[Buddha-l] Oops--Article is from NY Times

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Sat Aug 28 01:42:40 MDT 2010

Richard wrote:
> It comes from Sanskrit pāpa, cognate with Greek pema, which means harm or 
> injury. It has nothing at all in common with the word "sin" or the Greek & 
> Hebrew words translated thereby.

Imaginary etymologies is a poor way to do comparative religious thought. The 
differences lie in the theological and contextual frameworks, not in the 

>The focus of the notion of sin is failure to obey God, but there is nothing 
>at all I pāpa implying failure to obey God.

Christian "sin" -- to be differentiated from virtually all other religions' 
theories of misdeeds -- may be obsessed with that. But Indians also have 
their gods, and their laws, and strictures, and vinaya rules, the violation 
of which constitutes a misdeed, with varying grades of severity.

There are a batch of Hebrew words that get rendered (perhaps mistakenly) as 
"sin"; some imply some transgression, i.e., crossing a line. Sometimes the 
line is drawn by God, sometimes by other people (i.e., crime). Crossing the 
line is sin. It is literarily associated with anger, foul smell; can be 
related to notions of purity and impurity, distortion, or causing damage, as 
are the Indian notions. In fact, there is a great deal of overlap between 
the Sanskrit and Hebrew words that end up in English as "sin". To wit:

Hebrew (NB - the nouns derive from verbal roots, so the nominal and verb 
forms are related)


   1. חטא sin; (law) offense, misdemeanor; to sin, to transgress
   2. פשע crime; to commit a crime; pace, step
   3. עוון sin, transgression ; (criminal law) misdemeanor
   4. עברה (law) crime, criminal offense, violation; sin, transgression; 
(sports) foul; (flowery) anger, wrath; to pass, to advance, to go by; to 
cross (a street, border, bridge); to transfer; to traverse; to go over, to 
study; to undergo; to surpass
   5. מעוה to twist, to distort; (literary) to distort (one's face in pain, 
   6. עווי transgression; iniquity
   7. אשם guilty; guilt; fire; passion, fervor
   8. קלקול malfunction; spoiling, decomposition, damage; corruption
   9. סט    evil deed; sin; transgression


   1. לחטוא  to sin, to transgress
   2. לפשוע  to commit a crime
   3. לעבור עברה to sin, to transgress; to commit a crime
   4. למעול  to embezzle, to misappropriate
   5. לסרוח  to sin, to transgress; (literary) odious, foul-smelling, 
   6. לאֱשום to sin, be guilty, be convicted

The first and second terms of each list (etymologically identical, 
respectively) are the most commonly used terms: cheit and pesha' .

Sanskrit words for "sin" and related forms:

Sin,   s. pāpaṃ, pātakaṃ, enas n., kalmaṣaṃ, duritaṃ, aghaṃ, duṣkṛtaṃ, 
vṛjinaṃ, aṃhas n., kilbiṣaṃ, paṃkaḥkaṃ, pāpman m., kaluṣaṃ; doṣaḥ, 
aparādhaḥ, pāpaapa-karma n., kukarman, duṣkṛti f. -tyaṃ;

" heinous s. " mahā-ghora-pātakaṃ;
" destroying s. " pāpanāśana-nāśin, aghamarṣaṇa, pāpāpaha. -v. i pāpaṃ &c. 

 1 P. or kṛ, aparādh 4, 5 P., duṣ 4 P.
" an atrocious s. " mahā-ghora-pātakinpāpin, pāparāśiḥ-nidhiḥ.

-ful,  a. pāpin, pātakin, pāpakara (rī f.), pāpman, pāpakṛt, pāpātman, 
kukarman, duṣkarman, enasvin, pāpa-duṣṭa-karman, aparādhin, kibliṣin, 
pāpanirata-buddhi-mati, pāpātmaka.

 2 (Of acts) pāpa in comp., duṣṭa; kaluṣa;

" s. act " pāpaṃ, duṣkarma

-fully,  adv. pāpavat, sapāpaṃ, duṣṭavat.
-fulness,  s. sapāpatā, pāpamati-nirati f., duṣṭatā, &c.
-less,  a. anagha, niṣpāpa, apāpa, akalmaṣa, pāparahita, nirdoṣa, 
niraparādha, and sim. comp.

Some of the above terms with English definitions / equivalents (all from 

aghá   mfn. bad , dangerous  RV; sinful , impure BhP.
aghá m. N. of an asura BhP.
aghá n. evil , mishap RV. AV.
aghá m. sin , impurity Mn. &c
aghá m. pain , suffering L.

pāpá mf (ī older than ā ; cf.  Pa1n2.  4-1, 30) ( S3Br.  xiv , also pā́pa) 
n. bad, vicious, wicked, evil, wretched, vile, low
(in astrol.) boding evil, inauspicious Var.
pāpá m. a wicked man, wretch, villain RV. &c , &c
pāpá m. of a hell VP.
pāpá n. (ifc. f(ā).) evil, misfortune, ill-luck, trouble, mischief. harm AV. 
(often śāntam pāpam, "heaven forefend that evil")
pāpá n. sin, vice, crime, guilt Br. Mn. MBh. &c

pātaka  mfn. causing to fall (» garbha-)
pātaka n. " that which causes to fall or sink ", sin, crime, loss of caste

vṛjiná mf(ā)n. bent , crooked (lit. and fig.), deceitful, false, wicked;

disastrous , calamitous MBh. ii , 857
vṛjiná m. curled hair, hair L.
vṛjiná n. sin, vice, wickedness MBh. Ka1v. &c
vṛjiná n. distress, misery, affliction BhP.

dúṣkṛta mfn. (dúṣ-) wrongly or wickedly done , badly arranged or organized 
or applied
dúṣ-kṛtá n. (°tá) evil action, sin, guilt
dúṣ-kṛtá n. a partic. class of sins

áṃhas n. anxiety, trouble; sin (cf. Gk. ἄχνυμαι , ἄχος , ἄγος.)

dúritá n. bad course, difficulty, danger. discomfort, evil , sin (also 
dúr-itá mfn. difficult, bad
dúr-itá mfn. wicked, sinful

énas n. mischief, crime, sin, offence, fault; evil, unhappiness, misfortune, 
calamity; censure , blame

kaluṣa mf(ā)n. turbid, foul, muddy, impure, dirty (lit. and fig.)
kaluṣa hoarse (as the voice)
(ifc.) unable, not equal to
kaluṣa m. a sort of snake
kaluṣa n. foulness, turbidness, dirt, impurity (lit. and fig.)
kaluṣa n. sin, wrath

In Hebrew or Sanskrit, if you do something wrong, if you go astray, veer off 
course, do something blameworthy, "evil," that's a sin.

That said: I am all for banning the word from non-Christian usage (let us 
not forget that Augustine took the notion of "sin" to places it had never 
been before, far beyond anything Judaism or the Hebrew scriptures had ever 
contemplated or would find acceptable even today). To think that Judaism and 
Buddhism share a Christian sense of original sin would be a sin.

I'll leave Greek to others better versed in it.


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