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Various prayascittas are specified in scriptures to negate the effect of bad karmas done by a person knowing or unknowingly.

  • Are these useful for this purpose?
  • Do Vedas mention prayascittas? If, as per law of Karma, the effects of Karma can not be evaded, what is the use of prayachittas?
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There are many laws set by the sages in various scriptures for different castes and orders and for different situations. Disobeying them creates a sin. But sages have also prescribed expiations for persons who repent after committing a sin. So the prayaschittas are useful only if the person has repentance for what he has done (kṛte pāpe'nutāpo vai yasya pusaḥ prajāyate - VP 2.6.40).

It's true that the effects of Karma cannot be evaded, but it's inexorable only in that case when there is no method to evade it. For example, the effects of disease are unavoidable if no medicine is known or one doesn't take the medicine even after knowing it. So performing the prescribed prayaschita is another action that counter acts the effects of previous action. If prayaschitta is not done, then their corresponding punishment hell will have to be suffered as mentioned in the scriptures.

Apart from prayaschitta cleaning the body and the soul, it also restores back one's social status and brings back peace of mind:

tasmādyatnena karttavyaṃ prāyaścittaṃ viśuddhaye
evamasyāntarātmā ca lokaścaiva prasīdati
[GP - 1.105.2]

Meaning
Therefore, one should carefully perform prayaschitta for the purification of the inner soul. Doing so also makes people happy.

In earlier times and also in some villages today, people generally don't talk and mix with them who are known to have committed some sins. They are like outcasted from the society. So after performance of prayaschitta, they regain their previous social status.

Now regarding prayaschittas mentioned in the Vedas, I am not sure if there are expiations mentioned as vividly as in the puranas and other dharma sashtras. But there are certainly mentions of it found also in the Vedas, at least regarding expiations for fault in performance of sacrifice.

I found some links mentioning expiation in the Vedas from Net. One prayer is like below:

  1. From the sins which knowingly or unknowingly we have committed, do ye, all gods, of one accord, release us!
  2. If awake, or if asleep, to sin inclined, I have committed a sin, may what has been, and what shall be, as if from a wooden post, release me!
  3. As one released from a wooden post, as one in a sweat by bathing (is cleansed) of filth, as ghee is clarified by the sieve, may all (the gods) clear me from sin!

Source

Some other links I found are are below:

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As everybody knows, Actions in the form of papam and punyam are accumulated birth after birth, and goes by the name sanchita karma.

A small part of sanchita karmas which are about to give rise to result needs a birth. So a fresh body is taken to experience this set of karmas, called prarabdha karma.

Among these 2, those actions, that are still in the bank account in the name of sanchita cannot be averted at all by any chance. It would certainly give rise to its result in a future body when those sets of actions mature to give the result. In the same way, that body which has been taken only to experience the effects of actions done earlier but matured now as prarbdha, is also cannot be averted at all except undergoing them in toto.

Prayaschitta karmas are those specific karmas done as an expiation to avert the evil effect that gonna rise in the future for doing a specific act now. So, unless we know what wrong act is we have committed, we can't take up prayaschita karma related to it. So, it also shows that the scope of prayaschitta is limited to this birth only, for we don't know what acts we have done earlier. Also, we do know what wrong karma we did for which the shastras give us an option to the avert the evil that's going to mature in future. So, prayaschitta karma can't avert past actions, sanchita karma, that can't be averted at all without producing fruits just like prarabdha.

Now, a question may arise as to how else will all the earlier sins done in the past lives and also the karmas doing in this present birth which will mature in some later births called agami karma, be averted? Because without all the karmas, both papa and punya being purged completely, there is no scope for release from birth and death. So there is no release from the misery called samsara. For this, the answer is : The only way to avert all sanchita karma and agami karma is to attain gnyana. Knowledge of the self. In short, knowing that i'm not the agent at all. Not just now, but for ever. In Gita, Lord krishna says. For gnyana burns up all acts. It burns up all karmas, sanchita and agami, but not prarabdha. - See shankaracharyas bhasyam, alladi mahadeva shastri, ghambirananda's or V.panoli's.

Not only that, Among the purifier knowledge is the supreme. Hope this helps. Sarvam Krishnaarpanam.

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    can u please add references? – Lakhi Mar 27 at 15:58

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