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Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part LII
by Dr. Jaipal Singh Bookmark and Share

Prayashchitta [Atonement]

Continued from Part LI

Prayashchitta is essentially a Sanskrit word with no exact meaning but terms like atonement, penance or expiation in English are quite close to it, which imply rigor or punishment inflicted upon oneself as an outward expression of repentance for the sin or wrong committed. In Hinduism, it is considered a righteous duty to voluntarily accept own error, misdeed or sin since ancient times and undergo commensurate atonement or expatiation to undo or minimize its karmic consequences. Accordingly, Vedic traditions had prescribed various types of faults, misdeeds and sins along with provision to overcome such eventualities through commensurate resolves and rituals. The atonement or expiation was warranted for both the intentional and unintentional misdeeds. For instance, In Mahabharata era, Emperor Pandu of Kuru dynasty had voluntarily renounced his kingdom and lived as an ascetic with his wives after he unintentionally and erroneously killed Sage Kindama during a hunting session.

The ancient Hindu scriptures and texts extensively talk about the repentance, expiation and atonement and such references are found even in the early Vedic literature. The Illustrative methods for repentance in lieu of both intentional and unintentional errors, misdeeds or sins included voluntarily admitting such acts, austerities, fire sacrifice, fasting, pilgrimage, bathing in sacred waters, praying, giving alms to the poor and needy, including extreme measures such as renouncing wealth and other possessions, adopting ascetic lifestyle, or even up giving up own life for the cause. There is, however, no unanimity or universal approach about which offence will invoke what atonement and the scriptures such as the Manu Smriti, Garuda Purana and Srimad Bhagavad Gita suggest many expiatory remedies to deal with the grave misbehaviour or misdeed, sinful conduct, dereliction of duties, failure of commitments, birth related defects, and so on.

Prayaschitta in Hindu Scriptures

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Sanskrit term Prayaschitta has no exact corresponding word in English; accordingly, different sources have often interpreted and explained it differently. Pandurang Vaman Kane was a notable Indian Indologist, Sanskrit scholar and Bharat Ratna awardee in 1963, whose magnum opus “History of Dharmashastra” won laurels and inspired thousands of knowledge seekers in India and abroad. According to him, Prayaschitta is comprised of two words “Praya” and “Citta” which connote austerity and resolve, respectively. Similarly, another scholar Hemadri corelated the meaning of two words with destruction and joining thereby corelating it to “joining what was destroyed” i.e. making good what was lost. Yet another interpretation is found in Samavidhana Brahmana, which visualises three words pra, ayah and citta and thus joining it to “observances after knowing a certain thing has happened”. In essence, the term implies to actions that destroy our sins or misdeeds.

The term Prayashchitta has been used in the Vedic literature at many places in various contexts. For instance, in Yajurveda Taittiriya Samhita verses 2.1.2.4 and 5.1.9.3, it connotes to an accidental happening or mishap and associated sense of contrition. However, in another Taittiriya Samhita 5.3.12.1, the word Pryachitti appears with the contextual reference of expiation for a sin committed. Also in several places in Brahmana and Aranyaka layers of Vedic texts, as also in different Shastras and Sutras, the mistakes or faults such as those related to ritual procedures like letting the altar fire extinguished, or unintentional breaking a cooking pot, or even an intentional misconduct, and any range of events leading to remorse are categorized under Prayaschitta. The Aranyakas actually reflect the philosophy behind ritual sacrifice in the Vedas and typically constitute the later sections of Vedas among many layers of the Vedic texts. The remaining parts of Vedas include the Samhitas i.e. benedictions or hymns, Brahmanas i.e. commentary, and the Upanishads representing the spiritual and abstract philosophy. Notwithstanding these fine distinctions, there is no absolute distinction among these disciplines in the immense volumes of the ancient Indian Vedic literature.

In yet another Shruti text Mimamsasutra, Prayaschitta has been defined in two categories; one category relates to Prayaschitta that is related to corrective actions as fall out of the neglect or unmindfulness while the other relates to Prayaschitta for not doing what one was expected to or doing what he should have not done. Garuda Purana is one text in which different kinds of sins and misdeeds have been defined along with their worldly and divine punishments as well as atonement (Prayaschitta) procedures. Similarly, Manu Smriti is yet another Hindu text that deals with the then social structure, customs and rituals, various categories of sins and misdeeds that require punishment and atonement. This text is, however, among the controversial treaties in the present context and many punishments and atonement measures provided in it are considered extremely cruel and unreasonable now in the modern age. However, some of these provisions are still considered as valid and applicable, and accordingly included in the extant Hindu Civil Code.

