20120501-mandal with sexual imagery ex ind.jpg
mandala with sexual imagery
Buddhists believe that humans want many things and want to keep them forever, which is impossible and creates a constant state of desire, which in turn causes suffering and fear of further loss. To get beyond desire and pain one has to find an alternative.

William Dalrymple of the Paris Review talked with an elderly Tibetan monk named Tashi Passang. The monk said, “The main struggle, especially when you are young, is to avoid four things: desire, greed, pride, and attachment. Of course no human being can do this completely. But there are techniques that the lamas taught us for diverting the mind. They stop you from thinking of yaks, or money, or beautiful women, and teach you to concentrate instead on gods and goddesses. [Source: William Dalrymple, Paris Review, Spring 2010]

When asked about the techniques the monk said, “The lamas taught us to stare at a statue of the Lord Buddha and absorb the details of the object the color, the posture, and so on, reflecting back all we knew of their teachings. Slowly you go deeper; you visualize the hand, the leg, and thevajra in his hand, closing your eyes and trying to travel inward. The more you concentrate on a deity, the more you are diverted from worldly thoughts. It is difficult, of course, but it is also essential. In the Fire Sermon, the Lord Buddha said, The world is on fire and every solution short of nirvana is like trying to whitewash a burning house. Everything we have now is like a dream impermanent. This floor feels like stone, this cupboard feels like wood but really it is an illusion. When you die you can't take any of this. You have to leave it all behind. We have to leave even this human body."

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion

Sin in Buddhism

The Sri Lankan monk Aryadasa Ratnasinghe wrote: “There is nothing called 'sin' in Buddhism in which actions are merely termed as meritorious ('kusala') and demeritorious 'akusala'). Sin is rebellion against God. The word 'sin' is derived from the Latin root 'sontis' meaning guilty, explained either as mortal sin (unpardonable sin) or venial sin (pardonable sin). According to dogmatic theology, sin signifies purposeful disobedience to the Will of God, or any action offensive or blasphemous to God, or to speak profanely or impiously of God. Buddhists do not believe in confession (acknowledgement of sin to a priest) as laid down in Catholicism.

John Walters argued that the Buddhist idea of sin differs somewhat from the Christian idea. To Buddhists sin is a manifestation of ignorance and stupidity. Buddhism says that the wicked man is an ignorant man who needs instructions and guidance rather than punishment and condemnation. Walters wrote: "He is not regarded as violating God's commands, or as one who must beg for divine mercy and forgiveness. Buddhism does not believe that a sinner can escape the consequences in prayerful attempts to bargain with God".

Buddhist Sources on Sin

19th century Burmese painting of Buddhist hell

Sin easily develops.—Rock Inscriptions of Asoka. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]

He sees danger in even the least of those things he should avoid.—Tevijja-sutta.

May I never do, nor cause to be done, nor contemplate the doing of, even the most trivial sin!—Attanagalu-vansa (conclusion).

Scrupulously avoiding all wicked actions; Reverently performing all virtuous ones; Purifying his intention from all selfish ends: This is the doctrine of all the Buddhas. —Siau-chi-kwan.

The sinner is never beautiful.—Lalita Vistara.

He who ... cannot feel joy to see merit in others is stained with the darkness of sin.—Story of Pratiharyya.

Those who have sin at heart, but are sweet of speech, are like a pitcher smeared with nectar, but full of poison.—Lalita Vistara.

Causing destruction to living beings, killing and mutilating, ... stealing and speaking falsely, fraud and deception, ... these are (what defile a man).—Amagandha-sutta.

You do not well enticing me to a sinful act. And what you say, that "nobody else will know of it"—will it be less sinful for this reason?—Jatakamala.

There is no such thing as secrecy in wrongdoing.—Jataka.

Therefore ... we would humble ourselves and repent us of our sins. Oh! that we may have strength to do so aright!—Liturgy of Kwan-yin.

