At our meeting last night the topic of guilt came up. The conversation quickly turned to Ireland's experience of Catholicism and how the Christian belief that we are originally tainted or sinful was used as a justification for all sorts of horrific acts against vulnerable people: People in positions of religious authority in Ireland (in church/State institutions etc) were able to act cruelly and degrade others using this sort of belief system as some sort of justification or rationale. Obviously this was, and is, very wrong and it seems Ireland has not yet fully managed to address the wounds caused by this negative culture of spiritual domination.
Buddhism does not really posit that we are originally sinful or tainted as such as Buddhism does not accept sin in the same sort of metaphysical way that Christianity does. Buddhism does accept though that we do have the potential to be deluded at all times, but it also teaches that, via our own efforts/practice, we can realise this and stop our habitual deluded activity at any moment: it presents us with that freedom, and so it is really a matter of our own conduct.
One of the Bodhisattva vows reads: Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.
We can establish this for ourselves in our own practice: when we are sitting zazen allowing our thoughts and feelings to just come and go we are not engaging in the habitual activity of accepting that 'self' as some sort of substantial reality (to do so is delusion). Instead we can realise it and experience it as just what it is (realisation). But the 'stuff' of delusion doesn't cease (thoughts and feelings will just keep coming), instead we realise them for what they are... or we don't! (It's up to us). Practicing zazen regularly helps us develop a deeper and more direct understanding of how we are deluded, of how we make our deluded self.
We can see that there is a sort of mutual relationship between 'delusion' and 'realisation' in Buddhism then and that they are not abstract, absolute, opposing values. 'Realisation' and 'delusion' do not exist outside of our own real and actual conduct at this very moment... and when we're fully engaged in really doing something then at that moment where is realisation and where is delusion?
Heaping the painful delusion of guilt on top of our general deluded state is obviously not considered good practice from a Buddhist perspective: the fact that we have done wrong in the past does not prohibit us from realising and actualising what is right at this moment.