Penance

Discussion in 'Comparative Studies' started by Senthil, May 13, 2015.

  1. Senthil

    Senthil Active Member

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    In certain branches of Hinduism, we do penance. There are roughly 3 main reasons, and the penances are many varied.

    Reason 1) atonement ... a soul recognises they did something wrong, and they want to make up for it ... take on the karma of it immediately or soon
    Reason 2) clearing the way ... intuition says something heavy is coming your way, so you pre-pay, and pray that obstacles are cleared
    Reason 3) the soul wants something so plays 'let's make a deal' making a vow to perform a particular penance, if whatever they want comes to fruition. Health of a relative is common.

    Penances ... silence vows, prostrations, walking yathras, fasting, (there are many definitions for it, from absolutely nothing to abstaining from certain foods only, or certain times) extra japa, firewalking, kavadi (google it) , and more. It's up to the individual what they decide to do, but there is always a sense of building character, building self-discipline, strengthening willpower.

    I'd be interested in penances, if any, from other religions. Thanks.
     
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  2. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Hi Senthil –

    In traditional Christianity, penance devolves from the Sacrament of Confession, or as it's called today, Reconciliation. The Sacrament itself is seen as a healing and restorative action.

    I would say with almost absolute certainty that the primary practice of penance is prayer.

    As the Christian Tradition is an holistic one, there would be a 'physical' as well as 'spiritual' counterpart. The postures of prayer would suffice in the first instance, but this can be extended to ascetic practices, such as periods of self-denial and so forth. Fasting, for example, goes back into the Biblical past. This can go on from there almost infinitely, to restorative actions, such as ensuring one's health, to works within the wider community for the benefit of all.

    The practice of 'sackcloth and ashes' as a sign of repentance goes back as far as the Book of Genesis. I know both my mum and dad can remember times when such was done, but I've never experienced that myself.

    In the Middle Ages the Church in Europe got quite inventive with forms of penance, and some took spiritual disciplines through to physical extremes, some of which we look on today as questionable, perhaps unhealthy, if not actually injurious!

    In the East there was a particular form fashionable for a while, the stylites. Again, this can be seen as asceticism taken to an extreme.

    I would say the first 'reason' you cite is common to the Christian Tradition. The second and third I recognise, but I'm not so sure we would view them in a penitential context, but then again in any endeavour, as you say, 'clearing the ground' is always a good first step.

    On your last point I would agree that any 'reasonable' ascetic practice is character-building and good for the soul. Where one draws the line at reasonable is, I suppose, a matter of individual determination, but I think there are, at any given moment in time, acceptable guidelines.
     
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  3. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    Our state laws are modeled after this eh? Prison (fasting from society), fines, community service...
     
  4. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Perhaps...but one's debt to society is *never* fully paid.
     
  5. A Cup Of Tea

    A Cup Of Tea An ordinary cup of tea

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    Penitence or punishment? Wouldn't the difference be if it voluntary or not?
     
  6. Namaste Jesus

    Namaste Jesus Praise the Lord and Enjoy the Chai Staff Member

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    Bullseye Tea. Penance is indeed self-imposed. Think atonement.
     
  7. Senthil

    Senthil Active Member

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    Indeed, that difference is important. Occasionally in Hinduism a Guru might suggest a penance for a sishya (close follower) but even then by the nature of that relationship, the devotee has given a more or less blanket permission to the Guru to assign sadhanas etc. Of course the devotee wouldn't have to do it. The nature of the Guru/shishya relationship is very personal in 'traditional' versions of Hinduism.

    I'm not sure how Catholicism stands on it. When a person confesses sins in the confessional, and the priest assigns a penance, what would happen if the person just said, "The heck with that"? I'm assuming this would be rare.
     
  8. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    I believe it to be the same in the secular world.... you can volunteer to stay a citizen of that country, state, religion and do the things expected of you...or move on.
     
  9. Senthil

    Senthil Active Member

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    A couple more thoughts ... In Hinduism the onus is entirely on the individual. Since we're a non-congregational individualistic faith primarily, penance is undertaken only by an individual at his/her own discretion. There is never some community expectation. Some do, some don't, and since it's a private matter between the devotee and God, few, if any other people would know why the person is doing it. In Hinduism, penance is particularly associated with God Murugan.

    It's only penance if it's BEYOND the person's normal routine. Some people routinely fast every Friday, or every Monday, for example, so for them thry'd have to fast some other as well.

    Thomas, sackcloth and ashes sounds like something I'd do. Never heard of it before, but public humiliation is always good for one's humility I expect. (I just noticed the common root of humiliation, and humility.)
     
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  10. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Yes, the outward forms might share correspondences, but that's as far as it goes.
     
  11. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Then it's void.
     
  12. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

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    In Christianity the onus is twofold, God and neighbour, but the sacraments are 'one on one' in that regard.

    The community transcends the individual. That is not to deny the individual an intimate, immediate and immanent relationship with the Divine, but rather that Christianity is not the same as the Plotinian 'flight of the alone to the Alone'.

