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Buddhist views on sin

There are a few differing Buddhist views on sin.

Ethnologist Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf explained,

In Buddhist thinking the whole universe, men as well as gods, are subject to a reign of law. Every action, good or bad, has an inevitable and automatic effect in a long chain of causes, an effect which is independent of the will of any deity. Even though this may leave no room for the concept of 'sin' in the sense of an act of defiance against the authority of a personal god, Buddhists speak of 'sin' when referring to transgressions against the universal moral code. (1974: 550)[1]

American Zen author Brad Warner states that in Buddhism there is no concept of sin at all.[2][3] The Buddha Dharma Education Association also expressly states "The idea of sin or original sin has no place in Buddhism."[4] Zen student and author Barbara O'Brien has said that "Buddhism has no concept of sin."[5][6]

Chögyam Trungpa specifically disagreed with the notion of "original sin"[7] saying

The problem with this notion of original sin or mistake is that it acts very much as a hinderance [sic] to people. At some point it is of course necessary to realize one’s shortcomings. But if one goes too far with that, it kills any inspiration and can destroy one’s vision as well. So in that way, it really is not helpful, and in fact it seems unnecessary.[7]

Walpola Rahula also disagreed with the notion of sin saying "In fact there is no 'sin' in Buddhism, as sin is understood in some religions."[8]


Anantarika-karma in Theravada Buddhism is a heinous crime, which through karmic process brings immediate disaster.[9][10] In Mahayana Buddhism these five crimes are referred to as pañcānantarya (Pāli), and are mentioned in The Sutra Preached by the Buddha on the Total Extinction of the Dharma,[11] They are considered so heinous that a Buddhist or a non Buddhist should avoid them. According to Buddhism committing such a crime would prevent him or her attaining the stages of Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anagami or Arhat in that lifetime.[12] The five crimes or sins are:[13]

  1. Injuring a Buddha
  2. Killing an Arhat
  3. Creating schism in the society of Sangha
  4. Matricide
  5. Patricide


  1. ^ von Fürer-Haimendorf, Christoph (1974). "The Sense of Sin in Cross-Cultural Perspective". Man. New Series 9.4: 539–556.
  2. ^ Warner, Brad (2003). Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth About Reality. Wisdom Publications. p. 144. ISBN 0-86171-380-X.
  3. ^ Warner, Brad (2010). Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between. New World Library. p. 72. ISBN 978-1-57731-910-8.
  4. ^ "Buddhism: Major Differences". Buddha Dharma Education Association. Retrieved May 13, 2013.
  5. ^ "Let's Forgive Brit Hume". Retrieved May 13, 2013.
  6. ^ "Sins and Buddhism". Retrieved May 13, 2013.
  7. ^ a b "Basic Goodness or Original Sin?". Lion's Roar. Retrieved May 13, 2013.
  8. ^ Rahula, Walpola (1974). What the Buddha Taught. Grove Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0802130310.
  9. ^ Gananath Obeyesekere (1990), The Work of Culture: Symbolic Transformation in Psychoanalysis and Anthropology, University of Chicago, ISBN 978-0-226-61599-8
  10. ^ The Buddha's Bad Karma: A Problem in the History of Theravada Buddhism Jonathan S. Walters, Numen, Vol. 37, No. 1 (June, 1990), pp. 70-95
  11. ^ Hodous, Lewis; Soothill, William Edward (1995). A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms: With Sanskrit and English Equivalents and a Sanskrit-Pali Index. Routledge. p. 128. ISBN 978-0700703555.
  12. ^ Nakamura, Hajime (1991). Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India, China, Tibet, Japan. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 285. ISBN 978-8120807648.
  13. ^ Rām Garg, Gaṅgā (1992). Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World. Concept Publishing Company. p. 433. ISBN 9788170223757.