Sanatan Dharma or Hinduism is not a prescriptive religion. It doesn’t give you a list of Do’s and Don’ts. It gives a lot of freedom of thought to the extent that a person who said there is no God is also referred to as Saint. According to the basic principles of Hinduism, the greatest sin is to call a person a sinner. We believe the divine force is existing in all living and non-living things…so, to call a person a sinner is to deny their divinity.
In 2006 April, I was in San Jose, CA to attend a conference. On the sidelines of a meeting, a fellow journalist, an African-American, told me that we are all sinners.
How can it be?
“I don’t think I am a sinner…” I said.
“Are you saying you are perfect?” he raised his eye brows.
“Yes, of course, I am perfect with all my imperfections…”
“That’s ridiculous. Nobody is perfect… To not be a sinner means you’ve never broken any Law of God?”
“Law of God? What’s that? I didn’t know that God was a law maker”
“Yes – God makes laws. Have you ever lied, cheated, or stolen?”
“I don’t remember cheating or stealing. But I may have lied. Not telling truth is almost equal to lying. Hmm…may be… I am an ordinary human being – in my childhood I might have stolen sweets too”
“Then you are a sinner”
“Oh, really? How can you be so sure that I am a sinner?”
“God’s scriptures says so”
So – that’s the reason -He follows some beliefs. “What does it says?”
“As a sinner, you are separated from God. But the God loves you enough to want you to be with him. Hence, the only way to have your sins forgiven is to put your trust in God and follow what god said… Otherwise, you will have to face him on your own on the Day of Judgment…So, why don’t you accept yourself as a sinner?”
“I don’t go by such beliefs. I follow Sanatan Dharma, in which you don’t have to believe in any beliefs”
“Are you criticizing our trust in God as just a set of beliefs?”
“Not at all…Who I am to do that? I am not. I am just saying that my viewpoints are different…this is a democratic country, right? You have right to express your opinion”
“So your religion doesn’t say you are a sinner?” he asked.
“Sanatan Dharma or Hinduism is not a prescriptive religion. It doesn’t give you a list of Do’s and Don’ts. It gives a lot of freedom of thought so much so that a person who said there is no God is also referred to as Saint.”
“That’s bull 8@#&”
“That’s your opinion. Because, you are conditioned by your beliefs. I don’t believe in beliefs. I am a seeker of truth. With conditioned-mind like that of yours, one cannot seek truth”.
His face turned red. He got really very angry.
“Don’t give me the angry look. Please don’t react before I finish. I don’t feel insecure or hurt if you talk any thing bad about my beliefs, then why should you get hurt?” I asked him.
This is very strange. Some belief-systems that have the world’s largest numbers of followers are more insecure and feel hurt, when somebody questions their beliefs or superstitions.
I asked him: “Why do you people feel insecure and angry or get hurt when somebody says against your faith? Please give freedom to others to express their views…”
“I disagree with you. You are wrong, totally wrong” he said.
“You are free to disagree. This is America, a democratic country… You are not letting me complete…”
“OK” he was cooling down.
“See my friend, the concept of good or bad is Western. The world of seeing duality and polar opposites everywhere is Semitic. A totally overly simplistic view of the world.”
“Is it not so?”
“It is a very simplistic black and white philosophy – I agree it is very easy to to understand at mind-level and follow too… but everything can not be defined in black and white. In fact, 99% of everything is in the grey”
“Hmm…I don’t understand. Come to the point, don’t just bah-blah… You mean to say there is no sin in your religion?”
“Yes and no… There is no such sin, as per your concept, in Hinduism. This is just another western concept that has crept in India through the foreign missionaries… It’s a foreign concept brought to us by foreigners, and had no place in original Hinduism”
The Hindu view of sin is not the same as other religious views…For instance, Christians (particularly Catholics) believe that sin is an offense against God. According to Catholic theology, a mortal sin (a bad act committed with full knowledge and significant reflection) breaks a person’s relationship with God and if he/she dies unrepentant in a state of mortal sin, he/she will go to hell.
In Hinduism, the term sin (pāapa in Sanskrit) is often used to describe actions that create negative karma by violating moral and ethical codes. However, it is totally different from other religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the sense that sin is against the will of God – or against the God’s laws.
In other words, Christianity has no theory of karma, so they believe in God’s Judgment after death. Also every human is assumed to be a sinner right from birth, and therefore, must fear God, who in turn will love the human. Some Hindus may say, good takes you closer to God while bad takes you away from God – but there is no such mention in our ancient scriptures: even good karma cannot reach to god … one must transcend both paapa and punya to realize the supreme or cosmic….
