Buddhists Have It Wrong About Original Sin.

Via Scott Robinson
on Aug 17, 2010
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I watched a friend choose an Amish-style straw hat at a Pennsylvania farm stand. Tracing the decorative woven vent around the hat’s circumference, he discovered that the beginning and end of the border didn’t line up with each other. Because of this flaw, I thought he would reject the hat, but he bought it—because of the flaw. “That’s how you know it’s hand-made,” he said.

I heard Tara Brach refer, in a podcasted dharma talk, to “the imperfect stuff—the human stuff.”  Whenever we link humanness with imperfection—whenever we excuse our mistakes with the plea “I’m only human”– we are confessing original sin.

Original sin is not “original guilt;” to say that we have it doesn’t mean that we have “done anything wrong.” It simply means that we are going, sooner or later, to behave without love, because we are only human.

People speak imprecisely of “sins,” giving the erroneous impression that sin and guilt are the same thing. Mindful speakers draw a distinction between “sin” and “sinful acts.” To behave unlovingly is sinful; the thing within us that drives us to do so is sin.

Pema Chödrön (whom I love–don’t get the wrong idea, here) often contrasts original sin with what she calls “original soft spot”–that vulnerable place within all of us, the defense of which is at the root of all human unhappiness. It is a false dilemma. The soft spot that makes us act without love is sin; the sin that all of us carry is our soft spot.

Yes–the doctrine of original sin has been notoriously abused and harmfully applied. It has been invoked to claim that humanity is “totally depraved,” that we can do nothing for ourselves, that we are all damned until proven otherwise. I repent the harm that these beliefs have caused, particularly when the Good News for the poor and powerless has been subverted in the service of the rich and powerful. But the distortion and misuse of a truth doesn’t invalidate that truth.

A contemptuous or dismissive tone from Buddhists toward the doctrine of original sin alienates Christians who wish to learn from Buddhist tradition (there are many more of us than you may realize,) and doubtless shuts out Buddhists from any benefit they might gain from the Gospel of Jesus. We all address the human imperfections that we variously call by the names “sin,” “soft spot,” or “unconsciousness.”

Sin is like the “noise” of music-making–the bellows of the accordion, the click of trumpet valves or clarinet keys, fingers squeaking across the fretboard, the inbreath of singers. On the one hand, it does interfere with the music; on the other, it is part of it. Noise-free music doesn’t exist in nature.  We strive to play as purely as we can, but we do not imagine that we can exclude all noise from the performance.  A little sonic debris lets us know that what we are hearing is handmade; like the sand in the bottom of a bowl of chowder, it is a gritty certifier of authenticity.

Human life is gritty. “All have sinned,” said the Apostle Paul[i], “and fallen short of the glory of God.” We need to love one another, because we are all in the same boat. This knowledge—that we are never alone in our flawed humanness—is a gift. Sinless humanity doesn’t exist in nature; original sin is how we know we are hand-made.

[i] Romans 3:23


About Scott Robinson

Scott Robinson taught college music at a Christian university for ten years before leaving to pursue creative work and fatherhood.  He has written for Sojourners Magazine, PRISM, Cross Currents, Minnesota Parent, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  He currently composes, records and performs original kirtan with his band Mandala mandalaband.net. Scott is a professed member of the Third Order of St. Francis,  and lives in Philadelphia with his wife, two children, and two incessantly shedding dogs. 


76 Responses to “Buddhists Have It Wrong About Original Sin.”

  1. Greg Houston says:

    From a Buddhist perspective, the notion of original sin just doesn't serve any purpose.

    Christian view: We have original sin and must ask for forgiveness in order to enter paradise.

    Buddhist view: There is suffering. The cause of suffering is a mistake in perception. There is a condition free from suffering and the cause of suffering. There is a path for removing the cause of suffering.

    Christian view: We are humans and fundamentally flawed.

    Buddhist view: The fundamental essence of all beings is primordially pure. Some beings have a mistake in their perception and thus believe themselves to be humans, gods, animals, demons, and so forth. Ultimately however, these roles are not unlike wearing a costume. The costumes are not actually who we are in essence. Some beings have always been awake, free from this mistake in perception. These are the primordial Buddhas. They can appear as humans, animals, gods and so forth, but do not actually believe those appearances are real. They are free from cyclic existence. They do not take birth in the hell, hungry ghost, animal, human, jealous god, and god realms by the force of past actions. If they appear in one of those realms, it is to help the beings there to gradually overcome this mistake in perception. Of note, Sakyamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha) is not a primordial Buddha. He started out with this basic confusion just like us and was able to sever it. Just as Sakyamuni was able to awaken, so can any other being.

    So the closest thing Buddhists have to original sin is what is described in the second noble truth as the cause of suffering, which is a mistake in perception, ignorance. This ignorance however is not necessarily permanent. It can be removed. It is like a dark cloud in the sky. When the cloud is gone it leaves no mark. The sky is not stained by it. This is liberation, liberation from this mistake in perception and thus from the suffering that mistake creates.

    Because of this dualistic mistake in perception, because we believe the self is inherently real, we also believe other is inherently real, and out of this arises passion, aggression, and stupidity. It is because of this mistake in perception that Buddhas and bodhisattvas have compassion for ordinary beings. They clearly see that the suffering of ordinary beings is unnecessary.

