“One should give up all other processes of self-realization and simply execute devotional service in Krishna consciousness. That will enable one to reach the highest perfection of life. There is no need for one to consider the sinful actions of his past life because the Supreme Lord fully takes charge of him. Therefore one should not futilely try to deliver himself in spiritual realization. Let everyone take shelter of the supreme omnipotent Godhead Krishna. That is the highest perfection of life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 12.6-7 Purport)
Friend1: What do you know about penance?
Friend2: In the religious sense?
Friend1: I think the common implementation is with respect to confession. Basically, you, as the sinner, go up to a person of authority and get everything off your chest.
Friend2: Who is the person of authority?
Friend1: A priest. A higher-up in the official establishment. The process has replicas in other areas, such as student life and corporate structures.
Friend2: How so? Give some examples.
Friend1: A student gets caught cheating on an exam. Perhaps they went against the rules of the school. They finally admit to the wrongdoing in front of someone in charge.
Friend2: What is the punishment?
Friend1: That’s the thing. The person in authority makes the determination. There could be an opportunity for forgiveness. Work off a few hours of community service. Attend a certain class.
Friend2: Maybe move to a different residence hall.
Friend1: You get my drift. In religious circles, the penance might be repeating a prayer a certain number of times.
Friend2: The slate gets wiped clean, after the fact? Is that what you are asking about?
Friend1: Yeah, that is where I was going with this. What are your thoughts on the general practice? Is there any mention in Vedic literature?
Friend2: Oh, for sure. To a painstakingly detailed level, you will find recommended atonement for just about every kind of wrongdoing.
Friend1: Really? Even killing someone?
Friend2: They say that properly worshiping the tulasi plant can erase even the punishment from killing a brahmana. You should not descend so low to begin with. You should not use the potential atonement as an excuse, as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card.
Friend1: But it just shows how important Tulasi Devi is.
Friend2: The goddess of devotion. Worshiping her is getting closer to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He can consume many lifetimes’ worth of sinful reaction, in the way that He consumed the forest fire in Vrindavana.
Friend2: What is?
Friend1: This idea of atonement, which relates to material life, and upasana, which is worshiping God directly.
Friend2: Some people can’t think beyond action and reaction. If they do something bad, they immediately want an answer. They want to know what can be done to avoid the misfortune that is set to fall their way.
Friend1: But if you just worship Tulasi Devi, you will be okay.
Friend2: Because of the relation to Krishna.
Friend1: Then why not go to Krishna from the start? Why worry about atonement?
Friend2: That is the recommendation from His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He says to not worry about the many wrongs we have committed. They are too many to count, anyway. Who knows just how many lifetimes there were in the past?
Friend1: It might be a mountain in volume, if written down.
Friend2: Just surrender to Krishna. Let Him sort everything out. Let Him worry about it. He is not overwhelmed, not even by the weight of the massive earth, which He once lifted from out of the water.
Friend1: In the Varaha incarnation. Okay, but isn’t that formula too simplistic? I don’t have to worry about anything? Just surrender to God the person?
Friend2: Abandon all varieties of dharma, but also agree to not go back to material life, at least in terms of consciousness.
Friend1: That always bugged me. People claim that such and such died for their sins. Okay, if we accept that as truth, what do you do afterwards? You are free and clear, forever?
Friend2: If you go on a strict diet in order to remove a disease from the body, you will be healthy afterwards. But if you repeat the original behavior that led to the mess, the previous treatment will have no bearing.
Friend1: Like using up the bandages in the medicine cabinet. Inflating the flat tire. Spending money for a tow-truck. These work the first time around, but you can always get hurt again.
Friend2: Therefore, surrender to Krishna and stay that way. Work only for His satisfaction. See to His interest first. You can be clear of the many mistakes right now, today. Give up bad association and repeat the holy name, as recommended by the saint who was known as a great servant of Tulasi Devi..
बिगरी जनम अनेक की सुधरै अबहीं आजु |
होहि राम को नाम जपु तुलसी तजि कुसमाजु ||
bigarī janama aneka kī sudharai abahīṃ āju |
hohi rāma ko nāma japu tulasī taji kusamāju ||
“The many past births you spoiled can be rectified right now, today, if you start chanting Shri Rama’s holy name and renounce bad association, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 22)
Countless past births to spoil,
Now again to toil.
Struggling here and there,
Of rescue unaware.
Such that for atonement seeking,
But better way interest meeting.
In that surrender to God now,
And remain steady in vow.