Why We Are "Punished" for Sinning, Along with Remarks on Jenner and Dolezal

"All the people I used to know
They're an illusion to me now
Some are mathematcians
Some are carpenters' wives
Don't know how it all got started
Don't know what they do with their lives" -- Bob Dylan, "Tangled Up in Blue"

I find always trying to simultaneously understand spiritual matters from a Buddhist and a Christian perspective gives me the clearest view of what is really going on, since I to do so I have to avoid getting caught up in a particular verbal formulation of some spiritual reality.

So I think it is very useful to look at the Christian idea of "sin" through the lens of "samsara," or illusion. (And I don't think I am distorting things by doing so: St. Paul, for instance, used the Greek word sarx for sin, which I understand to be close to the meaning of samsara.)

The illusion in question is that we are fundamentally isolated beings, with "interests" that are fundamentally in opposition to the interests of our fellow humans. In reality, we are part of a universal consciousness, something demonstrated philosophically in the work of, for instance, T. H. Green, but which can also be discovered experientially. This reality is expressed in various ways in various traditions: we must undergo the periagoge, the turning around of the soul, and rise up to the light, or, "The Father and I are one," or, "We all have Buddha mind." And realizing this unity is the only path to spiritual peace.

"Sins" are actions that foster the illusion of ultimate separateness, and block the realization of our ultimate unity with "pure mind." So, for instance, if I steal from my neighbor, I am re-enforcing the illusion that his interests and mine are opposed, and thus blocking my own realization of "our unity in Christ." And this grasping, this clutching at the illusion of the fundamental aloneness of the individual, this indulgence of desire, is precisely the activity that leaves us feeling... fundamentally alone, without "salvation," in a state of suffering.

A metaphor: There is a lake that, if we proceed to its shore and then immerse ourselves in its waters, can heal all of our pains. To "sin" is to deliberately walk away from that lake, and instead climb a nearby mountain, because "that is what I want," "I am expressing myself," and so on. Our "punishment" for these "sins" is simply... we don't get into the lake and get healed. To blame "God" for this "punishment" is like hitting oneself in the head with a hammer and then blaming the hammer manufacturer for the subsequent headache.

And now we can see the real problem with the progressive focus on sexual, racial, and other identities: it is ultimately of no real importance whether our much-discussed Jenner is called Caitlyn or Bruce, or whether he winds up cutting off his penis or not, or whether Rachel Dolezal is called black or white. The problem with all of this hub-bub is that it directs our focus onto the world of illusion (samsara, Babylon, "My Kingdom is not of this world"), and suggests that swapping one samsaric identity for another can possibly solve our fundamental problem.

And this, by the way, explains why St. Paul would advise slaves to "be obedient to those who are your masters": Being a slave is no barrier at all to walking down to the healing lake and being cured by its waters: that is a walk in the realm of spirit, and anyone, whatever their legal status, can take that journey. But a focus on the samsaric condition of who is slave and who is master can block someone from achieving true freedom, instead focusing them on the illusory condition of "political freedom."


  1. Gene, your discussion of illusion and universal consciousness seems more like Vedantic Hinduism than Buddhism. By the way, here's a good quote from the Isha Upanishad on this subject: "When a man understands that the Self has become all things, what sorrow, what trouble can there be to him who once beheld that unity?"

  2. Really great post Gene.

  3. Wow. Just... wow. I dislike using corny phrases like that, Gene, but the past week has been an astonishing culmination of insight from this blog. My mind races as I read your posts.. and so instead of rambling, I should just affirm that what is being written here is... profound. Congratulations.

  4. No. Paul told slaves to live with it because he thought the rapture was coming very soon, and that nothing should distract you from the urgent task of getting right with god, before judgment day was suddenly upon you.

    1. Boy, Ken, you give the SAME explanation I gave, but begin it with "No" as if you were correcting me!!

    2. No Gene. In my version Paul was a deluded fanatic predicting doom within his lifetime. He wasn't making observations on inner peace, he was warning that an angry old man was about to kill everyone.

      If your stewardess told you you don't have time to finish posting to your blog buckle in fast would you call her a font of spiritual wisdom? Especially if, oops her bad, the plane already landed and there is no imminent crash?

    3. Ooh, my apologies: I took you to be saying something intelligent.


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