The Dalai Lama and the wiping away of Original Sin

Nice Hat! I think a Nascar one would have been more apt.

The Dalai Lama spoke recently in Madison Wisc:

The Dalai Lama brought his message of compassion, empathy and oneness to Madison on Sunday afternoon, mixing it with levity and tales of sibling rivalry with his brother, all while sitting crosslegged in his chair and wearing a red Wisconsin baseball cap.

A human being’s “basic nature is pure,” and “everyone experiences positive and negative emotions,” but there is the possibility of the mind being distorted by ignorance, he told the crowd of about 1,100 people in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater. [read whole story here at]

I personally loved his choice of hats and hope that the whole talk will be transcripted and available [Thanks to the Good Rev. I was pointed to the full talk here].  Some nice fellows over at the Christian News Wire were not so excited about the event though…

On Sunday, the Dalai Lama talked about ‘oneness,’ a term used to promote pantheism, a belief that says everything is God. The Bible clearly denounces reincarnation and pantheism. believes that promoting religions in the disguise of false meditative techniques is a tool used to get people’s focus off of their true problem.
The Bible says man’s problem is his sin nature. In order to receive peace, a person has to be forgiven by Jesus Christ. Jesus does not remove the sin nature, but continually gives victory over it as Christians rely on Jesus Christ. [Christian News Wire]
I see here one of the largest differences between the two faiths.  The Buddha is not seen as a saviour who provides by the nature of his being an eternal salvation. Instead a Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha as a guide who realized a path to remove suffering through the nature of his own ability.  The Buddha does not provide a supernatural path but does provide the tools to achieve the same state as he did through the removal of obscurations to one’s natural state.


Sin isn’t the default setting in Buddhists as it is with Christian Theology.  Sin is something that accumulates through our own lifetime (and countless others dependant upon the school) which blocks what is originally a pure state.  There is no original sin, we are blank slates to begin with and we practice to return to that essence of being.


In Buddhism there is no original sin-nature.  Anything that promotes ignorance, greed and hate moves us away from our original nature which is neither pure nor impure.  It is only natural and open and not imdepted to any supernatural punishment.  The Buddhist perspective is far from perfect, but any obscurations only temporarily cover over our basic openess.  This viewpoint is a positive and optimistic and is rooted in our experience and practice.  It took me a while to wipe away the obscuration of Original Sin and the guilt and pain it perpetuates.  Once I did I found myself a much healthier and happier person.  Not perfect but not tied down either. 
During his forty year career he explained in great detail and with masterly clarity everything we need to attain Nirvan.  All we need to do is follow his instructions.  The Buddha’s words are as helpful and valid today as when he first spoke them.  Of course the Buddha doesn’t help us in the same way as Christians claim Jesus helps them and for a very good reason.  If a student know that during the exams he could ask the teacher for the answers to the exam questions he would never study and consequently would never learn…The Buddha pointed us to Nirvana and told us what provisions we would need for the journey.  As we proceed we will learn from our experiences and our mistakes, developing strength, maturity and wisdom as we proceed.  Consequently when we finish our journey we will be completely different from when we started. [Beyond Belief: A Buddhist Critique of Evanlical Christianity]




And if it makes some Christians feel better here is a picture of the Dalai Lama without the hat…

I knew it! He does have horns!


31 thoughts on “The Dalai Lama and the wiping away of Original Sin

  1. Also, Buddhists generally don’t feel threatened by those who follow other paths; we just hope those paths provide methods for developing positive qualities such as kindness, tolerance, patience, wisdom, etc.It’s highly unlikely we would issue a statement such as:

    “ President Steve McConkey says, ‘Christians need to wake up to the fact that false belief systems are coming at a rapid rate. We should never replace the basics of the Bible with practices that are not backed up in the Bible as Satan comes as an angel of light. Also, Satan duplicates what God has outlined in the Bible.'”

    Just curious what school of Buddhist thought doesn’t feel we accumulate negative patterns of thought in lives other than the present one?

    • I do see Buddhist practice as more inclusive since its many practices such as meditation or mindfulness can be applied in a secular manner to other spiritual pursuits. I was shocked shen the article stated that HHDL was advocating ‘false’ meditative pratices. As opposed to the ‘true’ Christian meditative practices.

      We both know that much of the merging Buddhist culture in the West tends to ignore (or at least reframe) the big picture karma. This movement, by and far, is fine with me since karma is so attached to other cultural institutions and can be applied in much the same fashion as original sin. So much so that many teachers choose to avoid the concept altogether.

      That being said, personally, I have been enjoying my recent exploration of Yogacara and like the consciousness-only explaination of karma. I plan on posting next week about it. I believe that is applied to Vajrayana practice but not particularly in Zen (in fact try to find a Zen Dharma talk on karma…not too much out there). It did, however, play a role in Ch’an.

