Perhaps we still don’t appreciate just how much negative karma remains on our mind from our previous lives. Perhaps we even look back over this life and think “I haven’t been that bad.”
The heart of purification is admitting our negativity. If for whatever reason we can’t honestly admit it, our purification practice will lack sincerity and power. We may superficially appear to be engaging in purification, but we won’t actually be cleaning up the karma on our mind. If we don’t actually admit our actions are negative, we won’t regret them nor their karmic consequences, instead we will rationalize why they are not so bad. If we don’t admit our actions were mistaken, we will have no real desire to change our ways. If we don’t wish to change, then our turning to the three jewels will lack any real meaning or purpose.
When we engage in purification, it is generally more powerful if we have some specific negativity in mind. It is true we can engage in generalized purification, but there is a tendency for this type of purification practice to become quite abstract. But when we have a specific type of negative karma in mind, such as purifying all of the wrong views that prevent us from realizing we are bound for the lower realms if we don’t change our ways and purify our negative karma, then our purification practice becomes much more qualified and “real.”
One question we can ask ourselves is what exactly are we purifying? If we don’t have something specific in mind, we won’t be purifying. In particular we need to look at our vows: for example with respect to our Pratimoksha, Bodhisattva, and Tantric vows, we can go through all of our vows and ask ourselves honestly, “have I done anything wrong with respect to these?” If we’re honest, we incur downfalls every single day of our life. The truly amazing thing is we don’t even see it. We tell ourselves, “I’m doing my best as a Bodhisattva”, but we use this as an excuse for doing nothing. We need to check, how important do we feel it is not to incur a downfall? We need to ask ourselves when we do go against our vows, what specific karma is placed in the mind? What will the results of these actions be? We need to examine carefully why we haven’t even looked at what the downfalls are or made any plans to avoid them? Is it that we don’t want to look because we don’t want to change? Is it because it requires changing our behavior? Now is the time to really check how we feel about these things.
(2.47) Therefore, from today I go for refuge
To the Conqueror Buddhas who protect living beings,
Who seek to give refuge to all living beings,
And who, with their great strength, eradicate all fear.
Buddhas can help us with our purification practice in two main ways. First, their powerful blessings function like a drop of soap dropped into a greasy pool of liquid, the grease is immediately dispelled. Their blessings effectively neutralize the negative karma on our mind, disarming the karmic bombs we carry with us wherever we go. Christians believe if they generate faith in Christ they will be saved from their sins. How exactly does this work? Each enlightened being has a “specialization,” where their blessings specifically function to help living beings in a particular way. When people generate faith in Christ, for example, their mind opens up to receive his blessings. His “special blessings” function to “take” the negative karma on our mind and have it ripen upon him in the form of his sufferings leading up to and including his crucifixion on the cross. Christians understand his suffering on the cross is his having taken the consequences of our sins upon himself. Understanding this karmic mechanism, we can say with confidence that Christian practices do indeed work. In exactly the same way, the special blessings of Vajrasattva and the 35 Confession Buddhas likewise help us purify our negative karma through our generating faith in them.
The second way Buddha’s help with our purification practice is by helping us change our ways. It is good to engage in purification practices, but such practices alone are not good enough if they are not accompanied with the power of the promise to change our negative ways. We should not be like Don Corleone in the Godfather who confesses in Church while his hit men kill his enemies. We should not be like the smoker who promises to quit, only to start up again the next day. Buddhas can also give us the strength and wisdom to change.