Recognising Sin

The last question posed by Arjuna to Sri Krishna in Chapter three is one that is of great relevance to all of us. Why does man commit sin? Even though he does not want to (anichchena), still, in spite of himself, he does so. What is that force, factor, or entity that pushes him, forcibly as it were, into wrongdoing?

It is interesting to note that Arjuna’s question implies an external or internal source, which impels man to commit sin. Most of us think likewise because we are averse to owning responsibility for our own actions. We always want someone else to shoulder the blame for any wrongdoing.


Before we see the Lord’s response, let us try to first understand what exactly is meant by sin – termed as paap in Sanskrit. The opposite of paap is called punya.

Let us appreciate the principle behind these two concepts. In Sanskrit the word punya is defined as punati-iti punyam – that which purifies our mind is called punya. And therefore, the opposite, paapam would be that which pollutes the mind.

While reading, I came across a very interesting etymology of the word – pa means to protect. Paap is something which protects. What does paap protect? It protects or shelters our foolishness, our ignorance, our wrong notions and our negative tendencies. That is known as paapam. And the result of paap is nothing but sorrow.

Today, there is so much talk of atmospheric pollution, water pollution, air pollution, noise pollution. But very rarely do we speak of mind pollution. Please note that external pollution is nothing but the result of a polluted mind.

So paapam is to be understood as that which ‘pollutes’ the mind and results in suffering. Using this yardstick, we can observe which of our thoughts, feelings, speech, actions or reactions fall into the category of paap.

For example, suppose a person is allergic to nuts. The first thing that person does when any food is put in front of him is to enquire what are the ingredients. He is worried about its reaction on his body.

Similarly, you must start questioning: “What will be the effect on my mind if I entertain a particular thought?” If I feel hatred, dislike and negative emotions, I must ask myself about its impact on my mind? In the same way, we must examine the effect of our words, actions and reactions on the mind.

So paapam is not just a particular kind of action; it is any thought, feeling, word, action or reaction that creates this kind of pollution in the mind and fosters ignorance and wrong notions.

1.Bhagavad Gita 3.36

The Author is the Head of Chinmaya Mission Worldwide.