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.