Dealing with Regrets

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

What in English you call 'regret', is called prayaschit in Sanskrit. Prayaschit is a way to convert the quality of thought. Why do you regret and what is the cause of misbehaviour?

Last year at the World Yoga Convention, I spoke on two aspects of yoga. The first one was that in the practice of yoga you must change your attitude and become more serious, sincere and committed. Normally people dig fifty holes, one-foot deep. When you are sincere, committed and serious about extracting water from the ground, you have to dig only one hole fifty-feet deep, and not fifty holes one-foot deep This means that you immerse yourself in what you believe in, practise and aspire for. That is one aspect in regard to the yoga of the future.

The second aspect is your behaviour. When you are born, six friends come with the mind into this life. These six friends of the mind are: kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada and matsarya, passion, anger, greed, illusion, pride and envy. Right from your childhood these six factors make your mind set, character and personality traits; they make you what you are today.

The yogic or spiritual traditions, and sadhus say that these six are shadripu, six enemies. Whether you call them friends or enemies is your perspective and perception. We are subject to and influenced by these six conditions of the mind. Your thoughts, behaviour, performance, ideas, aspirations and ambitions are guided not by wisdom and not by skills that you have. They are guided by the ambitions created and generated by the six associates of life. This is my second theme: How can spiritual aspirants and yoga practitioners manage the six conditions of mind?

Guilt and regret

The fluctuating mood is sometimes happy, sometimes worried, sometimes sad, and sometimes anxious. Your mood fluctuates every minute. Here is the Niranjan challenge: is it possible to remain happy and smiling for twelve hours, from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep? If you can do that for twelve hours, you bypass all mental barriers. You will have a breakthrough. In the same manner, to break the negative conditions of the mind you have to cultivate and strengthen the positive qualities of mind. When you are able to cultivate the positive qualities, you become aware of your mistakes, and prayaschit happens.

There is another understanding. If something wrong has happened you begin to feel guilty. Regret and guilt go together. It is guilt that actually harms the person, not regret. Guilt affects a person more. Due to guilt the feeling of regret arises. Therefore regret is secondary. When you recognize the mistake you have made, only then do you feel guilt. Guilt is recognition of a mistake that you have made, which you do not appreciate or like. Up to the point of recognition, everything is fine. Beyond recognition, when you begin to feel bad, you move into a negative state of mind.

From the yogic perspective there is no regret; everybody lives their karma, their samskara and their destiny. If by living your karma, samskara and destiny, others are hurt, how can you change your own karma, samskara and destiny to ensure that others are not hurt? It is your character that has made you react, that has made you feel guilty, and which is making you feel regret, and wanting to rectify the mistake.

Recognizing the mistake is one aspect. After that, moving into a negative state of mind is not acceptable. Guilt creates a depressive, negative state of mind, and self-negativity comes in, and that is not correct.

Yoga does not subscribe to the idea of regret. It says that you must recognize the mistake you have made. If you have hurt somebody, apologize. As prayaschit, ensure that you do not commit the same mistake again. That is the best prayaschit. If you can ensure that you do not commit the same mistake again, there is nothing like it. What is the purpose of regret if you are not willing to change yourself and later commit the same mistake again? That kind of regret has no meaning.

Forgive and forget

There is also the concept of kshama which means forgiveness. Forgiveness comes once you are able to forget something. If you are able to take the thought out of the mind, if you are able to leave it behind and forget it, then forgiveness comes in. If you cling on to the negative thought, keep on brooding and worrying about it, there is no kshama, no forgiveness.

You have to be aware of this particular trait of mind. You have to let go of the problem that you are holding on to and forgive yourself with a sankalpa, with conviction saying, 'This situation has created conflict, ill-will, separation and bad blood between people. I am going to ensure that this does not repeat itself again'.

Do not count sheep

There is a simple sadhana with the purpose to make you aware of your responses, your reactions and behaviour during the day. This sadhana is to be done at night when you go to bed. Lights are off and you are tucked in ready to fall asleep. At that point, do not allow the mind or thoughts to wander here and there; do not try to count sheep in order to go to sleep. Instead see the events of the day from the time you woke up in the morning until the time you have gone to bed. See the events as a movie on the screen of your mind.

In five minutes, see the whole day: 'went to bathroom, brushed my teeth, bathed myself, dressed myself.' Visualize the dress you wore, the colours. 'Had breakfast, read newspaper, visualize the news that influenced you or made you think about some event; visualize the discussion that you had with family members at the breakfast table: what you did, what you thought, how you responded. How you reacted in the office and at home. See the whole day in an objective manner, without getting involved.

Once you have identified a problem area, saying to yourself, "Today I had this discussion and it was a disagreement. I became angry. The other person didn't like it and also became angry." Whatever happened, observe the reaction that had taken place that day. Think about it, reflect on it for a moment: 'If I encounter the same situation again, how will I deal with it in a better manner?'

In this way, you relive the reactions that you have gone through and see the fault lying in that reaction. Was it your projection? Or did you simply respond to somebody else's projection. If you do this for ten days, fifteen days, twenty days, you will find that this level of awareness will modify your behaviour, thinking, interaction and performance.

It is subconscious training to recognize the areas where you encounter problems in your relationships and communications, and to rectify the traits which harm you. This is the simple sadhana for it.

Therefore, the best form of prayaschit is the sankalpa: not to repeat the mistake again.

—11 April 2014, Worli, Mumbai, India