One who does evil grieves in this life,
Grieves in the next,
Grieves in both worlds.
Seeing one’s own defiled acts brings grief and affliction.
One who makes merit rejoices in this life,
Rejoices in the next,
Rejoices in both worlds.
Seeing one’s own pure acts brings joy and delight.
Dhammapada v. 15-16, translated by Gil Fronsdal
Who’s the judge of whether our actions are good or evil? At some level, only we are in a position to evaluate our words and actions. At the same time, the results of our actions are visible to anyone who looks, so while there is no personal overseer or judge of our actions, the results come nonetheless.
These verses serve as a reminder that when we do something we regret, the regret lasts a lot longer than the act. It reinforces whatever negative feelings we have about ourselves, up to and including hopelessness. Self-acceptance and self-forgiveness are needed if we are to proceed afresh.
Meanwhile, we hardly ever reflect on what we’ve done well. When we don’t respond to a provocative comment, when we notice someone else needs help and we just give it, when we show patience to a lonely person, when we’re honest in a situation where it takes effort to do so, when we care for our children or pets or garden, when we offer a ride or a make a phone call or lighten someone else’s load in any way. These are virtuous acts. When we donate money or give our time and energy to organizations we want to help flourish, these are powerful acts of merit. Do we know how to rejoice in them?
One practice that might help is to point out others’ virtues in the stories we tell, in the news that we pass on. So often we have sad news to share – someone’s illness or loss. But when we notice how kind someone is in a particular situation, why not re-tell that story? Why not look for opportunities to praise the people we admire? We can even share with friends a virtuous act we performed, and instead of minimizing it, say how much satisfaction we got from it. This practice has brought joy into my life and spread it around.