If we know that we have done wrong, and yet refuse to acknowledge it, we are guilty of prevarication.—Chinese Pratimoksha.

From the very first, ... having no wish to benefit others, or to do good in the least degree, we have been adding sin unto sin; and even though our actual crimes have not been so great, yet a wicked heart has ruled us within. Day and night, without interval or hesitation, have we continually contrived how to do wrong.—Liturgy of Kwan-yin.

Accept the confession I make of my sin in its sinfulness, to the end that in future I may restrain myself therefrom.—Cullavagga.

May I never, even in a dream, be guilty of theft, adultery, drunkenness, life-slaughter, and untruthfulness.—Attanagalu-vansa.

Buddhist Sources on Desire and Envy

8th century Bodhisattva Tara from Sri Lanka

Covetous desire is the greatest (source of) sorrow. Appearing as a friend, in secret 'tis our enemy.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]

Let no evil desire whatever arise within you.—Cullavagga.

With not a thought of selfishness or covetous desire.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

Covetousness and anger are as the serpent's poison.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

Enmity and envy gave way to peace; contentment and rest prevailed everywhere; ... discord and variance were entirely appeased.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

There is guilt (calling for repentance) in prevarication.—Patimokkha.

He that praises him who should be blamed, or blames him who should be praised, gathers up sin thereby in his mouth.—Kokaliya-sutta.

Conquer thy greediness for sensual pleasures.—Jatukannimanavapuccha.

Therefore should we encourage small desire, that we may have to give to him who needs.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

In every condition, high or low, we find folly and ignorance (and men), carelessly following the dictates of ... passion.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

Buddhist Sources on Evil

There is not a spot upon earth, neither in the sky, neither in the sea, neither ... in the mountain-clefts, where an (evil) deed does not bring trouble (to the doer).—Udanavarga. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]

Surely if living creatures saw the consequence of all their evil deeds, ... with hatred would they turn and leave them, fearing the ruin following.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

Overcome evil by good.—Udanavarga.

This great principle of returning good for evil.—Sutra of Forty-two Sections.

Even if a man have done evil a hundred times, let him not do it again.—Udanavarga.

He who offends an offenseless man, ... against such a fool the evil reverts, like fine dust thrown against the wind.—Kokaliya-sutta.

Do not have evil-doers for friends.... Take as your friends the best of men.—Dhammapada. Briefly I will tell you the marks of a friend— When doing wrong, to warn; when doing well, to exhort to perseverance; When in difficulty or danger, to assist, relieve, and deliver. Such a man is indeed a true and illustrious friend. —Fo-pen-hing-tsih-king.

Living ... without cruelty among the cruel.—Udanavarga.

Creatures of every variety were moved one toward another lovingly; fear and terror altogether put away, none entertained a hateful thought; the Angels, foregoing their heavenly joys, sought rather to alleviate the sinner's sufferings.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

Vice, O king, is a mean thing, virtue is great and grand.—Questions of King Milinda.

Your evil thoughts and evil words but hurt yourself.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

Hell was not created by any one.... The fire of the angry mind produces the fire of hell, and consumes its possessor. When a person does evil, he lights the fire of hell, and burns with his own fire.—Mulamuli.

Buddhist Sources on Hatred, Ill-Will and Negative Feelings

infernal clerk of the Chinese underworld

Let us then live happily, not hating those who hate us. In the midst of those who hate us, let us dwell free from hatred.—Dhammapada. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]

For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love; this is an old rule.—Dhammapada.

Victory breeds hatred.—Dhammapada.

The bearer of ill-will towards them that bear ill-will can never become pure; but he who bears no ill-will pacifies them that hate.—Udanavarga.

The man who foolishly does me wrong, I will return him the protection of my ungrudging love.—Sutra of Forty-two Sections.

Fault is not to be found unnecessarily—Ta-chwang-yan-king-lun.

