What we refer to as Atonement has two aspects. The first aspect is that of recognition, seeing clearly that we often engage in behavior that creates suffering for others as well as ourselves. Our habituated actions, words and thoughts often go unrecognized, which only causes us to become more firmly entrenched in our deluded behavior. By admitting to ourselves and others that we are subject to this kind of behavior and by recognizing the harm that it causes, we create a means through which this behavior may be avoided and through which our previous karma may be purified. This is called Wisdom.
The second aspect of Atonement is that of resolution. Having recognized that we engage in deluded actions, words and thoughts, we wholeheartedly resolve to modify our behavior. We make vows to govern our behavior so that it causes no harm, and we dedicate those vows to all sentient beings so that they will all become liberated from the round of birth-and-death and its attendant suffering. This is called Compassion.
What we refer to as Veneration is not what is known as "worship" in the West, although some of its forms may be similar to worshipful behavior. Veneration is a form of deep and heartfult thankfulness, a practice which allows us to extend the gratitude of our hearts to those beings who have provided us with the means of liberating ourselves from suffering. By showing our deep respect and gratitude to the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas, great teachers and others, we simultaneously cultivate humility, respect, gratitude and egolessness. We also gain wisdom by recognizing that the qualities we venerate in Buddhas and other beings are the same qualities we all possess, and so we come to deeply respect our own Essential Nature as well as the Essential Nature of all sentient beings.
The formal Atonement Service originated in China and has been modified to conform to the needs of Buddhist practitioners in the West. The Personal Atonement Ritual is an abbreviated version of this service. The central focus of both services is Kuan-Yin, the Chinese version of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Kuan-Yin embodies the essence of Compassion and represents our own essential compassionate nature. In both services the Dharani of Great Compassion is chanted as a means of awakening the compassionate heart.
The Personal Atonement Ritual can be practiced individually in the privacy of one's own home, at one's shrine or at any convenient, peaceful location. The Personal Atonement Ritual is a convenient yet meaningful way for us to practice Atonement and Veneration so that we may become more aware of our behavior, enabling us to grow in Compassion and Wisdom for the benefit of all living beings.
To read or download the Personal Atonement Ritual, please click here.