The Srimad Bhagavat Purana is among the oldest and the most valued Hindu text devoted to the glory of Lord Vishnu with many legends and tales of His incarnations, more particularly about the life of Shree Krishna, as well as spiritual knowledge explained in simple manner. This Purana deals with Paap and Prayaschitta at length in several verses. For instance, Srimad Bhagavat (9.9.6) says that “there are methods of Prayaschitta (atonement), but they are inadequate to cleanse one of all sinful reactions. One can be cleansed of sinful reactions only by devotional service, such as stated in regard to the story of Ajamila”. While many scriptures elaborate ways to escape consequences of sinful behaviour and misdeeds, but such measures can’t reform him completely. The permanent solution appears only the complete surrender to God through selfless devotion.

Many legends on Prayaschitta as illustrations of atonement, penance or expiation are mentioned in Hindu Dharmashastras, Epics and Puranas. They, however, do not subscribe to any firm and final theory or practice though the underline spirit and need of atonement for sins or misdeeds committed is same everywhere. For instance, some texts suggest suicide as penance, or death penalty for incest and rape, while others treat it as disproportionate punishment. The penance and atonement for sexual misconduct and adultery varies in different Shastras and Smritis. Similarly, such punishment and atonement for the same offence make distinction between different class of people; for instance, in Manu Smriti, a Brahmin would undergo mild while a Shudra a harsh punishment or penance for any grave misconduct. Obviously, such distinction is considered discriminatory and invalid in present context when the state as well as a large section of society visualises a class-less society. Similarly, opinions vary in regard to inappropriate conduct and commensurate penance or atonement.

Apart from various corporal punishments by the king or other statutory authorities, the Hindu texts emphasize on the inner correction through atonement, penance or expiation. Sins, misdeeds and inappropriate behaviour is linked with the Karma doctrine and reincarnation theory. According to this, the unspent portion of the good and bad deeds in this life is carried forwarded to the next life, and their ill-effects can largely be undone through Prayaschitta. Hindu texts also consider the age and endurance of the erring person for the atonement or penance. For instance, if a minor or juvenile commits an offense or inappropriate conduct, such as drinking alcohol or theft, he is not required to do a penance; instead, the minor’s guardian such as father, elder brother, or some other close family member must perform the penance. The various texts also considerably vary on penances according to age, sins and offences committed by men and women, similar conduct by the juveniles as also the condition of the sinner if one is infirm and ailing, and so on. The quantum of the atonement or penance is increased or decreased depending on these factors.

Legendary Tales as Illustrations of Atonement or Penance

Legend of Pandu: Atonement by the Sinner:

Chakravarti Samrat Pandu was the ruler of the Kuru dynasty in Hastinapur during the Mahabharata era. He was groomed in the fields of archery, politics, administration and religion by none other than Bhishma, one of the greatest warriors of the time. Though he was younger brother but ascended to Hastinapur throne as the elder brother Dhritrashtra was found ineligible owing to his disability of blindness since birth. In a short stint, Samrat Pandu had conquered the states of the Sindhu, Kashi, Anga, Trigarta, Kalinga, Magadha kingdoms, etc., establishing the supremacy of the Kuru empire over a large part of the earth during his time. He had married twice; his first wife was Kunti, the adoptive daughter of Kuntibhoja and daughter of Shurasena (maternal grandfather of Shree Krishna), and the second wife was Madri, the princess of Madra kingdom.

On one occasion, he went for hunting in woods where sage Kindama and his wife were making love to each other. Sighting from a distance, his vision got partially obscured by the dense forest plants and trees, and he mistook the couple for deer. Consequently, his arrow fatally wounded the sage who put a curse on Pandu before dying. As the saintly couple was obstructed and attacked while making love, the sage cursed him that if he will ever approach his wives with an intent of making love, he would instantly die. Samrat Pandu returned to Hastinapur and in repentance, he voluntarily renounced the kingdom to live as ascetic with his wives in woods. Later he met his nemesis on a fateful day when infatuated with the charm of the younger queen Madri, he approached her with an intention to make love.

