Regret nothing; never be sorry; and cut all doubts with the sword of spiritual knowledge.
"Regret nothing! That may be good advice, but I don't see how it can be taken as a spiritual or ethical precept. In the light of simple justice, can we go through life never regretting anything that we have done?" That was the question of one among a group met together to discuss some aspects and problems of life that confront all of us. "Suppose, just for the sake of the argument mind you, that by some strange impulse I should go up to you and slap your face. Am I not to regret it? Am I to go on without thinking of it, without being sorry for it?" A likely question, indeed.
The crux of the matter seems to be why one should not regret. This calls for an understanding of what regret is; a personal interpretation of the term 'regret.' The first move is to consult the Dictionary. In the small edition on my desk the essential meaning seems definitely to be a clinging in memory to some sorrow or joy of the past; some experience pleasant or otherwise; remorse for loss of some opportunity, joy or possession; memory of some rich harvest ready in our field that we somehow failed to garner; some service we might have given, but did not; some act that turned our lives into ways of disappointment or bitterness.
Regret, even in its everyday connotation, seems rooted in the past. Memory dwelling in longing or revulsion upon the past keeps alive a corpse that we would, in plain common sense, do well to bury and be on our way to counteract by our thoughts and acts of today the deadening influence of regretful longings or remorse. If we are honest with ourselves I think we will find at the core of each regret at least a germ of selfish desire; a hopeless rebellion at having lost something coveted. Regret comes, and it is well that it should. It comes as an unwelcome guest, and will remain as a canker or a pillar of salt until its negative power is transmuted into positive progressive action. Regret clings until spiritual understanding brightens the mind. Night endures until the sunrise.
There must be some truth in the precept, some reason in the admonition "regret nothing," else why would it appear in sacred teachings of many peoples and times, in allegory and parable, in verse and story, ancient and modern? "Regret nothing." Why should we waste time and spiritual energy entertaining entities of the past? Why give of our life to phantoms? In our times we have lived and loved, experienced deep sorrow and great joy. We have fought many a battle. In some we have conquered; some we lost. But, there will be other times. There will be new worlds of experience, other battles with, hopefully, greater victories, unless perchance despondency holds us fast.
What, really, can we do about the past? We were part of it, to be sure. We helped to build it. We have come out of it, as the child becomes the man. What can the man do about the regretful things of his childhood? To remember is no crime, but why pin our destiny to a disturbing, even devastating regret for folly or failure in life's previous assignments? Whatever was real, whatever was true in the past is real and true now. Whatever action sprang from outgoing love and upbuilding service lives on into the present to light the aspiration and guide the action of today. The flame of sacrifice becomes the beacon light of faith; the conquest of yesterday becomes the assurance and steadfast power of today.
And how often the sting of regret is for our stupidity or blindness in some lesser, personal situation, some unworthy act; not for loss of a great battle nobly fought; not for the failure of a service unselfishly rendered. We dwell upon the irritating flashes of memory, unmindful of the warm suffused light that displays the whole scene.
We can, as the man, put away childish things. We can live now so that memory serves as a guide to wiser action; not as a millstone about our necks. We can live today, or at least we can try to so live that those about us may come to know better the cause of action, and the results of action; help to sustain them so that their actions of today will not engender the bitter fruits of regret. Memory can become a bright sail unfurled to a fresh breeze on a vast ocean of experience and time; or it may drag as a loose anchor in viscous mud.
Our job is here and now, not the job we failed to do years or eons ago. Our craft and our opportunities are here and now. The open sea is before us, and the constant star to steer by.
Why do we regret?
(From Sunrise magazine, January 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)