Overcoming Guilt

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Dhammakid
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Overcoming Guilt

Post by Dhammakid »

Hello Everyone,
Are there any sutta references, teachings or general advice for overcoming guilt and/or forgiving oneself?

This pertains to me. I have been forgiven by those I harmed, but I can't seem to shake the guilt. Thoughts of my actions haunt me everyday - the aversion to them is physical as well as emotional. I have a noticeable physical reaction whenever they cross my mind. This affects my meditation practice.

Any advice is appreciated.
dcs
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Re: Overcoming Guilt

Post by dcs »

Hi Dhammakid,

I know how you feel. I've been going through the same problems with guilt as well. Here's some things I try to keep in mind when I'm overcome with feelings of guilt:

(1) Imagine if you could remember all of your past lives for several aeons back. You would probably remember a countless number of times where you've either hurt someone or they've hurt you. So the thoughts of guilt you're experiencing now...you've actually been going through this for a really, really, really long time. When you think about it this way, the thoughts of guilt start to feel pointless and meaningless.

(2) Your past bad actions aren't actually what's causing you to suffer right now in the present. It's your present mental action of reproducing those memories over and over again that's causing you to suffer. Therefore, you don't have to build a time machine to go back and undo everything you've done wrong. The answer lies with your present actions.

I'm only a beginner on the Buddhist path. I haven't even mastered the advice which I've given you. But I am someone who is going through exactly what you're going through and I just wanted to help. I hope I did. I wish you happiness and good will.
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cooran
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Re: Overcoming Guilt

Post by cooran »

Hello Dhammakid,

It sounds like you need to practice Metta Bhavana - initially, mainly directed towards yourself.

Getting over a bad past?
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=7568" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Ajahn Sujato - Unconditional Love
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=2810" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

FORGIVENESS - Venerable Sayadaw U Silananda
http://www.tbsa.org/index.php?option=co ... 5&Itemid=2" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---
Sanghamitta
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Re: Overcoming Guilt

Post by Sanghamitta »

If you are having repetitive and circular thoughts and they are affecting your practice then you have been given some good advice in dealing with that.
Some people however have not faced up to the results of their actions as you are doing...
In which case a little guilt is entirely appropriate before forgiving ourselves a bit too prematurely.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.
santa100
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Re: Overcoming Guilt

Post by santa100 »

Guilt could be turned into a source of motivation. Any time it comes across your mind, use it as a reminder that you will do something good and positive to help others and yourself to make up for the past bad kamma. Turn it into a useful tool for your practice. Good luck..
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Dhammakid
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Re: Overcoming Guilt

Post by Dhammakid »

Hello all,
Wow, thanks so much for all the wonderful advice. I will try to start looking at the flashbacks and guilty feelings as motivation to do more good and never again reproduce such actions. I will also try hard to bring mindfulness to the fore.

Cooran, those links were of tremendous help. Thank you.

:anjali:
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Jason
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Re: Overcoming Guilt

Post by Jason »

Dhammakid wrote:Hello all,
Wow, thanks so much for all the wonderful advice. I will try to start looking at the flashbacks and guilty feelings as motivation to do more good and never again reproduce such actions. I will also try hard to bring mindfulness to the fore.
As others have already mentioned, I've, too, have found that turning all of that guilt into a motivation for positive actions has helped me deal with those same kind of feelings. Here's something I wrote about it a long time ago:
  • Many times, the emotional feelings of shame or guilt that're associated with the results of our unskillful actions are looked upon as undesirable things—we see them as just unnecessary thorns in our side. Because we act out of a basic need to be happy, we like to think that all of our actions, whether good or bad, are justifiable. The outcome of this kind of thinking, however, is that when we commit acts of body, speech and mind that turn out to be harmful to ourselves or to others, we want to find some excuse in order to justify those actions. Unfortunately, since we don't posses the wisdom to see that there are other kinds of happiness in the world besides those that're based on fulfilling our sensual desires, we cling to the kinds of happiness that depend upon us to continually feed them. Happiness then becomes an act of relentlessly feeding our desires to the point that our happiness comes before the happiness of others. If we feel that we have to hurt others, steal from others, lie to others or whatever else we deemed necessary in order to be happy, then we'll be able to talk ourselves into doing anything to obtain that happiness.

