Pápa & Puńya

Bali donating to Vamana Murty, while Guru Shukracharya asking Bali not to (Sadashiva temple Nuggehalli, Karnataka, India) (2015)

Paapa (pápa), though widely interpreted as sin, is explained in Sanātana Ḍharma literature as an experience of the Jīva as a result of dush:karmā, and Punya (puńya) as an experience as a result of sat:karmā. These concepts are inherent in Hinduism and Buddhism. This exploration is not to compare, but to delve into its fundamentals. In the form of pápa(m), the Jīva experiences dush:karmā through some sort of unavailability or suffering, and puńya through some sort of availability or happiness. Puńya(m) and pápa(m) both get exhausted over time. As and when suffering and happiness get exhausted, the Jīva tends to accumulate both based on its current actions, which is nothing but karmā, making it a never-ending cyclic loop called saṃsāra. So what is Karmā and its source? Karmā is a vital concept in Sanatan Ḍharma and means an action (Kriya) of a karta (person performing it) and its associated result (cause and effect). Understanding karmā and its source are vital to interpreting this concept (can be explored on this portal). A sloka from Śrīmad Bhagavād Gita, Chapter 9 of Rajavidya Rajaguhya Yoga, Sloka 21, wherein Gitacharya (Śrī Kṛṣṇa) says:

ते तं भुक्त्वा स्वर्गलोकं विशालं क्षीणे पुण्ये मर्त्यलोकं विशन्ति।
एव त्रयीधर्ममनुप्रपन्ना गतागतं कामकामा लभन्ते।।

(Gita Supersite. n.d.)

Meaning, after spending a certain time in heaven (Swarga:loka) the Jīva depletes its karmāphala and falls back into other mortal lokas, and so the cycle (saṃsāra) of karmā (actions defined as per Vedā and the outcome of those actions) and janma (taking birth) continues as long as the life of desire (kama) continues.

Śiva (Nataraj) performing the cosmic dance with Parvati witnessing it. Snake and Evil under His feet. (n.d.)

Let us take a deeper look into the concept of pápa and puńya. Before that, please note that Sanātana Ḍharma literature refers to various related concepts like Iśvara, Karmā, and Guru. However, these concepts are not principles because this is not a philosophy, and since this explanation is in English (rendered from Sanskrit and other Vedic inherent languages), words like “principles” and “rules” should not be taken literally. Why? For this, we have to understand what Sanātana Ḍharma is all about, and this can be explored on this portal. Pápa can also be called the concept that cannot touch the one who is grateful and dwells in Jnana or the magnificence of Iśvara, but can throw the ignorant deep into the pits of Naraka:loka. This being one of the vital topics of Sanātana Ḍharma, let us dive deeper. Another way of defining pápa is an action when performed by a karta (person who is performing it) solely for fulfilling one’s desire, whether that desire is rāga (liking) or dveṣa (hatred). Even if karmā associated with an action is explained and encouraged by Śāstra, it doesn’t necessarily make it puńya. Let us say one seeks the desired outcome, either out of rāga (liking) or dveṣa (hatred), and so performs an action hoping to fulfill that desire, then it is called pápa. Now, before we jump to any conclusions, let us understand this thoroughly. Then what is puńya? At a high level, both puńya and pápa are the same because one is a “kree:needa” to the other, meaning one shadows the other. But why? Because puńya is something we enjoy through some sort of availability (say good health or mind and body, peace, materials of comfort, and more), but they get exhausted in kālá or kāláam (time), and what lies at the end of each puńya is pápa and vice versa. If we love something, there is always the dormant fear of losing it; so anything that can disturb what we desire automatically results in hate, but irrespective of what we like or dislike, kālá(m) (time) exhausts it no matter what. (Srichaganti. S.V.V, 2014., p.1., Srichaganti. K.D.S, n.d., p.5)

There are three means by which pápa and puńya can be committed. They are Mānas, Vaachika, and Śarīra, and each results in its respective phala (fruit/consequence).

Mānas is the thought process of a Jīva influenced by Vāsanā (inherent tendencies). Just an ill thought about others or their property, or about Iśvara or Śāstra itself is a pápa of mānas. The same applies to puńya. Just thinking about Iśvara or Ḍharma and hoping to perform Ḍharma:sādhanā (strive towards walking the path of Ḍharma) itself constitutes puńya. An honest thought of Ḍharma itself can uplift a human. One might not believe in Śāstra or Iśvara, but rather than claiming the unknown, if one imagines ill and schemes to undermine Śāstra or Iśvara, such thoughts result in pápa. Before a committed act, one must resolve that act as a thought and that thought can define as puńya or pápa. The thought is a very powerful thing and just a thought can trigger various chemical (rasayana) reactions within the body and can either throw one’s health out of balance or bring it to composure. The following is a sloka from Śāstra:

Paradravesya vidyanam| manasa:nista chintanam||
vithathabe:invechachya| Threevidham manasam smrutham||
परद्रवेस्या विद्यानं| मनस:निस्ट:चिन्तनम||
विठठाबी:निवेचस्का| थ्रीविधाम मानसं स्मृतं||

Meaning, fostering ill thoughts and ill feeling towards others or towards “Pāradravesya” (other’s possessions) is considered pápa of mānas as it results in dush:karmā, the  fruit/consequence (karmā:phala) of which one will have to suffer with a deformity of mind or lack of content or peace of mind in future.

