Lust, greed, anger, sloth, pride, envy and gluttony. You probably recognize this collection of the “seven deadly sins” from literature and religious texts. They’re top-rated “sins” because they are said to be the basis of fundamental vices, the origins and sources of other transgressions. But to back up, what is “sin” anyway? Is it not a judgment call by some authoritative source we have come to accept? Like immorality, its definition is illusive: we know it when we see it.

The word “sin” is one of the more misunderstood and personally detrimental words in the English language. It contains ominous implications. Simply by calling something a sin is to label it as wrong… but wrong according to whom? It also taints the person who is performing the so-called sin. It’s not merely a word that we attach to an act but a word we attach to the person performing an act, as in “sinner.” Sin is seen not just as what we do but who we are. And, years in the making, that’s a major trigger for its potential destructiveness to the human psyche.

An emotionally loaded definition for sin is: “an act of evil, a crime, wickedness, and dishonesty.” On the more neutral side, sin has been described as “an immoral act considered to go against divine law.” And going back earlier in history, sin was simply defined as “missing the mark,” as in an archer missing her target.

Why Sin is Flawed

The basic assumption of sin is that someone did something wrong intentionally to harm someone else.

Making the statement “She shot that man with a gun,” implies a deliberate act. But stop a minute to consider alternative explanations. Maybe a gun went off accidentally with no intention to harm. Or maybe the man being shot was an attacker – a rapist – and the woman was defending herself. Or maybe it was a deliberate act by someone who was not in their right mind as in mentally ill or whose mind was confused due to drugs.

Whatever the case and whatever the scenario, when you strip down sin, there’s an underlying assumption of a guilty party and by extension feelings of guilt on the part of the “sinner.” Sin becomes personified. The abstract concept of sin is now assimilated by the individual. He or she now sees himself as a “sinner” … which brings us to the definition of “guilt.” Guilt might be expressed as a bad feeling caused by thinking that you have done something bad or morally wrong. Here are a couple concepts for you to ponder: sin doesn’t exist and guilt is never true.

Every action we take is innocent. We commit actions merely with the intention of feeling good or feeling safe. American Banker Robert Zoellick said it succinctly: “All of us make mistakes. The key is to acknowledge them, learn, and move on.” And the artful expression of an ancient Hindu philosophy, the Vedanta, recognizes no sin but only error. The greatest error, according to Swami Vivekananda in his interpretation of sin in the Vedanta is merely to say “that you are weak, that you are a sinner, a miserable creature, and that you have no power and you cannot do this and that.”

The action itself may have produced wrong results but the person doing it didn’t take that action with the intention of harm ... or if they did, they did it for one or more reasons: self-preservation, coercion, fear, cloudy thinking, lack of higher consciousness, love of country, and so on.

Punishment Emanates From Sin

To make matters more complicated, our laws on certain “wrong acts” hold us accountable through punishment for what society has deemed a “sin.” And what does punishment for sin accomplish? It merely adds a layer of unease: the feeling of guilt. By feeling guilty we are being punished at an energetic level over and over for the same crime. Instead of learning from our mistake we only succeed in punishing ourself unnecessarily. It’s a vicious cycle.

We as individuals are drawn to – and to some extent accept that punishment. We assume blame, admit intention or wrongdoing and this can often lead to feeling guilty. In this context, sin usurps the definition of evil and individuals see themselves as inherently bad, as “sinners.” Identifying and responding to sin is usually the domain of religious and governmental bodies. Interpreted by those that govern us to keep people in line, they have systems in place to carry out “justice” in response to disobeying those “sins.” In some countries and cultures, sex out of wedlock, not obeying your husband’s orders, speaking negatively about one’s government, possessing illegal drugs are punishable “sins.”

A sin is something which is not necessary. --G. I. Gurdjieff

The Realization of Truth

Studying and understanding the dynamics of sin can lead to truth and enlightenment. This realization may occur immediately or it may take time for your consciousness to process it. Keep an open mind.

Choose not to accept an act as sinful, thereby avoiding a layer of guilt and repeated punishment. Don’t invite guilt to establish itself. By inviting guilt you’re only encouraging an open invitation of punishment from the universe. Guilt serves no purpose. Learning does. Admit you made a mistake, learn from it, and move on. By substituting the word “mistake” for what you would have considered “sinful” changes the meaning of this embedded concept. The word “mistake” has a more positive energy. In doing this you are able to see mistakes as opportunities for learning and not sinful acts for which you need to be punished.

When we stop seeing ourselves and others as inherently sinful our lives become more meaningful and joyful. We fully flourish as creative human beings when we are not living within the narrow limits determined by judgments of our actions and the state of our souls.

Understanding the power that words have over us can’t be overstated. Sin is an illusion, but even so, energetically, the guilt emanating from it attracts punishment. Guilt is self-imposed condemnation. It is personal responsibility led to its extreme. See sin for what it really is: a hollow word. This in and of itself is a priceless phenomenon that will transform your life.

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