      Anyway, you’ll have plenty to say next week (I’m sure)when I bring up the topic and would enjoy your input.



  2. What about the truth of suffering? I think this is akin to original sin. In the sense that there is a problem that needs to be solved.

    I agree with all of your points, but I think all religions start by pointing to a problem. Christians point at themselves, buddhists point at this human realm.

    • Suffering is a truth in that it exists. Original sin states that it is YOUR fault. So I see a difference there. I do agree that we all point to a problem or a fear but the paths set out are so different.

      Personally I point at you, Death, as the prime fear and difficulty that started this whole mess!


  3. The Christian News Wire article is fascinating. I can kind of appreciate how they’re taking a real stand, you know? “We believe the Bible, and we believe this is what the Bible says, and HH isn’t in line with that.” The hint of fear about false belief systems makes me kind of sad for them, though.

    • I am fine with a stand but the lack of understanding of other faiths seems to be a hallmark of much of Western Christianity. I would think that most good guides would encourage practitioners to explore belief systems but, by and large, it seems that most Christian groups only learn about other belief systems to determine how best to convert them to the one “true” religion.

      Although I do agree that there are some definite points that are in contention between Buddhist and Christian thought. There was a great reference discussing it. I only wish I could recal it…



  4. So your saying you think women are less than men, the Earth is flat and you believe in unicorns???…..Christianity is a plagiarized egyptian Religion later perverted more so by Rome, This is a Philosophy, you Christians will be the end of us, Love your brothers and sisters because its the right thing to do….youve created a “Religion” from Yeshuas(Jesus) philosophy,,,,,,hed be ashamed of you.

    • No. I am not saying that at all! Although unicorns would rock! I think that many have to untangle organized religion from practiced religion. Most Christians and Buddhists are good people that follow the teachings of their respective guides to the bet of their ability. Organizations, however, push a political or cultural agenda, prey on fear and really only serve to perpetuate themselves. I think both Buddhism and Christianity fall into that trap at times. Not all religious organizations are like that but they definitely all have the potential for abuse and harm.


  5. Great article, have noticed this difference between Buddhism & Christianity regarding original sin, and wonder about the ideas of karma and how they may/not relate.

    One idea that I struggle with is simply “live and let live”. My personal inclination is to leave others & their beliefs well enough alone (unless beliefs condone violence/harm to others… then it’s a different story and way more complicated). I love the concept of living by example. Proselytizing has a role in much of Christianity, but that seems to get less of an emphasis in Buddhism- is that right?

    Great 2nd photo of HHDL.

    • Overall yes I agree that proselytizing and evangelism are more prevelant in Christianity than in Buddhism. However, I do believe that the Nichiren Shu and the SGI schools do take a more “proactive” role in the spreading of the Dharma. I don’t really agree with their methods but still they are less pushy then most Christian evangelicals. Buddhist schools from Japan also have had missions in the West but mostly to serve a growing Asain community during the 19th and early 20th century.

      I think karma can play the same role as original sin in the promotion of a fear-based religion as well. I plan on posting next week on Elephant Journal my views on karma so I will leave everyone guessing for now!

      Thanks for commenting and I so agree that the picture of HHDL is amazing with the devil horns. I wish I knew the context of the picture…



  6. Awaiting your thoughts on original sin and karma. I have heard a few rumblings in this direction.

    I would disagree with the sentiment above that original sin is “your fault.” This is, I believe, an open theological question. Original Sin could be conceived in terms of a general/human state of affairs. Yes, each individual is responsible for accepting forgiveness for it, but original sin is not something I did.

    • It not something you did but you are getting the heat for it!

      It is a general statement and not an accurate one but it does sound like karma when applied it a manner resembling retribution. I agree that it could be viewed as a general state of affairs but the Bible literalists that I tend to disagree with don’t view it that way.

      I believe that I will have a more comprehensive post coming up on the topic but i may have to preface it with the disclaimer that I am not a Christian or Buddhist theologist and am sure to get it from both sides!



  7. “The Bible clearly denounces reincarnation and pantheism.”

    I don’t know that this is accurate. Historical texts show that some of the early Christians did believe in reincarnation, which suggests that there is room for such belief in the Bible as they knew it (which, admittedly, may be different from the Bible as interpreted by fundamentalist Christian groups now.)

    In any case, I don’t think that karma and original sin serve the same purpose. One tells you that you are in control of your cosmic debts by way of your actions; the other, that you aren’t.