    From a Buddhist perspective, the Christian god is just as confused as any other being, and is actually in a less optimal situation for waking up than those who are wearing the human costume. Beings in the hell realms are suffering too much in order to practice the Dharma. Beings in the hungry ghost realms are too overwhelmed by greed. Beings in the animal realms have minds too obscured by the fog of ignorance. Beings in the jealous god realms (demons) are too overwhelmed with jealousy. They want what the gods have but without practicing the virtue necessary to actually take birth as a god. The gods in the lower heaven realms (the paradises) are too happy to bother waking up. They are pleased with their current costume. The gods in the formless realms are single mindedly lost in their absorption states and completely unaware of any other beings.

    Only in the role of a human is the balance of suffering and happiness workable enough for waking up.

    So if you are looking for a meeting point between Buddhism and Christianity, you basically have to stick with the subjects of loving-kindness and conventional compassion and perhaps to some degree the shamatha aspect of meditation. Beyond that, the view, path, and fruition of these two paths wildly diverge.

    To relate to your last sentence, Buddhists are taught to connect with others on the basis that we are all seeking the same thing, happiness and freedom from suffering. Buddhists and Christians just differ in what we believe the cause of suffering is, and so seek a different means to attaining happiness. Christians believe paradise will cure their woes. Buddhists say paradise, though it may last for trillions of years, will eventually dissolve into space and the beings there, including the current god, will fall back into the lower realms. Thus Buddhists seek to be free from cyclic existence entirely. Having attained Buddhahood, they can then emanate into countless realms to aid others in awakening.

  2. Greg: Thanks for putting so much time and care into your comment. While I'm not prepared to address everything you've said here, there are a few points I'd like to speak to.

    1) "Forgiveness" doesn't apply to original sin, because original sin is not guilt; forgiveness only applies to sinful actions. With respect to "paradise," I'm afraid you have oversimplified things a little; the New Testament picture of paradise (the Hebrew Bible does not really contain one) was largely informed by the bloody persecution of the early Christians under the Romans, and there is a wide divergence of opinion about its meaning outside of that context.

    2) While your characterization of Christian doctrine–"We are humans and fundamentally flawed"–is correct as far as it goes, I fear it doesn't go as far as it might. While that is certainly the emphasis in Protestant theology, it is less emphasized in other Christian expressions; my own Anglican tradition emphasizes it less, and the Orthodox churches–with whose thought Anglicanism has some parallels–emphasizes the essential goodness of humanity, which must be freed from ignorance and sin. Thomas Merton–who, though a Roman Catholic, was very much in touch with Eastern Christian thought–compared the human soul to a diamond that has been encased in layers of muck; even under the muck, it is still radiant, and when set free, it will shine. You may, as a Buddhist, find that a more comfortable formulation.

    3) I am not in a position to comment on the Buddhist cosmology you describe, except to say that it sounds familiar to me through my study of Vedanta. I am curious as to whether it is a universally held Buddhist cosmology, or is particular to your own tradition?

    4) With respect to the "wildly divergent" view, path and fruition of the Gospel from that of Buddhism, I respectfully submit that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galations 5:22-23)–all of which are, I think, at least compatible with the fruits of Buddhist practice.

    5) With respect to those who have attained Buddhahood aiding in the awakening of others, I do not see a great difference between that formulation and the understanding, implicit in the Christian veneration of the saints, that liberated souls are active in the world for good. (Once again, if you take Protestant Christianity as your model, you may not be aware of this, as Protestantism denies that the departed have any such role.) Catholic, Orthodox, and some indigenous Indian Christianities especially emphasize the role of the liberated souls beyond the death of the body.

    5) On the question of human perfectibility on this plane of existence, I agree that we must agree to disagree, though I am prepared to be proven wrong by experience.

    Finally, even if I grant for the sake of conversation that Trungpa Rinpoche's "soft spot" is not the same thing as original sin–and I know that a great many Christians as well as Buddhists would hasten to say it does not–I hope we can allow that they a great deal in common, and that the most Elephantine Christians and Buddhists can refrain from speaking disrespectfully of each other's doctrines, as I have, sadly, heard both do.

  3. Greg Houston says:

    Granted, my notion of Christianity is mostly that which is offered by those attempting to convert or save me. It generally goes something like, "All you need to do is ask Jesus to forgive you for your sins, and accept him as your savior" … and depending on the speaker, I will either be reborn in heaven or enjoy paradise here on earth. I try to kindly explain to them that I do hope they make it to their paradise or heaven, but I am not interested. Generally there is a brief pause here since I don't think they have an immediate response in their sales pitch for, "He believes in heaven, but doesn't want to go." After the pause, if the speaker believes in hell the speaker will state that it is the only alternative to going to heaven. If they don't believe in hell, they will either say that non-existence is the only alternative, of which there is nothing worse they tell me, or they will try to explain how unspeakably wonderful paradise will be, children playing with lions, no on has to work because the trees drop all the food you need, we all have the bodies of our youth again, and so on.

