Saturday, September 18, 2010

Original Sin, Original Ignorance

Buddhism is different from Christianity in how sin is defined.  In Christianity, sin is doing something wrong.  There is a rule, and you break that rule, it is a sin.  In fact, Christianity teaches that people are already born into sin, with original sin inherited from our parents.

Buddhism takes a different approach.  It teaches that we are born in ignorance.  We just don’t know.  When we do something wrong, it is because we are ignorant.  If we knew better, we wouldn’t have done it. 

Most crimes depend on us being ignorant of ourselves and of others.  Sin can be its own punishment.  If we are cold and cruel toward another, we become cold and cruel.  Our mind narrows, our emotions weaken, and we are worse off.  We are ignorant of others because we don’t consider their feelings, their inner states.  I don’t consider your suffering when I do something to you, because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to hurt you.

The path in Buddhism is to discover how our mind-bodies work, and what they are like.  Because the more we learn about ourselves, the more we learn about others.  Other people are just like us, only the content is different.  You and I both have thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations; we are both aware and have hopes and dreams, loves and losses.  They are different thoughts and feelings, but essentially we are the same.  As I learn about my pain and suffering, and then I see you in pain and suffering, I can easily put myself in your place.  I’ve felt your suffering.  If I know myself well enough, I can project myself into your situation and know exactly how I would feel.

This is the birth of compassion.  This may be why in Buddhism, wisdom and compassion and developed at the same time. 


  1. Isn't sin that which separates us from God? The fundamentalists see it as "wrong", but for many Christ followers, it is the painful reality that we are often separate from the beloved. In Buddhism the emphasis is on overcoming through strength of will, hours spent in meditation, a hierarchy of enlightened stages. Christ taught forgiveness, instantaneous joining with the beloved, in return for the acknowledgement on our part that it is we who obstruct the reunion. Believe in the bread of life, and you will find what you are looking for.

  2. Traveler,

    Buddhist meditation is about settling the mind and then turning it toward investigation, not building will or ascending a hierarchy. Meditation and contemplation allow us to experience the truth in a transformative way. Simply exchanging one set of beliefs for another will not do the trick. Believing in Christ will not make one Christ-like, just as believing in the sun does not make one sun-like.