What is it to you ... whether another is guilty or guiltless? Come, friend, atone for your own offense.—Mahavagga. ▪ Because the dove fears the hawk, With fluttering pennons she comes to seek my protection. Though she cannot speak with her mouth, Yet through fear her eyes are moist. Now, therefore, I will extend (to this poor creature) My own protection and defense. —Ta-chwang-yan-king-lun.

How indifferent he was to his own welfare!... How intolerant of the suffering of others!—Jatakamala.

Buddhist Sources on Foolishness and Wisdom

A wise man never resents with passion the abuse of the foolish—Ta-chwang-yan-king-lun. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]

The fool thinks himself alone and commits sin. But I know of no lonely place at all.... Of a bad action my "Self" is a witness far more sharp-sighted than any other person.—Jatakamala.

For if virtue flags and folly rules, what reverence can there be ... for a high name or boast of prowess, inherited from former generations?—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

Fools of little understanding have themselves for their greatest enemies, for they do evil deeds which cannot but bear bitter fruit.—Dhammapada.

We will patiently suffer threats and blows at the hands of foolish men. —Saddharma-pundarika.

May wisdom be with me always.—Inscription in Temple of Nakhon Vat.

The fool who knows his foolishness is wise at any rate so far. But the fool who thinks himself wise, he is a fool indeed.—Dhammapada.

Let the wise man guard his thoughts, for they are ... very artful and rush wheresoever they list.—Dhammapada.

When first I undertook to obtain wisdom, Then also I took on me to defend (the weak). All living things of whatsoever sort Call forth my compassion and pity. —Ta-chwang-yan-king-lun.

Buddhist Sources on Anger

wrathful Tibetan deity Yama

Yield not (one moment) to the angry impulse.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]

Overcome anger by love.—Dhammapada. Let none out of anger or resentment wish harm to another.—Metta-sutta.

Better for me to die battling (with the temper) than that I should live defeated.—Padhana-sutta.

Covetousness and anger are as the serpent's poison.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

He who, having been angered, gives way to anger no more, has achieved a mighty victory.—Udanavarga.

So soon as there springs up within him an angry, malicious thought, some sinful, wrong disposition, ... he puts it away, removes it, destroys it, he makes it not to be.—Sabbasava-sutta.

He walks not in religion in a quarrelsome spirit.—Questions of King Milinda.

Nay, ... let not quarrel arise, nor strife, nor discord, nor dispute.—Mahavagga.

He who holds back rising anger like a rolling chariot—him I call a real driver: other people are merely holding the reins.—Dhammapada.

Anger, alas! how it changes the comely face! how it destroys the loveliness of beauty!—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.

The fool who is angered, and thinks to triumph by the use of abusive language, is always vanquished by him whose words are patient.—Udanavarga.

Buddhist Methods to Reduce Stress

Professor Lily de Silva, a Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist scholar, wrote: “Buddhism puts forward a methodical plan of action for the gradual elimination of stress and the increase of happiness and understanding. The first step recommended in this plan is the observance of the Five Precepts comprising the abstention from killing, stealing, illicit sex, falsehood and intoxicants. Stress is greatly enhanced by guilt, and these precepts help man to free his conscience of the sense of guilt. The Dhammapada says the evil-doer suffers here and hereafter; on the other hand, the man who does good deeds rejoices here and hereafter. [Source: from "One Foot in the World – Lily De Silva", Buddhist Publication Society, Wheel Publication No. 337/338 Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com /=/]

“Buddhism firmly believes that evil increases stress while good increases happiness. In addition to the observance of the Five Precepts throughout life, Buddhism advocates the periodical observance of the Eight Precepts by laymen. These additional precepts attempt to train man for leading a simple life catering to one’s needs rather than one’s greeds. A frugal mode of life where wants are few and are easily satisfied is highly extolled in Buddhism. It is the avaricious and the acquisitive mentality that is responsible for so much stress that we experience. /=/

