PAAP or PAPA (Sanskrit and Pali papa, Prakrit pava). The word stands for one of the basic concepts of the Indian religious tradition. This concept relates to what is considered religiously and morally evil, an act of body, mind, or speech opposed to what is considered religiously and morally good. In the long religious history of India the doctrine of papa was developed and elaborated in great detail and in many different ways by different systems of faith and morality. No single definition can adequately express its connotations. For example, in both Brahmanism and Sikhism it is customary to translate the word papa as ‘sin’. But ‘evil’ could equally well convey the sense. There are some other shades of meaning, which, however, have not found a place in the relevant contexts.
Sin is a term used mainly in a religious context to describe an act that violates a moral rule, or the state of having committed such a violation. Commonly, the moral code of conduct is decreed by a divine entity. Sin is often used to mean an action that is prohibited or considered wrong; in some religions (notably some sects of Christianity), sin can refer to a state of mind rather than a specific action. Colloquially, any thought, word, or act considered immoral, shameful, harmful, or alienating might be termed "sinful".
Common ideas surrounding sin in various religions include: Punishment for sins, from other people, from God either in life or in afterlife, or from the Universe in general. The question of whether or not an act must be intentional to be sinful. The idea that one's conscience should produce guilt for a conscious act of sin. A scheme for determining the seriousness of the sin. Repentance from (expressing regret for and determining not to commit) sin, and atonement (repayment) for past deeds. The possibility of forgiveness of sins, often through communication with a deity or intermediary; in Christianity often referred to as salvation.
Crime and justice are related secular concepts.
Any deed of commission or omission which is opposed to Dharma, God’s will, religious practice, and moral rules expressed or laid down in the sacred texts, may be included within the range of papa. The word thus means any act irreligious, immoral, bad, wicked, vicious and depraved. Some of the semantic cognates of papa are pataka (sin); apunya (unholy); akushala (bad); ashubha, (inauspicious); kilbisa, kilbikh (evil); dosha (defilement), duskrta (crime) and apavitra (impure).
The etymology of papa is obscure. The word pataka is derived from the root pat, to fall, physically or in the moral sense. Sin is what causes a fall from the religious, moral and spiritual position, the nature of which may vary from tradition to tradition. Violation of, or opposition to, a prescribed religious or moral law causes not only fall but also bondage. Therefore, it is said, that which binds or fetters (pasayati) and causes downfall (patayati) is called papa or sin. This seems to be the best soteriological definition of papa in the context of India’s religious experience which has placed supreme value on spiritual release (moksa). It is obvious that the idea of papa is associated on the one hand with the relation of man with man here and now, and on the other with man’s transcendental quest. All that leads us away from the ultimate Reality constitutes papa.
The primitive people conceived of sin or evil as a pollution which was derived from contagion and could be removed by physical means. The Rgveda and the Atharvaveda reveal traces of this external view of sin. Consciousness of morally evil things and of spiritual liberation emerged towards the middle Vedic epoch, especially from the thought of ascetic sages known as munis and sramanas. It is likely that the notion of papa as something morally evil originated among the pre-Vedic non-Aryan Indians. However, the word papa and some of its cognates, such as agha, durita, and duskrita occur in the Rgveda. The usual meaning of these words during this age was ‘guilt’, ‘evil’, or ‘sin’. The Rgveda also mentions seven limits by trespassing even one of which a man may come to suffering. The text does not specify these limits which, however, are listed in the Nirukta in the following order: theft, violating the bed of the guru, murder of a brahman, causing abortion, drinking wine, continual practice of wickedness, and bearing false witness.
It is in the ascetic philosophies of liberation, chiefly represented by Jainism and Buddhism, that we find, for the first time, a clear and detailed treatment of the doctrine of papa—its sources, nature, consequences and means of eradication.
To Parshvanatha (circa 750 BC) is attributed the tenet of fourfold restraint (chaturyama) against transgressing the precepts of truth, inoffensiveness, stealing, and attachment to earthly possessions. Violation of any of these precepts constituted papa. To this list Mahavira added incontinence as the fifth sin. The Sutrakrtanga lays down the general principles for all seekers of liberation to keep their souls away from evils. The Avasyakasutra gives a list of eighteen kinds of sin including killing, lying, stealing, sex-play, earthly possessions, anger, pride, illusion, greed, passion, hatred, etc.
The standard Buddhist decalogue has the following sinful pathways: killing living beings, stealing, sexual impurity, lying, slandering, speaking harshly, chattering frivolously, covetous thought, hostile thoughts, and false views. Two technical Pali terms, peculiar to Buddhism, are abhithana (deadly crime) and annantariya-kamma (an action bearing immediate retribution).
