PĀPA (Sanskrit and Pālī pāpa, Prākrit pāva). 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 pāpa 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 pāpa 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.

         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 pāpa. The word thus means any act irreligious, immoral, bad, wicked, vicious and depraved. Some of the semantic cognates of pāpa are pātaka (sin); apuṇya (unholy); akushala (bad); ashubha (inauspicious); Kilbiṣa, kilbikh (evil); dosha (defilement), duṣkṛta (crime) and apavitra (impure).

         The etymology of pāpa is obscure. The word pāstaka 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 (pātayati) and causes down-fall (pātayati) is called pāpa or sin. This seems to be the best soteriological definition of pāpa in the context of India's religious experience which has placed supreme value on spiritual release (mokṣa). It is obvious that the idea of pāpa 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 pāpa.

         The primitive people conceived of sin or evil as a pollution which was derived from contagion and could be removed by physical means. The Ṛgveda 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 śramaṇas. It is likely that the notion of pāpa as something morally evil originated among the pre-Vedic non-Āryan Indians. However, the word pāpa and some of its cognates, such as agha, durita, and duṣkrita occur in the Ṛgveda. The usual meaning of these words during this age was ‘guilt', ‘evil', or ‘sin'. The Ṛgveda also mentions seven limit-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 gurū, murder of a brāhman, 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 pāpa — its sources, nature, consequences and means of eradication.

         To Pārshvanātha (circa 750 BC) is attributed the tenet of fourfold restraint (chaturyāma) against transgressing the precepts of truth, inoffensiveness, stealing, and attachment to earthly possessions. Violation of any of these precepts constituted pāpa. To this list Mahāvīra added incontinence as the fifth sin. The Sūtrakṛtāṅga lays down the general principles for all seekers of liberation to keep their souls away from evils. The Āvaśyakasūtra 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 Pālī terms, peculiar to Buddhism, are abhṭihāna (deadly crime) and ānnantariya-kamma (an action bearing immediate retribution.)

         The Āpastamba-Dharmasūtra divides sins into two categories : those that cause loss of caste (patanīya) and those that cause impurity (aśuchikara). In the first category are included theft of gold, drinking of wine, incest, etc., while the second category includes cohabitation by an Āryan woman with a śūdra, eating meat of forbidden animal, e.g. a dog. The Dharmasūtras considered voyage by sea as a sin leading to loss of caste. In the Bhagavad-gītā, Arjuna argues that there is sin in fighting with friends and evil in destroying one's family. Kṛṣṇa 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 pāpa 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 Brāhmanical and other rituals and hence their non-observance does not constitute sin. Similarly, failure to live up to the norms of varṇa or āśrama 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 pāpa 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 pāpa occur in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Some of these are; mail (impurity), avagun (vice), burāī (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 haṅs, het, lobh, kop (violence, attachment, avarice and wrath). The three maladies are ādhi, viādhi, upādhi, 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 Gurū.

         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. Vaiṣṇavite Vedānta teaches that lust (kāma), anger (krodha), and avarice (lobha) constitute the three-fold gate to hell, to the ruin of the self. Actions inspired by passion (leśyas) and instincts (sanjñās) of food, sex-play, fear, and of possession are declared to be the mainsprings of sins in the Jaina tradition. The Dharmaśastras 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 Kaushitakī -Brāhmaṇopaniṣad 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 Brahmasūtra, and Śaṅkara in his commentary on this sūtra 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 (māyā) 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 pāpa in man's life, a number of texts from the Gurū Granth Sāhib may be cited. Some of these are given below : Bābar in his invasion of India (1521) is stated by Gurū Nānak 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 Bābar's invasion also, contemplating the degeneration of the Indian ruling classes, given to accummmulating lucre which now the invader snatched from them, he reflects : "Without sin is lucre not accummulated and with man it goes not at death" (GG, 417). Reflecting on the nature of the inevitable retribution for sin, Gurū Arjan affirms : "You are engaged in sin, none shall be your friend (that is, when retribution comes)" (GG, 546). Says Gurū Nānak : "Sinners like stones are sunk; by the Master's teaching will they be saved" (GG, 163).

         Gurū Nānak compares man's state to the bird's (GG,934) : "Those that pick up the essence of truth, suffer not. Those that rush for picking up excessive grain, have their wings broken and their feet caught in snares. Their sins bring them to torment." Says Gurū Nānak in Parbhātī 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), acording 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 ātman. 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 ātman is completely shut off and man becomes a plaything for the cravings of the flesh.

         The external view of sin recognized external means of its destruction. Thus some Vedic texts and most of the dharmaśāstras and purāṇas prescribe rituals of purification and ways of expiation. Offering oblation, performing sacrifices, bathing at holy places in holy waters, giving gifts to Brāhmaṇs and undergoing physical penances, are some of the means of destroying sin. Sikhism does not pay so much attention to this category of expiation (prāyaśchitta) of sins. Its expiatory emphasis is on prayer, contemplation (simran, smaraṇa) and doing good to others. Engagement in beneficent actions, service (sevā), is the best means of escaping sin and expiating for it. In this connection also is mentioned the triplicate formula of nām, dān, ishnān (contemplation of God, charity to others and the holy path). These are the cardinal duties and they ward off sin and its consequences.

         The Bhāgavad-gītā strikes a new note in declaring that all sins are destroyed through loving devotion (bhaktī) to God and through His favour (prasāda). In addition to these, this text declares true knowledge (jñana) 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 (prasād, nadar, mihar or kirpā) 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 (Gurū), as Gurū Amar Dās 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 Gurū'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 (sādhu-saṅgat) and by ceaseless devotion to the Lord. The Gurū Granth Sāhib repeats several times the statement that "suniai dūkh pāp kā nāsu 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 (Gurū) 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 saṅgat), rendering service to them (sānt-ṭahal; sādh-sevā), realization of God (brahma-giān), practice of virtue, service of the teacher (gurū-sevaṇa) 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 Gurū'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 Gurū inspires devotion, but for release the devotee-seeker (Sikh, jigiāsū) 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 nām, contemplation of God's Name, and nām is realized by grace of the Gurū. When nām 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 nām (Japu, 20).

         Numerous texts can be cited to show that kām (lust), krodh (wrath), ahaṅkār (pride), etc., have to be eradicated or subdued before nām 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 Nānak, 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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L. M. Joshi