REPENTANCE, CONFESSION AND RESTITUTION
Repentance is the first step on the road to recovery of a relation-
ship with God or realization of the original nature. Sins, attachments,
and mistaken views must be acknowledged as such; then it is possible to
turn away from the old life and set out on the new path of faith. Since
accumulated sins and delusions form a barrier obscuring the presence of
God or the true self, repentance is a condition for God to forgive the sin
and eradicate illusion, that the divine Presence may once again grace the
Repentance is sometimes misunderstood as being fulfilled by words
of contrition uttered in prayer. Words of contrition are indeed signifi-
cant when they reflect a fresh inner realization that a particular course
of action was wrong, and when they are accompanied by a sincere vow not to
repeat the sin. But that is only the first stage of repentance. The
second stage, one far more efficacious, is to confess the sin to others,
particularly a confession to the person who had been wronged. The humil-
iation and shame which accompanies confessing one's sin to another makes
such repentance extremely serious, and laying one's sins out in the open
is a powerful cathartic. The third stage of repentance is to make some
substantial compensation for the past misdeed. This means to do penance
or to make restitution to the person who had been wronged, or, if that is
not possible, to someone else representing that person. Finally, repent-
ance should result in an actual change of direction in the life of the
penitent, as he endeavors to perform good deeds and eschew his former
The passages in this section cover these dimensions of repentance.
First are texts setting forth repentance as a remedy for sin. Next we
have several typical prayers of repentance. Third are texts enjoining
the penitent to confess his sins to others, holding nothing back. Sever-
al texts are critical of delaying such confessions till the time of death.
Fourth are texts which recommend acts of penance and restitution. Final-
ly, we have gathered texts evaluating the firmness of repentance, chiefly
by whether or not the penitent slides back to repeating the behavior for
which he had repented, and whether his mind and spirit are truly renewed.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Christianity. Matthew 3.2
Truly, God loves those who repent, and He loves those who cleanse them-
Islam. Qur'an 2.222
Great is repentance; it turns premeditated sins into incentives for right
Judaism. Talmud, Yoma 86b
The grace of the Lord of heaven and earth is infinite and boundless; He
has endowed you with the Beautiful Gift, called the Spirit of Repentance,
with which to light up and purify yourself from sin.
Omoto Kyo. Michi-no-Shiori
Concern over remorse and humiliation depends on the borderline. The urge
to blamelessness depends on remorse.
Confucianism. I Ching, Great Commentary 1.3.4
If one hides the evil, it adds and grows. If one bares it and repents,
the sin dies out. Therefore all Buddhas say that the wise do not hide
Buddhism. Mahaparinirvana Sutra
Matthew 3.2: Here the Kingdom of Heaven is 'at hand' not only in the
eschatological sense that the time of the Messiah has drawn near--as was
the case in Jesus' day. The Kingdom of Heaven is also at hand for each
person as he prepares himself for it. Cf. Acts 2.38, p. 854; Abot 4.22,
p. 336. Qur'an 2.222: Cf. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 42, p. 523; Isaiah
57.15, p. 114. I Ching, Great Commentary 1.3.4: The 'borderline' refers
to one's scruples about what is good and what is evil. An educated consc-
ience is a prerequisite to repentance. Cf. Itivuttaka 36, p. 770.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Judaism and Christianity. Psalm 51.17
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and
seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from
heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Judaism and Christianity. 2 Chronicles 7.14
Let us rid ourselves of evil doings.
Let every person ask pardon of the Great Light (Asis),
The molder of us all,
Who has given us this land to inhabit, and to multiply in.
African Traditional Religions. Kipsigis Poem (Kenya)
The sin which makes you sad and repentant is liked better by the Lord than
the good deed which turns you vain and conceited.
Islam (Shiite) Nahjul Balagha, Saying 44
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax
collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank
thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or
even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all
that I get." But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift
up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to
me a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his house justified
rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Christianity. Luke 18.10-14
As was the will of God, so I ought to have thought;
As was the will of God, so I ought to have spoken;
As was the will of God, so I ought to have acted.
If I have not so thought, so spoken, so acted,
Then do I repent for the sin,
Do I repent by my thought, word, and deed.
Do I repent with all my heart and conscience.
Zoroastrianism. Patet 6
Psalm 51.17: Cf. Psalm 51.6-10, p. 519; Isaiah 57.15, p. 114; Jeremiah
10.23-24, p. 571; Hosea 6.1-2, p. 525. 2 Chronicles 7.14: Cf. Jeremiah
18.3-11, p. 1082; Midrash Psalms 18, p. 575. Nahjul Balagha, Saying 44:
Cf. Hadith of Muslim, p. 457; Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 42, p. 523;
Tannisho, pp. 757f. Luke 18.10-14: Cf. Matthew 9.10-13, p. 638; Tannisho,
You should become the person who prays as follows: "All the sins of the
past and present are my responsibility. Father! Forgive me!"
Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 2-21-60
Our transgressions are past counting,
There is no end to our sins,
Be merciful, forgive us, O Lord;
We are great sinners and wrongdoers.
There is no hope of our redemption.