    There are many mystics and theologians who hold that the fulness of Beatitude will only be 'real' once the last soul has made it through the gate, as it were, and until then the whole of creation is holding its breath, or labouring in its travail, as St Paul said (Romans 8:22). Put another way, how can any man experience bliss while he knows his neighbour is in darkness?

    Or how can anyone be 'at one with the all' when the all itself is not at one?

    That is not to say 'Divine consolations' are not real, but perhaps they are provisional or contingent, in that sense.

    Same here.

    I've never done it, although I never discreetly scrub off the ash mark from my forehead as I leave the church on Ash Wednesday ... but then again, you guys get spots and stripes, and different colours ... all we get is a smudge of wet ash ... :(
     
  13. Namaste Jesus

    Namaste Jesus Praise the Lord and Enjoy the Chai Staff Member

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    In my wife's Hindu tradition they really don't do penance per se. They just sort of let karma do it's thing. That said, they do have a way of dealing with the 3 reasons you give for penance.

    By way of atonement they take the position that no amount of penance can make up for wrong doing, but if one recognizes their wrong doing and is truly remorseful for it and vows never to do it again, this may warrant forgiveness.

    As far as 'clearing the way' is concerned, my wife's tradition views this as duty. Something all most do to achieve a better existence in this life and the next.

    Vows, they will do on occasion for the very reasons you site. This too in my wife's tradition is considered duty rather than penance though.
     
  14. Senthil

    Senthil Active Member

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    You'd have to go to the Subramaniam Swamy temple in Nandi at Thai Pusam time to see kavadi. The Shaktites of Fiji (and elsewhere) also do firewalking. But as you know even in Fiji (and other places from the sugar diaspora) there is somewhat of a north/south divide.
     
  15. Namaste Jesus

    Namaste Jesus Praise the Lord and Enjoy the Chai Staff Member

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    My wife's family are descended from those Indians that came to Fiji as indentured laborers. The Temple in Nadi was built by South Indians that came to Fiji on their own much later. The north/south divide primarily exist between those 2 groups.
     
  16. Senthil

    Senthil Active Member

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    I didn't realise that about Fiji. (That the South Indians came later) In many places (as far as I know) all groups went at the same time, but stayed distinct simply because of language and the very real and large differences between North and South styles in India itself. In Fiji most Tamilians have switched to Hindi though, due to being quite outnumbered, and for convenience. I know several of both kinds here, and because of intermixing over several generations, the line is rather vague now, except in a few where it's a very solid line.
     
  17. Namaste Jesus

    Namaste Jesus Praise the Lord and Enjoy the Chai Staff Member

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    Originally, the indentured laborers were lower caste individuals from all parts of India, north and south. Religious divisions soon faded though as the early arrivals lived in close quarters and began intermarrying. They were also not free to openly worship in the beginning and did so in private often sharing ideas north and south.

    In time, the idea of caste also faded. Until that is, the new arrivals came who were primarily from the south and of a higher caste. That's actually where the division is today. The descendants of the original arrivals simply do not accept the caste system while the new arrivals do and feel that some Indians are not excepting their station in life.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2015
  18. Aussie Thoughts

    Aussie Thoughts Just my 2 cents

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    A while back I participated in a film doc shot in India. We began in Delhi and zig-zagged our way south to Bangalura. Not enough Rupees on the planet to get me to do that again. Any road, it seemed like the further south we went, the more intolerance we encountered. Not so much towards Christians, but towards some of our Indian guides. It seemed to be some kind of issue with caste. I'm really not sure, but many of our guides were clearly not welcome in some areas and establishments.

    Getting back to the topic though. We also encountered radically differing ideas in regard to penance. Everything from non-existent to the utterly ridiculous. In our travels we encountered a bloke that was being hand fed on the side of the road. It seems he had positioned his arms over his head many years ago in penance and they no longer worked. Atonement for your sins is one thing, but Dear Lord!
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2015
  19. Senthil

    Senthil Active Member

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    Aussie, there is s strong state loyalty in India, and besides languages, the car's license plate is a dead giveaway. I hired a driver in Bengaluru (license plate begins with a K for Karnataka) and we drove through Tamil Nadu from there for 3 weeks. We kept getting shooed away from parking spots near temples in some places, and I got that explanation. It's not caste so much as state loyalty. The lorry drivers pay bribes to police all the way along through a non-home state.

    Yes the religious intolerance gets worse the farther away you are from home. Tamils will let you know how intolerant the northerners are, and vice versa. So all that goes both ways. Again, linguistic and state loyalties play a huge role. Any Indian overseas will suggest that if you go visit India, the first place you HAVE to go to is his state. It is far closer to Europe that way, than a single country. As many languages for sure.

    I've never heard of any northerner doing penance ... not of the sort I'm used to. They often speak against it, in fact.
     
  20. Namaste Jesus

    Namaste Jesus Praise the Lord and Enjoy the Chai Staff Member

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    How did you get that gig?
     

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