Legend of Bhagirath: Atonement for Ancestors:

In Hindu mythology, King Sagara of Ikshvaku dynasty (Suryavansha) was a prominent ruler of Vidarbha, who once enquired his guru about the act of the highest virtue in life. His guru told him that performing a Kanyadan (donation of a maiden) was the virtuous act of highest order, so he decided to carry out austerities to beget 60 thousand daughters. Fearing for his own throne, the king of Devas, Indra resolved to sabotage King Sagara’s mission and with the assistance of goddess Saraswati, he succeeded in his plan of the latter getting 60 thousand sons instead. In subsequent years, King Sagara performed an Ashwamedha yajna as per the traditions of the Chakravarti kings those days. The standard practice those days that the detaining of the horse would be considered a challenge and the two rivals would fight to finish for the supremacy. Indra once again played trick by stealing the horse and leaving it loose at the ashram of sage Kapila, who was in deep meditation.

As King Sagara’s sons were in-charge of the security of the horse and following it, they traced it in the sage Kapila’s Ashram and concluded that the sage had stolen it. When the sons were about to attack the sage, he opened his wrathful eyes and the fire transmitted thus immediately burnt all the 60 thousand sons to ashes. Generations later, the great grandson of Sagara, King Bhagirath learned the sad saga of his forefathers and decided to do penance for their Moksha. On the advice of his guru, King Bhagirath transferred his kingly duties to his prime minister and went to higher Himalayas for the austerities. After the years of penance, goddess Ganga agreed to release his forefathers from the curse of sage Kapila by descending down to earthly plains to fill dried ocean where the ashes of the Sagara’s sons were lying. As the mighty force of the descending river Ganges was difficult to be directly sustain by earth, Bhagirath again did penance to please Lord Shiva, who agreed to receive Ganga for a harmless flow of the mighty river. To commemorate King Bhagirath’s mighty efforts, even today the main stream of the river is called Bhagirathi till Devprayag where it meets another stream of Alaknanda river.

The Bhagavad Gita and Prayaschitta

In Bhagawad Gita, we find many verses explaining how the sins and impurities of the body and mind can be removed paving way for the liberation. One path of accomplishing this to realize the truth about the soul and God with the help of an accomplished guru or spiritual master. Thus, realized transcendental knowledge has enough potential to remove sins and impurities and any further atonement is not required.

Tad viddhi pranipatena pariprashnena sevaya,
Upadekshyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darshinah.


(Learn the Truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him with reverence and render service unto him. Such an enlightened Saint can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the Truth.) (BG: Chapter 4, Verse 34)

Shree Krishna says that the truth of the universe can be realized with the guidance of the spiritual master, by this term he means an accomplished guru or God-realized saint. Such souls could be of tremendous help because they have already experienced the Truth. This is also with the grace of God that a person encounters with such a spiritual master during his quest but the transfer of spiritual knowledge from the able guru to the learner is not that simple and needs unqualified surrender and commitment towards the guide and knowledge. He further elaborates the significance of true knowledge in the following verses.

Api ched asi papebhyah sarvebhyah papa-krit-tamah,
Sarvam jnana-plavenaiva vrijinam santarishyasi.


Yathaidhansi samiddho ’gnir bhasma-sat kurute ’rjuna,
Jnanagnih sarva-karmani bhasma-sat kurute tatha.


(Even those who are considered the most immoral of all sinners can cross over this ocean of material existence by seating themselves in the boat of divine knowledge. As a kindled fire reduces wood to ashes, O Arjun, so does the fire of knowledge burn to ashes all reactions from material activities.) (BG: Chapter 4, Verse 36, 37)

The other path of getting rid of sins and impurities in life is to surrender to God through Bhakti (devotion). In his discourse to Prince Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, Shree Krishna reveals own true identity at one stage and asks him to take refuge in Him to get emancipated from all sins. In essence, Shree Krishna reveals the power and potential of the true knowledge and devotion; it is obvious that once the person knows the true nature of God and own relationship with Him, he would voluntarily renounce sinful activities and impurities in life.

Api chet su-duracharo bhajate mam ananya-bhak,
Sadhur eva sa mantavyah samyag vyavasito hi sah.


Kshipram bhavati dharmatma shashvach-chhantim nigachchhati,
Kaunteya pratijanihi na me bhaktah pranashyati.