“Hindu isn’t answerable to a personal God. He cannot repent of sin, and there is no forgiveness. He is responsible for his actions because of an inexorable law of the universe.”
“Oh, I have heard the word ‘karma’ – we also use it while writing news stories, though I don’t fully understand the meaning. So you are now agreeing there is bad karma”
“Karma – it is just karma, not good or bad. The results depends upon action and reaction of the person, situations, space and time….here again, we cannot tout it as simple black and white or in ‘yes or no’ platform…”
“But you believe karma will yield to result…”
“Oh, that doesn’t mean if you do good, good will result, and if you do something bad, bad will result. That’s also very simplistic way of seeing complex and related things. If that’s true, why do bad things happen to good people?”
“Oh Oh…you are intentionally complicating things, just to win in argument…”
“No. At present, I am not arguing with you. I am trying to express what I had understood. I am not an authentic expert on Hinduism. But, as far as I know, there’s no formal atonement for sin anywhere in Hindu scriptures”
“Really? Can you explain further?”
– “According to my knowledge, in Hinduism, sin is not an action. It is the reaction to an action. It merely means not being judgmental and condemning somebody without a full appreciation of the facts and circumstances. It means not adopting a superior, virtuous “holier-than-thou” mental attitude…”
“So there is no good and bad…how societies can or a community can survive without any moral concept of good and bad?”
– “Society and moral concepts are different subjects’ altogether. Now, we are talking about sin. We Hindus, as far as I know, consider both good and bad deeds as a laggard in attaining the ultimate aim of eternal happiness and peace. Vedic scriptures say Punya or Papa are products of mind and does not hold any substance….”
“So how can you achieve salvation?”
– “That’s what. For us, there is no sin. Hence, no salvation is needed, only enlightenment. We must merely wake up to our innate divinity. If I am part of God. I can never really be alienated from God by sin….I just can’t do anything against the cosmic will as I am aware that I am a part of everything”
Hindu scriptures say that all the universe, including every living being, is one.
- aham brahmāsmi – “I am Brahman” (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Yajur Veda)
- tat tvam asi – “Thou art That” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 of the Sama Veda)
- ayam ātmā brahma – “This Self (Atman) is Brahman” (Mandukya Upanishad 1.2 of the Atharva Veda)
- prajñānam brahma – “Consciousness is Brahman” (Aitareya Upanishad 3.3 of the Rig Veda)
All, everything, is god. Single cosmic. (Separation creates ego and fear – but that’s another subject) And we are god. (Not personal god, but impersonal reality). Anything done for purely selfish purposes or for the gratification of the ego tends to limit the mind. And such actions take you away from the knowledge that he is ultimately one with everything.
“I am sorry, but I cannot explain these Sanskrit mantras as (1) you already have conditioned concepts about GOD and (2) I am not a good orator”
“You mean to say, your sacred texts do not mention about sin?”
“There are two levels in Hinduism – one is mind-body level – that’s known as entry-level Hinduism. It has rituals, faith, superstitions, beliefs etc. To teach such Hindus we have puranas or stories which say there are good and bad. There are gods and asuras similar to your gods and demons…But here also a Hindu has freedom to believe whatever system he wants to follow”
“What’s the next level…?”
“The next level is when a Hindu transcends and becomes a truth seeker…he goes beyond puranas and starts learning Vedic scriptures…then he understands and experiences the pure consciousness…the higher self…at that stage, there is no sin, no good and bad. A seeker is aware of cosmic consciousness, so he just can’t do anything against cosmic. Hence there is no sin for a truth seeker”
“Still, for entry-level Hindus, you have sins…”
“Please don’t complicate with your concepts of sins. Paapa is not the apt word for sin. You can say, perhaps, “adharmic actions”. That’s different word, and different meaning too. Still, let us say adharmic action can roughly translated as sin”
“Aha…so you are coming back to my point. Now, you explain what adharmic actions are? Are there commandments? It is another word for sin”
“No…As I said, there are no sinners, though there are wrong actions . Through ignorance alone, commit various wrong actions. There are no sinners, though there are wrong actions…”
The Mahabharata Santi Parva, Section CLVIII says: “Covetousness or excessively and culpably desirous of the possessions of another (almost synonymous to jealousy) may be considered as the biggest paapa. It is from this source that paap and irreligiousness flow, together with great misery. This is the source of all the cunning and hypocrisy in the world. It is covetousness that makes men commit sin. Pride, malice, slander, crookedness, and incapacity to hear other people’s good, are vices that are to be seen in persons of uncleanness soul under the domination of covetousness. Know that those who are always under the influence of covetousness are wicked.”
