Every full moon the monks of Menri Monastery gather together to perform the shakpa practice. The next full moon corresponds with January 17, 2022 on the Western calendar. The practice of shakpa is one of the skillful methods to purify negative karma and is of great importance within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition. The Tibetan term “shakpa” is often translated as confession. However, this only describes one part of the practice. It does indeed involve an admission of wrongdoing, but the reason for performing this practice is for the subsequent purification of negative karma.
The doubtless result of our positive and negative actions of body, speech, and mind is taught as one of the four foundational practices that prepare the mind-stream for further spiritual development. (For more about these four foundational practices, follow this link to a previous article: https://ravencypresswood.com/2016/01/09/the-four-realizations-that-reverse-the-mind/ ) Our actions are like the seed of a plant that naturally ripens into the corresponding fruit when it meets with the proper secondary conditions. Similarly, negative actions bring future negative results and positive actions bring future positive results. As stated by the modern-day saint Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche:
“In general, whatever happiness or suffering is experienced, all of it is according to previous actions. For example, when a plant emerges from the ground, the fruit will ripen into whatever was planted in the autumn. Whatever actions you have done previously, will ripen into the correct result. Whatever wrongdoing that has been done, will arise as a ripened future result. Suffering and misery from unpurified karma will arise even though it is unwanted.”— Excerpt from an untitled poem composed by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche and included in his volume of works entitled Advice and Hagiographies of the A Tri Lineage Lamas
Throughout our countless previous lifetimes we have accumulated an unimaginable amount of karma. This will ripen into its corresponding result whenever secondary conditions arise. Therefore, when problems and suffering occur, rather than looking outside for a cause upon which to place blame, the Bönpo practitioner understands that suffering arises as a result of one’s own previous negative actions. The result of negative karma is not only suffering, but also the obstruction of wisdom and realization. Again from Shardza Rinpoche from his advice regarding the practice of confession,
“If the dirt on a mirror is not cleaned, you will be unable to see your own face. In the same way, the natural state will not appear due obscurations and wrongdoing.
When not produced within the mental continuum of the natural state of emptiness, cyclic existence and karma are utterly liberated and do not exist. Therefore, the realization reflected from the mirror of the base-of-all appears. Because of that, it is necessary to strive to purify the previously accumulated defilements and obscurations. It is of great importance.”
Regardless of whether someone practices sutra, tantra, or dzogchen, or is a renunciant, a lay practitioner, or a householder, the practice of shakpa is important in order to develop spiritually and to experience wisdom and realization. The practice of shakpa involves four powers. When each of these powers are present, the practice is profound and effective. The four powers are: (1) the power of the exalted witness, (2) the power of openly admitting wrongdoing, (3) the power of feeling strong, heartfelt remorse, and (4) the power of promising to not repeat the actions of wrongdoing.
For the power of witness, the practitioner goes before a sacred object of refuge such as a shrine, a real or visualized image of an enlightened being, or a chorten. Then, the practitioner connects with the actual presence of the enlightened beings in the sky before them. For the second power which is the admission of wrongdoing, the practitioner brings into their awareness all wrongdoing and non-virtue of body, speech and mind that have been committed in this life, as well as any unremembered activities from this and previous lifetimes. This includes activities of direct or indirect involvement, and encouraging or celebrating the wrongdoing of others. For the third power, the practitioner generates an intense remorse for all of these actions understanding that they have brought harm to others and can only harm one’s self. For the fourth power, the practitioner makes a firm commitment to not repeat these activities in the future and to instead engage in positive activities of virtue and loving kindness. In this way, the negative karma is purified and can no longer ripen into a negative result. At the conclusion of the practice, the practitioner imagines and feels the blessings of the enlightened beings completely purifying them in the form of pure, wisdom light.
There are many prayers of confession. Below is an excerpt from Purifying Remorse and Confession which is attributed to Metön Sherap Özer and uses the visualization of Tritsuk Gyalwa as the central deity who is surrounded by his retinue that fills all of space. As a gift to the worldwide Yungdrung Bön sangha, the complete version of the translated prayer can be viewed and downloaded by clicking the Publications tab at the top of this page and scrolling to the bottom of the page.
“Venerable lama, before your eyes, I openly admit and confess to having had only a small amount of devotion and respect.
Gathering of yidam deities, before your eyes, I confess to accepting and rejecting incorrect things.
Mother and sister khandro, before your eyes, I confess to not properly guarding my commitments.
Bön religious guardians, before your eyes, I confess to not making regular monthly and yearly offerings in the past.
Spiritual brothers and sisters, before your eyes, I confess to having only a small amount of respect and pure vision.”
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What a beautiful and needed practice! Thank you, Raven, for sharing it with us!