this process that help seekers reduce the ill-effect of their individual and collective mistakes.

8. In summary – atonements to overcome sin and spiritual practice

Desire, hatred, attachment, expectation, anger, greed, ego, jealousy, etc. are the fundamental reasons that lead to sinning. Dissuading a person from sinning would be effective only if they understood the rules pertaining to sinning and its consequences.

It’s important to understand that punishment and atonement do not eliminate the root of our desire to sin. However, eliminating personality defects and desires that lead to sin is possible through regular spiritual practice.

 

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