Neil's Website | Ajit's Website

Hindu Concept
Paap & Mukthi

To find a coherent system of thought in Hinduism is practically difficult because it is a compendium of various philosophies from Atheism to Monotheism. So it will be impossible for me to attempt a definition of Sin and Salvation like other religions. There are six systems of Hindu philosophies

The Shaddarshanas are

  • Nyaya of Gautama
    Vaisheshika of Kanada
    Sankhya of Kapila
    Yoga of Patanjali
    Mimamsa of Jaimini and
    Vedanta of Badarayana or Vyasa

  • The Nyaya and Vaisheshika advance the atomic theory of creation. These are essentially disciplines of reasoning and logic. Sankhya propounds the theory of the animate souls and inanimate matter as the basic factors in creation and does not dwell into the cause of this existence. Yoga deals mainly with the control of the mind. Mimosa is more interested in upholding Vedic rituals. Vedanta means the end of Vedas. It is based on the Upanishads, the Gita and the Brahma Sutras of Vyasa, and gives the most rational solution to the fundamental problems posed by philosophy. In the system of Vedanta the Supreme Being is a person and a consciousness which projects this universe, sustains it and withdraws it into itself as Brahman. It holds the individual soul (Atman) to be eternal. This eternal soul incarnates in material body and changes them as required. When one ignorant of the divinity of the self, this illusion brings pain and suffering. It is this avidly that is considered as sin. Attainment of liberation is possible through various means. A liberated soul will never again return to mundane existence

    The Ways

    Depending on the individual the path to perfection also differs. These disciplines are called Sadhanas or Margas or Yogas - the ways.

    These Sadhanas are:

    1. the Karma Yoga, (Karma Yoga is the path of disinterested action. Do your duty without regard to rewards good or bad. This is fit for active people.)

    2. the Bhakti Yoga, (Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion and faith to God. This is probably the easiest and the fastest and the safest way. This is fit for the emotional type)

    3. the Raja Yoga (Raja Yoga is the path of psychic control. This is meant for the introspective)

    4, the Jnana Yoga. (Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge. This is fit for the intellectuals)

    According to Hinduism, spiritual freedom or Moksha is the ultimate goal of life.

    The Purusharthas

    There are four Purusharthas- the four goals of every man. These are Dharma(Duty), Artha (Wealth), Kama (Pleasures) and Moksha (Salvation)

    The Ashramas

    Moksha is the cessation from the cycle of birth and death, which is when the spirit returns to the Lord and does not go out again. With this Moksha in view, Hinduism requires every man to pass through the four stages of life, the Ashramas, viz., Brahmacharya (Chaste studenthood),Grahasthya (the stage of the householder), Vanaprastha (retired life in forest)and Sannyasa (life of complete renunciation).


    In the everyday life man gathers Karma. Karma is universal energy generated by thought, deed and action. Every Karma has an effect. When a bad Karma is generated it will eventually reflect back to us. So does the good Karma. The compendium of Karma is the essence of life. When Karma is not expiated it is carried over to the next cycle of life. This causes bondage. The escape from Karma and out of the cycle of birth and rebirth is accomplished when karma is performed without expectation of reward. This reduces the karmic energy so that it dies out fast. However whatever we do it will produce some karmic wave. We can only try to reduce the impact of it.

    Karma is directly related to Sin. Anything that hinders mukthi is sin. A look at the glossary of Karma will give some insight into this concept.

    karma bhanda: The bonds of actions, i.e., being bound to rebirth.
    karma dosha: Evil consequences of Karma.
    karma dushta: Corrupt action.
    karmaja: Result due to action
    karma nirhara: The removal of bad deeds or their effects.
    karma paka: Ripening of acts, matured results of acts of former births.
    karma phala: The fruit of actions.
    karma tyaga: Abandoning worldly duties and obligations.
    karma vasha: The necessary influence or repercussion of actions.
    karma vidhi: Fate or result of action
    papa: Wickedness, sin, crime. Wrongful action. Demerit from wrongdoing.
    prayaschitta: Penance. "Predominant thought or aim; weighing heavily on the mind."
    punya: Holy, virtuous; auspicious. Meritorious action.

    There are other word used in Vedas and Upanishads that has connection to Sin, Transgressions and Fault.  some of these are given below:

    Enas: crime, sin, misfortune, mischief, offense, fault, evil, unhappiness, blame. The original word comes from violent act. Agas:  transgression, offense, injury, sin, fault, sin against both Gods and Men    
    Adharma: , irreligiosity, unrighteousness, demerit, guilt.  

