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Dharma’s Good News: You Are Not a Sinner!

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Occasionally, a small group of evangelists — well-dressed and well-groomed young men and women from a local church — walks around my neighborhood ringing doorbells to spread Christianity. I always like to invite them in, offer them chai and engage in a relaxed conversation. Even though I went to a Catholic school and know the proselytizing game well, I pretend I’m the naive immigrant eager to ask basic questions. After a few minutes of small talk, one of them usually breaks open the topic by asking, “Have you been saved?”

I try to look surprised, and respond by saying, “I was never condemned to begin with!” My young, charming guests usually get thrown off. They expect me to claim that I have already been saved, and their training has equipped them with the rhetorical skills to assert that their ability to save me is superior to my present faith. I usually find them taken by surprise by my posture that I do not need to be saved in the first place.

Christian salvation is a solution to the problem of Eternal Damnation caused by Original Sin. But that problem does not exist within the dharma traditions. Imagine someone asking you if you have been pardoned from your prison sentence, and you respond by saying that you were never condemned for any crime and, hence, such a question is absurd. The implication here is that for a dharmic person to say he has been saved would imply that he accepts Christianity’s fundamental tenet that every human is born a sinner and remains so until he surrenders himself to Jesus Christ. Even when the church acknowledges other faiths as having merit, no other path can substitute for Jesus when it comes to being saved.

The closest the dharmic traditions come to salvation are the concepts of moksha in Hinduism and nirvana in Buddhism, both of which can be loosely translated as “liberation.” But there are crucial differences between dharmic liberation and Christian salvation.

Receiving assurance of salvation is the key moment in the spiritual life of most Christians. It comes as a gift of grace and its source lies outside the individual. It does not come as a result strictly of merit, spiritual practice, prayer or asceticism. Although these may be helpful in its attainment, and even necessary in many denominations, they are not sufficient in and of themselves. That’s because the potential to achieve salvation is not innate in us.

In Jewish and Christian traditions, death is the consequence of sin. The freedom of the soul in Christianity entails, in the End of Time, the freedom of the body as well: There will be a resurrection of the dead in a “glorified” physical form, and the boundary between heaven and earth will be erased or made permeable. For most people, the full realization of this salvation can come only after death.

Dharmic liberation, on the other hand, can be achieved here and now in this very body and in this very world. Moksha is similar to salvation insofar as it is concerned with freedom from human bondage; but the nature of this bondage is quite different. Moksha really refers to living in a state of freedom from ignorance, pre-conditioning and karmic “baggage.” According to the Bhagavad Gita, the state where one is desire-less, ego-less and beyond the drives of human nature is the first major milestone; it opens the door to further evolution and eventual liberation in the fullest sense.

Salvation, on the other hand, does not entail expanded awareness or consciousness, esoteric/mystical knowledge or physical practices (though these may attend it). Nor is it necessarily derived from complete renunciation, as is the case in Buddhist nirvana. It can be experienced only by surrendering to the will of God, and God here is specifically the God of the Bible.

There is yet another state described in Sanskrit which has no equivalent in Christianity. One who has attained moksha may choose to remain in the world and continue to do spiritual work — that is, free from past actions (i.e., karmic bondage) and yet active in the world. This person is called jivanmukta. He (or she) can, at will, either turn away from the world or turn toward it and deal with it without being touched or limited by it. The Buddhist equivalent of a jivanmukta is a bodhisattva.

The New Testament calls this “being in the world, but not of it.” There is an opening here for a potential development of a Christian jivanmukta, and St. Paul says several things about himself that would indicate he had at least tasted this state, as had other Christian saints. But the important thing is that there is no word for it in biblical metaphysics; that’s because the state was not examined, understood or cultivated through systematic techniques. The words “saint” and “prophet” do not suffice, nor even does “mystic.” When Christians experienced such a state, it was not as a result of following a yoga-like systematic process; neither was it seen as bringing salvation. Hence such a person would still be, according to the Vatican document Dominus Jesus, “in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.”

As the evangelists leave my home, I always hope our conversation has challenged their assumptions about the people they are preaching to, and that perhaps they will re-examine the idea that all people outside of their church are in a state of spiritual deficiency. But until they do, I will continue to welcome them into my living room, offer them chai and share with them the good news that there is no such thing as Original Sin. We are all originally divine.

Published: April 29, 2011

  • Karthikeyan Venkatraman

    I see an analogy/similarity of economic model of America and Abrahamic religions. The Abrahamic religions create a “sin” (the original sin), which was not there before, and asks the followers to work hard and clear the sin. In American economy, the Federal reserve creates an artificial “debt”, which wasn’t there to start with, and asks the citizens to work hard and clear that debt.

