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Basic Buddhism

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What Buddhists Believe
Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera

No Sinners

In Buddhism, actions are merely termed as unskillful or unwholesome, not as sinful.

Buddhists do not regard man as sinful by nature of 'in rebellion against god'. Every human being is a person of great worth who has within himself a vast store of good as well as evil habits. The good in a person is always waiting for a suitable opportunity to flower and to ripen. Remember the saying, 'There is so much that is good in the worst of us and so much that is bad in the best of us.'

Buddhism teaches that everyone is responsible for his own good and bad deeds, and that each individual can mould his own destiny. Says the Buddha, 'These evil deeds were only done by you, not by your parents, friends, or relatives; and you yourself will reap the painful results.' (Dhammapada 165)

Man's sorrow is his own making and is not handed down by a family curse or an original sin of a mythical primeval ancestor. Buddhists do not accept the belief that this world is merely a place of trial and testing. This world can be made a place where we can attain the highest perfection. And perfection is synonymous with happiness. To the Buddha, man is not an experiment in life created by somebody which can be done away with when unwanted. If a sin could be forgiven, people might take advantage and commit more and more sins. The Buddhist has no reason to believe that the sinner can escape the consequences by the grace of an external power. If a man thrusts his hand into a furnace, his hand will be burnt, and all the prayer in the world will not remove the scars. The same is with the man who walks into the fires of evil action. The Buddha's approach to the problems of suffering is not imaginary, speculative or metaphysical, but essentially empirical.

According to Buddhism, there is no such thing as sin as explained by other religions. To the Buddhists, sin is unskillful or unwholesome action - Akusala Kamma, which creates Papa - the downfall of man. The wicked man is an ignorant man. He needs instruction more than he needs punishment and condemnation. He is not regarded as violating god's will or as a person who must beg for divine mercy and forgiveness. He needs only guidance for his enlightenment.

All that is necessary is for someone to help him use his reason to realize that he is responsible for his wrong action and that he must pay for the consequences. Therefore the belief in confession is foreign to Buddhism.

The purpose of the Buddha's appearance in this world is not to wash away the sins committed by human beings nor to punish or to destroy the wicked people, but to make the people understand how foolish it is to commit evil and to point out the reaction of such evil deeds. Consequently there are no commandments in Buddhism, since no one can command another for his spiritual upliftment. The Buddha has encouraged us to develop and use our understanding. He has shown us the path for our liberation from suffering. The precepts that we undertake to observe are not commandments: they are observed voluntarily. The Buddha's Teaching is thus: 'Please pay attention; take this advice and think it over. If you think it is suitable for you to practise my advice, then try to practise it. You can see the results through your own experience.' There is no religious value in blindly observing any commandment without proper conviction and understanding. However, we should not take advantage of the liberty given by the Buddha to do anything we like. It is our duty to behave as cultured, civilized and understanding human beings to lead a religious life. If we can understand this, commandments are not important. As an enlightened teacher, the Buddha advised us on how to lead a pure life without imposing commandments and using the fear of punishment.


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Source: Buddhist Study and Practice Group,


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Update : 01-11-2002

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