    Once we come to a point where we begin to see the effects of our unskillful actions, however, we're unprepared for how to skillfully deal with such consequences. When our conscience catches up with us, our first reaction tends to be to run away from those feelings of guilt and remorse that happen to arise. If we can't outrun them, then we try to bury them underneath the haze of drugs and alcohol. Essentially, the ways in which we try to rid ourselves of these feelings are just as harmful as the actions that brought those feelings into being. We indulge in even more unskillful behaviour in order to cover up the memories of our anger, embarrassment, fear, grief, hatred, pain, selfishness, etc. in an attempt to just get through another day. To make matters worse, these unskillful actions are what have the potential to become unskillful habits or addictions because these temporary solutions are unable to permanently get rid of those painful feelings, and we gradually become dependent upon them to ease our suffering. Because we lack a better way to deal with these things, we become prisoners trapped within our own nightmarish world.

    One of the many things the Buddha said was that these emotional feelings of guilt and remorse are actually guardians, treasures and associated with skillful qualities. To begin with, these feelings of guilt and remorse are a warning sign that something is wrong. They alert us to the fact that somewhere, deep down inside, we're uneasy about something we might've done or said, or at least thought about. In the Buddha's teachings, feelings of guilt and remorse are said to guard us from harm. Without conscience and concern, or shame and fear of wrongdoing, we're unable to recognize those who deserve respect such as mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, teachers, etc. (AN 2.9). In addition, if we're unable to recognize these people for what they are in relation to ourselves or to other people, we're more capable of doing unskillful deeds of body, speech and mind that directly cause them pain and suffering. Not only can this cause us suffering internally when we reflect on those unskillful actions, but it can also cause suffering externally by placing ourselves in trouble with the authorities or other people.

    When it comes to skillful qualities, conscience and concern are said to arise out of clear knowing (Iti 40). This clear knowing can be seen as a kind of internal honesty which is aware of our intentions. This awareness doesn't try to cover up our intentions or make excuses for them, but it's an awareness that's open and honest about the qualities of our intentions that enable us to cleanse them of their impurities. In other words, the qualities of ignorance, desire and greed that arise in the mind are seen for what they are. This enables us to develop a sense of moral responsibility that's derived from self-esteem. When we view unwholesome actions as beneath us, when we see that they cause us harm or give rise to bad destinations, we'll be more inclined to refrain from committing those actions, or if we've committed them, to refrain from committing them again. We do this because we have respect for ourselves, and we see the benefits of making the right choices by observing that, as Thanissaro Bhikkhu notes, "unskillful intentions, based on craving and delusion, invariably lead to unpleasant results."

    While all of this might be useful to consider before we make any more unskillful decisions in the future, the Buddha also discusses what to do about unskillful things that we might've done in the past. Unfortunately, we're unable to undo past unskillful actions, but fortunately there are ways in which to lessen the inevitable harmful results of those actions. Although the complexity of the relationship between actions and their results can be hard to understand — one that reaches far beyond this present life — that same complexity allows for the possibility of limiting the consequences of past unskillful actions. The first step is to at least observe the five precepts, which are to (1) refrain from harming living beings, (2) refrain from taking what is not given, (3) refrain from telling falsehoods, (4) refrain from committing sexual misconduct and (5) refrain from taking drugs and alcohol that lead to carelessness. This helps to prevent further damage from being done, and to construct the foundation for the rest of our practice. The next steps are to abandon wrong view and develop expansive mind states of good-will, compassion, appreciation and equanimity (SN 42.8).

    The development of good-will, compassion, appreciation and equanimity is so powerful that it can take us from being restricted, small-hearted and dwelling in suffering to being unrestricted, large-hearted and dwelling with immeasurable concentration—a state of mind that's only possible with the absence of hostility and ill will. The Buddha also described four assurances that can be experienced in the present by those people who, filled with doubt, cultivate and develop such purified states of mind: If there is a world after death, if there are results of skillful and unskillful actions that're done, then one can be assured that they'll reappear in a good destination after death. If there's no world after death, if there are no results of skillful and unskillful actions, then here in the present one can be assured that they'll live safely, free from hatred and malice. If evil results befall one who commits evil actions, then one who doesn't entertain evil thoughts towards another can be assured that they'll not experience ill results. And, if evil results don't befall one who commits evil actions, then one can be assured that they're safe in any case (AN 3.65).

