Sin, Salvation, Commitment

“If you don’t believe in Heaven and Hell and eternal consequences for your actions, then why don’t Buddhists just do whatever they want? What stops them from killing and robbing?”

The person asking these questions was a student from DePaul visiting our temple as part of a world religions course. I had just explained that since Buddhism does not have a deity the idea of sin does not exist, and that our temple’s form of Buddhism does not teach reincarnation as do other Buddhist sects. I decided to answer her question with a question. I asked her, “Is your fear of eternal punishment the only reason you don’t kill and rob?” She quickly replied, “No.” “Then why don’t you do these things?”, I asked. “Because they are not right,” she answered. “So it is with Buddhists,” I responded.

Although Buddha did not speak of sin, he did speak of evils. Evils are actions that lead to suffering, either for yourself or for others. These evils include both acts of deed and of mind. The law of karma, that everything is the result of all that has gone before, compels us to avoid evils. Even the smallest evil often repeated will lead to suffering. The only way to overcome suffering is to remove the cause of suffering.

Shakyamuni Buddha was neither a god nor a prophet. He was a human being like you or me. His teachings are his observations on his suffering. He realized that our self centered perception of the world is the cause of our suffering. Shortly after his enlightenment, or awakening, he presented the Eightfold Noble Path. Dealing with eight aspects of life, it is a guideline to an awakened existence. Rather than a path to salvation, it is a path to liberation. There are no outside forces from which to be saved, just the illusions of our ego. Once liberated from the illusions of our ego we understand that only we have the power to overcome our suffering.

Sin or evils. Salvation or liberation. Different approaches to the same ideal, the end of suffering. Shakyamuni Buddha taught a respect for all religions. Even today, Buddhist teachers, such as the Dalai Lama, encourage people to stay with the religion of their birth. Only when a person has fully explored their birth religion and has determined that it is not their path should they consider a new religion. However, finding your path is the beginning. Commitment to this path is essential. The doubts of others do not concern the true seeker. Like all the saints and prophets throughout history, Shakyamuni Buddha had a commitment to his beliefs. The Buddha said that there are 84,000 paths to enlightenment. No one can tell you what your path should be. You must find it for yourself. Find your path. Commit yourself to the journey. The end of the journey is the end of suffering.

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