I had said a few not-so-kind sentences out of frustration to someone this year and I saw the recipient wince as soon as I let the words escape my mouth. The genuine smile with the eyes lit immediately changed to a forced smirk with eyes full of hurt and confusion. Just from my words.
It wasn’t my intention to hurt him but because of the mood I was in, I didn’t think twice before I said what I had said. That’s when it processed for me: words cannot be taken back. I remember that infamous rhyme I learned as a kid – sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me – but words are powerful tools. And words do hurt.
The agony, the surprise and the expression on his face was disheartening to witness. I chose my words and because of my words alone, he reacted the way he did. I had control over his mood, reaction and feelings. I held the power to brighten or damage his day. And I misused it. That’s when I vowed to be more careful with my words.
The follow-up after the incident entailed me profusely apologizing to the recipient for saying something I really didn’t mean, explaining that I was just in a bad mood and had used him as an outlet and promising it won’t happen again. I was extremely regretful of my words and was genuinely apologetic. Whether I received the forgiveness or not I’m not sure, but what I did realize is that it set my soul free and I learned my lesson.
Another time, a friend intentionally crushed a spider right in front of me even though I had pointed it out and specifically said not to. Though bugs are intentionally and unintentionally killed daily, I at least try to not cause harm to them to the best of my abilities and when it can be avoided. When that bug died, even if I knew it was out of my control, because I pointed it out, I felt guilty and responsible for its death. To others, this may seem like a minor incident (if an incident at all) but to me, it hurt because I believe that if killing can be avoided, avoid it. I prayed for its soul and asked for forgiveness.
These two example incidents along with a few others made me think: what about the times when I said or did something to someone and never asked for forgiveness due to finding it unimportant or inconvenient, having too much pride, assuming they probably don’t remember it or not wanting to deal with the awkwardness of it all? And, additionally, what about the times when I said something or did something that offended or hurt others and I wasn’t even aware of it? Though it may have been purely unintentional, it still caused harm to someone and was meaningful to them. What do I do about those times? How do I set myself free from all that karma?
In Jainism, it is believed that the soul, in its truest form, is free from all karmic bondage. It is pure. But it is not seen in this world because it is soiled with karma we have accumulated which is essentially hurting it. To lessen the damage, there is a process called “Pratikramana” which is a way to repent for all bad karma we have acquired.
There are five various kinds of Pratikramana but the main one that is highly recommended to perform at the very least is “Samvatsari Pratikramana” which is done yearly to repent for the sins committed that year. There is one basic principle of Pratikramana: repent. Repent for any sins committed, intentionally or unintentionally. This can range from the smallest acts to bigger and more awful acts. Examples include: hurting or killing one- through five-sensed living beings, having wrong thoughts, speaking bad words or performing improper actions, being greedy, prideful or materialistic, lying, stealing, engaging in self-harm, having attachment and more.
In this meditation process, the goal is to self-reflect on our all bad deeds (and remember the ones we unintentionally committed), repent for them and ultimately have the idea in mind to not commit them again in the future. During the self-reflecting process, we ask for forgiveness (which also entails letting go of our own hurt and pride and forgiving others) which will ultimately lessen the karmic bondage to our soul. This includes listing and apologizing for all possible ways we have committed any sins, intentionally or unintentionally, along with many other elements. Once the meditation and the forgiveness process is done, we contact or meet family members/friends/acquaintances/strangers and say “Micchami Dukkadam” which translates to being fruitless of bad deeds – or forgiving bad deeds. The objective is to truly and genuinely ask for forgiveness from them for intentionally or unintentionally hurting them in any way, shape or form. This goes both ways – when someone says it to us we should be open to forgiving them as well. Ultimately, Pratikramana is performed to serve as a fresh start.
The ultimate purpose of pratikraman is having some time when we can self-reflect, improve ourselves and let go. For Jains, this is the last day of a week-long holy festival called “Paryushana.” However, because the basic idea of the process is to repent, anyone can do this, anytime and anywhere. The teaching and purpose is more important: if we do something wrong, intentionally or unintentionally, repent and change.
Once we start the process of asking for forgiveness for our sins, we are able to lift the weight that has been keeping us down. Forgive and ask for forgiveness.
If you’re waiting for a day to say sorry, don’t wait any longer. Make TODAY the day. Meet the people you want to say sorry to or call/message them. Ask them for forgiveness, genuinely and from the heart. Say what you have never been able to say. Tell them how you feel. Express your emotions. Whether they forgive you or not is their decision, but your apology is within your own hands.
Let go of the bondage and set your soul free.
How does it feel?
Read my next post: Most things start from something small
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