Question: Is guilt for past deeds a good thing? I feel guilty of past mistakes done when there was no knowledge of Krishna Consciousness; however, that guilt makes me sad and dejected. How to counteract feeling low out of guilt and rather use that realization to become more determined and enthusiastic for Krishna Consciousness.
Romapada Swami: Since Bhaktivinoda Thakur uses the term ‘regret’ instead of guilt, I am going to respond to your question using the term 'regret’ instead.
The connotation of 'regret’ for some wrong we may have committed more readily lends itself to serving as an impetus for forward progress; 'guilt’ often conveys a mood of lamentation and despondency, which weaken determination to move forward to a better place.
Regret for past deeds is a good thing as long as it does not impede one’s current spiritual progress. Rather regret can serve as an impetus to further develop/nurture our feelings of gratitude towards the most merciful Lord and His devotees. The Lord as a loving father, who is ever merciful forgives the devotee who sincerely repents for his past mistakes and at the same time seeks the Lord’s shelter.
In the purport of SB 1.19.2 Srila Prabhupada writes in connection to Parikshit Maharaj’s feeling of repentance of putting a dead snake around Samik Muni: “The pious king regretted the accidental improper action done by him on the gravely powerful Brahmin who was faultless.
Such repentance is natural for a good man like the king and such repentance only delivers a devotee from all kinds of sins accidentally committed by the devotee. The devotees are naturally faultless.
Accidental fault committed by a devotee is sincerely regretted and by the Grace of the Lord, all sins unwillingly committed by a devotee, are burnt into ashes in the fire of repentance.“
Instead of feeling low and dejected we can take the same feelings to submit ourselves to the Lord through sincere prayers of forgiveness and committing ourselves with determination to His service. Having such reflections will help us transform our consciousness and to make a
resolution: "I am going to dedicate this moment, this day, this year, and this life for a single purpose, namely is to serve the Lord and His devotees.”
Also the ability to come out of feeling sad and dejected and to come to the platform of being enthusiastic and determined in the process of Krsna Consciousness depends on our cultivation of inner faith in the Lord through the association of devotees.
We can begin to nurture our faith through reading of the scriptures (especially reading the pastimes from Srimad Bhagavatam where great devotees like Parikshit Maharaj are expressing their feelings of regret for their actions), hearing and chanting in association with devotees.