    I read the King James Bible when I was younger. So it is not fresh in my mind, but the Old Testament didn't really come across as a spiritual guide to me at all. It seemed more about how to be a human under God's rule. Right from the start there is an issue with beings eating from the tree of knowledge which to my mind meant this particular book did not encourage the practice of spirituality at all. You are a human, prone to sin, and need to know your place. The Tree of Life is off limits now as well. I could be wrong about the symbolism, but the tree represents the life force pole to me. It is awakened by kundalini, which is likened to a snake. It's flowers are the chakras. It's fruit is the various aspects of intelligence awakened at each of the chakras as the kundalini rises. Granted this is oversimplified as well, but that was my immediate interpretation of it. Only in Christianity does the desire to awaken intelligence seem somehow wrong. Thus for a reader like myself, the Old Testament seems to go on and on about nothing of any real value. It seems anti-spiritual.

    The New Testament then comes off as having a slightly bigger view with heaven or paradise being the goal or reward.

    In Buddhism we categorize motivation. The small of the small is just seeking happiness in this lifetime. The medium of the small is seeking happiness in this lifetime with spiritual tools. The great of the small is seeking a happy rebirth in the next lifetime, such as in a heaven realm. The middling motivation is to seek freedom from cyclic birth for oneself alone. Great motivation is seeking enlightenment in order to free others from cyclic birth as well.

    So here again, my oversimplification, but the Old Testament seems stuck spiritually because of the whole issue surrounding this "original sin". Finally someone comes up with a notion to resolve this issue, and in the New Testament we start to get our first taste of baby spirituality. It comes across like a watered down devotional yoga. I am probably oversimplifying still, but generally there is the notion in devotional yoga that we become that which we worship. This notion though was still too much for even the New Testament. In the New Testament you can get closer to that which you worship, but since there is only one God, you couldn't possibly become like God himself. You are in some sense damned to a certain level of intelligence and ability.

    Now I imagine there are mystical schools of Judaism such as the Kabbalah and maybe even of Christianity that go beyond the King James Bible, but the Bible itself seems like a huge and unhelpful stumbling block for a being attempting to awaken spiritual intelligence.

    Responses to your points:

    1. Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that a being needs forgiveness for their original sin. Reading about original sin on Wikipedia it seems there are many different takes on it within Christianity. Wikipedia says it is not even mentioned in the Bible, sort of like there is no apple in the story of Adam and Eve.

    2. Again, sorry, we being humans that are fundamentally flawed seem to be at the core of your article, and the reason why we should care for each other.

    "the imperfect stuff—the human stuff.”

    “All have sinned,” said the Apostle Paul[i], “and fallen short of the glory of God.” We need to love one another, because we are all in the same boat.

  4. Greg Houston says:

    4. Yes, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" would all be considered relative fruits or signs of practicing Buddhism, though don't really point at the fruition, at enlightenment itself. What I am getting at with fruition, is by following your path, what will your state be once you attain the goal or once you no longer need to practice, once you fully embody what your path is pointing toward and so your expression, if you have one, is the natural expression of that state? What will your realization be? In Buddhism there is a very specific realization that cuts through mistaken perception. Buddhists believe that without that realization, spiritual practices ultimately just lead to birth in the various heaven realms. There are the desire realms which are like paradises. There are the form realms where beings are absorbed in limitless love, or limitless compassion, or limitless joy, or limitless equanimity, and so forth. Then there are the formless realms where beings are absorbed in states such as infinite space, infinite consciousness, infinite nothingness, and neither perceiving or non-perceiving. All of these conditions, though some may last incredibly long periods of time, are impermanent. The Buddha taught that anything created is impermanent. From the Buddhist perspective, we have all practiced spirituality limitless times, climbed up into the heaven realms, and then eventually fell once again. There is the analogy that if the number of beings in the hell realms are like the stars in the sky, there is one being in comparison in the hungry ghost realms. And if the number of beings in the hungry ghost realms are like the stars in the sky, there is one being in comparison in the animal realm. This analogy continues in comparison of the animal and human realms, the human and jealous god realms, the jealous god and god realms. Consider the number of creatures in one square foot of dirt. There are so many creatures, bacteria, worms, insects, and so forth in a square foot of dirt they could never be counted, yet we can count the number of humans on the entire planet. The point is, in cyclic existence, most of our time is spent in the three lower realms, and due to the type of suffering we experience there, practicing the virtue necessary to attain a birth in one of the higher realms is incredibly difficult.

    5. I think the difference is a matter of how vast and profound the vow to help others is. By vast I mean a bodhisattva vows to attain enlightenment and benefit all beings without exception for endless time. A Buddha is said to manifest in a billion worlds like ours simultaneously within a single universe. They will still be available when this universe dies and the next arises, though not all universes have Buddhas appearing to manifest in the flesh. In this particular universe Sakyamuni said 104 Buddhas would appear. He was the fourth. In some universes more appear, some less, and some none, yet they are still available, just not appearing in the flesh to revive the teachings. Beings have to be ripe to for the Dharma to enter the world at any given point. The Buddha taught that the Dharma lasts in any place for only a brief period. Beings gradually forget the meaning and the teachings are lost. When beings are ripe for it again, another Buddha appears. Without this vast motivation it is said one cannot realize Buddhahood. Regarding the motivation, it's not really the intention of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to help us be happier or cope better in this particular lifetime. What is ultimately meant by benefiting us is helping us become like them, to realize their same realization.

