The idea of repentance is well expressed in different Cultures but the interpretation of its consequences is not the same. The Jews associate the idea of repentance with Divine Atonement and Absolution of sins. Repentance, and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus is the theme of the Books of The New Testament. Christian faith calls upon man to repent and be converted through the act of Baptism. In Islam, true repentance means that man must reject all other forms of belief and avoid the worship of false gods. By repenting, a Muslim agrees to truly believe in one and only God(ALLAH) and live in strict obedience to His Five Commandments and other ordinances as revealed in the Holy Scripture of Quran. Islam also demands that the true believer must ask the non-believer to repent. Islam encourages the idea of harshly punishing all individuals who fail to truly repent. In India, the Land described as ‘Karma Bhumi’, repentance is viewed upon as a personal choice. Repentance could only be used to change one’s own conduct. Most importantly, in the Land of Bharat, the idea of repentance is not associated with the idea of converting the religious beliefs of a man. The idea of ‘repent or perish’ does not define Indian Identity.
JUDAISM AND THE DOCTRINE OF ATONEMENT :
To Jews, repentance means living in obedience to Yahweh’s Will for the individual and the nation of Israel. For a Jew, atonement is expiation for his own sin in order to attain God’s forgiveness. He may achieve this in various ways, including repentance, payment for a wrong action, good works, suffering, and prayer. Repentance and changed conduct are stressed as the most important aspects of Atonement.
The Day of Atonement or YOM KIPPUR is the most important and solemn of the Jewish holidays. It is the tenth and final day of the Ten Days of Repentance which begins with Rosh Hashanah.
The observance of Yom Kippur includes 25 hour period of fasting and intensive prayer. At the end of Yom Kippur, the man considers himself absolved from his sin and is reconciled to God.
THE MESSAGE OF JESUS – THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS NEAR AND THEREFORE REPENT :
Jesus announced the approaching Kingdom of God and therefore called people to repentance. Jesus’ call to repentance is grounded in this message of the approaching Kingdom of God. In Jesus’ preaching, repentance does not mean a prerequisite or precondition or even a penitent contemplation of oneself but, rather a consequence of the proximity of the Kingdom of God.
Christians believe that the redeeming of mankind and the reconciliation of God with man is brought about by Jesus’ suffering and Crucifixion. As per Christian belief, Jesus came to Earth and became the sacrifice for all mankind. It was the sins of all mankind that has put Jesus on the Cross. Christians seek forgiveness through Jesus Christ the Savior.
Christian traditions accept the announcement of God’s willingness to forgive all those who truly repent of their sins. Christians are sharply divided about the Doctrine of Conciliation and the power to “bind and loose”. Jesus after the Resurrection told the disciples :”If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”( Gospel of John, Chapter 20, verse 23 ) This statement is interpreted in different ways. Catholics believe in Sacramental Absolution of sins and they extend the power to “bind and loose” that was conferred by Jesus on the Apostles to all of their priests. Martin Luther, the leader of Protestant Reformation in Germany had asserted that daily repentance is the repeated actualization of Baptism. The Protestants have ruled out the Fourth Sacrament of Roman Catholicism.
ISLAM – “ALLAH IS HE WHO ACCEPTS REPENTANCE”. :
The Revelations stated in the Holy Book of Quran state that it is always possible for a sinner to repent( Taubah or Tawbah) and redeem himself by a genuine conversion to the truth. Genuine repentance has the effect of removing all sins and restoring a person to the state of sinlessness with which he started his life.
In Surah IX, At-Taubah ( Repentance ), Holy Quran issues stern Commandments against idolaters, disbelievers, transgressors, the Jews and the Christians for they have taken as lords beside ALLAH their rabbis, and their monks, the Messiah, and that son of Mary.
The ninth month of the Muslim Year during which the Quran was sent down as a guidance for the people is observed as a period of daily fasting from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan is seen as an obedient response to a Command from God and to a lesser extent it may represent a period of Atonement.
THE LAND OF BHARAT : SUBMISSION OF ALL ACTIONS TO GOD :
While the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims are constantly reminded to repent and to seek forgiveness of God for all of their sinful actions, in the Land of Bharat, the people are counseled to submit to God all of their actions; either good or bad. Whatever actions that a man accomplishes with his body, with his speech, with his mind, with his organs of motor function, or because of his attitude or temperament; all of those acts without any exception should be dedicated or submitted to the Supreme Lord known as Narayana. Without making any distinction between good or bad actions; man should refrain and should not desire the fruits of his actions.
THE THREE MODES OF MATERIAL NATURE – ‘GUNA TRAYA VIBHAGA YOGA’ :
The Lord’s Song known as Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XIV, verse 5 states that the material Nature consists of the three modes – goodness ( Sattva ), passion ( Rajas ), and ignorance ( Tamas ). And when the living entity comes in contact with Nature ( Prakrti ), he becomes conditioned by these modes which enslave the immutable consciousness of the self within the body. Man acts under the influence of any of the three different modes of material Nature.
The Lord’s Song further states that when man is able to rise above ( transcend ) these three qualities known as Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, the embodied soul can become free from birth, death,old age, and their distresses, and can enjoy “Amrit” ( the Divine Nectar that bestows Immortality ) even in this life. The Supreme Lord is transcendental to the three modes of Nature. When man acquires the true knowledge of the Supreme Lord, he is emancipated ( Vimukti ) from the conditioning effects of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas.
INDIAN VIEW – REPENTANCE DOES NOT REMIT SINS :
In Sanskrit language, the word repentance is described as “PASHCHATH TAPA”. It is the feeling of sorrow or grief experienced by an offender for his own actions that inflicted pain or caused an injury or insult. The Indian thinkers have described repentance as mental catharsis. Repentance is an act of purification of the mind. A man cannot unburden his conscience by concealing his actions, or by suppressing the memory of his actions. The emotional stress and the burden imposed by a sense of guilt could be alleviated by bringing the memory of our actions to consciousness and by giving expression to sorrow or grief caused by these actions. The offender does not merely regret his actions. He mentally experiences the pain caused by his actions and gives expression to the emotion of sorrow or grief. In the Indian tradition, grief is manifested by actually shedding tears of sorrow with which the offender cleanses the feet of his victim. This process of mental catharsis brings about changed conduct. The man is enabled to change his mode of conditioned activities. The activities performed in the mode of ignorance( Tamas), and passion( Rajas) lead to distress. Man acquires real knowledge while acting under the influence of the mode of goodness or Sattva. Repentance helps the man to move upward into the mode of Sattva ( goodness ) from that of Tamas( ignorance ), and Rajas ( passion ). Through repentance man changes his thoughts, his desires, his habits and his actions.
Please also view the related blog post titled ‘East and West – The Idea of Forgiveness’
Dr. R. Rudra Narasimham,
Kurnool Medical College, Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, India,
M.B.B.S., Class of April, 1970.