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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Papam and Punyam (Sin and Virtue)

 Papam and punyam are two commonly used words in the Indian culture. The words mean the same in Sanskrit and Tamizh. They are the driving forces behind samkskaras (rites of passages) and dharma teachings.  

Papam means sin, evil, wicked, destructive action with bad consequences. Punyam means virtuous, meritorious and right conduct with good consequences.

Kanchi Periyaval  (vol 2: Daivatin kural page 818) says that we  accrue papam through our mind, speech and body. Bad thoughts, bad speech and bad actions result in papam. We have to suffer the consequences of those thoughts and actions. “The 40 samskaras are designed to decrease that accrued papam”, says KP.

The idea goes back to the Vedas. Chandogya Upanishad states explicitly the consequences of evil acts and virtuous acts and uses the words papam and punyam in Book 5  Section 10.

Puranas and Dharma shastras codified these acts of papam and punyam for use by common folks in daily living. These books list noble/ wholesome and cruel/unwholesome activities  through various characters in the mythological stories. Asuras are those with unwholesome and cruel qualities. Divine incarnations are described with wholesome qualities such as compassion.

The Puranas and Dharma shastras also say that if you perform good acts (punyam) you get rewarded at death and go to deva loka (heaven) for enjoyment or  to go to asura loka or hell (narakam) for punishment of bad acts (papam). But the stay at heaven or hell is temporary. Once you use up the credit either in heaven or in hell you will be sent back to earth. Earth is the only place for you to work out your karma. In other words, humans do get a chance to redeem themselves through good actions in this world. This world is the only place where humans can work out their fate!

The ultimate teaching though is release from this birth-rebirth cycle through meditation and full merger with Brahman.

It is important to note that we designate some acts as punyam or papam and so they become punyam or papam. Papam and punyam are sins and virtues with religious connotations because the consequences are rewards in heaven or hell. They are judgmental.  

I prefer defining actions on the basis of their effects on ALL LIVES, as Buddha suggested. Ask whether an action is harmful or beneficial?  Not, whether they  are papam or punyam? Not whether you will go to heaven or hell by performing specific acts.

Look how many people do horrible things (papam) and then go to the temple to propitiate or go on a pilgrimage or make donations to temples to obtain punyam! That is bartering with God.

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