    6. I'm not really sure what you were referring to here specifically.

  5. Greg Houston says:

    I think the main thing with the soft spot is that it's sort of an indicator at a certain point in meditation. We are sitting there meditating, and suddenly we sense ego's vulnerability, the vulnerability of our notion of self. We want to cover that up, to close down again in order to protect this vulnerable ego. The teaching is simply to remain open, to become accustomed to that openness rather than try to hide that vulnerability with passion, aggression, greed, pride, jealousy, ignorance, hope or fear or what have you. Just be open and vulnerable. We are starting to let go of some habitual tendencies here. Gradually our minds become more stable, vivid and strong because we are not generating endless thoughts trying to distract ourselves from this basic feeling of insecurity and uncertainty. We start to experience gaps between thoughts. In those gaps insight can arise. We first start to see through our storylines, then through our ideas, judgements, and labels. Inspecting our notion of self we can gradually see through it as well. Egolessness is one level of realization in Buddhism, but not the full realization of a Buddha. If we are practicing the four foundations of mindfulness, we would start meditating on the body. At some point we realize we can't find a solid body, but are rather experiencing ever changing sensations. We start meditating on the body as feeling. At some point we recognize energy as just the play of space. We begin to meditate on body as space. Later we recognize this space as inseparable from mind. All is the play of mind. There are then practices for looking directly at mind which lead to the realization of emptiness and ultimately to enlightenment. All of this starts with the courage to remain open, with the commitment to experience the basic suffering caused by the belief in ego. There is a layer of suffering that Trungpa is pointing at that we can start to glimpse that underlies all of our experience and that it is said not to generally be consciously experienced by ordinary beings at all. Ordinary beings are too accustomed to continuously covering it up. By relating to that soft spot we can start to see just how ingrained this suffering is and start to discover the gaps in that which is causing it. Even the gods have this pretty much continuous suffering going on, but it is obscured by whatever form of elation they have fabricated and absorbed themselves in. It is this level of unconscious suffering that keeps us endlessly occupied and moving through cyclic existence. We are continuously running away from this intangible thing, never stopping to turn around and see what it is exactly we are trying to escape from. If we do stop, and we have the courage to rest in that discomfort, to remain open, then new possibilities arise. It is possible to wake up … in the Buddhist sense of waking up.

    So there is definitely common ground to talk about between Christians and Buddhists, but I think we do both a disservice if we try to take it too far. Some of the basic practices about how to behave in regards to other beings are similar. Practicing virtue and decreasing non-virtue is going to have the same results for everyone. That is good stuff. Beyond that though, the view and path go different directions. Virtuous activity by itself does not lead to the enlightenment of a Buddha. It is simply the cause for suitable conditions in which to practice.

    You know your reply is too long when the forum makes you split it up in three parts. 🙂

  6. Greg Houston says:

    And I missed copy/pasting the reply to #3:

    3. The cosmology of samsara, of the six realms, is that taught by Sakyamuni Buddha. I haven't ever heard of an alternative Buddhist cosmology. These realms can be likened to illusory dream states which beings mistakenly perceive as real. Birth in these realms is dependent upon past actions. No realm created by karma, by past actions, is permanent. Eventually the energy invested into that seed is exhausted as the realm it produces plays itself out.

  7. Ben Ralston says:

    Hi Scott, nice article, thank you. It’s very well written, and I enjoyed the ideas.

    I also enjoyed the ensuing debate between yourself and Greg.

    For what it’s worth, here’s my take:

    Buddhism and Christianity are both religions / spiritual traditions that are founded on the teachings of great men, who died a long, long time ago. In my experience, such teachings tend to become ‘stale’, and the organizations that continue to promote them become institutions that are attached (ironically) to the original teachings.

    Every genuine spiritual teacher tells their disciples, from a place of love and compassion, exactly what they need to hear the most.

    What they need to hear is different depending on the age. Hence the disparity between all great spiritual teachers! It’s not that some are wrong – it’s just that we all need to learn different lessons at different times.

    Osho apparently said (and I quote him not because I think he was necessarily a great teacher, but simply because of the great quote!) to his followers that when he died they should find another teacher, because his teachings, as taught by the Osho organization, would no longer be relevant. I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

    In any case, I believe a spiritual path, whether it’s walked by a Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, or any other religion or sub-sect of a religion should focus on *mindfulness* and presence.

    With love, Ben Ralston

  8. Thanks, Iain. I have generally found it useful, whenever I encounter something in any faith tradition to which my first reaction is "That's stupid," to assume that either I am not understanding it properly, or it is being poorly presented.

  9. Thanks, Steven; Yes, I think it’s absolutely true that “People who were trying to be hard have committed the greatest crimes in history.” And you’re right: toward the end of my piece I did characterize the “soft spot” as that which makes us act without love–which I evidently did not tie back clearly enough to my earlier statement that it is the misguided *defense* of the soft spot, and not the soft spot itself, that is at the root of human suffering. (At least, that’s what I take away from Pema Chödrön.) In my mind I generally link the soft spot with the wounded Sacred Heart of Jesus–which, in the traditional depictions, Jesus is not armoring, but rather exposing to view, as if to say, “Look, folks–*this* is where the magic happens!” The crucifixion of Jesus represents, for many of us, the death of the ego and egoic clinging and attachment–so when Jesus says to “Take up your cross and follow me,” he is, indeed, showing us a way out of suffering. (Or at any rate, a way out of meaningless, non-redemptive suffering.)

  10. Hi, Scott.

    This quite a benign and quaint view of original sin compared to what I was taught by the nuns, starting when I was seven years old.

    I was taught that because of original sin, I was personally responsible for that poor man being nailed to the cross up there in front of the room, the one with crown of thorns and the large gash in his side from the stab of the spear.

