The Profession of Confession and Atonement

In many religious traditions, there is the concept of confessing and atoning for sins. But why do people keep sinning and keep confessing, keep atoning? What is the use of such confession and atonement? What can be done to completely get out of this nasty habit of committing sinful activities?

Some souls accept the authority of God in theory, but not in practice. In the article “Love of God, The Ultimate Variety“, I wrote about fear vs. love… who fears God? One who does not properly follow the instructions of God must necessarily fear God. Just like ordinary citizens are not afraid of the police, but the thief is.

The idea is that just as there is the state law, there is also God’s law. And just as someone who flouts the state law becomes a criminal or an outlaw, similarly, one who flouts God’s law also faces reactions. And depending on the severity of the crime, the reactions can be rather heavy.

In some traditions, practically all religious traditions, there is the idea of “atonement” or in Sanskrit “praayaschitta”. This has been formalized in so many different ways, for example, Christians often go to Church and then confess their sins to the priest. The priest says “OK, repent by doing this and this”, or maybe a Hindu might go to the temple and the priest might tell her “give this and that charity to such-and-such to atone for this sin”.

The atonement is supposed to release the soul of the sinful reaction for a much lower “cost”…

Confession, useful, but is it enough?

But even with or without atonement, though there is hellish punishment that purifies the sinner of the sinful reactions, the soul commits sin again, after all the purification! Why is this?

Do you know what the problem is?

क्‍वचिन्निवर्ततेऽभद्रात्‍क्‍वचिच्चरति तत्पुन: ।
प्रायश्चित्तमथोऽपार्थं मन्ये कुञ्जरशौचवत् ॥ १० ॥

kvacin nivartate ’bhadrāt
kvacic carati tat punaḥ
prāyaścittam atho ’pārthaṁ
manye kuñjara-śaucavat

Sometimes one who is very alert so as not to commit sinful acts is victimized by sinful life again. I therefore consider this process of repeated sinning and atoning to be useless. It is like the bathing of an elephant, for an elephant cleanses itself by taking a full bath, but then throws dust over its head and body as soon as it returns to the land.

https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/6/1/10/
An elephant bathes in the water

Let’s examine the elephant… the elephant goes to the river and takes a bath in the river. Then the elephant comes out and pours dirt, sand and dust on itself after it comes out. Now, the wildlife experts may say why the elephant is doing that, how it protects its skin etc., but let’s just keep to the spirit of the example here.

An elephant dusts itself with mud

If we treat a confession or atonement as a bath, then why is it that people perform the required atonement and then sin again? Why do you need to take a bath again and again? Because you got dirty again after the last bath!

In the material world, dirt is unavoidable, our very bodies are quite dirty, and need to be cleansed again and again. But what about the spirit soul? Is the spirit soul not clean originally?

Hindus bathe in the Ganga to atone for their sins

Is it a good thing to become a professional at confession and atonement? There is no doubt that God is infinitely merciful… and can forgive unlimitedly. Does anyone think that God is such a fool as to accept repeated confessions of a professional sinner without giving the proper reactions to maintain fairness? God is also unlimitedly wise!

In the Srimad Bhagavatam, the highly intelligent Maharaja Parikshit and Shukadeva Goswami had this wonderful conversation on this topic. To this question, the answer given was:

Śukadeva Gosvāmī, the son of Vedavyāsa, answered: My dear King, since acts meant to neutralize impious actions are also fruitive, they will not release one from the tendency to act fruitively. Persons who subject themselves to the rules and regulations of atonement are not at all intelligent. Indeed, they are in the mode of darkness. Unless one is freed from the mode of ignorance, trying to counteract one action through another is useless because this will not uproot one’s desires. Thus even though one may superficially seem pious, he will undoubtedly be prone to act impiously. Therefore real atonement is enlightenment in perfect knowledge, Vedānta, by which one understands the Supreme Absolute Truth.

https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/6/1/11/

But knowledge enough is not sufficient, one must act on that knowledge, Shukadeva Goswami continues…

My dear King, if a diseased person eats the pure, uncontaminated food prescribed by a physician, he is gradually cured, and the infection of disease can no longer touch him. Similarly, if one follows the regulative principles of knowledge, he gradually progresses toward liberation from material contamination.

https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/6/1/12/

One should go beyond the lifestyle that produces sinful desires…

तपसा ब्रह्मचर्येण शमेन च दमेन च ।
त्यागेन सत्यशौचाभ्यां यमेन नियमेन वा ॥ १३ ॥
देहवाग्बुद्धिजं धीरा धर्मज्ञा: श्रद्धयान्विता: ।
क्षिपन्त्यघं महदपि वेणुगुल्ममिवानल: ॥ १४ ॥

tapasā brahmacaryeṇa
śamena ca damena ca
tyāgena satya-śaucābhyāṁ
yamena niyamena vā

deha-vāg-buddhijaṁ dhīrā
dharmajñāḥ śraddhayānvitāḥ
kṣipanty aghaṁ mahad api
veṇu-gulmam ivānalaḥ

To concentrate the mind, one must observe a life of celibacy and not fall down. One must undergo the austerity of voluntarily giving up sense enjoyment. One must then control the mind and senses, give charity, be truthful, clean and nonviolent, follow the regulative principles and regularly chant the holy name of the Lord. Thus a sober and faithful person who knows the religious principles is temporarily purified of all sins performed with his body, words and mind. These sins are like the dried leaves of creepers beneath a bamboo tree, which may be burned by fire although their roots remain to grow again at the first opportunity.

https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/6/1/13-14/

It is commonly seen that even priests, supposed to be God’s representatives, sin, what to speak of the lay person! This means that even though one may lead a very closely regulated lifestyle, the desire to sin can still remain hidden as a root within the heart. So what is the ultimate solution?

केचित्केवलया भक्त्या वासुदेवपरायणा: ।
अघं धुन्वन्ति कार्त्स्‍न्येन नीहारमिव भास्कर: ॥ १५ ॥

kecit kevalayā bhaktyā
vāsudeva-parāyaṇāḥ
aghaṁ dhunvanti kārtsnyena
nīhāram iva bhāskaraḥ

Only a rare person who has adopted complete, unalloyed devotional service to Kṛṣṇa can uproot the weeds of sinful actions with no possibility that they will revive. He can do this simply by discharging devotional service, just as the sun can immediately dissipate fog by its rays.

https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/6/1/15/

So therefore, it is impossible to be completely pure without being a pure devotee of God. Without being a pure lover of God, one cannot escape this sin. In fact, when one is rendering devotional service, at that time it is impossible to sin, because where is the time and the energy to perform sinful actions?

So therefore, instead of sinning and confessing, sinning and confessing, sinning and atoning, sinning and atoning, one should seek to develop pure uncontaminated Love of God in a practical way, which is the only way to be free of the desire and tendency to sin.

My spiritual master says it best “it’s hard to hit a moving target, so keep moving for Krishna, if you give illusion an inch, you will lose your life!”

Author: Mahabhagavat Das SDA

I am a formally initiated disciple of His Grace Sriman Sankarshan Das Adhikari. My spiritual master was initiated by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1971. He is the author of the famous Ultimate Self Realization Course. Check it out at www.joincourse.com.

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