“The next step in the process of training is the control of the sense faculties. When our sense faculties are uncontrolled we experience severe strain. We have to first understand what is meant by being uncontrolled in the sense faculties. When a person sees a beautiful form with his eyes, he gets attracted to it; when he sees an unpleasant object, he gets repelled by it. Similarly, with the other senses too. Thus the person who has no control over his senses is constantly attracted and repelled by sense data, as during waking life sense data keep on impinging on his sense faculties constantly. When pulled in different directions by sense stimuli, we become confused and distressed. /=/

“Our sense faculties have different spheres of activity and different objects, and as each sense faculty is a lord in its own sphere, and as they can severally and collectively dominate man, they are called in Pali indriyas, meaning "lords" or "masters". If we allow the sense faculties to dominate us, we get terribly confused. If we assert ourselves and control our sense faculties, we can have unalloyed pleasure (avyasekasukha), so called because this pleasure is uncontaminated by defilements. It is also called adhicittasukha, meaning spiritual pleasure. Whereas sense pleasures increases stress, this type of spiritual pleasure reduces stressfulness and increases peace of mind and contentment. /=/

“The third step in the management of stress is the cultivation of wholesome mental habits through meditation (bhavana). Just as we look after and nurture our body with proper food and cleanliness, the mind too needs proper nourishment and cleansing. The mind is most volatile in its untrained state, but when it is tamed and made more stable it brings great happiness. Buddhism prescribes two fundamental meditative methods of mind-training called samatha and vipassana, calm and insight. The former is the method of calming the volatile mind, while the latter is the method of comprehending the true nature of bodily and mental phenomena. Both methods are extremely helpful for overcoming stress. The Samannaphala Sutta explains with the help of five appropriate similes how meditation reduces the psychological stress caused by the five hindrances. The man who practices meditation gains a great sense of relief and it is this sense of unburdening oneself that the similes illustrate. They are as follows: A man who has raised capital for a business by taking a loan, prospers in business, pays off the loan and manages his day-to-day affairs with financial ease. Such a man experiences a great sense of relief. The second simile portrays a man who has suffered a great deal with a prolonged chronic illness. He gets well at long last, food becomes palatable to him and he gains physical strength. Great is the relief such a man experiences. The third simile speaks of the relief a prisoner enjoys after being released from a long term in jail. The fourth is the slave who gains freedom from slavery. The fifth simile speaks of a well-to-do man who gets lost in a fearful dessert without food. On coming to a place of safety he experiences great relief. When the stress caused by the five hindrances is eliminated from the mind, great joy and delight arise similar to the relief enjoyed by the men described in the similes. The best and most effective way of overcoming stress is the practice of meditation or mental culture. But as a prelude to that at least the Five Precepts must be observed. /=/

“The cultivation of positive emotions such as loving kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekka) is another means of conquering stress. Strained interpersonal relations is one of the common causes of stress in household life and in the work place. Loving-kindness is the positive wholesome attitude one can cultivate with benefit for oneself and other in all interpersonal relationships. Compassion is the emotion with which one should regard and help those in distress. Sympathetic joy is the ability to rejoice in the joy of another. It is difficult for a man of mean character to entertain this attitude as the joy of another brings jealousy to the mind of such a person. Where there is jealousy there is no unity, and where there is no unity there is no progress. The cultivation of these positive emotions stands for both material and spiritual progress. Equanimity is the attitude to be adopted in the face of the vicissitudes of life. There are eight natural ways of the world that we have to face in life. They are gain and loss, fame and lack of fame, praise and blame, happiness and sorrow. If one trains oneself to maintain an equanimous temperament without being either elated or dejected in the face of these vicissitudes, one can avoid much stress and lead a simple life with peace and contentment. We cannot change the world so that it will give us happiness. But we can change our attitude towards the world so as to remain unaffected by the stresses exerted by events around us. Buddhism teaches the way to bring about this wholesome change of attitude.” /=/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org, Asia for Educators, Columbia University; Asia Society Museum “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); BBC, Wikipedia, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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