Friday, March 16, 2012

Sin and Ignorance

In Buddhism trouble is caused by ignorance, we have wrong views and we do not understand ourselves and the world in the right way. In Christianity trouble is caused by sin, which is usually taken to be immoral behaviour. But the actual meaning of the word sin is to "miss the mark" in archery, which is something we say when people do not understand (e.g., he really missed the mark). Therefore the cause of sin is a failure to understand, not the breaking of a rule. Both Buddhism and Christianity make moral prescriptions against things like drinking alcohol or having sex, in the case of a monk or a nun. But breaking these rules is not a sin because rule breaking is not sin. It is the failure to understand, which cannot be separated from the failure to act on compassion, which is the sin. Moral rules are based on avoiding activities that are highly likely to lead to ignorant actions so usually they should be followed. But it is ignorant, and therefore a sin, to believe that breaking a rule is a sin. All rules can and should be broken under the right circumstances.

The idea that we are sinners is not to say that we are bad, but that we are ignorant. Therefore we should be humble because it is only when we question our knowledge and beliefs that we can learn.

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