Original sin and māyā: are they the same?

Original sin and māyā: are they the same?


This is an important question. Is sin or māyā a matter of will or knowledge, of disobedience or ignorance?

Christian theology emphases the will. It states that the ‘original sin’ consisted in the disobedience of Adam who ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis ch. 3). However, ignorance is also an essential part of the story, for Satan, the serpent, lies to Eve: “You shall become like gods [if you eat the forbidden fruit]”. She believes him and eats and gives the fruit to Adam. So the lie or the error is an essential part of the story.

Perhaps we set too large a dichotomy between will and knowledge. If I don’t know what is true, I will perform unjust acts and will be held accountable for them, to some extent. On the other hand, I will see something because I want it. If I didn’t want it I may well not notice it. These faculties cannot be neatly sealed off from each other.

Sin is traditionally understood, in Christian theology, as the conscious choice of an objectively unjust act. For this reason, ignorance is considered to mitigate the gravity of a sinful act. Nevertheless, sin is serious since it involves punishment.

Māyā means ‘illusion’ or false understanding. To act on the basis of illusion is to be caught up the consequences of error: karma. The result is to be plunged into saṁsāra, the cycle of rebirths from which the teaching and rituals of both Hinduism and Buddhism seek to free us. The karma of a previous life will cause ignorance for us in this life. The cycle is nefarious.

Māyā and original sin are not equivalent. They function in different theological systems. Nevertheless, it is useful to consider both of them. The Christian notion of sin is more intense because it is inter-personal, the human disobeying the Divine. There may be something here that Kashmir Shaivism could profit from. At the same time, Kashmir Shaivism underscores the disastrous effects of ignorance and therefore promotes the essential importance of revelation. This is significant for Christian practice.

In short, liberation or salvation consists in being free from both māyā and original sin, from both ignorance and disobedience.


About interfaithashram

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Roman Catholic Priest, a senior lecturer at MCD University of Divinity, and Honorary Fellow at Australian Catholic University. His doctorate is in Sanskrit in the field of Kashmir Shaivism. He is chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and has established a pastoral relationship with the parishes of Lilydale and Healesville. He is the author of 'Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka', 2003; 'Jesus, the Mantra of God', 2005; 'Vers un tantra chrétien' in 2009; translated as 'Towards a Christian Tantra' in 2009. He has written many articles. He travels to India each year. He lives in an interfaith ashram.
This entry was posted in Hindu Christian relations, Hinduism, Interreligious dialogue, Melbourne, Kashmir Shaivism. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Original sin and māyā: are they the same?

  1. ananthrajeev says:

    Hinduism is a godless culture( by god i mean godperson). Here there is only parabrahman/ supreme consciousness/ only reality. The divine reality neither grants wishes nor punishes for sins. The experiences of individual arises out as an effect to the interplay of his karma (thoughts/words/actions). The supreme consciousness is like the designer of a computer who gives access to user to the gadget in his own way to get his desired results but within the limits of freedom given by the designer. Karma is not only retrospective, but also prospective. It means ur next minute is influenced by ur thoughts, words and actions of this minute. There is no sin in hindu thought. There is only karma- karma which takes one closer to the truth and karma that keeps one in the loop. If coming back to this world to repeat eating, sleeping , earning, suffering, is what one prefers, there is nothing wrong in living to enjoy life. But if the question burns in one’s mind such that he cant be satisfied with nothing other than true reality of cosmos, then that individual should follow any of the paths as explained by krishna in bhagavat gita( path of bhakti/devotion, karma, jnana/ knowledge, raja.) There is no intergenerational karma in hindu thought. U reap what u sow, not what ur forefathers sow..


  2. ananthrajeev says:

    I would suggest a different perspective of maya.. The sages proclaim that this universe is maya, which means illusion. That this universe is not real. So are they implying that this universe is unreal and just a dream.No.. It means the universe is not what the mortals bound by ego of identity sees. Here it has to be understood from the perspective of a realised yogi. That everything is shiva/brahman. There is nothing in this universe that is not divine. Every speck of dust and life is divine . This is the realisation that a yogi comes to experience , that there is no I. There is only parabrahman.(advaita). The mortals who identify themselves with religion, bias, nationhood, gender etc can never come to realisation. Because they are always trying to protect or flame their ego of identity one way or other. One who truly reaches the destination is the one who gives up all identity, prejudices, biases and desires. Hope u come to understand what i mean..


  3. Nani Abroad says:

    I can see how karma is intergenerational as we evolve out of ignorance after learning hard lessons – and that sin or alienation from good, can also have intergenerational effects. Like the intergenerational trauma caused to our Indigenous populations due to the massacres and marginalisations. With sin, a lack of awareness, Ignorance and illusion play a part, conditioning another part but somewhere in there we have made a choice. I believe we are punished for our bad choices through seeing for ourselves what we have done – ie. a growing awareness of our own fault. It may take a life time for an individual and many life times for society. I also believe we are redeemed by grace and an inherent desire for good, so there is always hope.


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