Guiding Light: Guilt trip

-- Swami Brahmavidananda Saraswati

Blaming others is a good reason why we get stuck in life and can’t move on to do what is required. A similar thing happens when we blame ourselves for everything that happens. Excessive self-blame leads to unnecessary guilt. Sure, we do wrong actions. Sure, bad things happen. But one thing we have to see is not get into excessive self-blame. We can see how we contributed to the incident, what other contributory factors were there and only accept that much accountability as necessary.

Otherwise, this will lead to excessive guilt and that is not a healthy thing. Am I saying that one need not feel guilty about what one does? No. Guilt is like a red light on your dashboard. When something is wrong with the engine, a red light comes on to indicate that all is not well. Similarly, guilt is a red light that warns us that we have gone against our ethical order and belief system. So, it is time to examine my actions – either what I have done or what I am planning to do. Then? You are supposed to take care of something. The red light on the dashboard is not there to be permanent. Similarly one need not hold on to the guilt for one’s entire life. However, we don’t say, ‘I did not do anything wrong and brazen it out’ but we take care by what we call in India as prayaschitta, making amends.

A wrong action creates an imbalance. So prayaschitta restores the balance. These range from a simple ‘sorry’ to expressing of regret to resolving to not repeat the action to physical acts by which the injured party feels some relief. This restoring of balance makes one at least relatively free from the guilt and ready to move on with one’s life. Lifelong guilt is not healthy. Not feeling guilty at all for what we have done is also not healthy, which is a symptom of dullened conscience. Some guilt and making amends as soon as we can so that both parties can move forward in their lives is necessary.

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