    Papa: bad, evil, vicious, sinful. Papman,  personified Evil, the devil or demon.   Arapaho:  from apa-radh-, to miss, to offend, to sin, means sin, offense, fault, mistake 

    Anutapa: from anu-tap-, (after the heat)  to repent, to suffer the consequences of one's deeds, means repentance, penitence. It is an important concept in the Dharmashastras. "If after committing a sin a man feels repentance for having done it, he becomes free from that sin. He becomes purified only by the resolution 'I shall not act thus again.' "

    Pataka; from the causative of the root pat-, to fall, means that which causes the fall that is, sin, crime. ln the Dharmashastras it is as frequently used for sin as papa. From the root pat- are also formed patana, fall, sinfulness, and patita, the fallen one, the sinner. Pataniya is synonymous with pataka. 

    The Concept of Sin

    The concept of sin as understood in the Judeo-Christian religions is difficult to find in Hinduism because it is shrouded in Karma. Let us examine the concept of sin. The Vedantic and Christian concept of sin are not fundamentally different but there are some differences on the surface. When a Christian talks about sin, he usually refers to an act of ingratitude or walking away from God the Father. For a Hindu Iswara is the God within space-time which is distinct from Brahman and Atman. This is the Maya, the illusion. A Vedantist approach towards sin would be any act, which results in alienation of the Reality within us. Since one has millions of lives ahead of them, the sins of this world are of little consequence However, both the concepts agree fundamentally that the act of sin is just a separation from the Ishwara. Unrighteous prospers materially and temporally. But it leads one away from God by alienation and pushes one to be reborn in a lower level of existence.

    In Rig-Veda, many rishis confess their sins to god Varuna and entreat him and other gods to favor them. But in later literature this concept disappeared completely in view of predominance of seeing the cosmos as the thought of God. In the later puranas even the gods were committing sins and were not punished thereof.  In Kausitaki Upanishad, narrating his evil deeds in a brutal manner, god Indra declares that "the one who knows me will not be harmed even if he kills his own father" i.e. if the action done without regard to rewards will have no consequence. In the same way the Bhagavat Gita is an exhortation to Arjuna to kill with all his heart when killing is the duty for which he was called for. Thus in the early Hindu literature sins were connected not with actions but with ceremonial rites and customs and duties. In Mahabharata ( 12th part) it is said that just as the blame related to cutting a tree falls not on the ax but on the man who handled it, the effect of errors that are committed by individual souls shall rest on none other than the God Himself. Vivekananda in his famous address at Chicago states that there is no greater sin than to call man a sinner.

    Yet commonsense demanded that karma is to be judged as pap or punya. Brahmins priests to the community do confess their sins in their daily worship saying, "papoham, papakarmaham, papathma, papasambhavam . Sin as understood in Sanadhana Dharma is anything that hinders liberation. Thus any Karma that binds people to the material or spirit world is sin. Only Nishkama Karma can liberate. Papa Karma leads to reincarnations to lower level - into hells. This in turns makes the person blind without knowledge of reality. Any existential level below that of the human level not even have the consciousness of God and will lead only to eternal wandering sin the hell regions. Punya Karma leads to reincarnation in upper levels Ėin the heavens. This in turn leads to pleasures of life and leads to more bondage to Maya. The only level where a person has the glimpse of divine and the ability to discern is the human level. This alone is the period of grace. Hence to it is this human lifetime that ultimately decides liberation. Even the gods in heaven wants to be born into the human form and those of nether world has no hope of attaining it in the near future of incarnations.

    Garuda Purana gives the karma and its consequence as a action- reaction process with direct correlation. "The murderer of a Brahmin becomes consumptive, the killer of a cow becomes hump-backed and imbecile, the murderer of a virgin becomes leprous--all three born as outcastes. The slayer of a woman and the destroyer of embryos becomes a savage full of diseases; who commits illicit intercourse, a eunuch; who goes with his teacher's wife, disease-skinned. The eater of flesh becomes very red; the drinker of intoxicants, one with discolored teeth.... Who steals food becomes a rat; which steals grain becomes a locust... perfumes, a muskrat; honey, a gadfly; flesh, a vulture; and salt, an ant.... Who commits unnatural vice becomes a village pig; who consorts with a Sudra woman becomes a bull; who is passionate becomes a lustful horse.... These and other signs and births are seen to be the karma of the embodied, made by themselves in this world. Thus the makers of bad karma, having experienced the tortures of hell, are reborn with the residues of their sins, in these stated forms."
    Garuda Purana 5

    "Like the waves in great rivers, there is no turning back of that which has previously been done.... [The soul is] like a lame man--bound with the fetters made of the fruit of good and evil.