“So your Mahabharata says there are sins – there are good and bad actions. Then why can’t you accept it? It is similar to our faith…”
“Not at all…trying to exploit others or brainwashing others also come under sin…” I said, hitting at him.
The Mahabharata, Santi Parva, Section XV: “There is no act that is wholly meritorious, nor any that is wholly wicked. Right or wrong, in all acts, something of both is seen…”
“Tell it in simple words, don’t complicate things”
“There is no prescriptive right and wrong….however, to put it in simple words – a black and white for you – harming others may be considered as a sin as per Hinduism.”
(Slokaardhena Pravakshyaami yaduktham grantakotishu: Paropakaara:Punyaaya Paapaaya Parapeetanam = Meaning of this subhashita in English: “What has been told in millions of scriptures, I shall tell in just half a sloka- actions that fetch good to others is Punya and actions that fetch difficulty to others is Paapa”.)
“And any scriptures offer salvation for the “your concept” (in quotes) of sin?” he hit back at me.
“No sin…so no salvation. I said, enlightenment…being aware about your actions…If you are aware, you will not and cannot do any paapa at all…”
– However, the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 9, verse 30 and 31 says: Even if the most sinful person worships me with devotion to none else, he should be regarded as righteous, for he has rightly resolved (for he has made the holy resolution to give up the evil ways of his life). Soon he becomes righteous and attains to eternal peace; O Arjuna, know thou for certain that my devotee is never destroyed.
“Yeah – see..see..That’s what we also says – repent to God,” he acclaimed.
“But there is a serious difference again. Krishna and Arjuna are symbolic representations. The meaning of the Gita sloka is: By abandoning the evil ways in his external life and by the force of his internal right resolution, he becomes righteous and attains to eternal peace..Again, Krishna is symbolic representation of the cosmic awareness”
“The body-mind brings out the idea of sin… The birth of thought itself is sin…even spirituality without awareness won’t help you…some people act spiritual, but, then, their spirituality is a mind-level thing….And mind cannot and will not escape from ego. So the first and foremost aspect is pure thoughts and deeds – it comes from the state of awareness. If thoughts and motives are good and supported by eternal truth, whatever may be the action, there would not be any sin…”
“See, if you look at things with conditioned mind, you can see lot of rights and wrongs. For instance you can see all Hindu gods carry weapons with them. And they have killed…. In fact, the Hindu gods carry weapons to protect non-violence. To protect dharma…”
“Let me tell you – you call it good or bad or sin or adharma. For me it is difficult to understand…”
“So is Hinduism – difficult to understand, even for its own followers…” I added.
-A real follower of Sanatan Dharma will not involve in adharmic karma. Why? It is not because of fear of GOD as a Hindu never be taught to fear God. It is not because of an entry ban in the heaven. But because of his love to Brahman or cosmic. A Hindu is answerable to himself, for, he knows he is part and parcel of the cosmic nature…that’s awareness…
“Ok…But do you personally believe in sins? Be honest with me…don’t give me that awareness or enlightenment or Brahman crap and all”
“My dear friend, I am not an enlightened person. I am still in the entry-level Hinduism, though I am trying to be a seeker. I still have damn problem with subtle ego (which comes in disguise), so I am not fully aware. I do believe in some good and bad. According to me, some of the worst sins in Hinduism are wishing for bad things for others, without understanding they are part of us. I also consider eating meat as sin. But there are Hindus who eat meat. They don’t think it as sin. That means, the definition for bad things or sin is relative – different for different Hindus….There is no standardization of good and bad like other religions”
“Hey, I too am vegetarian and I also believe in non-violence. Christians also profess non-violence, do you know?”
“That’s great. So, in short, sin in Hinduism = giving pain or torture or even making feel bad to someone by your mind or words or by actions. (mansa, vaachaa, karmana)…”
“So, you will get punishment and go to hell…lol” he laughed.
“No…No…No….Again, we don’t have punishment like that of yours. Though Garuda Purana talks about ‘hell’ and ‘heaven,’ the subject is completely absent in the oldest texts in Hinduism..Authentic scriptures do not have such hell and heaven. We have triloka, but it is different concept… All actions are ruled by the law of Karma…”
Suddenly he asked: “Do you like Jesus Christ ?…”
“Of course I do…I believe Christ was an enlightened man like Buddha, Madhvacharya and Sankaracharya…That doesn’t mean I take everything they says as truth. I am a Hindu by birth and by wish… So I have freedom and choice to believe what I want…”
“I am happy that you have a balanced view. I should also read these things on Hinduism. I do hope you won’t feel that we are fanatic, as I got angry in between…”
“Not at all…”
We became good friends and still continuing the friendship.
~ Udaylal Pai, Freelance Journalist, Writer and Researcher