What is Sin? — A Yoga Perspective
The Sanskrit word for sin is papam, which means harmful negativity. It does not at all mean breaking the supposed law of a deity that threatens punishment for sin. A religion that has that approach should be ignored and avoided. Even in the New Testament the word translated “sin” is amartano, which simply means to miss the mark, or to fall short of the ideal.
Sin is both a state and an action, mental or physical. The state is one of darkness or cloudiness of the mind in relation to right and wrong and also duty. As I began to write this I was listening to an album of Fanny Crosby’s hymns. (She was a great mystic who practiced meditation and I believe really spoke with God, angels and saints.) One of the hymns is called “To The Work,” meaning that we must be up and doing spiritually, the “work” being our self-purification and devotion to God and spiritual life. At the university I had some classes with a truly brilliant professor, but she had no spiritual insight whatsoever, and one time in class she went on and on about “the Protestant work ethic” and how Fanny Crosby’s hymn “To The Work” was all about how we must be industrious and make money. Considering that the opening words are:
To the work! To the work! We are servants of God;
Let us follow the path that our Master has trod;
it can be seen that it is speaking of spiritual activity, not wage-earning. So why did she say this? Because her mind was so spiritually darkened she could not understand it. Plus she was so negative she wanted an excuse to complain about religion and be “righteously indignant” in her own eyes. As I say, sin clouds the mind and the intellect, and this is an example. I have heard even sillier claims made with the intent to defame religion.
Cause and Consequence
The state of sin, which includes ignorance and incomprehension of high spiritual ideas, naturally results in the person doing foolish and negative things. And such actions are “sins.” Just as a person covered with mud is not mud, so those who have fallen into evil ways are not really evil but deluded, and delusion is not permanent in anyone.
Freedom from sin
What is the “cure” for sin and its effects? The Bhagavad Gita says: “Even if you should be the most sinful among all the sinful, yet you would cross over all sin by the raft of knowledge alone. As the kindled fire reduces wood to ashes, in the same way the fire of knowledge reduces all karmas to ashes” (Bhagavad Gita 4:36–37). The knowledge which dispels sin is the knowledge which comes from spiritual illumination and purification.
All human beings have sinned and may sin, but they are not sinners by nature. Rather, they are divine, eternal spirits ever one with God. But many births in the material world have darkened their consciousness and they have forgotten their real nature. What is needed is awakening to actual spiritual realities. Buried within each one is the divine light, covered over so only darkness is presently perceived. Yoga is the means by which the holy light is uncovered and we know ourselves as we really are.
“The Gayatri called Ajapa [Soham] is the giver of liberation to the sages; by merely repeating it mentally one is released from all sin” (Garuda Purana 15:70).
- Atoning for Our Sins: The Problem with the Western View
- Did Jesus Really “Pay the Price” for Our Sins?
- Reincarnation: Choosing Our Costumes in the Drama of Life
More articles by Abbot George Burke can be found at The Light of the Spirit Blog.