    Further, I was taught that, because of original sin, babies who die before they are baptized are forever denied heaven, but God, in his infinite mercy, created a place called Limbo, so they wouldn't have to go to hell.

    Your interpretation is definitely a little more benign than what I was taught as a kid.

    (I don't know what Catholics are being taught today, but usually when I check in with Benedict, he's saying pretty much the same things as the nuns taught me.)

    Bob Weisenberg

  11. That said, I urge everyone interested in this topic to read the fascinating debate on William Harryman's blog from last year Original Sin vs. Original Perfection in which I play the unlikely role of defending Catholicism.

    Here was my opening comment to Bill's blog, which ignited one of wildest discussions ever on Elephant:

    Original sin is only one of many ridiculous required beliefs (on the threat of going to hell) that caused me to abandon Catholicism in high school, after being the most devout of little altar boys growing up. So, at first I read your excellent article and said to myself yeah, Bill's right on.

    But then I gave it a little more thought. It feels strange to be be defending Catholicism here. But it seems that your article is a set-up, comparing the most irrational indefensible dogma of Catholicism against the most rational aspects of Buddhism. In reality there are highly rational Catholic writers who can reasonably metaphorize even original sin, and Buddhism has its own set of unlikely dogma, like reincarnation and divine succession of lamas, etc.

    If I ever chose to be part of an organized religion again (following deep life experiences with both Catholicism and Judaism) I would probably feel more comfortable with Buddhism than Catholicism. So in that way I'm with you. But if you avoid the easy device of comparing the worst of Catholicism to the best of Buddhism, it's not as cut and dry as you're making it out to be. From what I read, Buddhist temples are not exactly bastions of pure rationality either.

    Furthermore, most of the austere, life-sucking, desire-suppressing, human-nature-denying recommendations of the Dhammapada are identical to those taught to us by the nuns in face-squeezing habits and broad starched-white collars who were my teachers through 8th grade.

    Can you see how that might inspire a little debate?

    Bob Weisenberg

  12. Oh, Bob, I love this this! Thank you!

  13. Then, the versions of Buddhism popular in the West are very benign compared to those believed in by the vast majority of Buddhists in the world, who fear being reborn in hell realms for their sins.

  14. Then, according to non-fundamentalist Christian scholars, Jesus shouldn't be held responsible for the exorcising demons thing. The earliest writings about Jesus simply contained teachings, as well as a sense of how strongly he moved his followers (see him as the truth, the light, etc.). It was only in the decades that followed that the virgin birth, resurrection, and miracles became parts of the story.

  15. Roger Wolsey says:

    well, many, if not most, mainline Protestants view it metaphorically (though, alas, they are no longer the majority in the U.S.).
    I'll share more in an article inspired by this one. Peace. sinfully yours, Roger

  16. zen_buddhism says:

    Original sin is erroneous simply because it's a misunderstanding of the nature of ourselves and the cosmos. There is nothing lacking anywhere.

  17. BrotherRog says:

    Here's the link to my follow-up article: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/08/a-progress

  18. This would certainly be the ultra-passionately expressed view in the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, too (way too passionately expressed for the taste of many Buddhists!)

    Bob Weisenberg

  19. I just had the very odd thought that Yoga spirituality is like a strange mating of the philosophy of Buddhism with the "Glory to God in the Highest" ecstasy of the most devout Christians.

    Bob Weisenberg

  20. You are a very wise man, Mr. Matt. You weren't one of those three king guys, were you?

    (A few more comments like this and you'll have to change your handle to "IntegralWiseMan". )

    Bob W.

  21. elephantjournal says:

    Hiroshi Sunairi Wrong place to even start a discussion the article is referring to watered down western buddhists text which is written by westerners who understood Buddhism in their western background so referring it as rigorous Buddhist is wrong to begin with and it is just ethnocentricism and ignorance at the end

    Annie Ory Oh… Hiroshi. All religions and belief systems, including Buddhism, are MADE UP! Changing or misunderstanding a religion is just making it up anew. Guess what? There is no God. There was no magical person named Siddhartha who lived for 40 days and 40 nights (why's it always 40?) without food or water by concentrating internally. That didn't happen, neither did 40/40 with Jesus. It's all just made up…

    Irène Grainger Hubert no comment. sauf que dans le jardin d'eden à la création ils étaient deux

    Tiffany Butler
    Annie, for you to say "there is no God" and "keep your panties on…" sounds so completely and entirely arrogant- as if you created air or water or the concept of wireless internet. You have the right to believe or practice whatever you cho…ose, but dont belittle those who have a difference of opinion than your own. I happen to be a faith-based Christian and do not pretend to understand the mysteries of creation but choose to live my life through the hope and grace of God. There is nothing wrong or silly about that- it's a personal preference, a standard for my life.

    Karen Hanegan
    Annie and Mark: You both, as Tiffany said, have the right to believe whatever you want; but I find your comments rude, uneducated and arrogant.

    Annie: 40 days and 40 nights are frequently mentioned in the Bible and Buddhism because it is und…erstood to be a SYMBOL; it means a beginning and an end. Much in the Bible is not meant to be taken literally.See More

    Deborah Quartz Tiffany: you speak my heart…bless you!

    Shakti Dancer much in the bible is not meant to be taken literally? really? then what is the point?

