Is sin really an inferior concept to "unenlightened behavior?"

Discussion in 'Alternative' started by william b, Jun 29, 2011.

  1. william b

    william b New Member

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    A train of thought: I read this book called "SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless." The book makes a strong case that self-help has taught us to think we are all either recovering victims or that we are entitled to anything we want. The author claims that empowerment talk doesn't really empower anyone. People who are fat, can say, "being fat is more than okay and I demand respect for my fattitude." Boys are feminized and told to stop being aggressive. And a lot of people want to be victims and they see themselves as recovering alcoholics, sex addicts, gamblers, etc. So the message in our culture has been everyone can say "But I'm the real victim," or "I deserve to win, be happy, and get everything I want without working for it. I'm special for simply believing I can, even if I can't."

    That is a very simple summary of the author's argument.

    The popularity of new age beliefs has coincided with the popularity of tons of self-help literature.
    The belief in karma and constant learning from lifetime to lifetime can be made to easily fit the model that "everyone is special whether they try to do good or not," that self-help literature sometimes promotes.

    The idea that we are all on a spiritual journey and we are all spiritually equal, whether we be murderer or average citizen, is actually older than self help or new age beliefs.

    The idea that we are all "sinners" is there in Christianity. The idea that we are all suffering because we are blind to our own craving and ignorance exists in Buddhism.

    Like self-help, religion promotes the idea that there is something wrong with us and / or the world. But traditionally, religion has also promoted the idea of accountability.

    People will reap what they sow, says religion.

    In the predominantly Christian West, reincarnation has been gaining ground on the we-only-live-once model of belief. The importance of competition, making good in this life, facing consequences in this life, are all less important when you believe in reincarnation and trust karma to sort it all out over the eons.

    Holding people accountable for their actions is no longer the job of the courts, the police, the judges. And when people say they are a victim of alcoholism, sex addiction, and so on, are they really that far from saying they are victim of karma?

    It's because of that blurred line between the self-help attitude and the spiritual beliefs that see karma as a nice way to make self-help jargon sort of "true" that burns me out.

    A murderer does have the right to seek God in his heart. I hope he does. I even believe that God can reward him for that in time. But I would be uncomfortable with letting him off the hook because someone believes that karmic law will have the final word.

    Compare it to raising kids. We don't let our kids play in traffic with the attitude that karma will teach them in the long run. We punish them to make them think about their actions.

    It occurs to me that whether one believes in karma or sin and punishment, it might be important to emphasize the importance of accountability.

    What we have seen with the growing popular views on karma, is that accountability is barely mentioned. The "law of attraction" and "synchronicity" are given greater attention.
    And the belief in "enlightenment" which is a concept that hasn't been around very long in the west, is often seen as a final stage in a spiritual self-help regimen in which we will finally feel like we are "O.K."

    It's something I've wanted to put into words after reading this book. I think it's worth thinking about. Hope some of you agree.
    :)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 30, 2011
  2. wil

    wil UNeyeR1 Moderator

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    Somehow it got moderated, I'm thinking maybe because it ran on....anywho...the edit I made was spacing out some of your paragraphs....

    But all in all I think we are escalating in consciousness.
    Karma doesn't teach you about traffic or hot stoves....reality and living in the now does. Karma is memory...live in the now and karma doesn't affect you.
     
  3. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    William, you said,
     
    "We don't let our kids play in traffic with the attitude that karma will teach them in the long run."
     
    --> True. Karma is cause and effect. But we must teach them that cause and effect says running into traffic will kill or maim them, a basic karma cause-and-effect
     
    But you are missing the main point of sin vs. karma. As Wil says, karma is not mainly about traffic or hot stoves, it is about stealing cars or stoves. Christianity says a teenage car thief can steal a large number of cars or stoves, then have his/her sin forgiven, therefore suffering no punishment. This teaches the teenager the concept of irresponsibility. Karma, on the other hand, teaches the teenager that he/she will be held accountable for each and every car or stove he/she steals. Sin vs. karma is really irresponsibility vs. responsibility.
     
    "We punish them to make them think about their actions."
     
    --> If a child runs into traffic, we should not punish them, we should punish then console him/her. There is a big difference.
     
  4. Lunitik

    Lunitik Interfaith Forums

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    Sin comes from the root "self", same as satan and serpent in the original tongue. It seems to be aligned with the commandments mostly, however.

    Unenlightened behavior is sort of meaningless, how does an enlightened person behave? There is a story of a Zen master repeatedly ending up in jail - a month in, a couple months out, a couple months in, a month out, etc - no one understood why he kept stealing and other petty crimes to end up getting arrested. When someone finally asked, he said "if you want to make the biggest change, you must be with those that need it the most". I am a bad story teller but this is the crux...