(Even if the vilest sinners worship Me with exclusive devotion, they are to be considered righteous, for they have made the proper resolve. Quickly they become virtuous, and attain lasting peace. O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that no devotee of Mine is ever lost.) (BG: Chapter 9, Verse 30, 31)

In the aforesaid verses, Shree Krishna goes to the extent of saying that even the most unrighteous people can turn into virtuous ones and achieve eternal peace and bliss through devotion and surrender to God. Hindu Epic Mahabharata and Puranas have several legends and illustrations such as those of Valmiki and Ajamila who had sinful life but became dear to God through devotion and merely unintentionally calling His name with genuine affection. The true devotees never fail or fall again in life due to God’s grace because their hearts are cleansed and minds have developed saintly virtues. That the God never fails His devotee could be understood from an illustration from the Kurushetra itself where the knowledge of Gita was revealed by Him to Prince Arjuna.

Bhishma was a warrior of exemplary skill and fortitude as also a true Krishna devotee. Shree Krishna had resolved that He would not pick up weapons to take any side during the Mahabharat war. Under the extreme complaint of bias and provocation from Duryodhana, when Bhishma took a pledge that he would either kill Arjuna by the end of the day in the following day’s war or compel Krishna to lift weapons to protect him and he indeed became unstoppable by Arjuna and any other warrior that day, Shree Krishna broke His own resolve by picking up “Sudarshan Chakra” to honour the pledge made by Bhishma. Towards the end His discourse, Shree Krishna again reiterates the need of the person’s surrender to God to stay away and get absolved from the sinful life.

Sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja,
Aham tvam sarva-papebhyo mokshayishyami ma shuchah.


(Abandon all varieties of dharmas and simply surrender unto me alone. I shall liberate you from all sinful reactions; do not fear.) (BG: Chapter 18, Verse 66)

 

Practices Associated with Prayaschitta

Hindu Dharmasastras list out different types of atonement or penance, of which important ones are briefly explained as follows:

1. Abhishasta (Public Confession):

Though the tradition of seeking forgiveness for the sin or misdeed is an ancient tradition in Hinduism but the act of confession is not as structured or mandatory as in Christianity. The person who commits sin or grave misconduct may make a public confession (Abhishasta) before the jury/judge, king, minister, relatives or any other person(s) of repute. He might also directly seek forgiveness from God by confessing his (or her) intentional or unintentional sins or offences. This tradition of humble repentance is in vogue in Hinduism since Vedic period and the presence of several hymns even in the oldest Hindu scripture Rigveda as prayer to Varuna deity vindicate this position.

2. Anutapa (Repentance):

A person who realizes his sin or misdeed constantly ponders over the evil-doing in abhorable manner and takes resolve never to repeat it again. In Vedic tradition, atonement or expiation is prescribed mostly to overcome the defects or errors in performing Vedic rituals, while various Dharmashastras and Sutras insist for the atonement in lieu of the sin incurred following various offenses and inappropriate conduct. Such sins and offenses could be intentional or unintentional but there is unanimity that such deeds need atonement. However, there is no agreement on the methods of such atonement and different text often vary in their interpretation of offence and remedy thereagainst. For instance, for the mistakes or faults committed during the Vedic sacrifice of the nature described earlier, it may be expressed by the head priest or Brahmin carrying out the ritual usually at the end. However, such mistakes committed in elaborate sacrificial ceremonies may be rectified through ritualistic atonement separately carried out later on. The texts like Garuda Purana and Manu Smriti suggest many expiatory remedies to address sinful behaviour, grave misconduct, birth related defects, dereliction of duty, failure to keep commitment, and so on.

3. Tapah (Austerity):

There was a tradition in Hinduism to do Tapah which is loosely translated as austerity involving rigorous discipline, with an objective of carrying out atonement or penance for the sin or misdeed done in the past or even to achieve some specific objective be pleasing gods. Tapah usually involved activities like sustained fasting, austere living, extreme practice of silence and concentration, self-control, celibacy, virtuous conduct, nonviolence, truthfulness, and so on. In some cases, this generated intense heat that burnt out impurities of the body and mind and, in turn, generated medha (mental brilliance) and tejas (body vigor). Tapah is also believed to transform the sexual energy into spiritual energy that helped to achieve high moral values. Tapah continued as standard practice through the Vedic age and later too till the evolution of the yogic philosophy and practices to cleanse the body and mind or even achieve specific objective. The legend of King Bhagirath, as briefly stated earlier, of carrying the River Ganges from mighty Himalayas to Ocean is an extreme example of Tapah.