  • Annapurna Mysore Nanjappa

    The Evangelists story reminds me of a similar experience I had, it was an ugly episode.one was a Nepali she said she was and another an Indian Tamilian. Unlike the author I was New to these ways christian propagation but invited them in into my home, within a minute the Question and answer turned into a tirade against Hindus, Hinduism, and gods. It was only the Nepali woman who did the talking but the other girl was a mute spectator. She did not budge even when asked to leave and I sought the help of the other companion and the girl tried to intervene but failed.I spoke to the girl who was visibly disturbed and looked apologetic,I clearly understood the girl was not there on her free will ‘I’ve studied in a convent where christian nuns taught us,not a day was there when they were not their serene selves and not a word of anti religious beliefs. All the students studied irrespective of the Hindu, muslim, christian religious beliefs we got on with our life blissfully.What is this woman shouting for? Take her away or I’ll call the police.’ Then they left but the Unpleasant episode distaste still lingers. after speaking to some people I got to understand that this is a methodical way of fighting Hindus beliefs to disturb their peace of mind to generate hatred against christians to disturb society. Anyhow these beliefs of christains is of their own making and makes us think Why do these followers enter into Holy Matrimony to give Birth to a Sinner? A newborn baby is awesome and divine to look and definitely not of the sinners but of Holy Matrimony and not a sinner!

  • Paul Joseph

    Rajeev Malhotra is incorrect in saying that God cursed us to be born sinners. This is not in Bible. God did not curse us to be born sinners. God asked to repent sincerely from the heart turn away from doing sin. Here is the curse of God from Bible from the Book of Genesis

    Genesis 3-17 Cursed is the ground because of you; through
    painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will
    produce thorns and thistles for you and you will eat the plants of the field.
    19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the
    ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will
    return.

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%203&version=NIV

    God’s cursed that we should work hard for our living until we die. If God did not give this curse, we all will become idle and do evil things and destroy each other. It is a Good curse to keep us busy for our living, so we are away from harm of Satan. Remember, Idle man’s brain is devil’s workshop.

    Satan and his followers is the enemy of all Mankind. Glory to God and God always wins. He is good and loves each one of us and protects us.

    When I heard about Original Sin, I did not understand or accept it immediately. God helped me to understand this.

    Bible says that violation of commandment/God’s Law is sin. Original Sin is the sinful Nature that entered into mankind during the fall of Adam.

    1. Original Sin (Sinful Nature) that we are born with leads to Sinful choices/violations that we make as we grow. The sinful nature exists in all mankind and under circumstances it will lead the person to
    sin. God considers this sinful nature as Sin. Here it is not committed but there is intent to violate God’s law.
    2. When we do some mistake against God or someone else, we will not easily accept and apologize. We will try to blame others and use different excuses as our pride and ego

    Let me illustrate to understand its manifestation of original sin (born sinner). We can observe this nature (orginal sin/ bornsinner nature/ Janma Papam) in kids clearly as they do not manipulate like
    adults and it grows as we grow old.

    Eg 1 – A Newborn is wonderful / beautiful but we cannot understand their sweet language in their first year. When he/she becomes 2-5 year old boy/girl and knows how to talk with conscience. Ask the small child what he holds in his hand, most will try to do this – tell a simple lie that there is nothing in his hand and holds his hand backwards and puts a cute face. We think it’s cute, but this is Sinful nature kicking in leading to commit a sin called lie which is against God’s law. No body taught the small child how to lie. The nature is already there and keeps increasing as we grow. We become more
    and more deceptive/manipulative. One sin leads to another sin and it becomes a vicious downward spiral/net distancing ourselves from God who is Truth and Holy.

    Eg 2 – When a small child becomes 3-5 year old boy/girl and did some small mistake and you asked him/her to apologize. It will take you a great deal of time and effort to make him apologize and most probably it is half-hearted or coming only from lips. This unapologizing nature of the ego, pride
    in our self increases more and more as we become adults. It is difficult to get rid of that on our own without God’s help.

    Eg 3 – Mr. John saeed Sharma is a good person who is in charge of Sales at a company for last 15 years and earned trust. Suddenly, he stole a few million dollars and left. This is sinful nature (intention to sin) kicking in when he saw the big money and his surrender to the act of committing sin.

    Eg 4 – Mr. Ben akram Singh is a honest person and when he went to shop. He saw an unruly mob looting all shops. He noticed nobody in a shop. He takes something for himself. We normally call this as mob behavior but this sinful nature kicking in.

    Eg 5 – A Young adult who is just entering into his adulthood. Until then he is considered as a good boy at home and school. His school mates take him to a movie or somewhere else.

    When he returns home and asked where he was by his loving dad/mom, he simply lies saying he was studying.

    Three Stages

    Before the Fall – Man did not have the evil desire to sin/violate law. He simply obeyed God’s Law and instructions and lived happily.Adam is made in God’s image and is holy.

