Remorse (mental element 22, Rm)
Remorse is the regret that arises after doing wrong or neglecting to do right. It is the repentance related to that. It is the state of worrying about past deeds and inactions. It also manifests as worry or sorrow when we have performed regrettable actions. Despite common belief, remorse is a strictly unwholesome mental phenomenon.
It is not important or necessary to repent if we do something wrong. It is not wholesome to be remorseful or regretful, because such mental states always generate sorrow and worry. States of remorse, regret, repentance, or guilt aren’t wholesome because they always distress consciousness and tend to make an already bad situation worse. Moreover, remorse actually enslaves the mind in debate about wrongdoing and right doing. Any meditator can understand this by becoming mindful of unpleasant mental feelings that arise due to remorse.
Instead of remorse, it is better to use meditativity and abstinence to refrain from repeating a bad past action. Instead of becoming remorseful about a mistake you’ve committed, it is better to evaluate the situation to understand what caused it and what effects came out of it. Instead of feeling guilty, it is better to embrace the understanding of cause and effect so you may learn from the understanding and train yourself to abstain from repeating the mistake.
If we get angry with someone or hurt someone’s feelings, it is not wise to feel guilty, because it makes us even angrier (about ourselves). It neither makes us feel good, nor does it alleviate the suffering of the other person. This does not mean we should not even say we’re sorry. What I mean is that instead of feeling guilty, we should not only observe our feelings but also understand other’s feelings during and after the incidence. We should aim to realize the unpleasant nature of feelings and understand that they were caused by bad actions. We should then avoid similar bad actions in the present and future. If we develop guilt, it can overpower the mind and may result in us physically harming ourselves. It can also render us helpless at the time when others, those who have been hurt by us, need us most.
A mild version of remorse is worrying. It means worrying about doing something wrong, not doing something, or not finishing. Worrying, in general, is unwholesome, because the inherent nature of worry is to generate more worries.
You may be questioning, “Doesn’t worrying help us to get off our butts and do something?” No. Worrying never generates wholesome energy or a useful sense of urgency. Worry is a survival mechanism that causes us to take action in ways that are never profitable because they do not arise out of a happy, tranquil state of mind.
Worrying in any degree must be avoided and eradicated by becoming aware of it, not reacting, and by wisely attending to it. Whenever we feel worried, we must abandon everything we are doing, meditate for a few moments, and become tranquil. Once coolness and peacefulness arise out of tranquility, we should then start dealing with the situation as it is.
Under all circumstances, we should not allow remorse, guilt, and worry to arise in the mind. At a subtle level, they strengthen our sense of separate self and reinforce the ego. We should understand errors, mistakes, blunders, screw-ups, and so on, simply as unwholesome physical-mental phenomena that need to be exterminated.