How The Dalai Lama Deals with Remorse

By: Tory  |  Published: July 26th, 2011   |  Category: Buddhism, pema chodron, Rants & Raves, Relationships

Let me share with you one of my favorite stories.

The Dalai Lama with working with an American psychiatrist who was interviewing him for a book on happiness. The subject of remorse was broached: His Holiness explained that one time an elderly Buddhist man came to see him to ask for instructions on how to do a very difficult Yoga pose. The Dalai Lama told the man that he was too old and should not attempt the pose as it would be too dangerous. The old man thanked the Dalai Lama, went home and killed himself so he could be reincarnated as a younger, healthier man who could attempt the pose. After hearing the news, the Dalai lama was overcome with guilt at being the reason for another man’s death.

“So how did you deal with that?” asked the interviewer. “How did you get rid of the remorse.”

The Dalai Lama sat there in silence for a minute or two, thinking hard about the question.

“I didn’t get rid of it” the Dalai Lama explained. “It’s still with me every day. I just continue to live with my heart open.”

Wow well Mr Lama that’s easier said than done. I’m sure most people would agree with me that the “guilt-baggage” we carry around with us every day is usually so heavy we need to pay a fee. And that fee is a mighty high charge. We feel we have to obsess over it. We compulsively think about the guilt, rubbing salt in the wound. We punish ourselves over and over again as we relive the experience in our heads. So how does one simply carry the luggage without closing down?

Well for questions of this nature, I always turn to my Buddhist nun Pema Chodron for some un-sugar-coated life advice. Here is what Pema suggests. Imagine a moment in your life right now that you regret. It could be from yesterday or twenty years ago but I’m sure we all can think of at least one guilt ridden moment in our lives. Pema instructs us to think of this moment, this one act, like a layer of cement going over our head. It’s thick and gross and heavy and smelly. This much is true. We cant change that. However, by obsessing and concentrating on the event over and over again, what we are choosing to do is continually add more and more layers of heavy, thick smelly cement. Each time we obsess, we add another layer and trust me, we can keep adding layers all our lives until we are literally being buried underneath our past. And here is the aha moment. Any extra layer you add is not only unnecessary but completely inefficient. A freaking waste of your time. You cannot change the past nor remove the first layer of cement but you can choose NOT to entomb yourself in a lifetime of extra unnecessary layers. So next time you are in the car, day dreaming over and over again about that day ten years ago, just say outloud the word “cement.” Just by acknowledging that you are in the process of layering, you have taken the first step towards living with your guilt while keeping your heart open at the same time. Good luck spiritual warriors!!