    • Historical texts show that some of the early Christians did believe in reincarnation

      Bah! I just need the Bible and thats it! LOL! Yes, I agree that there is an element of control and responsibility in Buddhism that is lacking in Christianity

  8. “Sin is something that accumulates through our own lifetime (and countless others dependant upon the school)”

    That “and countless others dependent on the school” seems like an essential point, here. I really don’t see any significant difference between carrying karma from a previous lifetime and original sin, particularly if one believes, as some schools do, that you can still have karma to work out even after enlightenment.

    As for schools where reincarnation and karma are both seen in more metaphoric/psychological lights, there the distinction may be more valid–we’re born with a clean state and once we’ve overcome delusion and realize we’re Buddhas, it’s all good (or, we realize it’s been good all along). Though even then, there’s the question of becoming deluded in the first place. Did we, perhaps, FALL into delusion? Hmmm…where have I seen that word before…..?

    • I see it more as a contention between whether we are essentially good or essentially flawed at our base level. With original sin we are essentially flawed and only complete with acceptance of and devotion to Jesus. In Buddhist thought we are essentially perfect but need to work towards that goal.

      Using terminology like “fall” into delusion doesn’t make it the same thing. It only frames the concept in a way that may be more palatable to Christians.

      Again, I have a post for this that I want to develop and post on Elephant so be patient and I appreciate the input.



  9. “The Buddha does not provide a supernatural path but does provide the tools to achieve the same state as he did through the removal of obscurations to one’s natural state.”

    As tends to happen in these kinds of discussions, I think you’re comparing highly sophisticated Buddhism (which tends to be popular with the highly intellectual Western Buddhist crowd) and the unsophisticated Christianity that gets so much airplay in the U.S.. If you compared the writings of non-fundamentalist Christian intellectuals and mystics with what the average Southeast Asian Buddhist believes, I suspect you might come to the complete opposite conclusion–sophisticated metaphors and philosophy on one side, a whole lot of highly literal supernatural mythology on the other.

    • Well I do believe that Buddhism has a much more sophisticated philosophical system than Christianity. And I do enjoy Christian intellectual thought but and this is a HUGE but…I don’t see it out here…ever!

      Also Evangelicals still work to that base emotional fear that you will be punished in the end if you don’t except Jesus. Believe me when I say I was just as (UGH) intellectual when I was Christian and growing up and the response recieved from Christians (even progressive) was anything but sophisticated. It was, instead, that I believe this because it was true.

      But I do agree that being raised in a tradition leads to a different outlook that converting to it. I find many “Born Again” Christians to be very sophisticated and philosophical in their conversations concerning spirituality.

      When speaking to the “average” Asain Buddhist I do get more devotional practice but the core philosophy tends to be the same albeit colored by the local custom and history.

      • I’ve gotta say that I’m a very weak and half-hearted apologist for Christianity, since I’m not a Christian, and in fact am extremely critical of Christianity and am far more interested in Buddhism, or at least practices derived from Buddhism…and, actually, would be arguing far more forcefully from the other direction if this were a Christian blog criticizing Buddhism (or, more likely, I’d get so pissed off and my comments would get so unconstructive that I’d end up deleting them…or, at least, I hope I’d be that mindful…).

        At the same time, I was raised in a very liberal Christian tradition (Quakerism) and have had a lot of contact with Unitarians and, through being a part of the peace movement, other very liberal Christians who really have very little interest in original sin at all, and have found that, the more I look into the various ideas, practices, and attitudes of Buddhism, the more I find things that I can’t stand in Western religion (for many, it seems “Dharma” means approximately the same thing as “dogma,” and I never feel more like a Quaker than when confronted with guru worship and Buddhist spiritual hierarchies).

        I guess what I’m really commenting on is a tendency in this kind of discussion (and I’m really speaking in general rather than specifically about you) to compare apples and oranges. For instance, recently at Elephant someone was comparing the “many paths” idea in Hinduism with religious bigotry in the West…when you could just as easily compare “love thy neighbor” with the Hindu fundamentalists oppressing Muslims as well as their own “untouchables.” So, basically, I think care needs to be taken so that fundamentalist religion is compared with fundamentalist religion, mysticism with mysticism (though, admittedly, in many Christian sects, there really isn’t any…did I mention I’m half-hearted in this defense?), more sophisticated philosophy with more sophisticated philosophy, etc.

        Then, of course, ultimately, there are so many philosophies and beliefs under the umbrellas of “Christianity” and “Buddhism” that neither can really be described in any definitive sense…and I’m not a fan of fixed belief systems, anyway, so really oughtta keep out of these things…

        Anyway…enjoying your blog as always,


  10. A great book on sin is the first half of “Lying: A Augustinian Theology of Duplicity” by Paul Griffith. Pair that then with Karl Barth’s “Adam and Christ: Man and Humanity in Romans 5,” which is basically about the samsara/nirvana relationship.

