Pure Mind, Pure World: A practical guide to purifying negative karma

Let’s face it, even when we’re earnestly trying to improve ourselves, we are definitely still prone to all kinds of negative thoughts and actions. Whether it’s simple irritation with family or coworkers, a full-blown temper tantrum, or some variety of reckless self-indulgence, all too often we fall short of our better intentions.

 Oh no!

Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains that every single action of body, speech and mind is a cause, and all our experiences are the effects. We are certain to experience the results of our actions. If we ponder all the non-virtuous actions we commit from day to day (much less over a lifetime, or countless lifetimes!), we might get a bit disconcerted. But fortunately, we are not “stuck” with our karma, there are practices we can do to purify our negative actions. One simple practice we can use on the fly, or as regularly as we wish, is called the four opponent powers of purification. This is a practical method to deal with negative karma in a constructive way so that we gradually become less prone to creating negative karma and to suffering its results! Cool.



Regret prevents us from making mistakes again



The first thing we should do when we recognize that we have committed a negative action is to generate regret. This is not guilt, and we don’t wallow in our regret, we simply recognize that negative actions lead to suffering. This recognition serves as a springboard into the next steps.  The deeper our recognition and the stronger our regret the more powerful our practice will be.






confession buddhasThe next step is to generate reliance. As Buddhists we rely on the Three Jewels, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, as our principal source of refuge. We receive blessings by meditating on and contemplating Buddhas; by contemplating and practicing Dharma (Buddha’s teachings) we receive protection; from Sangha (our spiritual friends) we receive help along our spiritual path.


Most of our non-virtuous actions are in relation to other sentient beings. But we can also rely on others by developing compassion for them, and by developing the wish to become enlightened so that we can truly help them to find inner peace.


The Opponent Force


The third step is to apply an opponent force, a virtuous action to oppose our non-virtuous action. Geshe-la says, “Any virtuous action performed out of regret for our past negative actions, with the desire to purify them, becomes an antidote to our negative actions, and is the power of the opponent force.”




The final step is the power of promise. With this step we make a virtuous determination to not commit the negative action again. We should be practical with our promise, only making promises that we feel we can reasonably keep, and then do our best to keep them.


A Real-Life Example

Here’s an example of how to use the four opponent powers in daily life. Let’s say we get mad at a friend and say something which we know has hurt their feelings. We can then generate regret for our action, think about Buddha’s teachings on anger and develop compassion for our friend whose feelings we have hurt, perform a virtuous action with the intention to purify our non-virtuous action (something as simple as saying a mantra, picturing a Buddha in our mind, or even a simple apology), and then make a heartfelt promise to try our best not to get angry for the rest of the day. The whole process can be done in a matter of seconds.


We can also use the four opponent powers for general purification on a regular basis such as before going to bed, or upon waking each morning. This helps us to remain mindful of the kinds of actions we’re creating from day to day, and helps us to increase our virtuous actions.


The more regularly and the more sincerely we apply the four opponent powers, the more powerful the purification. There is definitely something we can do about our negative karma. How wonderful!


Want to Learn More?

To receive more in-depth instructions you can attend the blessing empowerment of the Buddha of purification this Saturday at KMC Georgia, or attend a teaching on purification this Sunday at KMC South Carolina with our Resident Teacher Gen Kelsang Nyema.


Read up on the four powers of purification:

Joyful Path of Good Fortune by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, pp. 76-77


Post by Sean G.

3 replies
  1. Craig Poff
    Craig Poff says:

    This was the lesson that Nyema gave on my very first visit to the Center back on Main Street (up those long stairs) downtown Columbia, back in December 2011. It was my first visit to the Center and the teaching much impressed me and stayed with me. It was very good to be reminded of it again (as it does not change!).

    Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  2. Nicole
    Nicole says:


    May I please inquire as to the author of the above article; ‘Pure Mind, Pure World: A practical guide to purifying negative karma.’ It is a great article.


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