4. Homa (Fire Sacrifice):

The Vedic era people used to frequently resort to fire sacrifice, associated rituals and other sacrifices to overcome faults and impurities, including those that may arise from the illness and diseases, person’s birth, relationships, actions, accumulated karma, vastu defects, place or direction related issues, fall out of the negligence of duty, in appropriate behaviour, effect of evil people and practices, and a range of other issues. Fire sacrifice with associated Vedic hymns or mantras may have many objectives such as to invoke divine intervention, healing and restoration purpose, or simply expiatory in nature. People of Vedic period had tremendous faith in fire sacrifice and such other sacrifices that they believed was essential for their own, family and society’s prosperity and well-being. These sacrifices continued through the post-Vedic period and are practiced even today in almost every Hindu household on specific occasions for specific purpose. The fire in the sacrificial ritual is considered an essential sacred purifier and the erstwhile Vedic practices in the name of Yajna, Homa and Agnihotra have been continued in Hinduism till date to overcome sin, suffering, faults and adversities.

5. Japa (Prayers and Mantras):

The Vedas and other Hindu texts carry many prayers and invocations associated with different occasions and contingencies. Vedic prayers and mantras are considered to have been scientifically evolved by scholarly Rishis of the ancient times with specific objective and effects in mind. When such prayers and mantras are chanted in unison by the learned priests or even individually in all sincerity and attention, they produce powerful vibrations and impact around leading to purification of everything that comes in range. Although Hindu scriptures have produced hundreds of hymns and mantras to please natural deities and gods on different occasions and for different purposes, certain mantras such as the Gayatri, the Panchakshari or even syllable "Aum" are most used in worship and prayers by Hindus. Some of the others as also  more popular and powerful mantras and prayers are the Mahamritynjaya Mantra, and those related to Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, Goddess Shakti and Ganesha. Hindus chant these mantras and prayers with the belief that they have the power to remove impurities and sins from their lives.

6. Dana (Donation and Charity):

The Vedic age was essentially based on agrarian economy and, accordingly, giving away gifts and donation in the forms of land, cow, horse, goat, food, clothes, etc. to the Brahmins and needy was considered as pious duty of householders. While donation was considered pious and was essential part of the rituals and spiritual practices since ancient times, charity was also considered as one of the means of balancing and liquidating sins and inappropriate behaviour of the past. In fact, the scriptures provided the householders of the upper class an obligation to carry out five daily sacrifices by offering food to gods, ancestors, seers and sages, needy humans and other creatures. Such Vedic practices are still followed by many devout householders fully or partially. Manu Smriti provided it obligatory for every Kshatriya and Vaishyas to offer sacrifices and charity to deserving subjects. It also listed the articles like gold, silver, cow, food grains, coinage, land and water for the construction and maintenance of temples as a charity measure.

7. Vrata or Upvasa (Fasting):

Hindu Dharmashastras consider Upvasa as one of the important means of Prayaschitta; the person practicing fasting either does not take any food for the given period or restricts diet by eating bland foods or only a small quantity as a reminder of penance or rigor. Ordinarily, Vrata or Upvasa are used in the same sense yet there is a fine distinction between the two. For instance, the Vrata is observed on certain auspicious occasions such as days earmarked for the deities, other auspicious occasions in a month or year, such as festivals like Durga Pooja, and so on, with or without certain resolve or vows in mind. On the other hand, the Upvasa is often associated with the penance to remove impurity or ill-effect caused by some misdeed or inappropriate behaviour. The author has practically observed this in own household as his grandmother used to observe Upvasa and silence for the day or even more whenever she felt that she was unduly harsh with anybody or committed some wrong. The concept of vratas find mention even in the age of Rigveda, with self-imposed restrictions on food and behavior, and in some cases vow too. Thus the motivation for the observance of fasting comes from many factors, which could be simply the devotion to a deity in mind, purification and spiritual growth, expiation for some inappropriate behaviour or misdeed committed, and so on. In many cases, the fasting may also be associated with other rituals like feeding of Brahmins, children or poor, prayers before the deity, meditation, burning incense sticks, homa, and so on.