    It's hard to imagine that cultivating certain mind states can have a tangible effect on our lives. Nevertheless, the Buddha often spoke of the immeasurable benefits of cultivating good-will, compassion, appreciation and equanimity. He once compared the actions of a person who commits an evil deed with an untrained mind — a mind undeveloped in regards to virtue, discernment, etc. — to a glass of water. As there's so little development in the mind of such a person, one evil act is like a salt crystal that's then dropped into that glass of water and the water becomes unfit to drink. He further compared the actions of a person who commits an evil deed with a mind that is well trained — a mind developed in regards to virtue, discernment, etc. — to the River Ganges. As there's so much development in the mind of such a person, one evil act is like a salt crystal that's then dropped into that great river and the water doens't become unfit to drink. The former person, due to their actions, goes to a bad destination whereas the later person experiences the resulting pollutant for barely a moment in the here and now (AN 7.6).

    Ultimately, those emotional feelings of shame or guilt that're associated with the results of our unskillful actions can be looked upon as catalysts to overcoming the results of our unskillful actions if they're seen with the proper insight. When we become remorseful by realizing that what we've done wasn't right, perhaps because we're told by a wise person that such actions are blameworthy, we'll also realize that what we've done can't be undone. These feelings, if they're not properly understood, have the potential to become debilitating. However, when due to those feelings we abandon the taking of life, taking what's not given, telling falsehoods, committing sexual misconduct and taking drugs and alcohol now and in the future, we can be said to have abandoned those evil deeds, those unskillful actions, and to have overcome them. Even more so, when we abandon those unskillful actions now and in the future, as well as cultivate, develop and then pervade all four directions with good-will, compassion, appreciation and equanimity, the inevitable consequences of our past unskillful action will count for next to nothing (SN 42.8).
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Dhammakid
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Re: Overcoming Guilt

Post by Dhammakid »

Jason wrote: Many times, the emotional feelings of shame or guilt that're associated with the results of our unskillful actions are looked upon as undesirable things—we see them as just unnecessary thorns in our side. Because we act out of a basic need to be happy, we like to think that all of our actions, whether good or bad, are justifiable. The outcome of this kind of thinking, however, is that when we commit acts of body, speech and mind that turn out to be harmful to ourselves or to others, we want to find some excuse in order to justify those actions. Unfortunately, since we don't posses the wisdom to see that there are other kinds of happiness in the world besides those that're based on fulfilling our sensual desires, we cling to the kinds of happiness that depend upon us to continually feed them. Happiness then becomes an act of relentlessly feeding our desires to the point that our happiness comes before the happiness of others. If we feel that we have to hurt others, steal from others, lie to others or whatever else we deemed necessary in order to be happy, then we'll be able to talk ourselves into doing anything to obtain that happiness.

Once we come to a point where we begin to see the effects of our unskillful actions, however, we're unprepared for how to skillfully deal with such consequences. When our conscience catches up with us, our first reaction tends to be to run away from those feelings of guilt and remorse that happen to arise.
Wow, Jason, this makes so much sense. And it describes my situation exactly. Wow.

I spent so long considering myself a good person. And honestly I was actually working on it. I tend to think that everyone likes to think of themselves as "good people" or whatever, but few actually put in the work to become so. But at the same I thought I was a genuinely good guy, I also was searching for happiness, and I guess my futile search began to frustrate me so much so that I felt I needed to do whatever I could to be happy, even if it meant harming others along the way. And that's what I did, and it scared me. It scared me to realize that I was capable of that, because for so long I thought I was a good guy and everyone told me so, but I had never thought I would do anything to harm someone. And I was definitely unprepared to deal with it, so I ran away - twice - causing even more harm.

Wow, this is really an eye-opening realization for me, and I think it's an important step in my healing process. Thank you so much, Jason.

From now on, I'm going to try to make a concerted effort to be mindful, to transform negative thoughts into motivation to do good and to practice metta-bhavana on a regular basis.

:anjali:
Dhammakid
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