    This master had awoken many students, but a Christian would say stealing is always sinful no matter the motivations. I say that the Master is not acting for self at all, he is acting supremely selflessly, but this is the black and white view of the Christian.

    In conclusion, in both cases, it depends what you mean and how you perceive something...
     
  5. wil

    wil UNeyeR1 Moderator

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    Sin, a greek archers term for 'missing the mark'

    If you are an expert marksman, you expect yourself to be able to hit the bulleye x times out of 10

    If you are a beginner, you may only hope to hit the target.

    Therefor the sin varies by experience, knowledge, ability and intention.

    But we are punished by our sins, not for them.

    An example....Catholic friends had to rush back from camping for the weekend so they could make mass, so they wouldn't go to hell. It was a sin to miss mass.

    Me I don't believe in a physical location of hell as a place of permanent torment for eternity. I believe hell is a place we put ourselves in in this plane of existence..... and darned if I have the ability to make it to church, and don't make it....I put myself in a form of hell, for missing seeing my friends, for missing working with the youth, for missing communing with the congregation, for missing picking up the CD so I can listen as I drive around....

    My mark that I missed is my time of communion and spritual reflection with like minded people...and working with the youth...It affected me, when I did not achieve what I should have.
     
  6. william b

    william b New Member

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    I actually agree with these responses. I was trying to assimilate the point of the book with my own beliefs. I came up with the title of my post before I got to the conclusion (the part about accountability).
    As I began writing, my intention was to compare sin and karma and see if that was where a distinction could be made.
    But when one looks at it logically, karma actually is about accountability.
    In my own mind, I was struggling with the idea a bit.
    This book sort of challenged me.
    Sorry if I rambled a bit and used the board to think it through. Anyway, I can see it received thoughtful responses so that is nice. :)
     
  7. william b

    william b New Member

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    I think I was trying to see if the notion of karma was being used as a "softer" replacement for the Christian God. But Christianity has many different branches and different opinions on how strict God is, how he goes about punishing people, and so on.
    Karma is used more with an expanded concept of God. One that transcends anger. But the need for accountability is still necessary. I had to think through my beliefs in karma. Separate it from some popular ideas that are sometimes blended with the kind of self-help jargon the author was criticizing. What I discovered by the end of my post was that I could still believe in the kind of karma and God that I have been thinking about lately.
    I promise my next post will be shorter. :)
     
  8. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    William,

    Don't worry about the length of your posts. They are fine.

    I am glad to see the idea of the forgiveness of sins by God does not fit into your belief system.
     
  9. Lunitik

    Lunitik Interfaith Forums

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    Karma is a word which merely means "action", there is another word "phala" which means fruit or result. These are often confused in Western understanding...

    Specifically, in Buddhism, karma means any action which is motivated by intent, and it is the intent which affects us in this and the next life... it is not applicable to apply karma to an enlightened being simply because they have no intent at all.

    The notions, I think, are similar to Christian repentance: you have dropped all intent and are only doing the will of God. This can be seen as similar to nirvana, for there has been a change and all karma has been dropped. Of course, the similarities are loose based on modern Christian teachings, and the whole notion of God is not relevant to Buddhists, so you must find your own way to marry the concepts.
     
  10. Lunitik

    Lunitik Interfaith Forums

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    It is not that God must forgive us, WE must forgive ourselves... we must not allow our past mistakes to fetter our current lives, we must not cling to the past in any way at all for we cannot change it.
     
  11. william b

    william b New Member

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    I might argue that people who look to God for forgiveness may still be on a valid path to spiritual knowledge. If their concept of God is not a being who judges out of anger, but a God who essentially created karma as a way to keep behavior in balance, then seeking union with that God through the act of being humble, recognizing one's own failings, and asking for understanding would be a powerful way to change behavior and going forward. Then the act of asking for forgiveness might help by mentally opening a door for them to proceed. You could say they were forgiving themselves, but perhaps they would not be able to without the concept of God doing the forgiving.
     