    Nite Pink I confess and believe in my heart that Jesus died for our sins! And daily we must confess and stand prayed up because we don't know the minute nor hour! But we do know that he lives n work in us daily

    Karen Hill
    ‎@Annie – you may also wish to learn more about Buddhism. No one who follows Buddhism sees the Buddha as anything other than a human who attained complete self-awareness and enlightenment, not a magical being. The Buddha himself even refu…ted that he had super powers and was not to be worshiped as a God. He did not teach his way was the only way (as other faiths do). He said this is how I did it. If you too seek self-awareness and enlightenment, take what is helpful and right for you and leave the rest behind. But you still must find it for yourself.

    There are multiple branches of Buddhism. Some no not incorporate any diety worship while others have incorporated diety worship. What the Buddha taught was not spiritual. It was more about the philosophical/psychology of ourselves and others. Some people need a spiritual aspect to their life, so they incorporate religion into their Buddhist practice.

    The stories of different faiths/religions were handed down verbally for hundreds of years. When something is repeated there is always a change or something is left out. From what I have been taught, by the time the Buddha's teachings were recorded on paper, there was only one monk who remembered all the teachings that had been passed down (by others). It is also suggested he was an arrogant monk, so he may have put his own spin on it. Therefore, we do not have the exact words spoken, only the handed-down version. Same goes for other holy texts.

    Did a whale really swallow Jonah as told in the Bible? In that time lessons about life and how to live it were taught through parables. It does not mean they are factual, only that in that time and for that audience it was the way to teach something at their level that they could understand.

    Buddhists do not assume anything or accept everything as factual until they have experienced it themselves to be certain. This is why The Buddha refused to answer the question, "Is there is a God?" He said it was not something we can know unless we experience it. Why spend time worrying a question there is no answer to at this time when there are so many other questions you can find answers to.

    When you die, then you will know with certainty if there is a God or not.

  22. elephantjournal says:

    Nite Pink How do u think u got ur life, job, cars, houses or even kids:) god said seek and ye shall find. Knock n the door will be open. Ask n u shall receive! I pray that the lost believer will find peace n love in the wilderness! May god bless the reader of this message!

    Mariah Brown Charbonneau
    I thought it was a well-written article, causing me to ponder the ideas written there; isn't that the point of any piece of journalism? To open up a dialogue – whether that dialogue is internal or with others? Some articles will speak to …me – others won't…but even if it doesn't speak to ME, it doesn't take away from the value of it in my mind if it sparks interest in ONE person to walk a more enlightened path, or to question long-held beliefs that may be causing more damage than good for them. Thank you for the post.

    Karen Hill ‎@Just Randi : "Sakyamuni hates f#gs" … now THAT is a good one! Thanks for the chuckle.

    There is a common truth that runs through all spiritual traditions. Truth and Love. Everything else just complicates things.

    Just Ⓥ Randi
    I really enjoyed not only this article, but the discussion taking place on the comment panel. Though I have to say, I get exasperated listening to everyone focus on our differences rather than learning about each other as to focus on our si…milarities. I am tired of seeing the Christian religion shoved down people's throats (Not in reference to this article AT ALL). True unabashed faith in ANYTHING is great. And characteristically speaking, Christians and Buddhists DO have common ground, though many Christians do not see it that way, or practice their own beliefs of love and compassion to the highest standard. I say: Believe as you wish. It is your free will. I neither condemn nor condone. But I haven't read any articles lately about Buddhist extremists carrying signs reading "Sakyamuni hates fags", or "Enlightenment or Burn for Eternity". Tragically, it's very easy to hold some resentment toward a religion that nurtures such hate and judgment. So before making the 'entirely arrogant' call, place yourself in the shoes of someone else, and examine it through their eyes. I think you'd find it to be an 'enlightening' view, if you'll forgive the wordplay. 🙂 May everyone have a wonderful Wednesday. Namaste.

    elephantjournal.com We are all one. There is only this moment NOW, and nothing really matters except how we use it. Let's focus on loving ourselves and each other, deeply. Posted by Ben Ralston

    Just Ⓥ Randi ‎@ej- I love it! So very true! I just wish all humankind could overcome these opinionated boundaries and learn to love each other, as it should be.

    Scott Robinson Thanks, Just Randi–I couldn't agree more. I must say that from my perspective, the Gospel of Jesus ddid not "nurture" the Westboro "Baptist Churches" of the world–rather, they have attempted to hijack the Gospel. Jesus said, "Judge not, that you may not be judged."

    Remy Chevalier It's the Doppler Effect.

    Don't know what upsets you
    We're gonna take you to the outer space
    Find planets – red, blue
    Let's make a universal race
    …(Theatre of Tragedy)

    Remy Chevalier Yes, good and evil, heaven and hell, yin and yang, male and female, all has to do with the change of speed and density of our expanding universe.

    Michael Myers For me, my personal interpretation is that sin means to miss the mark and that in Buddhism 'desire' is to miss the mark, for we seek a method or a transitory fulfilment when who we really are; is already fulfilled therefore we miss the mark.

    Scott Robinson Actually, Michael, the word "sin" actually did originally mean "to miss the mark." (Maybe you knew that already?)

