good teachings by Pema Chodron, taken from her book No Time to Lose (pg 36).
From verse 27 until the end of this chapter, Shantideva presents the practice of confession or, as Trungpa Rinpoche translated it, “laying aside our neurotic crimes.” Whenever we do something we wish we hadn’t, we give it our full, compassionate attention. Rather than hiding our mistakes from ourselves and others, we forthrightly declare them. By acknowledging them to ourselves, we avoid self-deception. In certain circumstances, we may also declare them to someone else, as witness to our wise intention.
To see clearly how we strengthen or weaken crippling patterns, we have to bring them to light. It’s like getting ready for bed at night: we easily remove our clothes in a room by ourselves, but the presence of another person heightens our awareness. The role of others, whether it’s the great protectors or our friends, is simply to hear us out, without judging or needing to fix us. In this way, confession overcomes ignorance, or lack of self-reflection.
You may ask, “Isn’t it enough to acknowledge my regrets to myself?” it does help a lot, but not enough to completely dissolve self-deception. When we express our regrets to the buddhas or another human being, we can’t kid ourselves. As an act of self-compassion and self-respect, we use a witness to expose ourselves to ourselves. Thus instead of carrying around a burden of shame, we’re free to make a fresh start. The benefit of laying aside our “neurotic crimes” is being able to go forward without guilt.
The practice of confession is an excellent way to move beyond guilt and self-deception. It relies on the view that neurosis, while it may feel monolithic or immutable, is essentially transitory and insubstantial. It is just very strong energy that we mistakenly identify as a solid and permanent “me”. Confessing, like make offerings and prostrations, helps us let go of this fixed version of who we are.
When we do something we wish we hadn’t, we don’t remain oblivious; we acknowledge it with what Dzigar Longtrul Rinpoche calls “positive sadness.” Instead of condemning ourselves, we can connect with the openhearted tenderness of regret. Thus the habits of self-deception and guilt have a chance to wither away. This is the essential point of the practice of confession.