    Maitri Upanishad 4.2

    Yantra of Yaga: Sacrificial altar where animal or vegetable sacrifices are made for sin.

    Notice the eminence Cross and the Davidís Star

    Hence the Law of Manu prescribes prayachitta for sins committed thus:

    "He who has committed a sin and has repented, is freed from that sin, but only resolving to cease purifies him: "I will do so no more."...He who, having either unintentionally or intentionally committed a reprehensible deed, desires to be freed from it, must not commit it a second time. If his mind be uneasy with respect to any deed, let him repeat the penance prescribed for it until they fully satisfy his conscience."

    Laws of Manu 11.231-34

    "If a man commits sinful acts which he does not expiate in this life, he must pay the penalty in the next life; and great will be his suffering. Therefore, with a self-controlled mind, a man should expiate his sins here on earth. Expiation and repentance, to a man who continues to commit sinful acts, knowing them to be harmful, are of no avail. Futile is it to bathe an elephant if he is straightway to roll again in the mud. All sinful thoughts and evil deeds are caused by ignorance. True expiation comes from illumination. As fire consumes all things, so does the fire of knowledge consume all evil and ignorance. Complete transformation of the inner life is necessary; and this is accomplished by control of the mind and the senses, by the practice of concentration, and by following and living the Truth. The great secret of this complete transformation is the development of love for God. As when the sun rises the dewdrops vanish away, so when love grows all sin and ignorance disappear."

    Bhagavatam 6.1

    The effect of Karma is transmitted from Fathers to sons and also to all mankind and environments.

    "If the punishment does not fall on the offender himself, it falls on his sons; if not on the sons, on his grandsons".
    Laws of Manu 4.173

    Hence the prayer in Rig-Veda: "Loose us from the yoke of the sins of our fathers and also of those which we ourselves have committed."
    Rig Veda 7.86.5

    Bhakti Marga

    Hinduism is both a monotheistic and a henotheistic religion. Hindus believe in one supreme Godhead Brahman a person who is Sat-Chit-Ananda(Truth-Conscious-Bliss). Henotheism is "the belief in or worship of one God without denying the existence of others." There are powers higher than man who may be called gods because they can give temporal blessings. But the craving for temporal blessings only leads to bondage and only Brahman (Godhead)can give liberation. While Salvation can be attained through all the four Margas, Bhakthi Yoga - the way of faith releases the devotee from sin instantly because of the grace of God. Through faith the karmic cycle is broken and Moksha become instantaneous.

    Ramanuja who followed the Monistic Sankaracharya started the Visishta Advaita (Qualified Monism). He followed the early Vaishnava cult and gave recognition to three ultimate realities, God, Soul and Matter, the last two being dependent on the first. There were however several points of difference between Ramanuja and early Vaishnava teachers like Nadamuni and Yamunacarya. One was the importance attached to Swami Krpa, the Grace of God. According to one school, this is spontaneous, and does not depend on any effort or merit of the devotee. The other school asserts that Grace also depends on the devotee's virtuous action. Ramanuja and his followers opposed the doctrine of Maya and the interpretation of the world as purely phenomenal or illusory. They emphasized the distinction between the individual soul and the supreme Godhead and based their philosophy on man's conviction of sin, his responsibility for sin and the importance of grace emanating from the divine. In other words, they believed that salvation comes not specially through Jnana (knowledge) or karma (action), but through Bhakti (faith) and Prasada (grace). The Bhagavata doctrine of complete resignation to God was one of the articles of their faith. God was viewed alterlnately as father, mother, child, teacher and friend, and even as the beloved. The religious approach of Ramanuja was mainly based on self-surrender, which must result in love in its totality extending even to ones own enemies. He insisted that the performance of scriptural duties alone was not enough for salvation. Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga, according to the Ramanuja School, only purify the mind in preparation for Bhakti Yoga or devotion. Ramanuja's Saranagati Gadya extols this devotion as a means of mukthi.

    As we can see the Christian concept of Original Sin (whether considered as ignorance of self or as any action due to free will against the movement towards moksha) are to be paid for here or in the age to come in the next world. Grace of God is the essence of salvation if salvation is to be really realize now and here. This earthly life we have is the critical period of Grace which if lost will end up in long periods of suffering with little hope for mukthi.