Vaachika means, that which is said through Vak (speech) using the indriya (mouth/tongue).

Paarushya amrutanchaiva| Paishunchapi sarvarsha:haa||
A:samvardha pralapascha| Vangmaschi dhurvidham||
पारुष्य अमृताञ्चैवा| पैशुनछापी सर्वशा:हां||
असंवर्ध प्रलापाश्चा| वंगमासची धुर्विधाम ||

Meaning, ill words, rudeness (Paarushya), or lies (amrutanchaiva) said using speech will result in Vachika pápam. People who say such things just for fun, personal pleasure, hate, or jealousy are evil (Paishunchapi) in nature. Such pápa also applies to those who talk carelessly just for the purpose of gossip (a:samvardha pralapascha), with no sense of truth or purpose, leading to a careless attitude and immoral character (again morality is not a concept of Sanātana Dharma, it is an illustrative reference), inadvertently spreading lies and confusion (Vangmaschi dhurvidham) or a false impression about themselves or others. Even if there exist facts in what one speaks, one should always consider the place and time to speak. One can’t attend a devotional ceremony and indulge in irrelevant gossip disturbing others, corrupting the environment, and lowering one’s own prospects of evolving in consciousness. This is the reason why Shastra (Śāstra) says, it is Ḍharma that a human being should follow four crucial characteristic traits.

A:himsa satyamasteyam|
soucham indriya:nigraha:ha||
अहिंसा सत्यमस्तेयं| शौचं:इन्द्रयाँनिग्रहं||

“A:himsa” meaning non-violence, “satyamasteyam” means to always be truthful and speak the truth, “soucham” means cleanliness and personal hygiene, and finally “indriya:nigraha:ha” means to be in control of our sense organs and not be a slave to their weaknesses.

Maharśi Vishvamitra made innumerable efforts to make King Harishchandra commit a lie; however, even after countless difficulties, the loss of his family, kingship, fame, and wealth, the king didn’t deviate from the path of truth. Such is the resolve of a man with a character who follows Ḍharma. It was his resolve that brought down heavens and Gods to stand in front of him ready to grant his wishes. Yet he didn’t succumb to selfishness or personal comfort, he chose the well-being of his entire kingdom as his wish.

In the same way, pious, soft, and well-spoken words, or Iśvara (Ishwara) nāma sankīrtana will result in Vaachika puńya.

Finally, Sharira means the physical body given by Prakruti (Prakṛti), and any act committed using the means of this body results in pápa or puńya. The one who performs an action is called Karta and the action itself is called kriya. Any kriya performed by a karta, together with its result, is called karmā. Any kriya performed in line with the Ḍharma of one’s ashram is called sat:karmā, else dush:karmā. Let us take an example from one of the Itihasa of Śrī Ramayanam, wherein Ravana kidnapped Sita Devi – which was an atrocious pápa and is considered as “muulagati”. Sita Devi was the Ḍharmapatni of someone else (Śrī Rama), and Shastra (Śāstra) says one must view and address all women other than one’s own Ḍharmapatni as a mother. Hence the sloka from Shastra (Śāstra):

Matruvat paradhareshu|
Paradravyani lostavat||
मातृवत परधारेषु| परद्रव्याणि लोसटावत||

“Pāradhareshu” (all women, other than your wife), should be viewed as “Matruvat” (mother-like). And “Pāradravyani”, or objects belonging to others, should be treated as stones and dirt with no significance; hence the word “lostavat”. This is the reason why in many Southern India languages words for relationships with women (except Ḍharmapatni) have “amma” or “talli” (mother) incorporated in them. Even women who are strangers are addressed with the title of mother.

Similarly, any kriya in line with the karta’s Ḍharma is considered as satkarmā and results in puńya. (Śrī Bharati Tirta Swamy. 2013. The Three Types of Paapa & Punya)

Now the real question, then how should one act devoid of puńya and pápa? We have an answer in the sloka from Śrīmad Bhagavat Gita, part of Śrī Maha:bharath(am), composed by Maharśi Vedā Vyāsa, chapter 16, sloka 24:

“तस्माच्छास्त्रं प्रमाणं ते कार्याकार्यव्यवस्थितौ।”
“Tasmaac Shastram pramaananche Karya karyou vavasthitav”

(Gita Supersite. n.d., All Glory to Śrī Śrī Guru and Gauranga. 2005)

What this means is, one should perform kriya (action) because Śāstra says so, and not because one likes the kriya (action) or likes its outcome. This type of performing Kriya without desire is called Nishkama Karmā. Desire should not be the basis for a kriya (action) or its associated karmā, and so when Śāstra is taken as the basis, then the Karmā that is associated with it gets nullified. This is the reason why a jñani (gyani) is not associated with an ashram and hence the Dharma of that ashram is not applicable to the jñani, and subsequently, the karmā associated with that Ḍharma gets neutralized. Now, why should Shastra be the basis, and what exactly is Shastra? Please read the topic of Sanātana Ḍharma to explore the meaning of Śāstra.

