John the Baptist started his homilies with preaching the necessity of purifying oneself through repentance (Matt 3:2,6). It was rather new for his audience: at that time, Jews had a very peculiar form of “liberation from sins”. Once a year at the Easter time, they symbolically would shift their sins into lambs, then kill these lambs-“sinners” — as an “offering to God” and eat their dead bodies. Obviously, this kind of absurdity only increased their sinfulness in the eyes of God.
No, one’s sins cannot be shifted to anyone. One can wash them away only with one’s own sincere repentance.
It is repentance followed by an intellectual self-analysis that is the main purifier of the soul.
God always “shepherds” us as His “flock of sheep” (Jesus often used this allegory) on the “pastures” of the Earth. He wants to make us perfect, so that we become worthy of enriching Him. This constitutes His Life, it is with this purpose that He creates material worlds. And He will never leave us, no matter if we want to know about Him or not, if we love Him or not, if we strive to become perfect and merge into Him or not.
Getting closer to Him through efforts on self-perfection brings true bliss to the seeker. Particularly “pungent” are the first contacts with the Divine Consciousness. Then, longer and longer periods of Mergence with It bring the Highest Bliss. These are the greatest rewards for our achievements on the spiritual Path!
But if we do not obey His Will, if we go in the opposite direction, we doom ourselves to suffering. This suffering is the “reward” for disobedience.
And the first thing we can do to save ourselves from suffering is to repent.
Neophytes in religion (to whom God is not Living Reality, but some abstract entity) quite naturally may ask: how should we repent?
Some people believe that one can repent only to a priest. And it is only through a priest that one can get a “remission of sins”.
But the truth is that there is no “remission of sins” whatsoever. It is a wrong approach to the problem. The problem of repentance must be considered more seriously — it is not how to beg forgiveness, but how to get rid of vices. Consequently, the mechanism of repentance must be different. The religious ritual mentioned above is suitable only for children, beginners, and weak-minded adults.
In some Protestant Churches, the penitential work is organized much better. After the necessary preparation, believers repent before Living God, without intermediaries. The solemnity of the situation and support of the congregation contribute to the intensity of the emotion of repentance.
But not all people can come to such communities or to truly wise spiritual counselors, who can explain what one must repent of and how. Therefore, let us discuss the basic scheme of penitential work.
First, one has to gain an understanding of the fundamental matters of religious philosophy: what is God, what is the Evolution, what is the meaning of life. Then it becomes clear why we have to work on ourselves, what ideal we have to aspire to, what qualities we have to cultivate in ourselves and what qualities to get rid of, what is really a vice and what is only considered as a vice by people but not by God. For this purpose, it is good to begin with studying the words of Jesus and learning to distinguish Jesus‘ Teachings from what people have fantasized on the subject of Christianity. “… Learn from Me!…” (Matt 11:29), said Jesus.
Sometimes one may hear the statement that the “10 commandments” given by God to people through Moses are the “commandments of Jesus Christ”. If you come across such preachers, stay away from them: they have understood absolutely nothing, but try to teach others. In reality Jesus Christ gave Teachings about God and about the Path to Him which are much more profound than the whole Old Testament. They consist of tens of precepts-commandments.
And one more thing: if we think that we are good as we are and that there is no reason to change ourselves, then we are so far from the real spiritual work that we do not have even a slightest idea about its purpose. Because everyone — from beginners up to highly advanced adepts — can find in the Teachings of Jesus Christ possibilities for self-improvement.
Now let us discuss self-analysis. What people call sins is not the main point. Sins are but manifestations of our vices — features of the character, qualities of the soul. Sins help in recognizing vices, but it is vices that one has to struggle against, not sins. And this is not a one-day job… To remodel oneself — i.e. to remodel the soul by cleansing it of bad qualities and instilling good ones into it requires years of arduous efforts.
In order to discern better a particular vice in oneself, it can be useful to trace all manifestations of this vice which occurred in the past — all sins of this line starting from childhood. And when this work is done, God may give us a chance to look into past lives in order to see the vice’s roots originating there.
The process of revealing vices and recalling specific sins must be accompanied by sincere emotional remorse.
But if in this process you suffer emotionally from self-pity because of the future retribution, then you are on a wrong way.
We have to feel compassion not for ourselves but for our victims — all those whom we made suffer physically or emotionally. And then we have to re-experience mentally each situation anew, but this time correctly.
If it is possible to redress the wrong in some way — even partly — we must certainly do it. If we ask forgiveness from God but ignore an existing possibility to redress the misdeed, we cannot expect a positive result: such repentance does not look sincere.
There can be no substitute for penitential work. The belief that one can get rid of vices through practicing meditation and various “cathartic” techniques is erroneous. Even if one was provided with an opportunity to enter the eons of the Holy Spirit or even to experience the Embrace of the Creator, this does not burn one’s vices away. They remain and keep manifesting themselves. This statement is not a hypothesis but reality.
Therefore, I advise you to stay away from such “novations” as the method of “shouting out” vices (it implies that all one needs to do is just to yell loudly, coarsely, and for a long time, in a company of associates, best of all), and from such “dubious” tricks of “getting rid of vices” as the following invention of a Russian “pastor” (before the Perestroika he was an instructor in a regional Communist Party committee), he preached: “Kill spiders! You will have 40 sins remitted for each spider you kill!” It is best to stay away from such fools, in order not to become “blind men led by a blind guide” (Matt 15:14).
… As a conclusion of this and previous chapters, let me repeat the main points:
People go to hell not as a result of some misdeeds, but because they accustomed themselves to living in hellish states of the consciousness during their earthly lives. And misdeeds violating the principle of non-causing unnecessary harm to other living beings predetermine the earthly hell.
The first and essential method of saving oneself from future hell is repentance — tracing in oneself all vices that cause ethical mistakes (sins) followed by the feeling of remorse; the basis of repentance is empathy with the victims of one’s own sinful behavior.
The true purpose of repentance is not to beg forgiveness for oneself but to get rid of vices.
The second direction of initial spiritual work is the refinement of the consciousness. It starts with the correction of the emotional sphere: refraining from coarse negative emotions and cultivating subtle positive ones, as well as accustoming oneself to paradisiacal states of the consciousness instead of hellish ones.