Home » Excerpts » Acceptance of Regret, Shame & Dread

To not regret
over the regretable
is regretable.

Stonepeace

On one occasion this [elderly] monk asked the Dalai Lama for initiation into a particular set of demanding practices. The Dalai Lama demurred, saying that they were meant for younger monks, that they were vigorous and demanding exercises that he wished to spare the man from undertaking. The next thing he knew, this monk committed suicide, hoping to be reborn into a younger body with better stamina. The Dalai Lama was asked… how he dealt with his regret, how he made it go away. ‘It didn’t go away,’ the Dalai Lama replied, a little perplexed by the question. ‘It is still there.’…

The psychiatrist [questioner] was operating from the point of view of fixing the pain rather than feeling it. The Dalai Lama, for all his good humor, had the fortitude, and the faith, to accept his regret without looking to heal it. This is the essence of the Buddhist approach to psychological change. Striving to rid of the pain only reinforces it, while acceptance of the truth deepens our capacity for tolerance, patience and forgiveness. The Dalai Lama was forever changed by the loss of his friend and by his part in it. How could he not be?

In Buddhist psychology two mental factors, called shame and dread, are considered to be skillful qualities that increase with meditative awareness… Would we not want to free ourselves from them, as we do from anger or fear?… Their function is to make us shrink from unskillful actions, to recognize the negative consequences of our deeds, and to develop a wariness toward repeating our mistakes. The Dalai Lama was honest enough with himself to recognize the role he had played, however unwittingly… I would attempt to rationalize the situation, to excuse myself, or, at the very least, to grieve my loss and move on. But in the Buddhist view, this desire would, in itself, be clinging. If  could redirect my awareness from my regret to my abhorrence of it, I would have a chance of seeing my own clinging in action. Seeing this clinging is what frees the mind.

Going on Being: Buddhism & the Way of Change
Mark Epstein, M.D.

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