Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #35 – I Regret

August 31st, 2020

Regret is the first stage of devotion. Without regretting, to one degree or another, our past mistakes that were based on a desire to control and enjoy, how will we ultimately embrace our identity as unalloyed servants of God? The Sanskrit for regret or remorse is tapa, which is the same word for austerity or heat. There is nothing that burns the false ego more than acknowledging that our life and self-image as the center was regrettable. Tapa is therefore the first of five saṁskāras for those committing themselves to the devotional path.


Those who can relinquish the false ego in this way and humbly surrender to the tenets of the bhakti lineage become qualified to awaken their spiritual identity. I lament that when first committing myself to bhakti my regret was not deep enough to thwart my lingering false ego that sometimes mixed with my devotional service. At the age of 70, I therefore look back on my life and see within my service many mistakes due to material identity (false ego).


Although it is difficult to look back and acknowledge our frailties, I can sense how sincere regret can potentially deepen devotion. The false ego covers the soul from feeling our connection with Krishna. Regret razes the ego, allowing us to directly feel Krishna’s mercy, which inspires us to call out His name in devotion.


Perhaps this sounds a bit morbid. Isn’t our self-esteem today already so battered?  It is true that regret diminishes our self-conception, but I think that is very different from low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is feeling bad about one’s lack of material status, although still desiring it. Tapa, on the others hand, is not about lamenting material status, but regretting having desired it, and in the process forgetting God. Regret thus uncovers the soul and allows one to feel authentic self-worth, being loved and recognized by God as His insignificant humble servant.


A well-known example of the type of tapa that impels one to heights of devotion is found in the story of Yāmunācārya. He was a king who naturally enjoyed the pleasure of wealth and women. Upon visiting the famous Ranganatha temple, he had an epiphany that his life of sensual pleasure was regrettable. He immediately renounced the world to live as a sannyāsa. His strong sentiments of tapa or regret kept him humble and inspired. They are immortalized in a famous line from one of his compositions:


“Since I have been engaged in the transcendental loving service of Krishna, realizing ever-new pleasure in Him, whenever I think of sex pleasure I spit at the thought, and my lips curl with distaste.”


Yāmunācārya was speaking as a great renunciate, who had transcended the bodily platform and was relishing the highest levels of devotional ecstasy. His mood of regret, however, is something for us all to emulate. I regret.


Regretting old faults,
toss them on the altar flames.
Fragrant soul ascends.





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