A Devotee asks Sri Ramana Maharshi: How to overcome regrets?
Maharshi replies: By practice. D.: What kind of practice?
Maharshi: Meditation. D.: Mind is not steady while meditating.
M.: It will be all right by practice. D.: Shall we add prayers, etc.?
Maharshi: Yes. (from Talks #377 p. 356, 22nd March 1937)
It is now worth while going back to Christ's words to his disciples about the question of the murdered Galilaeans and the men killed at Siloam in view of this meaning of metanoia. The whole conversation becomes clearer. The disciples are thinking wrongly and Christ is answering them not in the sense 'unless they repent' but 'unless they can think quite differently' - that is, think in a new way. He is saying that otherwise they are bound and fixed and cannot escape from a general fate common to all people who start always from the seen, the apparent, the visible, or, in short, from the senses, and derive their ideas and views from visible evidence. The first step is metanoia. The inadequacy of the word repentance can be clearly seen in Paul's letters to the Corinthians. People can be grieved and hurt by life up to the point where they lose all belief and cease even to think, and try to gratify themselves as best they can, or merely give up hope and live as dead things.
More rarely they may begin to reflect on what has happened to them and so come gradually to some new standpoint, to some new way of taking life. Something may begin to start individually in their thought. A new activity of the mind may begin — their minds begin to awaken. In moments of great personal disaster and suffering people often feel that everything that happens in life is unreal, and this is a right understanding of life. It is touching a stage in which metanoia is reached - that is, transformation of the mind. Everything appears suddenly in a new light, something makes one understand that all that is happening in life is not the important thing, but what is im- portant is one's attitude. For a moment a turning point is reached in which a revolution of the mind is possible. What was previously passive and governed by the senses, governed by the events of life, no longer submits to the outer world, and begins to have an independent existence. And this rousing of the active mind is what Paul speaks of in the following passage, in which the word repent occurs several times in the English translation although in the Greek the word metanoia occurs only once.
Paul writes to the Corinthians as follows: 'For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed unto repentance.' (ii Corinthians vii.8, 9)
In this passage the word metanoia occurs only once - in the phrase 'unto repentance' (eis metanoian), είς μετανοιαν, and the passage merely shews how inadequate is the word repentance. When Paul says, Ί do not repent. . . ' he used a quite different word, μεταμελομαι, which is equivalent to the Latin poenitet me, which is exactly from what our ordinary word repentance comes. Yet these Greek words of such infinitely different values are translated by exactly the same word in English.
It is not sorrow or repenting in any ordinary sense that brings about a change of mind. Man may sorrow, but not to the point of metanoia. Yet there is a special kind of suffering that leads to metanoia and it is of this suffering that Paul speaks when he contrasts it with the ordinary suffering of life: 'For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation . . . ; but the sorrow of the world worketh death' (ii Corinthians vii.10). 'Ye sorrowed unto repentance' - it was this right suffering of the Corinthians which brought them to repentance. Dean Stanley, one of the few English commentators who understand the meaning of metanoia, remarks: 'The passage shews how inadequate is our word "repentance". Ye were grieved so as to change your mind or your repentance amounted to a revolution of mind.' And this is exactly what is meant and in a far deeper sense it is what all life means — to bring a man to the point where, instead of saying blindly to himself 'This cannot be true', he undergoes an awakening, a momentary sense of the unreality of what is happening in the world, and the unreality of its connection with himself. This is metanoia: this is the beginning of the transformation of the mind.