O Lord, dear Lord, our deeds weighed in the balance
Would get us no place in Thy court!
Forgive us and make us one with Thyself
Through the grace of the Guru.
If the Lord God can be attained to,
Then all evil is destroyed.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Shalok Vadhik, M.3, p. 1416
I muse on my heart and I ponder this question:
When shall I again be at one with Varuna?
Will he accept without rancor my offering?
When, reassured, shall I taste of his mercy?
I question myself on my sin, O Varuna,
desirous to know it. I seek out the wise
to ask them; the sages all give me this answer,
"The God, great Varuna, is angry with you."
What, then, O God, is my greatest transgression
for which you would ruin your singer, your friend?
Tell me, O God who knows all and lacks nothing,
so that, quickly prostrating, I may sinless crave pardon.
Loose us from the yoke of the sins of our fathers
and also from those we ourselves have committed.
Release your servant, as a thief is set free
from his crime or as a calf is loosed from its cord.
Hinduism. Rig Veda 7.86.2-5
Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now
Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth.
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he cried,
"Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of
Nineveh proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them
to the least of them. Then tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he
arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sack-
cloth, and sat in ashes. And he made proclamation and published through
Nineveh, "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor
beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water,
but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily
to God; yea, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence
which is in his hands. Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his
fierce anger, so that we perish not?" When God saw what they did, how
they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had
said he would do to them; and he did not do it.
Judaism and Christianity. Jonah 3.3-10
Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may
Christianity. James 5.16
Whosoever looks upon his wrongdoing as wrongdoing, makes amends by con-
fessing it as such, and abstains from it in the future, will progress
according to the Law.
Buddhism. Digha Nikaya, Samanaphala Sutta
By public confession, repentance, penance, repetition of holy mantras, and
by gifts, the sinner gets released from guilt.
In proportion as a man who has done wrong, himself confesses it, even so
is he freed from guilt, as a snake from its slough.
In proportion as his heart loathes his evil deed, even so far is his body
freed from that guilt.
Hinduism. Laws of Manu 11.228-30
"I wish to reverence you, ascetic who suffers with equanimity, with
"So be it."
"You will have passed the day auspiciously with little distur-
"You make spiritual progress."
"And you also."
"I wish to ask pardon for transgressions."
"I ask for it too."
"I must confess, ascetic who suffers with equanimity, for lack of
respect and day-to-day transgressions of the mind, speech, or body;
through anger, pride, deceit, or greed; false behavior and neglect of the
Teaching; and whatever offense I have committed I here confess, repudiate
and repent of it and set aside my past deeds."
Jainism. Vandana Formula
[Certain brethren, having wrongly expelled another from the Order, came to
the Master to confess their fault.] They fell at the feet of the Exalted
One, and said to him,
"Transgression, Lord, overcame us: such was our folly, such was our
stupidity, such was our wrongdoing, in that we expelled a brother who was
pure and faultless without ground and without reason. May the Exalted
One, O Lord, accept this our confession of guilt as such, for our self-
restraint in the future."
"Truly, brethren, transgression overcame you, such was your
folly.... Nevertheless, brethren, as you have seen your transgression as
transgression, and have made confession as is fit and proper, I do accept
it from you. For this, brethren, is growth in the Noble Discipline when,
having seen our transgression as such, we make confession as is fit and
proper, for the future practice of self-restraint."
Buddhism. Vinaya, Mahavagga 9.1
Sin disappears with repentance.
Does not darkness vanish simultaneously with exposure to light?
Those who do not repent, retain their sins.
Is it not true that unexposed darkness remains darkness?
Confession may be made in secret, or you may write a letter to a leader of
the teachings. However, there is nothing to be gained by disclosing
your sin in darkness or before people who will only ridicule you.
What is the use of exposing darkness to darkness?
When once man sincerely repents, from that very instant his original
perfection as a child of God becomes manifested as if his whole
being were cleansed and purified.
After sincerely repenting, you feel at peace within yourself because you
are truly My children and I am one with all of you.
Divine Spirit flows abundantly through you, and your spirit will grow and
finally attain Infinite Life.
Seicho-no-Ie. Holy Sutra for Spiritual Healing
Say, O My slaves who have been prodigal to their own hurt! Despair not of
the mercy of God, who forgives all sins. Lo! He is the Forgiving, the
Merciful. Turn to Him repentant, and surrender unto Him, before there can
come upon you the doom, when you cannot be helped. And follow the better
of that which has been revealed unto you from your Lord, before the doom
comes on you suddenly when you know not. Lest any soul should say, "Alas,
my grief that I was unmindful of God, and I was indeed among the
scoffers!" Or should say, "If God had but guided me, I should have been
among the dutiful!" Or should say, when it sees the doom, "Oh, that I had
but a second chance, that I might be among the righteous!"
Islam. Qur'an 39.53-58
But God shall not turn towards those who do evil deeds until, when one of
them is visited by death, he says, "Indeed now I repent," neither to those
who die disbelieving; for them We have prepared a painful chastisement.
Islam. Qur'an 4.17-18
Rig Veda 7.86.2-5: Cf. Rig Veda 5.85.7, p. 519. Jonah 3.3-10: This story
contains an irony, for Jonah himself was unhappy that Nineveh, the capital
city of Israel's most hated enemies, had heeded his message and repented.