  12. william b

    william b New Member

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    There is a fine line here. I think lots of people are walking it though.
    In the West we live in a society shaped more by Christianity than the other beliefs we are now being exposed to. In all of our religious dialogue, sooner or later people talk of sin and the significance of Jesus. Buddhism is different. It's more thoughtful. Perhaps more valid to the spiritual project in many ways.
    But our neighbors and fellow citizens will still largely be influenced by Christian ideas. In fact, I think many if not most Americans who explore spiritual beliefs outside of Christianity were raised in what they would define as a Christian household. And we have a lot of anger about organized religion. While branches of Christianity might seem really REALLY shallow or dogmatic from our new perspective, we might want to consider that Christianity, when stripped of a lot of the dogma, still often encourages people to be kind, and that this is what should matter most. That is something worth recognizing.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2011
  13. william b

    william b New Member

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    I think eventually, the Christian community will perhaps have a new definition and a new understanding of the term "sin," but as long as the religion is around it may use the term. People have already mentioned how this is taking place with the notion of "repenting." Consider the commitment of the Bodhisattva, one who seeks enlightenment not for themselves but for the benefit of all sentient beings. If one takes the concept of being "born again" in a very spiritual context, it could be seen as a very similar commitment.
    But Christianity has a lot of conflicting ideas and conservatism. I'm being an optimist and trying to see a way for religious dialogue.
     
  14. Lunitik

    Lunitik Interfaith Forums

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    I would disagree, I would say that it is not possible to find union in a God which you consider other. If you give any traits to God, you begin forming a picture in your head whether you wish it or not and it becomes an imagining - a fabrication of mind. Lessoning oneself does not permit the courage necessary to seek that oneness unceasingly, the faith necessary is impossible with a God to please.
     
  15. Lunitik

    Lunitik Interfaith Forums

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    It is possible to teach Christians Buddhist concepts if you use the Bible as your tool, if they do not realize it is not a Christian concept they will accept it regardless. I would say, however, that it is more genuine to Christ when we do this, Christianity no longer venerates Christ, they venerate priests and the cross.
     
  16. Lunitik

    Lunitik Interfaith Forums

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    Being born again, being baptised by fire, seeing the Kingdom of God before they taste death, these are all evidences of Buddhism at the roots of Christianity. These all refer to the experience of enlightenment, and the path is laid out by telling the Christian he is part of the body of Christ, then telling them Christ is part of the trinity - thus, they are part of the oneness. Christians have warped this into a very dualistic notion, but there are few which have realized its truth.
     
  17. william b

    william b New Member

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    Well, we haven't touched much on the Christian concept of God. And that really could be the biggest obstacle to what I am thinking about here. I would say that if a Christian begins to question the right things about their view of God, it could lay the groundwork for lasting spiritual knowledge.
    Example: Despite how the Bible portrays God, they might remove the idea of anger from this image they have of God. Then, they might consider that God isn't concerned with being a "king" over humanity, but more like a guiding presence like the Buddhists see the Truth Body of Buddha. And as they continue to think about it, they might see God as a presence throughout the universe that isn't dependent on some external personality....degrees of progress over time. I think that is a realistic approach to any spiritual quest. After all, in Buddhism the leap from Samsara to Enlightenment isn't made in one bound. I do not believe that any spiritual approach really achieves that. (And this is another problem with how many Christians portray their "born again" experience. Another way of thinking about it other than an attempt to see enlightenment might be as the beginning of the spiritual journey, not the end. That way, it could still be used as a form of Christian initiation and leave the idea of a spiritual path before them).
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2011
  18. Lunitik

    Lunitik Interfaith Forums

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    Enlightenment is very much a sudden awakening, it can be a gradual process to get to a point where you are ready but the jump from duality to oneness is instantaneous. It can happen entirely out of the blue, one second you are doing something then BAM there is no you. It doesn't even make sense at first, what has occurred? You know it occurred, but why, how? It might not happen again for a long time, but next time you can understand it better, you can ask "what is the same?"... you can begin to control its happening but it is still an effort. Eventually, though, it becomes second nature, there ceases to be an effort.

    It is not possible for you to gradually approach complete oneness, it is either happening or it is not.
     
  19. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    William, you said,

    "...Christianity, when stripped of a lot of the dogma, still often encourages people to be kind..."

    --> I agree.

    You have also brought up the issue of forgiveness. Perhaps the dialogue you are seeking is, people who do not seek the forgiveness of sins are just as able to become kind and spiritual as people who seek the forgiveness of sins (Christians). Seeking the forgiveness of sins is no prerequisite for becoming kind and spiritual.

    There are also two conflicting defintions of 'forgivenness.' One is the idea that I can commit a sin and have it be forgiven, which means I will not have to burn in hell for what I did. But the other idea is that if I receive forgiveness for what I did, I am relieved from an oppressive feeling of guilt, and I can then move on with my life. Are you talking about either (or both) of these?

    (By the way, I see no need in my life to seek out either type of forgiveness. I see no need to seek out and/or receive 'God's forgiveness' in order to accelerate my progress along my spiritual path.)
     
  20. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    William, one more thing: Do you believe in an eternal hell? If you do, it greatly changes this discussion of forgiveness.
     

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