The Apastamba-Dharmasutra divides sins into two categories: those that cause loss of caste (pataniya) and those that cause impurity (asuchikara). In the first category are included theft of gold, drinking of wine, incest, etc., while the second category includes cohabitation by an Aryan woman with a sudra, eating meat of forbidden animal, e.g. a dog. The Dharmasutras considered voyage by sea as a sin leading to loss of caste. In the Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna argues that there is sin in fighting with friends and evil in destroying one’s family. Krsna in reply introduces the tenet of the indestructibility of the self and argues that by not carrying on righteous war Arjuna will lose his own kartavya (duty) and incur sin.
The notion of sin as a moral and religious evil predominates throughout the Sikh texts. Besides this, Sikhism also developed the notion of papa from the standpoint of theistic devotionalism. Forgetfulness of God is the greatest sin in Sikhism: “Those who turn away from the holy Master are renegades and evil; bound to their desires they ever suffer and avail not themselves of the chance (to get away from the path of sin)” (GG, 233). Sikhism does not attach significance to Brahmanical and other rituals and hence their non-observance does not constitute sin. Similarly, failure to live up to the norms of varna or asrama does not form the basis for sinfulness as Sikhism does not believe in these social distinctions. In other words, emphasis is laid not upon the sinfulness based on violation of rules of domestic ritual and of performance of caste duties, but upon the violation of the norms of piety and moral conduct.
The Sikh Scripture being a poetic composition, contains devotional hymns with moral teachings scattered throughout. The concept of sin or evil is not expressed either in a set text or by a particular word or phrase; the term papa is employed here because it has high frequency in common usage, and it is the most comprehensive term to cover various aspects of the concept of religious and moral evil.
Many other terms which could be accepted as synonyms or near-synonyms of papa occur in the Guru Granth Sahib. Some of these are; mail (impurity), avagun (vice), burai (evil) kilbikh (sin), agh (fault), apavit (unholy), duratu (misdeed), etc.
Among the sources of sin mentioned are the four rivers of vice and the three maladies. These four rivers are hans, het, lobh, kop (violence, attachment, avarice and wrath). The three maladies are adhi, viadhi, upadhi, which are maladies of mind and body.
The Sikh catalogue of vices contains, among others, the following: lust, anger, avarice, attachment to the world, pride, stealing, tyranny over others, injustice, slander, lying, cheating, self-praise, coveting others’ wealth, and jealousy. A single term which comprehends the sinful tendency or nature is manmukh. It is opposed to another well-known term gurmukh. Scholars have usually translated the former as ‘egocentric and self-willed’ or ‘self-oriented’, and the latter as ‘God-ward turning’. This is a technical religious term with theological implications and we must emphasize its value from the soteriological rather than from the literal standpoint. A manmukh is a sinner not only because he makes his own laws and follows them wilfully, but chiefly because his will is opposed to God’s will (hukam) and he disobeys divine commandments taught by the Guru.
Delusion (moha), avarice (lobha) and hatred (dvesha) are the three roots of evil recognized in the Buddhist tradition. This view is shared by all the Indian religions. Vaisnavite Vedanta teaches that lust (kam), anger (krodha), and avarice (lobha) constitute the three-fold gate to hell, to the ruin of the self. Actions inspired by passion (lesyas) and instincts (sanjnas) of food, sex-play, fear, and of possession are declared to be the mainsprings of sins in the Jaina tradition. The Dharmasastras state that a person incurs sin by neglecting the daily ceremonies of oblation to the fire (agnihotra), rites of purification, worship, and by doing what is prohibited, such as drinking wine, and by not restraining the senses. The Kausheitaki-Brahmanopanisad teaches the doctrine that God makes that man perform good deeds whom He wishes to raise to higher worlds than these, and He makes that man do bad deeds whom He wishes to drag down. This doctrine is accepted in the Brahmasutra, and Sankara in his commentary on this sutra argues that the Lord does so in accordance with the past deeds of that person. Sikhism traces the origin of everything in the world to the Creator. The origin of sin thus is a divine mystery.
Poison (evil) and amrita (good) were created by God Himself; He produced these two fruits on the tree of the world (GG, 1172). Illusion (maya) and attachment were created by God; He Himself produced delusion (GG, 67).
In another text are mentioned together God’s law (hukam) and man’s actions: Man’s activity determines his destiny by operation of the law.
His law He operates, though the Divine pen writes according to the deeds of beings (GG, 1241). On the destructive nature of papa in man’s life, a number of texts from the Guru Granth Sahib may be cited. Some of these are given below: Babar in his invasion of India (1521) is stated by Guru Nanak to have descended on India with the wedding party of sin, and to have “forcibly demanded the hand of the Indian womanhood” (GG, 722). This sin, of course, was rape and rapine by the aggressor. In relation to Babar’s invasion also, contemplating the degeneration of the Indian ruling classes, given to accumulating lucre which now the invader snatched from them, he reflects: “Without sin is lucre not accumulated and with man it goes not at death” (GG, 417). Reflecting on the nature of the inevitable retribution for sin, Guru Arjan affirms: “You are engaged in sin, none shall be your friend (that is, when retribution comes)” (GG, 546). Says Guru Nanak: “Sinners like stones are sunk; by the Master’s teaching will they be saved” (GG, 163).