  23. Thanks for bringing that into focus, Y4C; it's an excellent point.

  24. zen_buddhism says:

    Original sin is predicated on the existence of a separate self. But there is no self apart from the cosmos. Our true self is no-self. And when you hear about no-self, don’t be sad (as Yasutani Roshi famously said). Thanks to no-self, the entire universe is self. Looking up at the night sky, the stars are just this body.

  25. With you all the way. (Are you sure your Buddhist friends know you're talking in public with such untamed Gita-type love for the universe?)

    Bob Weisenberg

  26. ZB: That comic is *really* funny! And I am with you on the "entire universe is self" part–a contribution of Vedanta to my own spiritual unfolding. With respect to "no-self," it's not altogether foreign to the Gospel faith; Jesus is described as having "emptied himself," and Paul said, "I live, now not I, but Christ lives within me."

  27. What's so strange about that? "Jnana" + "Bhakti" = "Yoga"? Not so strange, to my mind.

  28. You're right, of course, Scott. But it sure did strike me as odd when I thought about it!

  29. Thanks Bob – Looking back, I think you are more right than wrong. BUT . . . and you knew there would be a but, didn't you?

    I think the best of Christianity is admirable – thinking of Father Thomas Keating and Jim Wallis, just to name two. I would highly recommend Father Keating's version of centering prayer to any Christian who wants a tradition-specific contemplative practice.

    And here's the BUT – rough estimates by the Global Values Network (a few years back) suggested that about 75% of the world's Christians are operating at the tribal and mythic stages of development – i.e., they take the Bible as the literal truth and believe that the rest of us are going to burn in hell for not believing as they do. As you may or may not know, the majority of Christians are in America, South and Central America, and Africa, places where these stages (worldviews) are still common (and perhaps majorities in the population).

    I'm sure there are comparable numbers of Buddhists also operating at those stages/worldviews – and I am sure many of them believe that non-Buddhists will be reincarnated as cockroaches or something.

    The point with ALL religions is that their adherents move through developmental stages and that those stages shape how the religion is expressed within the cultural context. The cultural context also shapes the religion – There are more progressive Christians (like Wallis, and I would guess, like Scott) in the US than in the rest of the world – because the life conditions here support a more liberal Christian worldview (depending on what part of the country you are in, to be sure).

  30. zen_buddhism says:

    I guess the idea is to not get too hung up on words! As Katagiri Roshi said, "Sometimes you have to say something!" When we realize that all dualities, including birth & death, are fundamentally fiction, then we're truly free and we can step forth and talk of loving chocolate chip ice cream or disliking a certain movie or feeling passionately about a certain politician or political issue. We can simply be ourselves, naturally, without any stink of enlightenment or without concern that something sounds dualistic. Cheers again!

  31. zen_buddhism says:

    SR: Absolutely. There are many, many teachings of Christ that are very much in synch with Eastern religions and thought and vice versa…

  32. jcrows says:

    Reality takes a lot of imagination_J. Lennon_repost

  33. I can't find anything to disagree with there, Bill.

    Now what do I do? I'm lost!

    Bob Weisenberg

  34. jcrows says:

    correct that _its_reality leaves a lot to the imagination_J. Lennon http://sixties-l.blogspot.com/2010/02/nowhere-boy

  35. Amy Champ says:

    On the Christian side, the main point being that Protestants and Catholics differ on original sin.

    Catholics take the view that God is full of grace, and bears the burden. It's easier.

    Protestants flagellate themselves, and take the burden on themselves.

  36. Roger Wolsey says:

    Amy, actually self-flagellation is a practice among certain Catholic sects, not among Protestants. Protestants embrace the notion that we are saved by faith alone, not by works or effort of our own. We are saved when we accept the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – who is the one who took the burden on himself. Indeed, "grace alone" is the key tenet of Protestantism. If anything, Protestants have long criticized Catholics for having a "works based" theology such that one has to perform x, y, and z practices (7 sacraments!) in addition to accepting the gospel. That said, as a United Methodist follower of John Wesley, I embrace a hybrid place where good works are considered as potential means of grace and conversion as well as being fruits of conversion. One isn't saved by good works in the world, but if one truly is saved, then one can't help but to do them in the world as a consequence/fruit of their salvation.

  37. The Buddhist perspective includes both Buddha Nature and Mara Nature. You could actually argue that we have both good and evil inherent in all of us. Both can win in any moment. The Buddha did not teach there we are inherently good. Or inherently bad.
    I am not sure why Buddhists have it wrong about Original Sin. What does that mean exactly. Wrong about what. We are not originally anything.

  38. integralhack says:

    Great point–according to the Buddhist perspective we have no inherent essence. Most of our conceptions of good and evil are relative or conventional and can change depending on the context of the situation. To attach to a notion of "good" or "evil" is generally just an attempt to reify an existing disposition. Before you know it, you're stuck towing the "party line."

  39. Gee, Hack, now you tell me! I already felt bad enough about all that stuff I learned growing up as ultra-traditional Catholic.

    I actually have in my hand here a copy of the Baltimore Catechism No. 3 written in 1885 and still available on Amazon. I thought I should go back and take a fresh look at exactly what I was reading in 4th grade.

    Any of you Catholics out there know whether this Catechism has been replaced or rescinded by Rome? My impression is that it's still being used, but I don't want to inadvertently misrepresent current Catholic thought.

    Just found the whole book online: http://www.baltimore-catechism.com/ . You can see the exact teaching of the Church on original sin right here.


