Posted by: Upāsaka | 10/24/2016


Examining the results of our actions requires maturity as well: a mature realization that self-esteem can’t be based on always being right, and that there’s nothing demeaning or degrading in admitting a mistake. We all come from a state of delusion — even the Buddha was coming from delusion as he sought Awakening — so it’s only natural that there will be mistakes. Our human dignity lies in our ability to recognize those mistakes, to resolve not to repeat them, and to stick to that resolution. This in turn requires that we not be debilitated by feelings of guilt or remorse over our errors. As the Buddha states, feelings of guilt can’t undo a past error, and they can deprive the mind of the strength it needs to keep from repeating old mistakes. This is why he recommends an emotion different from guilt — shame — although his use of the word implies something totally unlike the sense of unworthiness we often associate with the term. Remember that both the Buddha and Rahula were members of the noble warrior class, a class with a strong sense of its own honor and dignity. And notice that the Buddha tells Rahula to see his past mistakes, not himself, as shameful. This implies that it’s beneath Rahula’s dignity to act in ways that are less than honorable. The fact that he can see his actions as shameful is a sign of his honor — and is also a sign that he’ll be able not to repeat them. This sense of honor is what underlies a mature, healthy, and productive sense of shame.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu


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