    During the Fall – Satan came to Adam and Eve and deceived them by provoking a desire in them to violate God’s Command. Satan clearly knew how Sin works because he was a sinner before Adam. Sinful Nature (Original Sin) entered mankind by disobedience of Adam/Eve to God’s commandment. Adam did not apologize to God for what he had done, he only blamed his wife.

    Adam/Eve lost their holiness and sinful nature entered mankind and the Relationship between God and Man is broken. Man is separated from God.

    After the Fall – Sinful nature (original sin) exist in everyone and do not need Satan to deceive us all the time now.

    Once you sin, you are trapped by that particular sin and it takes over you slowly.Once Sin or sinful nature is in any person’s life, it is impossible to remove it by yourself of the sin/sinful nature without God’s help.

    God will be speaking to you through your conscience until you seek God’s forgiveness through Apologizing. Most of us think nobody saw/knew our sinful deeds/thoughts/actions but God has seen everything. Our own conscience testifies to us when we violated God’s Law in thoughts, words,
    action we can never delete it from conscience until Jesus Forgives you.

    Even what we write on this page on internet is subject to Judgment/punishment of God in this life and on final judgment and I am careful what I write and say on internet because of the fear of God. I was not like until I met Jesus. I was more foolish, ignorant and proud. Jesus humbled me and set me straight.

    And God has written his law into every human’s conscience. If you listen closely to your conscience, God warns you clearly when you trying to commit sin until you completely ignore God’s instruction.

    There is an intense pressure in your soul and several types of reasoning goes in our brain. If we yield to temptation, it will lead us to sin. God will be speaking to you through your conscience until
    you seek God’s forgiveness through Apologizing. Satan is working 24/7 as hungry
    lion to devour you and cut your relationship with God.

    • pshakkottai

      I don’t believe you. The fundamental logic of Christianity is original sin, and redemption of all through Jesus suffering to atone for it, the original sin afflicting all generations from Adam and Eve. Only Jesus (of virgin birth)can save all because he was not a progeny starting from Adam and Eve who are contaminated with original sin.

      • Paul Joseph

        Adam disobeyed God and became a sinner..God did not curse.

        May be you want to research on this meaning of this sloka.

        The Complete sloka from manusmruthi that people resite in sandhya vandanam
        papoham, papa karmaha;
        papatma, papa sambhava;
        thrahimam krupaya deva;
        sharanagatha vathsala”.

        meaning:
        I am in sin, and I sin;
        I am a sinner, being born in sin;
        Save me O merciful God;
        For I trust my salvation is in you

        http://qna.rediff.com/questions-and-answers/papoham-papa-karmanam-papathma-papa-sambhava-i-listened-this-sloka-many-times-in-temples-and-some-hourses-before-completion-of-pooja-according-to-our-sanathana-dharma-and-bhagvad-geetha-atma-has-no-birth-and-death-and-our-karmas-will-not-touch-or-bind-the-atma-but-in-the-above-sloka-the-word-papatma-refers-to-an-atma-with-sin/14148634/answers

        • gk

          The sin referred in this sloka is bad karma from previous births of the atma. The sins of parents do not get transferred to children directly out of the blue. The suffering/sins are only due to one’s own actions in the past births and not the sin of one’s first ancestor. Manu is supposed to be the progenitor of all men. His sins and good deeds are his own not mine or yours. The point of suffering in Hindu traditions is to motivate the atma to find the cause of suffering which is ignorance and seek remedy through the attainment of Gnana( wisdom/ illumination). Knowledge is not Satan’s tool. Stillness of the mind makes it receptive to higher wisdom. Still mind is not evil. Stop interpreting other faiths using your vocabulary and learn theirs.

          Contrast this with the so called christian good news :

          A man and his woman disobeyed the dictates of an all powerful judge. The judge condemns them and all their progeny to die and makes them outcasts from his abode. The progeny for no fault of their own inherit this curse of the judge and suffer. Now the judge instead of revoking the curse, is born in the midst of the cursed people, instructs his parents to save him from evil Kings, grows up, preaches, undergoes execution, rises from the dead state and says whoever believes he died for their inherited sin will be revived from death and have eternal life. Those sinners who do not believe that the judge has to die himself for their sins instead of just removing the curse will be raised from death and burnt eternally in Hell.

          What kind of judge condemns people to death for a trivial mistake ?

          What kind of judge inflicts pain on innocent people just for being born to some sinful parents ?

          What kind of justice exists where judge undergoes punishment instead of the falsely indicted ?

          What happened to the people who died without knowing this strange myth about the judge ?

          What is the point of punishment if the judge is going to suffer instead of the indicted ? Punishment is either a corrective or a deterrent measure. Belief on some vague hearsay should not ameliorate one’s sufferings due to sins.

  • KMGuru

    Why no one in India goes by India’s Bible – Bhagavad Gita?