He would rather that they had ignoreed him, that God might have destroyed
it. Thus God sets up for Jonah a lesson on self-righteousness. As a
lesson on repentance, the story of Jonah is recited by Jews on the Day of
Atonement. Cf. Jeremiah 18.3-11, p. 1082; Parable of the Prodigal Son,
Luke 15.11-32, pp. 510ff.; Berakot 10a, p. 1052. Laws of Manu 11.228-30:
Cf. Laws of Manu 8.314-16, p. 1080. Vandana Formula: This is spoken by
lay people to monks of the Jain order. Lay people are encouraged to apply
the teachings insofar as they are able to learn from the monks, who prac-
tice them fully, as their examples and teachers. Vinaya, Mahavagga 9.1:
Cf. Cakrasamvara Tantra, pp. 521f. Qur'an 39.53-58 and 4.17-18: Cf.
Anguttara Nikaya i.279, p. 355; Abot 4.22, p. 336. But in contrast, see
Bhagavad Gita 8.5-13, p. 344, and note on the efficacy of last-minute rep-
Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after
this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we
do not improve our time while in this life, then comes the night of dark-
ness wherein there can be no labor performed. You cannot say, when you
are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return
to my God. Nay, you cannot say this; for that same spirit which possesses
your bodies at the time that you go out of this life, that same spirit
will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold,
if you have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death,
behold, you have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he has
sealed you his.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Book of
Mormon, Alma 34.33-35
O dweller in the body, make reparation for whatever you have done!
Hinduism. Garuda Purana 2.35
If anyone commits a sin and [by confessing] has inflicted on him the pre-
scribed punishment for that sin, it is atonement for him.
Islam. Hadith in Sharh as-Sunnah
There was a rich man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and
rich.... And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the
half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of
anything, I restore it fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation
has come to this house."
Christianity. Luke 19.2,8-9
Again, though I say to the wicked, "You shall surely die," yet if he turns
from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the
pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes
of life, committing no iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die.
None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him; he
has done what is lawful and right, he shall surely live.
Judaism and Christianity. Ezekiel 33.14-16
Book of Mormon, Alma 34.33-35: Cf. Book of Mormon, Alma 12.24, p. 336. Hadith
iin Shash as-Sunnah: Cf. Hadith of Abu Dawud, p. 1080. Ezekiel 33.14-16: Cf.
Isaiah 1.16-20, p. 729; Matthew 5.23-24, p. 993; 1 Peter 4.8, p. 1008.
And whosoever repents and does good, he verily repents towards God with
Islam. Qur'an 25.71
If a man finds that he has made a mistake, then he must not be afraid of
admitting the fact and amending his ways.
Confucianism. Analects 1.8.iv.
If one has, indeed, done deeds of wickedness, but afterwards alters his
way and repents, resolved not to do anything wicked, but to practice
reverently all that is good, he is sure in the long run to obtain good
fortune--this is called changing calamity into blessing.
Taoism. Treatise on Response and Retribution 5
Whoever was heedless before and afterwards is not; such a one illumines
this world like the moon freed from clouds.
Whoever, by a good deed, covers the evil done, such a one illumines this
world like the moon freed from clouds.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 172-173
How is one proved a repentant sinner? Rab Judah said, "If the object
which caused his original transgression comes before him on two occasions,
and he keeps away from it."
Rabbi Jose ben Judah said, "If a man commits a transgression, the first,
second, and third time he is forgiven; the fourth time he is not for-
Judaism. Talmud, Yoma 86b
Analects 1.8.iv: Cf. Analects 12.1.i, p. 897. Dhammapada 173: Cf. Qur'an
11.114, p. 1008.
He who has committed a sin and has repented, is freed from that sin, but
he is purified only by resolving to cease: "I will do so no more."...
He who, having either unintentionally or intentionally committed a
reprehensible deed, desires to be freed from it, must not commit it a
If his mind be uneasy with respect to any deed, let him repeat the
penances prescribed for it until they fully satisfy his conscience.
Hinduism. Laws of Manu 11.231-34
If a man commits sinful acts which he does not expiate in this life, he
must pay the penalty in the next life; and great will be his suffering.
Therefore, with a self-controlled mind, a man should expiate his sins here
Expiation and repentance, to a man who continues to commit sinful
acts, knowing them to be harmful, are of no avail. Futile is it to bathe
an elephant if he is straightway to roll again in the mud. All sinful
thoughts and evil deeds are caused by ignorance. True expiation comes
from illumination. As fire consumes all things, so does the fire of know-
ledge consume all evil and ignorance. Complete transformation of the
inner life is necessary; and this is accomplished by control of the mind
and the senses, by the practice of concentration, and by following and
living the Truth.
The great secret of this complete transformation is the development
of love for God. As when the sun rises the dewdrops vanish away, so when
love grows all sin and ignorance disappear.
Hinduism. Srimad Bhagavatam 6.1
Srimad Bhagavatam 6.1: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 9.30-31, p. 519; Japuji 20, M.1. p