8. Tirtha Yatra (Pilgrimages):

Going on pilgrimage to holy places has been a very old Indian tradition for devotion, to earn virtues in life as also for the atonement purpose. In the ancient past, pilgrimage on foot was the most common mode to visit temples and other holy sites, take holy bath in the associated kund (reservoir) or river stream and do charity work to Brahmins, disabled and poor people. Piulgrimage is still very common in Hinduism but a lot of comfort and transport facilities have been added to it with the changing times though some devout Hindus still prefer the ancient rigorous mode of pilgrimage. Hindu Puranas and Epic Mahabharata put a lot of emphasis on Tirth Yatras, and many of them have dedicated large sections in their text on the description and glorification of pilgrimage with legends and illustrations. The Skanda Purana, Srimad Bhagavat Purana, Padma Purana, Shiva Purana, Narada Purana, Vayu Purana, Kurma Purana and Bhavishya Purana are the ones that lay a lot of emphasis on pilgrimage and its values and virtues. In the ancient India, and even now, pilgrimage was considered as a common and simpler way of redemption from sins and misdeeds incurred in the past irrespective of the class and gender of people. Shashtras usually prescribe that expiation of minor sins (Anupatakas) and misdeeds is possible through pilgrimage while special efforts and rituals are required for the major ones (Mahapatakas). Similarly, they also insist that the preferred mode of travel is on foot, use of conveyance shall be avoided as for as feasible, and certain essential austerities shall be observed while on pilgrimage.

9. Other Miscellaneous Practices:

Hinduism is often found associated with an elaborate Karmakanda (rituals) in its socio-cultural and religious traditions; consequently, the Western people, particularly followers of two Abrahamic religions Christianity and Islam, often criticise and even ridicule Hindus for the said blind faith and superstitions. However, if such practices are analysed and evaluated in the context of its scriptural knowledge, the majority of such practices are found validated with sustainable logic and rationale. There is no doubt that the correct reformatory knowledge and its sincere practice has enough potential to transform the lives of people and remove their impurities and sins. Such knowledge can come to person who regularly studies and recites scriptures under the guidance of competent guru or teacher. Hindu scriptures such Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras contain detailed practices and rituals with illustrations that can transform the lives with self-purification, if followed properly. For instance, yogic exercises, Pranayama and medition, which are outrightly refused or negated by many followers of the Abrahamic religions, particularly Islam, are in reality a complete package with a potential to transform the physical and mental health of the practitioners.

Apart from the Prayaschitta practices detailed in the forgoing paragraphs, many other rituals such as bathing in sacred rivers and holy water reservoirs, Yoga and meditation, blessings of guru and saints, renunciation of worldly pleasures and wealth, etc., are also considered as means of atonement for the past misdeeds as well as self spiritual growth. Many places of pilgrimage and sacred temples are situated on the banks of the holy rivers such as the Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, Godavari and Kshipra and it is generally believed that taking bath in the holy rivers, particularly Ganga, removes all sins and impurities. In fact, many Hindu families observe the practice of putting “Ganga Jal” in the mouth of the dying member of the family with the belief that it may clear the person's path of liberation. Yogic exercises, Pranayama and meditation have been prescribed as important practices for the atonement and removal of impurities of the body and mind. Sage Patanjali’s yogic practices and Bhagavad Gita’s Karma, Jnan and Bhakti Yogas are considered potent methods and means of getting rid of impurities, pave the path of liberation and union of Self (the soul) with the Supreme Self (Brahman, God). In Hinduism, the self-realized guru and saints are considered mandatory guides to follow correct path and save followers from sins and impurities. Notwithstanding various prescribed means and methods, the person’s own virtuous conduct is the best remedy to stay away from the sinful conduct and subsequent need of repentance and atonement.

Postscript

The system of atonement in lieu of sins committed is in vogue in almost all cultures and religions of the world but the term Prayashchitta in Hinduism carries a much larger canvas with varied interpretations, implications and remedies as revealed in the foregoing paragraphs.

However, in the context of atonement for the inappropriate behaviour and misdeeds, the following pearls of wisdom from the Baudhayana Dharmasutra (2.1.17) appear so logical and commensurate:

A man who raises his hand
     should perform an arduous penance,
If he strikes,
     he should perform the very arduous penance,
And if he draws blood,
     he should perform both arduous and exemplary penance;
Therefore,
     a man should neither raise his hand nor draw blood.


And the ultimate remedy of getting rid of all sins and impurities in life is to surrender to God through devotion as advised in the Bhagavad Gita, which is also a path of identifying Self with Supreme Self, and thereby liberation.

Continued to Part LIII 
  

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08-Aug-2020
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