Dharma Assemblies in Lunar July (III): Practicing Repentance at Emperor Liang’s Repentance Eliminates Delusion, Karma, and SufferingThe main purpose of Emperor Liang's Repentance Dharma assembly is to universally deliver sentient beings in the Six Destinies. By worshipping the Buddha, chanting scriptures, and practicing repentance, sentient beings in the six realms of existence can reflect on their karma while chanting repentance liturgy. In addition, they can generate a sense of shameas well as confess and redeem their transgressions, in order to attain liberation from the realms of suffering. Also, in the process of performing repentance prostration, participants can repent the evil karma they and their relatives have created in past lifetimes, reflect on actions of which they are normally unaware in daily life, and examine their possible verbal and mental faults, while aspiring to repent and vowing to change.
According to legend, Empress Chi, wife of Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty, was a very jealous person. At the age of thirty she suddenly died, and, due to strong hatred she harbored during her lifetime, was reborn as a python after death. One night, she appeared in the palace of Emperor Wu to explain to him how she had transformed into a serpent who suffered great physical and mental pain, and begged the Emperor to help her escape the suffering of the animal realm.
After hearing her account, Emperor Wu then asked Chan master Baozhi and others to formulate ten scrolls of repentance text based on essential teachings from Buddhist scriptures, and held a repentance service for Chi. One day shortly thereafter, a person, who turned out to be Empress Chi, suddenly appeared in front of Emperor Wu and thanked him. She then informed him that, thanks to her devout repentance, her sins had been cleansed and she was thus finally able to leave behind her serpent form, attaining a rebirth in the Trayastriṃśa Heaven.
Content of the Ritual
Since the Liang dynasty, the Emperor Liang's Repentance has been a most prevalent repentance rite in Chinese Buddhism for over 1,400 years. Consisting of ten scrolls (chapters), the text explains various karmic retributions and their corresponding transgressions, in addition to illustrating the causes of evil karma, in the hope that sentient beings will no longer create those causes.
The text of Emperor Liang's Repentance pinpoints the faults people can commit and are not easily aware of in their daily lives. By following the words of the text, practitioners can reflect, repent, and remind themselves to always remain mindful without creating the causes of their own suffering. The text also includes the epithets of 1,275 Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, including Maitreya Bodhisattva, Sakyamuni Buddha, and Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. By reciting their epithets, we visualize the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to be witnesses to our sincere repentance and vow to change.
The Dharma assembly of Emperor Liang's Repentance usually lasts anywhere from five to seven days. Prior to its beginning, a ritual must be held to purify the venue by sprinkling holy water and defining the boundary of the space. At the start of each scroll, a hymn must be chanted by singing praise for the Three Jewels, while prostrating to various Buddhas, before moving on to the procedures of repentance and vow-making. The repentance text must be chanted in standing posture, while each chant of the epithets of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is to be followed by a prostration. Therefore, it takes considerable physical strength to go through the whole process. However, as long as we apply the methods of Chan practice, relaxing our body and mind while focusing on our prostrations, we will be able to enjoy peace and stability in body and mind within those seven days.
On the concluding day of the repentance service, some monasteries will arrange the Offerings to Buddhas & Celestial Guardians Dharma Service, the Yogacara Ulka-mukha Dharma Service, and the Dharma assembly for Three-Session Mindfulness of the Buddha. The so-called celestial guardians refer to the twenty-four heavens in the desire realm and the form realm, as well as the four celestial kings, the guardian gods of Buddhism--- that is, the four heavenly kings in the desire realm. In addition to showing gratefulness to the bodhisattvas in various heavens for their protection, we also pray to them to facilitate the Buddha-dharma in order to flourish and bless the world with peace and safety. If we practice the repentance prostration sincerely and earnestly, we will be able to share this merit to our deceased relatives, so that they can also benefit from the Dharma.
Deliverance Service Benefits Both the Living and the Deceased
The Seventh Lunar Month Dharma Assemblies (I): The Ullambana Assembly – Repay Our Parents' Kindness with Merit Transfer
Dharma Assemblies in Lunar July (II): Yogacara Ulka-mukha Dharma Service to Save Hungry Ghosts from Suffering
Dharma Assemblies in Lunar July (III): Practicing Repentance at Emperor Liang’s Repentance Eliminates Delusion, Karma, and Suffering
Q1: Where will our relatives go after death? If they are already reborn, would our prayers for the deceased help them?
Q2: Is it necessary to participate in Dharma assemblies if they are not performed for the deliverance of a deceased relative?
Q3: Why does Buddhism maintain that care and concern for the deceased can be conveyed through Dharma assemblies?
Q4: If we are unable to attend a Dharma assembly at a temple or monastery, can we, alternatively, perform the deliverance ritual at home for our deceased relatives or friends?
Q5: How do we go about dedicating the merit? Can our deceased relatives actually receive the merit that is being dedicated?
Resource: Issue 240 of Humanity Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Editing: Keith Brown, Chiacheng Chang (張家誠)