Guru Nanak compares man’s state to the bird’s (GG, 934): “Those that pick up the essence of truth, suffer not. Those that rush picking up excessive grain, have their wings broken and their feet caught in snares. Their sins bring them to torment.” Says Guru Nanak in Parbhati measure (GG, 1329): “Whoever keeps in bondage his evil propensities, to him am I a sacrifice. One that discriminates not between evil and good, is verily straying about.”
Haumai (egoism), according to Sikh thought, is the root cause of all evil impulses. Haumai is a type of spiritual blindness. Under its influence man becomes so much engrossed in the material world and the material self that he is unable to distinguish between the physical body and the real self, the atman. Being cut off from the real and pure self, he is now guided by the baser impulses of the material body which lead him from one evil to another. The more one gets enchanted by the allurement of carnal cravings, the thicker becomes the wall of haumai, till the light of atman is completely shut off and man becomes a plaything for cravings of the flesh.
The external view of sin recognized external means of its destruction. Thus some Vedic texts and most of the dharmasastras and puranas prescribe rituals of purification and ways of expiation. Offering oblation, performing sacrifices, bathing at holy places in holy waters, giving gifts to Brahmans and undergoing physical penances, are some of the means of destroying sin. Sikhism does not pay so much attention to this category of expiation (prayaschitta) of sins. Its expiatory emphasis is on prayer, contemplation (simran, smarana) and doing good to others. Engagement in beneficent actions, service (seva), is the best means of escaping sin and expiating for it. In this connection also is mentioned the triplicate formula of nam, dan, ishnan (contemplation of God, charity to others and the holy path). These are the cardinal duties and they ward off sin and its consequences.
The Bhagavad-gita strikes a new note in declaring that all sins are destroyed through loving devotion (bhakti) to God and through His favour (prasada). In addition to these, this text declares true knowledge (jnana) as the greatest purifier. Purity of mind and body, performance of actions with an attitude of non-attachment to their results are also counted as ways of going beyond sins and bondage.
Great value is attached to Divine favour (prasad, nadar, mihar or kirpa) in Sikhism. God is the supreme purifier. He purifies even the most sinful beings through His compassion and grace. God’s favour is attainable either through undivided love and faith, or through a true teacher (guru), as Guru Amar Das declares: “Utter the name of God, and contemplate in your mind, (then you will realize) that the impurity (of sins) is washed off through His grace” (GG, 230); and again: “Through the Guru’s grace egoism is cast out, through his grace impurity (of sin) will not touch you” (GG, 230).
God’s grace however is secured by doing good deeds, by keeping company with the holy (sadhu-sangat) and by ceaseless devotion to the Lord. The Guru Granth Sahib repeats several times the statement that “suniai dukh pap ka nasu—by listening (to holy teaching) are suffering and sin destroyed.” The very name of God is auspicious and strikes away heaps of sin. “Like a tiny spark of fire that burns the entire bundle of firewood, God’s holy Name purifies the body and destroys defilement in a moment.” The very sight of the preceptor (Guru) is the door to deliverance. Defilements are not got rid of without guidance of the teacher. It is by enshrining the Lotus Feet (of the Lord) in one’s heart that one can wash off the sins of many an existence. Company of the holy (sat-sangati), rendering service to them (sant-tahal; sadh-seva), realization of God (brahma-gian), practice of virtue, service of the teacher (guru-sevana) and sense-control are also recognized as efficient means of eradicating sin.
According to the Christian doctrine, man suffers from the original sin of transgression committed by Adam. He can be saved only by surrendering himself to Jesus Christ. This idea is foreign to Indian thought. While the Guru’s grace is essential, man must work out his own liberation through prayer and good deeds. The idea of an intercessor common to the Semitic faiths is foreign to Sikhism. In Sikhism the Guru inspires devotion, but for release the devotee-seeker (Sikh, jigiasu) must depend on his own endeavour, from which there is no escape.
According to the teachings of Sikhism, thoughts, words or deeds based on egoity take one away from God. Haumai is annulled by nam, contemplation of God’s Name, and nam is realized by grace of the Guru. When nam comes to abide in the mind, man is cleansed of all sins. When the mind is polluted by filth of sin, it can be washed clean by devotion to nam (Japji, 20).
Numerous texts can be cited to show that kam (lust), krodh (wrath), ahankar (pride), etc. have to be eradicated or subdued before nam can abide in one’s heart. Man must shed lust, anger, falsehood, slander, greed for riches and the ego; again, one must get rid of the lust for woman, and worldly attachment; only then can one attain access to God even while living in this world of illusions. He must cleanse his mind of pride, of attachment to wife and children and of desire; only then, saith Nanak, shall the holy Lord abide in man’s heart, and he can, through the Word, get merged in His Name (GG, 141).
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Above adapted from article By L. M. Joshi