    I think it’s a bit confusing to say that our original-nature is given in its purity, while sin or ignorance is an accretion. Every sort of buddhist account of “the fall” I have known leaves precisely what separates original from fallen nature a bit obscure. This is because they are not-two, but not in the sense that means they are equal, meaning that whatever we do is just A-OK.

    I draw on Karl Barth here, but this is why I think he’s useful for working with the buddhist terms: our sinfulness, our ignorance of our original nature and the active withdrawal from it (think of Augustine’s shtick about how as a boy be stole that pear just to steal it, just because it was wrong – he didn’t even like pears), is given along with that original nature – not as a later stain upon it.

    If you want to use a term like “openness” to convey this original nature, our openness is from the beginning an openness to that very ignorance of it. What is sinful is not apart from that original nature (samsara is nirvana), but sinfulness as sinfulness, ignorance in-itself is not self-sustaining either. It’s temporal; it arises and it ceases. In a sense, it doesn’t even arise /from/ original nature (lending itself to the idea that original nature is all there ever was/is), but exists from the very beginning with it – co-dependently arising. Co-dependently-arising, our ignorance of our original nature ceases while our original nature remains.

    This is what Dogen is getting at when he says in his Genjokoan that

    “To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”

    To forget the self is tantamount to falling into ignorance and sinful-nature, but mindfully. Myriad things are not-self (anatta), and the dropping away of body and mind is the dropping away of that original sin. Dogen doesn’t just say it happens, it’s already there; it’s a moment in a process. The “no trace of realization [that] remains” is our original-nature, but it is not original nature “before” sin.

    The weird idea many Christians have is that our sinfulness (or ignorance of God) is our original nature. To get us back on the path, whether we’re getting lost in the first Canto of Dante’s Divine Comedy or stuttering in an Ox-Herding painting, we’ve got to let go of sin, but we have to engage it in order to do that, just like we have to pass through ignorance of our original nature to realize it.

    Great post!

  11. I have little use for the concept of sin. As I’ve always understood it, it means one of two things. First, that sin is a transgression against God, and second, that man is inherently flawed and incapable of saving himself.

    I find both of these positions to be insulting personally. I suppose I have more respect for myself and humanity than that.

    This is part of the reason that I chose the Buddist path; the Buddha was human and found liberation as such. He laid out a path that any other mortal could follow to acheive the same thing.

    • Thanks for commenting Adam. I agree with your definitions. I think that most converts from Christianity tend to have a very negative view of Original Sin because it relies so much on outer beings rather than our own effort. Perhps also the reason many Western converts are unsure about Pure Land practice.



      • Yeah, I would agree with you about the Pure Land contrast, but then I have to wonder about SGI (post coming real soon, i promise). There are many, many similarities between what goes on at an SGI meeting and what would happen in my Lutheran church as a youth. And I wonder if that’s part of the reason that so many feel comfortable “converting” under the SGI umbrella.

  12. Very good post! In case you haven’t read it, Stephen Prothero’s new book (a condensed version of his thesis is online at deals with this issue very well. “Salvation” is a specifically Christian formulation of how to fix what’s wrong with the world, he asserts. To talk about whether non-Christian religions can or cannot provide salvation is fundamentally confused. It’s like asking whether it’s possible to score a homerun in golf or tennis.

    Of course, any one who wants to argue that their view of what’s wrong and how to fix it is the only correct one will simply have no interest in the kind of clarifying view that Prothero proposes.

  13. A totally fascinating discussion. Lots of excellent points. It has prompted me to write my own post. Thank you John for your excellent post.

    [I read the post and it was awesome. So much better than my own POS! So everyone should check it out here ~ John]

  14. Interesting discussion. I tend to think that comparing or contrasting Buddhism with Christianity is largely unproductive. As Richard mentions in his blog post, they are two different things. However, I do see see parallels between an original sin mentality and the notion of Mappo, as taught in the Nichiren (SGI) and Pure Land schools, which is an age in which all individuals are said to be so completely defiled that they cannot obtain liberation through their own efforts, but only through the help of some “other-power.” I think an interesting question would be if such thinking has any place in Buddhist doctrine.

    Leaving that aside, karma is a much misunderstood idea, and I think many people have a tendency to view it as a sort of stand-alone concept. It is just one piece of a large pie. Nagarjuna pointed out that there is a interdependent relationship between action and agent and that they both stand in a relationship of dependent co-arising to one another. The Dalai Lama once said that to understand emptiness, you must understand dependent co-arising, and I think the same is true in regards to karma as well.

  15. Pingback: Karma. No Escape! ~ A guest post by Rev. Trevor Maloney « Sweep the dust, Push the dirt

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