    Bob Weisenberg

  40. integralhack says:


    Some Buddhists may be talking dismissively about ways in which some Christians (referring to those of the right-wing "moral majority" persuasion) use the terms because many (most?) Christians apparently don't understand the doctrine as you present it. "Sin," after all, connotes evil, lustful or harmful conscious action/intent as it is popularly understood (example: "forgive me, father, for I have sinned.").

    A redefinition/clarification of sin as "imperfection" is all well and good, but of what benefit is that to a Buddhist?


  41. integralhack says:

    LOL. Attachments do die hard, Bob. Good luck with that.

  42. Bob: Even though H. L. Mencken did refer to the Roman Catholic Church as "the only 'The' Church," I trust you are not representing the Baltimore Catechism as the last word in universal Christian doctrine.

  43. Of course not, Scott. Not even the last word in Catholic doctrine. Just the specific current official Catholic doctrine, I think, unless someone corrects me. Thanks for allowing me to clarify.

    I just thought it was interesting to see the actual doctrine of original sin as required belief (on pain of serious sin, also described in the Catachism) by the Vatican.

    I would guess that not even a majority of Catholics in the U.S. go for a literal interpretation of much of the Baltimore Catechism. It's the flexibility of their thought, flying in the face of what is still an utterly rigid Catholic central authority (made even clearer by the choice of defender of the doctrine Benedict as pope) that allows them to remain Catholics.

    Even my mom (died in 1993 at the age of 72), who was very devout, just ignored the Pope on a lot of stuff, particularly social issues, like birth control (still prohibited by Rome, believe it or not).

    Enjoying this discussion very much. Thank you for kicking it off with your blog.

    Bob Weisenberg

  44. That’s a reasonable question, Matt. Here’s an analogy: when some people (including conservative Christians) dismiss all manner of meditative practice as “navel-gazing,” that is incorrect (whether or not some meditators actually do gaze at their navels,) and it precludes the possibility of fruitful dialogue. Likewise, when some people (including Buddhists) scoff at the doctrine of original sin in the belief that it necessarily means all people are evil (even if some Christians groups more or less believe that,) that is also incorrect, and also erects barriers to fruitful dialogue.

  45. Benhur says:

    …to get what it wants.

  46. integralhack says:

    Fair enough. But again, my question is "what value/benefit is the concept of original sin to the Buddhist?" If you're only pointing out that *some* Christians have a non-fundamentalist view of original sin and can see the Adam and Eve story as a myth as opposed to actual history and prophecy, that's great.

    If, however, you're saying that Buddhists have something to learn from the concept of original sin, that's quite a different statement. I'm wondering what there is to learn here and what the benefit would be to Buddhist practice?

    Also, my guess is that most of the "scoffing" or dismissive attitudes you may see or hear isn't so much a reaction to Christian concepts as it is a reaction to conservative Christian ideology which gets 24/7 media coverage on Fox News and other media venues.

    Finally, I would add that I'm less concerned about a Christian's notion of navel gazing meditation than I am about Christian notions–however accurate or inaccurate–of sin which have led 40 percent of Americans (per a 2005 study) to believe that the "End Time" will come about because of supernatural causes. Many Christian college students don't care about climate change or international war because of the End Time myth (Why "Go Green" since God is going to take care of things anyway? Maybe God wants a war in the Middle East?). It doesn't take much imagination to see that End Time could become a self-fulfilling prophecy fueled by fundamentalism.

    In light of all this, I wish non-fundamentalist Christians would tend to making sure that the majority of Christians understand their own myths correctly rather than worrying about what the Buddhists think.

  47. Hmmm. Well, first of all, Matt, I’m not sure what you mean by “many’ Christian college students; I taught at a Christian university for ten years, and that certainly doesn’t describe most of the students I knew, or whom I still keep in touch with. Of course, mine was not a particularly conservative institution.

    The whole “End Times” thing is a red herring; there is a huge split within the evangelical community over environmentalism, not (primarily) because people believe in imminent end times, but because conservatives assume that if they support environmentalism, they must also support abortion, gay marriage, etc.–which is why some evangelicals have coined the term “creation care,” and some conservatives have brought back “conservationism.”

    With respect to the importance of a correct understanding of original sin for everybody (Buddhists included)–beyond my already-stated reason of breaking down barriers of misunderstanding–I’ll let St. Seraphim of Sarov say it for me: “Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace…This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.”

    With respect to why I am talking to Buddhists rather than conservative Christians, it’s because I find the latter difficult to talk to–which is why I’m here at Elephant.

  48. Linda-Sama says:

    "way too passionately expressed for the taste of many Buddhists!"

    you are implying that Buddhists do not appreciate passion? I'm guessing you don't hang out with very many Buddhists.

  49. integralhack says:


    Thank you, that answers my question. I'm all for dialogue and understanding, of course.

    FYI, I also taught at a Christian college for a while and the End Times belief on the part of students was a serious concern for some of the more enlightened administration. But you surmise correctly: the institution in this case is pretty conservative.

    Naturally, Christians don't have a monopoly on fundamentalist thought, it is simply that it is the dominant fundamentalist ideology in the United States. End Times may be a red herring, as you say, but it is one that many believe in and it is largely built on misconstrued Christian concepts and myths. The red herring isn't mine, after all, but one promoted by those in political, ideological and religious power (whether they believe in it or not is often unclear).

    That said, I'm glad you're here and talking with us!