For a common man, new to Śāstra, is this really practical or possible? The answer is no, it is not. Then what is the answer? Manava or Manushya (human being) is a bundle of desires arising from the Vāsanā (habitual influence) carried by the inner dwelling Jīva, whose main reason for taking this existence (as a human) is to shed that Vāsanā and move into higher planes of consciousness. This very desire should be channeled and used as a ladder to uplift ourselves and walk towards becoming a jñani, with a lifestyle that fosters that upliftment as presented by Śāstra. Śāstra, like a parent, has our well-being in its message; and though one might face difficulty understanding it and implementing it, that doesn’t make it wrong. It might be tough to follow such a lifestyle, especially in Kali:yuga, but one needs to understand that our very existence as a human is an opportunity to shed our pápa and puńya and exit this reality through jñana. This only happens through devotion, by means of which humility and compassion bloom within our hearts.

The statement “pápa-puńya getting exhausted” can be rephrased as Śiva (Śiva) devouring pápa-puńya from a Jīva by giving it its appropriate suffering and happiness (which is known as karmā phala, or fruit of Karmā). Śiva(Śiva) doesn’t just devour lokas (worlds) in His “Laya” process but also devours our pápa-puńya. He, as a father, bears witness to His children’s actions and disciplines them for dush:karmā, and compliments karmā in line with Ḍharma, but doesn’t overwrite their will.

In Sanātana Ḍharma, Śrī Viṣṇu/Iśvara is the one who devours both pápa and puńya. Neither while giving happiness (by devouring puńya) does Iśvara feel happy nor does He feel sad when giving suffering. He is “Karmā-A:karmā phala pradata”, meaning He gives the fruits of both karmā and A:karmā. In the form (or concept) of Ghora, He punishes, as Aghora He gives happiness. Hence, in Sanātana Ḍharma, there are no two separate entities, one to punish and the other to give happiness. In sloka 89 of the Viṣṇusahasranāma Stotram from Śrī Maha:bharatam – composed by Maharśi Vedā Vyāsa – Bhisma Pitha:maha, during the final hours of his life, says:

“Bhaya-kruth Bhaya-Nashana”

(Srichaganti. K.D.S, n.d., p.1-19, Indian Hindu Pooja. S.V.S.S. n.d.)

Meaning He who both frightens us and also takes away our fears.

Now, from the yogic standpoint, pápa is nothing but ignorance (avidya), which is a result of failed efforts in the past. If one doesn’t strive on the path of Yoga and in self-inquiry, and in the company of enlightened beings, this avidya continues and roots deeper. This Avidya itself is termed as pápa (in English it is translated as Sin). In the profound composition of his Yoga, Maharśi Vasista explains to Śrī Rama that:

“Sin is only ignorance and it is destroyed by enquiry; hence one should never abandon enquiry”

(Swami Venkatesananda. 1993)


Śrī Chaganti Koteshwar Rao (Orator). (n.d.). Kanaka Dhara Stotram [Audio Part 1-19, Recorded by Srichaganti.net]. Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, India. Retrieved from http://www.english.srichaganti.net/KanakaDharaStrotram.aspx

Sri Bharati Tirta Swamy (Orator). (May 30, 2013). The Three Types of Paapa & Punya . Gajwal, Andhra Pradesh, India. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/m5LLuGjQE2Q

Indian Hindu Pooja. (n.d.). Śrī Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram. Retrieved from https://www.indianhindupuja.com/blank-p9ugf.

All Glory to Śrī Śrī Guru and Gauranga. (Nov 27, 2005). Srimad Bhagavad Gita. Retrieved from http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/Gita/verse-07-16.html

Gita Supersite. (n.d.). Developed and Maintained by IIT Kanpur. Retrieved from https://www.gitasupersite.iitk.ac.in

Shiva as Nataraj performing the cosmic dance as Parvati witnessing it.(n.d.). Pininterest, Śiva Nataraja – Lord of the Dance Sculpture Hindu Art statue. Retrieved from: https://goo.gl/images/4EkcgC

Bali donating to Vamana Murty, while Guru Shukracharya asking Bali not to (Sadhashiva temple Nuggehalli, Karnataka, India).(Dec 7, 2015). A rain-soaked trip to Nuggehalli. File: img_9606.jpg. Retrieved from: https://sujnaturelover.wordpress.com/tag/sadhashiva-temple/

Swami Venkatesananda. (1993). Vaśiṣṭha’s Yoga. New York,  Albany: State University of New York Press